Thursday, July 31

On the Nightstand

Disaffection with the Major Parties

Could a third or fourth party candidate really determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential race? If history and the current disaffection with the Republican and Democratic nominees are any indication, the answer is a resounding "Yes! Absolutely!" Indeed, according to a recent Pew Research Center Survey, the weakness of both the McCain and Obama candidacies is unprecedented. And according to an article in today's New York Times, candidates like Chuck Baldwin (Constitution), Ralph Nader (Independent), Bob Barr (Libertarian), and Alan Keyes (Independent), and wild cards like Michael Bloomberg and Ron Paul could make a real difference come November. Although it is not likely that a third party candidate can yet win, they certainly have moved beyond the mere symbolism of "protest support."


It recently struck me that perhaps “Vaguenosticsm” would be a more accurate way to describe the devil-may-care modern version of in-defensible and non-substantive “Agnosticism.”

Wednesday, July 30

Bad Books and Good Books

From time to time I am asked why I typically only write positive reviews. Why don’t I do much in the way of genuine criticism? Why don’t I spend a lot of time lambasting all the piffle, drivel, and swill that seems to subsume the publishing industry these days? There are two simple reasons.

First, I don’t have time to read bad books. There are still too many classics that I have yet had a chance to read. I don’t have any inclination to waste precious time plowing through boring, or wicked, or sentimental, or lurid works. If I discover that a book is not worth reading after a couple of chapters, I usually stop reading it. And if I wouldn’t waste my time reading something, I figure I shouldn’t waste your time telling you as much. How much better to profile the myriad of volumes that are really worth reading—and thus, worth talking about.

The fiercest criticism I can offer a bad book is to ignore it.

Secondly, my whole purpose in writing articles, columns, newsletters, and blogs about books is not merely to write articles, columns, newsletters, and blogs about books. I don’t need the space, the PR, or the extra job. I make no pretense of being a journalist or a professional critic of belles lettres. I am a reader who happens to enjoy sharing my favorite discoveries with others. I try not to be promiscuous in my praise. But I have no intention of masking my enthusiasms either.

Now, if a Mein Kampf were to come along, I’d likely be obligated to point out its gross malignancy. That is most assuredly a noble task worth undertaking. To be sure we need to be alert to the dangers around us. We can’t afford to be incognizant of the dark forces that threaten to topple our culture. We mustn’t stick our heads in the sand. Lord knows, I’ve spent much of my career lampooning the enemies of justice, mercy, and humility before God. So I’m certainly not saying that we need to shy away from condemning the prejudice, perversity, and intellectual dishonesty that are the hallmarks of modern inhuman humanism. But the fact is, most bad books aren’t all that important. They will ultimately collapse under the weight of their own absurdity and generally do not warrant our frenzied concern.

So look: I am not unaware of The Shack phenomenon. How could I be? I couldn't begin to count the number of people who've asked me to review it, who want to know what I think about it, who are wowed by it, or baffled by it, or angered by it, or all three together. But, here is the thing: the book is just dreadful. It is badly written and badly conceived. It is maudlin, sentimental, and silly. But, worst of all, it is heretical. Indeed, it is heretical from start to finish. Its portrayal of the Trinity, of Scripture, of man's calling, of providence, of the Fall, and of Christ's purposes in redemption are all blatantly, brazenly, objectively apostate. And then, there is its horrifying view of the church—according to a recent articles in World Magazine, neither the author or the publisher have attended church for years, and it really, really shows. Screwtape, Gollum, and Voldemort working together couldn't have made this any worse. Surely this is the sort of thing Francis Schaeffer had in mind when he warned about an encroaching latitudinarianism in his final work, The Great Evangelical Disaster.

But--and here is the point--it is so bad, it is likely to be about as enduring as a summertime gnat. I know, I know, it's made an astonishing climb up the New York Times bestseller list, but this really is not the sort of book that will still be in print in twenty years. It's a blip on the screen. It's a fad--like neck tattoos, droopy pants, doo-rags, tongue piercings, and bed-head dino-hair. It's just another of the tawdry passing fancies of a culture slouching toward Gomorrah.

