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II. Book Reviews (51–)

A Review by Mark Eckel

[77] WHAT is TRUE? A DEFENSE of the CHRISTIAN FAITH

David Claerbaut, (Las Vegas, NV: DC Publications, 2013)

My friend, Dr. David Claerbaut, tells this story: “I was unprepared for the news of his passing.   The late David Angus, brilliant, self-professed atheist humanist at The University of Michigan, had died. He was a larger than life, formative force in my academic development. Dr. Angus challenged my faith. I was so affected by reading about his death, that I contacted one of his dearest friends and professorial colleagues at his home. After introducing myself and telling his colleague of my experience with Dr. Angus, the conversation went something like this.    ‘By the way, did David hang on to his atheism to the end?’ I could not help but ask.    ‘You know how it is when we get older,’ his intellectual companion replied calmly, ‘A persondoesn’t hold quite so tightly to that thinking.’ Dr. Angus’ colleague went on to tell me that Angus’ wife was a believer, and that he had a Christian mother at home who had had a powerful impact on his life. It seems a mother’s love and a wife’s Christian faith are stronger than any commitment to atheistic empiricism.” [1]

“Grace is the most unique feature of the Christian message,” Dr. Claerbaut maintains. Grace had made an impact on Dr. Angus. Dr. Claerbaut contrasts Christian grace with faith others hold. Indeed, Claerbaut maintains, the Christian message stands apart, is distinctive from all other religions, philosophies, viewpoints, and opinions. Claerbaut’s ebook, available from Amazon, is an exceptional, brief primer on Christian apologetics. I agree with Dr. David Claerbaut’s point of view.

For over 30 years I have taught junior high through doctoral students these ten practices of defending and commending the Christian faith: 1. LOVE is the best apologetic for Christianity (John 13:34, 35). 2. The simplicity of a CHANGED life is compelling evidence of Jesus (John 9). 3. VERBAL testimony of belief in Jesus as Lord is necessary and the word “gets around” (Romans 10:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10).   4. GOOD WORKS on behalf of others attracts the attention of people to the gospel (James 1:27; 2:14-26; 1 Peter 2:11, 12). 5. Communication of the gospel should be CLEAR and understandable for the “seeking” unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14:22-25). 6. A consistent, positive LIFESTYLE shows faith in action (2 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; Titus 2:1-10; 1 Peter 3:1, 2). 7. Often the best time for evangelism is during times of CRISIS or when people “come to the end of themselves” (Joshua 2; Ruth 1; 2 Kings 5; Matthew 23:39-43; Acts 16:16-34). 8. Believers do not have to “prove” anything. We simply explain the “proof” or evidence of the EYEWITNESSES (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3, 21-23; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; “by this,” 1 John 3:10, 19; 4:2, 9, 13; 5:2). 9. COMPARE the Christian worldview with others.   Contrast the differences and contradictions. Show how the Christian view is exclusive (John 14:6). 10. Ask people, “What do you BELIEVE?” (John 3, 4; Acts 17).

“What do you believe?” is well answered in What is True? A Defense of The Christian Faith. The grace of Christ makes Claerbaut’s belief honest and open. Dr. David Claerbaut is a Christian apologist without apology, a storyteller with the best story to tell.

Dr. Eckel is a glad contributor to Faith and Learning Forum (www.faithandlearningforum.com) where everything from the humanities to the sciences in engaged from a decidedly Biblical point of view.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[76] THE LAST of the PRESIDENT’S MEN

Bob Woodward, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Just when we thought we had heard the end of the Watergate fiasco, Bob Woodward comes out with a gem. It is the story of Alexander Butterfield, the right-hand man to H. R. Haldeman who was the right-hand man to Richard Nixon. Woodward spent a day with Butterfield (now 90) and happened across myriad memories, boxes of documents, and hand-written notes the latter had stored from his days in White House.

If you are not familiar with Butterfield, he is best-known as the witness who revealed the existence of the complex taping system that ultimately sunk the 37th President at the Watergate hearings. Beyond that, Butterfield’s office was proximal to Nixon and he had a great deal of interaction with the President—and of course, Haldeman. The reader is offered a factual view of life inside the Nixon administration for those 5+ years and the documents, notes, and memories are, on balance, not very favorable toward Nixon.

For Butterfield, hate and revenge—expressed in torrents of profanity–permeated Nixon’s administration. For example, if the President wanted to punish someone, he would render them unwelcome at the politically contrived White House worship services. A list of attendees had to be cleared with Nixon. Upon Nixon’s reelection, the President chortled to Haldeman they would now be able to “nail” those on his enemies list.

While the quirky Nixon comes alive in this book, replete with his occasional kindnesses and vindictiveness, what jumps out at the reader is that Nixon was a man without relationships. He rarely communicated nor “lived” with his wife—Butterfield was the go-between there. He had no real personal connections with those with whom he worked, and those outside is professional life were also at considerable distance. He was, as depicted, a very distrusting, manipulative man, unable to invest at the personal, vulnerable level in healthy relationships. As a result, people were divided into two camps—those for Nixon and those adversarial to him.

Somewhat off-putting is Woodward’s inability to conceal his loathing for Nixon. Try as he might to offer objective content, and there is much here, one cannot escape the anti-Nixon filter through which the reporter viewed the President. The faith-and-learning reader will quickly see the inauthentic relationships that characterized life in Nixon’s White House, and cannot help but question the genuineness of any spiritual expressions.

Coming as it did, after so many volumes have been published on Nixon and his days as President, the book not only confirms much of the previous published material on Nixon, but offers much new information on the man and his presidency. It is well-written, difficult to put down, but sad.

Dr. Claerbaut is as Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University and the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[75] WAR OF TWO: ALEXANDER HAMILTON, AARON BURR, and the DULE THAT STUNNED the NATION

John Sedgwick, (NY: Berkley, 2015)

The current intensely uncivil state of national politics seems unprecedented. Well it isn’t. Not when one considers that differences of opinion brought about a fatal duel between political adversaries, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Burr was a sitting Vice President with two illegitimate children. A political opponent of Jefferson’s, he ended up serving as his Vice President. Jefferson did not trust Burr and shut him out of administration matters. Jefferson dropped Burr for the 1804 election, with the latter going on to run for the Governor of New York, only to lose to little-known Morgan Lewis.

Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury, called Burr “dangerous,” hurting Burr’s political career, particularly his quest to be Governor. Burr called him out. Burr rejected all Hamilton’s explanations and after a series of exchanges—points and counterpoints—they were on to a duel at Weehawken. The duel was about “honor.” Honor was everything to the men of that time. Honor was about pride, valor, masculinity, and character. It went to the soul of one’s reputation and dignity. To attack Burr as dangerous was an affront to Burr’s honor. It had to be engaged and Burr did so by calling out Hamilton.

Hamilton was a penniless immigrant from the British West Indies. Burr, however, was cut from elite cloth, a New England patrician. Both, however, were brilliant, handsome, politically minded, attractive to women, and ambitious. Hamilton was a transparent man, a prolific writer who spoke his mind. Burr was covert and private. Hamilton was an ideologue, Burr a man of no clear politically philosophy leaving him open to suspicion. Both men were also a tad desperate and on the political downside. Burr had lost an election and was out as Vice President; Hamilton had been tarred by an illicit affair and out as treasury secretary. Hence, what honor they had was highly prized by both men. Perhaps most important, they were both huge figures in a small country. There was no escaping confrontation.

It was a draw duel—10 paces apart–and it ended Hamilton’s life at just 49, leaving a wife and 7 children behind. Burr, still the Vice President, was indicted for murder in New York and New Jersey, but evaded a successful prosecution.

Ironically Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel using the same gun as his father. There are conflicting reports on the Burr-Hamilton duel. Two shots were fired. Some say Hamilton shot first but straight into the air, to avoid killing Burr. Others believe that Hamilton, despondent over his son’s death used the duel as a suicide.

Retrospectively, Hamilton came off better in history. He was a man not without accomplishments. His Federalist Papers made a signal contribution to the Constitution. Hamilton was also an economic wizard, creating a financial system for the nation in its historical infancy. Again, Hamilton has been treated well by the historians.

Burr not so much. There is no consensus on the former Vice President. He was capable of very generous and sacrificial acts, while at the same time a bitter political adversary and notorious womanizer. A man of contradictions, for many, Burr is the more fascinating of the two.

The book is excellently researched and very well written. It is long and embraces a great deal of information that at times slows down the reader. Nonetheless, Sedgwick is a talented writer who offers quite masterpiece.

For the faith and learning reader, there are plenty of themes to consider. The matter of honor is interesting and is often more about pride than character. The idea that ego can drive one to a duel is quite thought provoking. We also see alpha male sexual adventuring is not a recent phenomenon. It goes back to King David and passes through these two men along the way. Finally, we see that the Founding Fathers were as fallen a group of humans as any.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University and the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[74] UNDERSTANDING CLARENCE THOMAS: THE JURISPRUDENCE of CONSITUTIONAL RESTORATION

Ralph A. Rossum, (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kanas, 2013)

The author, Ralph Rossum, Salvatori Professor of American Constitutionalism at Claremont McKenna College, has made the Supreme Court an academic focus. His previous books, particularly his work on fellow conservative, the late Antonin Scalia, provided a good context for this book.

A major plus for the book is that the writing is stimulating as compared to so many other tomes that are almost entirely grounded in academic research. On the negative side, Thomas did not cooperate with the writing, hence making this truly a book about the Justice.

In any case, Clarence Thomas is a worthy subject for a variety of reasons. Chief among them may be the contentious nature of his confirmation under George H. W. Bush in 1991. Much of that controversy was driven by his being the successor of Thurgood Marshall, also African-American, though far to the left. Thomas was demonized by liberals who thought Bush would nominate an African-American in the Marshall tradition.

Thomas, like Scalia, is an “originalist.” For the uninitiated, an originalist is one who attempts to look at the Constitution as a fixed document. He looks for what the words of the framers meant at the time in interpreting it. This approach is often set off against those who would interpret and adjust the Constitution to contemporary times. Originalists are opponents of judicial activism, the notion that judicial rulings should be the product of political or even personal values.

Throughout his career, Thomas has been much in tandem with Scalia, and with the latter’s death, is thought by many to be the lone champion of the right.  About 85% of the time he voted the same as Scalia, and in their over two decades together, there are only 16 occasions in which one wrote the majority opinion and the other the dissent in the same case.

Being neither sarcastic nor witty, stylistically Thomas could not be more different from Scalia. Rossum truly makes Thomas his own man, intensely scholarly and very consistent, running counter to the racist misconception that he is the “shoeshine boy” of the right. The author points out that Thomas will pick out a given issue and focus heavily on a case that turns on the matter, offering a 60 to 80 page opinion on the issue. He will then refer to that opinion in future writings.

There is much mystery concerning Thomas. Extremely private, he cited the loss of anonymity as the major negative in being a member of the court. He is almost totally silent in public court during oral arguments, leaving a dearth of knowledge with respect to Thomas both personally and professionally.

Claiming he learns more from listening than talking, the Justice is sometimes annoyed by what he feels are attempts by other members to show off how bright they are by injecting questions and comments in open court. Thomas has a worthy peer in the area of silence. Oliver Wendell Holmes also rarely asked questions. Rossum states that Thomas is well liked by his colleagues, especially so by his clerks, referring to them as his “kids.” He chooses them from diverse backgrounds—many are women—and develops strong and enduring relationships with them.

