Thursday, February 08, 2007

Books read in February 2007 (8)

1. Mayflower: A Voyage to War by Nathaniel Philbrick

An excellent account of the first half century plus of the settlement of new England. We start with the Pilgrims leaving Lincolnshire for Holland seeking freedom to worship God according to their consciences. We learn of life in Holland and the hazardous decision to cross the ocean. Here their sufferings began. The ocean voyage was bad enough but being tricked by the captain of the second boat was among the other hazards.As is well known, survival oh a hostile coast was only possible thanks to the co-operation of the friendly local inhabitants. It was a miracle that they survived the first winter. These people were like Cromwell, providentialists, who believed that God was watching over them by his providence. I do not think the author shares their faith but he writes with a sympathetic understanding of it including how the next generation lacked the vital faith of their fathers so later Puritans had the Half Way Covenant rather than requiring credible profession faith from church members. Philbrick writes well. The book reads like an adventure story at times, especially during the hostilities of King Philip's war when the proportion of the population lost was far higher than any other war on U.S. soil. We also hear that the settler's victory was in part due to the help they received from Praying Indians, converts from the missionary work of John Eliot. The author is thankfully free from the modern trend of political correctness which would view Native Americans as saints and Pilgrims as rapacious colonisers. This is a fair treatment of the good and bad in both communities.I found it a moving read, especially when one read what William Bradford wrote late in life.

Fear not, poor soul, in God still trust,
Fear not the things thou suffer must;
For, whom he loves, he doth chastise,
And then all tears wipes from their eyes.

2. Stop Dating the Church (Lifechange Books) by Joshua Harris

My title might have been appropriate for this book if had been written on this side of the pond and not by an author who found youthful success encouraging Christians to stop the American cultural pattern of dating.He writes at a popular level. His target is Christians with a low view of church who therefore lack commitment to any one local church. In these days when some Christians do not see the need to be part of a local church the message of this book is badly needed. Commitment to Christ means commitment to his body in its manifestation as the local church.

This message is well communicated by the author though there are I think a couple of large gaps in his small book. There is no mention of the church triumphant, how the church on earth is related to the church in heaven, how worship unites us all around God's throne. Secondly, while the author gives marks of a faithful church and would encourage believers do leave ungodly, unscriptural churches, he does not really discuss what are sufficient reasons to leave one church for another. this is really a glaring omission when the aim of the book is to teach commitment to the local fellowship. My experience is that people often move for wrong reasons and also may stay in churches that are not really functioning with the three traditional marks of a gospel church, teaching Scripture, administering the sacraments and exerting biblical discipline. Nevertheless this is an excellent primer on the need to be part of a local church.

3. American Yesterday (Americana) by Eric Sloane


A delightful look at pre 20th century America, well written and illustrated. It covers many aspects of American life starting from church which I was interested to find would be an unheated building. He says that now people go to church to get something, then they went to give something, thanks to God.


4. While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer

The author is a homosexual man form New York living with his partner in Norway. This a a brief residence in Holland are influential factors in his writing and the lack of contact with the U.K. is a limiting factor in this book. His politics are right of centre and he laments that in most European countries the major parties are but like the two wings of the U.S. Democrats. Much of his writing seems rather anecdotal and unstructured. His constant theme is the dhimmitude of European governments who fail to stand up to the ever increasing demands of Muslim minorities. He grants that there is a peaceable majority but says their voice is not heard. They do not come onto the streets to condemn co-coreligionists the way they demonstrate against the U.S.A. European anti-Americanism is one of his themes. His heroes are the Dutch, Fortuyn and Van Gogh who were martyrs to his cause.As is usual in anti-islamist writing, he is long on diagnosis, short on prescription. Encourage the peaceful majority to take control and teach integration like the American melting pot. Are these realistic hopes? Not surprisingly he does not encourage the indigenous minority who are committing demographic suicide to take the necessary action and boost their birth rates.

5. Letters of Samuel Rutherford: With a Sketch of His Life and Biographical Notes of His Correspondents by Samuel Rutherford


No books come near to Scripture as being inspired by God but among the books that can most inspire I rank Rutherford at the top. For devotional reading he is incomparable. There are 365 letters in this edition so one can read one a day for a year. This i did with a few days off at times. These letters span 1627 to 1661, years of great turmoil in Scotland. If you have a romantic view of history, here is the remedy. Rutherford suffered. 231 letters were written while he was imprisoned in Aberdeen. He writes comfort to the bereaved and strength and perseverance to the persecuted. He writes later while a commissioner to the Westminster Assembly and also after his nation's surprising defeat by Oliver Cromwell at Dunbar. These latter letters are the only one's where I would differ from the author's sentiments.
Close communion with Christ is the hallmark of Rutherford's writing. They are wonderful examples of pastoral care from a man whose great sorrow was to be forcibly removed from his pastoral charge at Anwoth. Here is the most challenging spirituality written since the apostolic era. This book should be read by all Christians. In fact I did encourage the publishers to produce this edition as it was out of print for many years.The only drawback is that you have to keep looking up the meaning of Scots words in the glossary.

