Category Archives: History

Book Notes: American Ulysses

Reading Ronald White’s new biography of Ulysses S. Grant in the midst of our current political climate makes one long for men and women in American leadership with strong moral character and a humble disposition.  Over the years, I have read my share of Civil War histories and presidential biographies. Without question, White’s book ranks near the top of my list of favorite works.  Why did I enjoy it so much?

First, White’s writing style is powerful, active, and compact.  He covers the amazing sweep of Grant’s life with enough detail to place you in the story, yet keeps the narrative moving.  I could easily imagine how an author could get lost in the weeds after years of research and writing on such an amazing life.  White resists this temptation by using short sentences, active verbs, and concise analysis.  I haven’t read White’s material before.  After this book, I confess: I’m a fan.

Second, the arc of Grant’s life is simply amazing.  I knew the larger elements – Civil War general and US President.  But I didn’t know the rest of the story: Grant’s service in the Mexican War and time stationed out west, his loving relationship with his wife Julia, leaving the army to put his hand to business, his amazing climb in the army after re-entering the service during the war, his world tour after his presidency, and his herculean effort to publish his memoirs while fighting cancer.  Every part of this man’s life is fascinating and interesting.

Third, the character of Grant is personally challenging.  White comments throughout the biography on Grant’s plain style, his unassuming nature and gentle humility.  Grant was an introvert, uncomfortable with self-promotion, and always considerate of others.  He was an advocate for those facing injustice: American Indians and recently freed slaves.  He used his power to help those who had no voice.  How can a man with this kind of servant, humble leadership rise to the highest positions of power in 19th century America?  It’s a fascinating question and stands in polar opposition to today’s political culture.

I give this book my highest recommendation.  Read it to learn about one of America’s most significant figures, and read it because it is so much fun.

Book Notes: Four Recent Reads

Here’s a quick summary and review of four recent books I’ve read this fall.

1- Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood by Dennis Rainey: Rainey is the president of Family Life and has written a book that examines the stages in a man’s life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and mentor) and what he needs in each stage.  The book is a short read – I read it while traveling in East Asia this fall – full of short chapters and moving stories.  There is not much here that is new if you have read other books on manhood like Raising a Modern Day Knight or King Me.  But Rainey’s contribution is the call to do something proactive in raising the next generation of men.  I resonated with his argument that most men are reactive in discipling young boys into manhood.  We wait until the wheels come off or at least until your sons ask us about something before we engage.  But Rainey makes a compelling case that we need to start conversations with our sons so that they will come to us when they have questions.  I was moved by this book to start the hard conversations with my sons early in their lives so they are not learning about sex, money, relationships, and their career from their peers.


2- Empire of Liberty by Gordon S. Wood: This volume is one of the most recent in the well-regarded Oxford History of the United States.  Each book is a beast (800 – 1000 pages in length), but they are wonderfully researched (footnotes throughout) and well-written.  You would think that books of this length would be impossible to read, but this series excels in making the history of our nation accessible to all.  Wood’s volume covers a period that I am more familiar with than the other periods covered in this series (the early years of the republic – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison), but I still learned so much.  Wood is more favorable to the Jeffersonian Republicans (who drastically shrunk the size and scope of the federal government) than the Federalists, but does show how their over-reaction led to many struggles during the War of 1812.  Overall, an interesting read that has parallels in our own age – showing our country has always vacillated between a larger and smaller view of the role of the national government.


3 – Churchill by Paul Johnson: If Empire of Liberty is one of the longer one-volume histories, Johnson’s biography of Winston Churchill is one the other extreme of the spectrum.  At only 190 pages (and large, spread-out print), this book is a quick read – a very high-level overview of the life of one of the most interesting and consequential leaders of the 20th century.  I was drawn to this work because I have read widely in American history, but would like to start reading more international history.  Churchill felt like a good place to start because of his close ties to the US and his involvement in worldwide affairs.  Churchill fought in the First World War, led the British people during the Second World War, and made influential speeches on a wide range of current affairs.  As an American, it is hard to understand how the British people could vote him in and out of office so regularly, but the parliamentary system of government seems to work that way – keeping the elected officials more accountable to the people more regularly.  Overall, this book is a great introduction to one of the most important leaders in the last 100 years.

