My interest in America’s Pacific War (1941-1945) began in elementary school. One of our readers included the story of Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid. I was captivated by the stunning story of 16 Army B-25 Mitchells that were outfitted for this unique objective and flown by specially trained crews. Launched from an American aircraft carrier that had slipped to within several hundred miles of Japan’s coast, the odds of survival were slim.
Theirs was a no-return mission. After dropping their bombs, the crews headed for destinations in China and Russia, harrowing escape attempts that led to freedom for some, and prison, torture, and death for others.
Doolittle’s Raid came less than six months after Pearl Harbor. The enemy was caught off guard and given a foretaste of the nightmare to come. American morale, which was at a low point, soared.
One of the captured flyers, Jacob DeShazer, obtained a Bible while in prison and through his reading was converted to the Christian faith. At the war’s end, he was released and came back to America, only to return to Japan to serve as a missionary for three decades. Mitsuo Fuchida, the flight leader who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was converted to Christianity under DeShazer’s ministry.
Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 is a compelling account of the story of Dolittle’s Raiders and the many other momentous events of the war’s opening months. He sifts through the personal experiences of President Roosevelt and his top military advisors, as well as the sailors, airman, soldiers and Marines who defended our nation and who fought desperately just to stay alive. Thoughtful consideration is given to the war as experienced by Japan’s leaders and people.
This first of three volumes covers the war from Pearl Harbor to Midway.
About the Battle of Midway – fought June 4-6, 1942 – and America’s sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers, a military setback from which Japan never recovered, Toll observes:
In the American view, Midway eliminated the risk of a Japanese attack on Hawaii or the west coast of North America. As important, it relieved political pressure on FDR to transfer a greater share of forces to the Pacific, freeing him to emphasize his great priority, which was to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany. In that sense, the Battle of Midway ratified and confirmed the vital ‘Europe-first’ strategy. For that reason, it ranks as one of the most essential events of the Second World War, bearing not only on the conflict in Pacific but on the fate of Nazi Germany. (479)
My thirty-two years of ministry have been exceptionally joyful – in large part, I believe – because of the wonderful staff associates God has given me.
Tom Ashcraft, who passed away last Thursday, was among the best.
I remember the first time I met Tom. We had an opening for music director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Recently retired to the area, Tom was not currently serving a church. His daughter Stefanie, a good friend of our family, mentioned that he might be interested in the position.
It took enormous effort to contain my enthusiasm. First, finding a talented music director committed to traditional Christian worship is not an easy task. And then there was the additional fact that Tom was a legendary choral director in the PCA.
Before our meeting, I listed all the reasons why I hoped he would at least consider the position. Whatever persuasive skills I have, I was ready to deploy them.
Tom entered my office, we shook hands, and then sat down. Tom looked at me, and said, “Well, when do I start?” Thus, without fanfare, our relationship began.
During the time we worked together, Tom made all the music selections for Lord’s Day worship – not just choral selections, but hymns and responses, too. I had complete confidence in his choices. He prized what I prized, texts faithful to the scriptures and that the congregation could sing with confidence.
Tom was a leader, a model servant of Jesus Christ, and a man to be followed.
He had suffered poor health for sometime, and I was concerned that the responsibilities of his work might be too much. I shouldn’t have been; he was tough. He always reported for duty, prepared and cheerful, never complaining.
I encourage my staff to park away from church buildings, and leave the best spaces for visitors and persons in the congregation who need them. Of course, I never expected Tom to do that. One evening at a Bible Conference, I stood out in the parking lot, winds howling and flurries falling. In the distance, I saw a couple bundled up, walking to the building. It was Tom and Emily! Whatever the standards, he met them, whether expected of him or not.
I remember the first time Tom led the choir on a Sunday morning. Same choir as the weeks before, but the volume was noticeably improved. One of the entrepreneurs in our congregation came up to me after the service and said, “Now there’s a leader. He can take the same group of people and get so much more out of them.”
