Sir Walter Scott was one of the most popular writers of the nineteenth century. Some critics of the day even dared to compare him with Shakespeare. Though his popularity waned in the twentieth century and few of his works are read today, he has the distinction of being the first writer to pen an historical novel – a genre that became very popular, not only in Britain and America, but in France and Russia as well. The first of the many historical novels Scott wrote was Waverley, the tale of a naive English soldier who becomes enmeshed in the rebellion of the Scottish Highlands led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 (the setting is similar to that found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped). This novel is the most recent book added to the Notes on Classic Literature found on this website.
Have you ever had trouble understanding how the books of the Old Testament fit together? You may be familiar with the traditional divisions of Law, History, Wisdom Literature, and Prophecy, but these are arranged largely by genre rather than by chronology. Most Old Testament surveys, Bible handbooks, and commentaries treat the text in canonical order, making it difficult to see what fits where in terms of time sequence. In order to remedy that difficulty, I have put together a book called The Road to Redemption – A Chronological Overview of the Old Testament. It deals with the books in chronological order, weaving the non-historical books into the books of history in a way that helps the reader see where they fit. It also emphasizes the ways in which the literature of the Old Testament presents God’s plan of redemption and points to the work of Christ.
The most recent addition to the adult Sunday School courses offered on the website is a study of the Pastoral Epistles. By the time Paul wrote I and II Timothy and Titus near the end of his earthly ministry, Christianity was spreading very rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. As a result, organization was essential in order for these young congregations to grow, prosper, and propagate the Gospel. Paul provides instructions, not only for organization of the churches, but also for sound teaching and the means of dealing with those who were energetically spreading false doctrine and encouraging ungodly practice. The guidance he gives was not just relevant to the infant churches of the first century, however; it is also valuable to us as we seek to live faithfully in a culture that is every bit as alien to the message of the Gospel as was that of ancient Rome.
Often great writers who are not Christians nonetheless show tremendous insight into human nature. Those insights, however, rarely lead to biblical conclusions about how to deal with man’s sins and society’s ills. Moliere, a playwright subject to the censorship of Louis XIV and the Catholic Church in seventeenth-century France, was a keen observer of human nature and society’s problems, but he was no social reformer. His plays, however, can be helpful in shedding light on man’s hypocrisy – a problem for which only the Gospel provides a real and lasting solution. The latest addition to the literature website is Moliere’s The Misanthrope, which humorously points out the wrongness of taking the speck out of your brother’s eye without first removing the log from your own, but fails to suggest how that log ought to be removed.
After the ordeal of preparing a study guide for War and Peace, I decided to tackle a shorter work. A play would be nice, I thought. While in college I had acted in Jean Anouilh’s Becket, and I thought it would be a worthwhile addition to the website. Not until I was halfway through the play did I realize that I had already written it up nine years ago. Well, that’s what comes with advancing age, I suppose. In any case, the new study guide is somewhat expanded from the original, so hopefully readers of the website will find it helpful.
God reveals Himself to His creatures in many ways, but one of the ways in which He does so is by the names by which He chooses to be called. I have just added to the list of adult Sunday School courses one on the names of God. The lessons examine each of thirteen names of God given in the Scriptures by looking at the meaning of each, the context in which it is first revealed, how that name is used throughout Scripture to tell us more about who God is, and how it points to Christ, His person and His work.
People sometimes joke about very long books by calling them doorstops, implying that they are good for little else because no one can screw up his courage sufficiently to read them. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is probably referred to in these terms more than any other novel. I finally decided to confront the beast and read the book, despite the fact that I’m fairly confident that no English teacher who values his or her life would actually assign students to read the novel in an era where even a book of a few hundred pages is considered too much of a burden for young people. The book is hard to categorize. It is at the same time a novel of romance, a history of the part of the Napoleonic Wars that brought Russian into conflict with France, and a treatise on the meaning of history, and indeed of life itself. War and Peace was written by an author who had not yet become a Christian and was grappling with the questions for which only Christianity provides real answers. At the same time, he was questioning the popular interpretations of history and asserting that it was controlled by a force outside man of which he understood little. If you are up to the challenge, you should enjoy the romances, marvel at the battlefield descriptions, and give serious thought to Tolstoy’s ideas on the meaning of life and history.
Israel was one nation for only a little more than a century during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided and remained so until the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Assyrians and Babylonians, respectively. During this century Israel became a major player, both politically and economically, in the Eastern Mediterranean. Not only that, but God established a line of kings that would eventually produce the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Did you know that the historical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles devote more space to the 120 years of the United Monarchy than they do to the 350-year period during which the kingdom was divided? Because of this, the United Monarchy series is the longest adult course listed on this website, consisting of twenty lessons. Note that, while much of the material in the middle of the course covers the same ground found in the Life of David curriculum, these lessons are significantly expanded, containing more detail than those in the earlier course.
The newest addition to the literature website is Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps. The book is by no means a great work of literature, but it is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold more than thirty million copies since it was first published more than a century ago, and has been hugely influential. In it, the author challenges the reader to make every decision by asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” While following the example set by Christ certainly sounds like a good idea, the book arose from the Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth century and promotes a form of Christianity that sees Jesus as an example of sacrificial living rather than as a Redeemer who came to save lost sinners. According to the novel, a Christian utopia can be achieved by transforming the environment in which the poor live their lives, and thus preventing the evil into which they inevitably fall. It contains nothing of the true Gospel message.
The book was not only influential in its day; it also sparked the fad among evangelical Christians in the 1990s of wearing WWJD bracelets, despite the fact that they didn’t really understand what the novel was teaching. Sadly, it never answers the question of how one should ascertain what Jesus would do in any given situation; people essentially are encouraged to follow what they feel Jesus would do. No suggestion is ever made that consulting Scripture would be a good idea for answering the question. As a result, we have the travesty today of people condemning those who seek to uphold biblical standards of morality by insisting that Jesus surely would love and accept everyone, whatever his or her sexual practices and gender preferences might be. Christians need to be aware of and evaluate from Scripture such teachings, which today constitute what many people think Christianity is (or should be).
I’m going to be speaking at Proof of the Truth seminars in Rochester and Buffalo, New York on the weekend of April 28-29 along with Craig Blomberg from Denver Seminary. The seminars deal with the reliability of the Scriptures and will address some of the material contained in Defending Your Sword. The conference is sponsored by The 3rd Choice, an online outreach to people who have turned away from the Christian faith in which they have been raised or who just have questions about Christianity in general. If you are in the area of Western New York State, I hope you can make it.