4- God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by James Hamilton: This monumental work of biblical theology seeks to articulate the theological center of the entire biblical narrative.  This is obviously a high goal given the diversity of the books of the Bible.  I am still working my way through this book, but I think Hamilton is on the right track.  His argument is that smaller phrases like “the glory of God” or “the kingdom of God” as the center of the biblical narrative are too broad to capture the nuances of the full story.  I am withholding a full review on this book until later, but so far, I like what I have read.  This question of the center of the biblical story is on my mind a lot recently for two reasons: one, I am currently preaching a series called EPIC on the biblical narrative, and two, I am currently reading through the Bible with my church family.  Both exercises have challenged me again to see the unity in the diversity of the Bible.  While the Scriptures cover a lot of ground (40 different authors and 66 different books), they are held together with a singular view of God and His work in history.  Hamilton’s proposal is a good start for thinking about the Scriptures as One Unified Story.

BookNotes: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

In a scene of intentional irony, Hilly Holbrook, the main antagonist in The Help, after giving considerable energy to making life difficult for every African American in Jackson, Mississippi, warns her friend Skeeter, “Be careful, Skeeter.  This town is full of real racists, and if they find out what you are doing, there could be real trouble.”  The reader and the movie audience laugh awkwardly, seeing clearly what Miss Hilly fails to see: she is the racist that she is warning others about.

Reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett is like entering a foreign country for someone who grew up after the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s and 1970s.  I came of age in the late 80s and early 90s in a 5A high-school in suburban Dallas that was full of different nationalities, races, and languages.  Multi-ethnic education was the norm, with students expected to learn a foreign language, to read about different cultures, and to see people based on their character and not on their skin color.

So, when you step through the fictional historical door into the deep South of the early 1960s, you can’t even process what you are reading.  How did the generations of our grandparents and parents treat people this way?  And yet, deep in your heart, you know that while the character are fictional, the context is real: African Americans in the era of Jim Crow were treated as second-class citizens. 

One of the first funerals I did as a pastor was for a dear African American woman I only knew as Miss Hattie – who had worked for my grandmother and other East Texas families for years.  Miss Hattie and my grandmother became the dearest of friends over time, and when she was close to death, she asked my grandmother if I would come do her funeral.  She told my Nanny that she was so proud of me for becoming a pastor and giving my life to serve God.

Stockett’s book (and others like it that transport us to different places and times) make us aware of generational blind spots.  Today, we can clearly see the injustice of the Jim Crow era in the south.  But those who lived through it were blind to it.  As people in The Help often say, “it is just the way things are.”  We hear those words and wonder, why didn’t anyone stand up and say “this isn’t right”?  Of course, some did and slowly made progress.  But many didn’t.  We read and watch this story with embarrassment.  The question we must ask ourselves today is, what will the next generation see in our generation and wonder, why didn’t they do anything about it?  I think about that question often.

Are we blind to what is right in front of us?  Are we satisfied with simply saying, “that’s just the way things are today.”  Or do we fight injustice in our country and around the world with the passion that God feels against injustice?  What are our generational blind spots?  As the heroines in Stockett’s book do, I pray that we will have the courage to speak the truth about the injustice in our world.  Without truth, change is impossible.  But even beyond truth, I pray we will have the courage to fight for justice.

Book Notes: Day of War

The LORD is a warrior; Yahweh is His name.  (Exodus 15:3, HCSB)

Zondervan Publishers was nice enough to recently send me a free copy of Cliff Graham’s new book called Day of War, the first in a series of books from Graham about the men who fought with King David on the way to the throne of Israel.  Though based on biblical characters, the work is fictional (as the author makes sure to remind his readers in the introduction).  The Scriptures tells us little about the Mighty Men of David other than their names and a few of their extraordinary feats in battle.  In the first book of this Lion of War series, Graham has focused on Benaiah whose story is told briefly in 2 Samuel 23:20-23.

