Thursday, January 29

The The End of Common Sense

In Washington State, three boys were suspended from their public elementary school for bringing miniature toy guns from their G.I. Joe action figures onto the campus. The little cast plastic toys were all between one to three inches long--less than half the size of a pencil--but a spokesman for Bemiss Elementary School in Spokane, steadfastly asserted that the administration will stand by its “zero-tolerance policy” on weapons, which does not specify the type or size. Hmm. OK.

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

A prayer of confession offered by a Republican member of the Arizona state House of Representatives has offended a group of Democratic lawmakers who denounced such tokens of repentance as partisan, disrespectful and divisive. Rep. Doug Quelland of Phoenix asked the Lord to forgive himself, other lawmakers, and the nation for sanctioning such things as child-killing abortion procedures, lotteries that tax the poor, and sexual practices that debase morals and families. Yeah, I guess that is rather hateful--especially when considered from the Nietzschean transvaluation of values that is modern political correctness.

Wrong Again?

Former chief U.S. weapons hunter David Kay made international headlines yesterday when he said "we were almost all wrong" about the issue and it was "highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons" in Iraq. Well, it looks like even in saying that he may be wrong. According to Iraq's foreign minister Saddam Hussein did in fact have weapons of mass destruction despite the fact that inspectors have thus far been unable to find. Hoshiyar Zebari said, "I have every belief that some of these weapons could be found as we move forward. They have been hidden in certain areas. The system of hiding was very sophisticated." Gee, what a surprise. Kay, wrong again.

Politicizing the Olympics

A hard-luck story about a Palestinian swimmer trying to make it to the Olympics this summer in Athens has been repeated again and again and again, ad nauseum--in the Washington Post, London Times, New York Times, Guardian, Minnesota Star Tribune, Newsday, and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. MSNBC picked it up, as did CNN, the AP, and Reuters. It has been reported in at least 60 countries in newspapers, radio, television, and on the Internet. The only problem with the story is that it is not true--well that, and the fact that none of the media outlets are actually willing to admit that it is not true.

The swimmer in question, 17 year-old Raad Aweisa, really does exist. So does the back yard pool in impoverished East Jerusalem. But, all of the other facts in the story are either altogether false or wildly exaggerated. Raad is actually nowhere close to qualifying for the Olympics--there are minimum times to meet and he is seconds away (which is an awful lot in swimming). Even his best times are more than a little suspect. He was never pressured to leave his old facility. And there are several other Olympic facilities he could be using if he wished. The fact is, his handlers are attempting to use Raad's fabricated story for political advantage--the antithesis of the purpose and mission of the Olympics. And the media has become the willing dupe of those sordid handlers. But then what else is new?

Reformed Doggerelmatic Theology

My dear friend, Ben House, sent me this bit of verse satirizing the propensity of Reformed Christians to devour one another. Variously entitled Reformed Doggerelmatic Theology or The Next 10 Points of Calvinism to Keep Us Pure or Why We Lose the Culture Wars or Why Firing Squads in a Circle are Effective or Ways to Treat Wounds With Salt. It is all too apt, alas:

Are you called, O Theologue, to be the only true servant of God?
Then bring a charge of heresy again an almost faithful synod.

Show forth a truly doctrinal Reformed purity,
Make Armageddon of a most obtuse theological obscurity.

In the lonely crusade of defending truth,
Eschew love, unity, and such lesser points so uncouth.

Never strain to hear a loose confessional gnat
When whole camels may be gulped via Internet.

Consider yourself Luther, Calvin, Knox personified,
Gathering faggots for brethren Servetusied.

Better burn a brother than hug a heretic;
The postmil few are a destined most narrowed clique.

Scorn the pastor who read books with deviations,
For such always leads to Unitarian congregations.

Sniff for faint smells of Rome or Canterbury,
Next they’ll insert in the catechism a ‘Hail Mary.’

Let Jehu guide your war chariot furiously,
Notice Armianians winning the lost curiously.

Let dim the Puritan’s claim of history’s glory,
For downcast angels thrill at hearing your own story.