Rossum’s book takes a lofty view of Justice Thomas; not surprising, given his also favorable view of Scalia. The author makes the case for Thomas being the most lucid thinker and on the Court during his tenure and that his legacy may well have far more impact than any of his colleagues. .

For the faith and leaning believer, books like these have excellent value. Examinations of members of the Supreme Court give us insight into worldviews, belief systems, and sets of values that may well define the nation for decades to come.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University and the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[73] DESTINY and POWER: THE AMERICAN ODYSSEY of GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH

Jon Meacham, (NY: Random House, 2015)

Bush began a taped diary in 1986 about running for President and continued it as President. The author, John Meacham, used this unique historical document well, as it helps provides an inside real time view of what it is like to pursue and become President. All the highs and lows are in the diary. Ever enduring, even at his low points Bush talks himself “back into the game.” For example, at his defeat to Clinton, Bush tells himself to be gracious and finish strong even though he felt the current generation did not understand “Duty, Honor, Country,” certainly not the draft-dodging Clinton.

His emotions are again evident during his Vice-Presidential visit to Krakow in in 1986. Visiting with sick children and with the press behind him, Bush began to cry. Facing one of the sick boys, Bush did not want to turn toward the cameras, making the story about him rather than the children. Perhaps remembering the loss of his only daughter, Robin, who in 1953 died of leukemia at 4, Bush’s sentiment was simply, “I hope he knows I love him.” For Bush, having seen death so closely, every minute of life counted and a sick seeing sick children was wrenching.

Early on Bush was the star of the family of Senator Prescott Bush. They saw a singular destiny in young George for whom public service was an extension of self. On Pearl Harbor day, December 7, 1941, the 17-year-old Bush wanted to serve as an aviator in the war. On June 12, 1942, the graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, went to Boston to join the navy. At 20 he was shot out of the sky. Two of his comrades died. The shattering experience left young Bush with two enduring questions: Did he do enough to save them, and why was he spared. The answer to the first question was yes. For the second, he had to live out an incredible career.

Out of the service, Bush pursued his ambitions. In 1965, at just 41, he had not won a major race but already wanted to be President. His career in Congress, as Vice President, and eventually President was characterized by putting the citizens’ interests ahead of politics. This priority of what was right over what was popular typified his career in public life. Meacham cites Bush’s call for needed taxes to deal with Gulf War, forcing him to go back on his “read my lips” pledge, as a primary example.

Interestingly, he played electoral politics more pragmatically. Bush opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a senatorial candidate in Texas, but voted for open housing in Congress, getting an immensely negative reaction. One could also charge Bush with being one of the early champions of negative campaigning, when in 1988 he allowed campaign manager Lee Atwater to savage Dukakis with less than honorable tactics.

The Senate eluded Bush. When he lost for the second time in 1970, this time to Lloyd Bentsen, he met with then President Nixon. Nixon wanted Bush to become Assistant to the President working under H. R. Haldeman. Bush wisely avoided what would have been an eventual political burial via Watergate, and suggested that he represent the county at the UN instead. Upon appointing him to the post, the ever-political Nixon advised Bush to establish his residency in Connecticut so he could run against Ribicoff in a future race.  Ever a Texan, Bush did not do so.

While Bush appreciated Nixon’s patronage, the latter doubted Bush’s toughness. Seen as a faithful servant, the wimp image was fed by Bush’s protection of the party over Nixon in Watergate. The tag has little validity, as Bush had the guts, after a Cabinet meeting, to tell Nixon he had to resign.

The book offers a very favorable treatment of the 41st President. Clearly Meacham came to admire this humble yet ambitious, hard-to-dislike patriot and public servant. The power of the book lies in its ability to get the reader to “know” Bush. So many political biographies read more like an agenda of life events rather than an up-close view of the person. This was not an easy man to capture, as Bush wore so many hats for so many years, but Meacham is to be congratulated for making him fully dimensional to the reader.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University and the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

[72] “DIAMOND GEMS”

Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles. (NY: Riverhead Books, 2010) Michael D’Antonio

Thomas Oliphant. Praying for Gil Hodges: A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family’s Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers(NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005)

I am hooked on good, well-written, sports nostalgia, and a recent trip to my local library generated some real gems.  Both books are about the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that has been the subject of baseball scribes’ focus from the moment Jackie Robinson took the field. These books, however, are not about #42.

The first one, by Michael D’Antonio, Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, offers the reader an inside view on all things ‘50’s Dodgers, as O’Malley was the axis on which the Dodgers turned. In short, the reader gets excellent grist on the players, Branch Rickey, Red Barber, and Vin Scully, along with the Brooklyn community, all in the context of the drama of the team leaving Brooklyn for land of Tinsel.

O’Malley is treated well the author, who does yeoman work on showing how, for nearly a decade, the ultimately demonized owner tried to find a way to keep the Bums in Brooklyn. Los Angeles was truly a last resort for O’Malley. Beloved Ebbets Field was small, had inadequate parking facilities, and was experiencing neighborhood decline. O’Malley did not request a new stadium. He did, however, appeal consistently to New York power broker, Robert Moses, for land on which he could build. Despite fits and starts, no land was ever offered and the Dodgers went on to prosper in California.

The story is fascinating and very well told, with the backdrop of the rich adventures of the 1950’s Dodgers making it all that much better.

The second book, Praying for Gil Hodges: A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family’s Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is even better. It is masterpiece by the celebrated Thomas Oliphant (husband of Susan Spencer of “48 Hours” renown). Though Hodges and his Hoosier roots–shared by the author–is treated, Oliphant focuses on a single game, taking the reader inning by inning through the seventh game of the 1955 World Series in a never-to-be-forgotten way. As he moves the game, he offers a marvelous insight into Brooklyn in that era, his family with a famous and disabled father and loving and courageous mother. There are interviews with key players, and especially an immersion into what it was like to be a Dodger fan in an era in which summer brilliance regularly dissolved into defeat in the fall to the hated Yankees.

For the faith and learning adherent, both O’Malley and Hodges were practicing Roman Catholics, men of strong private principle who let their faith inform their conduct, something that comes through in both tomes.

If you can put either of these down, you are way ahead of me in the self-discipline department. Get them on Amazon or at your library, but if you love great baseball writing, get them.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University and the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[71] STOKELY: A LIFE

Peniel E. Joseph, (NY: Basic Civitas Books, 2014)

If you are interested in the Civil Rights tumult of the 60’s in general, and the life of Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) in particular, this book will work for you. The author, historian Peniel E. Joseph, is the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. Joseph did an exhaustive bit of work on this book, awash in detail and footnotes, with the tome running well over 300 pages.

Carmichael began his civil rights journey working for SNCC while a student at Howard University in Washington, DC. His enthusiasm for the voting rights of the dispossessed in the South exploded into a passion, and that, along with his oratorical gifts, made him a visible Civil Rights figure at the national level by his early 20’s. A contemporary and friend of the older Martin Luther King, Jr., Carmichael veered away from King’s integrationist message in the direction of black independence and self-determination. Carmichael is most famous for bringing the term, black power, into popular usage. He was a shrill, powerful orator, in the tradition of Malcolm X, one who intimidated whites as he moved away from non-violence toward confrontational politics. Donning sunglasses, with a raised fist, Carmichael became an immensely intriguing celebrity.

His in-your-face style, however, was not well received by more moderate blacks like James Forman and Whitney Young, among others. The latter saw gradual gains and sought to avoid white backlash as blacks accumulated rights and greater economic opportunity. For Carmichael, it was all about race, not equality in the US, and economic advancement, and this race-based focus denied him the consensus approval enjoyed by King. Moreover, with the death of King, intramural squabbling with other black activists, a growing alienation from SNCC, and a personal concern for physical safety, Carmichael relocated to New Guinea in 1969 and threw his energies into Pan-Africanism.

Joseph does well in chronicling the events of the time with full documentation of virtually every published detail. His book is a virtual textbook of the era with Carmichael at its center. Regrettably, the reader does not really get to know Stokely personally. It is clearly a book about Carmichael, but not one that truly captures him in an intimate fashion. That notwithstanding, the reader is introduced to a uniquely gifted, high-energy, immensely ambitious man, one who loved the center stage and was all-in for his cause. On the downside, Carmichael was often intemperate in his public statements, a serial adulterer who lost two marriages by taking full advantage of his celebrity, and ultimately marginalized after moving out of the spotlight to Africa.

Joseph seems enthralled by his subject, regularly trumpeting Carmichael’s good looks and speaking eloquence. The book contains an unnecessary epilogue that is a thinly-disguised, unconvincing attempt at making a case for Carmichael as key figure in American Civil Rights history.

The discerning faith and learning reader will get a solid exposure to the toxic effects of the sin of racism along with the diverse and complex ideologies of famous African-Americans in Carmichael’s time. As is so often the case in African-American history, much of activity of the era was centered in the church, as much of the thinking was rooted in a biblical belief in justice. Regrettably, Carmichael, while often using the church as his platform, did not seem to adopt a personal life of faith, one that could have informed and refined his thinking and given his life greater impact.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University and the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[70] MY NAME is LOVE

Darlene Love, (NY: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2013)

I love 60’s music, particularly Doo Wop and Motown. I am particularly a fan of Darlene Love, who may well hold the record for singing background on the largest number of million selling singles from that era. In addition, Love, was the real voice on “He’s a Rebel,” though it is credited to the Crystals, a “girl group” in the Phil Spector genre.

So I went to the library and pulled out Love’s book, originally published in 1998 and reprinted in 2013, hoping to get an inside look at the musical culture of that time. The book does not disappoint. You will really get a flavor of the genius and even more of the dark side of Phil Spector from someone who dealt with the mad wizard personally for decades. You will also be up close with Sonny Bono, Cher, the Righteous Brothers, Elvis, the Four Tops, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, and on and on. Love worked with them all—knew them all.

The reader gets a clear and unvarnished look inside Love’s professional world, one in which success and talent do not run on parallel tracks. Lesser (often white) talents soared to great heights of fame, while megatalents like Love often sang background, waiting for their breakthrough. The right time, the right promoter, the right song, the right this. and the right that all go into who is on the mainstage.   For example, on “Johnny Angel,” Shelly Fabares of “The Donna Reed Show” gets the hit, while Love and her minions actually make the song with their incredible background.

And so it goes.

The book is also troubling. There are a lot of “tough luck” stories, ones in which the author comes off as the victim. “Friends,” like Dionne Warwick, get much favorable mention, but not without some of their soiled laundry exposed. People throughout the book are regarded provisionally—angels with dirty faces.

But we can forgive all that, though one does wonder if all these friends still regard Love as their friend.

The title of the book is My Name is Love, but Darlene Love’s actual surname is Wright. She goes cover to cover emphasizing that she is a preacher’s daughter, one who is deeply anchored in her faith in the Lord. In fact, “Lord” is the first word in myriad sentences. “Lord, that man could sing,” etc.

Without wishing to be too uncharitable, a subtitle might be “A Life of Bad Decisions.” Amid the constant references to her faith and God’s guidance, we find Ms. Wright lives well outside the boundaries of sensible discipleship. She marries two non-believers, and has an affair with another singer who was not really free from his marriage—an affair that includes an abortion. Along the way she farms out her children to her present or erstwhile husbands, only to discover that they get snarled up in drugs and brushes with the law. Although she does find happiness in a third marriage, it is not exactly clear if her husband is a serious Christian, or simply someone who loves Darlene deeply and goes with the program. Her sins are not the point here. We all have plenty of those. The concern is her seeming inability to “get” that one cannot walk this kind of walk without reaping a bitter harvest.

