Living History

Popular methods of retelling the past include live reenactments and painted images of historical events. The purpose? To “make history come alive.� Breathing life into history is an effort I certainly appreciate. With his historical novel The Glorious Cause, Jeff Shaara successfully uses the writing medium to give new life to the familiar American Revolution. Cause is the sequel to Rise to Rebellion, and is an entertaining way to review or learn about the Revolution. Shaara continues in the tradition of his father (Michael Shaara – The Killer Angels) by depicting the events of the Revolutionary War through the eyes of the men who fought it.

Cause immediately transports you to the action by recounting the famous escape of the Continental Army across the river from Long Island to Manhattan. It follows General Howe’s hesitant pursuit of the Continentals through New York and New Jersey, the tentative support from the French, and the success of the American rebels in the southern colonies leading to the finale at Yorktown.

Shaara uses “memoirs, written accounts, diaries, and collections of letters and documents� to reveal the minds of key men and construct believable reasons for their documented actions. The reader will experience the agony Washington feels for his malnourished, undersupplied army. He will understand the frustration of Cornwallis as the capable general chafes against the indecision and incompetence of his British superiors. He will develop apprehension, and then pride, as he accompanies Generals Lafayette and Greene to rise and meet their challenges against superior British forces on the battlefield.

There are very few elements to beware of in this book. Its overall message is very pro-American although Shaara tries to be fair and accurate by giving us the British view of the war with the American view. There is a lot less mention of the God these men often acknowledged than one would expect. This loss should put the burden on the reader to remember that many of our founding fathers knew the Lord was with our fledgling nation and that He is ultimately responsible for the success of our Revolution. Additionally, it is hard to fault a secular author for explaining the Revolution in the only terms he knows – those of human reason. Besides omission of the Christian worldview, there is minimal non-obscene cursing to put up with.

Shaara takes a series of events that we all know of and shapes them into a generally cohesive story that we can identify with. He brings down the legendary busts of great men from their tall shelves, dusts them off, and lets us examine them closely as the humans they are. The Glorious Cause is in no way irreverent to or trite with these men. This book helps us to see their shortcomings and fears, and thus, we admire them even more for their triumph over their shortcomings and their nightmare we call the American Revolution.

Conclusion of Harry Potter Series’

This will be my final post in my series on Harry Potter. Book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was published just a few weeks ago. It broke pretty much every publishing record for a new release and was in the media headlines for days. I won’t go into the plot too much in case some of you decide to read the series. I hate it when I’m reading an article on a book (particularly fiction) and it spoils the story for me. I will try to refrain from doing that.

Book six is a very interesting read and it is shorter than Book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Like previous Potter books, Rowling includes a wide variety of characters in a wide variety of situations. The plot moves fairly quickly and the ending surprised some people. Like most fiction writers, Rowling provides some information and subplots that are somewhat interesting, but not critical to the story. The subplots about Harry and Ginny Weasley and pretty much dating in general do little to further the story. In my opinion this whole subplot could be removed without really hurting the story. What’s more, this particular subplot inserts some questions about morality and objectionable elements.

A large portion of the book is given to discussing the history of the recent wizarding world, particularly the background and rise of Tom Riddle Jr. a.k.a. Lord Voldemort. I found this information interesting and enjoyed seeing how Rowling began to tie some of the stories loose threads together. Other people that I have talked to did not care for this material as much I do. Oh well, maybe it’s because I’m a history person. The book contains the usual smattering of objectionable elements including expletives, somewhat suggestive, language, and most importantly moral ambiguity.

This last point is what I want to discuss for the remainder of this post. My biggest objection to the whole Harry Potter series is Rowling’s ambiguous presentation of morality and ethics. A distorted worldview is probably the most common and subtle of all objectionable elements. An author’s beliefs shape the way he presents his story and the message he is trying to convey. On this point I disagree with the great writer and critic Edgar Allen Poe because I believe all writing is didactic (I mean by that that all writing is meant to convey some message or view).

As humans, our worldviews and perspectives are shaped by what we observe and study. Everything we see or do contributes to how we perceive the world. As a conservative Christian I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and is trustworthy in all of its statements and is the single rule of life and the standard by which all mankind is to be held accountable. My close study of the Bible affects the way I view the world. The worldview and perspective of the Biblical writers influences my world view and perspective. This concept is so basic, I almost feel like I’m insulting your intelligence by discussing this. Forgive me, but I thought it would be good to lay this foundation before I move on in my larger discussion.

People who read Harry Potter are influenced by what they read. The only two options are that they are influenced either positively or negatively. How you determine whether the influence is negative or positive depends on the presuppositions that you bring with you as you read the book. The Harry Potter books present truth as relative and promote a form of situational ethics. Rowling fails to make a clear distinction between those who are good and those who are evil. Throughout all of the books good characters are presented as breaking rules, cheating, lying, and directly disobeying authority. Instead of their receiving punishment for these transgressions, the characters are often rewarded or end up as heroes because they broke the rules. I will say that at least the evil characters are presented as such and are never really made out to be positive or good. It’s just the “good” characters that can’t make up their minds.

I could cite countless examples from the books, but I’ll spare you in this present work. Basically, my problem with Harry Potter is that the world view promotes relative morality and situational ethics. As a Christian this flies in the face of some of my most foundational beliefs and presuppositions. I have enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books, though I would caution others who would like to read them to exert discretion and understanding in their reading. I would definitely not recommend them to be read by children due to their many objectionable elements (especially the false worldview which could harm their developing beliefs). Ironically the books are marketed and supposedly written as children’s books.

Thanks for reading my final post in this series. Thank you for your patience as I wrote this final article. I wish I could spend more time developing this series, but time will not permit me. As always, please share any comments or criticisms that you might have.

