WOODROW WILSON: AMBITIOUS ASPIRATIONS AND PROBLEMATIC POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

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Though it is a little over 200 pages Barry Hankins has packed quite a bit into this little/big book.

There is much to learn from this fine book, but I will limit myself to three things.

First, Hankins does a fine job of demonstrating the impossibility of having good Christian practice when it is shorn of Christian doctrine.  Wilson was a learned man, but terribly naive when it came to thinking there could be solid ethics without solid theology.

Second, there is fascinating background on Princeton and other educational matters.  Wilson lived during a pivotal point in American education.  The Johns Hopkins University, where Wilson did his PhD, was the first American school to adopt the German model of specialization.  It was a seismic change for the American educational landscape. 

Last, I love to read biographies where you learn some truly surprising things about the subject and the times he/she lived in.  Hankins does a nice job here.  Among other things, you will probably be surprised to find out how fun and light-hearted Wilson could be. 

If you are looking for a biography on Wilson that covers the full man, but isn’t unduly long, this is a terrific choice.

MY FELLOW AMERICANS…READ THIS BOOK!

 

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I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here.  I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational.  You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!

American Christians are especially in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.

https://www.amazon.com/Misreading-Scripture-Western-Eyes-Understand/dp/0830837825/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

WHAT MAKES A GREAT BOOK?

For me, the answer has come from a simple mathematical equation.  I take the total number of pages in a book and divide by two.  If my total marginal notes exceeds that number then most likely the book was invaluable to read. 

This does not mean, of course, that I agree with everything in the book.  It does mean the book provoked much fruitful interaction.

The photo above is my copy of the terrific, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph Woods.

FAN YOUR BRAIN

Dan Siegel offers three things that greatly help one’s overall mental health.  I rearranged the list (as found in Curt Thompson’s Anatomy of the Soul) so I could make the word FAN.  Here are the three things:

Focused attention exercises.  These are things such as prayer and meditation on the Word of God.

Aerobic activity.  Forty-five minutes a day at least five times a week.  We think better when we our body feels better.

Novel learning experiences.  Pushing yourself to learn something new.  Could be gardening, cooking, a new language, really just about anything that forces the brain to make new connections.

MAINLINE AS SIDELINE

Many like to use the moniker of this post.

Decline in numbers among the mainline churches is largely due to doctrinal drift.  Older denominations may want to say it is various cultural factors of modernity, but that rings hollow. 

If, as Paul said, there is not a clear call, who will rally for battle? (I Cor. 14:8).  It is not very motivating in battle when the field general says it does not matter what hill his soldiers take.

THE BENEDICT OPTION

 

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https://www.amazon.com/Benedict-Option-Strategy-Christians-Post-Christian/dp/0735213291

Scholars are rarely prophets and prophets are rarely scholars. I was reminded of this in reading the much debated, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.

Rod Dreher, journalist and outspoken Christian, is decidedly on the prophetic side of the scholar-prophet spectrum. This, however, does not mean that he is incapable of helping us better understand the far-reaching and practical ramifications of something as arcane as nominalism.

We must say right out of the blocks that Dreher’s book is not a jeremiad screed to head for the hills. Rather, Dreher advocates for “exile in place.” The preposition is key. We are to cultivate faithfulness with other like-minded folks not simply to hunker down in our religious enclaves. We should form these counter-cultural communities to strengthen our capacity to engage, not escape, our world. This is a clarion call by a gifted writer to let the church be the church.

I have my disagreements with some of Dreher’s analysis and antidotes. With respect to the former, Dreher is insufficiently aware of what the Protestant Reformers meant by sola Scriptura. As Keith Mathison memorably puts it, sola Scpritura does not mean solo Scriptura. Among other things, leaning on the thesis in Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation made for a potted history. Dreher would have been greatly helped if he had availed himself of the work of either Mathison or D.H. Williams, especially his Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: a Primer for Suspicious Protestants.

As to antidotes, I don’t share Dreher’s sweeping denunciation of public schools. For the record, our two sons attended Christian schools, had a few years of homeschooling, and went to public high schools. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Sure, public schools can be a mess. I saw incompetent teachers and weak administrators, but I also saw bogus rules, unprincipled administrators and mean teachers at the Christian school. My experience, it needs to be noted, was both as a parent and a part-time teacher.

Dreher is rightly concerned about the corrosive effects of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.” I share his concerns. I also share Dreher’s conviction that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” As many have said, the church seems the most vital (and prophetic) when it works from the margins of power. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, Dreher’s book is a good reminder of that reality.

HALF-BREED AUGUSTINE

https://www.amazon.com/Mestizo-Augustine-Theologian-Between-Cultures/dp/083085150X/ref=cm_rdp_product

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Augustine’s City of God and Confessions have made a significant impact on my life. When people ask me for the most formative books outside the Bible, it is easy to name the top two: Confessions and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

I’ve read several books about Augustine. I can say that all of them have been quite good, with a few of exceptional quality. Those by Jean Bethke Elshtain and Garry Wills would top my list. Those two are now joined by Justo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez teases out the implications of Augustine being a person of two cultures: African and Greco-Roman. The Spanish word, mestizaje, means that one is a “mixed breed.” No easy thing being one and it carried far-reaching implications for how Augustine viewed himself and how he conducted his ministry.

Gonzalez covers the typical terrain with the Donatist controversy, etc. but in a way no one else has before.

Highly recommended.