Franklin Pierce by Michael Holt (Presidential Bio. Series)

Book pierce

I must confess that I knew almost nothing about Franklin Pierce before I read this biography written by Michael F. Holt in The American Presidents Series. This book was pitched perfectly. Its length and depth were ideal for this less significant president. As you may be aware, he is in a stretch of Presidents who often fight over being our worst one. This book told me all the broad details of his life that I needed to know and surprisingly succeeded in its few pages to dig into what made Pierce tick. Some volumes in this series are a complete dud, but I’m happy to have found this volume to be my choice for a biography of Pres. Pierce. To my mind, his presidency could fairly be called a failure while Pierce himself would’ve been far more interesting to meet than, say, John Tyler or James Buchanan. Though he was far too caught up into politics to have ever been a visionary, he does come across as sincere.

Franklin Pierce did succeed in his home state of New Hampshire in various offices. He rose through the ranks at an incredible rate and became the political power of his state. He had a near obsession with the Democratic Party that the author well exposes. The more I read about presidents in this era the more I’ve come to believe that they had little chance to succeed. We often think of the country dividing along sectional lines between the North and the South, but there was an equal division between Democrats and a succession of Whigs/Know-Nothings/Republicans. If you survey the election results from these years, you will see that they did not divide along the Mason-Dixon line. Much like our day, some states leaned more toward one party or the other with an occasional flipping. New Hampshire was the most democratic state in the Northeast and Pierce did everything he could to keep it that way. It was, however, true that some of Franklin Pierce’s decisions help solidify our country finally dividing between the North and the South.

What is inexplicable about Pierce was his dedication to the South. To be honest, since he was from the north, it makes no sense to me at all. You might find a few clues in him forging some strong friendships with Southerners and that his interest in the success of the Democratic Party was far more important to him that how the issue of slavery turned out. Historians will always label Pierce as being on the wrong side of that issue. I don’t think he was proslavery, but he was going to protect his friends and acquaintances that stood with him in earlier political battles. Another mistake that he made was not accepting the new direction of the North even in how they viewed Lincoln who followed him. He openly criticized Lincoln at times and also tried to support Jefferson Davis during his trial for treason after the Civil War. Again, it seemed to be nothing other than he would be true to his old friends. That kind of thinking will probably keep your friendships strong, but it may destroy your historical standing.

As with several other presidents, it’s hard to pin down where Pierce was regarding Christianity. The author paints Pierce as the poster child of an 1800s party animal in his youth. While that may have been true, he married a very religious woman. She was no social bug either. Still, he seemed to adore her. He curtailed his drinking and stuck by her through several health crises. There are not a lot of other facts to go on, but the author relates casually that one time Pierce detested working on the Sabbath while he was president. When his wife died shortly after his presidency ended, he started drinking some again. The author insinuates that he married his second wife for money, but they appear to have had a good relationship too though he spent more time alone during those years. He still had his demons and alcoholism finally destroyed his health and ended his life. Though the author never said, I can’t help but wonder if the obvious failings of his presidency though he genuinely meant to do what he thought best led him to discouragement. All in all, he was probably a far better person that he was a president.

 

For others in this series, look here.

Millard Fillmore by Robert Rayback (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Millard Fillmore is usually relegated to a dusty list of our forgotten presidents. Admittedly, most are hard-pressed to name any of our presidents between Jackson and Lincoln (well, maybe Polk has a few fans). To make it worse, Fillmore has been summarily dismissed as the ultimate underachiever. After reading this biography by Robert Rayback, I’m wondering if historians have been a little too unkind to Fillmore. While it’s true that Rayback greatly admired Fillmore and perhaps cast events in the best light possible, I did feel that many of the facts were on Rayback’s side.

