Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Johnny Cash: The Life

Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: The Life. Little, Brown and Company, 2013. ISBN 978-0-316-194754.

I have for a very long time enjoyed Johnny Cash's music. I knew bits and pieces of his life from various sources. I guess I learned a little more about his life when I watched the movie: Walk the Line which I have watched several times. I also knew that he made many appearances at Billy Graham's crusades. I think I thought that he was an unbeliever and converted to Christ and then he served him faithfully after his conversion. Hilburn's fine book, Johnny Cash: the Life showed me that my knowledge of Johnny Cash was minimal at best, and erroneous at worst.

Robert Hilburn was music critic for the Los Angeles Times for over thirty years. He interviewed Cash throughout his long career. He was even at Cash's famous concert at Folsom Prison. Hilburn's "journey on the book began in early 2009" when he asked Lou Rubin about "how much of the Johnny Cash story had been told." Rubin told him only about 20 percent. Many of Cash's family and friends were very generous in sharing personal information about Cash, even uncomfortable information. They, like Cash, wanted the full story told. I am glad that an effort has been made to tell the full story in these pages because it shows how much Cash overcame in his life. It shows a sinner, but a sinner who had a genuine faith that was tested repeatedly. It is not always pretty, but redemption is not always clean and pure.

Hilburn concentrates on Cash's musical career and his art. Not all questions about Cash's life will be answered in this book, but many are. Johnny Cash: the Life shows a man who struggled with sin all his life. It also shows how God worked in his life and offered him grace. This is book is quite readable owing to Hilburn's long experience as a journalist. This book is highly recommended to all readers who are interested in the life of Johnny Cash.

The Challenge of Being Baptist

Bill J. Leonard, The Challenge of Being Baptist: Owning a Scandalous Past and an Uncertain Future. Baylor University, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60258-306-1

Bill J. Leonard has been a noted Baptist Historian and scholar for many years. He was head of the Religion Department at Samford University in Birmingham for several years. Before that he was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is now Dean and Professor of Church History at the Wake Forest University Divinity School. He is the author of Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers. I read this book and it makes a good companion to this book. Leonard in The Challenge of Being Baptist asks the question is there a future for Baptists in the Twenty-first century. Leonard thinks Baptists must answer some crucial questions if they will have a future. Leonard is optimistic about the future of Baptists pointing them to their early history and key confessions. He also points out the key Baptist doctrines of Believer's baptism, the covenant community, separation of church and state, and religious freedom.

The Challenge of Being Baptist contains seven chapters. Topics explored in these chapters are Baptist's past, polity, beliefs about the Bible, eternal security, covenant community, and the future of Baptists. Leonard shows the great diversity of Baptists. This has been true from its very beginning. For example, Baptists have been both Calvinists and Arminians. I saw a Methodists in debate with Calvinist Baptists say that Baptists need to make up their mind whether they are Calvinists or Arminians. Both these traditions have been important in the history of Baptists. Leonard draws from the early confessions and history of Baptists in addressing these different topics. He also points out key questions that must be wrestled with for modern Baptists.

Bill Leonard treat his subject in an objective way. There are no example of flagrant biases in his book. He seems to be fair to many different positions. He does a good job of showing how there is a future for Baptists, but not without Baptists dealing with certain questions. Some of these questions are how will Baptists deal with multiple rebaptisms and children Baptism. How will Baptists handle hermeneutical issues in the future? What about "Once saved, always saved?" Leonard actually calls it once saved, almost saved. That chapter was one of my favorite because it pointed out the problem with transactional conversionism. I have my salvation, so I can go home. This idea goes against the covenant community and sanctification.

The Challenge of Being Baptist is a good read. It will help Baptists understand their past and give them wisdom for the future. It will help non-Baptists understand this strange group of people called Baptists. This book is highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Building the Christian Academy

Arthur F. Homes, Building the Christian Academy. Eerdmans, 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4744-7

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the church  to do with the academy? According to Arthur F. Holmes, they have a lot to do with each other. In Building the Christian Academy he shows the interaction between the church and education for over 2,000 years. Some of the key individuals described in this book are Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, John Calvin, Francis Bacon, John Henry Newman and others. The history of the Christian interaction with learning is focused on seven primary periods: Church fathers, early Middle Ahes, the High Middle ages, Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, Nineteenth and Twentieth century. Holmes finds four key emphasis throughout this history:

1. "The usefulness of liberal arts as preparation for service in both church and society."
2. "The unity of truth."
3. Contemplative (or doxological) learning."
4. The care of the soul (what we call moral and spiritual formation)."

