Sunday, December 30, 2012

25 books John plans to read in 2013

I have done similar listings for the last three years. I have finished eighteen books of the twenty I listed last year, which was an improvement on previous years. So I'm upping the ante and listing twenty-five instead of twenty.

My book pile. The only book I am yet to get is Leepike Ridge.
Pigs Have Wings by P. G. Wodehouse Much better than expected - the best of the Blandings books

This will be, I think, my 20th Wodehouse book. It's one of the Blandings series, which are not nearly as good as either Jeeves or Mulliner.

A Case of Conscience by James Blish

This seems to have been the inspiration behind Mary Doria Russell's superb novel The Sparrow. A Jesuit priest is sent to investigate an alien race.  

Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson Wonderful story - read the review

I read five novels by N. D. Wilson this year, and all of them were excellent. I have not reviewed them here, but I agree with pretty much everything Suzannah said on her blog. Anyway, this book is an earlier work, but I just can't get enough of this author.
Persuasion by Jane AustenBrilliant!

I have read three Jane Austen novels now - Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. I aim to finish them all before I turn forty, at which point I plan to start on the Russians. This is Kara's favourite Austen novel.

Derwood, Inc. by Jeri Massi Simply charming

This is another of Kara's favourite books. I read Massi's Secret Radio when it was serialised on her blog several years back, but this is of a very different genre.

Treasure Hunt by Frederick BuechnerA fitting end to a fascinating series
The is the final installment of the Bebb tetralogy. I read the first three books many years ago, and have been re-reading them over the last few years.

Theological books:

Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise

Reformed scholasticism is not talked about that much. It is barely covered in theological seminaries, and even the Wikipedia article was only created a few weeks ago. I'd like to learn move about all this.
Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach by John SailhamerHeavy going at time, but quite helpful

I have a special interest in canonical approaches to the Bible.

Piety and the Princeton Theologians by W. Andrew Hoffecker Insightful
Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander

The Princetonians are attractively unfashionable these days. But I remember hearing Iain Murray speak years ago and suggest that one might make a special study of them the way Martyn Lloyd-Jones made a special study of the Puritans.
The Bible in the University Patchy, but held my interest
This is in the same series as Canon And Biblical Interpretation, which I read last year.

The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters Not very good - read the review

The author is coming to PTC next year for an MA intensive subject on Romans. The subject of this book is an important one, especially since the PCV recently appointed a committee to investigate Federal Vision theology and report back to next year's Assembly.

Other Christian books:
Ascent to Love: A Guide to Dante's Divine Comedy by Peter LeithartA helpful introduction

 I've read several of Leithart's books now, and I always find him stimulating and biblical. I plan to re-read the Divine Comedy again this year, perhaps in real time over Easter. The Inferno begins on Maundy Thursday, and ends on Easter Sunday, while the Paradiso takes place on Easter Wednesday. I should also point out that the Divine Comedy is set when the author was 35 ("Midway this way of life we're bound upon"), and I will be turning 35 this year.
Dying We Live: The Final Messages and Records of the Resistance Engaging and illuminating

I plan to make this my Lenten reading for next year.

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

This is a book about applying biblical theology to Christian ministry - looking at how a pastor is to be like a prophet.

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver Interesting, but too liberal to be really helpful

This is another book about pastoral ministry, in which the authors share their thoughts and experiences.  One of the authors, it must be noted, is a woman.
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd Inspiring

I don't often read diaries, and I don't often read missionary biographies either - I think the last one I read was John G. Paton's Autobiography, and that was three years ago. But I've been meaning to read Brainerd for a while, and I was reminded of it again recently while reading David Platt's Radical.
The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God by Gordon H. Clark Hard to follow
Gordon H. Clark: Personal Recollections Strange - read the review

I don't know very much about Gordon Clark - I guess I think of him only as the guy who disagreed with Cornelius Van Til on some things.


The Writing Life by Annie DillardMore on life than on writing, but that was OK

Kara and I read Dillard's  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek last year, separately, and this year read An American Childhood together. Both were excellent.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer  Useful, but frustratingly secular
 Another book to help me think through homsechooling, most likely in some form of the classical tradition.

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson
Boswell's Life of Johnson

Another pairing - I have been meaning to read Boswell's Life of Johnson for ages, and thought that I might as well read a book by Johnson at the same time.

Utopia by Thomas More
Thomas More's Magician: A Novel Account of Utopia in Mexico by Toby Green

I came across Thomas More again recently in Chesterton's A Short History of England: "He was above all things a Humanist and a very human one. He was even in many ways very modern, which some rather erroneously suppose to be the same as being human; he was also humane, in the sense of humanitarian." Green's book relates the account of Vasco de Quiroga, who was inspired by the book to attempt the construction of a utopia in Mexico.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kara's Reading Goals for 2013

Here are twelve books I plan to read in 2013, paired in categories.

Two books on unfamiliar topics:

The Four by Peter Leithart Finished in July

Referring to the gospels, of course.

Joy at the End of the Tether by Douglas Wilson

This is one of three books the author recommends one read to figure out what makes him tick. It's about the book of Ecclesiastes.

Two books that were presents:

They Found a Cave by Nan Chauncy Finished in January

A children's story, set in Tasmania.

The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge

When I read this, I will have completed the City of Bells series.

