Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer


Already Gone

A friend dropped this book off at my desk a while back and I finally had time to read it. This book is worth your time. Don’t stop, go get the book and read it this week. OK?

The subtitle of the book is this: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Is that provocative enough for you? The scary part is that they are correct! In my circles, kids are less likely to stop going to church; they are more likely to migrate from very conservative churches to more standard evangelical churches. So I’ve been asking the question: why is this generation leaving conservative churches. Ham and Beemer ask a more fundamental question: why is this generation leaving church?

The answer is the same: a lack of relevancy in modern churches. And by relevancy, I don’t mean “cool,” but rather “useful for life.” Ham and Beemer have done a series of studies on twenty-somethings who attended evangelical and conservative churches as children and now rarely if ever attend church. (Beemer is a professional pollster and has real-world experience creating legit polls and evaluating the data.)

The results might surprise you; they ought to shock you. Most of these young adults have a good view of the Bible and evangelical theology; they’ve left because the perceive the church to be less than useless to their lives. The book begins by attacking Sunday School as the main culprit. I disagree with that assessment (though I do think we screw up by teaching Bible “stories”). Sunday School may have implementation problems, but Sunday School is just a manifestation of a larger issue. Really the problem is twofold. First, there is a lack of spirituality amongst Christians. Second, there is a refusal to utilize logic and critical thinking skills.

To the first point, may Christians set their spiritual lives on autopilot and refuse to rock the boat. This shallow approach to Christian living teaches the young that the Bible is a great morality tale and is sorta useful as a guideline to life. Ham makes an interesting point at the end of the book. It is insufficient to read your Bible each day. You must study it and more importantly you must think about it. I’ve noticed that the times that I am called on to teach are the times that my walk is deepest. Before I teach a Sunday School class, I spend 10+ hours in preparation with most of that time thinking through the meaning and purpose of the text. So yeah, I think he’s right on that point and that this case can be made from the Psalmist as well. (By the way, in Psalm 15:2, we find that the righteous man “speaks the truth in his heart.” I recommend you spend time thinking about the ramifications of that point.)

How many Christians do you know that look down on those who smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage and sniffle about that great sinner? How many of those Christians lie, cheat, play politics for position in the church or generally whine or snap at people? Which is worse: worrying or stealing? Matthew 6 implies that worrying is the defining characteristic of unbelievers…. Kids see this hypocrisy and recognize that while the people might be nice/good people, they aren’t trustworthy role models.

To the second point, failure to utilize logic and critical thinking skills leaves children with unresolved dichotomies. A friend once told me that though he grew up in a good home and in good churches, he assumed evolution was true. This was not because his parents or church taught him it was true, but because it was what he learned non-stop in school. It was not until college when someone detailed the scientific case for creation that he realized the fallacy of evolution. So here was a child who believed that God created in six days and that evolution was true. He kept that as an unresolved dichotomy for years.

The surveys taken by Beemer discovered that many kids (starting in upper elementary school) begin developing these dichotomies. Often authorities tell them: the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. That’s no answer! That’s blind faith and we have a reasonable faith. Give the kids a reason to believe. Unfortunately, we seldom do that. Kids want to know the pros/cons of smoking or drinking, they want to know why premarital sex is bad, they want to know why their parents believe the Bible is true, they want to know how they can trust the Bible to be error-free and what inspiration means. They want to know! They need to know why they should base their belief in this book that their friends tell them is useless for anything more than moral guidance. Tell them! and don’t tell them that this is what the church or pastor or someone else believes. Don’t tell them that you said they should believe it and never question it again. Have honest open and forthright discussions. Ensure that your answers are grounded in logical thinking.

I remember a fight (or four) I had with a friend growing up. I was taught not to do things like attend the theater or listen to “bad” music. I look back on these fights/debates today with chagrin. My reasons were simply parrotings of illogical statements. My friend was pointing out all the myriads of holes in the arguments I had used. So don’t tell me that kids won’t see through stupid arguments. They do. And when you tell them that they should believe something or not do something and back it up with illogical fluff, don’t be surprised when they ignore you. You let them down and you gave them no reason to believe you.

Pat answers won’t cut it.

I’ve been arguing for some years now that my generation is leaving our churches because they don’t get answers. (If you spend any time in very conservative churches, you’ll discover that they this makes me unpopular….) The truth is, this survey confirms that idea and reveals that the problem is much greater than I had imagined. What are you doing about it? I know where I need to work personally.