The book is a fast-paced read, quickly moving from character to character and scene to scene.  The fighting described is intense and violent (as it would have been), and the reader really gets a sense of what war in ancient Israel would have felt like – long periods of time away from family, little food, harsh conditions, enemies all around, lots of marching, and changing alliances.  Graham is a military guy who understands war conditions and a Bible guy who understands the history of ancient Israel.  The result is a guy’s book about the Bible – one of the few that I’ve come across.  In fact, the movie rights to this book and the series have already been purchased.  I’m interested to see if the production company can put the money behind this series that will be needed to make quality movies.  If they can, the series has the potential to introduce men to the real world of the Bible, not the emasculated, sanitized world that most men have been introduced to in church.

After I finished this book last night, one thought stayed with me.  I don’t think I will ever read some passages of the Bible the same way again.  Not 2 Samuel 23; not the psalms where David is crying out for deliverance from his enemies and longing for the Lord to rescue him; and not the meditations from the Scriptures about God’s power and might.  While this book is not perfect (some of the dialogue between the men falls flat and some of the descriptions are too wordy), it is a very good read.  I am thankful to Cliff Graham for taking the risk to introduce a new generation of men to the flawed yet heroic men of the Bible.  If one more man picks up his Bible and seeks to follow after God as a result, it will have been a risk worth taking.

In conclusion, I want to leave the reader with one word of caution.  While Graham has accurately described the very violent nature of this period, we need to read his book (and the war passages of the OT) in light of the coming of Jesus Christ.  Jesus commanded us not to kill our enemies, but to love them and pray for them.  If someone read this book without knowing the full context and narrative of the Bible, they might conclude that God still wants us to go and kill our enemies today.  But this is not a holistic reading of the Bible.  Yes, men still go off to war (as they should in submission to the government over them – Rom 13), but as individual Christians, we are not to think that because Yahweh helped David defeat the enemies of Israel that He will fight for us as we go into war.  Or that war is even desirable.  War is a reality, but not the desired end.  Peace is the desired end, and it will only come when Jesus finally subdues all armies under his feet and changes the hearts of men and women to love one another rather than hate one another.  May that day come quickly.

Catholics & Protestants

What is the Catholic / Protestant divide really about?  In the almost 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, have we moved past our differences or are we still in disagreement about core issues related to the gospel of Christ?

In my studies for my sermon last Sunday on Galatians 2:15-21, I was thrown headlong into the centuries-old debate about justification.  You see, Galatians 2:16 is one of the pivotal passages in Catholic / Protestant discussions.  Paul says three times that people are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law.  Seems straightforward enough at first-reading, but the statement’s economy of words betray its complexity of thought.

The key debate between Catholics and Protestants over the last 500 years has how to answer the question of Job 9:2b, “How can a man be justified before God?”  The word justified is from the legal profession, describing the declaration from the Judge that the defendant is “not guilty” and has been cleared of all charges.  To be justified is to be declared righteous by the judge. Paul is answering a question that the rest of the Bible is asking: how can sinful people who have been alienated from their Maker be made right so that they can be brought back into fellowship with Him? The Bible starts with a garden scene where man and woman are enjoying God freely, but sin enters the world through their disobedience, creation comes under the judgment of God, and the man and woman are cast out from God’s presence. The Bible ends with a new city in a new heaven and a new earth where the people of God are enjoying God freely again.  The question of the middle of the Bible (Genesis 4 to Revelation 19) is how this is possible.  How can sinful people be in the presence of a righteous God?

In other words, how can we be confident that when we stand before God our Judge that He will acquit us of our sin and welcome us into His presence forever? This is obviously a very important question. And Catholics and Protestants have read the Bible differently on how this question is answered.  Let me try to explain the difference with two simply summaries of what we believe.

