Grant by Chernow (Presidential Bio. Series)

book grant

Ron Chernow has struck gold again. After writing his earlier Washington, a book that many of us feel is the best presidential biography ever written, you had to wonder if that earlier success was the biggest competition for this volume. While I would rank Grant a notch below Washington, this biography stands triumphantly beside the author’s earlier work. This book even accomplished one thing the earlier book did not: I knew Washington was great, but Chernow convinced me that Grant was far greater than I ever knew.

There were even a few astonishing similarities between Washington and Grant that may be easily overlooked because of their broad dissimilarities. Both had an annoying parent, both had financial difficulties both before and after their presidencies, both persevered at times with health difficulties, both were loved as a general even more than as a president, and both were revered at their death on a scale that few others could duplicate in American history.

In this work on Grant, Chernow makes Grant so alive that by book’s end, you feel you know him so well that you could anticipate what it would be like if he walked in the room, sat down, and begin talking to you. Though Grant was notoriously one to keep his emotions to himself, he was unable to hide them from Chernow. The portrait is so exquisitely drawn that we have the timbre of Grant’s voice, even if we lack the pitch of one who lived before the days of recordings.

Chernow doesn’t hide Grants faults. His fine trait of seeing people without guile sunk him to naïveté and made him the sucker for countless hucksters. His amazing powers of concentration were at times counterbalanced by his lack of counsel. His drinking blackened his eyes at times throughout his career even if he inwardly hated it and appeared to conquer it several years before he died.

Chernow is not as explicit with Grant’s faith as he was with Washington, but the fault was likely Grant’s. Grant’s life-long trait of holding so much inside robs us of knowing how sincere his Christianity was. We do learn in this book that he was raised in a Methodist home, and though his dad was unscrupulous in the extreme, his mother had a true piety. Grant was never known to use foul language, nor to have any substantiated trouble with women. In fact, he was a gentlemen’s gentleman in that regard. We do know he was a faithful churchgoer, attended revival meetings with D. L. Moody, and had a pastor often around him in his final days. Chernow shares the disputed stories of how sincerely Grant wanted the baptism he received in his final days. Some say he loved the idea while others say he did it to please his wife.

Chernow draws a good picture of Julia Grant as well. She was a homely Southern Belle, more ambitious than her husband, held grudges, got caught up in the glory of the White House, and seemed to have little of the Methodist piety that her husband grew up with. Still, she loved her husband and he loved her. She believed in him when it even didn’t make sense.

This book never lags. With 959 pages of text, it is quite long, but I can’t imagine what could be left out. Grant’s life of struggle before the Civil War had as much drama as a novel and made for great reading. As you would’ve guessed, the portion of the book that covered the Civil War was enthralling – both the writing and the subject were thrilling in this section. The misnomer of Grant the butcher is thoroughly laid to rest. He was an accomplished general, wrongly overshadowed by Robert E. Lee, and was both relentless and fearless in battle. Along the way, you will have a good overview of the Civil War without ever sinking into the dryness that afflicts some historical writing.

When you pick this book up, you are preconditioned to think that Grant’s life after the Civil War is boring, but I still couldn’t put the book down and found it all fascinating. His presidency was far more than the caricature of scandal that has been wrongly attached to it, even if the scandals were real. He wanted to preserve the gains of the Civil War and was sincere. It wasn’t until after his presidency that I soured somewhat on his character as one who was becoming too egocentric and one too easily piqued toward others. But then his determination to care for his wife and write his memoirs brought him back to the Grant I had grown to love.

This book is a tour de force! It could serve as a virtual clinic on how to write historical biography. Chernow, though perhaps not as well-known as the beloved David McCullough (though a play called Hamilton may have changed that observation), must in no way defer to him with this masterpiece. I’m confident that this will be THE biography on Ulysses S. Grant for my lifetime.

This book is so wonderful that it makes you ask: what’s next, Mr. Chernow? If the trend of jumping to the next century and finding the general who lead its most important war and later became president, it must be Eisenhower. Whoever it ends up being, I’ll be in line to get and read it!


