Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: Healing the Heart of Your Church by Kenneth Quick

I highly recommend this book by Kenneth Quick (ChurchSmart Resources, 2003, $15.00, 166 pages) who helps churches navigate through heartbreaks.  How so?  Written for pastors, Quick (Director of the Ministry Leadership Program and Chair of the Practical Theology Department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD) aims to help these pastors compassionately confront, expose, and help heal past hearts from pastors and leaders in the church—as well as help church heal from and repent of the hurts they have inflicted on pastors. And make no mistake, just because a pastor or leader is gone and another one is in place, the hurt and scars have not left even though a new era of ministry has started.

This book was very helpful for me coming into a new ministry situation.  After serving for eight years in a church in Kentucky, I am now at a church in Colorado that, to be kind, suffered some struggles over the past two years specifically, along with another hurtful chapter approximately 10 years prior.  Even though the church has moved on and is excited about another chapter, some of the scars are still there—evident when some of these events come up even now.  Time will tell how deep these issues are, it goes to the point of Dr. Quick’s book that churches as a community have ‘hearts’ and those hearts can be broken—and those hearts need healing with the right biblical and spiritual touch.  This book is a helpful tonic for heartbroken churches.

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Book Review: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Historians over the last century have ranked Abraham Lincoln has one of the top two presidents in the history of the United States—most rank him first by a long shot. On the surface, the reason many cite is that his presidency coincided with the great turmoil and struggle in our history: the U.S. Civil War.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and historian extraordinaire, has penned a classic that could be classified not simply under “History > American History > Civil War,” but could stand as one of the finest books on leadership in print. Here is a description of the book from the Team of Rivals website:

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by life experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln’s mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation’s history.

According to the website, Steven Spielberg is making a movie based on this book, focusing on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and presidency.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Lincoln demonstrates how to reconcile and work with those who are not merely different from him in personality and ambition, but are indeed rivals—each having believed at one point they deserved the presidency more than he. The way he earned their respect and loyalty is something to behold.

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Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David O. Stewart (Book Review)

David O. Stewart, “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009).  464 pages.  $27.00 Hardcover.  $11.99 Kindle.  

As a Civil War buff, I find myself increasingly drawn to the dynamics of the American South.  The 19th century brought about a crisis of mammoth proportions, splitting our country in two long before the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861.  Everything came to a head on slavery.  While some abhorred the institution, many were more concerned about the spread of it into the newly acquired western territories.  Compromise and after compromise was set in place, but the election of Lincoln tore the North from the South and began a series of Southern states seceding from the Union.  Lincoln was elected without carrying a single southern state.  In their mind, if the country could do this without them, then let them go and have their independence. 

Lincoln fought to save the Union and soon realized the political and practical need of freeing the slaves.  This galvanized the North, bringing Lincoln back for a second term in 1864—and all but sealing the fate of the short-lived Confederate States of America.  In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he ends with a paragraph laced with healing and reunion:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Ten days later, the assassin’s bullet from the gun of John Wilkes Booth took the country on a different turn.  Enter Andrew Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who stayed with the Union and served from 1862-1865 as the War Governor of Tennessee was picked by Lincoln from a Southern state in order to work toward reunion.  As I blogged about at my preaching blog, Johnson’s first speech in Washington as the Vice President was inauspicious and disgraceful

David O. Stewart’s book, as the title shows, is about the events that led up to the first trial of a sitting American president (impeachment).  Johnson was a stubborn man who held grudges and clearly favored a states rights’ philosophy of government, which he believed Southern governments should be restored without interference from the federal government.  A racist, believing that the United States should be run by a “white man’s government,” he did not move forward with prosecution of the murder and horrors committed against the four million now-free blacks in the South.  The Ku Klux Klan began to take over whole counties, making no freed black or Unionist safe.  Whenever the federal generals who oversaw the various sectors of the South to make sure the governments established were loyal to the Union, Johnson resisted them.

As the book will show, Johnson’s greatest political foe (and the greatest American hero at the time) was a man by the name of Ulysses S Grant, the winning general in the Civil War!  Johnson felt grant was a rube, Grant distrusted Johnson and loathed his policies in the South.

This book shows one of the great low points in American history, some say even lower than the Civil War itself.  You will learn about Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens, U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, who not only sought the freedom of blacks, but sought to give them the right to vote—unlike most in the North and South who did not believe that blacks in that time were equal to whites, even those who sought their freedom. 

