Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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book reviews
alexander-hamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The Penguin Press. 818 pages. 2004
****

This detailed and well-written biography of an important figure in the founding of our country inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly successful (11 Tony Awards, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama) musical Hamilton.  I read the book to find out more about Alexander Hamilton and to better understand the musical, which I will be seeing soon.
Hamilton was born in the West Indies, the exact date not known, with the author using the year 1755. Hamilton was around slavery growing up, and the theme of slavery comes up throughout the book. As his parents were not married, he would forever be referred to as a bastard by his enemies, such as second President John Adams. Hamilton’s experienced difficulties early on with his father abandoning the family, his Mom dying of a sudden illness and the first cousin he and his half-brother would go to live with committing suicide.
Hamilton was self-taught, and his Christian faith was strong early in his life, waning in the middle years, and becoming strong again late in his life. He wrote poems, the first of which was published in a newspaper in 1771. This would lead to being given the opportunity to go to America for an education, eventually landing at Kings College (now Columbia University).
Hamilton excelled in his speeches and writing. One of the things that impressed me about Hamilton was his voluminous writing.  He would also excel in military service, becoming a Captain the Battle of New York. George Washington would ask him to join his staff as his secretary, with a rank of Lt. Colonel, serving more as what we would know as a Chief of Staff.  The author states that it is difficult to conceive of their careers apart from each other. They would have a mutual respect which grew even stronger late in Washington’s life.    The author takes us through the events leading to the development of our nation, beginning with the Boston Tea Party.
Hamilton would leave Washington’s staff, frustrated that since he was so valuable to Washington, the president had blocked several possible other opportunities for him.  He would become an attorney, as did Aaron Burr, whose grandfather was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. Several times the author will show how Hamilton’s and Burr’s lives intersect.
Hamilton would be instrumental in founding the Bank of New York, the oldest stock still being traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and later a new Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the oldest continuously active paper.
Hamilton would marry Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, a Dutch Reformed Christian, and they would have eight children. By this time, Hamilton had drifted from the faith of his youth, and he would never have a church affiliation.
Women were attracted to Hamilton, and this would later lead to one of his major failures, a long-time affair with Mariah Reynolds, a married woman. This would lead to blackmail payments to her husband. Hamilton was suspected of financial collusion with Mariah Reynolds’ husband. James Monroe would later be involved in making the documents of Hamilton’s affair public, something Hamilton would never forgive him for, and would later lead to both threatening a duel.
The author shows Hamilton “warts and all”. He was against slavery, but may have owned a few household slaves. He made an ill-advised 6 ½ hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, wrote a long pamphlet about his affair and another long one against Adam’s presidency. He also had a long time association with William Dewars, a man of questionable character.
I enjoyed reading about how our government was put together (Congress, Supreme Court, Electoral College, Bill of Rights, Coast Guard, our financial system, etc.), so long ago and yet relatively unchanged in 2017. The controversial Alien and Sedition Act brings the current day issue of immigration into the story. Hamilton wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, with help from Madison and a little from John Jay.
Hamilton would become Treasury Secretary and have conflict with Madison over the debt issue. He would also have ideological differences with Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of State under President George Washington.
The French Revolution plays prominently in this story. We read of the Jay Treaty protest in New York City, where Hamilton’s temper got the best of him and he threated to resort to violence.
Washington chose not to serve a third term as president, leading to the first contested presidential election. Adams was elected, but felt that Hamilton was disloyal to him. Adams would take many low blows at Hamilton, and would become another of his political enemies.
Hamilton would speak out against Vice President Burr’s quest to become the Governor of New York in 1804, leading to murderous rage in Burr, which eventually led to their duel and Hamilton’s death. Ironically, the author states that without their political rivalry, the two lawyers could have been good friends.
This fascinating book contains a number of recurring themes such as slavery, Aaron Burr’s role in Hamilton’s life, Hamilton’s political relationships – positive (Washington) and negative (Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Clinton and Burr), his affair with Mariah Reynolds, his poor judgment regarding William Dewars and the faith of Hamilton and wife Eliza.
Reading this book really helped me to be able to follow and understand the excellent Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical Hamilton. Recently, the Hamilton Mixtape was released, executive produced by Hamilton creator/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and featuring performances of some of the songs from the musical by popular artists such as Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, John Legend, and the Roots. Both releases contain adult language, though a “clean” version of the Hamilton Mixtape is available.

BefriendBefriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear by Scott Sauls. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 240 pages. 2016
****

The theme of grace permeates this book as pastor and author Scott Sauls looks at befriending different groups in this book. As he did in his outstanding first book Jesus Outside the Lines, he hits on many “hot buttons” that are in the news as I read the book, perhaps even more than Scott could have ever imagined. Among the people he asks us to befriend are those who are concerned about women’s rights and the unborn, Syrian refugees (where he talks about sanctuary cities), those who vote against you, those who are of different races from you and sexual minorities (LGBT). In our greatly divided nation, this is an extremely timely and helpful book.
The book is written to help you start to live a more abundant, fruitful life. It contains 20 essays about befriending others. Like his first book and blog, Scott’s writing is honest, transparent and challenging. He consistently pushes me to get out of my comfort zone (which is a good thing). Throughout, he uses helpful stories to illustrate the points he makes in the book.
He begins the book by looking at false friendship – digital, transactional, and one-dimensional.   The 20 essays are about what C.S. Lewis defines as “real friendship”, which is vulnerability; this book is about real friendship. Scott suggests three different ways to read the book:

  • With others in community, with those who are different from you.
  • Read one chapter a day.
  • Read like you would a normal book, which is how I read the book (or more accurately listened to the audiobook which was well narrated by Dean Gallagher).

At the end of each chapter he includes a helpful summary, scripture verse and questions to help you go deeper with content from that chapter.
There is a good chance that you will not agree with Scott’s perspectives on all of the issues covered here, and that’s just fine. He is always challenging, but not in a divisive or disrespectful manner.  Highly recommended.

book newsknowing-god-and-ourselves

  • Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally. I’m really excited about this new book from Banner of Truth by Dr. David Calhoun, who I enjoyed two wonderful church history courses with at Covenant Seminary.
  • Reading Out of Love for Others. Tim Challies writes “Reading can actually be an important way to love others. Here are five ways to love others in your reading.”
  • Introducing the Christian Standard Bible. Here’s information on a new translation of the Bible. It is endorsed by some folks that I respect, notably Alistair Begg and Michael Card.
  • Help! My Kids are Viewing Pornography. David Murray reviews Tim Challies’ new book. He writes “I commend the booklet not just to parents who are in the “Help!” stage but also to those who want to prevent it down the line.”
  • Crucial Questions: 25 Free eBooks from R.C. Sproul. Here is a complete list of the free ebooks in the Crucial Questions
  • Ann Voskamp Invites Us onto the Broken Way. Winfree Brisley reviews Ann Voskamp’s latest new book, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life. She writes “The Broken Way gave me compassion and understanding for people who have experienced a depth of suffering I have not. It helped me to engage my heart as well as my mind in understanding my brokenness, and it pointed me to Jesus Christ page after page.”
  • The Shack & the Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment. Albert Mohler writes of the book and soon to be movie The Shack “The most controversial aspects of The Shack‘s message have revolved around questions of universalism, universal redemption, and ultimate reconciliation. The popularity of this book among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us — a failure even to understand the Gospel of Christ. The tragedy that evangelicals have lost the art of biblical discernment must be traced to a disastrous loss of biblical knowledge.

BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Jesus Outside the Lines BOOK CLUB

Jesus Outside the LinesJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls

This is a book I’ve been wanting – and not wanting – to read for a while. I’ve wanted to read it because I enjoy Scott Sauls’ blog posts and I’ve heard a lot of good things about the book. He’s a pastor in the same denomination I serve in, he served with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, graduated from Covenant Seminary and is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. What’s not to like about the guy?

I’ve not wanted to read the book because I think it’s going to challenge me to get out of my comfortable box. How about reading along with Tammy and I?

This week we complete our review of the book.

Chapter Ten SELF-ESTEEM OR GOD-ESTEEM?

