As a lunch-break project, I recently created a Spotify playlist of the songs of V.B. “Vep” Ellis. Ellis was a pastor and songwriter whose most prolific period was from the 1930s-1950s. He was the greatest master of counterpoint in vocal harmonies that the Southern Gospel genre has ever seen.Read More
In some circles, it has become quite popular to take old hymn lyrics and set them to new, contemporary melodies. In cases where a great lyric is forgotten because it was paired with a weak melody, I’m completely in favor of trying out a new melody.
But when someone takes one of the greatest hymns of the church, one of those 50-100 hymns that has gained a worldwide following with its original/classic melody, and wants to scrap that melody, I start to have some concerns. It is a good thing to realize that the hymn lyricist of generations past have much to offer the church. It is problematic to act as though every hymn lyricist before, oh, around 1970 has absolutely nothing to offer today’s church.
I’m grateful for centuries of excellent hymn lyrics. I’m also grateful for centuries of excellent hymn melodies. And where an excellent hymn lyric has been paired with an excellent hymn melody, well, that’s one of the sweetest sounds this side of Heaven. It’s a gift from God and from generations past that I treasure and don’t take for granted!Read More
It is easy to only read books for entertainment, and books that reinforce our current views. It is more of a challenge to read books we don’t anticipate agreeing with, because once in a while, a well-presented case can change our minds. So I came up with a challenge for myself: Could I name ten books that changed my mind?
- The Bible. Most importantly, it regularly reminds me of the greatness of my sin, but the greater greatness of my Savior. Of course, reading the Bible through the years has also changed or modified how I understand the process of salvation, the end times, church order, and countless other doctrines, both great and small.
- God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark. This book turned my view of the Crusades upside down. It methodically destroyed the modern revisionist view of Christians as the aggressors, making a case that the Crusades were ultimately the response of Christendom to Islam’s efforts at conquering Europe. (I posted a review in 2011; its more in-depth treatment is here.)
- The Coming Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan. Until I read this book, my view of missions was more or less “an American spends three years going from church to church to raise $20 per church to go to a third world country.” This discussion of the effectiveness of indigenous missionaries who already know and live in their culture expanded my view of the scope of missionary activity.
- Andrew Johnson, Plebeian and Patriot by Robert Winston portrayed its subject as a man who deeply loved his country. I entered the book with an almost completely negative view of Johnson and his presidency, but by the end of the book, both had earned at least a level of grudging respect. Was the way in which our country was reunited ideal? Hardly. But it was far from a foregone conclusion that our country would be reunited at all.
- The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson & Abigail & John Adams, edited by Lester Cappon. I entered this book knowing that Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian by any orthodox standard, but holding onto some hope that John Adams was. Adams’ own words, sadly, convinced me otherwise. (You can’t deny that Jesus is divine and be a genuine Christian!)
- Herbert Hoover: A Biography by Eugene Lyons. I’d always thought that Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression, and FDR saved the country. This biography makes a persuasive case that during the final year or so of Hoover’s term, banks were starting to re-open, and other economic indicators were starting to point towards a recovery. It makes the case that FDR’s big-government spending and programs actually prolonged the pain instead of rescuing the country.
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem has helped refine and deepen my understanding in numerous areas, including ecclesiology, eschatology, and pneumatology. But it has been particularly helpful in the area of understanding the role of the Holy Spirit today. While I certainly do not agree with every point Grudem makes, I invariably appreciate his exhaustive research and his irenic tone.
- The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture by Bart Ehrman. Unlike the other books listed here, this book changed my mind by influencing me farther away from the author’s position. Up until reading this book, I had been more inclined to give leading proponents of the Critical Text the benefit of the doubt, in that their errors were honest and not theologically motivated. This book’s explicit and shocking advocacy of using the principles of the critical textual theory of the history of the New Testament Text to advocate heretical views removed any question as to Ehrman’s motives. Incidentally, it has put those of Ehrman’s colleagues who aren’t as heretical on the defensive ever since; they have had to make the case that they aren’t as heretical as their colleague, Ehrman. The book drove me away from Ehrman’s position and toward a stronger embrace of the Traditional Text (also known as the Majority Text or the Byzantine Text). But, more than that, this book convinced me of the importance to orthodox Christianity that Ehrman’s position is defeated and the Traditional Text carries the day.