Two books about writing:

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson Finished in July

I love the subtitle: "Hot tips for the writing life".

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Two books about parenting:

Standing on the Promises by Douglas Wilson Finished

Perhaps this should be in the "ought to have read" category. Somehow I skipped this when I first read the family series.

Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic Finished

Rachel's first book, Loving the Little Years, was full of humour and practical tips. I look forward to more of the same in this.

Two books I ought to have read before:

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan Finished

I have decided that practically memorizing a dramatized audio version when I was a child still doesn't count as reading the book.

Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson Finished in February

Because after reading  the 100 Cupboards trilogy and the first two installments of the Ashtown Burials, I want to read everything Wilson has written.

Two memoirs:

Chesterton's Autobiography  Finished

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

Friday, December 21, 2012

A view from outside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

This is a book I could scarcely put down. It describes the Christian patriarchy (also known as "Biblical patriarchy") movement, which is something I am interested in, know a bit about, and to some extent identify with.

The book has three sections. The first section ("Wives") deals with the "biblical womanhood" movement, which emphasises wives submitting to and helping their husbands at home. The second section ("Mothers") looks at the "Quiverfull" movement, which eschews contraception and emphasises a couple having as many children as God will give them. The name of the movement comes from Psalm 127 - "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth / Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them". The final section ("Daughters") deals with biblical courtship, while also touching on the "Stay At Home Daughters" movement, exemplified by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, and their book So Much More. This emphasises girls staying at home (and more importantly, under their fathers' authority) until marriage.

The title of the book is therefore a bit misleading, but the subtitle is accurate - all these three things come broadly under the heading of "Christian patriarchy". However, it must be pointed out that the author is not a Christian. Joyce doesn't seem to understand what "faith" is - she feels that the Christian hymn "Trust and Obey" is bleak (p. 154). She mentions Bible verses that adherents of patriarchy would appeal to, but has no real ability to interact with them. And yet, where the reader may have expected antagonism, Joyce is surprisingly dispassionate. She devotes a chapter to the story of a lady who was excommunicated from Doug Phillips' church, and tells only her side of the story, but is still not wholly sympathetic to her, and the chapter ends with this lady firing her divorce lawyer for failing to abide by her wishes (p. 129). Excommunication appears a few times in this book, and Joyce refers to an interesting Wall Street Journal article on the subject. She doesn't seem to realise, however, that pulpit announcements about church discipline have always been part of Reformed liturgy.

The worst feature of the book is the complete and utter lack of footnotes. This is totally inexcusable for a book like this, and I don't know how the publisher (Beacon Press, which belongs to the Unitarian Universalist Association) let her get away with it. Yes, the book is mostly the fruit of personal interviews, but Joyce is still constantly quoting published material. For example, she refers to a book (The Church is Israel Now) that argues for "replacement theology", and she asserts that "Christian reviewers condemned the book for promoting a form of theological anti-Semitism" (p. 150). Well, which reviewers? Who was it? My guess is that the reviewers would be premillenial dispensationalists themselves.

Quiverfull also contains numerous silly mistakes. Joyce claims that when Al Mohler became President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he required all the faculty to pledge allegiance to the Westminster Confession of Faith (p. 34). What Mohler enforced, of course, was the Abstract of Principles, which, while derived from the WCF, differs from it in affirming believers' baptism by immersion. Joyce also says that Pope Benedict XVI "canonized an Italian farmer's wife for bearing twelve children" (p. 141). Joyce is referring to Eurosia Fabris, except that Fabris was beatified, not canonized, and she had eleven children, not twelve, and two of her children were adopted.

Perhaps the most bizarre claim of the book comes when Joyce attempts to link the Quiverfull movement with holocaust denial - she sees both the movement and the Holocaust as "manipulating population as a means of cultural domination, whether through limiting one group's freedom or ability to reproduce or mandating higher fertility from another group" (p. 150).

Finally, this book is almost exclusively focused on the movement in America, apart from discussions of population decline in Europe, and of conservatism in Poland. Now, when Joyce suggests that most Quiverfull families are poor (p. 206), this may well be the case in the U.S., but in Australia the situation would be quite different. My calculations based on this website tell me that a low-income Australian family with eight children under 16 would receive about $1200 per week in family payments, which is over $60,000 a year. The only catch is that (as of last July) you are required to have your children immunized. Hence, no-one in Australia can really say that they cannot afford to have more children.

By and large, Quiverfull is a fair portrayal of the Christian patriarchy movement, and most adherents of the ideas would be able to recognise themselves in the descriptions of people in the book. The movement is quite diverse, even theologically, embracing Reconstructionists, Fundamentalists and Pentecostals. Joyce is antagonistic to the movement, but often sympathetic to the individual women she interviews. Yet one feels that she is not sure quite what to make of her subject matter. In fact, she concludes the book by describing a woman in the movement, and frankly admitting "I don't know what to make of her" (p. 240). In this way, however, the reader is delivered from a heavy-handed evaluation, and is free to make up his or her own mind.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Not that radical

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

As requested, a review of this challenging and encouraging book.

