Book Review: Reflections on the Psalms

015676248x“Reflections on the Psalms” by C.S. Lewis

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 9: A Commentary on a Book of the Bible

Okay, so using this as a “commentary” might be cheating a bit, as it’s not expositional like pretty much every other commentary I’ve ever read. But considering Psalms is a unique genre in Scripture, I thought a different genre of commentary might be appropriate. When factoring in that I wanted a commentary on Psalms (our pastor is preaching from that Book right now), and that this is one of the few books by C.S. Lewis I hadn’t yet read, this seemed an ideal choice!

The book itself was both wonderful and bewildering. As always in Lewis’ writings, I found myself challenged and edified by his words. I particularly enjoyed his insistence on reading the psalms as poetry, rather than attempting to interpret them in the same way one might read other genres.

I also appreciated—for the most part—his “amateurish” commentary. The fact that he was approaching the psalms with genuine questions and an insatiable desire to learn was quite refreshing. Too often I find myself reading the Bible academically, and so Lewis’ book has aided me in approaching the psalms with a renewed sense of wonder. For that alone, the book was worth every penny!

That said, there were quite a few head-scratching moments as well. For all the admiration I have of him as a scholar, and author, and a thinker, there are some major areas in which we simply disagree. A big one is on the approach to Scripture itself. I believe that all Scripture—including the psalms—is “a perfect treasure of divine instruction… totally true and trustworthy”, a conviction held so firmly by Southern Baptists that we place it as the very first point of our convention’s summary of our faith.

Lewis did not share this conviction, though his views on Scripture are far more nuanced than I will get into here; for a charitable reading of Lewis’ hermeneutical approach to the psalms which stresses (unlike theological liberals) his belief the authority of Scripture, check out this essay. I had a difficult time wrestling with Lewis’ description of some of the imprecatory psalms, which contain curses against the enemies of God and His people, as “devilish” or “contemptible.” Yes, they are difficult to read. Yes, they can poignantly reveal our own temptations to anger and hatred (as Lewis points out). But devilish? That’s several steps too far for me.

There are other instances in which Lewis’ view of the psalms as words of men which contain truth rather than the Word of God which is Truth led to questionable interpretations of their meaning. Still, I greatly benefited from his reflections, as I believe most discerning readers will. Pick up a copy here.

Book Review: Eugenics and Other Evils

9781504022545-medium“Eugenics and Other Evils” by G.K. Chesterton

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 8: A Book About a Current Issue

Why, you might ask, would you read a book nearly 100 years old to satisfy the requirement of a book about a “current issue”? The answer, in this as well as many other cases, is that to truly understand an issue, we often need to distance ourselves from the myopic view of the current news cycle, and look instead at the historical sources where ideas and philosophies were first developed and critiqued.

But the news cycle certainly did help me to determine a topic for study. I chose a “current issue” which lies at the intersection of the topics which most interest me: theology, politics, education, history, and philosophy. Understanding the eugenics movement of the early 20th century provides context for current discussions about abortion, Socialism vs. Capitalism, creation vs. evolution, and even presidential politics.

Eugenics, though not a word often encountered, has been in the news once again in recent days. During the election season, one of the Left’s frequent accusations against Donald Trump was that he is an advocate of eugenics (see this piece from The Huffington Post as an example), and I’ve seen that same video making the rounds on social media again just in the last week. I’ve written before of the connection between eugenics and Planned Parenthood (whose founder, Margaret Sanger, was a member of the American Eugenics Society). The evolutionary connection is even clearer, as the very word “eugenics” and the first ideas about its implementation were proposed by Francis Galton, who wrote in 1863 that “if talented people only married other talented people, the result would be measurably better offspring,” his proposal based largely upon the theories his cousin Charles Darwin had published in his book  The Descent of Man.

G.K. Chesterton, perhaps alone among the scholars and authors around the turn of the last century, stood firmly against the onrushing tide of the eugenics movement. While the movement had its origins and strongest support in Prussia/Germany (where Nietzsche had proposed the idea of creating a race of supermen), by the first decade of the 20th century it was quickly gaining popularity throughout the West, particularly in Academia. It’s prominent proponents in Britain and America ranged from popular writers such as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, to influential businessmen like Alexander Graham Bell and John D. Rockefeller, to political leaders including Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1924, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (in an 8-1 ruling with Oliver Wendell Holmes penning the majority opinion) a law allowing states to implement forced sterilization for eugenic purposes.

This background is important because—though it is generally looked upon with revulsion today, across the political spectrum—during Chesterton’s day eugenics seemed almost inevitable. It took great courage to speak out when he did.