You’ll learn about War Secretary Edwin Stanton, a holdover from the Lincoln Administration whom Johnson detested and sought to replace, violating the Constitution’s Tenure of Office Act—thus bringing a showdown of Stanton barricading himself in the War Secretary’s office for weeks. 

Stewart does a masterful job of showing diligent research as well as bringing a novel-style of writing that moves the story along.  It shows so much of what goes on behind the scenes and the disturbing on-goings, compromises, bribes, and politics that come into play in the workings of our government.  A great read.  Highly recommended!

Watch David O. Stewart discuss briefly his book.

Bruce Kuklick, who teaches American history at the University of Pennsylvania, gives a great review in the Washington Post (2009). 

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Book Review: Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

Bryant Wright has written a helpful book tracing back the origins of the turmoil taking place in the Middle East, showing how it all goes back to Abraham “the father of three very influential faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” (xv).  Abraham’s mistrust in short circuiting God’s promise with Hagar rather than waiting on God’s providential time sent a ripple effect of dire consequences throughout history. 

Wright does an admirable job addressing the issues from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian perspective, giving believers an excellent primer into the issues at hand—and grounding it in Scripture. 

I highly recommend this book. 

I received this book free from Booksneeze. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.

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“The Gospel Commission” by Michael S. Horton (Book Review)

Michael S. Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 308 pp.  Hardcover $19.99, Kindle Edition $9.99. 

When it comes to reflecting and analyzing the current American church scene, Michael Horton has been one of my two favorite writers on the subject (the other being Stephen Prothero of Boston University). 

Horton serves as J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California.  Author of over a dozen books, this book completes the trilogy, following Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life.  His concern in this book is that the American church is drawing from various sources and influences to build their own kingdom with their own strategies and agendas rather than drawing from the strategy already laid out by Jesus in the Scriptures.  Toward the beginning of the book, he inquires,”

In its lust for cultural relevance, mainline Protestantism squandered its inheritance. Conservative Protestants today are also in danger, not so much of being attacked by New Atheists as of surrendering a robust confidence in God and his Word to a culture of marketing and entertainment, self-help, and right-wing and left-wing political agendas. If mainline bodies sold their birthright to the high culture, are evangelicals in danger of selling theirs to popular culture?

He explains clearly the point of the book:  “Discipleship cannot mean going with the flow; it requires swimming against the current not only of contemporary culture but often of contemporary church life and experience. The central point of this book is that there is no mission without the church and no church without the mission.”

Horton senses that the church is drifting away from the thrust of what Christ established.  In its place is a more therapeutic message aimed at building up self-esteem.  He senses a danger in this mindset: 

The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model but because they witnessed to him as the only Lord and Savior of the world. Jesus Christ doesn’t just live in the private hearts of individuals as the source of an inner peace. He is the Creator, Ruler, Redeemer, and Judge of all the earth. And now he commands everyone everywhere to repent. All idols are shams.

With Jesus and His church being seen as more of a therapeutic, self-help entity, Horton explains that this is why so many churches struggle with clearly presenting doctrinal distinctives.  For those who struggle with doctrinal stands, he observes,

Many Christians today feel awkward taking stands on doctrinal issues that sound increasingly alien in our pluralistic culture. We don’t want to come off as the bellicose and judgmental know-it-all. Even in the church, we often shy away from doctrinal discussions for fear of appearing proud or divisive. In addition, recent conversations between evangelicals and Roman Catholics have softened the urgency and even the propriety of evangelical proselytizing in nominally Roman Catholic as well as nominally Protestant countries. Yet in reaction against perversions of our missionary mandate, are we in danger of surrendering to a culture that privatizes and relativizes ultimate truth claims? In this environment there is a lot of pressure to downplay the communication of the gospel in favor of simply letting our lives do the talking. It’s deeds, not creeds, that count. But is this false humility? Doesn’t this approach suggest that our confidence has shifted from Christ’s person and work to our own? The mission statement that Jesus delivered to his church is an urgent imperative to proclaim the gospel to everyone, to make disciples of all nations. From the beginning, Christianity has been a missionary faith.

He makes a solid point!  By backing away from doctrinal claims and distinctives, the church risks giving away that which is intended to make it salt (that is, a gospel preservative) in the world (Matthew 5:13).  Without doctrinal clarity based on the Word, we fail to show the why behind the what of our efforts.  In an effort to “meet people where they are,” we must be careful not to forget who we are (redeemed sinners rescued by God’s marvelous grace through the cross and empty tomb) and where they truly are (sinners in need of rescue through the gospel of Christ). 