This is an American book, and, as the subtitle suggests, Platt is specifically addressing Americans, and wealthy, middle-class Americans at that. Of course, greed and discontent are known in all cultures, and the goals of possessions, one's own home and a comfortable retirement are also common here in Australia. But it is a bit strange to hear statements like "Few Christians know of C. T. Studd (p. 178), or even that John Paton (whom I dressed up as once) is "relatively unknown among Christians today" (p. 175). Well perhaps, these men are relatively unknown, but no doubt they are better known in my circles than in Platt's.

Despite the title, this really is a book about the ordinary Christian life. Yes, following Jesus is radical, because he requires allegiance to him above all things, but there is little in this book beyond the basics of Christian living. But that doesn't detract in any way from the book's value.

I particularly liked Platt's questioning of the phraseology of "accepting" Jesus (p. 37), when, in fact, we need Jesus. I also liked his description of our purpose as being to "enjoy his grace and extend his glory" (p. 65) - which is basically like the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism ("Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever") - though interestingly in reverse order.

The most disappointing aspect of this book was that he begins the book by reflecting on megachurches, but never returns to the idea. He starts off by wondering how he could reconcile the fact that he was pastoring thousands, with the fact that Jesus "spent the majority of his ministry time with twelve men" (p. 2). Yet, the radical discipleship described in the book doesn't seem to touch the concept of megachurches. Now, I have no doubt that Platt is a faithful pastor, teaching, encouraging and equipping the people of God to faithfully follow Jesus. But it would seem that he was convicted that the concept of megachurches do not faithfully represent what Jesus was on about, but is happy to continue as a megachurch pastor. If so, this is a significant blind spot.

I also wonder if there is still an individualistic streak running through the book, when Platt rejects the idea that "God loves me" is the essence of biblical Christianity, and "improves" the statement to read "God loves me so that I might make him known" (p. 70). That is an improvement, certainly, but is still an imperfect summary of biblical Christianity. It would be better to say "God loves his people..." or, better still, "God loves his people in Christ".

In summary, this is an enjoyable book. Platt is a faithful pastor, and communicates effectively through apposite illustrations. It is also a stimulating and challenging book, even for this Australian.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Five Points of Calvinism: Normalized, Notarized and Novelized

A Journey in Grace by Richard P. Belcher

This book was a whole lot better than expected. It is an exposition of the five points of Calvinism is the form of a novel. The narrator is a seminary student who is introduced to Calvinism while starting to pastor a church and also courting a girl. The book is intentionally didactic, but a lot less cheesy than one might fear. In fact, it is one of the most readable introductions to Calvinism I have come across.

Of course, there is much more to Calvinism than just the five points, but the book does touch, albeit tangentially, on the doctrines of Scripture and the Church. Besides, this is just the first volume in a series of more than a dozen books. I should also point out that the book is written in a decidedly Baptist context - by a Baptist and for Baptists.

Anyway, if any reader is wondering what the five points of Calvinism actually are, I will quote a post I wrote on the subject on my old blog:

T stands for Total Depravity which says that before I got saved I was a helpless sinner who couldn't lift a finger for his own salvation.

U stands for Unconditional Election, which says that God chose me before the creation of the world, not because of any inherent goodness I had, not because he foresaw that I would believe, but simply because he loved me.

L stands for Limited Atonement which says that Christ died to pay for my sins, and he really did pay for them fully and completely. He didn't just make it possible for me to be saved, he actually saved me.

I stands for Irresistible Grace which says that the Holy Spirit is completely powerful and that he was strong enough to overcome my sin and my unbelief.

P stands for Perseverance of the Saints, which says that I can't lose my salvation because God will protect me and prevent me from denying him.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Reading the OED by Ammon Shea

I find the concept of this book slightly annoying. On the front cover of my edition is the boast, "I have read the OED so you don't have to." Is this meant as a dare? Because any word lover worth his salt isn't going to be satisfied with such a claim. How are we to know that the author has found the most interesting words?  I feel like going to the library right now and taking down Volume 1: A to Bazouki.

The book is the story of the author's reading through the massive Oxford English Dictionary in one year. The chapters are titled according to the letters of the alphabet and contain a smattering of the  words he discovered along the way. This brings me to my second criticism. Half the fun of the OED is the detailed histories of words. And all that is missing in this book. The definitions provided are sadly brief, and occasionally misleading. (At least Shea admits to this in his introduction.) The entry for Balaamite is particularly disappointing. It seems to be an attempt at humor at the expense of the Bible, and it's quite evident that Shea didn't bother to look at the story in any depth. But this was mild in comparison to the worldly-wise anti-marriage scoff tagged on to the definition for opsigamy.

These gripes aside, I still couldn't resist a book about reading books, and it was a fun read in the main.

Will I add any of the words I read about to my vocabulary? Probably not---well, maybe abluvion. I see that a lot.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Back to the New Testament

Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna

The basic thesis of this book is that traditional Christianity has adopted a number of practices that are not in the New Testament, and that these practices should be eliminated. When the authors refer to "traditional" Christianity, they mean both Protestant and Catholic churches - the critiques in this book are mainly directed to American evangelical churches. Sometimes Viola and Barna talk about the "institutional church", which they contrast to "organic" churches, or "house" churches, which are evidently preferable.

So what are these pagan practices? The authors focus on church buildings, paid clergy and sermons.