1- Protestants believe that justification occurs immediately at the time when faith is placed in Jesus Christ and that sanctification flows out of our justification. What this means is that we understand statements like Galatians 2:16 to teach us that we cannot merit our justification through our moral performance, but that we are declared righteous at the time we trust in the life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus.  Now that we have confidence of our righteous standing before God (based on Christ’s righteousness, not of our own) and we have the Spirit of God indwelling us, we begin to live a different kind of life.  We actually become righteous morally (sanctified) because we have been declared righteous legally in Christ. In other words, we begin to change today as a result of having confidence in our future position before God.  In this way, our moral performance as believers is motivated by a response to grace, not an effort to merit or receive grace.

2- Catholics believe that justification begins at baptism (when original sin is washed away) and is only truly received at the end of the process of sanctification when the person is actually righteous. What this means is that the RCC teaches that a person is born in original sin, but that the stain of original sin can be washed away through baptism.  After baptism, a person is morally neutral, a blank slate, and throughout their life they progress in sanctification (being righteous) through participation in the sacraments of the church by faith.  Each time a believing Catholic takes communion, goes to confession, or participates in any of the other sacraments, they receive a deposit of grace from God through the church.  At the end of their life, if their accumulation of grace has led them to be actually righteous, then God will declare them actually righteous and they will be justified.  In this view, justification is never promised at the beginning, but only a reality at the end.  Justification in a Catholic view is a declaration of what a person actually is, NOT what they are in Christ.

In Practice: While the Catholic church teaches that salvation is by faith, not by works, the practice of the Catholic church to teach that justification only comes through the sacraments of the church actually leads practicing Catholics to think that their standing before God is based on their religious activity. And while many would like to think that this is uniquely Catholic, it is not.  Many Protestant churches that assume the gospel of grace and don’t teach it repeatedly and explicitly can also produce “good moral people” who believe that God justifies them on the basis of their church participation.  In my mind, Galatians 2:15-16 and passages like it call us to teach the important biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.  If not, the natural bent of the human heart is to think that we are good enough and can do enough good works to merit our position with God.

Additional Resources:
My Sermon on Galatians 2:15-21
Blake Magee Post on Justification
Book: Justification By Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue
Book: Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on Justification

Generational Humility

Humility eludes us as individuals, but can also elude us as a generation.  I suppose that every generation sees themselves as God’s gift to the world, flowing out of a mix of hope and pride.  But in the church, generational pride can lead to historical ignorance and theological heterodoxy.  How can leaders in the local church make sure that while they are creative in their ministries and attuned to their cultural context, they still make sure to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people?” (Jude 3)  A few ideas for church leaders:

1- Have a mentor who is older than you who can provide context.  I’m 32 this week and can testify to the arrogance of youth.  I work with many church planters and young pastors, and we all struggle with thinking that the church will now be okay that we have arrived on the scene.  I remember creating a list when I was a youth pastor of all the “things I would do differently” when I was a senior pastor.  Some of that creative energy is helpful, but a lot of it is hubris and pride.  One of the most helpful parts of my development in this area has been having an older mentor who has been in ministry much longer than I have been.  An older mentor can give you context on the ministry initiatives and church leadership trends that have come and gone in his lifetime.  The Scripture reminds us that there is truly nothing “new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9),” so it shouldn’t surprise us that methods and strategies and emphases go in and out of style every few years.  A mentor can warn you about getting caught up in a trend that will get you off track from your calling and the cause of Christ.  Who do you have in your life who helps you see the historical context of your ministry?

2- Balance your reading between contemporary leaders and dead pastors. It was only recently that I became convinced of the value of reading guys regularly who led churches in different eras.  But it has been extremely beneficial to my soul.  Reading pastors who led churches in different cultural and historical contexts helps the leader see some of his own cultural blind spots.  If you only read pastors who are doing ministry in our generation, you will come away believing that our ingenuity and creativity are unique in history.  But this would be incorrect.  Pastors have been faithfully preaching God’s Word, shepherding God’s people, and loving God’s world for 2,000 years.  We have much to learn from those who have gone before us.  Make sure your reading diet does not consist only of ministry leadership and strategy books from the last 10 years. This will only feed your generational pride.