During the time he served with me, I watched Tom build the choir and incorporate young instrumentalists into the worship of the church. Tom put to lie the myth of the generation gap. Young men and women want skilled, competent, and experienced leaders – leaders who set high standards and care about the glory of God and the people they serve. Tom was that kind of leader.
Tom and Emily brought professionalism to our choir rehearsals, and also plenty of good cheer. His and Emily’s 57 years of marriage was a testimony to faithfulness. That their two daughters, Alicia and Stefanie, are faithful servants of PCA churches speaks volumes of their character as parents.
I pray that God will comfort Emily, Alicia, and Stefanie, and the grandchildren. Tom has entered glory, but his presence among us will be sorely missed. His example will endure, and his funeral service will be a time to give thanks to God for a life well lived. It will also give opportunity to take to heart the biblical admonition: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
The books I completed during 2016:
- Jason Roberts, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became the World’s Greatest Traveler
- J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle (including the full text of the first edition of Ryle’s, Holiness)
- C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
- Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
- Sarah L. Delaney and A. Elizabeth Delaney with Amy Hill Hearth, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years
- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (part 1)
- Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors
- Warren and David Wiersbe, Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers
- Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder
- Joseph Epstein, Envy
- Michael Emerson & Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
- Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement
- Don and Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure
- Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
- Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
- Thomas Watson, A Treatise on Meditation
- Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
- Gene Dattel, Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power
- Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Timothy & Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
- J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men
- Bram Stoker, Dracula
- Dale Ralph Davis, Slogging Along the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13-24
- J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
- William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
- Daniel Silva, The Black Widow
- Jane Dawson, John Knox
- Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters (volume one)
- Sally Palmer Thomason with Jean Carter Fisher, Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson
- Stuart Stevens, The Last Season: A Father, a Son, and a Lifetime of College Football
- Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism
- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
- Seamus Heaney, The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles’ Antigone
- Heather MacDonald, The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe
- Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone
- Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
- Ian Caldwell, The Fifth Gospel
- Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice
- Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures
- Kate Grosmaire, Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer: A True Story of Loss, Faith, and Unexpected Grace
- Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War
- Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People
- Ron Rash, One Foot in Eden
- Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America
- Thomas Murphy, Duties of the Church Member to the Church
- Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965
- Cornell West, Race Matters: With a New Preface
- John E. Ellzey, Yazoo
- The Bible
I enjoy reading. Some books I read because I must. After all, I am a pastor and professor; sermons and lectures must be prepared. But most of the time I read not because I have to but because I want to.
Several books on my list I’ve read before. Every year or two The Pilgrim’s Progress shows up on my list, as do Shakespearean plays. Early in my ministry, I read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, which profoundly shaped the way I think about this critically important Biblical doctrine, and I have revisited it many times since. In fact, Ryle has influenced me as much as any other evangelical writer. So, this year I eagerly read Ian Murray’s biography of Ryle.
My favorite 2016 read was Jane Dawson’s John Knox. In my opinion, she does for Knox what Bruce Gordon ‘s biography did for Calvin: both authors’ deft use of historical materials and elegant writing present the lives of men who shaped the Reformed and Presbyterian world.
Among books on American culture, three stand out.
Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic demonstrates that much of the polarization of 21st century American political and cultural life has its roots in America’s emergence from the Second World War as the world’s economic powerhouse. Unlike many places in Europe and Asia, our cities were not reduced to rubble. Our manufacturing and industrial products helped to rebuild a war-ravaged world, and led to a period of economic ascendancy that has shaped the aspirations of our nation’s two principal political parties. One longs to return to the postwar conditions that witnessed the rapid expansion of organized labor, social reform legislation, and welfare benefits; the other seeks sustained economic growth that can only be achieved when America dominates global markets. Neither aspiration is possible. Levin argues for the renewal of America’s mediating institutions, those which stand between the individual and government – family, religious institutions, schools, and civic organizations.
