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Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

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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.

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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 Year with Books (2016)

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The books I completed during 2016:

  1. Jason Roberts, A Sense of the World:  How a Blind Man Became the World’s Greatest Traveler
  2. J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle (including the full text of the first edition of Ryle’s, Holiness)
  3. C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
  4. Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
  5. Sarah L. Delaney and A. Elizabeth Delaney with Amy Hill Hearth, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years
  6. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (part 1)
  7.  Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors
  8.  Warren and David Wiersbe, Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers
  9.  Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder
  10.  Joseph Epstein, Envy
  11. Michael Emerson & Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
  12. Devery S. Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement
  13. Don and Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure
  14. Shelby Steele,  Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
  15. Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
  16. Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
  17. Thomas Watson, A Treatise on Meditation
  18.  Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
  19.  Gene Dattel, Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power
  20.  Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers
  21. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
  22.  Timothy & Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
  23. J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men
  24. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  25. Dale Ralph Davis, Slogging Along the Paths of Righteousness: Psalms 13-24
  26. J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
  27. William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
  28. Daniel Silva, The Black Widow
  29. Jane Dawson, John Knox
  30. Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters (volume one)
  31. Sally Palmer Thomason with Jean Carter Fisher, Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson
  32. Stuart Stevens, The Last Season: A Father, a Son, and a Lifetime of College Football
  33. Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism
  34. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
  35. Seamus Heaney, The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles’ Antigone
  36. Heather MacDonald, The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe
  37. Iain H. Murray, J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone
  38. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
  39. Ian Caldwell, The Fifth Gospel
  40. Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice
  41. Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures
  42. Kate Grosmaire, Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer: A True Story of Loss, Faith, and Unexpected Grace
  43. Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War
  44. Jonty Rhodes, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People
  45. Ron Rash, One Foot in Eden
  46. Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America
  47. Thomas Murphy, Duties of the Church Member to the Church
  48.  Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965
  49.  Cornell West, Race Matters: With a New Preface
  50.  John E. Ellzey, Yazoo
  51. 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. 

 

 

“Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom”

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Last night I spent a memorable evening listening to photographer and author Alysia Burton Steele, who traveled 6,000 miles throughout the Mississippi Delta to interview 54 African-American women who grew up, married, and raised children during the Jim Crow era. Her Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom shares their stories.
One of the grandmothers is Mrs. Velma T. Moore of Benoit. Married for 49 years when widowed, 15 children, 145 grandchildren, 33 great-grands, 26 great-great grands, and 14 great-great-great grands. Her testimony: “I always said, “Lord, I want one husband. I want all of my childen to be by that one man.’ And God fixed it so . . . I’m still Mrs. Moore. I be Mrs. Moore until I’m dead and gone.”
We were reminded of the adage, “When an elderly person dies, a library burns to the ground.” We are indebted to those who, like Ms. Steele, keep treasured stories alive for coming generations.
If RTS students would like to read some of the stories, Delta Jewels is on the table in my office. Stop by and enjoy.
The event was sponsored by The COFO Civil Rights Education Center, Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center, and Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Testimonies of Faith and Fortitude

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1843 was a momentous year in Presbyterian history. The founders of the Free Church of Scotland abandoned homes, incomes, and church buildings to uphold the spiritual independence of Christ’s church. Their courage captured the attention of the evangelical world, and bequeathed stirring testimonies of faith and fortitude to subsequent generations of Bible-believing Presbyterians.

Author Sandy Finlayson skillfully sketches the lives of ten of these leaders in Unity & Diversity: The Founders of the Free Church of Scotland. Bound together by love of the gospel, a high view of the authority of God’s word, confessional fidelity, and missionary outreach, these men nevertheless held a variety of opinions on controversial issues of the day: church union with other Presbyterian denominations, Roman Catholic emancipation, the evangelistic campaigns of Dwight L. Moody, and educational and social reforms in Scotland.

Conservative American Presbyterians should note the vigor with which several leader tackled widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, alcoholism, and other salient social ills. Their lives were spent among the people and for the people.

The author also recounts the personal foibles, bouts of pride, conflicts, and strained friendships – all helpful in reminding readers that there are no golden ages in church history when men were untouched by the frailties common to all. Until our Lord returns, learning to get along will prove hard work.

I enthusiastically recommend Unity and Diversity.

Visiting the Sick

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When ministers visit the flock, they bring the ministry of the word to homes, hospitals, prisons, and any other place where God’s people find themselves in need of a pastor’s care.  Ministers should give special attention to the sick, for they often struggle with discouragement and doubt. They need reassurance of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order helpfully reminds ministers that they “should visit the the people at their homes, and especially the sick” (8-3).

Learning to visit and care for the sick skillfully requires a thorough knowledge of God’s word, sympathy for the afflicted, lots of experience, and the personal example and wise counsel of seasoned pastors, which is why I found encouragement in Brian Croft’s Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness. The author is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, a congregation he has served since 2003.

Wisely – and before turning to nuts and bolts issues of pastoral visitation – the author offers a biblical theology of God’s care for the sick, observing that “the progression of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation contains an unfolding storyline that reveals two key themes: God is sovereign over sickness and healing, and God calls his people to care for the needy and afflicted.” (16)  The history of the early church testifies to his “using sickness, pain, disease and suffering as a way of sanctifying his kingdom people and magnifying the worth of Christ.” (25) If our doctrine is not right, our attempts at pastoral care will harm.