While I have no illusions that Fillmore was one of our presidential greats, he does appear to be a likable person, especially when compared to one of his irascible predecessors, John Tyler. He held principles on several occasions where personalities involved caused him to want to go another direction. He was an effective legislator before he became president and was perhaps more suited to that role. He was more adept at compromise and order than he was at either possessing or casting vision. Any record of the short-lived Whig party cannot deny his importance to its history. Somehow, he came through successfully the rough-and-tumble backroom battles of his party without being as cutthroat as many of his colleagues.

Most negative modern analysis of Fillmore stems from his part in the Compromise of 1850. That is somewhat unfair on two fronts: a desire to solve the slavery question without war was obviously appealing at the time and the reading of the convictions of our day onto the past without regard for the context of those times. Since war came a decade later anyway and destroyed slavery in the process, it knocks the luster off what many across the spectrum thought worthwhile at the time. Did, however, the nation progress in that decade to be more able to accept the demise of slavery? Since we can be sure of completely different leadership on both the Union and Confederate sides in this prior decade, are we confident that we would’ve had the same result had it burst out in 1850? Maybe I put more stock in the providence of God than most readers, but it appears to me that the vastly different events of 1850 and 1861 were ultimately for the best.

In reading these presidential biographies, I’ve made a point to check out the religious background of these men. I’m aware that the outlook of the biographer can add an unfortunate layer to what I find. Rayback explains how Fillmore joined the Unitarian church prior to becoming president. He further explains that although Fillmore did not appear to attend church much before this move to the Unitarian church, he became quite faithful afterward. It does appear to me that the author has made a mistake in describing Unitarians more as they are today than they were in Fillmore’s time. Some other American characters widely known for their Christianity were, in fact, Unitarians in those days. Mrs. Fillmore was the daughter of a Baptist pastor and was raised in the Baptist Church. The author is probably correct in explaining that Fillmore did not join the Methodist Church, which was quite zealous in those days, even though he had family members in it. The Unitarian church probably matched his more genteel ways, but it seems altogether possible that Fillmore was a Christian. We may never know for sure.

Since this biography was written 60 years ago, I dreaded a dry writing style. Since presidential biographies have attracted some of the best writers of our day in the last few decades, it’s easy to become spoiled. To be sure, Rayback is no McCullough or Chernow, but I thought his pages flowed easily and were pleasant to read. Even though the book was well written and Fillmore was likely a better president that he’s often given credit for, I’m still of the opinion that 250 pages would have likely been enough for his life. Since I’ve heard that the volume in The American Presidents series is a complete disaster, I’m glad I read Rayback’s take on Fillmore.

For more in this series, look here.

The Marriage Knot by Ron and Jody Zappia

book marr knot

The marriage knot shared in this book ultimately ties the couple to Christ in a “cord of three strands”. Along the way we dig into the seven areas the authors feel are essential to a marriage successfully staying together. Authors Ron and Jody Zappia themselves almost lost their marriage early on because of Ron’s infidelity. Meeting a pastor who introduced them to Christ at that pivotal time avoided the complete shipwreck even if there were gashes in the hull of their relationship. The seven principles are presented as what was slowly learned the hard way, yet still, the revelations that led to a beautiful relationship these many years later.

They teach on these pages with the accurate assumption that we all come to marriage clueless of the most important things that make it work. I found some comfort in that approach as I’m 20 years in and am still learning and am still shocked about how far I have to go. If you are like me, you will appreciate the tone of this book. It’s not heavy-handed, doesn’t talk down to you, and presents its contents with a you-can-do-it attitude.

The book reads as if you were at a marriage conference. While that means it may not have the polish of some marriage books, it communicates personally and clearly.

At this point of a review, I usually discuss the contents of the book but think it better, in this case, to make you wait until you read it to get their 7 principles. You’ll probably think as you read that you could have guessed some of them yourself. It’s not that they present things you’ve never read in other marriage books but that they present them collectively. I’m no expert but they seem to be arguing that you could do several of the seven wonderfully and still loosen your marriage knot by overlooking a few of them. Succeeding in marriage is so challenging that you’ll likely need a lot of good marriage books. I know I do. This book is a fine one to add to your pile.

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.

Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics (Fourth Edition)

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That this book reaches this 4th edition shows its influence. My guess is that’s its one of the most popular ethics textbooks from a Christian perspective available today and has been so for over twenty years. Morality is both in decline and being pushed out of our consciences by today’s amoral culture. Scott Rae brings a biblically grounded view of the major moral issues of our day in this helpful book. Rather than speaking in black and white terms alone, he helps us shine Scripture into the gray areas. While what the Bible explicitly says is strictly black and white, the ravages of sin often back us into confounding gray areas. In other words, we can use some help in sifting things that are not readily apparent.

Another feature of this book is help where the Bible is clear but culture is in rebellion. Standing against the tide requires more than glib answers. As Christians, we want to help people more than merely winning a fight, so we need more than surface-level thinking. Right and wrong and therefore morals can be logically proclaimed. We need to know how to make a difference.

After a fine introductory chapter that explains why morality is desperately needed, we have further looks at how to think of morality, what Christian ethics is, and insights into how to make ethical decisions in the subsequent chapters. The balance of the book takes individual issues and includes things like abortion, biotechnology, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, sexual ethics, and even environmental issues and border control. As you would expect, no reader is likely to agree with every argument or conclusion. I know I didn’t. But how to think about these issues is effectively presented in every case.

This fine textbook reads well, is easy to follow, and would be a boon for any reader. It’s a great title to either work through or have on hand when specific issues arise.

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.

A Commentary on the Revelation of John by Ladd

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Here’s a time-tested commentary that’s rightfully being republished. Eerdmans has realized the value of several great commentaries that were subsequently replaced in some of their stellar commentary series (NICOT, NICNT, NIGTC) as well as some standout independent commentaries. There are commentators like F. F. Bruce, John Murray, Leon Morris, Merrill Tenney, and Herman Ridderbos among others. These newly-released reprints are published in matching styles in paperback as The Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series. This volume by the late George Eldon Ladd is an influential commentary on Revelation.

The Introduction is more direct than most in modern commentaries, but the information gets to the heart of the study of Revelation. Since I just recently reviewed a modern critical commentary on Revelation, this work was like a breath of fresh air. He covers authorship, date, and setting including historical background. He gives a fine overview of methods of interpretation. He categorizes them as Preterist, Historical, Idealist, and Futurist. He’s a Futurist himself with a little Preterist thrown in but sees dispensationalism as excessive. I don’t follow him in all his conclusions, but really appreciate reading them. His view of structure is simple, divided around visions, and is also presented in an outline.

The commentary is in that straightforward style that can sometimes be missed in these days. It gets to the point but is never careless or superficial. He renders complexities with simple clarity. It’s a little jewel and I’m glad to see it reprinted!

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. 

Hosea (Apollos Old Testament Commentary) by Joshua Moon

book hosea apo

The Apollos Old Testament Commentary series is starting to get out enough titles to see that we are going to have a major series on our hands. They run from conservative to moderately critical and are far more conservative overall than, say, the Word Biblical Commentary series. This latest release is a helpful volume on one of the Minor Prophets, Hosea. I enjoy having individual commentaries on even the smaller books, and this is one of the few major ones on Hosea. Only Dearman in NICOT comes to mind, yet their strengths are different enough to make both worthwhile. Both have impeccable scholarship, yet I suspect pastors might favor this one while scholars will go with Dearman. I’m glad to have both within reach. Joshua Moon is the younger scholar, and perhaps like me, you hadn’t heard of him before. I suspect a productive career for him after writing this quality commentary on Hosea. He seemed adept at commentary writing as he pitched this book perfectly for both scope and length.

The Introduction begins with an overview of Hosea’s historical backdrop. He holds to a conservative chronology. From there, he broadens his purview to Hosea’s place among the prophets. The next section looks at Hosea from a writing perspective. He says, “As will be amply demonstrated, no part of the text requires a date earlier or later than the era stated in the superscription”. He does discuss editing which always strikes me as fanciful. The sections on text and structure are a little too brief, but the one viewing Hosea in light of the Covenant was well done. Theology could have used more space too, but I suppose he saved it for the commentary itself.