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John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait, by William J. Bouwsma


John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portraitr

This book purports to be an overview of John Calvin’s life from a fresh perspective, taking into account Calvin’s historical and theological influence on the modern world. Unfortunately, the book lives up to neither expectation. I’m working on finding a good in-depth Calvin biography. This is the worst sample I’ve found.

The good: Good explanation of some of he errors that histroians of Calvin’s life have been prone to, that introduction. Accurate overview of the events in his life, part of the first chapter. And blatantly secular humanist worldview is (while claimed to be neutral), open and obvious. Otherwise, um, the writing style is nice?

The bad: Bouwsma spends the entire introduction talking about how many historians have ignored or abused John Calvin’s memory in favor of their own agendas. Then he spends the entire book making Calvin out to be a caricature worthy of modern political cartoons. To this author, Calvin might as well have been Erasmus’s long lost twin brother who went off his meds and spent his life depressed, craving a father figure he never found in the papacy. The level of scholarship is pretty sad: both of the author’s main contentions fall flat.

The first contention of “A Sixteenth Century Portrait” argues John Calvin was a humanist, and that he agreed with Erasmus on every point (“Erasmus this” and “Erasmus that” gets really old by chapter two. The title really should have been “Erasmus, a 16th Century Portrait”). The logic behind this accusation is Calvin’s practical applications in his sermons. Applying the gospel to everyday life does not a humanist make. John Calvin’s practical streak was entirely bent on bringing the light of G_d’s Word to the people where they were, not on some academic plane but at home or in the marketplace.

Second, the author tries to argue that Calvin’s theological bent was a result of severe depression. The evidence cited is Calvin’s letters to a close freind back home, which are full of sorrows and complaints about his life in Geneva. No doubt, Geneva was a trial for John Calvin, and his calling there brought him little worldly pleasure. Its entirely possible to complain and rant about trials in one’s life and still be a very happy personality. Many college students, for example, feel called to complete their degree and use it in a career for G_d’s glory: this doesn’t preclude them from arguing about the high cost of textbooks, or complaining when a professor is perpetually late. Calvin may have been a weak vessel, but theological works and venting to friends are not evidence for a depressed soul.

Finally, its worth noting that the author also tries to make passing psychological evaluations of Calvin, his need for a father figure in G_d driving his break with Rome, etc. These are superficially made and unfair to Calvin as a person, historical importance aside.

Overall: You know you’ve hit rock bottom as a writer when your entire set up for the character of your book is based on someone else. Calvin was a complex but important historical figure who deserves more than a broadly stroked comparison: I was sorely disappointed by this book.

For a short but accurate overview of John Calvin’s life from a theological perspective, see “Five Leading Reformers”, by Christopher Catherwood. It includes Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Cranmer, and Knox.

The Great Anglo-Boer War by Byron Farwell


The Great Anglo-Boer War

This book was an excellent read. It was a detailed account of the second war between the Dutch settlers of South Africa, called Boers (meaning farmers), and the English from 1899-1902.

The war came about as a result of the British denying the sovereignty of two independent Boer Republics; the Transvaal & the Orange Free State, which had initially been formed to escape English rule. These became independent in August, 1881. Not that English rule was inherently bad, but the Boers disliked it for several reasons, in addition to the more important fact that they desired to be independent.

The actual grievance that caused the British to deny the Boers their independence was that the Boers denied the right to vote to uitlanders (foreigners) who had immigrated to the Transvaal as a result of gold being found there. When gold was discovered in late 1887, a flood of European immigrants, mostly English, poured into the Transvaal. The great number of people pouring in alarmed the Boer people who feared they would soon be outnumbered and, therefore, raised the number of years an uitlander must be a resident of the country to become a citizen and gain the right of franchise from one to five, and eventually to 14 years. This was quite understandable, as the uitlanders represented totally different ideals than the Boers, and were turbulent and not necessarily scrupulous people.

The Boers themselves, mainly of Dutch & some little French Huguenot descent, were a truly Dutch people; stubborn, kind, hardworking, with unshakable faith in the Holy Scriptures. These people were an inherently Christian people with an irrepressible desire for liberty & independence. They were predominantly farmers.

When the Boers raised the franchise requirement, the Englishmen in the Transvaal, who had immigrated during the gold rush, sent a formal complaint to the Queen.

There was an outcry in Britain and the Governor of Cape Colony, Alfred Milner, was delegated to negotiate with the Boer President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. The Boer President of the Orange Free State, M. T. Steyn, arbitrated. Milner demanded that the franchise requirement be lowered back to five years. Kruger offered lowering it to seven years. This was a gigantic concession. Steyn privately advised Milner to accept this and move on to less significant issues, as this was a huge concession, and Kruger would not budge. Milner refused, and left the conference. Kruger rode away with tears streaming from his face, realizing that this was war. The English subsequently denied the independence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and sought to add them to the English Crown. Despite this, the Boers carried out their concession, and lowered the franchise requirement back to seven years. The Boer commandos, local militia, were organized and war ensued.

