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Books and Things No. 10

By P. Andrew Sandlin
December 01, 2001

1. Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), already a bestseller, has gained additional attention after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Huntington’s thesis is that the great wars of the future will not be between nation-states as such, but between different civilizations; and, significantly, he recognizes that the root of all civilizations is religion. He lists nine main civilizations between which there may be great conflict: Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Japanese. His thesis is summarized on page 34: “In the post-Cold War World, states increasingly define their interests in civilizational terms. They cooperate with and align themselves with states with similar or common culture and are more often in conflict with countries of different culture. States define threats in terms of the intentions of other states, and those intentions and how they are perceived are powerfully shaped by cultural considerations. Publics and statesmen are less likely to see threats emerging from people they feel they understand and can trust because of shared language, religion, values, institutions, and culture. They are much more likely to see threats coming from states whose societies have different cultures and hence which they do not understand and feel they cannot trust.” This work is worthy of careful consideration.

2. Joseph J. Ellis has become one of the nation’s great storytellers of the Revolutionary era. His American Sphinx, a biography of Jefferson, is a modern-day classic. He has followed this with another insightful, enjoyable work Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001). This un-politically correct work writes history as it should be written — a broad sweep of the big picture in a thoroughly enjoyable narrative. The book consists of six vignettes relating how the founders related to one another in such a way as to shape the course of the nation’s history — including the fateful duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the dinner at Thomas Jefferson’s house at which it was decided that the United States would assume the debts of the various states in exchange for the nation’s capitol being situated on the Potomac, and the tacit agreement for the Revolutionary generation not to address the thorny issue of slavery. This is a delightful book, breezily diffident to ideology, in which heroes like George Washington are not without flaw and villains like Aaron Burr are not without virtue.

3. Keith A. Mathison has written some excellent works lately, notably his book on postmillennialism I mentioned in an earlier “Books and Things.” Canon Press (Moscow, Idaho, 2001), has published his The Shape of Sola Scriptura. Mathison’s burden is to rediscover and dust off for a new generation the Protestant view of the sufficiency of Scripture. He correctly argues that historic Protestantism avoids the traditionalism of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on the Right as well as the anti-traditionalism of Anabaptism and radicalism on the Left. It sees Scripture as the final authority but recognizes the value of ecclesiastical consensus in shaping doctrinal understanding, notably in the church’s creeds and confessions. In a day of massive theological confusion, in which evangelicals are, on the one hand, defecting to Rome and Byzantium and some, on the other, are repudiating any form of confession-alism, this book strikes the right note.

4. It was good to see that Baker has reprinted Henry R. Van Til’s classic The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids [1959], 2001). This book can properly be termed neo-Calvinistic in that it follows in the revisionist strain of Kuyper and Schilder in supplementing the earlier confessional Calvinism. It does this mostly by exploring the deep cultural implications of the theology of that Calvinism. Van Til discusses the concept of culture and its relationship to religion. He then deals with particular views of Christian culture in church history, notably Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper, and Schilder. He then moves forward to a prescriptive section, showing just how Christianity (of a Calvinist perspective!) should shape modern culture.

5. Let me mention an older book especially relevant in the post- 9-11 world. It is Christopher Dawson’s The Judgment of the Nations (London: Sheed & Ward, 1942), a clarion call for a revival of Christian culture written amid the ravages of World War II. The author recognizes (like Huntington in the more recent work mentioned earlier) that it was orthodox Christianity which underlay the unity of modern Europe (and the United States), a Christianity largely eviscerated by secularization in Dawson’s day. He despises not only the horrors of Marxist and Nazi totalitarianism, but also the “benevolent” secularism of Western democracies. All are united in a materialism that strangles the life from any robust civilization and thus all secularisms, both totalitarian and Western, are doomed to failure. Dawson is optimistic, however: “The new [Christian] world and the new humanity [Christians] exist as a leaven under the surface of the present order — the order which Christians call the world. We believe that it is destined to transform it, that the time will come when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of Christ and when all things will be made new” (p. 132). Dawson’s powerful writings deserve a renewed prominence in this hour.


Topics: Culture , World History

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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