He began his research for this book in 1910, but then, as he states in the book’s introduction, “the hour came when I felt, not without relief, that I might well fling all my notes into the fire.” Why? Because Prussia, that great paragon of “the scientifically organised State” upon which England and America had gazed with such admiration, was at war with the rest of the West. And as the State which had most fully adopted eugenic ideals began to collapse upon itself and implemented more and more barbaric methods of warfare, Chesterton took solace in the comfort that “no Englishmen would ever again go nosing round the stinks of that low laboratory. So I thought all I had written irrelevant, and put it out of my mind.

Alas, it was not to be. “I am greatly grieved to say that it is not irrelevant. It has gradually grown apparent, to my astounded gaze, that the ruling classes in England are still proceeding on the assumption that Prussia is a pattern for the whole world.” And so this book came to be published in 1922.

It would finally take the work of another German acolyte of Nietzsche and Darwin—whose eugenic experiments and ethnic cleansing awakened the world to the horror of this philosophy put into practice—to finally take eugenics out of the realm of mainstream thought. And though Chesterton did not live to see the start of the second World War, he was one of the few outspoken critics of Adolf Hitler in the early 1930’s, again announcing prophetic warnings about the Nazi leader’s dangerous eugenic fervor. If only the world had listened to him then!

But I do hope we’re listening now, and so I’ll allow Chesterton’s words to speak for themselves for the remainder of this review. Here are a few excerpts that stuck out to me as I read:

He knew his was a needed prophetic voice

The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air.

He pointed out the folly of academic double-speak which tends to hide terrible ideas behind technical language

Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same. Say to them “It is not improbable that a period may arrive when the narrow if once useful distinction between the anthropoid homo and the other animals, which has been modified on so many moral points, may be modified also even in regard to the important question of the extension of human diet”; say this to them, and beauty born of murmuring sound will pass into their face. But say to them, in a simple, manly, hearty way “Let’s eat a man!” and their surprise is quite surprising. Yet the sentences say just the same thing.

As today, churches were seen by the scientific and academic communities as standing in the way of “progress” through the use of political power

All I assert here is that the Churches are not now leaning heavily on their political establishment; they are not using heavily the secular arm… They are not specially using that special tyranny which consists in using the government.

The thing that really is trying to tyrannise through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen—that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics. Vaccination, in its hundred years of experiment, has been disputed almost as much as baptism in its approximate two thousand. But it seems quite natural to our politicians to enforce vaccination; and it would seem to them madness to enforce baptism.

In an era when corrupt Capitalists used the power of the State to prey on the poor and weak, he lamented the growing inequality and loss of freedom

Industrialism and Capitalism and the rage for physical science were English experiments in the sense that the English lent themselves to their encouragement; but there was something else behind them and within them that was not they—its name was liberty, and it was our life. It may be that this delicate and tenacious spirit has at last evaporated. If so, it matters little what becomes of the external experiments of our nation in later time. That at which we look will be a dead thing alive with its own parasites. The English will have destroyed England.

Yet he knew that Socialism was not the solution to inequality; Left and Right both lead to tyranny when ideas are spread through coercion rather than persuasion

It may be said of Socialism, therefore, very briefly, that its friends recommended it as increasing equality, while its foes resisted it as decreasing liberty. On the one hand it was said that the State could provide homes and meals for all; on the other it was answered that this could only be done by State officials who would inspect houses and regulate meals. The compromise eventually made was one of the most interesting and even curious cases in history. It was decided to do everything that had ever been denounced in Socialism, and nothing that had ever been desired in it. Since it was supposed to gain equality at the sacrifice of liberty, we proceeded to prove that it was possible to sacrifice liberty without gaining equality. Indeed, there was not the faintest attempt to gain equality, least of all economic equality. But there was a very spirited and vigorous effort to eliminate liberty, by means of an entirely new crop of crude regulations and interferences. But it was not the Socialist State regulating those whom it fed, like children or even like convicts. It was the Capitalist State raiding those whom it had trampled and deserted in every sort of den, like outlaws or broken men.

In short, people decided that it was impossible to achieve any of the good of Socialism, but they comforted themselves by achieving all the bad. All that official discipline, about which the Socialists themselves were in doubt or at least on the defensive, was taken over bodily by the Capitalists. They have now added all the bureaucratic tyrannies of a Socialist state to the old plutocratic tyrannies of a Capitalist State. For the vital point is that it did not in the smallest degree diminish the inequalities of a Capitalist State. It simply destroyed such individual liberties as remained among its victims.