  • Nobody likes to be around a self-absorbed person, but we must admit that in many ways we are this person. Craving affirmation, investing extraordinary amounts of time, resources, and energy to control what others think about us.
  • Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is essentially competitive. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.
  • Once we’ve chosen a side, we can’t acknowledge anything good about the other side. We have to win outright.
  • By belittling others and rehearsing his own achievements, he is trying to build up his self-esteem.
  • We create caricatures for the very same reasons. To caricature is to exaggerate the less flattering features of other people.
  • We start to divide the world between “us” and “them,” between those who matter and those who don’t, between those who are competent and those who struggle, between those who are enlightened and those who aren’t, between the good people and the bad people.
  • Interestingly, the Bible tells us that the root cause of pride and an unhealthy rivalry spirit is not self-love but self-loathing.
  • In Philippians 2:3, Paul warns of two toxic ingredients that make up the deadly sin of pride. These two ingredients are selfish ambition and vain conceit.
  • Selfish ambition makes us see virtually every situation and interaction as a competition. Selfish ambition leads us into the habit of comparing ourselves to others.
  • When selfish ambition resides in us, we become threatened by the good fortune of others. Their blessings become our curses.
  • Selfish ambition can ignite in us a secret enjoyment of the misfortune and failures of others.
  • The need to compare ourselves with others does not always come from a place of bravado and arrogance. Sometimes it comes from a frightened, lonely, shame-filled place.
  • The second impulse Paul warns against is what he calls vain conceit. Vain conceit is the driver behind our craving for attention and approval—our insatiable appetite to be recognized, appreciated, praised, and adored by other people.
  • We want to be praised and noticed. But things go south when an appropriate desire for praise morphs into a misplaced hunger for approval. This vain conceit, or insatiable approval-hunger, can lead us to depend deeply or even exclusively on the attention and applause of others. If we lose the applause, we feel worthless.
  • Why do we feel insignificant? Why do we feel we have to compete? Why do we have to take sides?
  • Do we try to bolster our own sense of righteousness by treating others with contempt? Because winning makes us feel like we are somebody. But there’s good news for us. It doesn’t have to be this way.
  • The Bible’s answer to the “problem of self-esteem” is the virtue of humility. According to the Bible, two things are true. First, we are sinners in the sight of God. We fall woefully short of being the people that he created us to be. We are not perfect, and we fail to abide by even our own standards. Second, in Christ and because of Christ we are not only forgiven but have received an irrevocable mark of favor. We are God’s adopted daughters and sons, fearfully and wonderfully made, the apples of his eye, who cannot be separated from his love or snatched out of his hand. Through Christ we are highly esteemed by our Judge and Maker, who also calls himself our Father.
  • “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
  • The humble are a breath of fresh air. They treat others as being more significant than themselves. Best of all, you never sense that humble people want to be your rivals.  They aren’t the type to put you in your place. Even when they disagree with you, you sense that they are in your corner.
  • Through Jesus, we are credited with his perfection and beauty. Through Jesus we are highly esteemed.
  • It means we have been brought into something that no other religion, philosophy, or worldview can offer: a full welcome into the family of God, whereby we are fully known and fully loved, completely exposed and not rejected, temporally broken and everlastingly significant, small in comparison to the Creation and magnificent in the Creator’s eyes.
  • In the sight of God, it is as if—and it will forever be as if—the perfect validating record of Jesus Christ was accomplished by us.
  • To be esteemed by Jesus is to be free. In his eyes we are, and forever will be, invaluable.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London.

This week we look at Chapter 12 from Volume 2, “Little Faith”:

  • We have here our Lord’s final argument concerning the problem of anxious care. Or, perhaps, we can describe it as being our Lord’s summing up of the warning not to `take thought’ about our lives as to what we shall eat or drink, or about our bodies in the matter of dress. It is the conclusion of the detailed argument which He has worked out in terms of birds and flowers.
  • There is an obvious lack of faith. `O ye of little faith.’ That is the ultimate cause of the trouble. The question that obviously arises is this: What does our Lord mean by `little faith’? Who are the people whom He is describing here and against whom this charge is preferred? Once more we must remind ourselves that they are Christian people, and only Christian people.
  • Our Lord is speaking here about Christian people who have only saving faith, and who tend to stop at that. Those are the people about whom He is concerned, and His desire is that they should be led, as the result of listening to Him, to a larger and deeper faith.
  • Worry and anxiety, being cast down and defeated, being mastered by life and its attendant circumstances, are always due, in a Christian, to lack of faith.
  • What then is this condition which is described by our Lord as being `little faith’? It is faith that is confined solely to the question of the salvation of our souls, and it does not go beyond that. It does not extend to the whole of life and to everything in life.
  • A little faith is a faith which does not lay hold of all the promises of God. It is interested only in some of them, and it concentrates on these.
  • Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him.
  • Christian faith is essentially thinking. The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not think. Our Lord, here, is urging us to think, and to think in a Christian manner. That is the very essence of faith.
  • Little faith, if you like, can also be described as a failure to take scriptural statements at their face value and to believe them utterly.
  • `Little faith’ really means a failure to realize the implications of salvation, and the position resulting from salvation.
  • The trouble with us Christian people is that we do not realize what we are as children of God, we do not see God’s gracious purposes with respect to us.
  • Or, to put it the other way round, we have to realize what God is as our heavenly Father. Here, again, is something which Christian people are so slow to learn. We believe in God; but how slow we are to believe and to realize that He is what He says He is, our heavenly Father.
  • Think first of the immutable purposes of God with regard to His children, and I would emphasize that word `immutable’.
  • Then think of His great love. The tragedy of our position is that we do not know the love of God as we should.
  • Then we must meditate upon His concern for us. That is what our Lord is emphasizing here. If He is concerned about the birds, how much more for us?
  • Then think about His power and His ability.
  • This `little faith’, is ultimately due to a failure to apply what we know, and claim to believe, to the circumstances and details of life.
  • To be worried is an utter contradiction of our position as children of God. There is no circumstance or condition in this life which should lead a Christian to worry. He has no right to worry; and if he does he is not only condemning himself as being a man of little faith, he is also dishonoring his God and being disloyal to his blessed Savior.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence. I’m married to my best friend. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, a manager at a Fortune 100 company, a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people determine their callings, develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. My favorite book is the Bible, and some other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul and Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

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