Perhaps the third one causes the most surprise - isn't there a lot of preaching in the Bible? There certainly is - but Viola and Barna argue that Old Testament prophets "spoke extemporaneously and out of a present burden, rather than from a set script" (p. 87), while what the New Testament apostles did is not normative for the Christian church. They planted churches and then moved on - and so the sermon is only appropriate for a church in its infancy. The biblical model for the church, our authors aver, is the full congregational participation as described in 1 Corinthians. In the same way, Viola and Barna argue that pastors simply get in the way of this every-member-ministry.

The book has a lot to say about how, particularly under Constantine, the church picked up ideas from the Graeco-Roman world. They also argue that the church carried over unhelpful things from its Jewish background. Thus, the church building is modelled on both the pagan shrine and the Jewish temple. The payment of clergy comes from both the paid Greek rhetoricians and the Levitical tithe. Clerical garments come from both Roman officials and Old Testament priestly garb. All these things, Viola and Barna argue, are not in the New Testament, and therefore do not belong in the church today.

There are two points, then - firstly, that these things are not in the New Testament, and secondly that it is wrong to practice them.

It is easy to think of New Testament verses about preaching. There is 2 Timothy 4:2 - "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season..." But Viola and Barna say that this doesn't apply, because "Timothy was an apostolic worker" (p. 102). There is 1 Corinthians 9:14 - "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The authors don't deal with this verse - instead there is an annoying footnote on p. 178 that a "response to those biblical passages that some have used to defend clergy (pastor) salaries" can be found in Viola's book Reimagining Church. 

Actually, the authors reject the whole idea of "verses", and devote a whole chapter to critiquing the idea of prooftexts. They reject the idea that Acts 14:23 means that every church should have elders, since it "is referring to an event in south Galatia during the first century" (p. 235). They reject the idea that 1 Corinthians 16:2 supports a weekly offering since it's "dealing with a onetime request" (p. 236). Strangely, however, they do view 1 Corinthians 14:26 ("every one of you has a psalm") as normative (p. 166). 

The second point, then, is that it is wrong to do these things if they are not supported by the New Testament. Most Christians would agree that church buildings are not in the New Testament, but would think there is nothing wrong with them. Viola and Barna, however, argue that they "limit the involvement of and fellowship between members" (p. 44). 

This is a radically biblical approach to ecclesiology. It was strange, then, reading this as a Presbyterian. For the Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that God is not to be worshipped in any way "not prescribed in the Holy Scripture" (XXI.1). In this way, Viola and Barna are simply following the Regulative Principle of Worship, albeit with different emphases. For example, many proponents of the Regulative Principle use it to forbid musical instruments in worship. Viola and Barna note that "there is no evidence of musical instruments in the Christian church service until the Middle Ages" (p. 162) but they don't seem to view it as one of those evil, pagan practices. Now, the Confession distinguishes "elements" of worship, which always must be found in Scripture, and "circumstances" which "are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence" (I.6). I have always thought instrumentation was one of those elements, as, indeed, church buildings would be. So I think we need to reject the argument that unbiblical practices are necessarily wrong.

Viola and Barna insist that we need to worship as they did in the first century, while at the same time reject the idea that the Book of Acts is a model for us. This strikes me as rather inconsistent. They emphasise the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive passages, but seem to privilege 1 Corinthians over Acts, seemingly without considering that the worship in 1 Corinthians (which has everyone sharing words of exhortation) may be merely descriptive as well. The great emphasis on preaching in Acts is simply discarded.

Finally, the rejection of pastors goes hand in hand with an anti-hierarchical approach. Viola and Barna appeal to Kevin Giles to back up their ideas. Giles has argued that the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father. Yet the authors appeal to him and assert that historic orthodoxy rejects the eternal subordination of the Son (p. 264), without apparently realising the controversial nature of Giles' position, or the arguments against it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Film review: A Game of Shadows

Last week I bought the DVD of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. This is the very first time I'd bought a DVD on its release date. I was not disappointed, however - the film is a worthy sequel to the first movie.

My favourite line in the film occurs when Holmes proposes a toast to Dr Watson, and says "To my dear friend, Dr John, um, Hamish Watson." Now, this is an extraordinary nod to the most die hard fans of the Holmes canon. You see, Arthur Conan Doyle never tells us Watson's middle name. He is referred to as John H. Watson", and it was Dorothy L. Sayers who proposed that the "H" stood for "Hamish."

Let me explain.A number of prominent writers have indulged in speculation about Sherlock Holmes. Sayers notes that this has been a particularly Christian exercise - in her book Unpopular Opinions, she says, "The game of applying the methods of the 'Higher Criticism' to the Sherlock Holmes canon was begun, many years ago, by Monsignor Ronald Knox, with the aim of showing that, by those methods, one could disintegrate a modern classic as speciously as a certain school of critics have endeavoured to disintegrate the Bible."

Conan Doyle refers to "John H. Watson" on the title page of A Study in Scarlet, but nowhere mentions his middle name. In The Man with the Twisted Lip, however, he has Watson's wife address him as "James". It would be too easy to say that the author made a mistake, so Sayers looks for a more elegant solution. She suggests that his middle name is Hamish, which is the Scottish form of James. "By playfully re-Englishing it to 'James' she found for her husband a pet-name which was his own name as well."

Obviously, Sayers wrote this with tongue in cheek. But I still find it amazing that this found its way into the movie, and the line was delivered with such subtlety as to bring delight to any fan of Sherlock Holmes, or, indeed, of Dorothy Sayers.