So, I am not going to do a full review this book. Ever. Instead, I am simply going to repair to my commitment to focusing only on good books. At a time when so many of us are only too well aware of the smothering mediocrity of American Evangelical pop culture, why not direct attentions to those few works of encouragement, edification, erudition, and enlightenment?

Indeed, the Apostle Paul reminds us to keep things in proper perspective—to major on the majors and minor on the minors: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be anything praiseworthy, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Friday, July 25

Bias and the Money Trail

The refusal of the New York Times to publish a McCain rebuttal to Obama’s recent bombastic Iraq op-ed piece and his showboating photo-op of a world tour may be disappointing, but it is by no means surprising. Liberal media bias is certainly not new news. But just when it seemed as if it couldn’t get any worse, it has. As American’s for Tax Reform analyst William Tate has said, “True proof of an ever-expanding media bias merely requires one to acknowledge an old journalism maxim: follow the money.

An analysis of federal records shows that the amount of money mainstream journalists contributed so far this election cycle favors Democrats by a 15:1 ratio over Republicans, with $225,563 going to Democrats, only $16,298 to Republicans. Two-hundred thirty-five journalists donated to Democrats, just 20 gave to Republicans--a margin greater than 10-to-1. An even greater disparity, 20-to-1, exists between the number of journalists who donated to Obama and McCain.

Searches for other newsroom categories (digital media publishers, freelance reporters, internet correspondents, news editors, on-line anchors, web editors, photographers, syndicated bloggers, feed podcasters, and cartoonists) produces even greater disparity. Among these, donations totaled $315,533 to Democrats, $3,150 to Republicans--a ratio of 100-to-1.

Surprised? Hardly.

Wednesday, July 23

New Seed of Hope

Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, addressed a small crowd of his supporters yesterday in Darfur's capital of al-Fasher saying that he would not be cowed by his indictment on genocide charges nor would Sudan bow to the threat of international sanctions. A defiant al-Bashir charged that his indictment by the International Criminal Court's prosecutor is simply an attempt to foil his government's efforts to "restore peace in Africa." He asserted, "we will only bow to Allah, who is the sole provider."

The International Criminal Court filed ten charges against al-Bashir earlier this month for masterminding a campaign of genocide, extermination, and rape specifically targeting three Dafur tribes. The U.N. says about 300,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been uprooted over the past five years. These war crimes are startlingly documented in a film, New Seed of Sudan, produced by one of the new breed of missions organizations, New Seed of Hope.

More significantly, both the film and the organization affirm the reality that the future of Africa does not rest in the hands of brutal Muslim warlords like al-Bashir, or even in the courts of the international tribunals, but in the hearts of young men, like the returning “Lost Boys,” determined to forge a future of hope for their children and their children’s children.

Tuesday, July 22

The Sinofication of Africa

A frightening strategy is unfolding across Africa. The land, energy, and influence-hungry Communist Chinese are gobbling up the continent at an astonishing rate. According to an article in Britain's Daily Mail, the West should be very worried.

Saturday, July 19

The Sociology of Missions

The last mandate of Christ to His disciples—commonly known as the Great Commission—was to comprehensively evangelize the whole the world. He said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The implications of this mandate are revolutionary and have literally altered the course of world history. Jesus asserted that all authority in heaven is His (Psalm 103:19). The heights, the depths, the angels, and the principalities are all under His sovereign rule (Psalm 135:5-7). But all authority on earth is His as well (Psalm 147:15-18). Man and creature, as well as every invention and institution, are under His providential superintendence (Psalm 24:1). There are no neutral areas in all the cosmos that can escape the authoritative regency (Colossians 1:17).

On that basis Christ says, believers all across the wide gulf of time, are to continually manifest His Lordship—making disciples in all nations by going, baptizing, and teaching. This mandate is the essence of the New Covenant, which in turn, is just an extension of the Old Covenant: Go and claim everything in heaven and on earth for the everlasting dominion of Jesus Christ (Genesis 1:26-28).

It was this mandate that originally emboldened Christ’s disciples to preach the Gospel—first in Jerusalem and Judea, then in Samaria, and finally in the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). It was this mandate that sustained the faithful church through generations of hardship, persecution, calamity, and privation—provoking it to offer light and life to those ensnared in the miry clay of darkness and death. It was this mandate that sent explorers like Columbus, Balboa, da Gama, Magellan, and Cabot out across the perilous uncharted seas. And ultimately, it was this mandate that became the catalyst for a remarkable resurgence of missionary efforts—both in word and in deed—that followed on the heels of the great European expansion and colonization during the nineteenth century.