President McKinley by Robert Merry (Presidential Bio. Series)

book mckin

In the world of presidential biography, how would you grade the biography of one of our lesser – known presidents? Without doubt, it requires more of the author. The two main characteristics of such a presidential biography must revolve around: a) skilled writing that draws you into the life of one you never realized was interesting, and b) enough depth to make you feel that you really know this person. Granted, the life of the president that headlines the biography is what it is, and the author will be greatly aided if that individual happens to be compelling, even if the accumulating years pushes him into obscurity.

In this work by Robert W. Merry on Pres. McKinley, all these factors aligned beautifully to create an outstanding biography. It’s a joy to read and it moved me firmly into the category of counting McKinley as one of our better presidents. In fact, Merry is so successful here that I’m still scratching my head how that I, as one who enjoys presidential biographies, thought so little of McKinley before. The subtitle “Architect of the American Century” is in no way an overstatement. Probably the only reason that McKinley has suffered such obscurity is the unfortunate circumstance of being followed by the flamboyant Teddy Roosevelt. I found Roosevelt larger than life myself, and in reading his biographies found McKinley pushed exactly where Roosevelt wanted: in the shadows.

McKinley is easily one of the more upstanding men to hold the office. Merry is extremely fair, and worthy of praise even, in his presentation of the religion of McKinley. In other words, he reports the facts, and doesn’t pass judgment on those views, nor does he attack the sincerity of those views. McKinley was raised in a dedicated Christian family. He was a gentleman, he did not use swear words, yet was not overly judgmental of others. As a young person, he came forward at a camp meeting to profess salvation at a mourner’s bench, and in my view, stayed true to his roots in a much greater way than most presidents.

The author seems amazed, and I agree, that McKinley was extraordinary in managing and getting his way, yet without running over others. Though he took great pride in his military career in the Civil War, he was not horribly vain. He seemed to always rank getting the job done more than getting personal glory.

Whether it be with the gold – versus – silver issue, the Spanish-American War, a foreign policy that predicated itself upon America’s greatness without features of colonialism, the Panama Canal, and even economic policy, McKinley moved us from post – Civil War times to the 20th century. I’m glad Merry pushed Teddy Roosevelt enough to the side that we could see this great president.

As presidential biographies go, this one is a winner. I enjoyed it, and suspect you will to.

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.

The Spurgeon Journal–The Perfect Gift!

book sp journ

You’ve surely heard of one of the publishing feats of recent years in the publication of the lost sermons of Charles Spurgeon. Available in both a hardback and deluxe collector’s edition, this set when complete will be a treasure for Spurgeon fans or those who love preaching in general. Many are building their set one volume at a time as they are released. B & H Publishers has also created this exquisite ruled journal in a matching style to the set. Journaling is the rage these days, and I’ve hardly seen one that looks nicer than this one. It’s a leather-bound beauty!

This 5” x 8.25” Journal grabs your attention at first sight. You will notice Spurgeon’s signature embossed on the lower right-hand of the cover. When you open the book, you’ll see a place to put your name with another faint rendition of Spurgeon’s signature below. The next page gives a blurb about the 12 volumes of the Lost Sermons set. That’s followed by an open table of contents where you can approach the 140 sermons in the order you prefer. What’s labeled as page 1 has a place for you to put the date in the top right-hand corner with the ruled lines for your reflections filling the rest of the page. Some pages have profound quotes by Spurgeon at the bottom, with the following page giving the title and sermon number of the Spurgeon sermon that the quote was pulled from.

This journal on acid-free paper is the perfect size and feel. If you like journals, you will love this one. My guess is that any pastor would find it the perfect gift. In my view, no corners were cut in producing a journal worthy of the monumental set of the lost sermons of Spurgeon.

I received this journal 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.

The Letter to Philemon (NICNT) by Scot McKnight

book phil

Here’s an interesting commentary. Philemon, something like the forgotten little brother of the New Testament, gets its own standalone volume in the venerated New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series. Scot McKnight, a respected New Testament scholar, pens the ideal commentary on Philemon, coming in at 127 pages. In a few months, McKnight will also have a commentary on Colossians come in print in the same series. This replaces, or at least will replace when Ephesians is redone, the long-standing work by F. F. Bruce.