Closing Thoughts

In Chesterton’s day, the idea of eugenics took off so quickly because it appealed to those on both the political Left and Right. Those on the Right, whom Chesterton often referred to as “plutocrats” (rule of the wealthy), were drawn to eugenics because its implementation favored the powerful at the expense of the weak. Those on the Left were allured by its necessity of central planning.

Since Hitler’s defeat, the eugenics movement has evolved significantly. While abortion is mentioned only once in Chesterton’s book, the author is clearly concerned about what eugenic philosophy could mean for the unborn (“they seek his life to take it away”). Prior to the 1940’s, eugenics was focused more on selective breeding and forced sterilization rather than abortion; in the years that followed, dedicated eugenicists like Margaret Sanger turned their attention to different methods.

Eugenic philosophy is alive and well today, though it masquerades by many other names. I strongly encourage you to study more on this issue, and Chesterton’s book is a great place to start. You can check out the audiobook for free, as I did, from Librivox, read it via pdf at Project Gutenberg, or pick up a print edition here.

For further reading:

  • Read more about the connection/progression from Darwin to Nietszche to Hitler to Planned Parenthood here.
  • Answering the claims that Chesterton was a fascist and/or anti-Semite (allegations which often prevent modern readers from taking his writing seriously), by a G.K. Chesterton fellow at Oxford: here.
  • Transcript of a lecture from the American Chesterton Society on the significance of this book, and on the link between eugenics and abortion: here.

Book Review: The Tuttle Twins

tuttle-twins“The Tuttle Twins Series” by Connor Boyack

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 6: A Book for Children or Teens

For those of us who love liberty, and want to preserve the principles of liberty for future generations, there are very few resources to help teach these concepts to young children. This series of five books by Connor Boyack, president of The Libertas Institute, seeks to meet that need.

I read through all five of these the other night, and am very much looking forward to reading them with my children! The books say they are intended for readers aged 5-11, though I don’t know that my 5-year-old is quite ready for them yet… though she often surprises me with her comprehension of concepts, so we’ll see!

The illustrations are nice and colorful, and very detailed. I particularly enjoyed a scene from inside the library of Ethan & Emily Tuttle’s wise older neighbor… he’s got some great titles on his shelves! And Boyack has done an admirable job getting some weighty concepts into an engaging story which kids can easily digest.

His first book, The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law, is based on Frederic Bastiat’s excellent little book, The Law, which is itself a highly recommended read (it only takes about 90 minutes or so to read it, so definitely check it out if you haven’t already). While Bastiat touches on many subjects, his primary thesis is the idea of “legal plunder”… the concept that if something is wrong for individuals to do, it is wrong for governments to do. Boyack covers this concept very well.

The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil is based on Leonard Read’s famous essay, which you can read here, or you can watch this great short video. In The Tuttle Twins and the Creature from Jekyll Island, Ethan and Emily (and young readers of the book) learn about the Federal Reserve and its impact on inflation and prices.

The Tuttle Twins and the Food Truck Fiasco was probably my favorite of the bunch, mostly because I love taking my kids to order food from the food trucks downtown! This book focuses on the dangers which crony capitalism and government regulations impose on small businesses. Last but not least, The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom is based on F.A. Hayek’s masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom, which has been one of the most formative books in my own understanding of politics and economics. Boyack’s version focuses on unintended consequences, and the proper role of government.

The entire set is available at a discounted package price from the author’s website here. Go grab a set for your kids! Not convinced? Here are Boyack’s own children hoping to persuade you…

Book Review: The Exemplary Husband

51by7g1xbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_“The Exemplary Husband: A Biblical Perspective” by Stuart Scott

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 5: A Book Targeted at Your Gender

In a crowded market of books targeted at Christian men, a particular book really needs to stand out in some way to be worthy of the time it takes to read it. So what is it that makes this book—written by Dr. Stuart Scott, associate professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former pastor of family ministries and counseling at Grace Community Church (John MacArthur’s church)—deserving of a spot on your bookshelf? There are several good reasons:

Sound Biblical Counsel

This should go without saying, but sadly, it doesn’t. So many books in the “men’s ministry” section of most Christian bookstores seem loosely connected to vague spiritual principles, but otherwise are mostly filled with the advice and wisdom of men. Some of those books can be very helpful—I’ve benefited from quite a few myself—but it is refreshing, and far more useful, to read books saturated with Scripture. Scott grounds every aspect of his manual for biblical husbanding firmly in God’s Word.

