Reading is a wonderful thing. It stimulates thinking. Or so it should. Of course the famous computer expression “GIGO” applies to reading as well as to computer programming. If all we do is put garbage in, all we will get is garbage out. The three books I would like to mention here avoid GIGO altogether.
Richard M. Gamble (not to be confused with the theologian Richard C. Gamble), the Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Chair of history and political science at Hillsdale College, has produced an utterly fascinating book with In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth (London & New York: Continuum Books, 2012) which can be obtained here. In this volume Gamble traces the influence of the expression “city on a hill” from its origin in John Winthrop’s “Christian Charitie” discourse all the way through its adoption by John F. Kennedy to its well-known use by Ronald Reagan (sometimes expanded to “a shining city on a hill”). Gamble notes that the expression stems from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and was meant to be applied to his disciples (i.e., the church), not to any nation state let alone to America. Gamble makes his point well. However, as others have noted, he might go overboard when he suggests that the civil religious misuse of the expression has robbed the Christian church of its proper use. There also appears to be a tinge of the radical two kingdoms (R2K) thinking at work in the background. While it is true that the church and the state are distinct and have their own forms of government instituted by Christ, it is not illegitimate for the church to influence the state. Also, it is debatable whether expressions drawn from Scripture have some kind of exclusive copyright. As a minister of the gospel myself I would simply point out in preaching on the Sermon on the Mount that the expression “city on a hill” was not ever meant to apply to the United States but to the Christian church in whatever nation it finds itself. I would have to do something similar when preaching on the “house divided against itself” which was lifted from Scripture by Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Kidd of Baylor University has provided a very balanced review of the book at the Gospel Coalition website here.
Speaking of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln scholar Allen C. Guelzo has penned a fine book, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). As a Civil buff for the last 41 years (I turned the really old age of 48 last month and have been an aficionado of all things Civil War since I was 7), it would be hard to read something new on the Civil War but Guelzo has succeeded in presenting the war in a fresh and illuminating way. In fact, Guelzo goes back to the founding of the nation to show that the seeds of the war were sewn then and he traces the ebb and flow of sectional discord in a fascinating way that reminds me of political events of more recent days. Not only this, but the author also includes coverage of the reconstruction era which seems like a necessity after reading this book. You can find the book here. Al Mohler interviewed Guelzo a few months back here. On a related note, you can find Dr. Guelzo’s review of the new Spielberg Lincoln movie here.
My third entry is Al Mohler’s recent book The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2012) which can be found here. Theologically minded pastors (which really should be all pastors, but alas, it just ain’t so) may be frightened away from such a book thinking it is a merely a management or self-help kind of book. You would be mistaken if you think so. Admittedly, Mohler does mention Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, but this should not scare one away. The gist of the book is that leaders worth their salt are those who lead with conviction. In other words, leaders are those who have beliefs that possess them passionately. The chapters, which are each devoted to one of the 25 principles, cover such territory as “Leading is Believing,” “Leaders Understand Worldviews,” “Leaders Are Thinkers,” and “Leaders Are Teachers.” Of course there are other chapters on such topics as the passion to lead, character, credibility, communication, reading, speaking, stewardship, decision making, the use of traditional media, writing, the use of digital media, the use of time, leadership that endures, death, and the leader’s legacy. Mohler, who serves as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has written this for Christians in different leadership roles, but clearly it relates to the role of ministers and elders. This is not a hard read. But it conveniently brings these different elements together between two covers. I would recommend that all ministers and elders get this book and read it. You will come away with a sense of the awesomeness of the calling God has placed on us and you will be encouraged to exercise godly leadership.
We must always be reading to remain thoughtful. Think about that.