Wilson by Scott Berg (Pres. Bio. Series)

I wanted to get to Woodrow Wilson for some time on this presidential biography journey. I knew enough to know that he was incredibly influential in the direction that this country has taken in the last 100 years. Surprisingly, very few people are aware of his impactful presidency and know little more about him than any one of other dozens of forgotten presidents. Additionally, Wilson is an enigma to me. He is known for his Christian faith and in some ways is one of the fathers of a movement that has lead our nation far away from God. Let’s just say that I got what I needed from the incredibly well written biography by Scott Berg of Woodrow Wilson.

On the level of biography, this book was outstanding. To be sure, it was written as a biography, not a political treatise. Berg clearly appreciated Wilson but did not hide his flaws. Further, this biographer would probably not even conclude in any way similar to me about Wilson’s political legacy, yet this is one of the better presidential biographies that I’ve read.

Now for Wilson himself. One thing that I’ve tried to do in my presidential biography reviews that maybe no one else does is to make a concerted effort to probe the president’s religious background and corresponding influence upon his life. In the lives of several presidents I have discovered that there is very little religious influence. Wilson, however, was profoundly religious. Christian ideals that were peaking in some circles in his day were highly evident in him. Only in a careful reading of his life story can you put together his complex religious views. Again, that’s why this biography was so helpful to me.

His father was a prominent Presbyterian minister. Wilson was born in Virginia and his dad pastored churches in Georgia and South Carolina in his formative years. The effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the race relations in the south surrounding those events we’re deeply imbibed into his psyche. Though I hate how the term racist is thrown around in our day to the point that the concept becomes meaningless, Wilson had some racist views. These views led him to see Black people as inferior, yet his religious beliefs at least required him to treat them civilly though he always wanted them kept in their place.

Another factor in the person Woodrow Wilson is his academic career. He is the only president we have had who was truly a political scientist that possessed a PhD. he wrote influential scholarly works on history and politics and had an incredible career Princeton University that culminated in his ascendancy to the presidency of the University. He truly had a national influence even in that capacity. If you dig a little farther as I have done it matters that go beyond the scope of this biography, you will learn that Wilson rejected several concepts of our founding fathers. These rejections are neither subtle nor minor, and successfully birthed the progressive movement in our nation.

Wilson’s religious beliefs are paramount in this new direction. I’ve done much more reading in theology in my life and know that in the later 1800s Christian scholarship took a hard turn to the left because of German scholarly influence. Other similar influences were taking hold of universities and Wilson was similarly influenced. He went on record as saying that our government was founded on the Newtonian viewpoint but modern science has taught us that we should take a Darwinian viewpoint. Therefore, governments are to always be evolving and the needs of the current generation are unique and principles at the Founding cannot be a straight jacket to us.

To be fair to Wilson, he saw no incongruence with his Christianity and these beliefs. In many ways, he lived his life with fidelity to his Christian principles. In fact, he seem to hold tightly to Calvinistic doctrine and perhaps believed in redemption though this biography did not go that far. He kept the Sabbath, attended church faithfully, enjoy good sermons, and in many ways, he lived his life with firm adherence to his Christian principles and ethics. He seemed to love his wife until she died. He had a friendship with a lady that Berg went out of his way to argue that no physical adultery transpired. There is evidence that Wilson expressed regret about that friendship and after his first wife died he seemed to again truly love his second wife.

At times he may have even seen himself as a Christian crusader. Elements of his personality, perhaps, worked against him as well. He was so sure he was right that he almost never compromised or considered other viewpoints. What he thought was always right to his mind and his mission was to convince everyone else and lead them there. He lost the respect of several colleagues both in his university presidency and as president of the United States for this flaw of character. Both of those presidencies ended on a sour note after a period of soaring popularity and accomplishment. It seemed he was always ready to die on the hill of getting 100% of what he wanted.

While I vehemently disagree with both his political and religious philosophies, I must admit that I find him sincere. I would not feel that way about several who followed in his footsteps, but he believed in what he championed.

Back to the biography. Even the chapters that covered his career at Princeton were highly readable. I felt the only weakness of the book was its coverage of World War I. It seem to be viewed from a far, though by the limitations of that age, that is probably how Wilson lived it. The frustrations of the Versailles conference and Wilson’s inflexibility were tragic but well presented. Berg did a great job in eliciting pity for Wilson in the sad story of his life from the failure of getting his treaty passed and his League of Nations off the ground, all followed by an incapacitating stroke. Yes, the nation was misled by his wife and doctor, but fortunately no great harm came from it. Wilson died thinking himself a failure. Were he alive today, he might realize his progressivism with some changes thrives. What FDR gets credit for, could fairly be attributed to Wilson who FDR thought heroic.

