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review 2017-03-11 20:45
A Bold One for God
A Bold One for God - Charles G. Edwards

Although he did not begin the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox has become its most identifiable proponent not only in the almost 450 years since his death but also during the last 25 years of his life.  In A Bold One for God, Charles G. Edwards writes a brief 160 page biography of “a not-so-well-known reformer” that served not only God but his nation as well.

 

Edwards’ biography of Knox begins in his early 30s after his conversion to Protestantism and his interactions with martyr George Wishart and how the influential preacher told him to remain a tutor to his pupils until God needed him.  In the reaction after Wishart’s execution, Knox was asked to preach by Wishart’s followers to lead their congregation after they had assassinated the Cardinal of St. Andrews.  His accepts and his powerful preaching began his rise as a man of note in the Reformation movement in Scotland while also resulting in his imprisonment after the movement is crushed for a time.  Over the course of the next 12 years, Knox serves as a galley slave before living in exile in England then Geneva and Frankfurt then back to Geneva with a brief visit to Scotland in-between.  In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland permanently and became a not only the leading Protestant preacher in the nation but also one with significant political power as he contended with the queen regent Mary of Guise then her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and then under the regents of the young James VI.

 

In the synopsis above, I have hardly scratched the surface of John Knox’s life and career.  Unfortunately Charles Edwards did the same in this short biography as well.  Although his intended audience is easy identifiable for young adults through his writing style and larger font, Edwards doesn’t treat his audience with respect by crediting them with any intelligence and made his subject less than what he was.  Through reconstructed conversations and paraphrasing of others, Edwards endeavored to give Knox’s life more depth but only made the man appear simple and artificial to the reader which seemed to indicate a condescending attitude towards his readers.

 

While Edwards does give an accurate picture of the chronology and historical background of John Knox’s life that does not make up for the lack of depth and unintended sterilization of his subject.  The lack of discussion of Knox’s first 30 years of life and the, most likely unintentional, patronizing attitude towards his readers severely undercuts the worth of A Bold One for God.

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review 2017-03-08 02:33
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 2 of 3)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2 - D.J. Boorstin,Gian Battista Piranesi,Edward Gibbon,John B. Bury

The second volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 27 through 48 of the author’s vast magnum opus.  Beginning with the reign of Gratian and ending with the reconquests of Heraclius in 628 A.D., Gibbons relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments that saw the ultimate split of the Roman Empire, the fall of the West, and the continuance of Roman tradition in the East centered in Constantinople before glancing at the lives of the next 60 emperors of Byzantium over the next 600 years.

 

The deterioration of the Rome picks up with the reign of Gratian and his eventual overthrow leading to the unification of the Empire under Theodosius the Great before its finale split with the inheritance of his sons and then their successors over the next 50+ years.  Throughout the era of House of Theodosius, the various barbarian tribes made inroads into the Western Empire which included two sacks of Rome itself by the Visigoths and Vandals, as the long ineffectual reign of Honorius and his successors allowed the Empire to slip out of their fingers.  In the vacuum arose the genesis of future European states such as England, France, and Spain while Italy declined in population and political cohesion as the Pope began to fill not only a religious but political role.

 

The Eastern Emperors in Constantinople, unlike their family and colleagues in the West, were able to keep their domain intact through military force or bribes to turn away.  The bureaucratic framework established by Constantine and reformed by Theodosius was used to keep the Eastern Empire thriving against barbarian incursion and Persian invasions while creating a link to the Roman past even as the eternal city fell from its greatness.  Yet as the Eastern Emperors kept alive the Roman imperial tradition while continually orienting it more towards Greek cultural heritage, the internal conflicts of Christianity became a hindrance to social and imperial stability leading to rebellions of either a local or statewide nature or allowing foreign powers to invade.

 

This middle volume of Gibbon’s monumental work is divided in two, the first focusing on the fall of the Western Empire and the second on how the Eastern Empire survived through various struggles and for a brief time seemed on the verge of reestablishing the whole imperium.  Yet throughout, Gibbon weaves not only the history of Rome but also the events of nomadic peoples as far away at China, the theological controversies within Christianity, and the numerous other treads to create a daunting, yet compete look of how Rome fell but yet continued.

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review 2017-02-21 20:32
The Great Controversy (Conflict of the Ages #5)
The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan- The Conflict of the Ages in the Christian Dispensation - Ellen G White

The death of the Apostles brought an end to the sacred history recorded in the Bible save for the prophecies of the future in the Books of Daniel and Revelation, however the message of the Gospel and the history of the Church continued.  The Great Controversy, the final volume of Ellen G. White’s Conflict of the Ages series in which the history of the Christian Church is chronicled from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of sin and the recreation of Earth.  At almost 700 pages, the events of the last two millennia are touch with special emphasis on the Reformation, the message of 1844, and the climax of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan at the end of time.