It seems Wright lives her life in denial. Despite all the proclamations of faith and God’s guidance–a refreshing experience given the decadence of the entertainment industry–one does not find her witness very compelling given the choices she made. She evinces a simple faith, clearly centered in the sacrifice of Christ, but one that is long on impulse and short on any practical theology for living.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[69] THE GREAT DIVIDE:  The CONFLICT BEWEEN WASHINGTON and JEFFERSON that DEFINED a NATION

Thomas Fleming, (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2015)

Well, there was a tad bit of partisanship among the Founding Fathers as there is today. Octogenarian historian, Thomas Fleming, does a solid job of describing the rift between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Simply laying out the divide in detail provides a service, as many citizens tend to think that all the early revolutionaries were arm-in-arm, battling the Brits.

In short, the issue was the power of the Presidency as weighed against the influence of the legislative branch. We have become used to that. Fleming clearly describes Jefferson’s antipathy for the first President’s bold exercise of his executive power. The book has a liberal sprinkling of anecdotes which make the split truly three-dimensional. What is particularly fascinating is that Jefferson was serving as Secretary of State under Washington, all the while undermining his employer’s actions.

Washington comes off better than Jefferson when one listens to Fleming. In fact, Jefferson is portrayed as a bit hypocritical when he later took strong stands of his own. What is particularly interesting is that throughout the history of the republic we have seen a shift in the balance of power between these two branches. In an interview, Fleming pointed out that Lincoln wielded tremendous force from the White House, but after his death Congress quickly reasserted itself, making Andrew Johnson’s presidency particularly challenging. A century later, Watergate swept away Nixon’s “imperial presidency,” as Congress flexed its muscles and wrested control of the government via impeachment and other means.

The joust continues to this day. Without a strong Presidency we question whether anyone is “wearing the pants (or perhaps pantsuit),” but too much power in the hands of a single individual is always an understandable concern.

There is no final answer to the distribution of power among humans. Though the book is rooted in an era that was not hostile to the Christian faith, for believers, this teeter totter-nature to governmental power may well be more comforting today than ever. The lust for power and control has been too much a part of the biography of fallen humankind, a lust that has generated war more often than freedom. When the creature becomes too strong, the work of the Creator is curtailed.

Dr. Claerbaut teaches sociology and social psychology at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[68] THE STRANGER: BARACK OBAMA in the WHITE HOUSE

Chuck Todd, (NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2014)

Chuck Todd, he of “Meet the Press,” got the jump on the soon to be rapid flow of Obama retrospectives. As such, his book figured to get much attention and reaction.

What made the book appealing to me is that Todd is a self-proclaimed political liberal, yet one writing a book somewhat critical of our 43rd President. Too often presidents are taken behind the literary woodshed by hostile advocates of the opposing party. The books sell to the choir for whom they are written. When Ann Coulter tears into a Reagan Republican I will pay attention.

I didn’t like the writing—myriad sentences starting with but, many windy constructions I found myself reading twice, and the usual inability of the author to conceal his bias.

Todd generally supports Obama’s policies, but is very critical of the process. Early in the book he points out that Reagan was an ideal for the new president. Obama’s admiration for Reagan was based on the latter’s ability to be a “transformational President,” one that who moved the nation in a new political direction. It was Obama’s goal to shift the nation from center-right to center-left.

He has been rather unsuccessful and Todd offers us reasons why. As attractive, gregarious, and magnetic as Obama is on stage, the book offers a sharply different view of the private man. Obama is “a loner,” focused on logical, lawyerly arguments rather than the fine art of interpersonal persuasion. While others, most notably, Rahm Emanuel, urged him to compromise, glad-hand, and make occasional deals, the new president hewed the purist line on policy matters. Hence, Obama intensified the very political gridlock he inherited.

Interestingly, one of the heroes of the book is Joe Biden. The VP often given to verbal gaffes, is portrayed as the one in the administration who through his career as an insider has built authentic friendships on both sides of the aisle. Biden’s style contrasts with Obama’s so sharply that the VP often was the one who would meet with Republican leaders to work through disagreements.

Obama comes off as a man with many political acquaintances, but few if any personal friends. Hence, there are no real trusted confidantes or mentors available for his political nurture. Michele is influential but largely through Valerie Jarrett, a trusted friend of hers who would inform the First Lady of what was taking place in the Oval Office.

The President’s go-it-alone tendency spilled over into his campaigning, leaving less than available and publicly supportive of other Democrats lower on the ticket. The result is that he is viewed as the head of his party only because of the office he holds.

For Todd, Obama is a stranger in almost any company. He is a Democrat on the national scene, but one who is not chummy with insiders. He is neither white nor black, and an American who spent much of his formative youth in another country. His US experience was largely in Hawaii but his education took place in the Ivy League East.

Todd praises Obama’s personal ethics and conduct. He and his administration have been refreshingly free of scandal and rumor. A practicing Jew, Todd seems to view Obama as one with a genuine faith. Given his insular nature, however, us in the faith and learning community are unlikely to get a close look at its nature. His goals were lofty and he made major progress on the hitherto out of reach issue of public health care. Though many will claim he only postponed an even greater collapse, people like Todd also grant him credit for steering his way through the Byzantine politics of the mammoth recession that awaited his entry to the White House.

Overall, Todd gives him provisional regard. Obama comes off as having fallen well short of his transformational goal. Despite some notable accomplishments, the nation is as divided as it was when he was elected in 2008. Though Todd does not emphasize it, one gets the impression that Obama’s ambition and go-it-alone arrogance were his undoing. Had he taken the time to learn the political game at the knee of people like Biden before hastily seeking the presidency, and had he made friends on the inside before pushing a purist agenda from the outside, he may have come closer to reaching his transformational goal. As it stands, however, he will leave Washington with a grade somewhere between an A and an F.

Dr. Claerbaut teaches sociology as at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[67] SEX, MOM, and GOD: HOW the BIBLE’S STRANGE TAKE on SEX LED TO CRAZY POLITICS–and HOW I LEARNED to LOVE WOMEN (and JESUS) ANYWAY

Frank Schaeffer, (Boston: Da Capo Press,  2011)

Don’t take the title seriously. This is book is about Schaeffer’s love of his mother and his glandular hate for all things fundamental in Christianity.

The book is another one of his tiresome broadsides against the group called the “Religious Right.” It seems that with each passing book, Schaeffer moves closer to out-and-out atheism.

First his mother. Schaeffer venerates the loving spirit of Edith Schaeffer, though he opposes the judgmental and hateful God of the Old Testament she worshipped. According to Frank, Edith was a much nicer person than her God. Moreover, he then tries to make a twisted case that his mother did not really follow Jehovah, as she was hardly a quiet subordinate woman in her home and church.

Along the way, he tries to convince the reader that those crazy and hostile fundamentalists use that angry, nasty God as their justification for trying to inflict their religious sanctions on the American people through the political system. Schaeffer goes on a near uninterrupted rampage, searing through abortion, prayer in the schools, home schooling, homosexuality, and almost any other available hot-button topic to vent his literary spleen.

A major blind spot is Schaeffer’s inability to see that his feelings about his famous father are likely the foundation of this never-ending rage. Though he treats his father, the evangelical titan Francis Schaeffer, with respect, even referring to him as “Dad,” he also exposes the senior Schaeffer has an insular and often tyrannical man, given to his own rages, in addition to occasional physical assaults on his wife. Loaded with testosterone, the elder Schaeffer reportedly required sex nightly from Edith.

Could Frank’s ambivalence owe to his own notoriety being the result of occupying a favored spot in his father’s long shadow? Take Francis Schaeffer out of Frank’s biography and neither a publisher now a reader for his rantings. One also gets the sense that he exaggerates his role in the success of his father’s books and films, as well as the Christian political movements of other conservatives. But I digress.

Frank Schaeffer is a poster child for the apostate youth who come from Christian families in which at least one parent’s private behavior is at considerable distance from his public professions. (This phenomenon is treated in some detail in “The Social Psychology of Post-Adolescent Apostasy–#4 in Psychology under the Soc Sci tab.) That divide, particularly when it involves a much-admired figure like Francis Schaeffer, causes intense emotional and spiritual conflict. For young Schaeffer, this conflict has evolved into a series of reckless books and blogs–filled with venom, vulgarity, and blasphemy–that are little more than offensive attacks on believers with a high view of scripture.

His book is, if nothing else, informative and entertaining. We get an intimate view of the inner workings of a famous Christian family, and the writing is sprightly, filled with clever, albeit sarcastic humor. The 281-page book is mesmerizing. I read it in about 48 hours.

It is also sad, as the reader witnesses the spiritual dismantling of a covenant child. Schaeffer describes his “all-in” support of the Religious Right as a function of greed and naivete, and then takes the reader through rage-filled series of free associations toward the door marked “Apostasy.” As in the case of so many other spiritual refugees, Schaeffer offers the reader all manner of reasons not to believe, but no ideological substitute to fill the vacuum. Instead of answers, he takes the typical embrace-the-unknown position. Many share his agnosticism, but with an unresolved, near adolescent anger being the vehicle for this now over-60 mocker’s journey to unfaith, his case is not very compelling.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[66] CHEATED: The UNC SCANDAL, the EDUCATION of ATHLETES, and the FUTURE of BIG-TIME COLLEGE SPORTS

Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham (Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books,  2014)

This book does not really open new ground on the seamy side of college recruiting. Having been a college athletic director, I am well aware of the muddy nature of this enterprise even at the D-3 level.

Nonetheless, North Carolina History Professor Jay Smith and Whistleblower, Mary Willingham, who was sent packing at UNC when she made too much noise about academic dishonesty aimed at keeping the jocks eligible, do offer one really distinct element: Empirical data.

The crux of the issue at UNC was the enrollment of athletes in “paper only” and some online courses, ones that all but guaranteed gratuitous grades. Hence, famed Tarheels like Julius Pepper could become eligible in a single summer term after lounging in a sub-2.0 GPA world.

The authors do well in showing the contrast between grades received in traditional classes and these “rescue squad” courses. The tables in the book are compelling and it is that empirical data that sets the book apart from other exposes.

To the authors’ credit, they lay the blame where it belongs—on a university with an out of control investment (literally) in athletic success. Players are pawns in this game, often lured to the U in the expectation of a lucrative pro future, when in reality precious few play a minute for pay once their eligibility is exhausted. The result is that the students leave the campus with essentially the same future as might be theirs had they never attended college, given their impoverished urban nativity.

The coaches claim plausible deniability (“I was completely unaware of this problem”), though Jim Boeheim at Syracuse has learned the NCAA is no longer buying these denials. It is easy to localize this on UNC, but the authors are clear that this a case study of what is happening routinely nationwide.

We are all about faith and learning on this site, and have pointed out that secular universities do not welcome Christian worldviews. They also do not welcome truth-telling, when it conflicts with their worship of mammon. Willingham found that out when she was dismissed, and both she and UNC Professor Smith no longer have access to the records that form the foundation of the book.

Dr. Claerbaut is a former NCAA Athletic Director.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[65] THE NIXON DEFENSE: WHAT he KNEW and WHEN he KNEW IT

John W. Dean (NY: Viking,  2014)

This 784-page whopper is based on 600 recorded conversations that no one had previously reviewed, and hence, have not been a part of the tidal wave of Watergate literature.