Your assessment of Woodrow Wilson probably directly corresponds to your political opinions. Still, we can all enjoy this biography!

Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (ESBT) by Morales

book ex old

This title by L. Michael Morales is my first foray into the new Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series. Coming from the same publisher (IVP) as the highly-regarded NSBT series, it takes a different aim. Rather than narrowly focused topics that shine incredible light onto a precise point (NSBT), this series (ESBT) takes steps to re-approach with the same depth greater swathes of theology. Such synthesis is a refreshing onslaught that I applaud.

As for this title itself, I judge it an all-around success. If you read widely in theology, you will see that the Exodus motif crops up often. The average Bible reader never gets past the Exodus in Moses’ day but “exodus” is an exquisite painting of redemption that shows up throughout Scripture and provides a big picture understanding of the overall theme of Scripture. You can imagine, then, just how profitable a study like Morales delivers here can be.

The book is in three parts: the historical Exodus out of Egypt, the prophesied second exodus, and the New Exodus of Jesus. The historical Exodus is presented thoroughly and with great insight. The second part uses the Prophets to highlight the Exile and the exodus from the Captivity with equal skill. As it should be, the book climaxes with Jesus in the ultimate exodus. I gained many points of understanding in this volume but the big picture was always in view.

This book is a great help and encourages us to believe we might be having a real barn burner of a series taking off here!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Joel and Amos (TOTC) by Hadjiev

This latest replacement volume in the time-tested Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (TOTC) series tackles the two important minor prophets of Joel and Amos. While this title follows the format of all the recent replacement volumes in the series, it runs substantially more toward academic concerns than pastoral ones. I fear that this volume might not be as precisely aimed at the target audience of this series as usual.

The author’s previous work on these prophets have been about their composition and redaction. He seems to see the genre as the key to understanding. To be honest, it colors the whole work. Even the introduction dives straight into structural patterns without even an introductory paragraph! Other works in this series address these issues but they do not become as overarching as here. When you think genre is so important and then conclude that these prophets have mixed genres you inevitably will have interpretative issues in several passages. You will notice that throughout the commentary proper as you are introduced to all kinds of good information but sometimes the sum of the parts is substantially less than all the parts you get.

In no way has the author failed to put substantial study behind this work. I don’t want to be overly critical, but his bibliography leans toward much more critical works. I wish more conservative studies and commentaries were better represented.

To be fair, if you were a young scholar trying to wrestle with these particular issues that he stresses you might love this commentary. I even think that if the author were to write a commentary in another series that is aimed primarily at scholars and the issues that currently have captivated the scholarly world, he would probably deliver a highly rated work. On the other hand, I will have to remove a star for pastors and Bible students who would be more interested in what the text means, whom I also envision this series to be produced for. If you are a scholar, you can add the star back.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

William Howard Taft by Rosen (Pres. Bio. Series)

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fimages-na.ssl-images-amazon.com%2Fimages%2FI%2F512Zz-Al4jL.SY445_QL70_ML2.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FWilliam-Howard-Taft-Presidents-President-ebook%2Fdp%2FB076B1TDJJ&tbnid=yEYUXMBSJD85dM&vet=1&docid=OcpU8lN83SziaM&w=295&h=445&source=sh%2Fx%2Fim

Here’s another quality short biography of a president in the American President Series. I was introduced to Taft in Kearn’s “The Bully Pulpit”, but as was true to real life it seemed that Teddy Roosevelt dominated that book in my opinion. This helpful book make sure that one’s considers Taft on his own terms outside of Roosevelt’s shadow.

Taft was unique among the presidents. So far, he is the only president that I’m aware of who had no interest at all in the presidency. He was a judge and loved the judicial system to the core. Had not his wife so adamantly wanted the presidency, and had not a few fortuitous (at least to his wife’s point of view) events happened, he would not have been a president. Likly he would have been on the Supreme Court years before he ended up being.

He gave his best efforts to the presidency, but if the author here is correct, he often blundered politically because he always made decisions as a judge rather than a politician. Stranger still, it appears he never quite figured out how he blundered. In a more positive vein, he may have loved the Constitution as much as any president. Further, he bowed to it just as should be done better than most in our government ever have. In that way, I totally admired Taft. His love of the law seemed genuine as well and was praiseworthy. History records him quite accurately as a far better Chief Justice of the Supreme Court than a president of the United States.