Rating: 3 ½ stars

Monday, May 07, 2012

Clunes Booktown

On Saturday we went to the Clunes Booktown. Clunes is a small town midway between Castlemaine and Ballarat, and every year it has a special book festival. We heard about it from Suzannah, and it had plenty of the vintage novels about which she likes to blog. We had a great time in Clunes, although the shops and stalls were not particularly pram-friendly. Here is what we bought:
  • Constantine and the Conversion of Europe by A. H. M. Jones
  • Misreadings by Umberto Eco
  • Two first editions by G. K. Chesterton - Alarms and Discursions and Tremendous Trifles
  • The Travels of Marco Polo - we were both interested in this after reading William Dalrymple's In Xanadu, which chronicles a journey that retraces Marco Polo's steps.
  • A book of stories by O. Henry
  • Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley by Marguerite Henry - Kara collects Henry's horse stories
  • The first two books of the Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope - The Warden and Barchester Towers
  • A book which Clifton Fadiman edited containing, quite simply, his favourite pieces of writing
  • The Women of Israel by Grace Aguilar - This book was published in 1889. John is writing a thesis on the women in the Book of Samuel, and while this book doesn't cover all of them, it does have the wise women of Tekoa and Abel.
  • God's Gold: A Quest for the Lost Temple Treasures of Jerusalem by Sean Kingsley
  • Letters to Children by C. S. Lewis
  • The Colveneres of the Old Netherlands by C. C. Culvenor
  • The Southern States of North America by Edward King. London: Blackie & Son, 1875. Cr. 4o, 806pp.
  • Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire - winner of the 1940 Caldecott Medal.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Marked by grace

Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll

Before one actually starts reading this book, one becomes aware that it is going to be controversial. The endorsement by Wayne Grudem at the front of the book alerts the reader to this, as does the warning in the preface not to read the book "as a critic trying to find where you think we might be wrong."

I can only assume the controversy concerns the chapter on which types of sexual activity are lawful (and/or helpful) to married couples.

The Driscolls do not cover every aspect of marriage in this book, but, of course – one cannot expect them to – marriage, as they say, is a many-splendoured thing. It is a hard subject on which to write a book, and authors must necessarily be selective about what they emphasise. The Driscolls note that most other marriage books neglect to talk about friendship between a husband and wife (p. 24) and so rightly devote a chapter to it.

The Driscolls have chosen, however, to write particularly about sex in marriage. The book is in no way salacious, and the Driscolls are correct to identify sex as a central part of marriage – even when it is missing.

Conversely, the Driscolls do not have as much to say about children in marriage. I wonder if this separates the topics of "marriage" and "family." (For those interested in reading more about the connection between sex and kids, I recommend "Sexual Opera" by Ben Merkle, in this issue of Credenda/Agenda.)

Most of the time the Driscolls only mention kids in passing – they rightly emphasise that one is a spouse before one is a parent (p. 214) and they rather dubiously frown on co-sleeping (p. 166). They also have something to say about birth control. I never expected to wish that Mark Driscoll was more forthright, but the authors call "potentially abortive birth control" (such as the Pill) "murky waters that are more difficult to discern for Christian couples" (p. 196). I would have called nonabortive birth control "murky waters". For potentially abortive birth control, I would have been much happier if the Driscolls simply told their readers not to use it, whereas they simply say that they stopped using it out of conscience many years ago (p. 197).

Finally, I must also mention that this book is intensely personal. The Driscolls have, I think, taken big risks in sharing their personal history, and – like Jesus – are practising intentional vulnerability for the sake of others.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A taste of the Marrow: Nomista's testimony

I am currently reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. It is a theological treatise written as a dialogue. This is a speech given by the character Nomista. The book raises the question of whether this person can be considered a Christian. What do you think, dear reader? I'd be very interested in your comments. I realise this quotation is rather long, but it is important to get the speech in full.