Just as no corner of the globe was left untouched by the explorers, soldiers, merchants, and colonists, the selfless and sacrificial efforts of missionaries left virtually no stone unturned either. Peoples everywhere were not only glorious converted spiritually, they also tasted the abundant benefits of Christian civilization. And, chief among those benefits of course, was a new respect for the dignity of every human life—a respect that was entirely unknown anywhere in the world until the advent of the Gospel.

As missionaries moved out from Christendom to the “uttermost parts of the earth” they were shocked to discover all the horrors of untamed heathenism. They found abortion all too prevalent, infanticide all too commonplace, abandonment all too familiar, and euthanasia all too customary. They were confronted by the specters of endemic poverty, recurring famine, unfettered disease, and widespread chattel slavery—which the Christian West had only recently abolished. Cannibalism, ritual abuse, patricide, human sacrifice, sexual perversity, petty tyranny, paternalistic exploitation, live burials, exterminative clan warfare, and genocidal tribal vendettas all predominated.

Again and again, they had to affirm in the clearest possible way—in both word and deed—that Jesus Christ is the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and that through Him had come the death of death (Romans 5:6-18).

Most of the missionaries knew that such a liberating message would likely be met with strident opposition. And it was. Especially toward the end of the great missionary era--during the sunset of Victorianism—missionaries were often forced into conflicts with Europeans and North Americans who subscribed to the Enlightenment notions of Darwinism, Mercantilism, and Pragmatism. As these ideas took a higher and higher profile at home, leaders in government and academia—and gradually even in the church—began to increasingly believe that the vast difference between Christian culture and pagan culture was actually not rooted in religion but in sociology and race. So, Christian soldiers stationed in British colonies, for example, were often reprimanded for attending the baptisms of native converts because as representatives of the government, they were obligated to be “religiously neutral.” Thus, missionaries found it increasingly difficult to persuade the Western governments to abolish heathen customs and impose the rule of humanitarian law.

Thankfully, the vast majority of the missionaries on the field held the line against such latitudinarianism. They continued to sacrifice. They continued to care for the hurting. They continued to succor the ailing. They continued to value the weak. And they continued to stand for the innocent.

As missionaries circled the globe, penetrated the jungles, and crossed the seas, they preached a singular message: light out of darkness, liberty out of tyranny, and life out of death. To cultures endemic with terrible poverty, brutality, lawlessness, and disease, those faithful Christian witnesses interjected the novel Christian concepts of grace, charity, law, medicine, and the sanctity of life. They overturned despots, liberated the captives, and rescued the perishing. They established hospitals. They founded orphanages. They started rescue missions. They built almshouses. They opened soup kitchens. They incorporated charitable societies. They changed laws. They demonstrated love. They lived as if people really mattered. Wherever missionaries went, they faced a dual challenge: confront sin in men's hearts and confront sin in men's cultures.

Thus, the nineteenth century missions movement was more than simply a great era of Biblical preaching. It was a great era of Biblical faith. The great pioneers of nineteenth century missions have thus left us a remarkable multi-faceted legacy. They were church-planters and culture-shapers. They were soul-winners and nation-builders.

May we be so bold as to walk in their footsteps.

Friday, July 18

Right Words

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Mark Twain

Web Stories

Pioneering a whole new approach to story-telling that combines everything from Google Maps to Boolean Technologies, Penguin UK has launched a new Web Lit enterprise. Presently there are six projects at We Tell Stories. Each is written by a prominent contemporary author--but, their stories are inspired by favorite fairy tales or well-known classics. The 21 Steps is far and away my favorite. Written by Charles Cumming and based on a famous WWI spy novel by John Buchan, it is a remarkable feat of imagination wed to modern internet technologies.