3- Remember to thank those who have gone before. While you may change strategies and models from those you experienced as a youth, make sure to thank those who shared the gospel with you and discipled you in the faith.  Don’t forget that your Christian maturity did not happen in a vacuum.  You and I were cared for by Christian leaders who impacted our lives with the gospel of Christ and the Word of God.  Make sure to give thanks to God for those who went before you and to say thank you to those who shaped your life and faith.  Even if you now disagree with some of the forms you grew up with, God still used them to plant the seed of faith in your heart and change the trajectory of your life.  If we don’t go back and say “thank you” to those who went before, we will forget that God used methods and strategies that we now critique as “ineffective” to change our lives.

May God grant us generational humility – recognizing that we must be faithful in our generation as others have been faithful in their generations.  We are not better than them – it is simply our turn.  Thank God for the generations of Christians who have guarded the faith passed down to them so that we can know the true gospel of Christ in our generation and proclaim it to our world.

Book Notes: Jonathan Edwards, Lover of God

Jonathan Edwards’ legacy looms large over the landscape of American Christianity.  The colonial Puritan pastor and leader of the First Great Awakening is often quoted but little understood.  His own writing is dense and difficult to read, while his volumes of sermons use language from a different era.  In order to help a new generation of Christians understand and appreciate Edwards’ life and ministry, Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeny have written a set of five short books published by Moody.  Each paperback is about 160 pages and very readable.  The first volume (that I’m reviewing today) covers the life of Jonathan Edwards.  The other four volumes cover the writings of Jonathan Edwards – grouped by topic (True Christianity, The Good Life, Heaven and Hell, and Beauty).  With all the stir going on lately about Rob Bell’s book on heaven and hell, I’m interested to read Edwards on heaven and hell and compare.  More on that later…

Reading through this short introduction to Edwards’ life, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed reading the longer Edwards biography by Marsden in 2005.  That work is over 600 pages, well-researched and well-written, but not for the faint of heart.  Strachan and Sweeney have attempted to introduce Edwards to a larger audience of contemporary Christians who will not ever read his primary works (they are very hard to understand) and will not read through the longer biographies.  In putting together these books, they have obviously left out many details while also trying to make applications to the modern-day reader.  The first book was easy to read and personally challenging.  I hope that you will pick up a copy and be introduced to Jonathan Edwards.  A few of my takeaways:

1- Make much of God. Edwards’ life-goal was to glorify God in all that he did in his family, his church, and his personal life.  Every time I read about Edwards or read his own writings, I am challenged to lift up God in all that I do.  I would hope that people who knew me years after I was gone would say that I made much of God.  The temptations are so great to make much of yourself in our celebrity-driven culture.  But the words of John the Baptist stay with me from the life of Edwards:  He must increase and I must decrease (john 3:30).

2- Be mindful of blind-spots.  Even with his mastery of the Bible and skill at theology, Edwards was blind to the sinfulness of owning slaves.  He was influenced by the culture and time in which he lived to believe that owning slaves was acceptable.  As Strachan and Sweeney point out, we must beware of blind-spots that flow out of our culturally accepted norms.  “This sobering example reminds us to examine carefully the culture in which we live.”  The authors go on to mention that materialism and consumerism might be some of our cultural values that conflict with God’s Word but we miss because they are so ingrained in our culture.

3- Life is short.  One of the most startling parts of Edwards’ story was his untimely death in 1758.  At fifty-five years old, he had just taken the position as president of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University).  Everything looked aligned for Edwards to enjoy years of influence on the next generation of pastors in New England and to write the books he had been longing to write.  And yet, after being on the job only a month, he took a small-pox inoculation which infected him with the disease and took his life.  Edwards’ life story is an illustration of his message: we must all be ready for eternity because this life is short.