Sir, I having been born and brought up in a country where there was very little preaching, the Lord knoweth I lived a great while in ignorance and blindness ; and yet, because I did often repeat the Lord's prayer, the apostles' creed, and the ten commandments, and in that I came sometimes to divine service, as they call it, and at Easter received the communion, I thought my condition to be good. But at last, by means of hearing a zealous and godly minister in this city, not long after my coming hither, I was convinced that my present condition was not good, and therefore I went to the same minister, and told him what I thought of myself; so he told me that I must frequent the hearing of sermons, and keep the Sabbath very strictly, and leave off swearing by my faith and troth, and such like oaths, and beware of lying, and all idle words and communication ; yea, and said he, you must get good books to read on, as Mr. Dodd on the Commandments, Mr. Bolton's Directions for Comfortable Walking with God, Mr. Brinsley's True Watch, and such like ; and many similar exhortations and directions he gave me, the which I liked very well, and therefore endeavoured myself to follow them. So I fell to the hearing of the most godly, zealous, and powerful preachers that were in the city, and wrote their sermons after them ; and when God gave me a family, I prayed with them, and instructed them, and repeated sermons to them, and spent the Lord's day in public and private exercises, and left off my swearing, and lying, and idle talking ; and, according to exhortation, in few words, I did so reform myself and my life, that whereas before I had been only careful to perform the duties of the second table of the law, and that to the end I might gain favour and respect from civil, honest men, and to avoid the penalties of man's law, or temporal punishment, now I was also careful to perform the duties required in the first table of the law, and that to gain favour and respect from religious, honest men, and to avoid the penalty of God's law, even eternal torments in hell. Now, when professors of religion observed this change in me, they came to my house, and gave unto me the right hand of fellowship, and counted me one of that number : and then I invited godly ministers to my table, and made much of them ; and then, with that same Micah mentioned in the book of Judges, I was persuaded the Lord would be merciful unto me, because I had gotten a Levite to be my priest, Judges xvii. 13. In a word, I did now yield such an outward obedience and conformity to both tables of the law, that all godly ministers and religious, honest men who knew me, did think very well of me, counting me to be a very honest man, and a good christian ; and indeed I thought so of myself, especially because I had their approbation. And thus I went on bravely a great while, even until I read in Mr. Bolton's works, that the outward righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was famous in those times ; for, be- sides their forbearing and protesting against gross sins, as murder, theft, adultery, idolatry, and the like, they were frequent and constant in prayer, fasting, and alms-deeds, so that, without question, many of them were persuaded that their doing would purchase heaven and happiness. Whereupon I concluded, that I had as yet done no more than they ; and withal I considered, that our Saviour says, " Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God," Matt. v. 20; yea, and I also considered that the apostle says, "He is not a Jew that is one outwardly ; but he that is one inwardly, whose praise is not of men, but of God," Rom. ii. 28 29. Then did I conclude that I was not yet a true Christian ; for, Said I in my heart, I have contented myself with the praise of men, and so have lost all my labour and pains in performing duties ; for they have been no better than outside performances, and, therefore, they must all fall down in a moment. I have not served God with all my heart ; and, therefore, I see I must either go further, or else I shall never be happy. Whereupon I set about the keeping of the law in good earnest, and laboured to perform duties, not only outwardly, but also inwardly from my heart ; I heard, and read, and prayed, and laboured, to bring my heart, and forced my soul to every duty ; I called upon the Lord in good earnest, and told him, that whatsoever he would have me to do, I would do it with all my heart, if he would but save my soul. And then I also took notice of the inward corruptions of my heart, the which I had not formerly done, and was careful to govern my thoughts, to moderate my passions, and to suppress the motions and risings of lust, to banish pride and speculative wantonness, and all vain and sinful desires of my heart ; and then I thought myself not only an outside Christian, but also an inside Christian, and therefore a true Christian indeed. And so I went on comfortably a good while, till I considered that the law of God requires passive obedience as well as active : and therefore I must be a sufferer as well as a doer, or else I could not be a Christian indeed ; whereupon I began to be troubled at my impatience under God's correcting hand, and at those inward murmurings and discontents which I found in my spirit in time of any outward calamity that befel me ; and then I laboured to bridle my passions, and to submit myself quietly to the will of God in every condition ; and then did I also, as it were, begin to take penance upon myself, by abstinence, fasting, and afflicting my soul ; and made pitiful lamentations in my prayers, which were sometimes also accompanied with tears, the which I was persuaded the Lord did take notice of, and would reward me for it ; and then I was persuaded that I did keep the law, in yielding obedience both actively and passively. And then was I confident I was a true Christian, until I considered, that those Jews, of whom the Lord complains, Isa. Iviii. did as much as I ; and that caused me to fear that all was not right with me as yet. Whereupon I went to another minister, and told him that though I had done thus and thus, and suffered thus and thus; yet was I persuaded, that I. was in no better condition than those Jews, O-yes! said he ; you are in a better condition than they : for they were hypocrites, and served not God with all their hearts as you do. Then I went home contentedly, and so went on in my wonted course of doing and suffering, and thought all was well with me, until I bethought myself, that before the time of my conversion, I had been a transgressor from the womb ; yea, in the womb, in that I was guilty of Adam's transgression : so that I considered that although I kept even with God for the time present and to come, yet that would not free me from the guiltiness of that which was done before ; whereupon I was much troubled and disquieted in my mind. Then I went to a third minister of God's holy word, and told how the case stood with me, and what I thought of my state and condition. He cheered me up, bidding me be of good comfort: for how- ever my obedience since my conversion would not satisfy for my former sins ; yet, inasmuch as, at my conversion, I had confessed, lamented, deplored, bewailed, and forsaken them, God, according to his rich mercy and gracious promise, had mercifully pardoned and forgiven them. Then I returned home to my house again, and went to God by earnest prayer and supplication, and besought him to give me assurance of the pardon and forgiveness of my guiltiness of Adam's sin, and all my actual transgressions before my conversion ; and as I had endeavoured myself to be a good servant before, so I would still continue in doing my duty most exactly ; and so, being assured that the Lord had granted this my request, I fell to my business according to my promise ; I heard, I read, I prayed, I fasted, I mourned, I sighed, and groaned ; and watched over my heart, my tongue, and ways, in all my doings, actions, and dealings, both with God and man. But after a while, I growing better acquainted with the spiritualness of the law, and the inward corruptions of my own heart, I perceived that I had deceived myself, in thinking that I had kept the law perfectly ; for, do what I could, I found many imperfections in my obedience ; for I had been, and was still subject to sleepiness, drowsiness, and heaviness, in prayers and hearing, and so in other duties; I failed in the manner of performance of them, and in the end why I performed them, seeking myself in everything I did: and my conscience told me I failed in my duty to God in this, in my duty to my neighbour in that. And then I was much troubled again : for I considered that the law of God requires, and is not satisfied without, an exact and perfect obedience. And then I Went to the same minister again, and told him how I had purposed, promised, striven, and endeavoured, as much as possibly I could, to keep the law of God perfectly ; and yet by woful experience I had found, that I had, and did still transgress in many ways ; and therefore I feared hell and damnation. " Oh ! but," said he, " do not fear ; for the best of Christians have their failings, and no man keepeth the law of God perfectly ; and therefore go on, and do as you have done, in striving to keep the law perfectly ; and in what you cannot do, God will accept the will for the deed; and wherein you come short, Christ will help you out." And this satisfied and contented me very much. So I returned home again, and fell to prayer, and told the Lord that now I saw I could not yield perfect obedience to his law, and yet I would not despair, because I did believe that what I could not do Christ had done for me : and then I did certainly conclude, that I was now a Christian indeed, though I was not so before : and so have I been persuaded ever since. And thus, sir, you see I have declared unto you, both how it hath been with me formerly, and how it is with me for the present ; wherefore I would entreat you to tell me plainly and truly what you think of my condition.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rednecks redacted