The commentary is truly helpful. It’s presented in the usual Apollos style: translation, notes on the text, form and structure, comment, and explanation. I liked what I found here.

The Apollos series has another quality title here and I warmly 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.

God the Trinity by Yarnell

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This book takes a unique approach in presenting God the Trinity. There are several outstanding conservative volumes on the Trinity in print today, but Malcolm Yarnell gives us one that’s organized unlike any other. The conclusions found in this volume are conservative, baptistic, and supported by some of the finest theologians today.

On the downside, I had trouble following the logic of the flow of the presentation of the material. At times, it seemed random, conversational, and something of a flow of consciousness. Finally, I figured out that he was just addressing some of the most important biblical texts on the Trinity. All the arguments given showed scholarly depth and theological perception, it’s just at times they didn’t always seem the most persuasive tracks to prove the author’s point. In fairness to Mr. Yarnell, it could have been that I just didn’t personally connect with his design. Probably it’s best for you to check it out as it might be just what the doctor ordered for you.

The key Scriptures discussed are Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Deuteronomy 6:4-7, John 1:18, John 16:14-15, John 17:21-22, Ephesians 1:9-10 and Revelation 5:6. Without doubt, these are crucial texts in grasping what the Bible has to say about the Trinity.

The glowing recommendations that come with this book mean that despite my personal tastes about it, you will want to check it out if you’re trying to collect a study library for the Trinity.

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.

Polk by Walter Borneman (Presidential Bio. Series)

book polk

James Polk was perhaps the finest president in the field of mediocrity that the American presidency traveled through between Andy Jackson and Abe Lincoln. I don’t know if that insignificance had to do more with the men (most likely) or the commonplaceness of the times (less likely), or some combination of the two, but Polk, as Walter Borneman’s subtitle suggests, had an impact on both the presidency and the nation. Polk both expanded presidential power and the size of our nation itself.

This biography gives us enough of the pre-story of Polk’s life to really know the man by the time he assumed the presidency. He was ambitious (a common theme in every presidential biography), knew how to play politics, could be politically pragmatic as well as loyal where politically expedient, yet seemed to truly have a set of core principles. He was a protégé of Jackson, also a Tennessean, yet much more refined than his mentor. Their relationship seemed genuine. As is true of at least a few of our presidents, he had a wife who loved and supported him which he reciprocated with love and adoration. This biography fully fleshed out his personality that could be described as more introverted than some and detail oriented.

While the times played into his successes he seized the opportunities that came his way. He has the unusual distinction of accomplishing all his main campaign promises in one four-year term. Further, he kept his promise of only serving one term. Along the way, he was a successful war president of a war that was so victorious that the debate over fighting it is mostly now forgotten. The vast acreage that has been part of America since his day means it probably always will be remembered as something great for our nation. Though he was proslavery, it seems history has been kinder to him than several other presidents in that territory. He really did nothing to stem the tide that would ultimately embroil our nation in Civil War either. Strangely, he even lost all his last elections in Tennessee including two for governor and the one for president out of which he came victorious. I was surprised that the nation was not so perfectly divided by North and South this close to the Civil War, yet geography seemed to have little to do with which states he won.

Perhaps the saddest thing in his biography is how quickly he sickened and died after his presidency ended. He became sick on a victory tour through the states after his term expired and never really had the chance to enjoy his retirement in Tennessee.

As for the biography itself, Borneman was mostly satisfactory. As I read through presidential biographies, I’ve been making a special note of the role religion played in each president’s life. I feel this biography totally failed me in that regard since it’s known from other sources that Mrs. Polk and her Methodism had an impact on her husband. This shortcoming makes me wonder if I should have read the volume by Robert Merry instead (his biography of William McKinley was excellent). On the other hand, Borneman succeeded in making me feel like I both knew and understood James K. Polk. For that reason, I must recommend this biography.

