Category Archives: Non-fiction

…but Christians can’t do science!

From Hillfaith, (tip, Instapundit):


Meet J. Warner Wallace. No, Wallace is not a former congressional investigator, but he is one of the world’s most respected experts at solving the toughest crime cases, the ones that have gone unsolved for years.

Read the rest here.

He’s NBC’s “Cold Case Detective,” and he’s a Christian. Author of, among other works, Cold-Case Christianity.

THE TURN THAT REVEALS

In this universe God made, streams run to the sea; salmon swim upstream; monarch butterflies, at winter’s coming, fly 5,000 miles in search of warmth; objects tossed into the air return to earth—and doings among men are subject to “the turn.” The yearning for justice is as engrained as yearning for the last note on a scale to be played, and godly souls feel ill at ease till it’s complete.


Andrée  Seu Peterson, “The Turn”

Saga tropes

I found a list on (of all places) a site called “TV Tropes,” describing common tropes in the sagas. I haven’t studied it exhaustively, but I find nothing here to disagree with . And some of them are amusing:

Color-Coded for Your Convenience: When colorful clothes are mentioned, it’s a hint of what is about to happen for the Genre Savvy. Character wears blue: Character is intent on killing another one. Character wears red: Character will probably get killed soon

Determined Homesteader’s Wife: Norse women worked hard — frequently harder than the men. Side note: While women in Norse society had certain rights that they typically did not have in medieval Christian societies (such as the right to divorce her husband or the right to inherit), by and large Norse society was sexist — women could, for example, not vote in the assembly or hold chieftaincies. In legal affairs, they were usually represented by male relatives.

  • The idea was that, the man is “lord” outside the house, and the wife is “lord” inside the house. As such, she didn’t have much influence in public. Still, she was the one with the “keys”, and it was a socially accepted punishment to lock the husband out of the house should she find it necessary.
  • Lost in Translation: The most obvious example is the key Icelandic social position of godi, which is so impossible to translate into a single English (or most other languages) word that most modern translations simply describe it in detail in the introduction or a footnote and then use it untranslated. Also atgeir, the Weapon of Choice of many saga characters, is often translated as “halberd” despite the fact that nobody is certain whether that’s what it actually was and no actual halberds dating from the saga era have ever been found. Finally, Old Norse poetry is notoriously difficult to translate into other languages thanks to its reliance on wordplay and complex metaphor. In particular, wordplay in poems based on people’s names is often just explained in a footnote.
  • The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: The view of the 13th and 14th century Icelanders on the viking expeditions of the past was decidedly ambivalent. Horror and moral contempt at these barbaric practices was mixed with pride in the adventurous endeavours of one’s ancestors, bold and daring gentlemen of fortune that they were. As a result, many sagas dealing with viking episodes struggle noticeably with the problem of making protagonists who spend time as sea-raiders look heroic, not horrible. One way to do this is to cover viking expeditions only summarily, generously glossing over the questionable details; another way is to have the heroes get into a clash with other, more villainous vikings, in which the latter are soundly defeated. Thus, the good guys have not only opportunity to prove their bravery against villainous mooks who deserve no better, but also end up with a lot of loot, without the stigma of having it robbed from innocent people. Of course, they never think of giving it back. — The big exception to this rule is, of course, Egil’s Saga, whose eponymous protagonist loots and kills unapologetically for his own enrichment.

‘John Clum, Apache Agent, and It All Happened in Tombstone,’ by Woodworth Clum

When, as often happened, one of the raiders lost his mount, he would proceed, running on his own feet, being careful not to set too fast a pace for the ponies.

Recently I saw an old Audie Murphy movie which, even within the canon of Audie Murphy’s ouvre, was fairly non-memorable. Walk the Proud Land was an attempt on Murphy’s part to broaden his range through playing, not a gunfighter, but a man of peace. That man, a genuine historical character, was John P. Clum. The movie failed at the box office in its time, but it succeeded in piquing my interest in a man I’d wondered about before. I knew John Clum as editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, mayor of Tombstone, and a staunch friend of Wyatt Earp. I’d also read he was a devout Christian. I’d been mostly unaware of his exemplary career as an Indian agent.

