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Book Notices

By Martin G. Selbrede
January 15, 2018

Four new books (and one older work) have come to our attention that would make worthwhile additions to your family’s theological library. These are not, strictly speaking, polemical works where the authors take a stand in the teeth of fierce opposition. Works forged in the heat of theological controversy warrant separate review (such as the one we’re planning for Dr. Joel McDurmon’s The Bounds of Love in an upcoming issue of Faith for All of Life; his newest book on American slavery also would warrant separate consideration). Rather, the following works take a different, but no less important, path in setting forth the importance of “letting all things be done unto edification.”

95 Theses for a New Reformation

Aaron B. Hebbard (Ph.D. in Literature, Theology, and the Arts) serves as the Academic Dean at Community Christian College. He conceived of a project to bring together a host of noted Christian authors, each one writing on one or more critical planks that comprise a fully-orbed faith. The list of contributors for the resulting anthology (published in 2017 by Resource Publications, a Wipf and Stock imprint) is a veritable Who’s Who of serious Christian thinkers.

The subtitle of Dr. Hebbard’s book is For the Church on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. As the title suggests, the church at large (and not merely a small splinter group of Christians) is the work’s intended audience. While authors friendly to Christian Reconstruction are numbered among the many contributors (e.g., Mark R. Rushdoony, Dr. Joseph C. Morecraft III, Dr. Paul Michael Raymond, Dr. Phillip G. Kayser, Jay Grimstead, Martin G. Selbrede, etc.), other men with a broader appeal also contributed chapters of inestimable value (e.g., Dr. John Frame, the late Dr. R. C. Sproul, Dr. Joel R. Beeke, Dr. George Grant, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, John F. MacArthur, and many others).   

Dr. Hebbard was called to stand in the gap and fill in any missing planks in the platform, so it is a good thing that his contributions maintain the same high quality as those of the better-known mainstream authors. As both editor and occasional contributor to this unique project, Dr. Hebbard has done the church a remarkable service in helping set it on a much stronger footing, to equip it more completely for engaging the future that is rushing toward us.

The book’s 95 theses take up just over 200 pages (compare this with the 2014 volume by Grimstead & Clingman, Rebuilding Civilization on the Bible, which covers 24 issues in nearly twice that number of pages). As the numbers show, Dr. Hebbard succeeded in keeping the chapters short by imposing the discipline of length restrictions upon the authors, restrictions calculated to discourage digression and improve focus. We hear a lot of discussion about “bite size theology,” but this volume delivers it without compromising on substance.

With so wide a range of authors being represented, there is no doubt that the reader will find much to agree with, and some things to disagree with. But the value of this enterprise is not thereby limited, but rather expanded, in that many reconstructionist ideas receive a place at the table. That this should be the case as we move inexorably into the next five hundred years of church history should be beyond dispute.

Katherine von Bora: The Morning Star of Wittenberg

This book is a true labor of love, a testament to what a single family can do when it operates in a glorious harmony of interests. Published in 2017 by Unbroken Faith Productions, it is a gorgeous volume that would appeal to adults as much as to children in telling the otherwise untold story of the wife of Martin Luther.

Printed in color on high-quality paper, brimming with stunning hand-drawn images, this beautiful hard cover book by Jenna and Shanna Strackbein (illustrations by Emily and Jenna Strackbein, with maps and illumination by Elisabeth Strackbein) would not be out of place on a formal coffee table as a conversation piece. In fact, that is precisely what the book should incite: conversations with your children about the memorable protagonist at the heart of this literal work of art.

The foreword to this book was written by John and Marlene Eidsmoe, who set the tone up front for what might otherwise have been (quite wrongly!) dismissed as a mere children’s book. The inclusion of a glossary, timeline, and suggestions for further reading fill out the presentation (for this is not a lengthy book, but rather highly concentrated in substance despite the large easy-to-read font and straightforward vocabulary). The intention is to tell this important story in an engaging way, and to do justice to the drama of von Bora’s place in the Protestant Reformation.

In these particulars, and in respect to the professionalism of its presentation, this book is a remarkable success. There is nothing second-rate about it.

An earlier film project by Unbroken Faith Productions, Anchored, received a strong, positive review by Chalcedon’s Lee Duigon in 2016. We look forward to seeing more future projects emanating from the Strackbein family. Pray more families follow their example in taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ in the work of their hands.

The Catechism of Pierre Viret

Zurich Publishing continues its ongoing mission of bringing this great Reformer’s works to the attention of the English-speaking world. As with earlier Viret volumes, the translation is by R. A. Sheats, and exhibits both logical clarity and theological depth.

