Stuck in the Present

THE NEW HISTORY OF POLITICAL THEORY

This is my third book I’ve read by this author. None have been duds.

My interview with the author on his terrific book about Madison’s political philosophy can be found here:

Staying Home on Election Day? What would James Madison Say?

And my review of Garrett Sheldon’s memoir can be found here:

MEMOIR OF A GRATEFUL ACADEMIC

In The New History of Political Theory, Sheldon ably covers the political waterfront with brief, but meaty chapters on twenty key figures from Socrates to John Rawls. These twenty are covered in a little over 200 pages but be assured that the author presses much into this terrific book. I can report that my marginal notes almost equaled the number of pages in this book.

Early on, Sheldon poses this critical question, “Is man naturally social or naturally solitary?” Much hangs on how we answer that question, not only for our own lives, but also for the societies we want to inhabit. If we are social, and my vote is decidedly in the affirmative, then we need to be about the kind of community building that reflects that priority.

I just read Jesse Norman’s terrific, intellectual biography of Edmund Burke. I am happy to say that Sheldon has a chapter on Burke. Burke equally chided both those on the left and right that they had forgotten how important so-called social issues and interactions are in governing well.

Sheldon’s book is more than a primer on political philosophy. It thoughtfully forces us to wrestle with issues of grand significance. What is the nature of humans? Are we naturally good? And much more.

I often say that we Christians are more beholden to John Locke than John Calvin. Let Sheldon clarify why this may be the case. Being instructed by a master teacher and careful scholar will be time well spent.

 

RANDY NEWMAN: REMEMBERING OUR FRIEND

Some of you know that we were in Boston last month to celebrate the graduation of our youngest son from Harvard Law School. As is our habit, we had dinner one night in the North End at one of their many, terrific Italian restaurants. As we were seated, my wife received a note that Randy had died. Overcome with grief I excused myself, went outside, and cried.

Doreen first met Randy nearly forty years ago. She and Randy worked together at Towson State University in the Baltimore, MD area. Because of Randy’s leadership in wanting to share the gospel, their small Cru staff team (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) of three did more evangelism than schools that had many more Cru staff.

Randy and Pam recently moved to Austin. After leaving Cru, Randy transitioned to ministering through the C.S. Lewis Institute. We started meeting for fellowship and sharing a few, or more than a few, laughs. During one of our coffee shop conversations, a twenty-something guy introduced himself. He was disillusioned with the American church and so stopped going. It was wonderful to tag-team with Randy. Both of us have had our own concerns with the church. 

From Boston we flew to England. In the most unlikely of places, we heard about Randy. 

We attended a classic Anglican service (see picture) in the English countryside of Taynton which is part of the Cotswolds. After the service, we spent some time with the vicar who gave a wonderful message and shared his own concerns about the Anglican church. Tom studied at the evangelical school, Oak Hill College in London. I don’t remember what spawned his comment, but he told us that one of his favorite books in seminary was Randy’s Questioning Evangelism! That was a wonderful mercy of God and a great encouragement. 

Randy was rightly known as funny, clever at asking questions, but I would like to add, a great listener. Here is Randy interviewing me on my latest book. You will find his trademark humor and ability to ask great questions, but authors appreciate someone like Randy who was an active listener:

https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/resources/questions-that-matter-podcast-dave-moore-discipleship-through-the-study-of-history/.

HARVARD LAW GRADUATION

In late May, our family was in Cambridge, MA to celebrate the graduation of our youngest son, Chris.

Chris’s time at Havard was terrific on all fronts: he excelled academically, made great friends, loved his Cambridge church, got to know some wonderful professors, AND met his girlfriend Yudi. 

Here are a few pictures:

Our family: Reese, our daughter-in-law, our oldest son David, Chris, and us.

Chris listening to his favorite professor, the inestimable Jack Goldsmith.

It’s official!

 

 

IN HOFFA’S SHADOW

In Hoffa’s Shadow details the riveting story of Jimmy Hoffa’s mysterious disappearance. It is amply supplied with roller-coaster drama and elegant writing.

The author is the stepson of Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien, the loyal and longtime assistant to Jimmy Hoffa. (I should add that the author is a professor at Harvard law school and a wonderful mentor to our youngest son.)

I well remember the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. My young assessment was that his Teamster job was really a front to make lots of money from his mobster connections. The reality, like many true things, is more complicated and compelling than the simple narrative I believed in high school.

Goldsmith artfully tells the story of his stepfather’s quest to gain his innocence. I am convinced that Chuckie had nothing to do with the disappearance and death of Hoffa. The story is told with judicious detail and an appropriate pathos that one would expect from a loving stepson.

But don’t be mistaken. This is not a hagiographical account. Goldsmith is quick to admit the many faults and foibles of his stepfather. Perhaps you noticed that Goldsmith did not keep his stepfather’s surname. I won’t go into why, but it underscores that this book is not some cheap, laudatory account. On the other end of the spectrum, it is equally not remotely in the Mommie Dearest genre.

If you are looking for an engaging book full of twists and turns, I highly recommend In Hoffa’s Shadow. I should add the subtitle: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth.

AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY: THE SO-CALLED BIBLICAL VARIETY

I could describe and defend the following seven statements at length but will hold off.

Various polls confirm the following observations. I am happy to know several Christians who have chosen a better way.