During the past few years I’ve done some reading on issues relating to race, policing, and mass incarceration. William Stuntz’s The Collapse of American Criminal Justice has helped me put contemporary issues in their historical, political, constitutional, and legal context. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy – a book I read last year – recounts the tragic murder of a policeman’s son in South Central LA and its aftermath. These two books provide a compelling introduction to very agonizing issues.
Hillbilly Elegy is J.D. Vance’s personal recollection of growing up in a poor white family that joined the Appalachian migration into the American midwest. At places the book is searingly painful to read; at others uproariously funny. This often forgotten culture became a a major part in the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump. In closely contested midwestern states affected by the migration, Mr. Trump significantly outperformed recent Republican presidential candidates.
Joseph Epstein is my favorite contemporary essayist, and his insightful observations in Envy will serve pastors and counselors well.
I enjoy the occasional snack book; spy and mystery novels are my favorites. Since the death of Tom Clancy, my espionage novelist of choice has been Daniel Silva. I hope at some point to finish all the mysteries of P.D. James.
I serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi. I spend a good deal of time in commentaries. Here are my series this year and the commentaries that I have found most helpful: Book I of the Psalms (William Plumer), Matthew (technical, R.T. France/non-technical, Mark Ross), John’s prologue (J.B. Lightfoot), the case laws of Exodus (John Mackay), and Ecclesiastes (Charles Bridges). I also taught an eight-week course on biblical covenants, and found Covenants Made Simple by Jonty Rhodes an accessible introduction that I heartily recommend.
I still get almost all of my news from printed material: The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger, and The Yazoo Herald. Lynne regularly points me to articles in The New York Times.
Bear with me . . . This post is going somewhere.
Manokin Presbyterian Church in Princess Anne, Maryland, was organized in 1683. The structure pictured here was erected in 1765, although the Bell Tower did not go up until 1888.
The establishment of Manokin Presbyterian Church was the fruit of God’s grace through the work of Francis Makemie (1658-1708), who is deservedly known as “The Father of American Presbyterianism.” Makemie planted the first Presbyterian church in Snow Hill, Maryland, and four other churches on the Delmarva Peninsula. But you can’t have Presbyterianism without a Presbytery, and under Makemie’s leadership, the first American Presbytery, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, was organized in 1706, and he was elected its first moderator.
My admiration for Makemie is great, but it pales in comparison to the esteem with which I hold another major figure in American Presbyterianism, the talented, witty, and beautiful, Mrs. Lynne Wingard. Lynne and I were united in Christian marriage at Manokin Presbyterian Church, which was the happiest day of my life. (Thank you, Pastor Makemie, for providing the venue.) The Lord gave me my best friend and the most splendid partner in life and ministry imaginable.
Happy Anniversary, Lynne!
My RTS Jackson colleague Dr. Guy Waters responds to the question, “Is Paedocommunion Biblical?”
Seventy-five years ago today Japanese forces attacked American military installations in Hawaii. A day later President Franklin Roosevelt requested Congress for a declaration of war with Japan.
Listen his speech here. It concludes:
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces- with the unbounding determination of our people- we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
Each year I mark the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion and its heroic aftermath.
Ninety-nine years ago today the largest man-made explosion prior to World War II devastated Halifax, Nova Scotia. Two ships collided in the harbor, one carrying 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of benzol. The subsequent blast killed 1,900 people, and left 10% of the city’s population injured.
Holiday visitors to Boston enjoy the beautiful Christmas tree at the Prudential Center, an annual gift from a Halifax citizenry grateful to the many Bostonians who fought their way through a raging blizzard to come to their city’s aid.
I first learned of the disaster from an obituary in a Boston area paper. The deceased lost her sight as a young child on that terrible winter day. Her face pressed against a window, she watched the ships burn. Then the explosion; a shock wave shattered thousands of windows. Shards of glass tore into her eyes. Others suffered a similar fate.
The Halifax disaster and Boston’s relief mobilization should not be forgotten.
[Sources: This summary and the CBC photos below were obtained from a link of the Nova Scotia Museum that is no longer active. Additional information about the tragedy can be found on the museum’s website and here.]