Tuesday, January 27

Hubbub Reality Check

The theological furor over the “New Perspective on Paul” and the so-called “Auburn Avenue Theology” have sundered innumerable relationships and sullied the reputations of not a few faithful servants of Christ of late. Thankfully, recent reviews of the controversy have appeared in Credenda Agenda and now in Reformation and Revival--and both help to put the issues in a clearer light. One figure central to the controversy, N.T. Wright, has also answered many of the questions about his intentions at a recent Rutherford House symposium. Because this is a controversy that seems to have taken on a life of its own, it is helpful to see what the controversialists themselves are saying. In my own case, I have found in these new pronouncements a healthy hubbub reality check.

Sunday, January 25

Lord's Day Must

The wonderful thing about blogdom is that it enables readers, thinkers, and learners to gain access to the ongoing work of wise men and women and creative artists and writers. I regularly read the blogs of several friends and colleagues not simply to keep up with their sundry doings, their latest thinking, and their best musings, but for the benefit of my own inspiration and growth. There is one blog in particular I just can’t miss: Peter Leithart’s View from Peniel. The good doctor Leithart never ceases to amaze. His books are profound. His articles are erudite. And, as you might expect, even his blogs are insightful. I particularly benefit from his Sunday morning meditations for his Homily or for the administration of the sacraments of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. He challenges me. He steps on my toes. He makes me think. He provokes me to wrangle and argue--just a bit, and in the safety of my own study, of course! In other words, he does all the things a really good teacher should do. Visit just once and I think you'll be as hooked as I am. Peter's ruminations are now a Lord's Day must!

Thursday, January 22

American Hammas

Four thousand children were systematically killed yesterday. Four thousand children were killed the day before. And four thousand the day before that. And so it has gone every day in America for the last thirty-one years. Day after day after day. For thirty-one years. Costing some thirty-eight million lives!

It was thirty-one years ago today that the Supreme Court of the United States unleashed the forces that have wrought this horrific genocide--a slaughter that has now dwarfed the Nazi Holocaust or the Stalinist Purges. Roe v. Wade was perhaps its most divisive and controversial decision since Dred Scott. The court overturned the infanticide and homicide laws in abortion cases in all fifty states by legalizing abortion procedures from the moment of conception until just before the moment of birth.

Delivered on January 22, 1973 the decision sent shock waves throughout the nation--the effects of which are still felt. In a remarkably argued majority opinion, Associate Justice Blackmun introduced several creative constitutional innovations--including a heretofore unrecognized “right to privacy.” Like the Dred Scott decision before it, this case actually only exacerbated the debate the court set out to resolve. It has cost the world's richest and most powerful nation the moral high ground from which to exercise that wealth and strength. And worse, it has cost the lives of those millions upon millions of children.

The Minor Prophets of the Old Testament used a peculiar word to describe heedless, needless violence against the innocent--violence excused for the flimsiest of personal or economic reasons. It is the Hebrew word hammas. It describes a mad, cruel, and senseless sort of brutality; it is the violence of a drive by shooting; it is the violence of a car jacking; it is the violence of child abuse; it is the violence of a suicide bombing; it is the violence of abortion; it is the violence that warrants the wrath of God.

Despite the fact that for most Americans this nefarious anniversary of unflinching hammas is of little or no consequence, it is the sort of milestone upon which the woes of the prophets are built. And that should give us all pause.

Wednesday, January 21

Gay Marriage?

America’s homosexual communities are in the midst of a remarkable new trend that looks as if it could very well transform them forever. Couples are getting married. But it’s not what you think. It’s not what the newsmakers and the political commentators have been crowing about during the past year.

To be sure “gay marriage” is a hot topic these days. In November, Massachusetts moved closer to becoming the first state in the country to legalize homosexual unions after the state’s highest court struck down a ban on same-sex marriages. The 4-3 ruling, which stopped short of declaring that homosexual couples should be granted marriage licenses, mirrored a 1999 decision by the neighboring Vermont Supreme Court, which also put the question of legalization into the hands of state lawmakers. Both landmark decisions gave homosexual advocates another foothold in the burgeoning national debate over legalizing same-sex unions. They lent further support to the watershed United States Supreme Court ruling this past June in which justices rejected a longtime ban on same-sex sodomy in Texas. That case was widely viewed as the “Roe v. Wade” for homosexual activists.