This book makes Taft’s religious position clear. He was a Unitarian. He held to some Christian beliefs, but denied the divinity of Christ and the miraculous. In his personal life, he seemed to be quite honest.

The book itself here was well written. The author seemed to admire Taft as well. Even went so far as to mitigate the usual criticism of Taft’s girth. As you may know, Taft was by far the heaviest president we ever had.

Add Taft to that list of presidents who is mostly unknown and yet was sincere and mostly an all-around good guy. If we were considering Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, he would likely be top-five, though he is nowhere near that as a president.  And here is the perfect biography to get to know him outside of Teddy Roosevelt’s shadow.

Canon, Covenant and Christology (NSBT) by Matthew Barrett

book ccc

At this point, with the multiple titles available in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series, you know you’re going to get something that is at once interesting and theologically weighty. I’m sure the editorship of D. A. Carson contributes to that ongoing quality. In any event, this latest title by Matthew Barrett is as outstanding as any in the series. It’s strong stance on the divine inspiration of Scripture makes it run against the grain of most modern literature, but also makes it of even more value.

To be sure, looking at the Scriptures from a Christological perspective was a brilliant idea. This book reaches the heights that the whole idea suggests to those who love the Bible.

Though this work focuses mostly on Jesus in the Gospels and what we see there about Scripture, it’s impact is even greater. The first chapter reminds us of both the overall importance and perfect credibility of divine inspiration. I particularly enjoyed the comments about Sensus Plenior. The next chapter weaves together critical ideas like progressive revelation, word – act-word revelation, and the covenant. You will not have to agree with every idea about the covenant to be profoundly blessed by this chapter.

Next, the book dives more into the details found in the gospels. There’s a chapter on the Matthean witness, one as a case study on the Word made flesh, one about the idea of living by every word from the mouth of God as found in each of these books, one on the Johannine witness, and a final concluding chapter that takes these issues and discusses their importance to the future of doctrinal studies.

I can’t think of a dud in this series, at least among those that I have looked at, but mark this one down as one of the best!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Benjamin Harrison by Charles Calhoun (Presidential Bio. Series)

harrison

Besides the fact that Benjamin Harrison is the grandson of an earlier President Harrison and that he lived in Indiana, I knew so little about the man. It was a joy to get to know him in this work by Charles Calhoun. It’s a shorter biography of a lesser-known president who was a fine man but lived in good times when no major crisis was in play. Don’t expect a riveting read, but the president and his times are what they are and that is at least given here. For what it’s worth, this is my favorite biography of the few I have read in the American President’s Series edited by Arthur Schlesinger.

Like a few other presidents in this stretch of history, Harrison was a Christian, even a true believer you might say. Sometimes he came across as stiff or even austere, but it’s also fair to say he was molded by his Presbyterian upbringing and he faithfully followed it. He was sincere, loved his family, was a man of principle, possessed some ambition like every person to hold the office of president, was a great public speaker, and was real. His life story wouldn’t make a good movie, but it was a consistent story. It’s hard to say for sure because some biographers might conceal a president’s Christianity, but Benjamin Harrison may be one of the most distinctly Christian presidents we have had.

It’s bewildering that Grover Cleveland was returned to office rather than Benjamin Harrison receiving a second term. Nothing against Cleveland, but Harrison seemed like a good president who was generally liked. There were a few issues in that day that mean little to us now that people were highly divided over. Perhaps Harrison’s desire to deal with a few problems crossed a few too many people. He got some elements of his agenda through, though some were overturned later. I don’t think I would go too far out on the limb to say that Harrison took several positions that I could see Lincoln taking. The times were not as desperate and there will never be another Lincoln so I’m only referring to positions, not impact.

Though I appreciate Benjamin Harrison as a president and a person, this short biography of less than 200 pages is enough for me. It helped that Calhoun respected his subject. Some biographies go too far in making their subjects larger than life, but if the subject garnered the respect of the biographer overall it usually makes the book a little better for me (unless it is someone I want to dislike!).

Harrison’s life story was not that dramatic, though his wife died shortly before the election he lost for a second term. It’s hard to imagine how devastating that must have been to him as a man. He did later marry his wife’s niece, though there was nothing scandalous in it. It was sad to see his family divided as his children did not accept his new wife. Let’s just call that a footnote on a good life.

