Writing a book is hard work, so those who write good ones deserve honor, and those who write ones that are both good and big deserve double honor. That's why I come to praise two big books and one enormous project.
Big book No. 1, Wayne Grudem's Politics According to the Bible (Zondervan), shows how we should approach more than 50 specific issues. Politics-related books seeming to get the most publicity among Christian audiences this year are those of the riding-high religious left and those recommending a vacation from politics. Grudem systematically shows why biblically based good sense is superior to liberal nostrums. He also shows that the issues are too important to be met with a lazy-minded "plague on both your parties" reaction.
Big book No. 2 belies the saying that "you can't tell a book by its cover." The cover of Paul Kengor's Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century (ISI, 2010) shows President Jimmy Carter and the late Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev in the process of exchanging cheek kisses. Over nearly 600 well-researched pages, Kengor shows how liberal icons like John Dewey, Franklin Roosevelt, Walter Cronkite, and others, along with a long line of Hollywood actors, were dupes for Communism; Lenin called such folks "useful idiots."
The parallels between Soviet-appeasers of the past and Islamist-appeasers of the present are clear. We could use clear speaking of the kind Ronald Reagan offered in 1981 when Cronkite and others took issue with his tough "opinion" regarding Soviet leaders. Reagan replied, "I don't have to offer my opinion. They have told us where they're going again and again. They have told us their goal is the Marxian philosophy of world revolution and a single, one-world Communist state, and that they're dedicated to that."
Grudem and Kengor have done excellent work. But my jaw drops when I look at the eight beautiful volumes already produced by the Christian History Project and SEARCH, the Society to Explore and Record Christian History. The eight are part of a projected 12-volume series titled The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. (Volume 9 is scheduled to come out Nov. 15.) This is solid history told the way history should be written, with sound and fury signifying something vital about the drama God has produced.
The writing is lively and the characters are vivid. That's unusual in history-writing these days, where pedantry often trumps poetry and life seems like a treadmill. But on my treadmill I've been reading volume eight and learning more about Dante, the Black Death, the "Babylon captivity" of the Roman Catholic Church, Czech hero John Hus, Joan of Arc, the fall of Constantinople, Spain under Christian leaders, the voyages of discovery (most notably the journeys of Christopher Columbus), the Italian Renaissance, and the decline of the papacy.
The writing is like that of Barbara Tuchman and other thoughtful popularizers. Writers develop many sub-themes, but they tie into the central message of this volume: "amid its splendors, night falls on medieval Christianity." The graphics are terrific: lots of color, lots of explanatory maps in each large-format, 288-page, hardbound volume. It's a remarkable achievement among the thorns and thistles of publishing.
The founder and general editor of the project is Ted Byfield, a Canadian journalist and magazine publisher born in 1929. Listed writers include Charlotte Allan, Vincent Carroll, Frederica Mathewes-Green, David Shiflett, Gary Thomas, Joe Woodard, and others. This is Byfield's crowning achievement, but crowns are expensive: Series publication stopped after volume six when the money ran out. Happily, contributions have started the presses again.
The problem for potential readers is also cost: Each book is $45, with some discounts for ordering the whole series or multiple copies of a volume (see www.thechristians.ca). I can't vouch for every chapter of every volume, but from what I've seen, church and school libraries, or homeschool co-ops, should make the investment whenever they can.