 

The Great Controversy focuses entirely on the Christian Age with White beginning the history with the how Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire yet at the same time was watered down with the influences of paganism and other errors.  Yet White emphasizes that like Biblical Israel, even though the majority of Christians worshiped—unknowingly—in error, some still held to the truth of Scripture. Then over the course of the next 250 pages, White describes the Protestant Reformation from Wycliffe through the Pilgrim Fathers arrival on the shores of the New World.  White then transitions to the events leading up to Great Disappointment of 1844 and the Biblical explanation for the significant event that occurred in Heaven.  White explains how the Great Controversy is effecting those living not only when she first wrote the book but to the reader today and how it our decisions will effect where we stand during the events she describes at the end of the book with the second coming of Christ and the destruction of sin.

 

The Great Controversy is the last of the five-book Conflict of the Ages series and is a mixture of non-Biblical history as well as explanations of the prophetic events of Daniel and Revelation that have and yet to occur through to the end of sin.  This book shows that God’s message of love through His law is still relevant today as it was from the beginning of Genesis and before, even with the attempts by Satan to undermine it or simply overthrow it for his own vision.  As in even book in this series Ellen White wants the readers of The Great Controversy to know that the present world of sin will not last and there will be an end, yet it is up to the reader to decide where they will stand in relation to Christ and Satan.

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review 2016-12-21 13:20
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 1 of 3)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 - Edward Gibbon,Daniel J. Boorstin

The first volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers the first 26 chapters of the author’s epic historical work.  Beginning with the death of Domitian and ending with Theodosius I’s treaty with the Goths and early reign,  Gibbon’s spans nearly 300 years of political, social, and religious history on how the great empire of antiquity slowly began to fade from the its greatest heights.

 

The history of the decline of Rome actually begins by showing the nearly century long period of rule of the “Five Good Emperors” as Gibbon shows the growth of absolute power of the Principate was governed by able and intelligent men.  With succession of Commodus Gibbon illustrated what the power of the Principate would do for an individual who was a corrupt and tyrannical ruler.  Gibbon’s then examines the political and military fallout of the death of Commodus with the declaration of five emperors in less than a year and rise of the Severan dynasty by conquest.  Gibbon reveals underlining causes of era of the ‘Barracks Emperors’ and what historians call, “the Crisis of the Third Century”.

 

With the ascension of Diocletian and through him the rise of the House of Constantine, Gibbon explores the political and bureaucratic reforms began and developed that would eventually divide the empire in his view.  After Constantine’s rise to sole emperor, Gibbon then delves into the early history of Christianity before its adoption by the founder of Constantinople.  Beginning with Constantine, the last half of this particular volume as the history and theological developments of Christianity as a central narrative as one of the contributing factors of the decline of the Roman Empire.

 

Although the description above might make one pause at starting the heavy work, Gibbon’s style and prose make history come alive with every word and gives the reader a sense of the grand scale of historical forces while not overwhelming them.  While every reader will have their own verdict on if Gibbon’s arguments and interruptions of history are correct, each avid history lover will find this opening volume of Gibbon’s magnum opus an engaging beginning in examining how one of the foundation stones of Western Civilization came to its political end while passing on its laws and culture to Europe.

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review 2016-11-29 00:47
Desire of the Everlasting Hills (Hinges of History #3)
Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus - Thomas Cahill

The hinge in history that has been the central pillar of Western civilization is not a cultural change nor a particular people but one man, Jesus of Nazareth.  Thomas Cahill explores the developments of thought before and after Jesus in Desire of the Everlasting Hills through the lens of Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, his mother Mary, Paul, Luke, Early Christians, and John to reveal how one life both continued and changed the progression of Western thought.

 

Over the course of 320 pages, Thomas Cahill focused on Jesus of Nazareth as the central figure in the West.  However from the outset Cahill makes it clear that the role of Jesus is how others perceived him both during his life and after his time on Earth.  While following Jesus during his ministry, Cahill highlighted the essential Jewishness of Jesus’ message and how some considered his message unrealistic while others found hope.  After Jesus’ time on Earth, a phrase I must use since Cahill does not state one way or another on the event of the Resurrection save mentioning it, the essence of his divinity was shaped by Paul’s Jewish perspective, Luke’s gentile perspective, and John the Evangelist’s intimate perspective.  Cahill’s conclusion is that while Jesus is central to the West, the West as a whole has essentially ignored his teachings but a small few due resulting in the slow but development of the ideas that define Western civilization.

 

While Cahill’s analysis and themes are a thought provoking read, I did have some serious issues.  The first is the same as in his previous book, The Gift of the Jews, which is in some of Cahill’s interpretation and subsequent logical construction of his evidence whether through scripture or an analysis of non-Biblical sources to weave his thesis.  The second is partially related and that is Cahill tries to weave a middle course between Jesus as man and Jesus as divine without really take a stand either way.  While objectivity can be commended, the book read as a Christian trying too hard to look discuss Jesus from a secular point of view.

 

Regardless of one’s view of Jesus of Nazareth, no one can deny that he is the central figure of West.  Thomas Cahill attempts to bring forth Jesus through the view of those around him and how they interpreted his life and teachings.  While Desire of the Everlasting Hills is not a perfect book, it is thought-provoking in viewing Jesus of Nazareth back in the first century AD and into today’s increasing secular society.

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