After a fine bibliography, McKnight turns in an Introduction of a little over 40 pages. A section on slavery in the Roman Empire makes up two thirds of the Introduction. While McKnight admits at times that slavery may not be the main theme of Philemon, he goes somewhat awry in writing at length as if it were. Still, it is a fascinating read on slavery. He brings in some modern information that strikes me as having little to do with Philemon, yet you will enjoy reading it. It seems to me that the theme of Philemon may have more to do with the world that a Christian finds him- or herself living in rather than a polemic against slavery. In fairness, you couldn’t really write a major academic work on Philemon without addressing the slavery issue as it has dominated the discussion for the last few decades.

The rest of the Introduction is in a more typical mode. He spends only a paragraph on authorship and date as the traditional conclusions are comparatively rarely disputed. In the next section, he discusses the relationship between Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul and feels that the traditional view that Onesimus was a runaway slave is most likely the case. In a section on the events at work in the Letter to Philemon, McKnight attempts to untangle the issues we will encounter. Though it’s a short section, McKnight is quite effective in explaining structure, rhetoric, and clarity of Philemon.

The commentary proper begins on page 49 and is well done. He provides the text, a few textual notes, an overview of the passage, and then quality verse by verse commentary. Scholars will love the copious footnotes on each page while pastors would do well to at least scan them as they contain some great information. The commentary is top-notch.

Most commentators like to lump Philemon with Colossians. In the preface, McKnight explains why that might not be a good idea. In any event, very few commentary series give Philemon its own volume. In my opinion, this volume outshines its two main competitors: Philemon by Joseph Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible series and Philemon in the EEC series by Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke. Simply put, McKnight is newer, respects the text more, and makes better judgments. This is the standalone volume on Philemon that every pastor will want.

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.

Guns, Mass Killings, and an Article that Makes Sense of It

We live on the superficial edges of the debate about what conclusions we should draw for the increasingly common disasters like occurred in Las Vegas. Within  hours of the heartbreaking tragedy the discussion turned to guns. First, may God help the grieving people of that evil act!

Some of us have wondered about inconsistencies that have made their way around the web. Were there more shooters? Is information being held back? My conclusion? Who knows. I’ve heard good arguments both ways. My gut is that some things still don’t exactly add up, but I suspect we’ll never really know. I’m not in a place to get answers, and neither are any who read this. 

I’ve been thinking about this whole gun debate ( I’m for honoring the Second Ammendment, but only own old guns handed down to me–I could shoot an intruder, but couldn’t wage a small war). I am a student of history and know that all the atrocious dictatorships, especially of the Twentieth Century, took the guns away before they brutalized and slaughtered millions. I also know that a gun law could never stop someone who already intends to commit a more heinous crime. If I intended to break the law and mass kill people, would a gun law give me even a momentary pause?

On the other hand, I realize that when something terrible, and even senseless, happens, our first reaction is to do something. Unfortunately, human nature is more satisfied in doing something quickly that doing something helpful. Let’s all take a breath and remember there’s no easy answer or quick solution. Even worse, I assure you our problems are much too deep for the superficial, self-sustaining politicians of our day. 

I also know the citizens of our country are going to dismiss with a roll of their eyes my first solution: we need a major turning to God. We need Jesus Christ. Forgive my pessimism, but I suspect things will have to get worse–much worse–before it’s even considered. 

In the meanwhile, there’s some societal trends worth noting. I came across an article that’s so good I wish I had written it. It’s by a master of political writing, Peggy Noonan. I share it below. Don’t haggle over ever sentence, but interact with what she says. I hear truth in her words.

The article 
God bless!

Matthew (NIGTC) by Nolland

nigtc matt

John Nolland delivered this major, massive commentary on Matthew in the highly-respected New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series. I’ve had his three-volume commentary on Luke in WBC for several years, and had heard that most scholars found this volume on Matthew more energetic and robust than the earlier one on Luke. After my own interaction with this commentary, I fully agree with that assessment. Further, though this is a Greek series, those who do not read Greek will find no problem as most every Greek phrase has its English counterpart nearby. For that reason, a wider range of readers than you might expect can check out this thoroughly scholarly volume.