Understanding Our Historical Context

Dr. Richard Lovelace was a professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary when he wrote his magnum opus on the dynamics of the spiritual life in 1979.  The book is a fascinating combination of church history, spiritual theology, personal growth, and corporate renewal.  Reading Lovelace’s book today can at times feel dated because of his interaction with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.  But in other ways, his book is extremely timely, showing that Lovelace was writing with keen insight into the future struggles and successes of the church in America.  I really enjoyed Dr. Lovelace’s book and want to interact with several of his ideas in a series of blog posts.  Just like the book, some of my posts will be deeply theological and historical while others will be extremely practical.

The first gift that Lovelace passes on to his readers is an understanding of our historical context.  As a professor of church history and devoted fan of Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Lovelace can’t deal with any topic without giving 10 to 15 pages explaining the historical development of that doctrine or practice.  The larger impact of his work on my mind was to remind me that we are all historically formed.  We are foolish to not understand how our tradition and our cultural history impact the way we read the Bible and practice our faith.

For example, I am a 31-year-old white male who was born and raised in the American south at the end of the twentieth century.  I grew up in a Methodist congregation and came to personal faith in Jesus Christ in a small Southern-Baptist church.  I went to seminary at Dallas Theological Seminary and was trained for church-planting in a non-denominational Bible-church movement.  All of these experiences and cultural situations have formed the man that I have become and more importantly the way that I read the Bible and practice my faith.  Dr. Lovelace reminded me in his book that I am wrong to think that my historical context is the best context for following Christ.  Rather, my historical context has strength and weaknesses like all others.  And the only way to even begin to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my historical context is to read and study other historical contexts.  For that reason alone, Dynamics of Spiritual Life is helpful in starting to see how our generation has been impacted by those who have gone before and by the culture we currently live in.  Here are four ways I am coming to understand my historical context:

1- I am a child of the revivalist tradition.  Dr. Lovelace helped me to more clearly understand something I have seen in part before.  I am a child of a revivalist tradition that was birthed from the Second Great Awakening.  This was not just the open-air preaching of Whitefield and Wesley, but the revivalism of Finney that impacted Moody and Graham.  Revivalism taught and practiced that the spirit of men could be revived not just through biblical teaching but through emotional appeal.  This tradition saw the birth of the public invitation to receive Christ at the altar, the importance of “setting the mood” with music and lights, and the importance of emotions in making decisions before God.  While the revivalist tradition has helped to make sure that Christianity is not just a religion of the mind, it has also led to emotional manipulation, anti-intellectualism, and a devaluing of sound theology.

2- I am a child of the independent church tradition.  Both the Southern Baptist church were I was saved and the church I now pastor are known as “autonomous” local churches.  That means that we pride ourselves in being led by local church elders who are not taking direction from ecclesiastical higher-ups.  The independent church tradition is the ultimate conclusion to the reformation spirit of separatism – if something is going on in a church tradition that a group finds unbiblical, they will separate and start their own tradition.  Eventually, this led to thousands of denominations and independent “non-denominational” churches.  While the independent tradition can help us to stay faithful to the text in each generation, it has also led to unnecessary divisions, sectarianism, and suspicion of authority and tradition.

3- I am a child of American consumerism.  I have been shaped by the broader American prosperity of the twentieth century in more ways that I can begin to understand.  The fact that we all live in abundance puts us in the NT category of the “rich.”  While nobody thinks they are rich, the truth is that all Americans are rich when compared to the rest of the world and the rest of history.  We have great homes, abundant food and clothing, and toys and trinkets galore.  All of this means that while we have the opportunity to use our resources for the global kingdom of God, but we also face the temptation to trust and idolize our wealth and lose our dependence on God.

4- I am a child of western post-modernism.  Dr. Lovelace spends a great amount of time talking about the impact of modernism on the western church.  He was just beginning to see the introduction of post-modern thought in his time as the journey of western rationalistic enlightenment reached its nihilistic conclusions.  I was born in the year that Dr. Lovelace published this book (1979) and have lived in a generation that has rejected the modern understandings of truth and meaning.  This has led to a healthy emphasis on community and finding our place in the narrative, but it has also led to an unhealthy dismissal of objective truth as impossible to discern.  I believe this has made church leaders in my generation even less courageous when it comes to proclaiming biblical imperatives.