Thursday, July 17

Cheerful Labor

"The world does not consider labor a blessing, therefore, it flees and hates it but the pious who fear the Lord, labor with a ready and cheerful heart; for they know God's command and will, they acknowledge His calling." Martin Luther

Wednesday, July 16

The Cost of Government

Americans worked from the first of 2008 until today, July 16, to pay the full costs of federal, state, and local government spending and regulatory costs. Now, we can start to work on all those other pesky bills--you know, like food and clothes and lodging. As Will Rogers quipped, "It is a good thing that we do not get as much government as we pay for." Or as Mark Twain asserted, "The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin."

Tuesday, July 15

TR's Ongoing Appeal

How is it that nearly a century after his death, Theodore Roosevelt is still making news, shaping campaigns, influencing public policy, defining decisive leadership, and molding the character of the American presidency? It was just a year ago that Time magazine put Teddy on its cover claiming that he remains as influential at the beginning of the twenty-first century as he was when he pushed America across the threshold of the twentieth century.

A year later, TR is a hot topic again. Out on the campaign trail John McCain mentions Teddy almost as often as Barak Obama invokes the mantras of "change" and "hope." This past week he splashed his invocation of TR across the nation's front pages when he told the New York Times that he is a "TR Conservative."

Of course, this isn't an idea he's just started to roll out for the present electoral season. He's been saying this sort of thing throughout his entire political career. During the presidential campaign in 2000, the National Review asserted, "TR makes obvious sense as a model for McCain: Roosevelt was also a war hero, who exuded a manly vigor, and relentlessly trumpeted a rhetoric of reform."

Indeed, the appeal of TR is obvious. By any measure he was a remarkable man. Before his fiftieth birthday he had served as a New York State Legislator, the Under-Secretary of the Navy, Police Commissioner for the City of New York, US. Civil Service Commissioner, the Governor of the State of New York, the vice-president under William McKinley, a Colonel in the US. Army, and two terms as the President of the United States.

In addition, he had run a cattle ranch in the Dakota Territories, served as a reporter and editor for several journals, newspapers, and magazines, and conducted scientific expeditions on four continents. He read at least five books every week of his life and wrote nearly fifty on an astonishing array of subjects--from history and biography to natural science and social criticism.

He enjoyed hunting, boxing, and wrestling. He was an amateur taxidermist, botanist, ornithologist, and astronomer. He was a devoted family man who lovingly raised six children. And he enjoyed a life-long romance with his wife.

During his long and varied career, he was hailed by supporters and rivals alike as the greatest man of the age—perhaps one of the greatest of all ages. According to Thomas Reed, Speaker of the House of Representatives, he was a “new-world Bismark and Cromwell combined.” Indeed, according to President Grover Cleveland, he was “one of the ablest men yet produced in human history.” Senator Henry Cabot Lodge asserted that, “Since Caesar, perhaps no one has attained among crowded duties and great responsibilities, such high proficiency in so many separate fields of activity.” After an evening in his company, the epic poet Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I curled up on the seat opposite and listened and wondered until the universe seemed to be spinning round—and Roosevelt was the spinner.” Great Britain’s Lord Charnwood exclaimed, “No statesman for centuries has had his width of intellectual range; to be sure no intellectual has so touched the world with action.” Even his life-long political opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was bedazzled by his prowess. “Search the annals of history if you will,” he said. “Never will you find a man more remarkable in every way than he.”

If McCain really were a "TR Conservative" that would be no small beer. Alas, a host of TR wannabes have come and gone in the century since his departure from the national scene and none have yet stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him. Maybe that's part of the reason why it is TR that continues to make the headlines.

Good, True, and Beautiful

“When I was about ten or eleven years old I formed the habit of reading which has never since been broken. I developed peculiar literary affections and habits which inevitably generated an insatiable appetite for the classic masterworks then passing into popular disfavor. My career was thus established not upon any market sensibility, but upon my own predilection to preserve the good, the true, and the beautiful.” Joseph Malaby Dent

Monday, July 14


"Whatever makes a man a good Christian also makes a good citizen."Daniel Webster

A Churchless Community

"In this actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at, or ignored their Christian duties, is a community on the rapid down-grade."Theodore Roosevelt

Positive Thinking Cliches

At the heart of nearly every one of our "positive thinking cliches" there is a nascent stoic reductionism. For my sermon this past Lord's Day, I tried to remember as many of these sayings as I could. I was trying to explore the most common ways that we tend to minimize a Biblical approach to trials, adversities, difficulties, hassles, griefs, woes, and troubles (the "peirasmos" of James 1:2-4). Here are the ones I was able to come up with:

Every cloud has a silver lining.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

After the rain comes a rainbow.