Christians are called to do many things and to work diligently in many vocations, not only as church members but as parents, children, neighbors, co-workers, citizens, and volunteers. However, everything that the church is called to do as a visible institution—not only its ministry of preaching but its public service of prayers, singing, sacraments, fellowship, government, and discipline—is to be a means of delivering this gospel to the whole creation. Even those raised in the church must be evangelized every Lord’s Day, inserted again and again into the dying and rising of our Living Head. The same message that created faith in the beginning sustains it throughout our pilgrimage. It is the gift that keeps on giving, and it is intended to be given away by us to others outside of the covenant community.

Sadly, many American Christians have completely internalized Christianity.  It’s about an inward emotion, not an outward demonstration of the faith (James 2:23-25).  Outward forms have little value, and those in authority positions in churches are rejected or at least ‘de-clawed.’  In its place is a Jesus-and-me mentality, stressing a personal relationship with Christ.  We hear this said: “It’s not about religion, but about a relationship.” 

Horton reminds us that Acts 2:42 brings us into community:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”  Horton aims to draw Christians back to the purpose of our salvation: not to have Jesus as a life coach or a role model, but to been seen as an atonement for our sins.  We are not merely good people in need of being better—we are sinners in need to resurrection! 

Horton addresses a number of issues that challenge us to see if the Word and sacrament are truly sufficient and central to our life and community—or if we desire to pursue the sliding scale of relevancy in an ever-changing culture.  Prepare to be challenged! 

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Book Review: “Saint Francis” by Robert West

Growing up and living the life of an out-of-control wild child, Saint Francis became one of the great church leaders in history.  Robert West’s book gives a good introduction to this interesting leader.  West does a good job as a storyteller, yet this book seems more of a perspective on Francis’ life rather than a biography.  Living in the 12th and 13th centuries during the Crusades, outlining his desire to be a knight, having such a winsome and boisterous personality—it is no wonder that a scant two years after his death in 1226, Francis was canonized a saint.  His preaching was influential and brought many other followers into what became the Franciscan order of monks—monks who took a vow of poverty and simplicity.  At the time of Francis’ death, he had 3,000 followers. 

This is a nice sketch of Francis’ life and a good beginning to a life aimed at living for Christ.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Booksneeze program for the purpose of reviewing.

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Book Review: “Church in the Making” by Ben Arment

A friend of mine who is seeking to plant a church recommended a book entitled Church in the Making by Ben Arment.  I was intrigued until I looked at the subtitle:  “What Makes or Breaks a New Church Before It Starts.”  I thought, “I’m not starting a church plant—I’m pastoring a 225-year-old church in Kentucky.  I don’t have time to read a church planting book.”  That is, until my friend shared some of the insights of this book.  So, since our church was (and now will be) helping sponsor a church plant, I thought it might be a good investment.  So, I purchased it to read on my Kindle.

What Arment proposes is a method of church planting that defies conventional wisdom in numerous areas and infuses it with some common sense principles derived from Scripture and experience.  He notes that, “Ultimately a new church’s purpose is not to become a congregation; it’s to manifest the glory of God.  The more churches there are, the more glory.  So if we don’t create movement, he’ll do it for us.” 

What caught my attention was how Arment takes away the barrier from the church planter by telling him, “It’s OK to move on.” 

If people don’t respond to the gospel and if your ministry is not being received, you’re not obligated to stick around.  Go ahead, move on.  You’ve done your job.  It may not have been to plant a church, but it still accomplished Christ’s mission.  What a liberating realization!

Arment contends that church planters do need a crowd for the gospel to grow.  “Sociology can be just as important to a church planter’s plight as theology.  If we can’t gather a crowd, then the gospel seeds have nowhere to grow.  I know plenty of pastors who believe that the mere presence of a crowd is the sign of a compromised gospel.  But the greatest movements of God, the greatest revivals, have happened among crowds.”  Later he says, “Churches have always been planted and the gospel has always been spread through pockets of people.”  While he does believe that the Holy Spirit enables people to come to faith in Christ, church planters (and pastors) need to remove “the man-made thorns that keep them from trusting him.”

Arment also answers the objection given by many that churches should not simply be planted to reach a distinct group or demographic of people. 

Let me be perfectly clear about this.  You’re not only allowed to plant a different kind of church for a specific group of people; you’re commanded to do it.  The Bible is filled with communities of faith that were formed around cultural distinctives.  In Acts 6, some Greek Christian widows are complaining about low food rations.  So to respond to the problem, the apostles appoint deacons, almost all of which happen to be Greek.  Coincidence?