In chapter one Holmes provides biblical examples of positive interaction between faith and learning. Moses was educated in "the learning of the Egyptians." Solomon was known for his wisdom. Daniel and three other youths were educated in the learning of the Babylonians. The Apostle Paul was knowledgeable of both the Hebrew scriptures and Greek learning. Holmes states that Christianity's "engagement in higher education began in third-century Alexandria." Clement of Alexandria thought that all truth is from God, no matter where it is found. He thought the knowledge of the Greeks was useful for the Christian life. He "wanted to bring all available learning to the service of Christ." He saw both the learning of the greeks and the scriptures as one source. He thought Christians needed both reason and revelation.

Another major thinker discussed by Holmes is St. Augustine. Augustine's life was turned around by reading one of Cicero's works. It gave him a hunger for wisdom. One sees the focus on doxological learning in Augustine's Confessions: "every good he experiences and all the truth he learns come ultimately from God and are occasions for praise." Holmes states that Cicero thought that "the goal of liberal learning was wisdom, for Augustine it is the wisdom of God." Augustine affirms his "appreciation for pagan leaning" in his work, On Christian Doctrine. He thought that secular learning could be put to Christian use. He thought all truth was ultimately from God.

The monasteries emphasized the cultivation of the soul. They also taught the liberal arts. The chapter on the monasteries and cathedral schools show how these schools emphasized the development of both the moral and intellectual virtues. The Roman writer Quintilian asserted that "morals equip learning."  This idea was affirmed by the monastic schools. Holmes states, "Moral development requires a humility that is eager to learn from whatever source, a quiet life undistracted by illicit desires or undue business. . ."

One can see the four recurring emphasis with other thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman. I was a little surprised by the adding of Francis Bacon. He seems to go against main parts of this tradition of learning. The thing that bothers me about Bacon is his emphasis on "knowledge is Power." He does not seem to be from the humanist tradition. C. S. Lewis speaks of these dangers in The Abolition of Man. The other weakness of this book might be since it covers so many years, it can be a little superficial. All in all, Holmes does a service for us all in showing that Christianity has had a positive interaction with the academy for over 2,000 years. The idea that faith and learning is not compatible is a minor voice in the history of the church. It is a shame that so many Christians do not know this history.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Curious Researcher

Bruce Ballenger, The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers. Longman, 2009. Sixth edition.

A seventh edition came out in 2011.

Ballenger, in The Curious Researcher does a good job of breaking down the process of writing an academic paper into manageable steps. One of the problems when a student receives an assignment to do a research paper is that they do not understand the process of writing a research paper. That does not have to be the case with this book. Ballenger divides the process of writing the research paper into five weeks. However, one can take longer to do the paper. I like to think of the five weeks as five parts of the process.

Bruce Ballenger is a professor of English at Boise State University. He teaches courses in composition, composition theory, the essay tradition, and creative nonfiction.

The Curious Researcher contains five chapters and an introduction. In addition it includes three appendixes. The first two appendixes are guides to MLA and APA style. The third appendix is a guide to "understanding research assignments."

In the introduction Ballenger introduces the reader to the five week plan and the overall structure of the book. In week one the researcher is determining a topic; developing background knowledge; and narrowing the topic. In week two the researcher is coming up with a plan for his research; developing search terms; locating sources. In week three the researcher is taking notes and citing sources. Ballenger makes some good points about writing throughout the process. In the next chapter Ballenger provides instruction on writing that first draft. The last week is for revising the draft.

The Curious Researcher does a good job in providing the steps of writing a research paper. Ballengar writes in clear prose. He also provides personal examples to make it more interesting. In addition, he provides tips on searching databases and search engines. This is a helpful book for the researcher.