Notre Dame University Press

I received an e-mail recently from Notre Dame University Press informing me of a summer 40 percent off sale. Unlike some of the other e-mails I have received from publishers this month, there was no mention of Pride Month. However, one of the forthcoming books being promoted is Gay, Catholic, and American: My Legal Battle for Marriage Equality and Inclusion, by Greg Bourke, scheduled for release in September. Because Notre Dame is a Catholic university, it is to be expected that its press publishes books like Queen of Heaven: The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin in Early Modern English Writing (2018), by Lilla Grindlay; and Mary’s Bodily Assumption (2014), by Matthew Levering. I reviewed another book of Levering, one that he wrote with evangelical Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine Is Not Unbiblical (Zondervan, 2017), in the Spring 2018 issue of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (pp. 103-106). But Notre Dame University Press also publishes hundreds of books that can broadly be considered religious that are not about Catholicism. The problem, however, is that the vast majority of them aren’t worth reading either.

The only two books on my shelves published by Notre Dame University Press that I know I still have are The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century (2004), edited by Doris L. Bergen; and St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus, and Philemon (2010), translated by Thomas P. Scheck, Associate Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University in Florida, and a brilliant scholar. I also have Erasmus’s Life of Origen: A New Annotated Translation of the Prefaces to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Edition of Origen’s Writings (1536), translated with commentary by Scheck (The Catholic University of America Press, 2016); and Origen’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, translated by Scheck (The Catholic University of America Press, 2009, 2012). Notre Dame University Press also publishes Scheck’s Origen and the History of Justification: The Legacy of Origen’s Commentary on Romans (2016), but I haven’t gotten a copy yet. I did purchase and read Creation ex nihilo: Origins, Development, Contemporary Challenges (2017), edited by Gary A. Anderson and Markus Bockmuehl, soon after it was published, but it was a huge disappointment, so I got rid of it. Notre Dame University Press publishes The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (1989), by Beryl Smalley (1905-1984), but the copy I have is the 1952 second edition published by Basil Blackwell.

There are only two other religious books published by Notre Dame University Press that might be worth reading. First there is American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History (2014), edited by Darren Dochuk, Thomas S. Kidd, and Kurt W. Peterson. Marsden is the respected historian of American church history. I have his Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1987), with an important new preface by the author; and his Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1991). I thought for sure I had his Fundamentalism and American Culture (2nd ed., Oxford, 2006), but can’t seem to find it. The second book is Hell: The Logic of Damnation (1992), by Jerry L. Walls, a Protestant scholar. I have his Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most (Brazos Press, 2015), and his Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford, 2012), but not his Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford, 2002).

Regarding the non-religious titles published by Notre Dame University Press, I note that several volumes by Solzhenitsyn are available. If you don’t know who he is, then you should, and I suggest that you look him up. Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance (2019), by Peter S. Onuf, looks important to the study of American history, but is not high on my reading list. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Notre Dame publishes Twilight of the American Century (2018), by Andrew J. Bacevich. Beginning with his The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005), which I think was his second book, and is one of his best, I have read almost everything he has written, and highly recommend all of his books. Rubbish or worthless is all I can say about the vast majority of the other non-religious books published by Notre Dame University Press.

Speaking of Westcott and Hort

Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), as I am sure most readers of The Preacher’s Library know, are the editors of a critical edition of the Greek New Testament (1881) that is the basis of the NA/UBS Greek text today and two of the translators of the New Testament (1881) of the Revised Version (1885). Together with Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), they formed what was known as the Cambridge Triumvirate. Lightfoot was the most orthodox, Hort the least. Since most of what has been written about Westcott and Hort for the past 50 years has focused on the negative, I want to mention two books in my library about their life and work, written by British Methodist minister Graham A. Patrick, that are written from a neutral perspective: The Miner’s Bishop: Brooke Foss Westcott (OSL Publications, 2002; 2nd ed., Epworth Press, 2004) and F. J. A. Hort: Eminent Victorian (Almond Press, 1988). The first book is 282 pages, and focuses more on Westcott’s work. I must say that I had no idea that Westcott had fathered ten children, seven sons and three daughters. The work on Hort is more of a biography, but is only a brief 127 pages. While I don’t discount much of the negative press they have received, it is interesting to read a perspective not fueled by an agenda.