What is one main key to a church planter’s success?  Arment believes it’s the planter being “indigenous to [his] community.”  He has roots, knows the successes and plights and the histories therein.  There is a type of kinship and bond that doesn’t always exist with an ‘outsider.’ 

Personal Thoughts

I found Arment’s book to be helpful even to this pastor of a traditional, established church.  I found myself sorting through the issues that I and our people often take for granted in church world.  Arment said something that will always stick with me:  “We have to be careful to plant the church our community needs, not the church in our heads.”  This means being open and interacting with the community in which my church is located, keeping my eyes open to the needs and hurts and issues both inside the church and outside her doors.

Granted, this review has served more as giving some random thoughts behind the book—but it was more of what this book spoke to me personally!  I’m grateful for the way it challenged me to think of my own motives as well as the purpose of the church as a whole.  I highly recommend this book.

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Book Review: “My Second Chapter” by Matthew Ward

As anyone who was around me in college, and they will tell you I was addicted to the music of Matthew Ward.  My roommate made the “mistake” (his words) of giving me Ward’s “Toward Eternity,” his first solo album released in 1979.  I had heard Ward from some old Second Chapter of Acts tapes and saw why they were considered a pioneer group in the Christian music industry when they came on the scene in 1974. 

I found Ward’s book very enlightening.  Mainly, this book served to give stories and anecdotes of his life and is an easy read.  This book serves well in showing how God’s steadfast and enduring love helps one persevere through the most painful of times.  Ward understands what it means to lose a father and a mother within a two year span during his formative teenage years.  Through God’s divine providence, he came to live with his older sister and brother-in-law (Buck and Annie Herring), who became an incredible Christian influence in his life.  Thanks to a random time around a piano in front of rocker-turned-Christian Barry McGuire, Matthew and his sisters Annie and Nelly sang such unbelievable harmonies together, that Barry took them on tour with him as back-up singers.  This was the birth of “Second Chapter of Acts.” 

The most touching portion of the book was the portion that addressed his bout with testicular cancer in 1993.  He shares much about how this affected him physically and spiritually, and how this affected his family as well.  He went into great detail about the entire process—from finding the cancer to the chemotherapy to the recovery.  Some may find these details gruesome, and others may wonder why Ward seems to make light of his situation (saying upon the entry of the chemo drug entering his body, “Here comes the poison”), but I personally appreciated the honesty.  He shares these details to help the rest of us understand how significant and painful this process is, but also to give others who are struggling with this issue that he understands.  All through this, he deals honestly with His walk with the Lord (both the ups and downs) and how Christ helped him to persevere through it all.  Toward the end of that chapter (entitled “Uninvited Guest”), he provided this helpful insight:

During and after my ordeal with cancer, the Lord began to show me in big and small ways that I was truly on His mind and that He was indeed concerned with those things that concerned me.  I learned to see the father heart of God for the first time, and I began to see myself as His son.  Of all the lessons I learned, that—by far—was the greatest. (174)

From this experience, God led Ward to release a worship CD that (in my opinion) is one of the most powerful and worshipful CDs you’ll hear:  “My Redeemer.” 

While this book does contain seemingly random stories about Matthew’s life, the biggest value for me was Chapter 17 (“Musing on Music”), which outlines the advice he gives to aspiring singers who wish to delve into the Christian music industry. 

I always try to find out right away why people want to get involved in Christian music.  The way I see it, music ministry is something that requires a call from the Lord.  Even when people have the musical gifting that would allow them to perform Christian songs, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should do it—not if they haven’t been called to that kind of service by God. … I ask, “Do you want to entertain or to minister?” (204)

He also asks, “Do you want to get involved in music because it’s something you think you’d be good at or because it’s something that’s tugging at your heart?”  His reasoning for asking is this:  would they be happy and content singing in a small church in Kansas, or do they have to be on a big stage with lots of admirers?  Along with these questions, Ward gives some of his helpful insights into the modern contemporary Christian music scene from an experienced perspective.

I found this book interesting simply because I am a fan of his music and ministry.  Others who may not have that connection may find this book a bit scattered at times, but you can see how the Lord has used issues in his life to strengthen His walk and ministry to others.  For more information about Matthew Ward’s ministry, check out his website at http://www.matthewward.com .