With similar court decisions in Hawaii, New York, and throughout Canada, and with cases pending in nineteen other states, it appears that a sea change in the legal environment is occurring before our very eyes.

But the court decisions, and all the hand ringing that they have elicited among family advocates across America, have little or nothing to do with the remarkable resurgence of marriage sweeping through the homosexual communities. That is because the marriages are not same-sex unions. They are the old-fashioned, bride and groom, husband and wife, male and female kind of marriages. Yes, that’s right: men and women. And they are not marriages of convenience or efforts to skirt adoption or child-custody regulations. These are for-real marriages. You know, the “to have and to hold, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part” sort of marriages.

According to Bob Hertzmann, “This is not exactly the sort of thing the TV networks are likely to tell folks about.” In fact, he asserts that this remarkable new trend may very well be “the most under-reported story in America right now.” And he should know. Hertzmann is a local counseling coordinator for Exodus International, an organization that has helped hundreds of gay men and women abandon their homosexual practices over the last several years while finding fulfillment, satisfaction, and freedom in welcoming churches, in healthy relationships, and in monogamous marriages.

Hertzmann and his wife, Lisa, are living examples of this trend. “I was an activist in New York for the radical homosexual advocacy group, ACT UP. Lisa was a practicing lesbian involved with a local AIDS support agency. We met at several political rallies through the years. But both of us were so enmeshed in our own worlds, our own troubles, and our own relationships that we never even really paid much attention to each other. But then we both happened to meet at a local Bible study. I was shocked to see her. She was shocked to see me. It turns out though, that like so many gays, we were both terribly sad and we were both beginning to search for something more.”

Over the next several months, the two of them explored the claims of Christianity. “We were amazed to discover that the hunger for significance we’d both always had was satisfied, not only in the Christian faith, but in the Christian community. As our hearts began to heal from many years of abuse, promiscuity, and desperation, we began to feel again for the first time in a very long time. And then it just happened; to our extraordinary surprise, we fell in love. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Amazingly, Bob and Lisa’s love story is becoming more and more common in the homosexual community. John Thompson, a clinical psychologist practicing in Buffalo, New York has said, “As men and women become more and more disillusioned with the gay lifestyle, they look for alternatives, answers, anything. In desperation, they turn to local churches or ministries like Exodus International or Homosexuals Anonymous. There they encounter dozens of others who once were bound by sexual addictions and other compulsive behaviors--who are now free, happy, and hopeful for the future. For them, it is a stunning revelation.”

Of course, the prevailing orthodoxy asserts that homosexuals are born with their same-sex attractions. It argues that they cannot change. It asserts that their sexual orientation is determined biologically. “I am living proof that such politically-correct maxims are just not true,” says Hertzmann. “And there are hundreds, even thousands of others just like me. The proof is in the pudding.”

It appears that he is not exaggerating at all. If the testimonies on the Exodus International website or the documentary evidence compiled by Focus on the Family are any indication, the number of former homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, and lesbians who have left their promiscuous lifestyles only to embrace traditional values, the Christian faith, and ordinary family life is increasing every day. Support groups are springing up in virtually every major city across the country. Newsletters, magazines, journals, books, tapes, and films now abound. And wedding bells are ringing. As author, lecturer, and former homosexual Joe McCallum has said, “The homosexual community now has a back door as wide as the broad side of a barn--and people are pouring through it into the church and into healthy families.”