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant

I found this book completely by accident. I was looking for Paul Fussell's Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, which had been discussed on the Basement Tape on "class". Fussell wasn't there, but this book was, and it looked interesting. It's a review of right-wing working-class white American (i.e. redneck) culture, written by a liberal for liberals, presumably so they can better understand their fellow countrymen. An excellent summary of the ideas in the book is in Bageant's article, "Why rednecks may rule the world."

Most of the book is about redneck poverty: many have unrealistic mortgages weighing them down, and many have to contend with enormous medical bills. But the most interesting chapters are the ones about guns and religion - which form, of course, the inspiration for the book's title. Unfortunately, Bageant lumps together premillennialists and reconstructionists, dismissing the differences with an airy "I will spare you the agony of fundamentalist taxonomy." But he makes an amazing claim about R. J. Rushdoony: if the United States experiences a fourth "Great Awakening", historians may one day document it as beginning in 1973 with the publication of The Institutes of Biblical Law.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Kara's Reading Goals for 2012

Here are twelve books which I hope to read this year.

Two books outside my comfort zone:

The Elements by Theodore Gray

The Histories by Herodotus (or something else about ancient history)

Two memoirs:

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard Finished in May

Finding God Beyond Harvard by Kelly Monroe Kullberg Finished in January

Two books about parenting:

To Train Up a Child
by Michael and Debi Pearl Finished in February

Instructing a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp

Two books out of curiosity:

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

My brother-in-law, and now my sister, keep talking about this! Finished in February

God So Loved the World by Elizabeth Goudge Gave up!
Maybe this will help me understand her theology.

Two books by Wilsons:

Mother Kirk by Douglas Wilson Finished

Notes from the Tilt-a Whirl by N.D. Wilson
Finished in January

Two lonely books in need of a mate:

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon Gave up.

The Green Earth by Luci Shaw Finished

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 In Books (Kara's List)

These are the books I read this year, with occasional comments in italics.

Brave New Family by G. K. Chesterton

Three Men on the Bummel by J.K. Jerome
I didn't find this as funny as Three Men in a Boat. But it was pleasantly diverting.

Maggie's Harvest by Maggie Beer

Why Johnny Can't Preach by T. David Gordon

Untune the Sky: Occasional Stammering Verse by Douglas Wilson

Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse

Finding God at Harvard, ed. by Kelly Monroe

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

There is a lot to be said about the things one sees down at the creek, evidently. As I read this, I began to see the outdoors in a different way. Highly recommended!

Better Birth by Lareen Newman and Heather Hancock

Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton

Redwall by Brian Jacques

I read this when I was feeling a bit sick during early pregnancy. A fun story, with short chapters.

What to Expect When You're Expecting

The New Experience of Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
I liked her emphasis on joy.

Multiple Blessings by Jon and Kate Gosselin

The Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

The middle book in "The Eliots of Damerosehay" series, and the best. Also known as "The Herb of Grace".

I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy

A silly historical romance, part of the Scarlet Pimpernel series.

To a Thousand Generations by Douglas Wilson

I found this a very helpful explanation of infant baptism. It's written with a Baptist audience in mind. I came away remembering that baptism is more about God than me.

The Case for Covenant Communion, ed. by Gregg Strawbridge

A mixed bag of essays in favour of paedocommunion. The most helpful one for me was an exposition of I Corinthians 11:28 by Jeff Myers. I'd recommend that, even to people not interested in the larger subject of the book.

Jamie's America by Jamie Oliver

An English chef travels through the U.S. in search of new recipes.

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up by Julia Eccleshare

Edith Head by Jay Jorgenson

Appallingly edited bio of the costume designer.

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge

The first book in "The Eliots of Damerosehay" series.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Maybe I should have read this as a child. As it is, I found Toad completely annoying.

Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic

I found this so helpful that I'm re-reading it. Maybe a review will follow.

In Xanadu by William Dalrymple

This sort of travel is fun to read about, but not the sort I'd attempt myself. Sneaking into Communist China sounds a bit too risky to me! The author retraced the steps of Marco Polo, in the 1990's.