Comments on “Fundamentalism and American Culture”

Sorry for the long overdue responses to your comments. I originally intended this to be a comment for my earlier review of George Marsden’s book on fundamentalism. My response has grown to such a length that I thought it would be better to post it as it’s own blog post.

Marsden does comment on how some fundamentalists adopted more liberal practices than others. He doesn’t really elaborate or add much to this area though. He does discuss it some in his book Reforming Fundamentalism. I highly recommend both books as they provide many valuable insights into the history of fundamentalism and “new” evangelicalism.

In regard to Baptist and Presbyterian intellectual pursuits, Marsden does have a section where he discusses the impact of Presbyterian intellectualism. I would say that the transition to Baptist leadership in fundamentalism has harmed (at least until recently) the intellectual force and productivity of fundamentalism. Historically Presbyterians have placed a greater emphasis on having an educated clergy. Even today denominations such as the OPC and PCA require their ministerial candidates to have an advanced seminary degree (I believe they still require an M.Div.). Baptists have traditionally had fewer educational requirements for their ministers. Over time this has meant that Presbyterians have had to produce more scholars to train the next generation of ministers. Corollary to that, they have not grown as large or as quickly as the Baptists because fewer men these days are willing to take the time to pursue advanced seminary degrees.

The idea that the ties between the Methodists and Baptists could influence them toward anti-intellectualism has merit. There has been a serious drought of serious fundamentalist scholarship regardless of denomination in the last few years. Many are trying to change this, but most of the definitive conservative works are still being written by conservative evangelicals.

There are two books that I would recommend to those interested in pursuing the topic of intellectualism and fundamentalism. The first is Theology in America by E. Brooks Holifield. I just finished reading it this summer and he traces Christian intellectual history from Colonial America to the Antebellum Era. While his work covers a time period before the fundamentalist era, he does an excellent job of discussing all of the major Christian intellectual movements. Besides the sheer breadth of his work, he spends a good portion of the book discussing the tension between learning and piety in American church history. I would recommend this book to any serious student of American Christianity and fundamentalism/evangelicalism. The other book is The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. Noll is a leading evangelical intellectual and teaches at Wheaton College. He criticizes fundamentalism and promotes the acceptance of evolution by evangelicals. Despite these and other areas where I disagree with him, Noll does offer some insightful comments about conservative Christianity and intellectual pursuits. While I don’t necessarily wholly endorse it, his defense of Christian intellectualism is stirring and quite persuasive.

I hope you find this useful and not too off topic. As always, please share any questions or comments.

Refuting Compromise by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati

Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of “Progresssive Creationism” is an excellent resource for Creationists. Sarfati does a fantastic job of demolishing the arguments of Hugh Ross (from Reasons To Believe). Ross pushes a theory that purportedly marries the creation account from Genesis and popular science. Unfortunately, whenever there is a disagreement between science and the Bible, science always wins.

I read this book with delight. I have always been interested in this field and this was the most helpful book on this subject that I have seen. Sarfati documents each statement very well and demonstrates clearly the flaws in Ross’ theories. Frequently, Ross makes generalizations that are wrong. Ross also misquotes sources regularly. Sarfati takes Ross’ sources and demonstrates that Ross misquoted those sources.

My one complaint in this book is its lack of background information. Sarfati assumes that I have more scientific background than I actually have. This book may not be accessible to every reader, but anyone willing to delve into unfamiliar material will not have a problem.

Refuting Compromise is a good resource, but it is a tad more encyclopedic than standard book. After one reading, it becomes a handy tool for reference. Each topic and sub-topic have headings making it easy to find material at a later date. Considering the shift toward Intelligent Design in America, this book should be on your shelf. You will find opportunity to discuss this subject and you should be aware of the facts and issues. If you agree with Ross, then you should read this book and rethink your position. Ross’ arguments fall flat under a careful scrutiny.

Is Jesus a Sith? by Eric Rauch (in Biblical Worldview vol 21, number 8 Aug 05)

I realize that this is a book review site, but I wanted to repsond to this article and to get some feedback from our readers. In the latest issue of Biblical Worldview, which is published by American Vision, Eric Rauch writes that “Revenge of the Sith” ruined his view of Star Wars. He states that Lucas is no longer pushing a “good versus evil” concept, but is instead pushing a “no-absolutes” ideology. (Just a side note, I am a Star Wars fan and a fairly knowledgable one at that – so I do like the series immensely).

Rauch starts by describing a scene (which I have not yet seen because I do not attend the theater) in which Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting. When Anakin states that “whoever is not with me is my enemy” Obi-Wan responds “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” Rauch accurately ascertains that Lucas is preaching against any absolutes, but he fails in that he just realized it. In every movie, this philosophy is predominant. Whether it is Obi-Wan teaching that truth depends on your point of view or the philosophy that everyone is good and bad (see the ying/yang concept), this idea permeates the storyline.

This happens because the post-modern concepts that truth is unknowable is the same as the New Age/Eastern idea that every man makes their own rules. Both teach the same thing, but from different perspectives. What Lucas has done is to teach it in the form of eastern mysticism in the first three releases and now in the last three, he has switched to presenting it in the post-modern and less philosophical approach.

What is the point, you ask? Well, Mr. Rauch comments that he had grown up with Star Wars and that this has suddenly caused him turned him off (the previous five hadn’t done this). This makes me wonder (again) just how dangerous philisophical problems are for readers/viewers. Because he began watching these movies in elementary school, how conditioned has he become to the philisophical problems? Has he been blind all of these years to the dangerous ideas in these movies? I am not critizing him, because I suspect we all are blind in one area or another. What pagan ideas are we conditioned to accept since we were subjected to them as children? What have we accepted uncritically?

Let me know what you think? Am I too extreme in my thoughts on this? Am I blowing this out of proportion?