- Line by Line by Claire Cook transformed my writing by challenging me to go over every sentence I write and find ways to say it more clearly and concisely. (No, I don’t always follow its advice in informal writing, like social media or blog posts. But its advice certainly helps when it does!) Two other books, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Jefferson Bates’ Writing With Precision, both also played key roles in shaping my writing and re-writing process. Since I only have room for one, I would have to say that Line by Line was the most influential.
- Day of Deceit by Robert Stinnett argues that FDR knew of the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor. That portion is interesting but not definitively conclusive. But its account of the Roosevelt Administration’s pre-war diplomatic relations with the Japanese government did transform my view of the steps that led us to war.
Honorable mention goes to several books that didn’t exactly change my mind, because I already agreed with their central premises, but have nevertheless helped clarify my thinking on key issues:
- The Universe Next Door by James Sire helped me understand the specific tenets of deism and several other worldviews.
- Refuting Compromise by Jonathan Sarfati helped me understand how the wording of Genesis 1-11 leaves no breathing room for interpolating evolution.
- Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek by Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont helped me understand how the foundation of New Testament textual studies ought to be the case for the underlying textual family (the Traditional/Majority/Byzantine Text).
Earlier today, a friend challenged me to name the ten most memorable novels I’d read. This list isn’t necessarily the ones I consider to be the ten greatest works of fictional literature (though there is some overlap); it’s also not necessarily the ones I consider to have the greatest message (though, again, there is some overlap). This list is just the novels that have been the most memorable.
- Safely Home (Randy Alcorn) – A look at modern-day persecution of Christians. The single most moving novel I’ve ever read.
- The Last Sin Eater (Francine Rivers) – It’s a beautiful picture of the power of the Gospel to transform not just individuals, but also communities. (The movie comes nowhere close.)
- The Cat of Bubastes (G.A. Henty) – For various reasons, I can’t recommend all of Henty’s children’s novels. But this one, set in Egypt in the time of Moses, was an epic adventure. I consider it to be, far and away, the greatest of Henty’s works.
- Dominion (Randy Alcorn) – It discusses the power of the Gospel to transcend tensions between different ethnicities (or, as the media would say, “race relations”).
- Rilla of Ingleside (L.M. Montgomery) – Intended as a children’s book, but I’ve never read a more moving book on the impact of war on the home front in WWI (or any other war). It is the only book I’ve ever read that captures the tension so vividly that it is as if I am along for the ride.
- The Assignment (Mark Olsen) – While I’m far from saying that this is one of the five greatest books I’ve ever read, it certainly qualifies under the criteria of books that have stuck with me the most. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a novel with a more absurd premise—which, I suppose, is why it stuck with me. The author took the verse “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment,” and asks, What if there were no exceptions? [SPOILER ALERT] What if Lazarus is still alive? Again, I can’t label this among the ten most profound, but it’s certainly among the ten most memorable!
- The List (Robert Whitlow) – It captures the power of the Gospel to break secret societies, family sins, and ancient curses. (The movie comes nowhere close.)
- Rainbow Valley (L.M. Montgomery) – This is in the same series as Rilla of Ingleside; it’s the immediately preceding book. Reading it first helped establish the characters for the latter book to have its full impact.
- The War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells) – Of all the books I had to read for high school or college literature class, this is probably the only one with a plot memorable enough that I voluntarily read it again!
- Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) – It might not have the pace of a modern thriller, but this Puritan classic certainly has a memorable plot and a great message.
We live in a tl;dr culture. It’s a fact I hate to admit, a point I hate to concede, yet I know it’s true. This culture is a soundbite culture—too lazy to do its own original research, but more than that, too lazy to even read a summary of the original research. It has to be a sound bite, or else it will be met with tl;dr.
(For the uninitiated: tl;dr is an abbreviation for people who are too lazy to even type out “too long; don’t read.”)
Perhaps nothing would illustrate the absurdity of tl;dr better than a tl;dr version of a fireworks show. Happy Independence Day!Read More
Hebrews 5:12-13 states: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe” (KJV).
Earlier this week, I was visiting with a wise older man from church. We got to talking about theology in general, and this concept in particular. He remarked: “Sometimes you have to put steak on a plate and see if they’re able to chew it!”Read More