A Review of The Romantic Rationalist

full_the-romantic-rationalistC. S. Lewis looms large as a figure who has influenced Christians in our era and this book seeks to distill some of the “magic” of his thinking. The title captures the unique way in which Lewis blended passion for the life of the heart and the life of the mind. “Romanticism” here is taken to be what Lewis also called “joy”.

The book is a collection of essays from Randy Alcorn, John Piper, Philip Ryken, Kevin Vanhoozer, David Mathis, and Douglas Wilson. It is a conference book. These are all men who have been influenced profoundly by Lewis’ works. The influence shows. They speak with great passion about the legacy of the “master likener”.

I love how Mathis opens the introduction speaking of Lewis’ death, “He went very quietly. It was very British.” He contrasts how at the time when JFK’s death rocked the world, Lewis left this life quiet silently. And yet, he made a big impact on the way many Christians today think about the imagination, faith, literature, apologetics, and theology. There are a lot of other passages from the book that I want to quote, but I refrain so as not to make this review over long (the quotes certainly wouldn’t bore the reader, but alas, I suppose a review ought to have some sense of brevity).

I think the contributor succeed in passionately portraying the role of imagination and faith in Lewis’ legacy. It also sensitively deals with some deficiencies in Lewis’ theology and shows why his works, nonetheless, remain a great treasure with much to teach us today. Each of these essays bring a unique touch and each are unique, engaging, and helpful reflections on Lewis’ life and legacy. And there are two pretty substantial appendices. I most appreciated Appendix Two, which records a conversation among the contributors. I love especially where they suggest little-known works of Lewis which the reader might consider reading.

If there is a flaw in this book, it is that it is perhaps missing an essay or two. Piper’s concluding essay is good, but it still seems like an abrupt end (excellent appendices notwithstanding). I wanted to read more. I really feel there is some sort of gap in the coverage. I can’t quite put my finger on it. In the last essay, John Piper attempts to tie things together and wrap things up, and he does it well. However, something still seems missing–maybe it is just a prompt to dive into Lewis’ works. Nevertheless, this book is excellent, and I highly recommend it.

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Books Finished in February

(3 paper books, 2 e-books, and 6 audio books)

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A New Paper On Otis Robinson

My friend Ian Clary has recently uploaded a paper on Otis Robinson, an important early New England Baptist pastor.

The paper is fascinating and well-written. It’s also of particular note to me for these reasons:

  1. Robinson lived/pastored in Androscoggin/Oxford County, Maine, which is where my wife’s parents live. In fact, I’ve done some research on the Oxford County churches.
  2. Robinson worked in the Portsmouth Association together with John Newton Brown, and I’ve been very interested in John Newton Brown. In an as of yet unpublished paper on Brown, I mention that in the late 1820s, both Brown and Robinson participated in the founding proceedings of that association.

If you are interested in American Baptist history, Ian’s paper is certainly worth a read.

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What Do Terrorists Want?

The problem with the response of eager military “hawks” to terrorism is not that they punish terrorists too severely. It is that they give terrorists exactly what they want.

Some people like to imagine that ISIS or Al Qaeda cower in their dens hoping that the U.S. doesn’t bring out the full force of its fury. And then when some president doesn’t press forward with full-tilted abandon, they like to imagine that the terrorist masterminds are sitting back and laughing, totally delighted that nothing is happening.

However, if you look at their actions, groups like ISIS are actually acting precisely as if they WANT a response. Think about it. If ISIS wanted to avoid Western intervention, do you think they would circulate evidence of their atrocities to the media? Modern terrorism may be a lot of things, but it is nothing if it isn’t an attempt to goad the movers and shakers into military action through the vehicle of public opinion and perception.

Seriously, if ISIS just wanted to kill the maximum amount of “infidels” while going under the radar and avoiding any international response, they would not be doing what they are doing right now!

The Clash Of Civilizations That Isn’t by Robert Wright is worth reading. In it, Robert says:

ISIS is here. And it’s here, in part, because we got all freaked out about Al Qaeda and overreacted to it. And now we’re getting freaked out about ISIS. As freakouts go, this one is certainly understandable. ISIS wants to terrify us, and in the service of that mission has carried tactical atrocity to new heights of grotesqueness…And the process feeds on itself. The more scared we get, the more likely our government is to react with the kind of undiscerning ferocity that created ISIS as we know it—and the more likely Western extremists are to deface mosques, or worse. All of which will help ISIS recruit more Muslims, thus leading to more atrocities in the West, as well as in the Middle East, and making the whole thing seem even more like a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. And so on.”