The Water Birth Book by Janet Balaskas

Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize

Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

Goudge has her ups and downs, but this is the first time she's made me mad. The first half of the book is a lovely tale with wonderful, humorous characterization of small children. Then suddenly we find that all the plot tension is the result of voodoo. Why?! It was completely unnecessary. This isn't the only thing--one of her characters, an Anglican priest, tells his young relatives that they are free to believe in the "old gods". (Pan, etc.) He would like to, but can't because of his position. Bad advice!

The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge

The last book of "The Eliots of Damerosehay" series.

Supper of the Lamb by Rober Farrar Capon

The Road to Yesterday by L.M. Montgomery

Greenmantle by John Buchan

The Moon by Night by Madeleine L'Engle

Eggs, Beans, Crumpets by P.G. Wodehouse

A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle

Not recommended.

The Waiting Place by Eileen Button

Operation Black Fang by Jake MacKenzie

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

The Baptized Body by Peter Leithart

I particularly liked the essay in the appendix, "The Sociology of Baptism".

The Titian Committee by Iain Pears

Biggles of 266 by Capt. W.E. Johns

The first Biggles I've read. This is one time my little brother is ahead of me!

Realms of Gold by Leland Ryken

A discussion of classic literature which rehashes arguments which are made much better elsewhere, such as Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories". However, it does contain a provocative chapter on what a Christian classic is.

What to Expect: The First Year

The Field Guide to Natural Phenomena: The Secret World of Optical, Atmospheric and Celestial Wonders

I really enjoyed reading about things like lunar eclipses, superior mirages and will o'the wisps.

20 books John plans to read in 2012

I wrote similar lists in 2010 and 2011, although last year I managed only twelve books on my list. The Ink Slinger and Money-Saving Mom also have good lists.

Four novels:
A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge 3rd June - 22nd August

Kara really likes Goudge, and recently re-read this novel. I really enjoyed the excerpts she read to me. 

Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse 6th - 17th February

This is one of the fifteen Jeeves books in the Wodehouse canon, and will be the ninth one I've read. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

One of many books on my shelves that I've been meaning to read for ages. 

War in Heaven by Charles Williams 26th October - 20th November

Along with Lewis and Tolkien, Williams was one of the so-called Inklings, but his work hasn't achieved the fame of some of his colleagues. 

Four books of theology or Biblical studies: 

Literary Criticism of the Old Testament by Norman Habel 2nd - 21st January

It's my opinion that the recent trend of literary approaches to the Old Testament has been generally helpful. This is an older book, however, and still caught up in source criticism. 

Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit by Richard A. Horsley 29th May - 4th June

This isn't quite a biblical studies book - instead, it looks at an issue that forms an important part of the historical and cultural background of the New Testament: imperial religion. The early Christians understood that Caesar's claim to be Lord was a religious one, and incompatible with Jesus' lordship. 

The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher 8th January - 27th May

This book was controversial in its day, and has become a classic in reformed theology. 

The Structure of Matthew's Gospel: A Study in Literary Design by David R. Bauer 30th January - 9th March

I have been preaching through Matthew off and on for the past three years, and have got up to Matthew 15. For a long time I've been interested in the structure of Matthew's gospel, particularly whether it can be regarded as a covenant document. It doesn't seem to address the issue directly, but maybe this book can help me think through this. 

Four books to help me in my work as a pastor:

Comfort those who grieve: Ministering God's grace in times of loss by Paul Tautges 20th August - 11th September

This will be the fourth book I will have read in the Ministering the Master's Way series. The last one was on handling a new call. 

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy 26th March - 10th June

I think that Goldsworthy's Gospel and Kingdom is a modern classic, and I am in fundamental agreement with his approach to the Old Testament. This looks like it will be a helpful book. 

Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers by Eugene Peterson 21st October - 20th November

This is the fourth volume in Peterson's "spiritual theology" series. I read the first two, and skipped the third. They don't seem quite as good as his books on pastoral theology, but Peterson is usually insightful. 

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry by John Piper 22nd January - 24th February

My friend Mark Smith reviewed this book several years ago, but I never got around to reading it myself. 

Four more Christian books:

Literary Companion to the Festivals by Mark Pryce 2nd January - 16th December

This book mostly contains hymns and poems by great saints of old, arranged according the day of their commemoration. It starts tomorrow with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, and his "Hymn to God". 

The Consolations of Imperfection: Learning to Appreciate Life's Limitations by Donald McCullough 21st July - 22nd August

This book is all about human limitations. Sounds like it might contain some lively wisdom. 

So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin 27th January - 8th March

This book has received ridiculously polarised reviews on Amazon. I wonder what the fuss is all about. 

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber 12th March - 15th April
Kara reviewed this book after receiving a copy through Booksneeze, and my brother Tony has also read it. 

Four other books: 

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon 25th May - 30th June

This is another book that Kara has already read, and thoroughly enjoyed. 

The Field Guide to Natural Phenomena: The Secret World of Optical, Atmospheric and Celestial Wonders Commenced 9th November

This will come in handy when we teach Galilee natural history. 

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign by Stephen Talty 24th September - 17th December


At Large and At Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist by Anne Fadiman 4th - 25th May

I loved this author's book Ex Libris, which I read several years ago. This volume looks fun as well.