The book makes clear that Watergate went beyond a burglary and coverup, but was an attempt to subvert the electoral system in a massive abuse of executive authority. Nothing new there.

As for the origin of Watergate, Dean holds that the break-in was aimed at finding damaging financial information, and that John Mitchell approved an overall plan with Watergate in it. Jeb Magruder, Mitchell’s subordinate, directed G. Gordon Liddy on this expedition but Liddy initially came back with little. After Mitchell declared the effort useless, Liddy tried to clean up the mission and broke in again. The arrests were made and Watergate was now a reality.

Dean’s work raises the question of how someone as intellectually keen and plotting as Nixon could have been so careless and self-destructive. Nixon comes off as one who had little reluctance to break the law in a pragmatic effort to solve a political problem. Leaning heavily on H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman along with the Washington Post as his information sources, Nixon moved impulsively and recklessly in a quest for self-protection. Emotions seemed to overrule clear thinking.

Carefully parsing his words, knowing the taping system was activated, Nixon constantly tried to draw people out. Nonetheless, Charles Colson and Haldeman did seem to evoke Nixon’s darker side for the record. Interestingly, on a number of occasions Nixon directed Haldeman to destroy the tapes, but given the President’s reactive and erratic nature when it came to order-giving, it did not occur. Bizarrely and in full denial, Nixon suggests that Alexander Butterfield’s bean-spilling on the existence of the tapes may be a blessing as it would vindicate him on Watergate and the coverup.

What is particularly troubling is Nixon’s lack of concern about illegal shenanigans, even among his own staff. Colson, for example, speaks openly about having engaged in such things as blackmail, activities that would lead to incarceration were they ever discovered. Nixon, however, asks no questions but quickly shifts to other subjects.

Why no pardons? Dean, in an interview, stated that he felt Nixon would have issued pardons to his principal cronies had he survived. He didn’t and their pleas were met with silence through the resignation.

Nixon’s conflicted psyche is on full display when he admits he knew about the coverup only to say in the same breath—likely because he knew he was being recorded–he “didn’t know.”  Nixon thought he made have told Colson to tell Hunt to break in, but claims he headed off an illegal espionage caper in 1971, putting him “on the outs” with the plumbers and their unsavory work.

No one ‘fesses up with the machine running. Neither Haldeman nor Ehrlichman make clear to Nixon their level of involvement, but according to Clark McGregor via Mitchell (the President’s most trusted ally), Nixon and Mitchell did meet a few days after the break-in and came clean on their involvement in extra-legal activities. From that point forward it was full speed ahead on covering up Watergate. Unintended confessions drip on to the tapes. For example, the Huston plan in 1970, aimed at domestic intelligence, was illegal and Nixon acknowledges this in a 1973 recording, but also says no President of the US can “admit that,” having just admitted it.

Dean believes Nixon used the presidency an instrument for personal revenge, and the more powerful the adversary the more vengeful were the tactics. He also believes the president’s aides did not serve him well. He was told very little by his key people, never having a real chance to put a halt on some illegalities.

Dean sees no real centrally organized effort to sabotage and do espionage. The entire mess was an uncoordinated series of activities executed by people who did not trust each other or Nixon (who in turn fully trusted no one). Apparently, there was some knowledge that Mark Felt, “Deep Throat,” was leaking, but retaining him in the FBI fit the LBJ strategy of keeping the camel in the tent “pissing out” rather than outside “pissing in.”

John Dean has done some yeoman historical research here, but alas, because it is the work of Dean, who has quite a conflict of interest when it comes to Watergate, many will regard the book with skepticism. I find myself quite interested in what he has to say, but I have been reluctant to accept much of what he says at face value.

There are a couple of reasons. First, he is on the moral margin. Not only do a number of Watergate figures see him as much more deeply involved in that jungle of wrongdoing than he admits (though Dean eagerly states that these electronic records vindicate his testimony), but he entered the White House with a less than sterling resume, having been tossed from his first legal position for unethical behavior. He was also the only major Watergate figure to face no real jug time. Having opportunistically done a 180 on Nixon and his cronies, Dean received functional if not complete immunity.

But there is also this: He reminds me of Jimmy Carter. Like Carter and his constant (favorable) references to his less than successful presidency, Dean keeps returning to Watergate, leaving me wonder if, like Carter, he is trying to reposition himself more favorably in history.

With that caveat as context, the book does have real value.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by Mark Eckel

[64] WHEN OTHERS SHUDDERED: EIGHT WOMEN WHO REFUSED to GIVE UP

Jamie Janosz (Chicago: Moody, 2014)

I winced as read of life’s difficulties for women like Nettie McCormick, in Jamie Janosz’s When Others Shuddered: Eight Women who Refused to Give Up. Sacrifice marked the life of Sarah Dunn Clark as she lived with the people she served. We even discover The Spirit of God used Clark’s preaching to bring the famed evangelist Billy Sunday to faith in Christ. The women often worked alone in their respective vocations, whether widowed or single. Amanda Smith stands as a beacon to African-American women everywhere in her tireless service of her Savior. Her commitment to Bible teaching touched not only Chicago but Europe, Africa, and Asia. She reached multitudes with God’s Word and touched the hearts of all who knew her. Virginia Asher figuratively “lit a torch” for others to follow. I personally have a special place in my heart for The Salvation Army and was

Evangeline Booth’s story: Booth left a rich legacy serving the poor. Mary Bethune cheered my soul as I read of her deep desire to learn Scripture. Then what a delight to learn she too graced the White House halls (178-79)! Bethune left a Christian influence in the position created for her: Office of Minority Affairs. Her African-American words invigorate us all, “Our aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice where no man’s skin, color or religion, is held against him” (182).

Each chapter grabs the reader by the throat. We are given one person, one period, one event, one idea to consider. Cultural, historical connections dot the stories’ landscapes. Each point of knowledge enriches our view of the whole. For years Janosz uses first lines to compel us to continue reading. Arresting stories propel the reader. Verbal pictures capture our thoughts. Anecdotes bring us to the very spirit of the biography—the life of each woman. Historical sketches from other writers can at times do a disservice through anachronism. Janosz does not cloud the past with the present. She allows history to instruct us through her writing of history.

The students who live in “Dryer Dorm” need to have the story about the famed woman tattooed on their psyche. Emma Dryer was the woman behind the man. We discover if D. L. Moody had not been compelled to serve the fledgling Chicago Bible school by Emma Dryer, the college may well have been named “Dryer Bible Institute”! Fanny Crosby, well known to those of us who grew up on her hymns, is given life through Janosz’s writing. We what she felt. We rejoice with her in political fame that God used to bring the gospel to the nation, visiting President Cleveland, and living the historical moments of lyrics such as “Rescue the Perishing” (29-30).

A Scottish evangelist once said to Fanny Crosby, “I think it is a great pity that the good Master, when He showered so many gifts upon you, did not give you sight.”  Fanny responded, “Do you know that if at my birth I had been able to make one petition to my Creator it would have been that I should be made blind.”

The evangelist was startled. “Why?” he asked.  “Because,” said Fanny, “When I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

Janosz includes three important touchpoints for further reflection: women in education, missions, and politics. Original pictures throughout the volume show the depth of research. My only minor complaint might be, if it were possible, to see the gravestones of each woman. And the publisher could have made the book conform to the 6 x 9 inch soft cover standard.  At times the book slipped out of my hands.  The conclusion summarizes the spirit of all the women included. Questions for discussion allow a continued engagement by reader and teacher alike. History is paramount in education. History taught through story, through biography is glue which holds us together. The road paved by these eight women straightens our way.

Dr. Eckel writes for and teaches at Capital Seminary & Graduate School.   This review has been published elsewhere, including the Engelwood Review of Books, and is published here by permission of the author.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[63] STRESS TEST: REFLECTIONS on FINANCIAL CRISES

Timothy F. Geithner (NY: Crown, 2014)

Tim Geithner found a clever title for his memoir as Obama’s economic czar during the early days of Obama’s administration—Stress Test. Among the points Geithner raises is that the actions taken by the administration, however debatable, were necessary to ward off another Great Depression. Repeatedly, Geithner states that bold and intrusive moves by the White House, particularly the bailouts of the institutions “too big to fail,” were necessary.

Maybe and maybe not. What we do know is that this activistic going-under-the hood approach did not cure the patient. The economic woes continue to the present day and this has caused Geithners’ detractors to claim that while a more laissez-faire approach would have brought about an epic crash, it would also have brought about a correction in the way our nation operates its national pocketbook. Like a serious surgery, there would be pain and disability, but the over-spending toxins would have been removed and a genuine recovery would follow.

Geithner attributes the financial crisis of 2008 to a loss of confidence—a panic run amok—and that he and his minions, among them Ben Bernanke, did a pretty good job of preventing this panic from devouring the entire economy.  Geithner does well in explaining the dynamics of a loss of confidence. In his view, the US was experiencing a macro version of the bank run in It’s a Wonderful Life. In Jimmy Stewart’s day a mass demand from depositors for their cash would exhaust the resources of the bank.

Not so today, what with federal deposit insurance protection. For Geithner, however, the crisis was triggered by “shadow banks” whose dollars came not from deposits but rather short-term borrowing. These unregulated institutions (Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, for example) borrowed hastily and were soon navel deep in the world of subprime real estate. As investors bailed, these entities began sinking fast. Frantic moves in the “shadows” reduced the value of the collateral held by traditional banks.

To make a long story short we now had a full scale panic. No one was safe.

Usually panics are controlled by a “lender of last resort” that can step in and secure the ship in the storm, stabilizing the economy. This one was different. It did not emanate from traditional banks and so the old formula did not seem to work.  In that environment, Geithner’s fiscal rescue squad moved with NASCAR speed, wheeling and dealing its way through the disorder. Pauls were paid with money belonging to Peters in an effort to stay afloat. All this activity, however, would not be sufficient to keep a number of banks from going belly up, a major affliction for the taxpayer.

Three options loomed. Let the banks drown in their own sin and begin the correction—the Peter Schiff approach. A liberal position advocated the government taking over the banks. Big government, big control, but maybe stabilization. Geithner, however, argued for intervention but without nationalization. The government would be the last resort lender. He believed that a “stress test” of banks would show they were in less than critical condition, and as that became known, the panic would subside. On the face of it, Geithner’s prescription seemed to work and it actually cost far less than the S&L storm of the 1980’s.

The banks recovered but the economy never did. The national debt continued to rise and individual debt was also climbing. The result is that people reduced their spending and the money stopped flowing. Banks, seeing the risk, became more conservative with their money, and lending slacked off severely choking growth. A favored liberal proposal was to have the government step in and shoot some money into the economy and reduce personal debt through mortgage refinancing. The logic is that the stimulus money promotes growth and the lowered personal debt will encourage spending.

Not much happened on the stimulus or debt reduction front. Geithner cites political opposition from the right and some hard core realities as the reason. That has been called into question by Geithner’s critics who claim he was at best a tepid advocate of the stimulus approach and absent on debt relief.  And so the mud flies.

In the end, Geithner, albeit subtly, takes his bows. The rescue squad performed well and prevented a collapse reminiscent of eighty years previous.  That, however, is all he can claim. The economy has not recovered and with the rising debt we may be looking at another crisis in which the burden may be too great for the patient to pass the stress test.

There seems to be a powerful faith-and-learning lesson here.

The problem was and is living beyond our means, at an individual and national level. Neither major political party is free of this transgression. Those who advocate more careful stewardship–one that does not encourage spending what one does not have–are often mocked as intellectual midgets, cretins who simply do not understand the vast complexities of a national economy. Nonsense. This is simple intellectual intimidation without substance.

The Schiff people may prove to be right. Deficit spending by a government that has no money, other than what it can demand it from its people, is slow economic death.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Master Methodologist at Grand Canyon University.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[62] THE REAL CRASH: AMERICA’S COMING BANKRUPTCY–HOW to SAVE YOURSELF and YOUR COUNTRY

Peter D. Schiff (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2012)

Unlike many books on economics, Peter Schiff’s book is eminently readable, because he repeats his themes and has an in-your-face style, a sharp contrast to the arid prose of so many of his fellow economists. Perhaps Schiff’s main claim to fame is that he predicted the last crash—way before it occurred. He is now predicting an even more apocalyptic bellyflop, but as in the case of the one in 2007, he cannot stipulate a time.

For Schiff there is one main bad guy: the Fed. By controlling the money supply, the Federal Reserve can pump dollars into the economy and hold interest rates down. By holding interest rates in check, the inevitable detonation of the national debt can be postponed. By flushing cash into the system people can continue to buy. For Schiff this is just sacrificing the future on the altar of the present.

For him, we are forever blowing bubbles, economic bubbles that eventually burst. In the 1990’s there were the stock and dot com bubbles, followed by the housing and credit bubbles in the early 2000’s. They all burst. We now have the ultimate bubble—the national debt bubble and when that bursts there will be a far greater cataclysmic economic reaction. In short, the US will have to declare bankruptcy, and with that all the furniture on the economic Titanic, that is the American economy in Schiff’s thinking, will have to be rearranged.

Bailouts and low interest rates only postpone the inevitable, for Schiff. Worse, they do nothing to bring what economists call a “correction” to the economy. “If you keep replacing one bubble with another, you eventually run out of suds. The government bubble is the final bubble” (p. 23). If the Fed holds tight on interest rates and lets the government keep running up the deficit tab, the only outcome for Schiff is a situation in which “the rest of the world stops trusting America’s currency and our credit. Then we’ll get the real crash” (p. 1).

He makes a forceful argument, and having–like a shrewd sports handicapper–predicted the last collapse, he has solid street cred. What sets this book apart is that Schiff goes beyond gloomy predictions and offers candid solutions for the country and the citizen who wants to make savvy moves as the storm clouds gather.

At the national level, Schiff proposes some major surgery. He feels wages will have to drop to increase employment. No more minimum wage. We need to balance the trade deficit and scale back our tendency to intervene in other countries’ affairs. He wants to tighten the money supply and endure the resulting rise in interest rates. He calls for the end of the payroll tax, governmental regulations, and yes, the IRS (replacing it with a simple sales tax). He wants a truly free market. In that spirit, he criticizes Herbert Hoover for setting the Great Depression in gear by meddling with the market. All this, in Schiff’s thinking, created a stage on which FDR could federalize the economy, further obstructing genuine capitalism. In addition to these macro remedies, Schiff integrates advice for the individual as she navigates the current choppy economic waters and the hurricane to come.

Clearly, he has his detractors. While Schiff believes regulation is kryptonite for job creation, even conservatives like Milton Friedman believed that the market must have some built-in protection for the uneducated consumer.

For the faith and learning scholar, Schiff’s book makes a strong case for sober stewardship, and perhaps a stronger one for the wages generated by the sin of poor economic trusteeship at the national level. As such, his book is a counterpoint to Geithner’s Stress Test, though the latter was published later. For Schiff, the 2007 dip was not due to a panic, but to a long-simmering denial among financiers, one that had them watch inflated bubbles burst, victimizing millions of innocent citizens.

One could argue that while the liberal view advocates the worship of ever-bigger government—a seemingly benign entity that intervenes whenever the economy wobbles–Schiff’s libertarian approach offers the free market as the god of our daily bread.

Neither can reach such other-worldly heights. There are sinners in each camp. For Schiff, however, the call for national responsibility is compelling.

Dr Claerbaut is the author of What Is True?  A Defense of the Christian Faith.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[61] PARCELLS:  A FOOTBALL LIFE

Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio (NY: Crown Archetype, 2014)

I knocked this 500+ pager out in three days, amid my teaching and consulting duties.

I could not put Parcells: A Football Life down. Bill Parcells is a mesmerizing figure, and he looms as large in his autobiography as he did when he filled our TV screens during his 19-year NFL coaching career.

One of the raps on the book is that we don’t really get inside Parcells sufficiently. I beg to differ. Other than covering his toilet training I do not think there is much more the book could offer the discerning reader in terms of the personality of its subject.

The book is written in third person, as if its co-author, Nunyo Demasio, were the sole author. This is a popular method as it gives the subject some elbow room on issues about which he is uncomfortable. But I don’t think Parcells did that. The book is marvelously exhaustive. It traces Parcells’ ancestry, his middle class New Jersey upbringing. It mentions that he lived near Frank Sinatra and played with Vince Lombardi’s son in his childhood. We learn that his athletically gifted father was an alcoholic and that his Italian mother was confrontational and outspoken.

The book covers every stop in his football career, from Colgate to Wichita State where he played linebacker. Married at 21 to Judy Goss, with whom Parcells had three daughters, the book takes us on quite a ride. Beginning in Hastings, Nebraska, there were seven college coaching stops before Parcells reached the NFL as an assistant coach. It is, as the promoters say, all here for the reader.

Once in the NFL, football fans know the rest of the story.

A larger than life figure, Parcells was known for three things. Immense success, a demanding and colorful personality, and a profound impact on the lives of his players. Throughout the book, the refrain is consistent. He was extremely difficult to play for, yet playing for or working with Parcells had a life-changing impact for many, on and off the field. He was incredibly loyal to his friends and those who contributed to his success. He revered his high school basketball coach, Mick Corcoran (who himself played Catholic high school hoops under Vince Lombardi), according him recognition throughout his life, including at Parcells’ Hall of Fame speech.

Though the book will hold your attention, it has some annoying writing issues. I believe the word cocksure appears between five and ten times in the book, certainly a record of some sort. Moreover, the Giants are almost never the Giants, but rather Big Blue to a point of near madness, while the Jets are similarly Gang Green almost without exception.

Despite its magnetic pull, for the faith and learning reader, the book is a sad one.

Though he had Christian players, coaches, and mentors throughout his career, Parcells comes off as spiritually indifferent. Other than a funeral mass here or there, God does not show up much in this book.

More pointedly, while Parcells was extolled for his character virtues professionally, he left his family in shards. Frequently unfaithful to his all but abandoned wife, he and Judy finally divorced in 2002, after four decades of marital neglect on Bill’s part. His three daughters rarely saw their father. He did not attend any of their college graduations, leaving them with empty spots in their hearts. In short, Bill Parcells sacrificed his family on the altar of football success. The man renowned for his intense loyalty to those in his macho professional bubble, was not so with those who needed him most.

To his credit, Parcells owns these failings, confessing regret. One can tell his family shortcomings gnaw on him as the harvest is bitter upon retrospection.

I found myself feeling sorry for Parcells, even praying for Parcells, as the words of Mark 8:36 rang in my brain: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Dr. Claerbaut is the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by Mark Eckel

[60] INCARNATE:  THE BODY of CHRIST in an AGE of DISENGAGEMENT

Michael Frost (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2014)

A pastor once asked me, “Are you a dichotomist or a trichotomist?” [Are humans made of two parts—material, spiritual—or three parts—soul, spirit, and flesh?] The question, though engaged in systematic theology, seemed improper.

“I am a monochotist,” I said, though there is no such thing, of course. “Mono” means one. “Chotist” comes from a word meaning to separate or cut. It is a self-contradictory idea. One thing is not two or three things. Old Testament Hebraic thought would never have consigned compartments to my person. Scripture teaches that I am whole, something with which Michael Frost agrees in his latest work, Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement. 

I enjoy the opportunity to teach pupils at a distance, am pleased to join a meeting via Web Ex, and celebrate the technological tools that created my coffee and allowed my reading via electrons. But as incarnational theology is a consistent refrain for me, I totally resonate with Frost’s caricature that we are living in a culture of “excarnate” or “defleshing”: the grotesque view of a body exposed for scavenging. We have become practicing di- and trichotomists.

Michael has an easy style. His lovely prose takes us places with words. Metaphors are moving. Allusions to cultural artifacts peak relevance. Frost masterfully navigates natural history from Ireland to Hawai’i. He weaves pithy anecdotes with reflective quotations and introduces the reader to other writers. The author exhibits a wide reading habit to sustain his thesis. Lost Memory of Skin is one such example. The novel laments the shift from flesh to little 1’s and 0’s, screens, and visual stimulation through pornographic images. Sadness filled me as I read the fictional overview. Frost’s non-fiction treatment of incarnational theology is summarized early: “In an excarnate world there is a lack of commitment to any one worldview” (17). Syncretism, though Frost does not use the term, is an ancient problem resurfaced in each generation: we want to pick and choose our own amalgamated belief.

I share Frost’s beliefs, believing “we change technology so we don’t have to.” Frost points out big problems, we think are too small: internet, gadgets, online porn, and satellite-linked churches. Frost attacks the idea that human value depends on production. Western culture wrongly promotes objectification where “absolute freedom becomes an intense form of slavery” (49). Moses’ law was “a yardstick, a measure for our brokenness and our need for God’s grace” (66). Hebraic culture focuses on personhood in a social context, mirrored in the New Testament, still testified by Christians today.

Religion is indeed an embodied, kinesthetic experience (chapter 5). A communal hermeneutic would play out with people, at events, from liturgy, through sacraments, for daily rhythms. Chapter six is Frost’s high note. He connects the testaments, shows the embodiment of Jesus in us, gives great examples, and quotes voluminously from Scripture. James K.A. Smith and Tim Keller are formidable names which sustain Frost’s Hebrew theology of persons (chapter 7). Those of us committed to monastic-mystic traditions love Frost’s emphasis on “spirited bodies” (chapter 8). Cultural connections are clear in chapter nine where Frost mourns “slacktivism” where our involvement with issues is little more than a mouse click. As he should, Frost believes activism is physical, local, personal, and costly. Our mission is not a trip away but a hike down our sidewalks, within our congregations, and within our own homes (chapter 10). Lesslie Newbigin’s classic Foolishness to the Greeks calls us away from our political parties to our personal pieties in our place (chapter 11) with incarnation presence (chapter 12). Frost’s table of “healthy religion” (chapter 13) is an excellent summary.

One is hard pressed to critique this volume, but I am concerned with Frost’s lack of connection to the written Word of God. While Scripture is quoted in places, there are entire chapters where the Bible is left unreferenced. Exegetical summaries would have been helpful, especially given the subject of incarnation. Hebraic connections to the important subject of “wholeness” would have helped, as would the inception of our attempts to disconnect in Genesis 3. Gnosticism has been our problem ever since, a point well handled in Colossians and 1 John but missing here. Frost’s comments about Matthew 5 (65)—lust equals act—are spot on, but it is important to see that our problem is transcendent: we separate flesh-spirit because we desire detachment from God’s authority over the whole of us.