The book then describes the set piece battles of the early part of the war, the British triumph, the Boer determination to carry on the war through guerilla methods, and the British operation to destroy the Boer farms and place all Boer women & children in a series of concentration camps.

Negative: There is some slight use of foul language, somewhat violent battle descriptions, and graphic accounts of the depravity of the British Concentration Camps.

Positive: Well-written and very informative, this book really filled in a blank spot in history for me. It presented an extremely balanced view, giving both sides of the issue without drawing conclusions for you.

Overall: The Great Anglo-Boer War was an excellent read, well-worth the time spent. It is about 450 pages long, and is worth every minute spent. It really gives perspective on the time period and the ensuing Great War.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz


Crocodile on the Sandbank

Plot: This book is the first in the Amelia Peabody Mystery Adventures written under the pseudonym Elizabeth Peters. Our heroine, Amelia Peabody is an uptight victorian feminist who discovers the wonders of Egyptian Archeology. The book begins with Amelia inheriting a fortune from her father. This financial freedom allows her to see places which she has only read about, leading her to Egypt. There she encounters the rest of the players in this mystery, Evelyn Forbes, brothers Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, and Lucas (Evelyn’s distant cousins). Evelyn becomes Amelia’s travel companion as they navigate through Egypt. Upon reaching their first stop in Cairo, Amelia and Evelyn meet the Emerson brothers, who are a pair of archeologist. Quickly a romantic love-interest blooms between Walter and Evelyn, but just as quickly Amelia and Radcliffe loathe each other. Amelia and Evelyn eventually join the Emerson at their archeological site. Although Amelia and Radcliffe do not get along, they each have a mutual respect for the others love for archeology. However, things get complicated when Evelyn’s distant cousin, Lucas, shows up unexpectedly and propose marriage to her. As the romantic entanglements develop, a mummy suddenly begins nocturnal visitations, frighting the workers and halting the excavations. Amelia is called upon to support her friend and to solve the mystery of mummy harassing the camp.

Pros: The author takes a humorous and fun tone more then scary or mysterious. She takes each of the characters to the extreme, making them humorous and silly. There is really nothing objectionable found in this book, with possibly one exception. There are references to Evelyn’s soiled reputation and a brief question about what it was like having it soiled. But I expect that unless you know what is being discussed, a young reader may miss it completely.

Cons: Its not a serious book. so if you are looking for serious book on archeology and its adventures, you have come to the wrong place. Some readers may find, particularly male readers, Amelia’s feminism to be offensive or at least distasteful. Throughout the book you will find Amelia bullying other men and making references to how women are treated as second class. I personally find this feminist trait to be a character enhancement of Amelia, but you may not.

Overall: Its a fun story and well worth the read.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein


The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Once I would have said that I leaned Libertarian in my political views. Then I started hearing more about what Libertarian actually believed. From what I can tell, it’s far more than a free-market small government attitude. I started realizing that the underlying philosophy was aggressively anti-God. It just so happened that some of my beliefs overlapped tenents of Libertarianism. So, when I heard that this book would demonstrate the world as a libertarian saw it (and I like some of this author’s other works), I decided to give it a try.

End result: Good story, terrible philosophy.

Briefly stated, the philosophy is that when left alone, men will naturally choose to develop a society in which everyone works together. Government is evil and non-government is good. Unfortunately for that point of view, mankind has a thing called: sin nature. In a perfect world, Libertarians would be right, but as Judges points out, men choose to do what is right in their own eyes and that is often a detriment to others.

Libertarians miss the fact that the government has a legitimate purpose as a restrainer of tyrants, bullies and shysters. Without a strong government (and I still believe in a small limited government) we would be back in the Middle Ages with lots of petty tyrants abusing the locals and trying to usurp one another’s power.

As to the book, the story is quite good. The story is told in retrospect by one of the main characters. The moon was turned into a penal colony. But, if one stayed on the moon too long, they would be unable to return to Earth as changes in their body would prevent it. So, after a person’s sentence was finished, they were stuck on the moon. Soon a colony of free people developed. Without any form of government, this colony “developed” into a wonderful place. Unruly people were spaced. Of course everyone agreed with the decision because it was “obvious” that these people deserved it for violating the understood social contract.