The bibliographies in this book are gigantic. On the other hand, the Introduction is shorter than I expected. The commentary proper is the perfect length for the important Book of Matthew. If you want to know the author’s viewpoint, he defines it himself in the preface as a “redaction-critical” work that also uses narrative criticism.

He begins the Introduction with a discussion of the authorship of Matthew. Unfortunately, he finds it unlikely that Matthew wrote the book. In the next section, he wrote about the sources of Matthew with a grating certainty that I could not follow at all. In fairness, however, he’s no worse than many other scholars who write the major exegetical commentaries. In a surprising twist for one who doubts the authorship of Matthew as being Matthew, he still finds the book written fairly early, at least before 70 A.D. The Introduction became much more helpful when he wrote about the provenance of Matthew and other structural and unique features of Matthew. He managed to dip back into the unproductive conversation of sources at other points of the introduction, but was much more productive when he discussed the theology of Matthew. What you don’t want to miss his annotated structural outline of Matthew. That was an awesome way to present an outline!

In the commentary proper, each passage has his translation, brief textual notes, a bibliography for just that passage, and clearly marked off commentary of each verse. He is very thorough in what he addresses. While there are plenty of examples of some esoteric features that only appeals to scholars, there’s much productive, interesting, and helpful information to be gleaned from what he has written.

The competition is fierce among major exegetical commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, but this volume cannot be overlooked because of the important contribution it makes to scholarship.

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.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Rev. Ed.)- Volume 9: Matthew-Mark

book ebc 9

Volume 9 of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (revised edition) covers only the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Fortunately, that means that Matthew, one of the most important books of the Bible, gets a great deal of extra space in the series. D.A. Carson, one of the most respected scholars of our day, handles Matthew in this volume. It seems to me that Carson’s Matthew is the most heralded volume in either the old set, or this new revised series of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

Although the rewrite was not substantial, Carson’s Matthew still holds its place among the commentaries on Matthew available today. Carson wrote a substantial Introduction. He begins discussing the criticism of Matthew, or in other words, how critical scholars have debated the book of Matthew. Considering Carson’s reputation in conservative circles, his credence of the opinion of some of the more critical scholars is somewhat surprising. Still, his work is outstanding. He addresses history and theology, as well as the synoptic problem, and again entertains more than I could. In any event, I can hardly imagine a better overview. When he discusses authorship, he is tentatively agreeable to the historic position of Matthew being the author. On subjects like occasion, purpose, and structure, he begs for restraint. His discussion of themes and special problems was well done. While the text of the Introduction was not altered greatly from the original volume, I noticed the footnotes and bibliography were updated a great deal.

The commentary on Matthew would just what you’d expect from Carson – detailed, careful, cautious, thoughtful, and with skilled scholarship. He is occasionally harsh, but this is one of the most important commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew available today.

The Gospel of Mark received a more substantial rewrite. The work of the late Walter Wessel, much appreciated by pastors in the old set, was thoroughly updated by scholar Mark Strauss. The Introduction was also updated a great deal, I noticed, when I laid the old and new volumes side by side. The upgrade was a success. The new work covers in its Introduction the place of Mark’s gospel in biblical studies, genre, authorship, origin and destination, date, occasion and purpose, literary features, and ends with a bibliography and outline. The commentary itself was also effectively updated.

The 2-for-1 nature of this volume, along with the fact that the Matthew portion is considered one of the premier commentaries on Matthew, means you can’t go wrong in adding this book to your library. It’s a good deal and I highly recommend it.

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.

The Most Thoughtful Article I’ve Seen On North Korea

This article is important because it illustrates the one thing we are overlooking. At least I was overlooking it. Maybe you were not.

Total war is different than limited war. Let’s just bomb them like we did Iraq won’t bring the happy results it did then. We’ve fought limited wars for so long you’d have to go back to the WWII generation to have any idea.

Whatever we do, and likely there is no perfect option, we must keep this in mind.