John P. Clum was a Dutch Reformed boy from a farm in New York state. Intending to enter the ministry, he attended Rutgers University, but had to drop out due to lack of funds. His education did earn him a job as a weather observer for the US Army Signal Corps in Santa Fe, New Mexico, however. This led, through a college connection, to his appointment as Indian Agent at the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona.

Clum was 22 years old when he arrived at San Carlos, not entirely sure what he’d find. In general, he was pleasantly surprised. He found the Apaches, by and large, decent (by their lights) and hard-working people, scrupulously honest, and historically eager to be friends with Americans (it was the Mexicans they hated). John Clum, Apache Agent, and It All Happened in Tombstone (a compilation of two books) begins with a narrative of United States relations with the Apaches, and it’s a sad and painful story. For every American willing to treat the Apaches decently, there seem to have been ten who, motivated by greed or bigotry, lied to them, cheated them, or killed them like animals.

Clum set about earning the Apaches’ trust, helping the decent ones and punishing  the (minority of) bad actors. In time he was able to set up a working self-government system. He was particularly proud of his efficient Apache police force, which operated with distinction and crowned its achievements with the capture of Geronimo (the only time – as Clum takes pains to point out – when he was captured without voluntarily surrendering).

In time, however, bureaucratic interference and changed Indian policies left Clum with no alternative, in his own mind, to resigning his post and leaving the reservation. The later history of his Apache friends is sad to read.

There is considerable pride in Clum’s account, along with great contempt for narrowminded and bigoted Americans who spoiled what might have been an exemplary peace. The only character Clum seems to hate more than these bureaucrats is the “bad Apache” Geronimo, whom he describes as a liar, a master manipulator, and a merciless killer. He is particularly offended that his friends ended up sharing Geronimo’s fate of exile and imprisonment, without the advantages that Geronimo enjoyed – celebrity status and income from souvenir sales.

The later part of his book is Clum’s own account of his career as mayor and editor in Tombstone, during the fabled days of the Earp-Clanton feud. He is staunch in his support of Wyatt Earp (who would seem, on the face of it, an odd friend for a good Dutch Reformed boy), and (regrettably) his account varies not at all from the well-known (and much-questioned) version told by Stuart N. Lake in Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal. What will be fresh for most western buffs is Clum’s own account of what he believed to be an assassination attempt against himself on a stage coach run, when he ended up leaving the stage and proceeding on foot, to be less of a target.

The book John Clum, Apache Agent was not written by Clum himself, but was edited by his son Woodworth Clum, from his father’s unpublished papers and reminiscences. The prose is not bad – generally avoiding the excesses of Victorian baroque. The main problem with this electronic edition is that it was obviously produced through OCR transcription, so there is the occasional misread word – as well as entire lines of text getting lost now and then. But it wasn’t enough to spoil the story as a whole.

If you’re interested in the Old West, John Clum, Indian Agent, and It All Happened in Tombstone makes interesting reading. I suspect Clum left out some of the juiciest – and/or most appalling – details, so the book is suitable for most readers.

How Americans Got Christmas

Christianity Today has a series of posts pulling back the curtain on Christmas concepts and traditions. W. David O. Taylor describes the debauchery of 17th century Christmas celebrations, how Puritan leaders outlawed Christmas all together, and the influences that brought it shaped what we celebrate today.

One of those influences was Queen Victoria, who shared her family traditions with the world just as Christmas was beginning to be accepted again in America. (Alabama was the first state to make it legal in 1836.)

As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum summarizes things in The Battle for Christmas, what was once marked by liturgical celebrations at church and festivities in the village, revolving around public rituals and civic activities, eventually turned into a domestic affair, revolving around a children-centric holiday, marked by extravagant gift-giving and, in time, commercial-oriented activities.

Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.”

Add to this Dickens giving us the Spirit of Christmas instead of the Spirit of Christ and various artists portraying St. Nicholas as a secular toymaker.

Photo by Jessica Lewis/Pexels

Bing Crosby, Forgotten Giant

There’s no good reason Bing Crosby is not at the top of everyone’s list of twentieth century superstars. He had a voice just about every man wanted, even those who didn’t like men singing.

Crosby recorded 396 hit singles, 41 of which topped the charts—yet only one, his 1942 “creator recording” of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” the bestselling record of all time, continues to be heard regularly. He was also the most popular movie star in the world for five consecutive years between 1944 and 1948, a record topped only by Tom Cruise—yet few of the four dozen feature films in which he starred are still shown with any frequency on TV.

