Remember how I spent most of Wednesday on a bus? Well, I spent most of Thursday on a train. It was scenic, and mostly relaxing, and this time I read books rather than Internet printouts.
Books are always better. Here's today's reading report:
- Secret Radio, by Grace Jovian. I don't think it's supposed to be any big secret that "Grace Jovian" is a pseudonym for Jeri Massi, who occasionally comments here at PyroManiac and more frequently harasses me from the safety of her own blog. As I have said before, I don't read much fiction, but this is the second of Jeri's books I have reviewed. (Actually this is the third, if you count the two volumes of Valkyries separately.) Her stories are filled with characters, situations, and angst that will all be instantly familiar to nearly anyone who has attended a fundamentalist school. Secret Radio is a story Jeri originally blogged, and it therefore has a serialized feel. One suspects there are major doses of autobiographical non-fiction blended in. It's poignant, occasionally funny, and even painful at times. To be honest, I liked Valkyries better, but Secret Radio is engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking, and well written.
- Defense of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today, by Michael Haykin. Haykin has long been one of my favorite authors, chiefly because of the subject matter he chooses. He's an excellent professor of church history who seems to possess infallible radar for subjects that appeal to me. Best of all, I learn things from every book he writes, even when he is dealing with subjects I have previously studied. (Haykin's short biography of Andrew Fuller, combined with selections from some of Fuller's own correspondence, is a superb volume. If you can find it, its worth a trade for any two volumes of Spurgeon. And you know I wouldn't say that lightly.)
Anyway, Defense of the Truth is a survey of six key controversies from several diverse eras in church history. Haykin shows why these controversies (and especially the polemical fortitude of the key figures who fought for the truth) are instructive for us today.
I once did a similar project: a series of lectures on five major heresies that (at one point or another in church history) threatened the very life of the church. My lectures were translated into Italian and published, but I haven't done the book in English yet. Naturally, I was curious to see how Haykin's book was written, what topics he focused on, and whether any of his material intersected with my subject matter.
Of Haykin's six chapters, only one corresponds to any of my five major heresies, and that is his chapter on Athanasius and the Arian controversy. My material focused a little more on the debate leading up to the Nicene Council; Haykin gives much more detail about the conflict that came after the council. It is an utterly fascinating and supremely important chapter in church history. Thank God for the courage and persistence of Athanasius.
Every chapter in Haykin's book is a profitable read. My favorites were the excellent chapters about Irenaeus and gnosticism, Augustine and church history, and St. Patrick and missions.
I loved the book. In a generation when Christians seem to think everything novel is automatically better, it is refreshing to read the work of someone who knows and appreciates the history of doctrine and who knows and cares about where the church has already been. I hope Haykin lives long and keeps writing.
- The Wages of Spin, By Carl R. Trueman. My first encounter with Trueman was on the Web, through his excellent critique of the historical ham-handedness of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright. He struck me as clever, perceptive, witty, and a good writer. The Wages of Spin proves he is all of these.
The book is a collection of Trueman's essays on various subjects, starting with one I'll bet Michael Haykin would give a hearty amen toand I know I would: "Reckoning with the Past in an Anti-Historical Age." Trueman offers a spot-on analysis of the fallout from the modern and post-modern tendency to be militantly anti-historical.
The effect of this trend on evangelicalism has been particularly destructive. Our Protestant and evangelical distrust of "tradition" has subtly morphed into a contempt for history, and the effect has been disastrous on a number of levels. This one factor has explains popular evangelicalism's doctrinal illiteracy. It also explains why in our worship, virtually everything novel is immediately embraced by evangelicals, while virtually everything that pertains to our rich spiritual heritage has been unceremoniously abandoned.
There are lots of great essays in the bookespecially "The Undoing of the Reformation?" and "The Glory of Christ: B. B. Warfield on Jesus of Nazareth." But my favorite section is at the end: "Short, Sharp Shocks." The shortest of these mini-essays would make wonderful (albeit longish) blog entries. The clever titles ("The Marcions Have Landed!"; "Boring Ourselves to Life") reflect the wittiness of Trueman's writing style.
Hats off to Carl Trueman for this volume. He constantly provoked me to think while making me smile. I love that kind of book.
Back on the bus tomorrow. I'm already reading another book I promised to review for Challies. If he hasn't given up on me.