The Politics of the Revised Version

The first widely distributed and accepted modern version of the Bible was the Revised Version. The New Testament was issued first, in 1881, followed by the Old Testament with the New in 1885. Beginning with the publication of the New Testament, and continuing for several years, various books were issued in defense of the new Bible. Some of these touched on the history of the Revised Version, like Lectures on Bible Revision (Hodder & Stoughton, 1881), by Samuel Newth (1821-1898), one of the translators. If you are interested in a very scholarly, extremely detailed history of the translation of the Revised Version (written without an agenda), based in part on newly available material from the Westcott family archives, then The Politics of the Revised Version: A Tale of Two New Testament Revision Companies (T & T Clark, 2019) is your book. You can view the table of contents and the publisher’s description on the back cover here. I found the book fascinating. Although it contains much info on the role of Westcott and Hort, it also discusses the views and actions of many of the other translators.

England’s Culture Wars

I mentioned in a previous post my favorite quote by H. L. Mencken: “Puritanism—The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” If you want to see what happened when Puritans gained influence over and control of the government, then I highly recommend England’s Culture Wars: Puritan Reformation and its Enemies in the Interregnum, 1649-1660 (Oxford, 2012), by Bernard Capp. Part II is the meat of the book, with chapters on:

  • Sins against God: Swearing and the Sabbath
  • The Puritan Parish
  • Puritans and Sex
  • Drink and Disorder
  • Worldly Pleasures: Dress, Music, Dancing, Art
  • Worldly Pleasures: Plays, Shows, Sports

Capp documents how Puritan magistrates and ministers “drew up a harsh penal code against blasphemers, sexual offenders, and other deviants.” They “enforced church attendance, suppressed unlawful sports and disorderly alehouses, whipped fornicators, ducked scolds, and fined blasphemers.” If you are in favor of laws like this, then you have no concept of the nature of New Testament Christianity. My forthcoming article “Puritanism Then and Now” goes into more detail on Capp’s book and shows that Puritanism is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

Fordham University Press

I received an e-mail from Fordham University Press informing me that I could save 30 percent during Pride Month. This press publishes a number of horrible LGBT books, which is surprising since Fordham is a Catholic university. The reason I am on the mailing list is because the press publishes some religious books and I either purchased Thou Shalt Not Kill: A Political and Theological Dialogue (2015), by Adriana Cavarero and Angelo Scola, or requested a review copy. I don’t remember writing a review of the book, and since it is not in my possession anymore, the book probably turned out to be a big disappointment and I tossed it. I used to own Greek: An Intensive Course (2nd rev. ed., 1992), by Hardy Hansen and Gerald M. Quinn. Fordham still publishes A Reformation Debate: John Calvin and Jacopo Sadoleto (2000), but the copy I once owned was from another publisher. Ninety-nine percent of all of the other books published by Fordham that can broadly be considered religious are pure garbage. And, in case you were wondering, the same goes for Fordham’s books that are not religious in nature.

HarperCollins Publishers

A recent marketing e-mail I received from HarperCollins Publishers prompts me to discuss this publisher at this time. HarperCollins is the second largest publisher in the world. It has “publishing operations in 17 countries” and “more than 120 branded imprints around the world.” The company “publishes approximately 10,000 new books every year in 16 languages, and has a print and digital catalog of more than 200,000 titles.” It was founded by the Harper Brothers in 1817. I have several old books about the Bible in my library published by Harper & Brothers or its later incarnation, Harper & Row:

  • Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (4th ed., 1939), by Frederic Kenyon
  • The Greatest English Classic: A Study of the King James Version of the Bible and Its Influence on Life and Literature (1912), by Cleland Boyd McAfee
  • The Ancestry of Our English Bible (3rd ed., 1956), by Ira M. Price

Harper was also the publisher of the last two editions of A. T. Robertson’s A New Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament. News Corp acquired Harper in 1987 and William Collins, Sons in 1990, combining their names to create HarperCollins. In keeping with the nature of The Preacher’s Library, what we are interested in is religious books published by HarperCollins. Are there any, and if so, are any of them worth reading? It should first be noted that HarperCollins is the parent company of the Christian publishers Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. They are under the umbrella of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and I will discuss them in future posts.