Any number of politicians, media pundits, and cultural critics are scrambling to deal with the issue of same-sex marriages in a fashion that somehow will not undermine inheritance, property, and insurance laws while at the same time satisfying the demands of the homosexual lobbyists and activists. Meanwhile, this dramatic new trend within the homosexual community may well be making such machinations moot. “The best way to deal with a difficult problem is not always to attack the problem itself but to focus on the solution,” Michael Spinnaker, another counselor for Exodus, has said. “The sudden spate of marriages we’re seeing among former homosexuals is only surprising because the media has steadfastly avoided reporting the story. But it is one of the most amazing and wonderful stories to be told. And it makes the hubbub over same-sex unions pale in comparison.”

Indeed, it does.

Tuesday, January 20

G.K. Chesterton Blog Redeux

I've mentioned this before, but it is so much fun it really warrants a redeux:

What if G.K. Chesterton had a blog? Actually, he did, and her name was Frances--but that is another story altogether. What I really mean is, what if the great journalist, wit, historian, theologian, and broadcaster were alive today? Would he embrace the new technologies and the opportunities they afford to reach a new and wider audience? Would he have a blogspot site in the blogosphere? I have to think so.

Chesterton certainly took advantage of radio in its pioneer days--becoming one of the most popular broadcasters at the BBC (I have in my library archives a digitized version of three broadcast snippets and they are wonderful). No doubt, he would have made quite a good natured fuss over the complexity of the hardware and the software--can't you just see him cajoling Dorothy Collins to hurry up and get his PowerBook upgraded to with an Airport Extreme-enabled OS X so that he could crank out his daily quota of blurbs, vignettes, quips, stories, verses, and columns whilst hunkered down in his favorite haunt, the fabled Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street? Really. He would have done it, I am convinced, one way or another.

Of course, he never lived to see the day of TV much less laptops, wi-fis, and bluetooth mobiles and PDAs. But now, we have a chance to see what he might have done if he had indeed lived to post to the web. Some wise soul has begun a delightful blog comprised of daily epigrams from the great man's great works. You gotta love it.

In a somewhat similar vein--albeit, significantly more low-tech--Michael Perry has created a wonderful new edition of Chesterton Day-by-Day. Published by Inking Books in Seattle in both hardback and paperback, the book is perfect for all those who need a daily dose of GKC but may not get to the blog for one reason or another. And the American Chesterton Society has produced a wonderful new edition of the great man's epic poem Lepanto. Edited by Dale Ahlquist with excellent historical and literary notes, this is a real treat no Chestertonian will want to do without.

Haiti's Bicentennial

More than forty people have died in Haiti over the last three months during violent street protests against government corruption and tyranny. It’s hardly the sort of thing you might expect during the big build-up to the nation’s bicentennial celebrations. But, then again, this is Haiti we’re talking about.

A century ago, during the centennial celebrations for Haiti’s independence, the nation’s president scolded his people saying that he was “tired of our stupidities” and decried “a century of slavery of negro by negro.” He pled with them to amend their sordid habits so that perhaps a century hence their descendents might actually have something to celebrate at the bicentennial in 2004.

That century has now come and gone. The bicentennial has arrived. But the “stupidities” and “slavery” continue unabated.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas with more than eighty percent of its people in thrall to the most abject impoverishment. AIDS, malnutrition, and infant mortality are rampant. The Marxist government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide is among the most corrupt and inefficient on the face of the earth. Even many missionary organizations quietly bemoan the fact that the country has become a "relief and development money pit" and that efforts to bring Gospel hope there have become mired in a malignant culture of graft and perversity.

No wonder that the people are hardly in the mood for self-congratulatory bicentennial parties. Just yesterday police have fired tear gas at thousands of protestors who have taken to the streets in the capital Port-au-Prince.

As opposition leader Marc Habilieu asserted following the clash, “For two hundred years we have paraded our shame before the rest of the world. It is time for a dramatic change. It is time for something other than the same old political slogans and promises. It is time for a dose of reality.”

Strikes a familiar chord, doesn’t it? It certainly does for most Haitians.

Saturday, January 17

Up Up and Away

This past week, President Bush dropped several policy bombshells. Perhaps the one that seems most out of the blue and has captured most of the public attention is a vow to "expand human presence across our Solar System." According to the President, "We will set a new course for America's space program; we will give NASA a new focus. We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe to gain a new foothold on the Moon and prepare for new journeys beyond Earth."

