Clearing some shelf space…

Still reading Machen, and just finished What is Faith. I’ll post a review shortly. Again, this is a must read.

On another note, I need to clear some shelf space, and these volumes I have in digital format. It makes it easier to read with these eyes of mine! All three sets are like new with no markings or writing in them. Lightly read.

  • The Works of Halyburton, volumes 1-4. HB, no dust jackets as issued. James Begg Society publ. US$70
  • The Treasury of David, Spurgeon. 7 volumes HB. Pilgrim Publ editions. US$70
  • The Sword and the Trowel, Spurgeon. 8 vol. paperback. Pilgrim Publ. US$70

Shipping is extra. Please email me at brettavants at yahoo dot com.



Book review: The Dead and Those About to Die, by John McManus

ImageI have always been fascinated with the Allied invasion of Normandy, called Operation Neptune.  I saw this book recommended by Albert Mohler on his Summer Reading list for 2014, and I immediately picked up the book.  I couldn’t put it down.  The book focuses on the 1st Infantry Division’s assault on Omaha Beach on June 6th, 1944.  The title comes from Colonel George Taylor, commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment and the first unit to land at Omaha, when, under extreme fire, was walking around the beach prodding men to get off the beach.  “There are only two kinds of men on this beach, the dead and those about to die.  So get off this beach!” 

As a West Point graduate and a combat veteran, I can say that this is one of the best books on D-Day I have read. McManus joins only a few others who have not only written good history, but enables those who haven’t been there to get just a bit too close to the action. One cannot read this book and not be moved, emotionally and mentally, by the heroic actions of not just a few brave souls but the many who assaulted this beach and held on in spite of the odds. Moreover, this os one of the few books that focuses on the role of the Big Red One specifically and their area of the beach. There are several books that focus on the 29th Infantry, but the 1st Division’s area was just as bad. This book contains a lot of detail, has some really good and clear maps, reads quickly, and flows smoothly. However, I had to stop several times as I couldn’t read the words for the tears in my eyes. Many of us have come dangerously close to forgetting the bravery and determination of those who sacrificed so much on a small strip of sandy and rocky beach on the coast of France in 1944. They should never be forgotten. Thanks in part to this book, they will not be.


Remembering D-Day

img1ddayToday is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy that opened the second front and the blow that would eventually remove Hitler from Western Europe.  Looking at some of the news articles, blogs and books I‘ve read, even watching the first 30 minutes or so of Saving Private Ryan, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to ride in a landing craft on the choppy water, in a boat with little protection jam-packed with kids who were about to execute one of the most dangerous and complex of military operations, an amphibious assault on a hostile beach.

However, I can at least in some limited sense comprehend ever so slightly some of the feelings associated with this – I am a combat veteran myself. A cavalry officer who was one of the first to engage the enemy in Desert Storm.  I can remember what I felt, responsible for 30 men as a platoon leader, but even more so as the lead unit for my squadron.  I remember the uncertainty, the nervous tension that gave way to confidence derived from countless hours of preparation as we crossed into enemy territory.  The expectation of immediate enemy contact.  Even my prayers that asked God to preserve us all, and to grant us success against the enemy in battle.  Even going so far as to ask that if someone in my unit had to die, that it would be me instead of any of my soldiers.

I remember the feeling of being shot at, and shooting others. The training kicking in that overcame the fear, pushed it to the side, yet harnessed that energy to enable me to maneuver my unit, engage the enemy, and do my duty faithfully.

Yet my experience comes nowhere close to what it must have been like to set foot on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6. Sure, on some portions of the landing areas, soldiers just about walked onto the beach, fortunately for them.  But “Bloody Omaha” was given its name for that particular slice of sand for a reason.  And it is still a tribute to the moral and physical courage of the men who landed there under intense fire.  Who did their duty in the most extreme of conditions imaginable to any human being.  These men preserved and overcame resistance of mind, will and bullets, pushing the enemy back, or killing them.