While we can’t outgrow our historical context, we can begin to understand and articulate it.  When we start to see its positive and negative influences in our lives, we can root out those parts that contradict the Word of God and learn to find healthy balance in our life with God.  In addition, as those like Dr. Lovelace help us study other historical eras, we can begin to learn from what other giants of the faith have seen in God’s Word as they lived by the Spirit in their generations.

The Age of the Earth

I just finished a fascinating book by Drs. Young and Stearley (two believing professors of geology at Calvin College in Michigan) about the Bible and the age of the earth.  I have always been fascinated by the hermeneutics of Genesis 1 and the intersection of faith and science.  My background is mechanical engineering (my undergrad from Baylor), and from time to time my desire to learn from the best scientific research available takes me to books that most people don’t read.  This book is one such read. 

Coming in at 460 well-researched and dense pages, The Bible, Rocks, and Time covers an immense terrain (forgive the pun).  The first 160 pages are the history of the science of geology.  The authors give us a snapshot of major figures in the study of geology and their important discoveries.  Their major point in this section of the book is to say that Christian geologists concluded that the earth was very old from an abundance of evidence before Darwin proposed his evolutionary theory and before radiometric dating was discovered.  Their summary is detailed and helpful.

The second section of the book (the next 50 pages) gives a history of the interpretation of Genesis 1.  In this section, the two geologists are obviously outside their primary area of expertise, but they do a great job of quoting major figures in church history and current biblical scholars that demonstrate the diversity of opinions on Genesis 1.  Their main point is the same conclusion that Dr. Letham comes to in his survey of early Christian teaching in the Westminster Theological Journal – – that the church has never had a monolithic position on the interpretation of Genesis 1.  Most held positions, but held them lightly as secondary positions.

The third section of the book (the next 200 pages) goes into great detail on the geological evidence itself for the antiquity of the earth (an earth that is 4.5 billion years old, not 6,000 years old).  This section is the most meaty, as this is the area of expertise of these two authors.  They cover the study of fossils, the geological column (what the layers of rocks teach us in various places around the globe), how sedimentation works, how mountains and plate tectonics works, the combination of catastrophic events and normal processes (like erosion) that have shaped the rock formations that we see today, and the history and accuracy of radiometric dating.  Their scope is expansive and their arguments are convincing.  All along the way, they interact with young-earth scientific arguments to show how the physical evidence leads to different conclusions.

The final section of the book (the last 50 pages) is all about WHY this even matters.  As a pastor, this section was the most compelling.  The authors believe that the young-earth position (that the earth is only 6000 years old) is not only terrible science, but that it is actually detrimental to the cause of the gospel.  Their argument opposes the position of YEC-proponents who believe that their defense of a 6, 24-hour day creation is necessary to proclaiming the gospel.  Drs. Young and Stearley strongly believe the opposite – that continuing to teach that the Bible only teaches a 6000-year old earth is turning a generation of young people away from Christ and ignoring a whole people group (professional scientists) away from Christ who know the truth about the age of the earth.  Here is one of their most compelling paragraphs in their final chapter:

Frequently, students are taught that the traditional six twenty-four-hour days interpretation of Genesis 1 is the only interpretation of the text that is consistent with belief in an inerrant Bible.  Often they are also misleadingly taught that the tenets of young-Earth creationism stand on equal scientific footing with mainstream geologic views of an ancient Earth.  Many young Christians have been reared to believe that this concept of creation is a virtual article of faith that represents the biblical teaching.  Those young Christians then go off to college, to a museum or to another source of knowledge where they may be exposed to legitimate geology and are stunned by the force of geologic evidence for the Earth’s antiquity.  They have been personally confronted with an intellectual and spiritual fixed great gulf that is far wider than the Grand Canyon, between their newfound scientific understanding and the religious views of their youth.  To them, the Bible now becomes a flawed book.  Sensing that they have been misled about creation by the religious authorities of their youth, they lose confidence in the rest of their religious upbringing.  Such students may suffer severe shock to their faith.  They were not properly taught the truth about creation, nor were they equipped to deal with challenges to their faith.  Christians who are professional scientists have all heard far too many accounts of individuals whose spiritual journeys sound much like the scenario just described.  Let’s have no shipwrecks of faith of young, vulnerable, unprepared Christian youth that can be laid at the door of the pseudo-science promoted by Christians.