Without further ado, here the timely article we all need to consider:

Into the Abyss-the Scenario for the Next Korean War 

The Real Facts About the Latest Generation!

blog phoneI’ve heard it in bits and pieces and had already decided that the smartphone was the defining factor of this generation approaching adulthood. Now I came across a substantive article that has hard data behind what it says. The point is not to bash this generation. How could we? Wouldn’t it be more a reflection of we who are as the generation raising them?

The truth is that every generation has its strengths and weaknesses. That translates to the latest generation being better in a few categories, but its problems are of concern and worthy of our attention.

This generation lives with its parents knowing where they are far more than any generation alive today. For that reason, you could say that they are physically safer. They tend to be less motivated to drive and have fewer wrecks. Their average age of the first sexual encounter is actually older than the last several generations – that’s certainly a plus. If you dig through the data in the article, you will see more of this type of positive information.

Strangely enough, some of their biggest problems springs from the same areas. This is the least-interested-in-independence generation we’ve seen. If they have a nice bedroom, in which to lay and be on their smart phones, they are satisfied. The article mentioned several of them have an indention in their bed from lying there on the phone so much. Many of them are not really interested in driving. Does that surprise you as much as me? Many of them are developmentally at least two years behind.

While the rate of teen homicide is down (that’s a plus!), the rate of teen suicide is far higher. Quite frankly, many of them are not happy. The article explained how the ones who are on their smart phones over the average rank much higher on the chart of unhappiness and suicidal feelings.

The article, which was not in a Christian publication, mentioned sports, other activities, and less social media as having great improvement in the data on being happy and not feeling suicidal. Although the article wasn’t Christian in any way, I couldn’t help but notice that those young people very active in what the author called “religious activities”, fared much better as well. I suppose the data will always bear out that the parents who forget God in their home will reap a whirlwind in their children.

Here’s the great article that you will want to ingest slowly: Has Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

There’s so much more in this article. Read it for yourself. We parents need some deep reflection about whether our homes are just going to be like the average of the world today, or are we going to swim upstream to go after different results. May the Lord help us all in the choppy waters that we Christian parents now navigate.

Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh

book introverts

What a wonderful book! As an introvert myself, I’m thrilled to report that introvert Adam McHugh has looked into who we are and explained it perfectly. Only a true introvert could have explained the feelings and perceptions of an introvert with such accuracy. Not only does this book contain what introverts have been waiting a long time to hear, but it’s also a perfect primer for extroverts to understand all of us introverts that they have always been clueless about. As the title suggests, McHugh brings this important discussion into churches. He seeks to guide introverts in “finding our place in an extroverted culture”.

I was hooked by the preface. When he explained that we would have to dig in this subject to the point that it might appear that he was “feeding the impression that we are misanthropic weirdos”, I knew I wanted to hear what he had to say.

He makes a case in the introduction that introverts can thrive in the church. As he will do throughout the entire book, that does not mean that we introverts must deny who we are or act like something we are not. He makes a clear case that local churches today are all geared toward the extroverts. He explains how our culture values extraversion over introversion, though without compelling proof that it should be so. As we said before, he explained so beautifully what life inside an introvert’s head is really like. He clarified how we feel at some social gatherings or settings. He encourages us to quit feeling like we are weird or of less value, and to seek healing from the bad misconceptions that we have lived with.

He explained what introverted spirituality is, and though it’s easily distinguished from the extroverted type, it still has great depth. He explained how we are in community and relationships. We don’t live without community or relationships, but we are different.

Finally the book turns to the subject of leadership and introverts. There is an unsubstantiated belief that only extroverts make good leaders. Fact and history both prove this to be untrue. Some extroverts succeed by being charismatic, dominant, gregarious, or even a superstar, and can even operate a cult of personality. In some cases, the company doesn’t glean anything from the tightness of the followers of these extroverted leaders. In other words, it’s only been about them. He gives wonderful thoughts about how we might lead without yielding the essence of who we are as introverts. He is very practical in how we might be a better leader, as well as thoughts about a subject that most all introverts find difficult: evangelism. He concludes with encouraging us to make sure introverts have a place in our churches.

This book spoke to me. I’m convinced that every Christian introvert ought to read it. Further, it would be quite wonderful if we could talk a few extroverts into reading it with us.

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.