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A Review of The Happy Christian by David Murray

 The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray

Is another book on happiness and positive thinking needed? Certainly this topic provokes cringes, cynicism, and discomfort—a knee-jerk reaction which is not without a basis. Perennially opportunistic “charlatans” and “hucksters” profess to have new techniques in this endeavour, There is a great deal of material that amounts to a rip-off, misleads people, gives false hope, evades reality (pretending there is no evil/sadness/pain/sin), ignores key dimensions of human experience and the human condition. Or all of the above! Some more noble material is descent but lacks a firm philosophical or theological foundation.

Christians have a further difficulty in this area of study. A fair amount of the popular material goes to one of two extremes: (a) it is steeped in unhelpful Happy-Christiannon-Christian ideology and presuppositions–such as the denial of the reality of pain and suffering or (b) the material comes from a Christian perspective, but is narrowly limited to religious dimensions–with little more than tepid commentary on a few Bible texts, sprinkled with painfully abstract platitudes, and generally ignorant of the world around it. These are generalizations—but it seems there isn’t much material that is both robust and theologically sound. It’s a shame!

David Murray handles the subject skilfully. With a healthy dose of realism, he provides Christians with strategies to live happier and more positive lives. He observes that the Bible is a realistically positive source. Not pessimistic, but not naively optimistic either. Murray doesn’t suggest we embrace “positive thinking” per say, but rather “realistic thinking” and a “positive faith”. He presses home that “optimism is not faith, but faith is optimistic”.

The approach taken is balanced. It is focused on biblical truth and the finished work of Christ. Nevertheless, Murray frequently appropriates “common grace” insights from scholars in positive psychology and various cognitive studies. Murray certainly has read the popular and academic literature—which is exciting to see. Clearly, he does not dismiss psychology outright as some well-intentioned Christians may do at times. He uses such data frequently in assisting the reader in gaining an understanding. He is relentless in harnessing these insights into a Bible-centered and Christ-centered perspective. Yet, Murray does not follow his academic and popular sources slavishly merely due to their “expertise”. At times he takes a different path and explains why he disagrees.

The book is refreshingly concrete and is rife with actionable lists. Murray’s six questions centering on our moods and “thoughts-facts-feelings” in the chapter “Happy Facts” were exceptionally helpful. He also helpfully shows how thought patterns distort reality. A serious Christian believer will no doubt be terrified to be found distorting God’s Word, but through our thought patterns we often distort the God’s WORLD. Murray shows the pervasive negativity in our culture, especially in regard to media and political discourse, and so we need to do extra work to be positive.

Murray’s chapter “Happy Work” shows the relation of work to happiness and shows that it is more than “a means to an end” (though it isn’t our ultimate end either). He provides an excellent theology of work’s importance and centrality to God’s plan for us. Another one of my favourite chapters is “Happy World”, which is an excellent and passionate exposition of the Christian doctrine of “common grace”. I was thrilled by the author’s approach and it helped me to rethink my perspective on the world (and people) around me and God’s “everywhere grace” (which is a moniker Murray uses for “common grace”). Murray doesn’t quote him, but surely he would agree with the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Murray provides a healthy amount of personal examples, especially in the chapter “Happy Differences”, which describes his journey to embracing cultural diversity in his attitudes to immigrants. I was especially encouraged to see this since I’m troubled by how often Christians have negative attitudes towards immigrants and people that are different.  It’s great that Murray links differences and diversity into this discussion of happiness. Murray shows how embracing cultural diversity and interacting with people that are different than us helps us to be happier. There’s a great line in this chapter which says that “the gospel smashes superiority and inferiority complexes”.

Murray makes satisfyingly broad applications—taking the game far beyond the emotional or thought life, into an intersection with community, family, work, and other areas. I’m excited to see not only how this book can make individual Christians happier, but also at how it may positively influence the Christian communities which gather together corporately in worship. Sadly, we Christians have at times made our faith seem gloomy–we have often not exhibited the joy and love which Christ gives us. Murray forcefully shows how we should look forward to the future with bright, expectant hope—a hope which also transforms our present perspective!

I suppose I could come up with a few quibbles, there are some points which might have been expanded or clarified. However, they do not in any sense weigh down or dampen my enthusiasm for the book. There is precious little that I would change in this book. It’s a wonderful book, well worth reading for any Christian. There’s a lot of material to digest and I expect to return to it when I can.  It’s a challenging book, but also one that is full of inspiration and hope.