It’s a Book That Knows Its Audience

There are books on marriage that I’ve enjoyed more. There are books that have dug much deeper into particular aspects of marriage. At 365 pages, there are certainly books that are quicker reads. But if I were looking to lead the men of a church through an accessible, comprehensive book on how to be a better husband, this would be high on my list. The reality is that there are a great many struggling marriages in our churches today, and I appreciate that Scott assumes nothing about his readers. He correctly asserts that “if a husband does not have a biblical understanding of God, man, relationships, marriage and his role, it will not benefit him much to work at his marriage.” (p. 13)

How many marriages could be saved if the men in our churches could only grow in their biblical knowledge and spiritual maturity? And so the first quarter of the book is essentially an overview of systematic theology, with application drawn at each point of doctrine to the role of a husband. Scott is very careful throughout to communicate with clearly defined terms and repetition of key principles. To experienced readers of books on doctrine and marriage, this may seem tedious at times, but most men don’t fit in this category. We need books like this for our churches, which in the span of a single book study can both raise both the theological acumen and marital fidelity of our men. The available study guide may help with this endeavor.

Resource-Rich Appendices

To be honest, for me the appendices may have been the best part of the book. That’s not to take anything away from the text; but I’m much more likely to pull this book back off my shelf in the future to reference the sections in the back. Of particular interest are some worksheets designed to help facilitate “leadership” meetings (recommended to take place monthly or bi-weekly) in which a husband leads his wife through a discussion assessing the strength and health of their marriage. I’m always on the lookout for tools that I think will help me to better lead my wife, and this looks like one that will fit the bill (we intend to go through it on an upcoming date night).


To be “exemplary” is to be a model for others to follow. Scripture asserts over and over again that marriages exist to point people to Christ, and that Christian men are expected to lead by example. We do this by following the perfect example set by Jesus Christ. If you’re looking for a book to help you and the men of your church to become more like Christ, resulting in stronger marriages that demonstrate the love of God to the world, grab a copy of The Exemplary Husband.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:1

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye

51rvyklhhjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 4: A Classic Novel

I’ve spent the last decade+ wondering how I managed never to have read this book. It ranks high on just about every list of the “best English novels” (including this one, this one, and this one) I come across, and has been claimed as one of the most influential books by thinkers as varied as Bill Gates and George H. W. Bush. So it seemed as though I had been missing something.

Considering it is apparently one of the most widely-read and reviewed novels in America, it’s difficult to find anything to say that hasn’t already been said. I will, however, say that I didn’t enjoy it… not, at least, in the sense that I enjoy most good novels. But this isn’t like most novels.

I feel that I lack the proper context to truly appreciate Salinger’s work. It’s been called a “quintessential work of teenage angst,” and yet I never really experienced the type of angst which Holden Caulfield narrates—though I have certainly seen it others. I can also recognize how revolutionary and counter-cultural this book must have been when published in 1951. Yet sadly, the caustic language no longer shocks us, while weak & conflicted characters, meandering stories, and meaningless details became far more common in popular culture with the rise of postmodernism, perhaps itself indicative of the influence of this book.

So no, I didn’t particularly “like” The Catcher in the Rye. It was, however, an interesting look into the mind of a character with whom a great deal of readers identify. By trying to understand Holden Caulfield, I feel like I may also better understand the mind of those who long for meaning but have no idea where to find it. And really, that’s most people.

I believe there is within each person a deep, unquenchable desire for a “catcher”—for a protector and a return to innocence. And, like Holden, most of us at one point in our lives have, at some point, desired to view ourselves in that role—the role of a hero—only to realize that it is we ourselves who must be caught. But unlike Holden, I know that there is a hero who offers strength and protection, able to hold me up (Isaiah 41:10) and never let me go (John 10:28-29).

This is why I have a general distaste for postmodern art and literature (J.D. Salinger has been called “the pre-postmodernist“). There is no hope! I crave stories of redemption and deliverance, not out of a sappy desire for a “happy ending,” but because these are the stories which are true! As “realistic” as Salinger’s portrayal may be of the mind of so many who search for something with no real hope of ever finding it, I’d much rather read stories which promise rewards for perseverance, integrity, and virtue, and which give hope of the ultimate triumph of good over evil (or over meaninglessness, if you prefer). They may be “fantastic,” but they portray things which are true about the real world in which we live.

It’s difficult to recommend The Catcher in the Rye, though I’m not sorry I read it. I believe there is value in reading books which are influential, even if I don’t think their influence has necessarily been such a good thing. Because that influence is also a real part of the world in which we live. It’s a world full of broken people who can relate to Holden Caulfield in a way that I can’t. May the Lord use this book to help me better relate to those around me, and to offer them hope of a better way.