Many American Evangelicals are more concerned, even consumed, with being politically or culturally literate than knowing the Bible, the church’s history, and theology.

Discipleship, as Dallas Willard regularly declared, is almost non-existent.

We love resurrection power but have forgotten what it means to be crucified with Christ.

Too many churches tolerate unqualified leaders. 

J.I. Packer said the greatest need of the church is Christian education (he used the word catechesis), but few have heeded his counsel.

Many of us are confused by what the gospel entails, and fewer still share it with others.

We are gladly stuck in our tribes and echo chambers.

 

WHY WE MUST BOTH HEAR AND READ THE BIBLE

It may seem odd to write a book about the value of not just reading, but also the importance of hearing the contents of a book. And not just any book, but the Bible.

Most people in the early church could not read. How did they grow in their understanding of God’s Word? How did they grow as disciples to ask the question that theologian Brad East recently posed? Answer: By hearing gifted readers.

These readers worked hard to emphasize the right places, pause at the right moments, and supply energy throughout. Their “performance” in the best sense of that word gave people understanding. Hearing the word read not only familiarized them with the material. It helped shape how they “felt” about the material. Quoting a wonderful line from Quintilian, Sandy reminds us that it is good to “add force to facts.” Even when people could read, the hearing of God’s Word created new levels of understanding.

If your church has been blessed with great readers of Scripture, then you know the power of hearing well-executed words. If you have not heard such readers, you are missing out on a considerable blessing and benefit.

Many of us know what it is like to hear a familiar passage from the Word of God read in such a way that it engenders all kinds of new insights. This deeper and more beautiful understanding is something that Sandy does a terrific job of explaining.

Each year, I get to read a lot of terrific books. Sandy’s book is one of the most edifying ones I have read in a long time. I will be recommending it with great enthusiasm.

TECHNOLOGICAL “PROGRESS” AND HUMANITY’S DECLINE

Bruce Brander, riffing on the assessment of the great Henry Adams:

“…the miracles of modern technology were only mistaken for progress. They amounted to humanity’s drawing unprecedented sums of energy from sources outside itself, which testified to rapid exhaustion of people’s inner energies and personal resources and their growing dependence upon nature’s reserves to sustain and enhance their lives. Technology merely masked decline, then served to speed it along.” (emphasis mine)

Brander’s book which has not nearly received the attention it deserves, is here:

 

THE LORD OF PSALM 23 AND AUTHOR’S RESPONSE TO MY CONCERN

Last year, I read Gibson’s terrific Living Life Backward. Ecclesiastes has a fond place in my heart.

I received a copy of this book from a friend who discipled me 47 years ago. I am now 66.

There are many, wonderful things I could offer about The Lord of Psalm 23, but I have one concern, but an important one in my estimation. It relates to what Gibson wrote on page 70 and 71 about the “steady advance of a soul unafraid to die…”

Like the author, I have been privileged to be with some as they are nearing death. I have seen the same thing that Gibson wrote of in these pages, but I also know believers who experienced terror at the end of life.

I Cor. 15:26 speaks of death being an enemy. We also have John Bunyan’s account of Christian’s dread as he makes his final trek to the Celestial City. And then there is John Donne and others I could add who were not always at peace with God.

[As mentioned in the subject line, the author responded favorably to my concern. It’s wonderful to see this kind of humility in action!]

Gibson wrote a beautiful and penetrating book full of important insights.

I am better for having read it!

OUR ANCIENT FAITH: LINCOLN, DEMOCRACY, AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIMENT

Allen Guelzo is one of my favorite historians. I recently reread his Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. It brilliantly captures the sights and sounds of The Civil War.

If you want to know how Professor Guelzo writes and does his research, you can find it in my interview with him:

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/september/how-and-where-i-write-allen-guelzo.html

A productive scholar, Professor Guelzo has a new book. Our Ancient Faith: Lincoln, Democracy, and the American Experiment is only 171 pages long, but I made over 150 marginal notes.

When I started reviewing and interviewing authors I came up with “Moore’s Law of Worthwhile Reading.” It goes like this: Take the total number of pages in a book and divide by two. If my marginal notes exceed that number, then it was a worthwhile read. You can see by that calculus that Professor Guelzo’s more than made that cut.

If you were to ask whether I find Professor Guelzo’s writing optimistic or pessimistic, I would answer, “Neither.”

In Our Ancient Faith he certainly offers sober reflections on the fragility of the democratic experiment. His characteristically judicious treatment of Lincoln has all kinds of inherent warnings for us today.

However, I find Professor Guelzo, after reading four of his books, both realistic and genuinely hopeful. His hope is certainly a tough earned one. It is tethered to his Christian convictions, but not in the irresponsible way where the past is ransacked for talking points that fit one’s preconceived bias.

The flow of history also informs Professor Guelzo’s hope. He doesn’t sugarcoat the bad actors, nor does he gloss over the weaknesses and error of those like Lincoln whom he clearly respects. In a word, Professor Guelzo does not traffic in either hagiography or cynicism. Again, you get “thick realism with hope.” (HT: Will Willimon)

If you are looking for wise and beautiful reflections to make better sense of our own tumultuous time, I highly recommend Our Ancient Faith. And if you are not looking to make better sense of the present, then read Our Ancient Faith to see why you should!