Fantastic Deal on My Favorite Theology Books

John Frame is retiring, and now you can have all six of his best and most important books for $120. Hardbacks. This is killer. I paid much more.

Do not miss this deal: $20 a book for some of the best theology books you will ever buy.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, in particular, has been epochal for me. It shapes me in ways I see just about every day. The Doctrine of the Christian Life was also extremely helpful. When I’ve dipped into Frame’s Systematic Theology, I have also found what he always delivers: carefully biblical, straightforward, clear, even simple explanations of complex topics.

Review: Confessions of a Fundamentalist

Confessions of a FundamentalistConfessions of a Fundamentalist by Aaron Dunlop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some good insights. A gracious perspective. Critical of bad leaders without letting fawning followers of the hook. Thinks carefully through what a healthy doctrinal militancy should look like.

Gives us all a great Newton quote:

All religious parties profess a great regard to the precept, Jude 3. “Contend earnestly for the faith.” And if noisy anger, bold assertions, harsh censures, and bitter persecuting zeal, can singly or jointly answer the apostle’s design, there is hardly a party but may glory in their obedience. But if the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; if the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; if the true Christian contention can only be maintained by Scripture arguments, meekness, patience, prayer, and an exemplary conversion—if this is the true state of the case, where is the Church party (may I not say, where is the person) that has not still much to learn and to practice in this point?

Feels a bit too much like what it is: a collection of blog posts. It isn’t really a unified book, though it presents a unified perspective. And it hews to the blog genre in its willingness to make just a few (and I do mean only a few) unsubstantiated assertions, such as “The past ten years have witnessed a sharp increase in defections from fundamentalism.” (88) That’s a bloggable assertion, but not a bookable one. I need to see a footnote or some verbal hedging (“My impression is…”).

Introduced a helpful category: the “silent moderate majority” of fundamentalists, people who don’t like but who don’t complain about the excesses of bad leadership. (81)

And introduced a helpful concept: the “war psychology” many fundamentalists adopt.

Helpfully asks:

Could it be that the brother who “walketh disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6) is not necessarily the one who has a broad view of fellowship but the one whose doctrine of fellowship is too narrow, divisive, and schismatic? Could it be that the “disobedient brother” is not the one who is over-generous in his acceptance of others, but the one who lacks that gracious and magnanimous spirit? Could it be that those who have “caused division and offenses” are indeed the hyper- fundamentalists and that we should “avoid them” (Romans 16:17, emphasis added)? Could it be that the hyper-fundamentalists are the ones who have trespassed against their brothers and that it is these who need to be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–17)? (61)

And this is all too true:

This rehashing of the old battles left the fundamentalist church anemic and intellectually impotent for the present battles. Where are the fundamentalists in the battle against evolution, Open Theism or the charismatic movement? It is the conservative evangelicals who are leading the charge on current debates.

And this, too:

A superstitious adherence to the King James Version of the Bible became the measure of one’s spiritual experience. (54)

I urge Aaron to start over, with a *book* in mind, not a series of blog posts. Use his blog posts, but get a fresh outline that really goes somewhere. Give us some criticisms and then a constructive proposal for a way forward. Meanwhile, readers will still benefit from a gracious but firm spirit and some helpful insights.

Aaron provided me a review copy free of charge, but I hope it’s obvious that he attached no strings to my review.

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President

Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentAbraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing less than a tour-de-force. I’m tempted to say that only a religious person—particularly a Christian—could understand this almost certainly unbelieving politician and thinker. Guelzo finds a theme in Lincoln’s theology that he, successfully in my opinion, traces throughout his life, namely a predestinarianism shorn of belief in God’s personal goodness to Lincoln himself. This fatalistic theology guided Lincoln into making the most difficult decisions of the war. This is the key insight from the book, in my judgment:

Lincoln’s own peculiar providentialism, his Calvinized deism, in fact played a controlling role in the outcome of the Civil War. In the most general sense, his appeal to the mysteries of providence in the fall of 1862 gave him permission to ignore the manifest signs on all hands that the Union was playing the war to no better than a draw, and that any resort to emancipation was folly. But in the most specific instance, providence was what allowed him to overrule the moral limitations of liberalism. To do liberalism’s greatest deed—the emancipation of the slaves—Lincoln had to step outside liberalism and surrender himself to the direction of an overruling divine providence whose conclusions he had by no means prejudged. (447)

What does Guelzo mean? He explains a little more early on in the book:

[Lincoln] would come at the end … to see that liberalism could never achieve its highest goal of liberation and mobility without appealing to a set of ethical, even theological, principles that seemed wholly beyond the expectations and allowances of liberalism itself. While he would hold organized religion at arm’s length, he would come to see liberalism’s preoccupation with rights needing to be confined within some public framework of virtue, a framework he would find in a mystical rehabilitation of his ancestral Calvinism and an understanding of the operations of divine providence. (20-21)