Other Presidential Biographies

John Tyler by Gary May (Presidential Bio. Series)

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This well-written book was just what I was looking for in a biography on Pres. John Tyler. 150 pages are about all I wanted to take the time to read on him. Tyler consistently rates near the bottom of the list of our presidents. The American Presidents Series is where I love to turn for the less popular and more obscure presidents. Some of the titles in the series are a little skewed to the left and are overly unsympathetic to their subject, but this one by Mr. May was totally fair. He presented Tyler and let me decide – that’s exactly what I want from this type of book.

Tyler had distinct flaws. His views on slavery as well as his practice of slavery, his flip-flop on what he had always presented as his core principles once he became president, and his betrayal of the United States when the Civil War broke out are prime examples. I totally respect the people of both the Union and the Confederacy but would expect a former president of the United States to show some loyalty.

Tyler had some positive traits as well. He seemed to be a caring family man (15 children from two wives!). After the death of his first wife, he came across as strange in his pursuit of a young lady 30 years his junior. On the other hand, after he married her they seemed to have a very loving relationship. He would not allow himself to be the pawn of any political power broker like Henry Clay and others. Though he was unable to get much of any agenda through during his time in office because his views caused his party to abandon him, he did make the best of a bad situation. He wasn’t afraid to cast some unexpected vetoes that surprised many. His crowning achievement was the admittance of Texas to the Union. He was relentless in that pursuit and barely got it done before he left office.

Whatever the failures of Tyler, this biography succeeded splendidly. It brought Tyler to life. I felt like I knew him and even understood him to some degree. My opinion of him rose a few tics, but he’s still at the bottom level. At least I would rank a few presidents below him now. My only complaint of this biography is that I really couldn’t come to terms with where he stood religiously. In fairness to the author, perhaps that was because Tyler didn’t hold religion as all that important. In any event, this author did the best that could be done with his subject.

For other titles in the presidential biography series, check out My Quest on Presidential Biographies.

The God Who Gives by Kelly Kapic

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The more I read by Kelly Kapic the more I like him. I had earlier read Embodied Hope and found it an inspiring overview of the doctrine of suffering. This work takes a much wider theological swath. The subtitle proclaims that this book explains how the Trinity shapes the Christian story. As I read this book, I often thought that Mr. Kapic took his theme of the God who gives on a walk across the entire landscape of systematic theology. It’s hard to grasp the terrain he covered in only 260 pages, yet this book is nothing of a superficial overview. Every doctrine traipsed over finds vibrant interaction.

This book is a revised edition of an earlier work entitled God So Loved, He Gave. Somehow I had missed that work, and so can’t speak to the extent of the revision. I can say, however, that this is a theological work not to be missed.

The first few chapters make such a brilliant contribution to the doctrine of God that I think I’ll file this book in that section of my library near other works on the Trinity. His initial premise that we belong to God is persuasively portrayed and gives at once a foundation for this book and an explanation for our lives. The discussion of creation and how it springs out of the Triune love of God tells us much about the purposes of God. Immediately we are told that God owns by giving as well as by creation.

The book continues to describe the calamity of sin, the evil of our world, creation’s bondage, and how all these things cry for our need of God. We learn how Jesus filled that role in his coming as our King to round out part one of this work.

Part two containing chapters 5-10 outlines how God reclaims all by giving all. In the chapter on the gift of the Son, don’t miss the discussion on pages 100-101. There’s further excellent discussion on belief, faith, and their differences. The gift is also traced to the Holy Spirit. There’s further discussion on how we receive the gift, what the gift of the kingdom is, and how to live within that gift.

Part three takes us through the cross, the resurrection, and the church itself to fully grasp the depths to which God gives to us.

This is one of the best theological works that I’ve come across. It provided me with several lightbulb moments. It’s accessible despite its depth. I’d recommend that any Christian give it a try. Whatever you glean can only enrich you. Mark this one down firmly in the “highly recommended” category.

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.