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Book Review: “Fearless” by Max Lucado

Lucado Fearless Max Lucado’s recent book “Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear” will speak to so many in our culture who are struggling and dieting “on the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2).  With so much insecurity within and instability without, Lucado’s book addresses this topic in such a creative and pastoral way. 

One of the great strengths of the book is how he grounds everything he says in Scripture, especially in the accounts of Jesus.  From the healings (the raising of Jairus’ daughter) to the storms on the sea to the feeding of the 5,000 (men), Lucado sets these Scriptures in with such day-to-day picturesque illustrations that you cannot help but get the picture of how our Savior is able to steady us.  He presents Scripture after Scripture to show that with the Lord, we have Him on our side through the gospel.

With this strength comes a concern.  Although Thomas Nelson Publishing (who graciously sends this book out free to bloggers who wish to review) publishes the New King James Version of the Bible and is the standard version used in all their works, Lucado uses numerous translations (I believe I counted 12).  While the motive may be to give a broader picture and flavor of what Jesus is saying, one walks away from this book simply thinking, “He just picked a translation that worked well for him.”  To his credit, on certain occasions, he put the same verse in three different translations.  Instead, I wish that Lucado would have gone to the original languages a few more times to get what the author intended, rather than what the translator decided some 1900+ years after the fact.  I know quoting Hebrew and Greek may be off-putting to some modern readers, but it would actually help steady his case all the more in the end.

While Lucado does ground his case in Scripture, I wish he would have grounded his case in the gospel a bit more.  Each chapter seemed to say, “See, with God, you have nothing to fear—so don’t fear!”  He alludes to the gospel in words, but I wish he would have taken more time to speak on the atonement and why grounding ourselves in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ who absorbed the wrath of God that was toward us, and then gave us His righteousness so we have favor with God based upon Christ and not on our ability to screw our own courage—that would have bolstered his case a bit more.

I would recommend this book with a supplemental book on what the gospel is truly all about.  Understanding the breadth of the gospel was what alleviates ultimate fear.

(I am grateful for Thomas Nelson and their program – http://www.booksneeze.com – for providing this complimentary book to review.)

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Book Review: “Christ in the Camp: The True Story of the Great Revival During the War Between the States” by J. William Jones

In a visit to Washington and Lee University, I had the pleasure of visiting the Robert E. Lee Chapel and Museum.  In their bookstore, I happened upon the book Christ in the Camp: The True Story of the Great Revival During the War Between the States by J. William Jones (Sprinkle Publications).  Jones was a chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  In this, Jones seeks to show the world (as the subtitle shows) the movement of revival in the Confederate armies through the arduous work of the Confederate army chaplains with their preaching and tract distribution.

In the process, Jones gives extended sketches on the Christian generals who led the Confederate army, such as Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart among others—men who provided great access and liberty and encouragement to these chaplains and their efforts.  Included also are stories of great valor of Christian men such as Richard Kirkland who, as a recently converted Confederate soldier, raised the white flag to take water out to the wounded Union and Confederate soldiers who lay on the battlefield and provided each with a drink of water.  The move brought a cease fire from both sides, and left Kirkland with the name “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” (you may read about him here). 

 

Some reading this may wonder how such a revival could have taken place amongst the Confederate armies, since the Confederacy was a slave-based economy.  Some may ask, “How could there be a move of the Spirit of God among a people who enslaved others based on their race?”  A number of factors could be at play.

  1. The cultural standards of the day played too great a factor in how Christians viewed the world, and thus a revival was needed in order to open their eyes to this scourge.  It should cause all of us to evaluate the institutions and mindsets we take for granted as part of our culture, but should never be a part of someone who names the name of Christ. 
  2. Not everyone in the Confederacy was for the institution of slavery, just as not everyone in the Union was for the abolition of slavery.  In the decades after the Civil War, we see that the predominate view of both North and South was that the black man was inferior to the white (see the campaign slogan of Gov. Horatio Seymour (D-NY) who ran against Ulysses S. Grant in 1868, who had the campaign slogan, “This is a White Man’s Country: Let the White Man Rule.”)  This was the reigning view of many, who worried about the policies of Reconstruction and the violence that occurred in the South during this time.  Lee and Jackson were against slavery (although Jackson did own five slaves whom he taught to read and write, something that was bordering on illegal in that time). 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though the author is clearly pro-Confederate and pro-Lost Cause—which may be off-putting to some.  This author does not deal with the problematic issue of slavery.  He sticks to the chaplain’s work of preaching and tract distribution and the fruits therein. 

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