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Volume 7, Issue 3: Ex Libris

Reviews

See, I Told You So
Rush Limbaugh; New York:Simon & Schuster, 1993
Reviewed by Greg Dickison

One sad symptom of the church's abandonment of the gospel is that the more good works someone does, the less subject he or she is to criticism. Mother Theresa, for example, is doing wonderful work for the poor. Who would trifle over the fact that she happens to be Catholic? Well, someone who is concerned for her soul and the souls of her followers.

A similar aura surrounds Rush Limbaugh. We of this publication have mentioned Mr. Limbaugh a couple of times in a somewhat critical manner. Judging by our mail, we would have been better to criticize the apostle Paul. Rush is, after all, right.
Christians, being a politically conservative lot, find a natural affinity with Rush. He often says what we think, and he says it well. He is often sharp, bright, clever, witty, and a consummate communicator. He examines convoluted political knots and unties them with, as he puts it, half his brain tied behind his back. And, he is entertaining. His second best-selling book is a brilliant showcase of all his wonderful talents. See, I Told You So is also an arsenal of factual and rhetorical weaponry for anyone engaging in ideological combat. More focused and polished than his first writing effort, this book exposes the deceit of liberal ideology and provides ample evidence that the religion of the left is crumbling.
The secular conservative religion of Rush Limbaugh is no better than the secular liberalism it seeks to replace. When it comes to first principles, Rush Limbaugh and Karl Marx are both equally humanistic. Both believe that man is able to redeem himself. The main difference between the two is the method by which man is redeemed. In Marxist theology, men act collectively through government to impose salvation on everyone; while the Limbaugh man acts independently of government to save himself. Either way, man is the savior.
While Mr. Limbaugh talks about God, sometimes in very orthodox terms, his theology is utilitarian and pragmatic. Judeo-Christian theism "works better" for achieving his conservative ideal. Salvation is not through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, but through living a good life, on our own steam, as it is summarized in the Ten Commandments. Christ is irrelevant.
Christians must exercise discretion to avoid choosing leaders who say true things and then march us off cliffs. Christ is our head, and we must always heed His voice. Rush is, on many things, right, to which we may say a hearty, "Amen." But he worships man, and Christians who lack discernment will find themselves worshipping at the same altar. Keep that in mind when you read his book.

Under Siege
J. McDowell & C. Klein; Dallas, TX: Word Publ., 1992.
Reviewed by Nathan Wilson

Under Siege is a story written for modern nominal Christian teens, in an unwitting attempt to keep them that way. Will is a computer nerd who doesn't spend enough time with his single mom and is in dire need of a rededication. Amber is the High School Babe who has been "running" with the wrong crowd; her spiritual walk also needs redecorating. At a youth group campout, Will sees Amber making out with Tony Ortiz, football star and heathen. The next day, the youth pastor finds out, and Tony gets sent home. Thinking about it, people start to convert. Amber, also thinking, rededicates. Will is shocked into a rededication. Successful campout. The only holdout is Tony Ortiz.

Well, all this spiritual activity gets Satan (a T-Rex dinosaur) pretty worried, so he puts a veteran demon in charge of the temptation computers in Subsector 477 (Eisenhower High School) in case any others try to rededicate or convert. These computers are really somethingeach has a cord running into someone through which the demons run their temptations. At salvation, a brigadier (some kind of angel) dances the "liberation dance" around and around until he has danced through the cord, thus saving that particular someone.
Now these brigadiers have been busy in Subsector 477, because the rededicated and converted have formed a "prayer team" which walks around the school every day at lunch, ending with a prayer chain around the flagpole. This prayer chain is a highly effective tool, saving pretty much everybody in the whole school with the exception of good old Tony. Will, who in the space of a few short months has grown from puny to big and buff, invites Tony to "open his heart." Two days later, Tony knocks on Will's door to inform him that he has allowed Christ into his heart. As Tony and Will embrace, somewhere beneath the earth's crust, the temptation room of Subsector 477 blows up. The next campout is doubled in size, and no one is off making out. Amber tells Will he's cute, and everyone sings happy Christian songs around the campfire.
Needless to say, this book is not great literature. The story line is weak, the message is modern evangelicalism at its worst, and the writing is incomparably awful. The paper can be used for origami lessons.

Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the
Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America

D.G. Hart; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1994.
Reviewed by Chris Schlect

This is a difficult review to write for two reasons: one, I am limited in space to one column, and two, my two-year-old son, Gresham Machen Schlect, is currently seated on my lap and supplying all sorts of distractions. My son's namesake is the subject of Dr. Hart's book and one who has been mentioned frequently in the pages of Credenda/Agenda . If you aren't already familiar with J. Gresham Machen, you should become so.

Dr. D.G. Hart's treatment of J. Gresham Machen's career is a welcome addition to a conversation that should be revived. Almost two generations have passed since the theological controversies of the twenties and thirties, and already the stories are nearly forgotten. J. Gresham Machen was one of the precious few conservatives in that period, and he was the most capable and outspoken one, who accurately perceived what was wrong with modernism and knew how to refute it. Princeton Seminary, where Machen had taught, had been among the greatest schools in theology the church had ever seen, and it fell to modernism in a decade. And tragically, Old Princeton's mortal wound was dealt by the PCUSA, a church that had once been this country's stalwart Reformed communion. The denomination eventually defrocked Machen. These stories stand before us today as grim warnings. Let us remember and learn, so that we don't face the charge of the prophet Amos: "I made the stench of your camps come up to your nostrils; yet you have not returned to me, says the Lord" (3:10).
The standard biography of Machen was written by his colleague, Ned Stonehouse, and it is currently available from The Banner of Truth Trust (Carlisle, PA). Hart offers a valuable supplement, but does not replace Stonehouse's work. Hart interprets Machen in his broad sociological context: as the product of southern Victorianism and rigorous classicism. And this product was something of an anomaly in his time. Machen was a "fundamentalist," but he opposed prohibition, prayer in public schools, and premillennialism; and he supported high academics, including critical methods and biblical scholarship. Unlike most on his team, Machen knew which guns to shoot and where to shoot them. And his aim was precise.
Hart's best contributions are his analysis of Machen's background as a classicist and his overview of Machen's libertarian politics, though Hart falls short of adequately connecting Machen's libertarianism to his theology. Hart's innovative casting of Machen as an odd sociological phenomenon is worth consideration, but his subject's genius should be given more attention than his breeding. Buy the Stonehouse biography and learn what Machen thought and did. Then read Hart for a theory on what made him tick.

The Necessity of Reforming the Church
John Calvin; Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publ., 1994 [1544].
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

John Calvin wrote this book in 1544 at the request of Martin Bucer, the great Strasbourg reform leader. The Emperor Charles V had called a Diet of the Holy Roman Empire, and Calvin wrote this clear statement of the tenets of reformation Christianity for that occasion. The clear tendency of the modern reader browsing in a Christian bookstore, therefore, will be to dismiss this stuff as boring musings of an old dead guy, and move on to consider a more edifying purchase with Sex, Lust, and Armageddon Oil .

But the relevance of Calvin's book today is exceptional. Apart from the grace of God, the human heart never changes. Men have always loved external religion, and unless God saves them, they always will. But God demands heart religion. Consider the force of Calvin's observation.
"For while it is incumbent on true worshipers to give the heart and mind, men are always desirous to invent a mode of serving God of a totally different description, their object being to perform to him certain bodily observances, and keep the mind to themselves . . . Men will allow themselves to be astricted by numerous severe laws, to be obliged to numerous laborious observances, to wear a severe and heavy yoke; in short, there is no annoyance to which they will not submit, provided there is no mention of the heart."
His writing is relevant because the church today is in dire need of a similar reformation and revival. Like Calvin, some few believers today see "the present condition of the Church . . . to be very miserable, and almost desperate." Our context is different in one key respect, however. The church needing reformation in Calvin's day was the tradition-encrusted church of Rome. Shortly after the Reformation, for those leaving Rome behind, two streams became apparent. One was the stream of classical Protestant orthodoxy, represented today by a handful of Gideons in their desktop publishing winevats. The other was the left wing of the Reformation the anabaptist movement. In the early years, the anabaptists were suffering outsiders. But today the anabaptist church is the Establishmentan establishment governed by a chaos of traditions instead of biblical worship. Everywhere we look we see Christians approaching God with observances in worship which Calvin calls "the random offspring of their own brai n."
This book is greatly needed in our day. Published by Old Paths Publications, it represents a genuine and necessary call back to the old paths (Jer. 6:16).

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