Terry Teachout reviews a new biography on Crosby, part two of what may be a three part set. Gary Giddins released the first volume back in 2001, so readers will have waited a fair piece to see Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946. Maybe that’s because writing about this man is a challenge. He led an eventful life.

Still, readers who want to know as much about Crosby as Gary Giddins wishes to tell us—among whom I count myself—will find Swinging on a Star a compelling study of the middle years of a popular artist who by the end of the Second World War was so closely identified with the American national character that he seemed to embody it.

(via Prufrock News)

Stanley: Make the Church Irresistible Again

Andy Stanley wants to make the church Irresistible again (maybe he should get ball caps printed). He explains the problems he sees in the American church in his new book, released last month, and according to Marvin Olasky, gets several things right.

Stanley notes rightly that “skinny jeans and moving lights” won’t keep many young people from abandoning Christianity. But he argues that the way to hold them, and win others who say they’re “spiritual,” is to abandon the hard things in the Bible and emphasize a smiling Jesus. C.S. Lewis brought us Mere Christianity. Pastor Stanley brings us Mere Sponge Cake.

Stanley says he knows “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but seriously people, “the Ten Commandments have no authority over you.” I don’t think Jesus would sign off on that. The new covenant is the fulfillment of the old covenant. The law given to us by Moses still reveals the state of our sin and our need for salvation. When Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, he essentially told us if we thought we knew what the law required, we didn’t know the half of it.

I don’t doubt Stanley has a pretty good point somewhere at the beginning of his line of thought, but where he runs with that line is straight heresy. I love what Steven Graydanus said about Stanley’s solution, published in an interview this summer.  Stanley said, “Without the OT, we can make a better case for Jesus,” to which Graydanus replies, “As *what*? Go into the Sistine Chapel and paint over everything except the figures of Yahweh on the central ceiling panel and Jesus on the west wall. At that point, what on earth are you looking *at*?”

Drink History from the Fountainhead

They say history is written by the winners, which is obvious because they are the ones still living. History is also written by people who implicitly swear to us they are telling the truth, that they have upturned the facts and have built the most complete picture they can of their subject.

Justin Taylor writes about Stanford professor Sam Wineburg’s book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) and draws out one example of a popular historian who has violated his oath. Howard Zinn urges us to believe the US dropped the bomb on Japan because we had the biggest hammer and we were going to use it. But the proof for this assertion crumbles when we start following citations.

“Zinn did not consult the documentary record to find the original cable. Instead, he relied on a secondary source,” who also relied on a secondary source.

In a related post on the same blog, Thomas Kidd describes how we can avoid sharing fake or falsely attributed quotations. Google Books is a great resources.

That reminds me a quote I’ve looked up without resolution. It’s attributed to Calvin, but I can’t find where he may have written it. “False teaching is easily identified by the fact that it is willingly received by all and is to everyone’s liking.”

It could be that I haven’t found the right translation, but it’s likely in this new age of free quotation someone made it up.

Will the Real Frederick Douglass Please Stand?

Douglass’s story was unique among slave narratives of the period, not because it followed one man’s path from ignorant bondage to literate freedom, but because his depiction of this journey insisted, more than any other before or since, on the connection between literacy and wisdom, between man’s physical freedom and his liberty to think for himself. In Douglass we watch not only the liberation of an American slave, but also the formation of an American consciousness.

One cannot look for a better guide through Douglass than Blighthimself a master orator and one of Yale’s last great lecturerswho is equally attuned to the beauty of Douglass’s language and the depth of his thought. Blight seeks to balance “the narrative of his life with analyses of his evolving mind, to give his ideas a central place in his unforgettable story.”

362 Cases of Innocent People Convicted of Crimes

Since we review so many crime novels on BwB, I occasionally think about posting something on true crime. I discovered a site today for the Innocence Project, a group seeking to “exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” Their site summarizes the stories of 362 people like Joseph Abbitt, who served 14 years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Even though he was at work at the time of the attack and his employer backed him up, he could not produce a time card for the day four years prior. The two victims were sure Abbitt was the man who attacked them, so he was convicted. But DNA testing was able to rule him out several years later.

