Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A bevy of book reviews

A bevy of book reviews

It has been sometime since I posted a book review, so here are a few.

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton
This book is a great read. Horton’s style is one of smooth reading for the most part. Any pastor should not have any trouble at all. Laymen will occassionaly wonder at side tracks where Gnosticism and other such concepts are brought in without a lot of explanation. Still, even with that minor note, the book is great. It is a spot on critique of the American Church. In fact, the book has a wonderful and devastating look at Joel Osteen and many like him. This book profoundly made me stop and look at my own ministry to make sure I was holding up Christ showing I think that Horton does not just critique, but also extols the importance and place of Jesus Christ. He tears down, but he does not fail to build up and offer the only comfort in life and in death, Jesus Christ. I do not agree with absolutely everything in this book. One can see the hobby horses of Westmisnter West if you know what to look for, but mostly this book is just a good solid reminder of our absolute need for Jesus, and our propensity to replace Jesus with something a little more palatable to the Old Man in us all. I recommend this book to all. Get this book.

I will be reviewing the companion volume: Gospel-Driven Life when I finish it.

Martin Bucer the Forgotten Hero of the Reformation by David Lawerence
I hope that you all have heard of Martin Bucer. He is getting a bit of a revival these days. I saw this book on several walls of recommended reading, so I gave it a try. I was more than a little disappointed. Now this review is going to come off as harsh, but mostly because the book violated a few of my pet peeves. I did learn a great deal about Martin Bucer reading this bio. The book spoke not only of his life, but of his theology. The book is well written and a fairly easy read. So, it is not like the book was garbage. But I have these things against it. First, it really did put Bucer on a pedestal and basically played apologist for Bucer. That is not always a good thing. Bucer did some things that are not so good like his support of the divorce of Philip of Hesse. The author clearly believed Bucer’s view on other subjects were far superior to other Reformed views. This is something that also should have just been explained rather than championed. A little cheerleading is understandable, but this much was over the top. It led to occassional attacks on other reformers like Zwingli and Bullinger. Needless and turned me off a great deal. Second, it would off hand throw out things that you would want explained and then not explain them leaving me to wonder if it was just a made up point to try and improve Bucer as a role model. One such example was the assersion of the constant opposition and out right hostile stance of Henry Bullinger. This was never explained nor proved, and it was a piece of information I had never heard before? What caused this feud if it existed? Such details are important. Yet they went unprovided. Perhaps because it was better just to cast Bullinger in a bad light than actual put the two positions side by side. Who knows, but I would have liked to learn more about that point. Third, I think that a little more time on the implications of Bucer’s positions on the rest of the Reformation would have been nice. A lot was made of the Bucer-Calvin connection, and probably rightly so. Yet, a drawing out of this influence and its results could have been nice. The same goes for Bucer’s time in England. What happened to the friends like Cheek and Ridley that were mentioned? Did Bucer’s view play a role in the Puritan trouble of later English history. Also what happened in Strasborg or the other places he helped Reform? Those would have been some nice details.
In the end, I am unaware of a better Bucer biography. They are rare. But that does not mean that this is the be all; end all biography of Bucer. Clearly there is still a market for such a book.

Ten Great Feuds: That changed the World by Colin Evans
This book is good, but don’t go into it with the expectations raised by the secondary title. There is no discussion about how any of these feuds changed the world, and only about two had throw away sentences speaking about a possible world shaping influence. Most of them clearly did not shape the world in anyway whatsoever. So if you don’t have that expectation going into the book, then the book is great. The chapters are not too long, and divided so reading is easy. It is written interestingly making sure you are invested into each person in the feud. Then the feud is unfolded for you. The feuds include the Hatfields and the McCoy’s, Stalin versus Trotsky, and even King Charles versus Parliament. I don’t want to give away all 10, but most of them you probably don’t know all the details about, and they are fun reading. So if you want to bone up on your feuding, then this is the book to get it done. I enjoyed it a great deal. I never realized how much blood was spilled in the Hatfield McCoy feud, but I do now. Nor did I realize what a brat and jerk Robert Kennedy was (LBJ versus Robert Kennedy) What more needs to be said.

A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State by Charles Freeman
Freeman continues his assault on Christianity in his book A.D. 381 (see Closing of the Western Mind: the rise of Faith and the fall of Reason). For those of you who don’t know 381 is the date of the First Council of Constantinople. Basically this council reaffirmed the council of Nicaea and added to the creed a little bit, making sure the divinity of the Holy Spirit was understood as well. Well, Freeman tries to argue that this is the closing of all intellectual debate and free speech and the beginning of an overbearing monotheistic state. A point he fails to make despite his constant misinterpretation and omission of many important historical events. He makes strange statements trying to downplay the importance of Nicaea, and talks of Nicaea’s comeback with Athanasius. But when you do the math the “Comeback” is less than 15 years after the arrival. Add that to the fact that Alexander, the main opponent of Arius, was bishop before that, and it is hard to imagine it went away at all. While it may be true that the state was monotheistic from that point on, it is weird to see how he has such a hostile attitude to it. Arius and those guys wanted a monotheistic state as well, just a heretical one.
In short, Freeman argues that Emperor Theodosius imposed Nicaea on Constantinople and enforced it, and that the church would never have come to that conclusion. The bishops had little to no part in actually coming up with the creed. This led to religion proclaiming “certainties” which destroyed philosophical thought, started the war with science, and a host of other things that are just as stupid as they sound. Of course all church histories are unreliable and all histories written by people who do not believe the bible are better and thus right. It is really sad that this stuff poses as scholarship. It is more screeds and hatred than anything else.