Rebuilding civilization will be a project soon halted without literature, academics, and history. As Augustine understood, a city is a community of people united by a shared love. Taking Augustine’s point more loosely, a shared love of ideas, ideals, stories and histories are necessary to build again. Therefore, literature and history are necessary points of departure as we move forward in a crumbling civilization.
Yet, any concerned soul who would see civilization rebuilt will understand the prudence of drawing on both the past and the present. This yearly list will provide works both ancient and new. It is a list designed to inspire and critique, to sharpen and to encourage.
Kuyper’s Our Program
Conservatism both outside and inside the American church is at a crossroads. Will the conservative movement break with libertarianism? Will it embrace social justice? What will its identity now become?
If Reformed Conservatism will conserve anything, it must be in communication with its past. Abraham Kuyper’s Calvinistic Conservatism provides a manifesto unique to the late 1800’s Dutch context, yet is filled with insight applicable to the present. Explicitly Burkean and rooted in theology, Our Program provides a window into what an American Reformed Conservatism might look like.
We don’t understand our children nor why many are voting increasingly left. Where we are headed is not good. But understanding where we are heading means understanding where we are. Understanding where we are requires understanding where we came from. Mary Eberstadt’s Home-Alone America documents the past choices of mothers who neglected their children to Nickelodeon, PlayStation, and state education centers.
From obesity to mass shootings, Home-Alone America exposes the root of the current moral crisis in the American family. Only when we understand the cause of a crisis can we begin to overcome it.
Deadly Consequences: How Cowards are Pushing Women into Combat
Written by Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Bob Maginnis, an Airborne Ranger and Infantry Officer, Deadly Consequences takes aim at one of feminism’s sacred idols.
Written from neither a theological nor Christian viewpoint, Deadly Consequences is, nevertheless, written from a moral standpoint — to send women into combat is cowardly and wrong. Some denominations have agreed (e.g. OPC), yet few understand what’s at stake in the war against womanhood. Maginnis’ book (partially) covers needed ground in a debate that has been all-but-forgotten.
With vivid images and a short read, Macbeth’s tale of murder examines the depravity in the hearts of men. You may be far from political intrigue and royal bloodshed, yet the battle for power and prestige wages war through your sinful nature. Civilization can only flourish when such desires are bridled — a lesson that Macbeth and his wife learn too late.
Heavy, indeed, is the head that wears the crown. Macbeth, the main character, is guided by an unwholesome wife and an unchecked ambition to become the king of Scotland. But not Macbeth alone, society too suffers the consequences.
Shakespeare warns us not to succumb to every desire of the heart, nor to heed every counsel from a wayward wife. Not all desires nor every advice guides a man correctly.
Luther’s On The Bondage of the Will
In December 1525, Martin Luther published a work which would forever cement the divide between Protestants and Catholics. In reply to Erasmus, a Roman Catholic humanist, Luther expounded the Biblical view of depravity, whereby man’s will is unable to respond to God’s call, in and of itself.
When God redeems a man, He redeems the whole man, including the will. Only then to serve God is man’s will liberated. Consequently, no man can choose to serve God unless and until his will is renewed by God, and he becomes a new creature. Luther’s arguments are dry at times yet vivid and hilarious at others. But theological conservatism finds a classic in Luther’s work, thus providing one more book in the giant RefCon library.
Thomas Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution
Making its author famous upon publication in 1837, this historical masterpiece is now considered a standard. And since the age of the French Revolution resembles so much our own age, the Reformed Conservative is benefited by such great a work.
Carlyle’s work inspired Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and has been described by a critic as “one of the grand poems of [Carlyle’s] century, yet its poetry consists in being everywhere scrupulously rooted in historical fact.” The Protestant ethos of ‘back to the sources’ rings no less true in the political arena; our Revolutionary age today found its birth in 1789. Thus, Carlyle’s work will prove helpful to any serious Christian thinker wrestling with today’s context.
Sermons that Influenced America
Published by P&R, this work is a compilation of 18 sermons that shaped America. All reformed sermons, these range from 1630 to 2001; from John Cotton to Francis Schaeffer and Tim Keller.