In our country today, we often tend to forget that battle is a bloody business. One that necessitates by its very nature death and destruction.  Battle should never be engaged lightly, because it is a cauldron of blood, sweat, pain and death.  Men who experience battle have it seared into their conscience. It is said that a young man marching with General Sherman asked him about the glory of war.  Sherman responded that war was not all glory, but war was hell.  Those who have not experienced the fear, the pain, the trauma, even the excitement and rush of battle, killing fellow human beings locked in mortal combat, should be ever so grateful.  Yet, all of us should be ever so grateful that there are those who answer the call of duty to sacrifice themselves if necessary for something greater than themselves on the altar of liberty.

Thousands upon thousands became casualties on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. However, their bravery, determination, guts and drive proved their mettle.  The soldiers themselves displayed a courage and devotion rarely seen anywhere else.  Theirs is a tribute to the justice of our cause and the greatness of their spirit.

In a letter I received on the eve of the ground war in Iraq, a young lady told me in no uncertain terms that there was nothing worth fighting for, and absolutely nothing worth dying for.  I wrote her back saying, yes, there are many things worth fighting for, and even some things worth dying for.  The soldiers at Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on June 6 proved that.  Let us never forget their sacrifices.


The Gospel in the Modern World, J. Gresham Machen

ImageThis little booklet edited by Stephen Nichols contains two speeches, selected correspondence between Machen and Harold J. Ockenga, a student of his who would later become a leading figure, along with Carl F.H. Henry, in the new evangelicalism, and a short article originally published in McCall’s magazine.  While short, coming in at only 48 pages, this little book packs a punch.

In the article “The Gospel in the Modern World,” Machen displays his cultural insight by stating that there are serious issues in the world today, and that is a serious and sometimes despised thing to become a Christian.  While there are some important problems in the world, the real indictment, Machen says, against the modern world is “that by the modern world human liberty is being destroyed.”  He quickly demonstrates how liberty in education is regarded as out of date, and standardization has taken its place.  He castigates the materialistic paternalism of the modern state, and how the state is taking care of our every need.  He unequivocally reminds us that the only thing that can restore liberty is Christianity, and shows how it is the only religion we find God, man, and redemption.  And it is not a materialistic and naturalistic form of Christianity, that he calls liberalism, but a supernaturalism of the religion of God’s Word.

The other articles and letters contain much insight into the mind and thought of Machen, and the article published in McCall’s called “Skyscrapers and Cathedrals” reminds us that the modern buildings like the skyscrapers can uplift the body to new heights above the ground, they cannot uplift the soul.  While Machen appreciates all that the modern world has given us in terms of progress, he often wonders and hopes of a time when material achievements may be used “for some wondrous thought,” instead of making man a slave to machines.

This short work is a quick read, but yet contains much to ponder.  Highly recommended.

Book Review: George Washington’s Military Genius, by General Dave R. Palmer

ImageSomething different this time.  George Washington, while one of the pre-eminent founding fathers, is often underappreciated.  Especially as a military commander, Washington is often judged by the number of battles he won or lost; he lost far more than he won.  Many historians and authors depict him anywhere from a mediocre officer who was simply lucky, or at worst being a bumbling fool, the war having been lost by the British rather than won by the Americans.  I have never really adhered to these views of Washington, especially after having studied the American Revolution, its battles and its leadership.  The British had their fair share of problems, it’s true, but they were also a capable fighting force.  In Dave Palmer’s book, however, Washington is examined in the light of the context of the times, his appreciation of the big picture, and his flexibility during the various phases of the war as it progressed.  Palmer brings insight on Washington’s superb capabilities as a strategist and how he kept the revolution and the country alive through 7 years of hard war.  I highly recommend this book.

The first section of Palmer’s book discusses the immediate 18th century historical context of developing wartime strategy, essentially a nice overview of what strategy was before the Napoleonic era and before Clausewitz wrote his famous On War.  In short, he says that grand strategy prescribes why we fight, strategy prescribes where and whether we fight, and tactics prescribes how to fight once the battle is joined.  This is simplified, but serves us well.

Palmer also briefly reviews warfare in the 18th century, calling this chapter The Prussian Shadow.  By that he means linear warfare, as practiced in the 1700’s, with muskets, bayonets, aristocratic officers and the dregs of society making up the rank and file, and maneuver instead of fighting, culminated in the efficiency of the system of Frederick the Great.  However, while this style of warfare was in vogue in Europe, there was the possibility that there would be changes in the colonies due to the environment, people, and goals of the combatants.