6. A Political Philosophy by Roger Scruton
Former Dutch prime minister Abraham Kuyper said that the difference between liberals and conservatives was ten years. If Scruton was read and adopted by Conservatives today we would see some clear blue water. He is a philosopher so do not expect an easy read but you will find a most rewarding one. Scruton starts with citizenship in a nation state as fundamental. He is no admirer of any sovereignty above the nation for that is where loyalty stops. Conservatism should mean the conserving of nature. Environmental concerns are not limited to the left. Animals are friends we can eat. Humans are not merely higher animals. Their lives must be protected from predatory apostles of euthanasia. Marriage is fundamental to the stability of society. It is more than a mere contract but I do not accept his high Anglican assertion that it is a sacrament. Scruton does not seem conversant with the Protestant covenantal view of marriage. He gives us a good critique of the cultural negativity of post-modernism. He enlightens one with his analysis of religion before and after the Enlightenment and rightly contends that religion must be studied not merely for its utility but for its claims to truth. His analysis of totalitarianism, particularly the power plan that is Marxism is masterful. "It is not the truth of Marxism that explains the willingness of intellectuals to believe it, but the power that it confers on intellectuals, in their attempts to control the world. And since, as Swift says, it is futile to reason someone out of a thing that he was not reasoned into, we can conclude that Marxism owes its remarkable power to survive every criticism to the fact that it is not a truth-directed but a power-directed system of thought.". Eurospeak is exposed as the current Newspeak though he omits the most fundamental of all Eurospeak, to hijack the Euro preface for the E.U. alone and to remove it from Europe as a whole. So I am labelled a Europhobe when what I fear is not Europe but the E.U. Evil is seen as more than humans being bad. Sexual evil is brilliantly analysed.Finally Eliot is critiqued as the literary apostle of Scruton's conservatism. This is a good book to encourage political thought beyond the realm of present day pragmatism.


7. Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer
by Bryan A. Follis
Bryan Follis's book on the apologetics of Francis Schaeffer (FAS) came out of an academic dissertation and it shows. It is not an easy read for an average Christian unacquainted with academic Christian schools of apologetics. Follis's thesis is that FAS was influenced by different schools of apologetics but not a follower of any one school.
Follis puts the American development of that tradition and its denominational splits. I sometimes had the impression hat not enough emphasis was given to FAS's Calvinism which meant that he believed that though evangelism through apologetics was his calling, he could convert no-one. Regeneration is God's sovereign work and all of FAS's effort was done under that understanding.The history of Schaeffer's mission to Europe with the Bible Presbyterian Church is given with the circumstances that led him to leave that denomination and be a missionary to young people in Europe and to develop his apologetics. FAS resisted any attempt to get him to systematically teach an apologetic method. His apologetics are discerned from his writings, particularly the first three books, and the way FAS dealt with people. It was speaking truth in love. There is true truth and there are no little people. Every questioner deserved and received an answer. There is much personal testimony from those who met and worked with FAS as to his love for individual people.As to wheer his apologetics came from there is much academic discussion of the influences, Princtonian old school evidentialism, Carnell's verificationalisn and Van Tillian presuppositionalism. The latter is the most contentious. No-one would doubt how much FAS used a presuppositional approach but Follis seeks to show the two men has a different understanding of presuppositions and a different approach to unbelievers. I agree with him that the strict Van Tillian approach leaves no real point of contact with the unbeliever. FAS sought to show the non-Christan that they could not consistently live by godless presuppositions. He believed in bringing the non-Christian to see the shortcomings of whatever world-view he was following and then present the truth of the Christian gospel.But what marks FAS out wa his insistence on a life of dependence on God to evidence the reality of the truth of the faith proclaimed. FAS sought to show that Christianity is both rational and supernatural. Follis brings this out well. Much space is given to the difference between FAS and Van Til. The late Edmund Clowney told me that he had them both together in his office at Westminster Seminary and they got on well personally and the was to substantial disagreement between them.Follis concludes that FAS apologetic is still relevant in a post-modern environment. Speaking the truth with love will always be needed to communicate the gospel God's Spirit is needed to see lives changed.
Minor criticism, this book lacks an index and while telling us Pinnock's criticism of FAS he failed to tell us that from writing a book based on FAS's approach Pinnock has now moved beyond the limits of Reformed Biblical Christianity.


8. Dunn and Dusted: Diaries and Memories of North Yorkshire Farmer Paul Dunn - Paul Stuart Dunn


This is the first book I have reviewed where Amazon had misspelled the title. My review title corrects the mistake.The author and I are contemporaries and our late fathers were friends as Methodist local preachers. I wa re-intoduced to the author when I saw a Channel 4 television programme on how the crisis in farming was driving men of the land and even to suicide. But one farmer was shown starting hius day before dawn, singing hymns while he fed his sheep. hat was Paul Dunn. He farms on the Yorkshire moors and hius story brought back many memories of growing up in North Yorkshire, where though I was not on a farm, my uncle farmed nearby. Paul's account is strong on his Methodist family upbringing and local schools. He never went further than secondary-modern education then worked for his expectations, board, lodging and pocket money with the hope of running the farm after his father. he did take over the tenancy of the farm which was mainly dairy and sheep. Ther eis alot here that is diary with a bit too much of weather and stock prices prices for me. In fact an appending tabling the fluctating prices would have been helpful, also an index. Nevertheless I did find three of my family mentioned. As to the weather, because farming depends on it, one does understand how much is related and certainly in Dunn's area there is a lot of snow. Interestingly he is sceptical about global warming. he is also rightly critical of government farming policy and DEFRA inefficiency, especially over foot and mouth. This is an account of how farming has been destroyed by E.U. policies. Set aside should be set aside with our E.U. membership.As well as the decline in farming there is the decline of Methodism. The author has left for a charismatic church some distance away. many others have joined reformed churches. Mr Dunn has some theological traning but does not forcefully lay the blame for this decline where it lies, liberalsm in metodist ministry for may years. But his kind of methodism was the old school, evangelical and evangelistic. This book will tell you how North Yorkdhie used to be. There are plenty of pithy local sayings and tales of humorous chracters. It is a story of faith in adversity and an honest tale. the author admits to depression. The state of farming is depressed too.

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