Clicking on the category “Religion and Inspiration” on the HarperCollins website returns 1,491 results. As you can imagine, most of it is garbage, like My Spiritual Journey, by the Dalai Lama. The main imprint of HarperCollins for religious books is HarperOne. Here one will find books by a diverse group of authors, including such well known ones as C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, Bart D. Ehrman, and Jim Wallis. There are just a handful of books published by HarperOne that are worth reading. Out of the 1,036 books currently listed on the HarperOne site, I have four of them.

For reference, there is the massive 2,048-page The Study Quran, described as “an accessible and accurate translation of the Quran that offers a rigorous analysis of its theological, metaphysical, historical, and geographical teachings and backgrounds, and includes extensive study notes, special introductions by experts in the field, and is edited by a top modern Islamic scholar, respected in both the West and the Islamic world.” Naturally, it does not provide a negative view of the Koran, but there are other books that do that. If you live in an area with a large Muslim community and want to have a wide variety of resources on Islam at your disposal, then this is the only reason that you would want to have this volume.

Although Bart D. Ehrman is an agnostic who departed from the faith after attending Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College and then going to Princeton Theological Seminary, his book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (2012) is an important one. There are some atheists, agnostics, humanists, and assorted nut jobs out there who not only deny the virgin birth, deity, miracles, and resurrection of Christ, but also deny that Jesus ever even existed. Ehrman destroys them.

The other Ehrman book in my library published by HarperOne is not one I can recommend. I have reviewed How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (2014) along with the response to it by Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling called How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature (Zondervan, 2014) in a single review that appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the Journal of Dispensational Theology (pp. 294-298).

There are a lot of good things that I could say about The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (2014) by Philip Jenkins. As I said at the end of my review of this book: “The religious aspects of World War I are unmistakable and essential for understanding the war. Philip Jenkins has written one of the most informative and important books about the Great War.”

I thought for sure I owned a copy of Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom (2019) by Steven Waldman, but can’t seem to find it on my bookshelves. It is definitely worth reading. I used to have On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (4th ed., 1979, revised by Vernon L. Stanfield) by John Broadus (1827-1895) and Early Christian Doctrines by J. N. D. Kelly (first published in 1958 by A & C Black in London; Harper 5th ed., 1978), but have long since gotten rid of them. I think I may also at one time have owned The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today (rev. ed., 2002) by Edwin S. Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt and Idioms in the Bible Explained and a Key to the Original Gospels (1985, but originally separate books published much earlier) by George M. Lamsa.

I have not read and do not own The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (1997; originally published by Princeton in 1996) or The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (2011), both by Rodney Stark, but I am familiar with them. I recommend instead Bart D. Ehrman’s The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (Simon & Schuster, 2018), which I have reviewed for the New American. I do not recommend Stark’s other HarperOne title, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2010), but I do recommend his The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005). There are no other religious books published by HarperOne worth reading. I have heard good things about 1492: The Year the World Began (2010) by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, but it is a purely secular book. Not sure why it was published under the HarperOne imprint. I will keep you posted as to any future HarperOne books worth mentioning.

Under the Harper Perennial imprint, I note only four valuable religious books:

  • The Protestant Reformation (rev. ed., 2009), by Hans Hillerbrand
  • Civilization of the Middle Ages (rev. ed., 1994), by Norman Cantor
  • The Jesuits: Missions, Myth and Histories (2005), by Jonathan Wright
  • God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (2005), by Adam Nicolson

I have read and used to own the Cantor book. I have not read and neither do I own the Hillerbrand and Wright books, but would not hesitate to get them if I were studying those subjects. The Nicolson book is highly recommended, and will be discussed in a future post. I should also mention that HarperCollins has a conservative imprint called Broadside Books.