Loving our neighbors requires understanding them, in some measure, and understanding them requires understanding their context. Reformed preaching and teaching has been a foundational part of the historic American experience. The better we understand our past, our heritage and our forefathers, the better we are able to love those around us.
East of Eden
The greatest work of a Nobel-prize winner, East of Eden traces enduring themes worthy of consideration. Interestingly, John Steinbeck originally addressed his novel to his young sons, and considered it his magnum opus.
Investigating themes of love and depravity, the quest for greatness and the road to ruin, East of Eden self-consciously plays on the book of Genesis. Specifically, different members of the Trask family correspond to Cain and Abel at different times. With murder, intrigue and scandal, East of Eden is an immersive tale of flawed characters navigating life in a fallen world.
What to Expect When Nobody’s Expecting
The replacement fertility rate in every society is 2.1. If the average family has fewer children than that, society shrinks. Seven years ago, America’s total fertility rate was 1.93. Jonathan Last, a demographer, explains why the population implosion happened and how it is reshaping our culture, our economy, and especially our politics both at home and around the world.
No thinking Christian can ignore the population implosion. Nor can Americans, for as Last puts it,
“…if America wants to continue to lead the world, we need to have more babies.”
C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves
Lewis was known for his frank, open, warm-hearted writing that brimmed with insight and occasionally humor. His Four Loves does not disappoint.
Empathy, friendship, romantic, and unconditional loves, Lewis avers, are distinct, yet inseparable. He compares the corruption of Lucifer to the danger of perverted and corrupted loves. When love as an ideal, which is usually seen as the supreme virtue, declares itself to be what it is not, idolatry beckons. Human loves are not a cure-all, nor is the lack of human love the cause of all that is wrong in the world (contra Mary Shelley).
Each type of love is unique with its own dangers, and all equally human. Nevertheless, Lewis argues, unconditional love – the Biblical term agape – is the highest form of love we must aspire to. Whether one agrees in toto or not with Lewis, reflecting on love and the different kinds of love is always worthwhile.
The Hour Is Upon Us
To reiterate the near impossible to over-emphasize, community and society is a place where love exists. No list intended to rebuild civilization which fails to draw upon its classics, and especially ones pertaining to love, is a list that is prepared for the task at hand.
Our forefathers have built Western civilization, and our fathers have sought to end its decline. It is now the hour to begin again the work our fathers once began.
[C]laims of religious experience through music are notoriously hard to evaluate and build upon unless one is prepared to identify at least something of the content of the “religion” in question. The category of “religion” or “religious,”….is a massively contested one, as is the belief that there is some kind of locatable core or essence of “religious experience.” Unless we are willing to clarify what we might mean by asserting that, for example, music puts us in touch with God (for the Christian, as for any theistic faith, this would mean with a quite specific God, we will be powerless in the face of the skeptic, who will see such claims as no more than hyperbole for a fervent emotional experience or as a way of masking our desire to have some kind of ultimate authority to back up our musical tastes! In short, a laudable attempt to connect with musical experience in the culture at large can easily trade away the distinctives of Christian faith, leaving the church more irrelevant than ever.
Citations & References1. Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, by Herman Bavinck, Baker Book House, 2013, p. 270.
2. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, edited by Vittorio Messori (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985)
3. Essays on Religion, Science, and Society, by Herman Bavinck, p. 255. 4. Ibid., p. 256.
5. I admit that this is unsatisfactory, in that Bavinck would say that beauty is revealed in the true statement and the good action, but it does not directly address the question of the truth and goodness in, say, music or paintings. But at the risk of redundancy, a painting is not really an argument, except by way of metaphor.
6. Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, by Jeremy Begbie, SPCK, 2008, Kindle loc. 217.
Robert J. McPherson IISee More Essays
Robert J. McPherson II is a graduate of RC Sproul’s Reformation Bible College with an honors degree in theology. He has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Buckingham; conducting research under the guidance of Sir Roger Scruton. His thesis is on personal responsibility and social justice.