Everyone of us who is raising kids to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength needs to listen carefully to these words.  May God give us the grace to teach His gospel faithfully to our children without putting any unnecessary roadblocks in the way of true and lasting faith.

Book Notes: What I’ve Read Lately

Book #1: Humility, True Greatness by CJ Mahaney.  I picked up this little read after deciding in my spiritual assessment this year that I needed to work on pride.  Pride is one of those root issues that is hard to nail down, but is apparent in everything we do.  I love Mahaney’s definition of pride – when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.  His shortened definition is one that will stay with me for years – contending with God for supremacy.  I see that in my own life and how God constantly is at work to break me of my pride.  Mahaney has some great, practical tips on growing humility in our hearts – all rooted in the gospel.  I personally appreciated his section on using encouraging, edifying words toward others as a way to cultivate humility.  Also helpful were his encouragements to focus on the doctrines of grace as essential to a heart full of humility.  If everything I have is truly a gift of God’s grace, what room do I have to boast?  A great, easy read.

Book #2: George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century.  Arnold Dallimore was a Baptist preacher who wrote biographies of great figures in the recent history of the church.  George Whitefield was definitely one of those figures.  Originally from England, Whitefield split his ministry time between England and the American colonies.  He was a powerful preacher of the gospel, known for his ability to captivate thousands of people in the days before public broadcast systems.  God apparently gave him a voice that could carry and the physical stamina to preach and teach all the time.  I was stunned as I read through this biography how many times a week Whitefield would preach – sometimes three or four times a day.  I also didn’t understand the relationship between Whitefield and the Wesleys before reading Dallimore’s biography.  They had a close friendship and ministry partnership even though Whitefield was more Calvinistic in his theology than Wesley.  One of the stranger parts of the book is Dallimore’s description of Whitefield’s marriage, which almost seemed like a business arrangement.  Whitefield and his wife were apart from each other for very long periods of time as he was traveling for his ministry.  Amazing story – very interesting life – fast read.

Book #3: Patton: The Pursuit of Destiny.  General George Patton was one of the most successful and colorful generals that the US Army ever produced.  From a long line of military heroes, Patton almost seemed destined to make his career in the armed forces.  He was one of the first American generals to see the possibility of mechanized warfare and many of the strategies and training programs that he devised are still used by the military today.  His personal life was a mess, and his military career almost imploded several times because of his lack of self-control.  His career was made into the famous movie with George C Scott in 1970, and the authors spend considerable time talking about how the Hollywood version of Patton compared to the real life Patton.  This book, which is a very recent biography of Patton, is one of many Patton biographies out there.  While I haven’t read the others, I would think this one would fit in the introductory category.  Under 200 pages, this book is a quick overview of the life and career of General Patton.  I enjoyed it as an introduction to a very interesting and consequential life.

Book #4: Spurgeon: A New Biography.  Another biography by Arnold Dallimore, this work studies the life of the most famous pastor/preacher of the 19th century.  Charles Spurgeon pastored the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for forty years in the second half of the 19th century.  His ministry was expansive, covering everything from books to training pastors and teachers to caring for the poor to helping orphans to providing for the elderly.  God definitely gifted Spurgeon as a preacher of the gospel and a trainer of other pastors and leaders.  I pray that God will allow me to persevere in serving Him as Spurgeon did, even in the midst of bad health and the poor health of his wife.  Dallimore’s biography keeps the pace moving and covers the amazing breadth of Spurgeon’s ministry with ease.  Spurgeon, like Whitefield before him, did an amazing amount of work for the Lord.  I don’t think these men would appreciate our modern emphasis on balance and rest, but then again their poor health severely limited their ministry in later years.  A great read – very encouraging and faith building overall for me.