According to Rod Martin of Vanguard PAC, "For the cost of one-tenth of one B-2 bomber per year, the President has set in motion the most dramatic change in NASA's priorities since John F. Kennedy announced Apollo." Indeed he has. His plans call for a permanent Lunar colony, possibly as soon as 2015, followed by manned expeditions to Mars and beyond within a decade. And to accomplish all this, Bush proposes a new generation of state-of-the-art spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will take man to orbit, to the Moon, to Mars, and to anywhere else he might want to go; and an advanced nuclear rocket engine, already being designed under the name "Project Prometheus", which will cut the travel time from Earth to Mars from eight months down to two. Pretty breath taking stuff!

According to Martin, "It is certainly understandable why many people would fail to see the point. The Shuttle era was a dismal bureaucratic age of "U-Hauls to orbit," and even the Apollo program--unquestionably one of the greatest achievements of man--was more geopolitical arm wrestle than otherworldly exploration." But he argues that this new vision is far more significant that those old Cold War or crassly commercial enterprises. Indeed, he says, "Space is not merely a budget line-item or a money pit; space is a place. And it is a place in which much of the future of humanity could unfold."

Martin urges skeptics to take the longer vision. Think about space mining, about helium-3 fusion reactors, about zero and low gravity manufacturing, about, super-sensitive observatories, about drugs and medical procedures today unimagined, about the the world-covering quantities of water just discovered on Mars, or about the possible positive societal effects of having a new frontier. The technology is practically already here to do all this and more.

The only real question, according to Martin, is who will have the will to sieze the opportunity? "Will America colonize those new worlds, controlling the economic life of humanity to a degree today's Arabs can only dream of, or will we allow others to dominate us instead? Will Washington and Madison's children continue to lead in science, military power, and political dominance, or will it cede that to the socialists in Brussels, or even the totalitarians in Beijing?"

Fascinating notions to ponder. Fascinating times in which to live

Monday, January 12

Peru Update

Dr. and Mrs. Grant, as well as the entire support team, are safely home--after traveling nearly thirty-six hours from the remote highlands of the Peruvian Andes to Cuzco to Lima to Miami and finally to Nashville. It was a rich time of ministry and fellowship--and we trust, of encouragement for the Mission to the World Missionaries serving in that vast, impoverished land. Dr. Grant taught each night from the Minor Prophets. Each day, he and Mrs. Grant team-taught on such subjects as the Lectio Divina from the Psalms and Paul's worldview curriculum of righteousness from Philippians--in addition to counseling the mission leaders on the potential establishment of Classical Christian schools there. Amazed by the work of the hinterlands medical and cultural missions there, everyone is already talking about a follow up visit.

Sunday, January 11

Ben's Top Ten

My dear friend, Ben House, sends me a top-ten list every year of the best books he has read in the previous twelve months. As usual, this wise pastor and Classical Christian educator from Texarkana has demonstrated a rich reading life of diverse, interesting, and unusual selections--they also mirror my own intersts, quirks, and proclivities! Herewith are his choices for the best books of the year:

I start more books than I finish. I buy more than I start. I forget much of what I read. I neglect yard mowing, leaf raking, bill paying, and other necessities to read. Mornings begin with reading and coffee. My light cannot go out without at least a few minutes to read at the end of the day. Beside my bed stands a dangerous leaning tower--the great mass of unfinished volumes looming over my bed. I will hesitate to buy a much-needed pair of shoes, but will jump at the chance to buy a rare volume I might never read. I even try--unsuccessfully--to read during lulls in conversations with my wife.

Is there any help for people like me? Is there a book that might help? If there is, I’ll buy the book. If there are two views of how to solve the problem, I’ll buy both. But these linear adventures are not in vain. At the end of every year, I select my top ten books from that year. The greater book publishing and marketing world never notice my selections, but it does add a bit of drama in my life to the gray overcast days between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Several considerations need to be kept in mind about my list. Rarely have I read a best seller. Some years ago, I read the best-selling novel Cold Mountain and I liked it, but survived the experience. And then there was the year I read John Adams by David McCullough. Who would have thought a book about John Adams would have been a best seller? Perhaps Bill Clinton inadvertently created a desire in the public to read about an honorable man.