A thin hardback book exhibiting all the earmarks of a first-rate catechism in terms of content, Viret’s easy-to-digest guide to the essentials of the faith is marked by his clarity on matters of Biblical law (among other important facets of the faith). Here the reader is brought close to the headwaters of the Reformation in one of its foremost representatives, a man dedicated to reaching people, including the young, for Christ.

Despite being the work of one of the earliest Reformers, there is a profound maturity behind every single page of this short tour de force of doctrinal basics. This is evident in the moral compass of the work, which is rooted so unapologetically in the law of God. This work is an excellent antidote to the prevailing antinomianism of the day.

We can safely say that those raised on the strong meat of this catechism (for it truly is intended to instruct in the essentials of the faith for the new believer) will fare better than those taught out of later catechisms where ambiguity has crept into the handling of the law of God. With Pierre Viret, you are in strong, capable hands when it comes to delivery of the whole counsel of God.

A Simple Exposition of the Christian Faith

A more extensive work by Pierre Viret, again translated by R. A. Sheats and published by Zurich Publishing, A Simple Exposition of the Christian Faith is (in effect if not by design) a short systematic theology embracing a full suite of topics that build one upon the other. Another model of clarity (thanks to both Viret and his translator here), the work would benefit both new babes in Christ as well as mature men and women of faith. Reaching so broad a range of readers is no small achievement, but Viret does so with ease.

Copyrighted in both 2013 and 2017, much of the work (originally written in 1561) is structured around one of Viret’s favorite teaching devices: a dialog between two individuals (Matthew and Peter in this case). The reader is immersed into the ongoing conversation and is brought to see all the issues at stake as the interlocutor (Matthew) probes Peter’s replies to see how sturdy they really are. By this mechanism, Viret shows the faith in something very much parallel to a real-world exchange of ideas. As a result, the relevance of the Scripture and its applicability is thoroughly demonstrated.

How impoverished we’d be had not Zurich Publications taken such pains to see that these volumes by Viret, written in an older French dialect, are available for our benefit today. For these are treasures indeed, and worthy of the highest commendation. Also valuable is a brief biography of Viret at the outset of this volume authored by translator Sheats (who separately authored the major stand-alone biography on this particular Reformer, which still appears in Chalcedon’s catalog).

If you’re not already following the in-progress serial publication of Pierre Viret’s discussions of each of the Ten Commandments, you should take the steps to acquire those as well. In conjunction with this volume, and the Catechism discussed earlier, Viret’s works provide modern Christians with a valuable historic context for Dr. Rushdoony’s work. Pierre Viret was the rare “proto-Rushdoony” who could communicate God’s Word to a wide audience.

For all those who clamor for books that communicate the gist of reconstructionist ideas to the common man, there are few volumes on a par with those by Viret. As publisher Thomas Ertl remarked, there is tremendous wisdom in “making Viret your man.” We heartily concur.

The Emergency of Liberty in the Modern World

Dr. Douglas F. Kelly’s book, subtitled The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th through 18th Centuries, was published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing in 1992. It is the one book mentioned here that did not appear in 2017, but a quarter-century earlier. In it, Dr. Kelly traces historic currents and the political impact of Calvinism. It remains an important work that, if it’s not already in your library, ought to be.

From one point of view, some (but by no means all) of the ideas expressed here were foreshadowed by the Chalcedon book The Great Christian Revolution, particularly the section written by Otto J. Scott, which traced the way that Arminian commitments have a determining effect on statism (by bolstering it). But Dr. Kelly’s research on this count is original: he’s not re-inventing the wheel, he is searching for connections, and finds them. The implications of one’s theological commitments to the political question are laid bare and exposed for all to see.

Particularly insightful is Dr. Kelly’s handling of John Knox in relationship to Mary, Queen of Scots. As the author explains it, “Knox, as a man under higher authority, had no alternative but to argue with Mary Stuart.” And right there, in that trenchant phrase “as a man under higher authority,” we see the issue in its boldest possible contrast. Where men and nations concede they are under higher authority, they will be moved by that conviction regardless of the consequences. Where men and nations reject that authority, they organize into tyrannies (rule without God).

Dr. Kelly’s grasp of the political implications of theology is wide-ranging, and he plumbs depths others fail to notice. In an era where the applicability of the faith to politics is widely questioned, and in fact is being rejected by seminary after seminary, it is gratifying to find a scholar who can put his finger on the binding ligament between the mind and hand of man.

Surely those who worship their own wills have chosen the weakest of gods as their refuge, while men ruled by the Most High have altered the shape of history by serving their true King at any cost. This short volume traces the power of an idea that will continue to shape every empire it penetrates.


Topics: American History, Biblical Law, Church History, Church, The, Culture , World History, Theology

Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s magazine, Faith for All of Life. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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