Saturday, May 25, 2013

Exploding the myths about the Crusades

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark

Taking the subtitle into account, this is the most provocatively titled book I've read since Peter Leithart's Against Christianity.

Actually, Stark is just telling the story of the Crusades - and what a fascinating story it is. He is not justifying them, but explaining them, and exploding some of the myths behind them.

Stark's points include:
  • The Crusades did not occur in a vacuum, but were a response to centuries of Muslim conquest and violence.
  • The Crusades were not driven by greed, but were recognized from the very beginning to be an excessively expensive exercise.
  • The crusaders were not more violent or barbaric than the Muslims.
  • The Muslim world has not held a 900-year grudge concerning the Crusades - Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900.
One example of the way the Crusades have been dealt with by historians concerns the Fall of Antioch in 1268, when a Muslim army took back Antioch, and slaughtered tens of thousands of its residents. Stark notes that whereas Christopher Tyerman (in his 2006 book God's War: A New History of the Crusades) devotes several pages to the massacre of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, he dismisses the massacre of Antioch in four words. Most histories of the Crusades, it would seem, have a sharp anti-Western bias.

This is an eminently readable, gripping introduction to a fascinating period of history - and one which has enormous relevance for the present day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A published author

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah
I'm excited to announce that John has just had an article published by Tyndale Bulletin! It's called 'May the Lord Make the Woman like Rachel': Comparing Michal and Rachel. Tyndale Bulletin happens to be one of Galilee's favourite reads--at least, she's always taking our old copies from the shelf! Once the new issue arrives, I can tell her "your daddy wrote this".

Here's the abstract:
"The portrayal of Michal in the book of Samuel is similar to that of Rachel in the book of Genesis. Both have an older sister who is their rival for the affections of their husband. Both have an erratic father who pursues their husband. Both possess household idols called teraphim, which feature in the story of their deceiving their father. Both have at least a period of barrenness. Yet there are also differences between the two women, which can be explained in terms of the portrayal of Michal as an even more tragic figure than Rachel. Careful consideration of the points of similarity and difference yields the conclusion that the allusions to the Rachel story in the book of Samuel are intentional."

The whole article can be read here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A great introduction to some radical concepts

Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham, Jr.

This is a book about family discipleship. It argues that parents (and fathers in particular) can and should disciple their children. In explaining this concept, Baucham discusses family education (homeschooling), family worship, and family-integrated churches. These are closely connected, of course, and Baucham notes that "families who have decided to shoulder the responsibility for their children's education find it refreshing that a church would expect them to do the same in the area of discipleship" (p. 201).

Homeschooling would be the most familiar of these items to evangelical Christians today, and Baucham uses the usual arguments - "there is a big difference between sending fully trained disciples into enemy territory and sending recruits to our enemy's training camp" (p. 128).

Family worship is also familiar to many Presbyterians who hold the Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly in high esteem, along with its Directory for Family Worship. My own denomination holds a Catechism Exam each year, with generous prizes. Yet I suspect very few households practice regular family worship of any sort, and Baucham has put his finger on an important area of reformation.

The concept of a family-integrated church would be unfamiliar to most Australian Christians. The U.S.-based National Center for Family-Integrated Churches is, however, hosting seminars in Australia next month, so if you live in Melbourne, Sydney, or Hobart, you have a great opportunity to learn more about it. Family-integrated churches insist on children staying with their parents in worship services, and usually reject youth groups and other age-segregated activities. The former issue is often discussed by Presbyterians here in Australia, but the existence of youth groups (for churches lucky enough to have youth) is usually taken for granted.

Baucham asserts that, "Contrary to popular belief, the home, not the church, has been entrusted with the primary responsibility of teaching children the Bible" (p. 95). He notes that he has "never had a conversation with a person presenting the argument for segregated youth/children's ministry from an open Bible" (p. 185), which is rather sad. Of course, Baucham is writing from a Reformed Baptist perspective, and he and I would, I think, have different views of the status of children in the church. He notes that church leaders should equip parents to teach their kids, since "the job of the church is to equip the saints to do their jobs, not to do it for them" (p. 186). The thing is, I believe that children are also saints. Children are directly addressed in the New Testament - for example, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1). The fact that it says "obey", rather than simply "honour" indicates that it is not merely adult children who are being addressed. Since the NT epistles were written to be read out in churches, we can indeed conclude that children were assumed to be present in church. But the fact that they are addressed (and that it doesn't say, "Fathers, train your children to obey you") indicates that children are proper objects of the church's pastoral ministry. As a pastor, I can address children directly, and my teaching does not necessarily have to be mediated through their parents.The children of believers are, after all, full members of the church. There is no associate membership in the church of Jesus Christ.

Baucham includes an interesting list of criteria he used in choosing a church: a Southern Baptist, elder-led, family-integrated church which practiced church discipline and verse-by-verse systematic exposition, and which believed in church-planting (p. 175). It's not clear whether this is an exhaustive list, since it omits being Reformed (although Baucham is a card-carrying Calvinist) or being gospel-centred. But in seeking to promote the things he describes in this book, Baucham is advocating a return not just to the Bible, but also to Reformation teaching and practice.

Oh, and out of interest - Voddie Baucham is black. Not that he ever mentions it in the book.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Clunes 2013

As we did this time last year, we visited Clunes Booktown this past weekend, and here is what we found:
  • Eloise Wilkin's Mother Goose - This is by the same illustrator as Baby Dear, which is one of Galilee's favourite books at the moment.
  • The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy - Our first purchase of the day. Kara loved it as a child.
  • Selected Essays by G. K. Chesterton
  • The Round Table (Essays on Literature, Men and Manners) by William Hazlitt
  • Sailing the Wine-dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill - John really liked Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, and was pleased to discover that he decided to make that volume one of a series on "the hinges of history".
  • John Bunyan: The Tinker of Bedford by William Deal
  • Pages of English Prose - This is a book from 1930, with some pages still uncut.
  • Freddy Plays Football by Walter R. Brooks - Kara looks forward to reading another story about the Renaissance Pig. She was introduced to these books by her good friend, Tiffany.
  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-town America by Bill Bryson
  • The Wicked Day and The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart - Kara has enjoyed mysteries by Stewart, and decided to have a look at her fantasy.
  • The Little House and Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton - Some more of Kara's childhood favourites.
  • Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems
  • Locating Renaissance Art by Carol M. Richardson
  • Jamie's America by Jamie Oliver - We were very happy to find this one, since the copy from our local library has gone missing.
  • The West and the Map of the World by Matthew Richardson