Frost’s last chapter is reflective, honest: “life is not so simple.” He is just as daunted and baffled as the rest of us in searching for finding simple, straightforward solutions. Incarnate concludes with strong praxis. The author’s focus on non-anxious leadership mirrors his concern that our solutions are not one-size-fits-all. Frost’s missional heartbeat raises important questions. He wants soteriology (the study of salvation) to be believed through behavior. “We do not need works for our salvation, but we do need works to show our salvation” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Here we all can celebrate our monochotism. Ourwholeness shows the whole gospel

Dr. Mark Eckel is Professor of Leadership, Education & Discipleship, Capital Seminary & Graduate School, Washington, D.C.  This review appeared in the print edition of Englewood Review of Books, Spring, 2014, is published here with permission from the author.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[59] ZEALOT:   THE LIFE and TIMES of JESUS of NAZARETH

Reza Aslan (NY: Random House, 2013)

Reza Aslan is a young man who claims to have swallowed Christianity whole some years back, after which he plunged into extra-biblical, historical scholarship on the Christianity in general and Jesus, in particular. That scholarship took him on a journey of questioning as to the actual authors of much of the New Testament text and the accuracy of the books on the canon.

As for Christ, Aslan settles on the notion that only two things are true: He was a political activist intending to re-establish the Jewish nation and he was crucified. That’s it.

Few of us will quarrel with the #2, though many read scripture rather differently with reference to Aslan‘s first assertion. So do many other scholars, not all of whom are committed to Scripture as a standard. Aslan claims Jesus was not born in Bethlehem—a fanciful notion inserted by the mainly Luke, says the author—but rather in Nazareth. Aslan lays low on the divinity of Christ, not really taking much of a position there. The author also concludes that Jesus was, indeed, baptized by John the Baptist, but does not affirm their cousinhood nor that John saw Jesus as the spiritual Messiah. Rather, the author claims to that Jesus began his ministry under John, and then “morphed” into a strong, Jewish nationalist. That the Romans crucified Jesus, is cited as a basis for Jesus being a politico, as crucifixions were often used to punish Roman challengers. Aslan washes out much of Christ’s spiritual focus by claiming that the Gospels were written at a time in which it was unwise to be candid about His political mission, given the endangered state in which Jews were living at the time.

Paul is severed from the rest of the Apostles, not only because he did not travel with Jesus, as they did, but rather because he is seen as preaching a much different message from the Jewish base, led by James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter, the leaders of the church. The latter are portrayed as fully committed to Judaism culturally and politically, while Paul ventured off to Gentiles.

On the plus side, Aslan does well in capturing the tenor of the 1st Century times—the political and cultural state of Judaism, and the oppressive dominance of their Roman rulers–and in describing the myriad would-be messiahs of the era, many of whom met death at the hands of the Romans as they led their insurrections. He does well in describing the commonality and nature of Roman crucifixions. Aslan did a solid job of reviewing the historical literature, but is not credited—even among more evangelical critics—to have broken much new ground in the book. Moreover, Aslan also has a cake-and-eat-it orientation to the Bible. While dismissing much of the New Testament as inaccurate, or driven by a desire among its authors to doctor or slant some of its message, he quotes extensively from the Bible when he wishes to support a given point. When one calls the validity and accuracy of a manuscript into question, it is difficult to justify using segments from the same volume as documentation.

The doubting believer may be a bit rattled as he or she reads Aslan’s rather well-written book. Indeed, questioning the Nativity Scene is a bit much for many believers. Focusing on a this-world direction of Jesus’ ministry is a huge leap out of orthodoxy. As I went through the book I was awaiting the climax: Just where does this supposed one-time evangelical land after his foray into history. Well, that isn’t exactly clear. A claims still to be a follower of Christ, affirming the worthiness of such in a sentence or two at the end of the book, but just what that constitutes in terms of faith and orthodoxy is completely unclear. One gets the impression he is not quite willing to plunk Jesus on the same shelf with Ghandi, George Washington, and Martin Luther King, but at the same time, hardly the Lord of the universe either.

The story of Zealot, illustrates the need for faith and learning in general, and apologetics in particular. I feel badly for Aslan. He came out of unbelief and began his Christian journey with a childlike faith, less in terms of humility than in naivete. The latter propelled him to study and open his mind to secular scholarship and analysis. The result was typical: A faith with little transcendence or spiritual transformation.

Dr. David Claerbaut is the Founder and Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com and a Research Methodologist ast Grand Canyon University.

A Review by Mark Eckel

[58] MAKE YOUR MARK:   GETTING RIGHT WHAT SAMSON GOT WRONG

Brad Gray (Brentwood, TN: FaithWords, 2014)

You better strap your boots on. Gray does not bring it weak. You will need your intellect, will, and spirit as Brad Gray teaches through his first book, Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong.  Gray communicates incisive insights and Spirit-driven conviction. You will be ready both to buy more books for others to read at the same time repenting of your sin.  Gray’s writing style is arresting, staccato, boxing jabs landing relentless reading ‘blows.’ At other times his words run us straight into force-fields, stopping us in our tracks to pause and consider.

Make Your Mark is a unique, unusual book. Gray’s strength is showing us Samson’s strengths and his failures, then setting up a mirror where we can see ours. We are surprised as Gray reminds us Samson is in Hebrews 11, the ‘hall of heroes.’ But then we see, we are a messed up bunch just like our heroes. We bookend our spiritual successes with sinful escapades; exactly the lessons of Samson (170-72). I have told my students for years I am so thankful The Bible is not being written now. I would hate to be included in a book read by millions for hundreds of years. The reader is introduced to parallel tracks: exposition of The Text and application to life. Gray’s commitment to Scripture and his brand of relevance, rivet the reader.

Gray’s exposure of the reader to biblical culture and history is mesmerizing. He easily offers pivotal insights into Scripture’s meaning. Gray makes the audacious—but I believe proper—claim that Samson was to have used his strength for evangelistic purposes (149). Similar connections are easily made to the life of Solomon, for instance, as he ‘holds court’ before world leaders (1 Kings 9-10), displaying his wisdom with the clarion call that there is only one God (Ecclesiastes’ use of ‘God’ includes the direct article before almost every occurrence indicating “the one and only”). My copy of Make Your Mark is pockmarked with exclamation points. Hebrew words are used throughout the book—be ready. Many of language references lead to stunning observations such as the importance of the word “see” in the Samson narrative (120-28).

Peppered in the text we find Gray’s fascinating stories and hilarious one-liners (“Nothing like being called a cow at your wedding reception by your husband,” 16). Gray makes clear corollary connections to other Bible passages (40), he eliminates invalid interpretations (42), and introduces rabbinic teaching tactics (52). We learn the importance of names in Samson’s world (72), what it meant to be a Nazarite (112-14), the origin of the Philistine nation (139ff), not to mention why the color blue is so important to the Hebrews (135-36). Cultural connections are immediately tied to today’s standards. If we don’t think The Text applies to us, Gray immediately breaks us of that idea (48).

Among other things, all Samson curriculum being taught in Sunday schools and Christian schools must now be rewritten because of Make Your Mark. There are any number of famous young pastors producing book-after-book. Gray’s book is built not on sermonic materials repurposed for resale: Gray is a pastor-scholar who has literally lived in the places he explains to readers, spending three years writing this volume. His work entails detailed analysis with a sometimes uncanny ability to bring the reader to a theatre seat as he explains, in pictorial detail on the page before us, exactly what is happening in Judges 13-16. It is an honor for me to have taught his Christian Life and World Studies’ high school classes. It is a privilege now to tell the world about the next generation of Christian teachers, starting with Brad Gray.  Buy Make Your Mark and a good pair of boots.

Dr. Mark Eckel is professor of Leadership, Education & Discipleship at Capital Seminary & Graduate School.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[57] REDEEMER:   The LIFE of JIMMY CARTER

Randall Balmer (Jackson, TN: Basic Books, 2014)

Randall Balmer has made a leftward theological journey, and that is key in understanding the slant of this book. He once attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and now finds himself an Episcopalian priest and professor at Dartmouth. Balmer was drawn to Carter in his youthful days because of Carter’s fearless claim to being born again–a politician who was unabashed in taking his faith seriously. Over the years he came to admire Carter’s ability to integrate his commitment to social concern with his evangelical faith.

Balmer traces Carter’s career. After taking over his father’s peanut farm, the graduate of the Naval Academy decided to run for the state senate in 1962. He won a disputed election, despite nearly being the victim of political corruption. Just four years later Jimmy Carter ran for governor, this time losing to segregationist, Lester Maddox. Utterly disconsolate in losing the election, a gray, depressive period followed for the future President. In 1967, Carter made a recommitment to Christ, much aided by his sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton. Carter put his faith in action, going on two door-knocking missionary journeys under the leadership of Rev. Eloy Cruz. Impressed by Cruz, Carter asked him what was the secret to living a powerful Christian life. Cruz said there were two elements: Love God and the person in front of you.

Spiritually rejuvenated, in 1970 Carter’s political career rebounded. He won the Georgia statehouse, but he did so courting the segregationist vote. Uneasy about it to this day, Carter told advocates of the United Negro College Fund during the campaign that they would not like his campaign but they would like his administration. Upon becoming Governor, Southerner Carter stated, “The time for racial discrimination is over.” This public break with the state’s racist past put him on the national map. Almost immediately, he was thinking about running for President. To understand Balmer’s treatment of Carter, it is important to realize that the author has been in an ongoing joust with evangelicals over social concern.

Balmer feels that evangelicals, in their focus on personal salvation, have abandoned the second Great Commandment. He uses Carter’s life to beat that drum. Balmer cites two salient events, the Thanksgiving, 1973, Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Concern, a treatise addressing the issues afflicting those on society’s outer margins. Then six months later at the University of Georgia’s Law Day, Governor Carter spoke powerfully in support of Reinhold Niebuhr’s call to “establish justice in a sinful world.” A fan of Niebuhr–and iconic social dissident Bob Dylan–Carter deplored the unfairness of the powerful toward ordinary people. The speech was so piercing, radical journalist Hunter Thompson went to his car to get his tape recorder, as he believed he was witnessing a truly novel event: A politician speaking the truth. By 1974 Carter announced for president—the longest of long shots, he was not even among the 32 candidates the Gallup Poll got ready to track in the primaries. Carter won the nomination, beating George Wallace in the Florida primary along the way, and ultimately entered the White House.

Four years later, many of the same evangelical voters who helped form his base, abandoned Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan. The conventional wisdom, according to Balmer, is that abortion was the third rail issue that turned evangelicals against him. Balmer did yeoman research on this and disagrees. He asserts that it was actually Carter’s stand against racial segregation, imperiling the tax exempt status of private evangelical organizations with restrictive racial policies, institutions like Bob Jones University. Balmer claims that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell corroborated his conclusion, and that only later was abortion seized upon by the Falwell people as the wedge issue against Carter among evangelicals. Balmer’s thoughts on these matters are sure to stimulate some interesting conversation.

Balmer lauds Carter’s post-presidency, one in which he put his Christian social concern into action. While other former Presidents golfed with celebrities, skied the slopes of Aspen, pocketed hefty speaking fees, and deposited royalty checks, Carter pounded nails for Habitat for Humanity and traveled the world focusing on those “without,” ultimately winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Jimmy Carter lived his faith and does to this day. Balmer ends his book citing a curious paradox. He sees Carter as a proponent of salvation by grace, but one who seems to live a works/righteousness lifestyle. Throughout his life Carter has been driven by work, believing it to be the portal to success. That belief served him well until he got to the White House. There he labored tirelessly, only to be repudiated as President, in part because of his workaholic micromanagement. Nonetheless, work continued to drive Carter after leaving Washington. The Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity are activist organizations. Now 90, he still has not retired. In Balmer’s thinking it is as if Carter believes that if he works hard enough he might be able to shift history’s judgment of his less than successful presidency in the direction of the “win column.” To Balmer, the man so committed to his Redeemer seems never to feel fully redeemed himself. Though citing some of his faults, Balmer paints a very favorable picture of the 39th President. He credits Carter with “redeeming” the nation from Watergate and living a life of unquestioned integrity. Jimmy Carter is indeed an honorable man, one whose character shines particularly brightly when compared with the disreputable conduct of so many in public life.