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Books Finished in January

(3 paper books, 1 e-book, and 4 audio books)

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Heaping Praise On The House Of Saud

Today the UK/US media, American President, and the Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper are gloating over one of the most despotic dictators in the world. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died and they are hailing him as “loyal ally”, “reformer”, “bold”, “courageous” and even “vocal advocate of peace in the Middle East”. Surely if he weren’t so “cooperative” on various military adventures, he would be denounced as a thug and despot. It almost reads as if it is coming straight out of The Onion. The next time our governments or media say we are going to war to fight for freedom or get rid of dictators or fight extremism–it should be noted that they have eagerly praised (and supported and protected) one of the worst totalitarian states in recent history.

I think talking to people from the area pretty quickly reveals the extent to which the kingdom has been characterized by corruption and extreme forms of totalitarianism.

For those interested to read, I recommend the Palestinian-Egyptian author Said Aburish’s book “Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House Saud”. Though it is dated, it does a good job of setting the historical context and also showing the depth to which the Saud family has been able to manage its reputation in the media and in Western governments–both through finesse and intimidation.

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Books Finished in 2014

In 2014, I’ve finished the following 67 books. This is my lowest total since 2010 and this year’s total is less than half of what I completed in 2012. Nevertheless, this appears to have been the year of GREAT books, and I can’t think of any year in which so I’ve had the pleasure of reading so many excellent ones.  The books I’ve added the prefix of an asterisk (*) are my “best ten books I read in 2014″. There are easily another 10 books which would be a close runner-ups for this distinction.

Paper Books

  1. *Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
  2. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
  3. *The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality, edited by G. Stephen Weaver and Ian Hugh Clary
  4. Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael Haykin
  5. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay and Laney Salisbury
  6. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper
  7. Jonah: A Study in Compassion by O. Palmer Robertson
  8. Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell
  9. Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family by Condoleezza Rice
  10. *The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  11. Why Windsor?: An Anecdotal History Of The Jews Of Windsor And Essex County by Alan E. Abrams
  12. A History of the Baptists by Robert G. Torbet
  13. Baptist Roots In America by Samuel Waldron
  14. The Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses by John H. Gerstner
  15. The Obsession Book of Timbuktu by Bruce Meyer
  16. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
  17. The French Reformation by Mark Greengrass
  18. Dr. Seuss ABC’s by Dr. Seuss
  19. *The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence by Thabiti Anyabwile
  20.  The Armies of the Lamb: the Spirituality of Andrew Fuller edited by Michael Haykin
  21. *Anne of Green Gables – Book #1 – L. M. Montgomery
  22. Immigrants, Baptists, and the Protestant Mind in America by Lawrence B. Davis
  23. 30 Years a Watchtower Slave by William J. Schnell
  24. Alligators and Crocodiles by Gail Gibbons
  25. The Baptists in Upper and Lower Canada before 1820 by Stuart Ivison and Fred Rosser
  26. William Cowper by Norman Nicholson
  27. Why Read The Puritans Today? by Don Kistler
  28. William Cowper: Nature Poet by Roderick Huang
  29. The Unpublished And Uncollected Poems Of William Cowper by William Cowper
  30. *Knowing God by J. I. Packer

Electronic Books

  1. The Holy War (re-read–previous read in 2005) by John Bunyan
  2. Emily, and Other Poems by J. Newton Brown
  3. The Apocalypse: a poem by J. Newton Brown
  4. Gospel Assurance and Warnings by Paul Washer
  5. The life and times of Menno: The celebrated Dutch reformer by John Newton Brown
  6. Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact by Marvin Jones
  7. *Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress
  8. The Threefold Cord: The Dark Harvest Trilogy, Book Three by Jeremiah W. Montgomery
  9. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God by Dane Ortlund
  10. Beer Is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing by Charles W. Bamforth

Audio Books

  1. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  2. 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
  3. Wind Among the Reeds by W. B. Yeats
  4. Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
  5. Man with Wings: The Story of Leonardo da Vinci by Joseph Cottler
  6. According to Promise: The Lord’s Method of Dealing with His Chosen People by Charles H. Spurgeon
  7. Hexaemeron by Basil of Caesarea
  8. Jill the Reckless by P.G. Wodehouse
  9. Alarms and Discursions by G. K. Chesterton
  10. What The Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
  11. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
  12. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
  13. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  14. The Autobiography of a Clown by Isaac Frederick Marcosson
  15. A Guide to Stoicism by George Stock
  16. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris
  17. American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen
  18. *The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate’s Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History by James Higdon
  19. AfterLife: What You Really Want to Know About Heaven and the Hereafter by Hank Hanegraaff
  20. How Google Works by Eric Schmidt
  21. Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  22. The Closer by Mariano Rivera
  23. Poems 1817 by John Keats
  24. *The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. The Traitor by Thomas Dixon Jr.
  26. *No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
  27. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

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