This whole stretch of presidents makes me wonder if a key ingredient to a “great” president is the environment of momentous times to shine in, especially if they don’t naturally have a larger-than-life personality. In its absence, only cut-throat politics remain and there’s little occasion to rise to greatness in that putrid habitat. There are a few presidents between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt that might have been a “great” president had they a crisis to carry the nation through to prove it. Somehow I think Benjamin Harrison might fall in that category.

James (KEL) by Spencer

book james kregel

This latest entry in the Kregel Exegetical Library by Aida Besancon Spencer is another solid entry in the series. I had heard before the book came across my desk that perhaps the theme presented would be focusing on the poor. That seemed like a stretch for sure, but when you actually dig into the book something much more helpful emerges. The author finds four themes in the book of James: how to deal with trials, how to be wise or have wisdom, how to view riches, and what she calls “a fourth unifying thing – becoming doers of the word and not hears only”. She is sensitive to the poor throughout, but that was a simplistic synopsis of this work. The book of James is clearly much about the four themes that she outlines and that sheds light as we read.

The introduction wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. On authorship she holds the conservative position that this James is the Lord’s brother. She develops grammatical points and word choices that help explain the overall message. She examines early church traditions about the letter James. She goes through the history in a sufficient manner. One of her best contributions is how she takes scholarly criticism against James as the Lord’s brother and knocks them down one by one in vivid fashion. In the section on structure, she explains those themes I mentioned above and how they lead to an understanding of James.

The commentary section is truly helpful. Words are carefully described. There is no doubt that one of this scholar’s strengths is grammatical explanation. The exposition is solid and homiletical hints are given. A word I might use to describe this book is “fresh”. Of course it addresses what other commentaries look at in James, but it gets beyond the tired repeating that is starting to show up in some works. When a scholar seems to be in love with the book they write about, the commentary is always better. That is the case here.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way by Lysa Terkeurst

book lysa

It came as an anonymous gift. I’d heard people speak of this book by Lysa Terkeurst but always assumed it was a book written specifically for women. To be sure, the author is extremely popular among Christian women, and while the book might be written in a style that would appeal to that market, it has something to say to any of us.

The value of the book might be commensurate to your own level of current tragedy. As it turns out, I’m in some of the darker days of my own life and could relate to the author on so many levels. She shares her story, but her message is not pigeonholed to her exact circumstances. All it takes to find value in what she says is to be at a place where life seems completely turned upside down and the view forward is unclear.

Had I read this book, say, a year ago I might have thought it was a little over the top. Perhaps she was a little too raw and let us into her turbulent, almost ugly emotions as they zigged and zagged and rose and crashed even lower repeatedly. Then, I walked that treacherous road myself and wondered if she had been spying on me. Being a guy I held it a little more together in front of everyone else than her, but my emotions on the inside were as messy and even shocking to me as hers were to her.

I will take her at her word that she was completely the victim of what had happened to her, though if she even had any blame somewhere I don’t think it would have changed the message of the book any. I could still relate to her book though my story was different. I was at once a perpetrator and a victim. I had the additional wrestling of trying to figure out before the Lord where the line between the two was. The book still spoke clearly to my heart.

Still, I could feel inside my own heart some of the same feelings she so vividly exposed in her own. The shock. The shame. The exasperation. The uncertainty. The unclear trek ahead. She had had a writing and public speaking ministry that was probably most popular to married Christian ladies and now her own marriage had fallen apart. I was a pastor who loved the ministry beyond description and the walls came tumbling down. Then there are all the other ripples and currents that go to so many other areas of life.

Sometimes I got the feeling she was writing to herself and we were just eavesdropping. Maybe that’s why the book works so well. It’s more about principles that a Christian must wrestle with when life gets completely topsy-turvy. It’s like things you know, but you need the strongest reminder. It’s like things you would have told people in the past, and now you have to tell yourself every moment. I appreciate that she never presented herself as this perfectly packaged Christian who had it all together and was just facing each blow with perfect faith and fortitude. No, it was almost touch-and-go, but a constant bottom-line Christianity that knew there was nowhere to go but to the Lord. She got past worrying about how to understand Him or what He was doing, but just to continue going to Him. And, yes, a faith that realized that the Lord loved her and though she was going a road she despised traveling, somehow, though maybe not in this life, Christ would only take her closer to Himself. There comes a time in life when platitudes won’t do. Those words that could roll so easily off the tongue in a sermon or a discussion without a moment of thought are exposed for all the uncaring that is behind them.

Instead of that tripe that fills the thousands of pages of regurgitated Christian self-help books, she reminded us that the Christian life is a battle, that we are dust, that we are broken, and that a bunch of horrible things really could work together for good in the Lord’s hands.