Visit the Sick answers a number of practical questions: How do I prepare myself to visit the sick? What should I say? How do I ask leading questions that guide the conversation from immediate concerns to matters of eternal consequence? How do I share the gospel with  patients and families who are not Christians? How long should I stay? What passages of scripture should I read? How will faithfully visiting the sick change me?

And when you are with the sick, the author cautions, don’t forget about eye contact, appropriate touch, facial expressions, posture and tone of voice – things easily forgotten but vital to meaningful care.

A new pastor will not be on the job long before he realizes he needs help. Thankfully, the final chapter outlines a strategy for equipping the church to care for the sick through preaching, prayer, personal example, and communicating to the congregation about the condition and needs of the suffering.

Visit the Sick is full of pastoral wisdom, and is a book that I hope all my seminary students will read, for  “in caring for the sick, we enjoy the gift of exercising our faith in Christ.” (45)

 

The Boys in the Boat

 

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The pageantry of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was a triumph for Hitler’s propaganda machine. Evidences of the Reich’s virulent anti-semitism were swept from the streets. Gone for the duration of the games were the “Jews not welcome” signs in stores and shops. On display were the orderliness, architectural grandeur, and growing military muscle of Nazi Germany. Berlin would be the last Olympic contest until 1948, long after Hitler was dead and the city reduced to rubble.

Among the athletes competing in Berlin were Americans who became famous for not only their athletic skill, but their unconquerable courage: Jesse Owens, Glenn Cunningham, Louis Zamperini, and the men of the United States Olympic rowing team.

Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington’s 8-oar crew team chiefly through the experiences of Joe Rantz, who overcame the death of his mother, expulsion from his family, grinding poverty, and Depression-era tumult to succeed as a rower, engineering student, and devoted husband and father. The other “boys” in the boat are profiled. Their stories are told against the background of preparations for the games in Berlin, and the propagandist Nazi film-making exploits of Leni Reifenstahl.

Before I read the book, I knew nothing about competitive rowing. Yet, my interest never wavered as the author described both the sport and the ingredients of a successful rowing team, not the least of which is physical strength.  The author explains that “physiologists . . . have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.” (40)

But in addition to strength, the rowing coach must select for his team the young man with “the nearly superhuman stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity necessary to master the details of technique,” and who also possessed “the ability to disregard his own ambitions to throw his ego over the gunwales, and to leave it swirling in the wake of his shell, and to pull not just for himself, not just for glory, but for the other boys in the boat.” (23)

Athletes, coaches, and all who enjoy an inspirational story will love this book.

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Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsNew York: Penguin Books, 2014.

 

 

Three Preachers to Whom I Owe Much

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Thirty-five years ago I finished college and began preaching full-time. For a year, I served as student pastor of  Wales Presbyterian Church in Tennessee, a congregation in the old Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS). Almost everything I owned fit into my 1970 Chevrolet Impala and off I went to preach the gospel.

In addition to a King James Bible, my preaching Bible at the time, I took three valuable books. One was was actually  a booklet, the outlines and notes from John Stott’s expositions on Romans delivered at the 1979 Urbana Missions Conference. The first-time I heard Stott preach, I determined to follow his pulpit example best I could. A model expositor – clear, persuasive, and, above all, faithful to the text – he preached Christ and him crucified. At Reformed Theological Seminary, where I teach homiletics, my preaching classes listen to one of his sermons.

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The second book was  God’s Way of ReconciliationMartyn Lloyd-Jones’ thirty-three expository sermons on Ephesians 2. I knew about the former minister of London’s Westminster Chapel only because my Dad had given me a cassette recording of Lloyd-Jones preaching on Ephesians 2:1-10, which can be listened to online at MLJ Trust. A few minutes into the sermon and  I sensed that I was listening to something extraordinary. Three decades later my preaching students listen to and discuss the same sermon.

Coming across a copy of God’s Way of Reconciliation was a minor miracle. Christian bookstores in rural Tennessee are not ordinarily strongholds of Reformed theology. But while browsing the shelves of a Columbia store, I discovered God’s Way of Reconciliation, purchased it, and took home with me one of the finest examples of fervent Bible exposition and gospel preaching. Since then I’ve read many other collections of Lloyd-Jones’ sermons, but this one remains a favorite because of the encouragement it gave me during my first year of ministry.

The final book that deeply influenced me was William Childs Robinson’s The Word of the Cross, six lectures delivered at Edinburgh College in 1938. An eminent historian of Christian theology and skilled wordsmith, Dr. Robinson presents the gospel of Christ’s once for all sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God.  The book is a goldmine of quotations from Reformation, Southern Presbyterian, and Scottish theologians. His interactions with the writings of liberal and neo-orthodox authors model the careful scholarship of a formidable defender of the faith, one who would persuade that “[t]he glory of the God of all grace, the good of society, the needs of men dying without the story of God’s great love, call upon us to give our pulpits anew to the preaching of the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” [The Word of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Zonervan, 1940), 141.]

Sadly, as far as I can tell, this book is no longer in print (although some of his other titles are available at reasonable prices through Amazon and Banner of Truth has released selections of his writings in Pleading for a Reformation Vision). My copy of The Word of the Cross  came from my Dad’s library. He enjoyed Dr. Robinson’s instruction while studying at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

In April 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was among the worshippers who heard Dr. Robinson’s Easter sermon at Warm Spring, Georgia. It was the last sermon the president would hear – twelve days later he was dead. This Day in Presbyerian History has posted the sermon. I doubt any gospel loving Christian will read and remain unmoved.

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