I, however, am not quite so taken by him. Despite his virtues, Carter’s behavior too often smacks of pride and self-righteousness. The pride showed through early in his raw political ambition. He swapped out a good bit of his integrity to win the statehouse in 1970, and he was hardly accustomed to the mattress in the governor’s mansion before his thoughts had turned to the presidency. By 1974 the peanut farmer turned politician was “all-in” for the White House. He wasn’t ready. Generally considered to having had a “failed presidency,” many contend he was simply too green for the job—a charge leveled against our current chief executive. For Carter, ambitious pride may have led to destruction. The pride turned to bitterness, when Ted Kennedy challenged him for the nomination in 1980. He seemed to harbor this bitterness for decades, taking a few final broadsides at the late Senator even after his death in 2009, when Kennedy could not respond. I felt they were low blows, totally unfitting of a former President, particularly one of the faith. One gets the impression that Carter thinks Kennedy’s challenge cost him re-election. I submit it was not Kennedy’s challenge or Carter’s stance on social issues. Carter lost because he was a bad President. Pride seemed to evolve into self-righteousness after he left the presidency.

Over the decades he has had the temerity to criticize his successors while they occupied the White House. This has made him an outsider in the current fraternity of living former Presidents. Though eventually a dear friend of Gerald Ford, neither Nixon nor Reagan seemed to hold him in high regard either. From Nixon to George W., all but Carter have been very careful with their public statements about sitting presidents, choosing rather to support the current national leader publicly, knowing how difficult the job is. Ironically, none of these men fared as poorly as Carter at the very job on which he now seems to think he is an expert. From a faith and learning perspective, I wish Carter had abandoned trying to rescue his place in history and critiquing his successors, and spent more time sharing his views on the integration of social concern with evangelical Christian faith. That divide–one that continues to this day—could well have benefitted from Carter’s impressive Christian worldview thinking.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[56] THE REAGAN ENIGMA: 1964-1980

Thomas C. Reed, (Los Angeles: Figueroa Press, 2014) 

This is one of those before-he-became-President books, written by Thomas C. Reed, who worked closely with the former president prior to his entering the White House. It is fresh, chock full of up-close insights into the person of Reagan, and rather uncritical. The book focuses on what made Reagan tick, as Reed stated in an interview about the tome. Throughout Reagan’s career, he was described as an intellectual bantamweight. It is Reed’s contention that Reagan was “a master of the political stage.” Reed feels Reagan’s “mind was immense” and nimble, enabling him to communicate with anyone. He was amiable and fun to accompany.

As others have pointed out, however, Reed says Reagan had no close personal friends. Even Nancy was kept at distance. A son of an alcoholic, he was a loner yet a people pleaser, and a teller of stories, all of which had to have a happy ending. For example, he dismissed an interest in the 1968 presidency, simply, according to Reed, because he did not win. In Iran Contra, as indisputable as the evidence appears to be, he still stated that in his heart he had not traded arms for hostages. Reagan had no lust for power. He dismissed the accoutrements and perks of power. That drive was supplied by Nancy. Without her, the author contends, he would not have had a political career.

Despite his wife’s influence, however, Reed regards Reagan as a decisive independent thinker. Reagan, a liberal Democrat and devotee of FDR, soured on Truman when the Korean War became an endless military swamp, similar to Vietnam a decade later. He switched allegiance to Eisenhower and later Nixon in 1960, while still a Democrat. Two years later he became a Republican. Ike became a mentor to Reagan as the latter tried to rebuild the Republican Party after 1964. He probably embraced “peace through strength” due to Ike’s influence, suggests Reed. Reed claims Reagan’s chief enemy was Robert Kennedy. In 1961 as Attorney General, RFK chased down political enemies. In 1962, seeing Reagan as a political foe, Kennedy put him before a grand jury and subsequently subpoenaed his tax returns. Reagan lost his job as host of GE Theater. Whether or not true, Reagan believed Kennedy engineered the loss of his job. The future President sought revenge in a 1967 debate with Kennedy and went all out for the presidency in 1968, leaving the race only after Kennedy’s death.

Very religious, Reagan’s pastor was present in 1965 at a meeting launching his political career. Reagan read Revelation, and Armageddon was a prime force motivating him to end the Cold War. This spiritual mission influenced his associates. Reed recalls meeting with Bill Clark, a Reagan insider, in which they discussed the Reagan goal to defeat the Soviet Union and end the Cold War. Clark, a Roman Catholic, told Reed they had a secret weapon that would bring victory, and slammed a crucifix down on the table. Reagan was a fierce competitor, and his unwillingness to accept defeat had much to do with how the Cold War was won, in Reed’s thinking. During a 1982 meeting with Reagan, the President told Reed “we have a problem,” referring to the Soviet Union. He commissioned Reed to get a group together and determine how to end the Cold War. What’s the endgame? asked Reed. “That’s simple, Tom. We win. They lose.” Over the next few months a plan was designed. Reed gives Reagan great credit for understanding the weaknesses of the Russians and how to exploit them.

For Reed, his “vast mind and his ability to connect with anyone anywhere” is the key to understanding the Reagan enigma. Ronald Reagan’s classic adult-child-of-an-alcoholic insular nature limits our understanding of his personal theology. What we do know is that he integrated his faith with his learning. At the foundation of his quest against Communism in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, was his belief that he was on the side of Right. In short, he lived a theology that enabled him to keep a Godly focus during dangerous times.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[55] THE LAWYER BUBBLE: A PROFESSION in CRISIS

Stephen J. Harper, (Jackson, TN: Basic Books, 2013)

My daughter is a lawyer, and during a recent visit, encouraged me to read The Lawyer Bubble. It is not a happy story. Written by Steven J. Harper, a well-established law professor at Northwestern Law School, the book is another sad tale of greed and victimization. In short, there are simply too many lawyers, and while law firms and law schools are benefitting, the emerging Juris Doctors are not. In brief, the major law firms have developed a Napoleonic complex—as in other industries, attempting to merge, devour, and expand, all in the quest of ever-greater wealth. Partners at these firms are swimming in affluent waters and are disinclined to retire and open and the track to partnership for underlings. These corpulent felines are really not able to bill sufficiently to justify their salaries, leaving much of the work to an army of lesser paid subordinates while the oligarchs skim off the top.

But wait. It gets worse. For those graduating from the elite law schools victimization is but a few years away. These new lawyers are often hired by established firms at very attractive beginning salaries. Four years later those salaries are gone. Why? Because, competent as they may be, they are not on the partner track and the firm now feels they are simply too expensive to retain as their seniority now commands more money. With that they are “downsized” and a new cadre of dewy-eyed barristers take their place. What happens to those in the 4-and-out group?

Anything’s possible. They may try to go independent, hook on with a corporation, or maybe park cars for tips at a rich casino. For many, all that is left of their legal career is their law school debt. Those debts, might I add, are not forgivable. They are no more erasable in bankruptcy than an IRS bill. All of which leads us to the law schools. They continue to promote the profession as a successful and lucrative entity. The elites love to publish the placement stats of their recent graduates in terms of finding a position and enjoying a hefty income right out of the halls of ivy. What they do not discuss is the 4-and-out pattern or the future of law as a profession.

So how does this comport with faith and learning? The book is a testament to the love of mammon in a culture resigned to deteriorating ethics. What was once an honorable profession, has become rich fodder for pejorative lawyer jokes, many of which are not all that hyperbolic in substance, because of the love of money that seems to drive so many in the profession. Worse, by luring prospective students into the profession through deceitful manipulation, it is cannibalistic, swallowing legions of unsuspecting students who head for law school each fall, thinking they are pursuing entrance into an “honorable profession,” one that will generate enough money and provide sufficient occupational security to pay off their daunting student loans and enable them to live in reasonable comfort. For the reader, the desire of law firms to abandon truly professional and expert service, as they travel the road of unlimited expansion and increased revenue, is dismaying enough, but in an age of rampant greed and quests for power one would have to be a tad naïve to be shocked.

The role of the law schools, however, is another matter. To read the story of how these celebrated, non-profit bastions of higher learning willingly contribute to building the bubble–selling prospective students a mirage-like description of a future in law–is harder to accept. In short, The Lawyer Bubble is another story of how those in power attempt to expand their dominance and protect their position at the top of the cultural food chain. Bloated partners refuse to retire as their firms attempt to expand revenues by virtually any means possible, while law schools—thirsting for additional tuition income—seduce the uninitiated into taking on heavy debt in pursuit of a professional dream that is often a nightmare For the Christian, a reading of Matthew 25 and the social justice call to care for the hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned provides a stark contrast to the current operation of a profession founded on a commitment to justice.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Publisher of FaithandLearningForum.com.

A Review by David Claerbaut

[54] APOSTLES of REASON: The CRISIS of AUTHORITY in EVANGELICALISM

Molly Worthen, (NY: Oxford University Press, 2013)

This is an important book, one that should spawn others of similar quality.  Though Molly Worthen makes no pretense to being an evangelical, she offers a very even-handed review of current, and for that matter, historical evangelicalism and the issues it faces.  It is probably good to have a book like this written by a fair-minded non-evangelical, as it provides a reasoned yet outsider’s view of the status of evangelical culture.

Growing up a secularist, Worthen claims that since about 99% of humanity’s worldview is to some degree informed by religious thinking, she became interested in religion.  Her work is so balanced that the evangelical community has, in general, received her well. This is a history book, and Worthen traces the history of evangelicalism well beyond the borders of the United States.  Karl Barth, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell, Harold Ockenga, Francis Schaeffer, and Billy Graham all receive attention.

She does not offer a definitive definition of evangelicalism, but rather asserts that it is organized around three major questions.  These can be stated in various ways, but here is their essence: How does one unify faith and reason? How does one gain an assurance of salvation? How does one make a personal faith relevant in a world of diversity? Of particular interest to the faith-and learning community is her take on the interface between evangelicalism and the secular academy.  Worthen, observationally and without disrespect, notes that evangelicals do not “play by the rules” of the secular academy.  By that she means that evangelical institutions—particularly Christian colleges—limit critical inquiry, leaving some controversial issues off limits.  That is certainly a fair assessment.  For years, evolution was outside the foul lines.

Nonetheless, Worthen does seem to understand the “why” of this, that Christian institutions, of necessity, operate in the context of certain unshakable assumptions (similar to Wolterstorff’s control beliefs) and hence, would understandably limit some inquiry.  The anti-intellectual strain among many evangelical groups, harking back to the Scopes Trial in 1925, has forced the movement into a somewhat defensive position in its relationship with an increasingly secular intellectual culture.  Henry, Lindsell, Ockenga, Schaeffer, and Graham, among others, have tried to address that challenge.  In fact, this website’s very existence is a response to that issue. Despite those controls there is a crisis of authority among evangelicals.