She made no promises she couldn’t keep. Neither to herself, nor to we who read her book. She still didn’t know how things would turn out and neither do we. There simply is no help until we can figure that out. There are things we can’t control and there are outcomes we can’t produce.

She also refuted the lie that if we can just survive this round of trouble all will be well. On the heel of her family tragedy came the dark blow of cancer. Weakened by the first onslaught she had nothing left to face the second one. Our problems may not go away. The next problem, itself large and scary, may come before we’ve had a chance to heal and strengthen from the first one. Perhaps we’ve overlooked that aspect of Job’s story in Scripture.

So what was the good thing that she had to say besides the spiritual nuggets mentioned above that may be more dreadful to realize than to never have thought about them? Well, it certainly wasn’t a three-, five-, or ten-step program to cancel our tragedy. That would have been too simple anyway, wouldn’t it have been? You may not like the answer. She may not like how I will summarize it. But it is the only answer there is. Trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. Expect more possibly. And when it comes, trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. It may be as hard to do tomorrow as it was today. Still, trust. Live closely nestled up to Jesus. This is all there is. This is all we need. Trust because we will someday see how He worked it all out. Live closely nestled up to Jesus because that’s the only way to survive the journey until then. It is what we were always meant for anyway.

THANK YOU to whoever sent me this book! I’m sincerely grateful.

Brownlow North: His Life and Word by K. Moody Stuart

book b north

Besides hearing of a sermon or two that he had written, Brownlow North was unknown to me. That didn’t scare me away from this biography, however, because Banner of Truth has a knack for printing biographies of people lesser known but incredibly inspiring and instructive to come to know people. You can count on them as well to print an attractive hardback volume, and this one continues that commendable trend. The biographer, K. Moody Stuart, a minister himself, was clearly enamored with North and wrote as if he were in awe of him.

Mr. North was an unusual personality. I can’t think of another biography I’ve read with his precise set of traits. He was an incredibly humble man. As I read through the biography, I kept feeling that Mr. North thought less of himself than we did. He was a gentle, reflective man who fully gave his life to Christ.

Later in the biography you will see that he worked with and appreciated D. L. Moody in an place where some failed to appreciate Moody’s work. By the time you get that far in the biography, that’s exactly what you would expect of Mr. North. It is so clear that he was consumed with a love for souls. His sermons would never have had the polish of some of his more famous contemporaries, but he clearly had the Holy Spirit upon him when he preached the gospel. He may have been unique, but you will probably think as I did how wonderful it would be to have a bunch more like him today.

The biography is written in an older style but is still easy to read. There might be a place where too many of his letters were reprinted, but the author felt that was required to draw a fuller portrait of the man. This biography might not be at the caliber of one of Iain Murray’s biographies by the same publisher, but it is a wonderful work that I highly recommend.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (2nd Ed.) by Thomas Schreiner

book paul

To label a book “important” or “influential” is probably too often done, but it would be hard to deny that this book has held that reputation for 20 years. Now, Thomas Schreiner takes the time to update his work in this second edition. When we are discussing Paul’s theology, no one book holds the field. In fact, I can’t think of a scholarly subject that has more pages written about it, particularly over the last 30 years or so. In that light, holding an important place in that crowd is quite an accomplishment.

Another reason that some of us might like this book is that several of the other most popular books on the subject are not nearly as conservative or orthodox. Many are mesmerized by the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”. To be clear, this book is not just a book against that perspective, but it will sufficiently address it for a thinking person and put it out to pasture as it belongs. Another feature to help you ascertain its value, is that it follows more of a reformed position in many cases and, perhaps, is most influenced by John Piper whom he mentions in the preface. If you like me are not as reformed as him, as many are not, you will still find incredible value in this book.

He says he does not want to make the book so boring as to interact with every scholar out there. While he may be selective, he is effective. I think it’s fair to say that he does not dodge any relevant issue in Paul’s theology.

Permit me to oversimplify his approach. He takes the position that Paul’s is championing God’s glory in Christ. In other words, Paul is the writer in scripture who most addresses the doctrine of salvation. In that light, he takes what Paul teaches us on a round-robin circuit of systematic theology. Again, he really doesn’t hide from any issue whether it is controversial or not. Some things he addresses are missed by others as well. Don’t miss his chapter on suffering. Still, he holds as the organizing principle that Paul is upholding God’s glory in Christ.

The value of this book is not it’s final conclusions, but it’s help for you to reach yours. In that way, let’s keep those labels of “important” and “influential”.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.