Liberalism, as Stanley Fish never tires of observing (and I never tire of observing him observe), has no transcendent norms to appeal to. (And here I’m not taking a potshot at Democrats; Guelzo and Fish and I mean here “classical liberalism,” the kind which encompasses nearly all significant American politicians on any side of any aisle.) Liberalism is supposed to maintain procedural neutrality among competing visions of the good. But what that means in the end is that might often makes right. And in 1861, as Lincoln took the helm of a divided nation, mighty interests on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line preferred that the slaves not be freed. Lincoln himself saw clearly that praise and blame could not be apportioned neatly to North and South, respectively. It took an appeal to the Declaration of Independence’s Creator—who created all men equal—to free the slaves. Serious voices in 1860 argued that the Declaration was not law, but thankfully it remained a moral polestar.

I have never dug this deep into Lincoln before, encountering him mainly through his most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, both of which Guelzo analyzes with great insight—and in both of which he easily finds Lincoln’s predestinarian deism. One thing that really impressed me was how accidental Lincoln’s role as sage and Great Emancipator really was. I mean that as no slight against him; when the time came, he worked with great skill and dedication. But the time was long in coming. He wasn’t born with a desire to free the slaves. The conviction came on him slowly, and even very close to the last he was considering various political deals which fell short of full, lasting emancipation. If the war hadn’t been so fierce, the slaves may have remained in bondage. But Southern victories forced Lincoln’s hand. It was fascinating to watch what I, too, see as the hand behind that hand in freeing America’s oppressed legions.

I was also surprised to be taught a fact that I should have known: it was not at all obvious to anyone at the close of the Civil War what the future of the nation would be. We view Lincoln’s acts through a prism of national success and even national unity under multiple trials, especially two world wars. But the prospect that legal challenges to emancipation would negate all the blood spilled in the Civil War was all to real as Lincoln lay in a deathbed “fate” chose for him. It speaks to his wisdom that I moved from South Carolina to Washington last year with no trouble.

It was also fascinating to me to hear Guelzo’s expert summations of previous Lincoln biographies, going back to the very first. Americans have long molded their view of Lincoln to their liking. No doubt Guelzo has done this in some way, too. But it does appear to take the passing of many decades before party loyalties and political issues fade enough to give historians a fair crack at someone like Lincoln. I’m late to the praise and should have read this years ago, but Guelzo has written a triumph.

Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of WorkShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was utterly taken with this book, first to last. The philosophical portions were elegantly written, insightful, and persuasive. The anecdotal interludes about car and motorcycle repair gave just enough breathing space (and entertainment) to make for a good reading pace. What a remarkable author; I will be reading anything by him I can get my hands on. On to “The World Outside Your Head.”

A friend commented that he found the philosophical portions difficult, and that his father, with an MA in carpentry and a life as a practitioner, actually found the book off-putting. I don’t think this book was written for most tradesmen; they know intuitively that they engage in their practices for their intrinsic goods. They don’t need a convoluted philosophical justification for what they discovered long ago was in their blood.

But I, the office worker, recognized immediately the truth of Crawford’s comment that

those who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and that as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.

I needed to think through whether what I’m doing is valuable or not, and I needed the philosophical meanderings. After my very intelligent friend said he found difficulty in the philosophy stuff, I realized that it was laboring through Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue—an immensely rewarding experience—that made it easy for me to process Crawford. Crawford mentions MacIntyre particularly in the acknowledgments, and MacIntyre’s recovery of the Aristotelian idea of virtue being tided to practices was everywhere in Crawford’s book.

I happen to have a job with most of the ideals Crawford praises: I get to do something I love (writing, and writing about the Bible), to produce something concrete (blog posts) for a specific community (Christians interested in Bible study, mostly evangelicals), with fairly objective measures for success (social shares and comments). My job and my personal life bleed into one another because I have a vocation, a calling. I feel very blessed.

But reading Crawford revealed to me what I sort of felt guilty for acknowledging before, lest it cloud my ideal vision of myself: I enjoy putzing around the garage, doing yard work, and fixing ice makers and other household stuff. My heart slows down; my stress ebbs; my brain is nonetheless challenged; I have the satisfaction of a job begun and finished; my wife gives me an admiring kiss when I’m done. I do believe I will go at this kind of work with more gusto in years to come; I won’t disdain it as I once did—thinking, “I’m a knowledge worker, a creative; I make money to pay other people to do this menial stuff.” (What a foolish vision, and an impracticable one. The money I don’t make is what forces me to fix my own stuff in the first place.)

I was convinced to read this book by Crawford’s presence on the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Otherwise I would have guessed it to be sentimentalized pop psychology. But Myers took it seriously, and it became apparent quickly upon reading that I needed to as well. The stamps of Hunter’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture were clear in the book; I need to read more material coming out of that group.

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