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Hard times

(Associated Press photo)


Hard times

Books remind us of history's forgotten lessons and give hope for times we despair

How quickly we've forgotten the reality of terrorism! Not quite 10 years after 9/11, some Democrats called Tea Party members "terrorists" because they're pushing hard to stop spiraling deficits. It's no surprise that after seven decades we've forgotten the short-sightedness of history's most notorious appeasement. That's why Bruce Thornton's The Wages of Appeasement (Encounter, 2011) is worth reading.

Thornton shows that Barack Obama isn't all that different from Neville Chamberlain, the pre-World War II British prime minister with a belief in human goodness and the determination to find "decency in dictators." Thornton shows that if England and France had stuck to their word and supported Czechoslovakia in 1938, "the Germans would have had a hard fight." Appeasement gave Hitler more opportunity to kill millions starting in 1939.

Thornton concludes that President Obama has displayed "remarkable historical ignorance" in seeking the favor of murderers like Assad of Syria, Nasrallah of Hezbollah, and Ahmadinejad of Iran. But the president is not the only politician with a "blame Western civilization first" mentality; Pascal Bruckner's The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism (Princeton, 2010) shows that the West has created some monsters but has slain many more.

Any time I'm feeling pessimistic about today's international situation, I compare it to that of 1941, with Hitler dominating Europe and (at the end of the year) Japan dominant in Asia. If you need help in meditating on original sin, read Anna Reid's vivid Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 (Walker, 2011). Pick your poison: You could be starved by Hitler or persecuted by Stalin.

Why was the 20th century full of suffering and the 21st century likely to rival it? These Last Days: A Christian View of History (P&R, 2011) contains talks about world history from the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. In the first talk, Sinclair Ferguson notes that "the Bible rarely speaks about demons, and demons rarely appear in the thousands of years of Bible history. But they appear in massive force in that little land of Palestine around the year 30 A.D. Why? Because the kingdom of darkness is tottering." That kingdom is tottering today as well.

In the second talk, D.A. Carson quotes Jesus' response in Matthew 13 to His disciples' desire to pull out the weeds that an enemy has sown in God's field: "No, let both grow until the end." Carson notes that the gospel is transforming culture and that cultural powers are persecuting Christians. (That's why, when people ask me whether things are getting better or worse, I tend to answer, "both.") Carson points out that Satan "knows his time is short. This is precisely why he is filled with fury." That's a good thing to remember whenever we despair: Today's thrashing of the dragon's tail is a sign of Satan's desperation.

As we take a long view of ups and downs, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011) can be helpful: Steven J. Lawson gives us a 1,500-year theological overview that shows how the apostolic, apologist, African, Cappadocian, and Latin fathers of the church emphasized God's sovereignty and the doctrines of grace, as did their heirs during the Protestant Reformation. Lawson emphasizes theology above storytelling, so its 23 profiles of a long line of godly men from Clement of Rome to Calvin of Geneva work well for Sunday school study but not for pleasure reading.

Quick looks

Two books instruct us to work hard because our time is short. Ben Witherington's Work (Eerdmans, 2011) provides what its subtitle promises: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor. Scott Todd's Fast Living (Compassion, 2011) exhorts us regarding its subtitle: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty. While he underestimates corruption, he does see a central role for church, not state: We can certainly hope for the 98 percent success rate Todd says in the last chapter is possible, and pray that God will remove those dictators who starve children while feeding their armies.