As an aside, Heinlein falls into the trap of assuming that their is no government outside of the people on the moon. But, that’s not true. The environment is truly a harsh mistress. Stupidity and a failure to get along will result in the entire colony dieing a brutal and sudden death. So, while there isn’t a fickle and tyrannical man made government, there was still a restraining inhibiting man’s inherent selfish desires. Failure to do one’s part could lead to a rupture or other cataclysmic event in the life support systems…. So, it is wrong to imply that mankind could live in freedom and harmony without a government. Besides, since evil governments are made up of men, the evil nature of the government must be a result of the nature of men. That point is a bit to subtle for the author.

Anyway, back to the story. 🙂

So, this story is about the struggle between an oppressed colony on the moon and their exploitative masters on earth. The main character Manny and his two compatriots architect a revolution from earth with the assistance of their friend: the world’s only self-aware computer. The story spends as much time discussing the nature of the conspiracy against earth as discussing the lifestyle of life on the moon.

Personally, I found the story to be quite exciting though it *is* a style that would probably annoy others. The story is an action story, but it is presented in a recitation of facts manner. In my mind, this works and of course plenty of others agreed, but your mileage might vary.

As for negatives, you have my opinion of the philosophy. Still, there is a small amount of profanity and the moral character of the family lives is problematic. They have strange open marriages and all sorts of odd stuff that is portrayed as acceptable because “it works.” A major underlying philosophy of the book is pragmatism: whatever achieves my goals is OK. gag….

Anyway, despite all the problems or rather because of them, I recommend that you read this book. Learn more about what a Libertarian thinks. And while your learning, enjoy a legitimately good story.

The Real Lincoln by Thomas J. DiLorenzo


The Real Lincoln

This book makes it clear that Lincoln was not what contemporary historians claim he was, in that he was a racist, a tyrant, and a facilitator if not generator of mass genocide. I will not go into the proof, as I’m simply reviewing this book. Feel free to leave a comment.

Positive: In a very concise and factual manner this book reveals the true nature of Lincoln and his war. It answers many questions, and is full of excellent quotes that waterproof the author’s case.

Negative: In the chapter on the manner in which Southern civilians were targeted by the U.S. Army, there can be somewhat graphic content. The author also has a tendency to draw conclusions for you such as “See? (Fill in the blank).” This is something my dad and I dislike, and it can be rather distracting. If you can overlook that, this book was very helpful.

Overall: Very good. Convincing evidence, good writing style despite the flaw alluded to above, and not terribly long. I very highly recommend it. It is a little over 300 pages.

This and “The South Was Right!” are probably the two best histories of the War of Northern Aggression out there.

Won By the Sword by G. A. Henty


Won by the Sword

Plot: Won by the Sword is set in the 17th century. The French at that time were in the midst of what would turn out to be a thirty years war.
We meet our hero, Hector Campbell, in 1639, the war has already been raging for twenty-some-odd years by that time. Found by General Turrene practicing play-war against a city, Hector talks some time with him before finding that the gentlemen he is speaking with is General Turrene himself. Turrene takes a liking to Hector and soon has him on as his personal messenger.

The thirty years war began mostly due to the different nobles of France warring for more power, and a stronger hold on the French throne. At that time the Italian bishop, Richelieu, held great power over the throne, mostly due to his friendship with the king. A man of intelligence and power, Richelieu did his best to unite France during his life time with the king.

Not far into our story Richelieu, and the king, die of illness. The king’s young son is then crowned king, but the throne is in control of his mother until he comes of age. Succeeding Richelieu is Mazerin, another Italian bishop who is also in great power, though he was not greatly admired by the king, he learned well from Richelieu and is held in favor by the queen.

General Enghien is also under Frances’s service at this time, and is equal in brilliance in strategy to Turrene, though Turrene is more cautious while Enghien is less concerned with how many men are lost. Both are equally brave, and both take a liking to Hector, who serves under the two.
Battles are won on either side, the French and Austrian, (both countries have other countries aiding them) but nothing happens that truly sways the victory rod in either direction.

This Henty book contains much of the history of France, yet is combined with Hector’s own adventures, which are many. We see the war through Hector’s eyes, and are very happy for it, as it’s a fun nose-in-the-pages book.

Negative: The war chapters do not go into great detail of how men die and are very mild. Other than a duel, an alley fight and a brush with robbers in an inn, there is little negative content.

Overall: This was a very good Henty book, not his most exciting, but it was not dry and dull. I do recommend this book, as it is chock full of good history, and is rather a fun read. (And, as usual, our hero is ever brave and honorable.)