Historical Dictionary of the Baptists

In the new religion catalog from the publisher Rowman & Littlefield—a secular publisher that publishes some overpriced religious books, the vast majority of which are not worth reading or owning even if you got them for free—there is advertised the publication of a third edition of Historical Dictionary of the Baptists (2021) by William H. Brackney. Although it is a 722-page hardcover book, the price ($180) will keep it out of my library. However, it would be a good resource for a Baptist college library that I would not hesitate to recommend. The same thing could be said of some of Rowman & Littlefield’s other historical dictionaries; e.g., Historical Dictionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I only have a handful of books in my library published by Rowman & Littlefield or one of its imprints. Three come to mind right now: Storm on the Horizon: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), by Justus D. Doenecke (reviewed here by the late, great Ralph Raico); Catholic Perspectives on Peace and War (Sheed & Ward, 2003), by Thomas J. Massaro and Thomas A. Shannon; and Two Puzzling Baptisms (Hamilton Books, 2017), a study of 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 and 15:29 in their Judaic background.

Christ All in All

I learn something new about books almost every day. The latest addition to my library is Christ All in All (Reiner Publications, 1976) by Philip Henry, the father of Matthew Henry the famed commentator. I had no idea that Philip Henry or this book even existed until I came across the book, which was originally written in 1691. The manuscript was not published until 1830. The book contains 380 pages after a memoir of the author. The book is based on the last part of Colossians 3:11, “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” It contains 41 short chapters on things like Christ is our hope, our refuge, our righteousness, our light, our life, our peace, our wisdom, our way, our example, our shield, our strength, our song, our sanctification, etc.

H. L. Mencken: A Religious Biography

If you are a fan of the journalist, editor, and literary and social critic H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), then D. G. Hart’s Damning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken (Eerdmans, 2016) is the book for you. The book is part of the Library of Religious Biography series. Mencken was the most influential journalist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of its most quotable personalities. Wit and satire were two of his formidable weapons. Some of his most memorable quotes are:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable.

My personal favorite is: “Puritanism—The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” I initially read this book just for the joy of reading a book without having to write a book review or study anything. I don’t get to do this often. I did reference the book, however, when I wrote an article in 2018 titled “Mencken’s Plan, Read’s Rule” for the journal Future of Freedom, and for my forthcoming article in the same journal titled “Puritanism Then and Now.”

A Most Peculiar and Bad Book

I said on the About TPL page that “because much of what is published today, even by Christian publishers, is absolute garbage, warnings about bad or useless books will be provided alongside of information about good books.” I have read A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible (Oxford, 2021) so you don’t have to. The author, Kristin Swenson, is “Associate Professor of Religious Studies (Affiliate) at Virginia Commonwealth University and a fellow at Virginia Humanities in Charlottesville.” She “grew up with the Bible in an open-minded, garden-variety Protestant congregation.” “Lutheran,” she says at the end of the book. She loves the Bible, but believes that it “contains bewildering archaisms, inconsistencies, questionable ethics, and a herky-jerky narrative style.” It is full of “head-scratching oddities, absurdities, and exasperating lacunae.” The Gospels are “not disinterested reporting of historically verifiable fact but were designed first and foremost for the purpose of telling what the authors believed.” They are “stories of faith told in order to achieve a certain effect.” The author believes that “there’s virtually nothing in the Bible concerning homosexuality that’s relevant to our times.” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t actually write the Gospels attributed to them. Paul did not write all of the letters with his name on them. And on and on. Swenson questions everything in the Bible in some way. I have several books in my library about the Bible from a secular perspective. They may be bad when it comes to the inspiration, authority, and interpretation of the Bible, but they are not useless. Swenson’s book is both bad and useless.