Chapter 3 then talks about the “meager setting,” the environment where the war would be fought.  The geography often dictates how campaigns will be conducted, and America was no different.  Palmer notes the land itself, the sparse population, the distances involved in moving armies and communicating with each other, and the ruggedness of the colonists.  In order to understand why Washington and his British counterparts acted the way they did sometimes requires us to examine the setting of the war.

Also impacting the strategy and campaigns was the view from London and the view from Philadelphia, and Palmer dives into the politics, public sentiments from each side about the struggle, and the impact of the civilian sector and politics on the conduct of war.  The British had five strategic options, and in time they would try all five.  But it was interesting that Palmer notes the problems with running the war from across the Atlantic, hard in the 21st century, but nearly impossible in 1776.  With regards to the colonial strategy, Palmer concludes that “George Washington’s voice was predominant in articulating patriot strategy.  Therefore, when we speak of American strategy, we mean, in the main, Washington’s strategy.  It was he who executed it and, in most instances, planned it.”

Finally, concluding the first section about the setting and context, Palmer articulates the goals for the war in the first place.  What did the colonials hope to achieve?  Palmer states that there were two ultimate goals for the Americans, independence as a nation, and territorial expansion.  Throughout the war, Palmer shows how Washington always kept these goals in front of him with regards to strategy and decision making.  Ultimately, the Americans succeeded completely with the first goal of independence, and moderately but more than they expected with regards to the second goal.

The second section is called Strategy Executed.  Palmer in this section goes into more detail to prove his thesis.  Essentially, he shows how the war itself passed through four different and distinct phases, each presenting quite different circumstances that demanded very different military responses.  Palmer demonstrates how Washington consciously recognized each phase as it occurred and shaped his campaigns accordingly.

The four phases were:  April 1775 – June 1776, called Run all Risques, during which the patriots had much to gain but little to lose; consequently, they were on the offensive much of the time.  Every little victory meant a morale boost to the fledgling rebellion.  Phase two was called A Choice of Difficulties, from July 1776 – December 1777.  In this phase, the country had declared its independence, and had much to lose.  They had a smaller army versus a larger British foe.  In this phase, Washington had to hit the British only when he could make it hurt, while keeping his army intact to fight for another year or two.  It was mainly defensive, with hit and run tactics, with a few opportunities to strike.  Phase three was called One Great Vigorous Effort, from January 1778 – October 1781, where Washington, now with help from the French, was looking to find those opportunities to end the war.  This phase culminated in the battle of Yorktown.  Finally, the last phase was The Art of Negotiation, from November 1781 – December 1783.  In this phase Washington showed himself to be more than a general.  He understood that the war wasn’t over yet, and the army had to remain intact to negotiate from a position of strength, even as the Congress and population called for their immediate disbandment.  Washington literally saved the revolution during this phase.

In his conclusion, Palmer states that, “In the Revolutionary War, some seasons demanded victory, others the avoidance of defeat. The watchword on some days was audacity, on others it was caution.  Washington always seemed to know which was appropriate.”  This is probably why there are varied assessments from historians about Washington and his generalship.  Unless one understands the phases of the Revolutionary War, it is hard to understand the genius of Washington.  Palmer makes his case clearly and emphatically.

Book Review: Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

J_Gresham_Machen-Christianity_and_Liberalism-book-coverI would heartily recommend everyone read Christianity and Liberalism, written in 1923, but as applicable today as it was then.  It can be purchased here at, or downloaded as a pdf file here.  Machen was a faithful defender of the faith, who stood his ground in defense of the Word of God and the gospel at a time when unbelievers and church people alike, including pastors and professors, were trying to make the Bible sensible to modern thought.  Such things as the atonement of Christ through his sacrifice, the virgin birth, and the miracles of Christ, and the inerrant inspiration of the Bible all stood (and still stand) in opposition to modern thinking based on naturalism and only what the senses can perceive.  These doctrines, and others, are just too old, and we need to make the Bible and its message more palatable to modern thinking.  Sound familiar?  This was a huge problem in the early 20th century and Machen stood firm for the truth of the gospel against such assaults.  Unfortunately, as today, the onslaught is strong, and the once conservative Presbyterian Church and the stalwart Princeton Seminary both succumbed to the liberal and modern notions of a Jesus that is mere example and a religion that is not Christian at all.

Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism should be read by all concerned Christians today because the same problems that Machen faced in 1923 are still with us today.  The term “liberalism” should not be taken in a present day political sense, but rather in a theological sense.  Machen’s book was essentially a response to a sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick, entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”  in which he labeled fundamentalism divisive and intolerant.  Fosdick viewed them as backwards thinkers, quite out of step with modern thinking, so he proposed a more tolerant and more modern approach to the Bible.  He argued centered on three topics primarily, Christ’s virgin birth, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, and Christ’s second coming.  In his sermon, he argues that the church is big enough for both conservative and liberal views.  However, the liberal views are confusing at best, and heretical at worst.  For instance, he states that the virgin birth was not a historical event, and that it was merely a way to show that Christ was unique.  He states that the biblical writers “phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.”  He applies the same line of arguments to the inerrancy of the Bible and the atonement.  He ends his sermon with two points: one, Fosdick calls for a spirit of tolerance and Christian liberty, and second, he rebukes the church for quarreling over such petty matters when “the world is dying of great needs.”  Over doctrinal verity and precision, Fosdick preferred personal piety and devotion and tolerance.

Machen did not deny that Fosdick could hold these views, but he insisted that they were not Christian, and should not be called such.  Christianity was not first and foremost a life, but a doctrine, and from that doctrine followed life.  To Machen, these were not little matters to be pushed to the background, but fundamental to the Christian faith.  Machen did not disagree with the need for piety and devotion, but if doctrine did not matter, then to what end and to whom were we supposed to be devoted?  If doctrine did not matter, and Christ’s death and sacrifice did not remove sin, then what was He doing on the cross?  Machen held that when Fosdick brushed aside doctrine, he was destroying the very center of Christianity.  Christianity that was not built on doctrine was living on borrowed time, and would soon degenerate into mere moralism.  In the first chapter of his book, Machen stressed that there were two separate systems vying for the church: “the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity” on the one hand, and on the other hand “a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.”  Essentially, Christianity is basically supernatural, from God, while liberalism elevates man and lowers Christ, and is basically a natural religion.  He makes his argument in the next six chapters of the book examining six major doctrines of the church: doctrine, God and humanity, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church.

Christianity and Liberalism is a must-read classic, not simply for historical purposes, but because it addresses issues that are prevalent today.  Fosdick was the grandfather of the seeker sensitive movement of Schuller and Warren.  The view that doctrine doesn’t matter and that all we need is Jesus pervades the modern evangelical church.  Many pastors, churches, and Christians use Christian terminology that is devoid of Biblical and orthodox meaning.  Seeker-sensitive liberalism appeals to man, whether modern or not, because it addresses our fundamental sin, pride.  Liberalism allows man to save himself using the example of Christ, rather than depending on him for our very lives.   The issue may even be more pressing today, because at least in Machen’s time people still had some knowledge of Biblical doctrines and of the Bible itself.  Today, however, after nearly 100 years of fluffy preaching and anti-intellectual and anti-doctrinal mamby-pamby, most people in our churches don’t even know what to believe and why.

Read this book and it will change your world.  Preach this and people will call you intolerant, narrow, and divisive.  Great.  Christianity is what it is.  Being steadfast and faithful to the Word of God and to the doctrines it contains is not popular, but it is the difference between life and death.  Jesus, Peter, and Paul were not tolerant or broad-minded when it came to what Christianity was (and is) and why it was necessary to believe certain things.  Too many people today who call themselves Christians believe that they are believers and love Jesus.  The problem is that they don’t hold to what the Bible states, and they believe in a Jesus that is not Biblical.  Machen makes this clear.

Book Summaries – Gordon H. Clark

I have created a new tab called Book Summaries, which contains summaries and reviews of books I have read.  The first section I have posted are several book summaries of the various works of the profound Christian thinker, philosopher and theologian Gordon H. Clark.  Clark was a colleague of J. Gresham Machen and mentor to Carl F. H. Henry.  Please take a look.  These are detailed and somewhat long.  The various works of Clark can be purchased at The Trinity Foundation.

I will be adding summaries and reviews to this page periodically.