Book Review: A Comaraderie of Confidence

full_a-camaraderie-of-confidence“A Camaradarie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor” by John Piper

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 3: A Biography

What’s better than reading a biography of one of my favorite 19th-century saints? How about reading three of them!

I’ve been a fan of John Piper’s “The Swans Are Not Silent” series for some time. In each of these books, he unites three short biographies around a common theme. In this instance, all three men were contemporaries, who knew one another and supported one another’s ministries (though this is not the case in each book in the series).

A Camaraderie of Confidence explores how God worked through difficult circumstances and remarkable ministry strategies (particularly in the realm of funding their missions) to glorify himself. Each of these men was incredibly gifted, and would likely have been successful in any venture he might have undertaken. But each led a life consumed with proclaiming the glory of God, which was displayed in their respective focuses of church (Spurgeon), orphan care (Müller), and world missions (Taylor).

I have read longer biographies of each of these three men, but still gained much from reading this book. Piper’s narrow focus on certain similarities in their strategies and in their sufferings is quite effective at highlighting those areas in the reader’s attention. For me, it was particularly encouraging seeing how each of these men set goals, cast vision, and worked tirelessly in pursuit of the work to which God had called them. Reading of the struggles these men faced both personally and professionally is fuel for endurance in trials I know that I’ll face as well. Piper includes a great many quotes from the writing of each of these men, while also interspersing his own helpful commentary. A favorite example is Piper’s counsel to young pastors about taking care of our bodies through proper diet and good sleep habits, “for the sake of your proper assessment of God and his promises” (p. 53).

If you’re not into the habit of reading biographies, I highly recommend beginning with one of Piper’s “swans” books. They are easily digestible, highly applicable, and can generally be read in a few short sittings. You can grab a copy of A Camaraderie of Confidence here, and any (or all!) of the other six books in the series here.

As a bonus, here’s a video of Piper explaining why he loves writing “The Swans Are Not Silent” books, and speaking to the value of biographies in general:

Book Review: Deep Work

41j1on7ksql-_sx322_bo1204203200_“Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

2017 Reading Challenge – Book 2: A Book Your Pastor Recommends

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ~ Ephesians 5:15-16

Last month, our pastor recommended this book to the rest of the church staff as a resource for using our time well, tuning out the distractions and producing excellent work. The timing was good: I had felt as if my own personal productivity had taken a dip, to the point where the demands on my time were beginning to hurt my family. I was eager to make some changes, and this was definitely the right book at the right time.

Cal Newport is certainly no slave to convention. In an era dominated by social media and constant connectivity, he calls for readers to intentionally disconnect more often, pursuing what he calls “deep work” free from distraction. But rather than being a “curmudgeonly pining for the days of unhurried concentration,” his book pursues “a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.” (p 258, italics his).

Newport describes deep work as: “Professsional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” (p 3)

This is contrasted with shallow work: “Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” (p 6)

In my review of 2016, I found that most of my time was being spent on the latter at the expense of the former. Judging by the very well-researched findings of Dr. Newport, I’m far from alone, as the data shows that “deep work” is increasingly rare in today’s economy. But I’ve never been satisfied with normal. As a believer, I am called to be a good steward of the time, talents, and intellect God gave me. By losing my ability to concentrate deeply and produce excellent work, I was drifting more and more into the sin of laziness, without even noticing.

Thankfully Newport provides detailed and practical alternatives for making better choices with my time. The book is split into two sections. The first builds the case for the importance of deep work (it is valuable, rare, and meaningful). The second lists and expounds upon four rules for going deep. The most controversial–for most readers, anyway–is the chapter entitled “Quit Social Media” Nowadays we are constantly bombarded with the ubiquity of social media; it is accepted as a given that you must be active on social media (and on other tools of digital connectivity such as e-mail and instant messaging) in order to be a productive member of a digital economy.

Newport doesn’t mince words in pleading with readers to invest their time in activities which produce value, happiness, and contentment rather than allowing the allure of the Internet to distract us from work and family. And while I may not be totally signing off from all digital media (he acknowledges that this is not feasible or necessary for most people), I have already begun implementing many of his suggestions for planning my time (including planning when I will be accessible through e-mail and social media) more wisely, and have been both more productive and more available to my family in the last two weeks than I have been in some time.

If you’re like me, and like most other people in the world, you could benefit from learning how to concentrate better, longer, and with greater purpose. This book offers great practical tools which will aid you in your pursuit that goal. While it’s not a “quick fix”–it requires discipline, consistency, and alot of hard work–it is something which, as I’ve already seen, can be implemented in relatively short order with almost immediate returns.

Grab a copy of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Living in a Distracted World here.