It’s chilling to think law enforcers would want to wrap up a case plausibly, even if it isn’t true. But that’s human perspective for you. I hope this Innocence Project is doing good work and not just bending plausibility in another direction.

Love Yourself Above All Else

Aimee Byrd based her book No Little Women on the charge that Christian women were being led astray by shallow or false teachers who wrote books and studies for a churched female audience. Prime examples of this threat come in the form of charming, intelligent authors who use Christianized batons to beat the drums of self love.

Writer Alisa Childers reviews a new book by one such author, Rachel Harris, entitled, Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be. Naturally, it’s a New York Times bestseller (hopefully by honest sales) and currently #3 in three Amazon.com categories. Childers notes how much she likes Harris’s style and some of her stories, but despite the Christian words here and there, the themes do not point to Jesus. She preaches loving yourself above all else.

“You are meant to be the hero of your own story.”
“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
“You should be the very first of your priorities.”

The answer is always something like picking yourself up by your bootstraps and striving and trying . . . Anything but surrendering your life to Jesus and placing your trust in him alone.

Self love is big message for Christian women today. You can see it everywhere, and of course it has its place. But Jesus never talked like this. He urged us to seek His Kingdom before ourselves and to remember we are blessed when we have nothing but our Lord to rely on. If we could tune those drums up a bit, we might be able to hear a message of loving yourself enough to love Jesus most.

Who Are We or Is Self an Actual Thing?

Alan Jacobs has written a moving essay on the self, pulling together a few stories of people pushing against cultural influences on them. He begins describing a podcast that intends to show “the invisible forces that shape human behavior.” People in different situations remark on how certain cultural norms are deeply ingrained in them, even those contrary to their chosen beliefs.

The really interesting and important point here is this: It never occurs to anyone associated with the podcast that smoking is as much a “cultural norm” as disapproval of smoking, or that a commitment to multiculturalism and anti-racism emerges from “cultural messages” just as surely as does racism. And the really interesting and important question that follows is: Why not? How is it possible that a point so blindingly obvious could utterly escape the notice of people making a podcast about “the invisible forces that shape human behavior”?

Jacobs presses on with something of a take-down of secularism, an appeal to Nietzsche, and the blinding light of man’s hopelessness with God. “We will, it seems, do almost anything, construct almost any story, to avoid the recognition that something is deeply wrong with all of us.”

Our selves, in other words, are real things, not blank slates being written upon by outside forces, but ugly blocks of mud, both corrupt and corrupting. We are not chemical reactions or autonomous individuals. We are people born into families with history in a changing culture. Yes, that culture influences us. We can resist to a point and influence others in response, but we do as corrupt souls incapable of purifying ourselves.

Daniel Krauthammer on Finishing His Father’s Book

Charles Krauthammer’s son, Daniel, has written a touching paragraph on his father’s final project.

When his health crisis struck a year ago, my father was in the advanced stages of work on a new book. And when his health deteriorated and the end of his life was approaching, he entrusted me to bring it to completion on his behalf.

Read the rest here.

The book, The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, will be released in December.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.

‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

Laughing Shall I Die

And what this means for us is that if you come across headlines – as these days you very often do – which say something like ‘Vikings! Not just raiders and looters any more!’ then the headlines are wrong. If people weren’t raiding and looting (and land-grabbing, and collecting protection money), then they had stopped being Vikings. They were just Scandinavians.

The trouble with reading a book that really excites you is that you end up highlighting passage after passage. Then it’s hard to pick one out to put at the head of a review. I finally chose one from near the beginning, but there were many others.

I’ve posted an excerpt previously, because I did find Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings, by Tom Shippey an intriguing and exciting book in my favorite historical field. It’s been a long time since I’ve read one more intriguing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. In some ways Shippey’s thesis supports “my” work (Viking Legacy, which I translated), in some ways it contradicts it. I have praised Anders Winroth in a previous review (though disagreeing with him at many points). Shippey essentially discards Winroth as one who misses the whole point.

The point being that the word “Viking” is routinely misused in our day. “Viking” means a seaborne warrior – a pirate. If you write about early Medieval Scandinavians in all walks of life and re-label them Vikings, you’re confusing the matter.

To put it bluntly (again), most scholarly books with ‘Viking’ in the title turn out not to be about Vikings, because Vikings aren’t popular among scholars. This book is different: it really is about Vikings.

Continue reading ‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey