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For the next nine weeks, Lynne teaches again one of her favorite books, The Iliad, this time at Manchester Academy. I enjoy the new purchases that crop up around our home.
I owe my love of The Iliad to one man, Dr. John Reishman, one of the outstanding literature professors at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Until his class, I don’t recall reading a work of ancient Greek literature, and, had I made the attempt, the ability to navigate the text would have been sorely lacking. I needed a teacher, and found one in Dr. Reishman.
Since then, I have read The Iliad several times in the translations of Fitzgerald, Lattimore, and Fagles, and a very small portion in Greek class at Vanderbilt. Time and again I return to moving scenes, and especially to those of Hector: his return from battle to his wife Andromache and their infant son, his brutal death and the savage abuse of his corpse below Troy’s walls, and his father Priam’s pleading with Achilles for the return of his body.
Years from now, I trust that a Manchester Academy student will trace his love for ancient literature to Lynne’s teaching.
My father established a nightly routine for me that continues to shape my life today. After supper from 1963 to 1969, we sat side-by-side on the couch and watched the evening news, either the Huntley-Brinkley Report or Walter Cronkite.
During those years, I was exposed to people and events that would remain life-long interests: the space program (I loved watching the Mercury and Gemini launches), the war in Vietnam (with its tragic tallies of killed, wounded, and missing), political races (the first I remember is the 1966 Callaway/Maddox Georgia gubernatorial contest), and the civil rights movement.
I was sitting next to my father when I learned of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968. The Atlanta church we attended hosted mourners for his funeral, and later that year, dedicated a plaque in his memory.
My serious reading in civil rights history began in the late 1980s after viewing the powerful documentary Eyes on the Prize. At RTS Jackson I teach a course that includes a session on American Christianity and race. My students are required to watch one of the series’ episodes.
Many years ago I purchased what became the first volume in Taylor Branch’s magisterial civil rights history of the King years. I began, but never finished reading it. So, when I moved to Mississippi in 2014 and found myself within driving distance to so many of the movement’s historic sites, I determined to read all three volumes.
This summer I completed my goal, reading one book during each of the last three summers. At 2,300 pages (excluding indexes), it took time; I am a very slow reader. But Branch’s style and command of his materials meant that my interest never wavered.
Seminary students ministering in the Deep South should think deeply about our region’s race history. Therefore, I am grateful that Taylor Branch has given us an invaluable resource for navigating and understanding the critical years of 1954-1968.
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)
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.
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.
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)