My rankings are subjective; that is, 99% of the criteria is based on what the book did for me. In the providence of God, a particular book is life changing at a particular time. Also, I am not a critical reader or thinker. The mistakes, the logical flaws, or thematic inconsistencies usually escape me. My most typically profound critical insight is either “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” Kind of deep isn’t it?

Below is the listing for 2003 with comments and supplements. As will be noticed from the range of selections, I am either undisciplined in studying a particular subject or area, or I am eclectic. The latter term sounds better.

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, a couple who has translated several works by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. This is a fat Russian novel, basically the only kind of Russian novel. I feel guilty for not having read enough great classics. Maybe it has something to do with having a master’s degree in education, in having a minor in English, and in teaching literature. Once before I started this book and stopped after a few chapters, but this time I pushed on through. Anna Karenina is just one character among many. In one sense, she is not even the main character. Another character, Levin, an intellectual, an agrarian reformer, a farmer, overcomes a rejected proposal and becomes being a good husband and father. Through his wife’s faith and family experiences, he changes from atheist to a believer. Anna Karenina, a beautiful and powerful woman, on the other hand, destroys her life and family by her adultery. Tolstoy was theologically brilliant as a writer, although he was theologically kooky as an individual. Theologically, this book is near perfect. True husbands are paired against false husbands. True spirituality is paired against superficial spirituality. Growth in grace is paired against the slippery slope of sin. Humble family life is contrasted with high society. True calling is found in faith and family, and not in society and economic success. With that Russian feel to it, Anna Karenina is worth reading and rereading.

2. Memoirs of the Second World War by Winston Churchill. Revoke my history major if necessary, but I have never read Churchill’s six volume history of World War II. At least I have now read this one volume abridgement, this pamphlet of a mere1000 pages. Churchill was both a major participant and major historian of the epic Second World War. As scholars have noted, while Britain under Churchill may not have won World War II, they kept Hitler from winning in 1940. Churchill miscalculated the number of weapons of mass destruction in Germany in the 1930s; he spoke with rhetorical flourishes lacking precise details; he made enough political and military blunders to end a dozen careers, but he had vision. We only know of his more exact, careful political contemporaries because they stand in Churchill’s shadow. Churchill understood the essence of Nazism better and earlier than anyone else in leadership. He also understood the essence and vulnerability of Communism. Both insights came because he still understood Christendom. And he was a great writer: magnanimous toward others, while restrained toward his own role in the war, powerfully descriptive, subtle, and witty. His feats during the war were enormous, especially considering his age and health. A couple of good supplements to this book that I read were The Battle of Britain: Myth and Reality by Richard Overy and Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian. by John Lukacs. The former title shows how Britain basically saved Western Civilization and the second assesses Churchill’s insights, strengths, flaws and greatness. You can never read enough by or about Churchill--the last great knight of Christendom.

3. Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce. While the British Empire and nation declined greatly in the 20th century, God blessed them with something perhaps greater than political power--great literature. While Britain needs a Christian Reformation (far more than America), she did at least experience a Christian Renaissance in the last century. The results may bother those of us who are committed Calvinists and Protestants. Most of the converts were or became Roman Catholic: G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Christopher Dawson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, and Malcolm Muggerridge. The Church of England was not left out, with such names as C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and Dorothy Sayers. All these writers formed a loose network--influencing, inspiring, and converting one another. Along with the well-known, there are quite a few names I did not recognize. At points in reading this book, I wondered if every atheist, communist, agnostic, skeptic, and laborite who wrote a book in England converted to Christianity. This book sent me to my bookshelves and to the web in search of titles and authors Pearce discussed. I read Chesterton’s Heretics and Orthodoxy; reread Brideshead Revisited; read biographies of Belloc and Dawson; read books by and about the Inklings. We have yet to see the full fruit of this great cadre of Literary Converts.

4. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was a slow and reluctant convert to the charm of Middle Earth. My early attempts at reading Tolkien neither impressed or enchanted me. My son and I read The Hobbit a few years back, and he ventured on into the LOTR. After the first movie, I realized that every person in the universe, except for me, had read and loved LOTR. I couldn’t discuss the flaws and omissions in the movie. So I read it. I still confuse Arwen and Eowyn. I would fail a Middle Earth geography test. I stand trembling near The Silmarillion, but there is hope for me, I think. Two great works on Tolkien that helped me see his Christian worldview and applications are A Tolkien Celebration, which is a collection of essays edited by Joseph Pearce, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth by Bradley Birzer.

5. The Divine Comedy by Dante. Some of my first-time reads embarrass me. These reading selections should have been my high school reading or college reading, or at least my early post-college. Over a quarter century after having a degree claiming that I am educated, I am still overcoming the bad effects of modern education. Like the trilogy listed above, I was unimpressed at first with reading of the first volume of this work, The Inferno several years ago. This year, with my high school students, we read the whole work. The return trip through the Inferno began slowly, but my dull senses began to awaken. By closing cantos of The Inferno, with Dante and Virgil climbing up the body of Satan frozen in ice, I was a willing convert. Moving into The Purgatorio, I begin hearing the penitent sinners singing psalms (there was no singing in Hell). I was not converted to a Medieval Catholicism, but I was willing to follow Dante anywhere. The visions of heaven and Beatrice and then the beatific vision of God in The Paradiso put me on my knees. A valuable companion to The Divine Comedy is Peter Leithart’s Ascent to Love: A Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy. By the way, we used the Allen Mendelbaum translation this year, but I hope to use Dorothy Sayer’s translation next time.

6. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson. George Grant recommended this book and author, comparing him to Paul Johnson. One reading is not enough for this history. Ferguson boldly rushes in where most academics fear to tread. He defends the British Empire--you know, colonialism, imperialism, the white man’s burden, etcetera--and he calls upon the U.S. to learn to favorable lessons of the British Empire and apply them. His defense of the Empire is not without qualification; this is not Jingoism or Manifest Destiny run amok. History is almost always ugly up close and beautiful at a distance. Such is the history of the British Empire. The benefits of the Empire were enormous: the United States being one the results, along with the spread of free trade, free government, and the rule of law throughout much of the world. Like it or not, two oceans notwithstanding, the U.S. stands in the role similar to but even greater than Britain at the height of its empire. I know this is news to Democratic presidential candidates, but the U.N. needs American support to act and the U.S. does not need U.N. resolutions. This book is urgent, insightful, and thrilling reading.

7. Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt. This book and the one listed above will not make many reading lists in the typical state university Western Civ classes. Schmidt discusses the Christian influences on the sanctity of human life, abortion, the freedom of women, free government, education, art, music, and literature. On every area he marshals quotes from original sources, from scholars and participants, and from friends and enemies of the faith evidencing Christian salt and light. I had probably read a third of the quotes before from who knows how many different books and articles. But they are all here, well documented. The story of Christianity is not the Inquisition, the Crusades, and endless oppressions and suppressions. This is the true story. There are many useful supplements to this book. One I reread was How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. This is the marvelous story of how Christians, like St. Patrick and Columba, converted kingdoms and saved the great literary manuscripts of the West. Also, historian Christopher Dawson’s numerous volumes are great on the Christian influences on Western Civilization.

8. The Next Christendom by Phillip Jenkins. Jenkins’ book shows that the transforming effects of Christianity are alive and well on planet Earth. Europe slumbers in unbelief and cultural apostasy and portions of American Christianity are sliding into perversions galore, but south of the equator, the Christian faith is growing. In fact, Christianity is growing faster than Islam, faster than paganism, faster than any other belief system, in spite of persecutions, poverty, and other hindrances. The Christian faith is largely Catholic, wildly charismatic, and fundamentalist in its manifestations--just like the early Church during the first millennium. Jenkins aptly compares the early Christianization of Europe and the current Christianization of the southern hemisphere. This book is postmillennial, although the author is undoubtedly not. I found it an unexpected help when I was preaching through Romans 10 and 11 on the issues of branches of belief being cut off and others being grafted in.

9. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music by Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirshberg. This book, listed along with the works of Tolstoy, Churchill, Dante, and Tolkien, may seem out of place. But the roots of Southern, rural, folk music reveal the Christian faith, the rural folkways, and hardiness of the mountain and farm people of America’s near past. A.P. Carter collected, preserved, and wrote quite a few songs that captured that faith, that history, and that culture of the older agrarian American folk. A poor man from the hills of Virginia, he became famous in his day for singing with his wife, Sarah, and sister-in-law, Maybelle. The Carter family made history by riding over rough roads to sing at the now historic recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee in the 1030s. This was the beginnings of recorded country music. The Carters sang of faith, of loves lost and lost, of heart-ache and happiness, of life and death. Their personal lives paralleled the themes, both good and bad, of their songs. Their songs influenced many singers across a wide spectrum of music, and the popular movie and compact disk “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is just one example of their on-going influence. The original Carter family was replaced by Mother Maybelle Carter and her daughters. One of the daughters, June, became the most famous due to her love for and marriage to another singer, Johnny Cash. June was God’s primary instrument in turning Cash from drugs to Christ. The last segment of the Carter story was fulfilled this year with the deaths of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. I miss them all now that they are gone, but as A.P. pointed out in one of his most famous songs, “There’s a better world awaiting’, in the sky, Lord, in the sky.”

10. Herodotus: The Histories. This is another of those great monumental works that I once started, put aside, and then read fully this year. The history Herodotus preserved can be found in better organized, shorter, more accurate accounts. But Herodotus tells you how to teach history: Tell stories, mix the incredible with the chronological; insert humor and fantasy; give your sources; raise doubts; bounce along the details; ascribe the results of history to God’s purposes and man’s sins (hubris or pride); and teach the greater themes, such the victory of freedom over tyranny. The experts who point skinny fingers at Herodotus’ errors would do well to ponder his success. History without stories and without passion is impossible. Augustine would encourage us to borrow well from the wisdom of the pagan ancients (“Plunder the Egyptians,” he would say.) This book contains many truths worth borrowing and plundering. As a follow-up or as a short cut to understand Herodotus, Ernle Bradford’s Thermopylae gives a fine account of the Greco-Persian wars, laden with quotes from Herodotus. Bradford himself was a wonderful historian. Herodotus’ Histories is an indispensable help in understanding the world and culture found in the Bible. Sacrifices, oaths, cultural habits, the inescapability of religion, and much more that is central to the Bible is also found in Herodotus.

Tuesday, January 6

Peru Update

Dr. Grant and the rest of the Peru missions team are doing well. They arrived safely in Cuzco Peru on Friday January 2nd. Cuzco is an amazing city of nearly a million people--most of whom are the descendents of the Incas. The culture is as rich as the people are poor. The work of the Gospel there is making great strides. Pray for the team as they attempt to encourage and equip the team for the work of the ministry.

Tomorrow the missionary conference begins. The team did village Bible school yesterday. For the conference they will be responsible for the children's program. Our prayer is that it will be a time of real encouragement. Please continue to pray not only for the team, but for the people of Peru.

Thursday, January 1

Blessed New Year!

Throughout Christendom, January 1 has been celebrated as a day of renewal--for vows, vision, and vocation. It was on this day that guild members took their annual pledge, that husbands and wives renewed their marriage promises, and that young believers reasserted their resolution to walk in the grace of the Lord’s great Epiphany. In Edinburgh beginning in the seventeenth century, revelers would gather at the Tron Church to watch the great clock tower mark their entrance into the new year--which was the inspiration behind the relatively recent Times Square ceremony in New York. But in Edinburgh, the purpose was not merely to have a grand excuse for a public party, but a way of celebrating the truth of Epiphany newness. It was to bid one another in the covenant a blessed New Year. And so it ought still to be! Blessed New Year!