It's always darkest before the dawn

Every rose has its thorn.

Midnight is where the day begins.

The sharper the berry, the sweeter is the wine.

What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.

Que sera, sera; whatever will be, will be.

All sunshine makes a desert.

Bloom where you are planted.

Defeat is just a down payment for victory.

Failure is the backdoor to success.

Doing stupid things certainly makes life more interesting.

If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

The road to success is always under construction.

We often see further through a tear, than through a telescope.

No pain, no gain.

It'll feel better when it stops hurting.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad!

Saturday, July 12

Momento Mori

“Resolved: Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” Jonathan Edwards

Friday, July 11

Ideals Realized

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” G. K. Chesterton

The Problem with Chesterton

My long-distance friend James Sauer writes, “I’ve got a problem with Chesterton. The problem is that I think he is a wonderful, wise, witty, and pious man; after reading his works, I never leave the page without feeling edified.”

So, “Why is that a problem?” you just might ask. “Perhaps, the problem, if it is a problem,” Sauer responds, “isn’t in Chesterton, but in me.” You see, he explains, “I am a Protestant; but not just any Protestant. I am an American Evangelical Protestant. But there’s more. I am a Conservative, Capitalistic, Bible-thumping American Evangelical Protestant. And hold on to your seats folks, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse; I must confess, I am also a Calvinist. We all have our crosses to bear.”

OK. So far, so good. But then, Sauer gets to the sticky part, “Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Chesterton will see the great irony in my situation. I can only ask you not to blame me for this state of affairs, I didn’t choose to be elected; it was irresistible grace. I was predestined for Presbyterianism. But since I have received this unmerited favor of God, I might as well enjoy it. I can only thank my Sovereign Maker for His predestination. Not only did He choose me to be among his chosen people, but He also destined me to be among that other elect who have had the privilege of meeting through literature the great mind and good heart of Gilbert Keith Chesterton.”

Amen and amen!

Wednesday, July 9

Evolution of an Idea


“Gargantuanism and the care of souls cannot coexist.” Thomas Chalmers

Monday, July 7

The Perfect Summer Feast

Two More Sites

Yes, more. I've launched two more sites intended to deal with a couple of special concerns of mine--one very negative, the other very positive. The Quick and the Dead is designed to help expose Planned Parenthood's lurid legacy, brazen agenda, and grand illusions. Meanwhile, Parish Life is a site designed to explore the parish vision of Thomas Chalmers and its application to the modern world.

Obama's Pro-Abort Fanaticism

It's little wonder that Planned Parenthood invited its legion of pro-abortion supporters to send the junior Illinois Senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee "valentines" and "love letters." In her most recent WorldNetDaily column, Jill Stanek reveals why many political observers are now calling Barak Obama the most radical and deeply committed advocate of "medical" infanticide and child-killing procedures ever to run for federal office in the United States.

Saturday, July 5

Abandoning Beloved Common Views

"Faith begins to make one abandon the old way of judging. Averages and movements and the rest grow uncertain. The very nature of social force seems changed to us. And this is hard when a man has loved common views." Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, July 2

iPod Playlists

On the Nightstand

Obama's Top Priority

Last July in Washington, DC, Barak Obama told supporters of America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act."

The purpose of that insidious pro-abortion legislation is to "prohibit, consistent with Roe v. Wade, any interference by the government with a woman's right to choose to bear a child or to terminate a pregnancy." Thankfully, the bill has never passed muster with Congress, but its intention is obviously radical and sweeping--it is to nullify every health and safety regulation or restriction currently in place in all 50 states on the sprawling and lucrative abortion industry and on behemoth special interest groups like Planned Parenthood.

Although Obama has toned down some of the brazenness of his pro-abortion rhetoric of late--apparently in an attempt to woo disaffected Evangelicals on the campaign trail--he has not altered or diminished his promise to Planned Parenthood in any way whatsoever. Thus, he stands as the single most radical pro-abortion activist ever to run for the highest office in the land.