There is, as Worthen puts it, no “magisterial authority” in the larger evangelical culture.  Although Roman Catholics squabble, they have the papacy at the top, and Catholics do manage to stay together amid their disagreements.  Mainline liberal Protestants seem to bow the knee to science and human reason as they confront key dilemmas.  Not so, evangelicals.  Lacking a common doctrinal constitution, or even definition, and coming from different ethnic and historical traditions, they are continually redefining themselves.  Despite the departure of some evangelical giants from the mainstage—Schaeffer, Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, for example—Worthen does not see the end of its cultural impact.  The Gen X and Millennial crowd may no longer embrace right wing politics, but they do indeed concern themselves with how they can speak into the culture.  With the secularizing of the West, the new breed sees itself more as a minority group, one that may well be in the place of the apostles of the First Century.  But look what they accomplished.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Founder of FaithandLearningForum.com

A Review by David Claerbaut

[53] DR J.: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Julius Erving and Karl Tao Greenfield,  (NY: Harper, 2013)

I don’t like books like this—a tell-somewhat-all autobiography in which the now less than popular subject (east of 60) wishes to tell “his side of the story” in an effort to convince the reader he’s not such a bad guy after all.  And that is what Dr. J.: The Autobiography is.  I doubt he would have written it had he not tumbled from grace so publicly. Julius Erving’s popularity rating has plummeted a good bit over recent years.   It started when we discovered that he had sired tennis star, Alexandra Stevenson, decades back with a lover, while still married to his then wife, Turquoise.  He followed that with an out-of-wedlock boy in 2003. Two more children ensued, all by the same partner, Dorys Madden.  Erving’s heartbroken and enraged wife finally went through with a divorce, and he eventually married Madden.  Along the way, a son from his first marriage, Cory, died in an auto accident in 2000.

Give Erving credit.  His book is expansive, a true autobiography, running 448 pages.  It tells of his youth in the hardscrabble playgrounds in New York, where he earned the nickname, Dr. J.  That is followed by his entering UMass in 1968 and dominating the hardwood there, averaging over 32 points and 20 rebounds a game. In 1971, Erving left for the Virginia Squires of the old ABA, in an era in which the new league was jousting with the more established NBA for the entertainment dollar. Given that Erving won two championships, three MVP trophies, three scoring titles, and was a four-time All-ABA First Team pick in his 5-year sojourn in the NBA, it is safe to say that he, as much as any player, drove the NBA to effect a merger with the ABA in 1976.

Independent of Erving’s sexual misadventures he has had quite a life with many stories to tell—life as an urban hoops hero, stardom at UMass, dominance in the glitzy and zany ABA, and even an NBA championship in Philly, followed by a front office job with the Orlando Magic.  And he tells them—candidly—in this lengthy book.  The problem, however, is that Erving’s sexual failings dominate his public persona as much as Watergate did Richard Nixon’s.  And on that issue, the reviews will be mixed.  To his credit, Erving owns up to his misdeeds, but he finds some rationalization exit doors along the way, for example, attributing the demise of his marriage to the death of his troubled son.  One wonders if Turquoise would agree.

Methinks not.

Reportedly, she is healing from a life of infidelity and disappointment with Erving, with the loss of her son an immensely tragic event amid a lengthy process of living in denial and in an unhealthy obeisance to her famous husband. And this is the problem I have with books like these.  They become apologias for the famous person and his behavior, while significant figures who may have been victimized by their wrongdoings have no voice.  The author is able to shape context and hence, recover some lost respect.

Make no mistake, Erving is in many respects a decent person.  He has done me a professional favor or two, and he is a gracious and polite man.  Moreover, having worked with professional athletes, I can safely assert that the sexual temptations confronting them are beyond the imagination of the uninitiated.  In brief, I wonder how many Christian finger-pointers would have done any better. And that brings us to this: Julius Erving is a professing Christian.  He has been one for many years.  I would not call his faith into question, and I am happy to hear these pregnancies eventuated in live births, but that does not mean I have to like the book.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Founder of FaithandLearningForum.com

A Review by David Claerbaut

[52] NAMATH: A BIOGRAPHY

Mark Kriegel, (NY: Penguin Books, 2005)

According to Jack Newfield of the New York Sun (8-13-2004) Mark Kriegel wrote this splendid book on the heels of being fired from his sports columnist position at the New York Daily News all very suddenly and unexpectedly in 2001. Whatever the motivation, this is one excellent biography.  This 400-plus page book rolls, delivering facts and insights at a dizzying pace. The subject is Broadway Joe Namath—playboy extraordinaire and megastar quarterback of the fledgling New York Jets from 1965 through 1976.  Rather than a look-at-me tome, typical of Paul Hornung-like autobiographical fillers, this one goes deep. Namath comes off, not as a strength-to-strength luminary of his age, but as a broken man, marked more by the divorce of his Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania parents than anything else.  Oh yes, Super Bowl III is well covered, along with Broadway Joe’s brilliance in high school and at Alabama under Bear Bryant, but what grabs the reader in this one is not the women he bedded nor the touchdown passes he threw, but rather the pain—physical and emotional in which he lived.

His infamous knees betrayed him before he left Alabama in 1965.  He already had the knees of a 70-year-old, according to Kriegel, only to injure them almost annually over the next dozen years.  The devastation of his 1950’s parents’ divorce—when Joe was the in 7th grade–a rarity in an ethnic (Hungarian) Catholic family at the time, branded him.  Young Joe stood at the top of the stairs and wept as his father (a steel mill worker who remained attentive to him to the end of his life) left his beloved mother, Rose, for a younger woman.  With his older brothers out of the house, Joe watched his mother scratch out a living for the two of them.  From there Namath begins a life centered on athletics and street savvy.  Beginning in junior high, Kriegel describes Namath as “cool,” in an era in which being cool was highly valued, but never self-revealing, never vulnerable. The divorce experience did two things to him: it terrified him of marriage and insured that he would be 100% faithful and attentive to his wife and family were he ever to marry.

In the meantime, what developed were addictions to alcohol, sex, and soft drugs, common but major detours in the ‘60’s culture.  Those both gave him a high and also dulled the ever-present emotional and physical pain that were a part of his life of denial. The power of Kriegel’s book lies in the research and the insight.  Kriegel interviewed roughly 80 people, well dispersed throughout Namath’s life, enabling the reader to feel secure in the accuracy of the details and events the author presents.  More than that, Kriegel captures the real Namath—the broken man who lies to himself and the world as he indulges in the pursuits of the flesh. He also captures the ambivalence of Namath’s teammates who on one hand admired his physical courage and on-the-field leadership and skill, while on the other resented his operating free of the rules and salary restraints that characterized their own NFL careers.  Moreover, in later years Namath was a no-show at team reunions and even charity functions led by former teammates.

In short, Namath comes off as generous in the moment (he paid all the bar and restaurant bills) yet unwilling to give of himself in meaningful ways.  Namath was unwilling to cooperate with Kriegel’s book, wanting to be paid. Interestingly, Namath grew up with African-Americans in Beaver Falls.  One his closest chums Linwood Alford is black, and Joe starred as the lone white starter on his high school basketball team.  That this barely over six feet youth could dunk forward and backward is testimony to his impressive athletic prowess.  On the racial front, Namath gets high marks for his non-respecter of persons nature and his egalitarian attitude.  Here again, however, it falls short of any stand-taking in any political sense at Alabama (where he had no black teammates) or anywhere else. With his career behind him, Namath developed his acting skills, managing to become a competent thespian.

In 1984, at 41, he married the then 22-year-0ld Deborah Mays, eager to embark on a family life marked by marital fidelity and total dedication.  The union resulted in two daughters, over whom Namath doted in a near Mr. Mom fashion.  Mays, however, was not as dedicated.  After a decade, the wannabe actress found domestic life boring and left Namath for Brian Novack, a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon.  Soon his children were gone as well, and Namath’s steady companion became alcohol.  He medicated like never before, culminating in a December 20, 2003, public meltdown when, upon being asked about the Jets’ struggles by ESPN’s Suzy Kolberg during a Monday Night Football telecast, Namath responded with, “I want to kiss you. I couldn’t care less about the team strugg-a-ling.”  From there it was rehab, an experience he feared, followed by a life of sobriety and recovery.

Namath is one terrific book.  This one is worth getting on Amazon.  It is chock full of prods for the faith and learning thinker.  The sins of the father certainly victimize the children here, and the wages of sin are paid at the retail price for the ultimately left-behind Namath.  There is a sadness to this fascinating story, one of a young man well-schooled in Catholicism, whose theism is evident throughout life but never seems to be practiced in his lifestyle or major life decisions.  One gets a lonely, lost feeling in reading the book.  Ultimately, Namath’s princely, playboy life appears more one he simply lived and experienced rather than one he truly enjoyed.  The real story is about a man and his several addictions, all aimed at medicating the pain triggered by a childhood hurt only to encounter an infinitely more severe trauma in his middle years.

Dr. Claerbaut is the Founder of FaithandLearningForum.com

 A Review by David Claerbaut

[51] I JUST NEED TIME to THINK

Mark Eckel, (Indianapolis, IN: Westbow Press, 2013)

If I had to find a single term to describe the work of Mark Eckel, the term would be thought-provoking. That term would describe his delightful book, I Just Need Time to Think. Do not be put off by the title. Though very suitable for Christian educators at every level, this book is not just for “professional thinkers.” It is for any person who really takes her sunglasses off and thinks as she passes through this world. The book has a profoundly solid Christian worldview, but can be enjoyed by, and influential to the non-believer.

I Just Need Time to Think! is a collection of 52 essays. One of the attractive aspects of this book is that Eckel gets straight to the point, managing to deliver a gem about which to think in 3 to 4 pages per essay. It is loosely organized around a series of topics, among them Retreat, Reflection, Discipline, Walking, Place, and Obstacles. I said loosely, because the reader should be ready for surprises.

Nothing is off limits. Eckel addresses politics, books, movies, education, walking, the Holocaust, memorable quotes, and country music, among myriad others. All of it through a clear Christian lens. In the introduction, in response to the common student cry, “Why do we have to study this?” Eckel offers 12 insightful to-the-point reasons why we need to study the world from a Christian perspective.

There are plenty of goodies in this 174-page gift bag. Here are a few. In one essay, Eckel jumps off the bathroom scale (pun intended), using it as a metaphor to explain that the key to academic discipline lies in embracing the simple wonder of learning new things. For Eckel, I suspect it goes beyond wonder to joy.

In the Holiday Christmas section, the chillingly titled, “I Murdered Them All Myself” introduces the reader to why we are so attracted to mysteries in a world in which the ultimate mystery is God becoming man. The book is deliciously out-of-the-box. In “Christmas, the Scrooge in Us All,” Eckel interestingly connects Christmas to Israel’s King Ahaz.

In another essay, he introduces us to the idea that being a student is a vocation, not some test-taking interlude before one embarks on a career or career change. Memorable thoughts are everywhere. The statement, “A society too commercial in orientation might lose its sense that there is anything higher than immediate gratification,” is a quote typical of the book. Eckel even addresses boredom, something the reader is unlikely to experience with this book.

One of the delightful features of the book lies in Eckel’s gift of being both entertaining and insightful. He takes everyday experiences—like a routine daily walk, for example–and invests them with wonder, richness, and yes, humor.

When you read I Just Need Time to Think! you will meet Mark Eckel. You will feel you know him—his family, interests, experiences, and idiosyncrasies. He will provoke you to think, but it will be fun and worthwhile. And you will want more. And you can find more–on his excellent and yes, thought-provoking www.warpandwoof.org website.

Dr. Claerbaut is a Research Methodologist at Grand Canyon University.

 

 

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