Reviews > Books

Independence Day reading

Books | Two views of America and some worthwhile investigations of John Calvin

Issue: "2009 Books Issue," July 4, 2009

With radicals in the saddle in Washington, a book such as John Kekes' The Art of Politics: The New Betrayal of America and How to Resist It (Encounter, 2008) is timely. Kekes, who was born in Hungary and lived under Nazi and Soviet dictatorships, became an American citizen three decades ago and remains committed to what radical ideologues dislike: reason, limits, liberty, toleration, justice, the right to private property, civility. The ideologues and their European big brothers look down on America and want to destroy checks and balances; Kekes suggests arguments that may have an effect on the undecideds in the middle.

Should Christians see contemporary America as friend or foe? The plot of Ted Dekker's Sinner (Thomas Nelson, 2008) involves two individuals with special powers-one can read minds, another can convince even leading political manipulators to see things her way-so dominating the White House and Congress that in a mere five days they can push through a constitutional amendment. State legislatures in a 48-hour period supposedly rush to ratify this amendment, which in the name of tolerance does not tolerate Christians saying Jesus is the only way.

Even the excesses of the Obama administration don't go that far, so it remains to be seen whether Dekker is prophetic-this novel is set in the year 2034-or paranoid. Sinner has some clunky sentences and not much character depth, but its dystopic fantasy could provoke discussion, and Dekker's publicist rightly describes his writing as "adrenaline-laced."

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Even the pessimists among us would have a hard time showing that our situation is worse than what John Calvin faced in the 1530s. John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life is a great general introduction to the theologian whose 500th birthday will be celebrated-by some-on July 10. Robert Godfrey's John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor (Crossway, 2009) is an excellent introduction to Calvin as churchman. Chapters summarize Calvin's life and delve into his view of worship, sacraments, education, and pastoral matters, as well as his positions on issues such as predestination.

Two other new Calvin books are also worthwhile. John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology (Reformation Trust, 2008) has short, readable essays on aspects of Calvin's life and belief. Authors include Sinclair Ferguson, Harry Reeder, John MacArthur, Jay Adams, and Michael Horton. Mark J. Larson's Calvin's Doctrine of the State (Wipf and Stock, 2009) examines Calvin's views of warfare and notes that he thought a mixture of aristocracy and democracy far superior to monarchy.

Briefly noted

By Marvin Olasky

Gary Gregg II and 
Mark David Hall tell of America's Forgotten Founders (Butler Books, 2008). Lee Congdon's George Kennan: A Writing Life (ISI Books, 2008) examines the writing of the largely-forgotten political realist who in the mid-20th century successfully argued for "containment" of the Soviet Union.

Mike Bechtle, who showed introverts how to communicate God's truth in Evangelism for the Rest of Us, now teaches them-in Confident Conversation (Revell, 2008)-how to start and maintain verbal meetings. Vladimir Putin seems willing to kill both introverts and extroverts if they get in the way, as Steve LeVine's Putin's Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia (Random House, 2008) shows.

Stephen Nichols, in Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us About Suffering & Salvation (Brazos, 2008), describes how Mississippi Delta residents sang through their sadness. Ed Gungor's What Bothers Me Most About Christianity (Howard Books, 2009) is a soufflé of an apologetic, but maybe the title will hook some atheists and the book will lead them to read more deeply.

Finally, two graphic novels worth considering: Andy Horner and Kyle Webster's Light Children (Vortiscope, 2008) does an excellent job of scene-setting for a fantastic story emphasizing the struggle between good and evil and the need for "salvation through sacrifice." Sadhu Sundar Singh by Alec Stevens (Calvary Comics, 2006) is a well-drawn biography of an early 20th-century Indian evangelist.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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