Stacks of Books and Old Friends for a New Journey

I now share with you some quotes from a few books piled up in a corner of my office. I had hoped at the end of last year,  to stack all of my New Year readings up in that one place. Perhaps next year. The problem is that I read at “stations:” some theological reflections in my briefcase at lunch, some Biblical devotional literature from the Puritans at dawn near the kitchen table, political or historical works after supper on a lampstand by my chair, and a biography at bedtime on the bedside table. Thus my books are spread out, stacked up, piled up, and sometimes left lying all over the place! Often when I finish them, they remain there as if there were some sort of sacred presence erected at the conclusion of the book and thus I have even felt the force of the Biblical injunction: “Remove not the old landmark…” (Proverb 23.10 KJV). Thus I have several piles all over the house, in my home office and in my seminary study, as well as around the rooms of our home (but my wife is so patient with me). I have had kind and godly lay people to help me organize these books. One dear lady in particular, Marcia, helped me to gather the books into Library of Congress order and even input them all into a wonderful library software. When I moved to Reformed Theological Seminary, devout seminary interns carefully labored to reproduce the precise work of Marcia. They did a splendid job! But two years later, fragments of my encounters with numerous thinkers lie about like trophy lions and bears from distant expeditions. May I say it? I am unrepentant; not impertinent about my condition, but simply and quite cheerfully content.

This afternoon, in a very pleasant and delightfully leisurely hour or two, I enjoyed rummaging through this little stack in my home office and found some under-lined sentences (I confess that I cannot read without a pen!). These markings represent a moment of silent respect, soul-impact, welcomed introspection, or simple wonder that came as my eyes took in a sentence or two and my soul inwardly digested it. Shall I offer the food that I have just found, certainly not the exhaustive intake for this year, for there were so many wonderful literary adventures, but maybe just some o this could be of help to someone. I humbly share these few fragments. Maybe more will come later:

“Listen not just to the words being spoken but to the silences between the words, and watch not just the drama unfolding on the stage, but the faces all around you watching it unfold.” – Frederich Buechner, The Yellow Leaves, page 29.

By the way, before certain friendly but finely sharpened ecclesiastical scalpels are cut too deeply into my confession of faith, I must say that I enjoy reading Buechner for reflective prose, even as I read Berkhof for precise theology! My reading list this year included titles that ranged from Vernon Grounds’ biography, Transformed by Love, to Neal Bascomb’s brilliantly composed and heart-stopping account of Adolf Eichmann’s capture by the Israeli Mossad, Hunting Eichmann; Alan E. Lewis’ theology of Holy Saturday, Between Cross & Resurrection, to Jon Meacham’s engaging biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion; and Candice Millard’s unforgettable The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey to Craig Barnes’ The Pastor as Minor Poet. It was a great year of reading with my goal having been a good tour through history, Christian thought, biography, poetry, and as I have been enrolled in the Command and General Staff College (“Intermediate Level Education” in the US Army, as a Reserve chaplain) I have read a great deal of works on warfare, strategy and military leadership. All in all, a good year, indeed, that I greatly enjoyed. I wanted to “bag” a book a week and I am happy to report that my game room is filled a plenty, though surmising the exact count will prove as difficult as finding the piles!

But I digress. Let me now continue as I look at this little pile with their markings:

“Our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, judgements, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit.” – John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion [1599 ed.], a New Translation by Henry Beveridge, Esq., Book One, Chapter Seven, paragraph four (on Reformed.org).

“Where do we turn for consolation? To Plato or Aristotle? To Cicero or Seneca?…Jesus promises everlasting life, and I believe Him. What everlasting life means I have no idea.” – Eugene D. Genovese, Miss Betsy: A Memoir of Marriage, page 136.

“It is interesting that in his ministry Jesus always drew crowds by his miraculous signs, but he drove most away when he began to preach…The Church in America will have to learn what it means to mourn before it can dance.” – Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, page 258-9.

“I cannot promise it…, but I do strongly suspect that Margaret Thatcher’s ideas and personality will assume an even greater significance with time…Every society confronting these historical forces will inevitably arrive at a place like the one Margaret Thatcher found herself upon her ascent to 10 Downing Street…She perceived these forces, and for a time she mastered them. This is why she matters to history. These forces are still at work; they must again be mastered.” – Claire Berlinski, There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, page 359.

“May all your paths be peaceful and pleasant, charged with the best fruit, the doing good to others.” Jefferson Davis in a letter of November 13, 1889, collected and edited by William J. Cooper, Jr. in Jefferson Davis: The Essential Writings, page 442.

“If in fact Christianity is going to be growing so sharply in numbers and cultural influence in coming decades, we can reasonably ask whether the faith will also provide the guiding political ideology of much of the world.” – Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity, page 162.

“Oh! that we might turn from the superficiality of so much of modern present-day religious life and come once again to know God in His wondrous majesty!” – E.J. Young, The Way Everlasting: A Study in Psalm 139, page 117.

“We cannot compromise the authority of Scripture nor the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.” Archbishop Yong Ping Chung in a letter to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, as quoted in Thaddeus Barnum, Never Silent: How Third World Missionaries are Now Bringing the Gospel to the US, page 217.

“Lord Macaulay might well have been writing of the wider church that spans denominations [when he wrote]: ‘She saw the commencements of all governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we fell no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine…And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.” – Quoted by Phillip Jenkins in The Lost History of Christianity, page 261.

“The more we study the catastrophes and endings that befell individual churches in particular areas, the better we appreciate the surprising new births that Christianity achieves in these very years, in odd and surprising contexts.” – Phillip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, page. 261.

“And be it always remembered that it is best for us which is best for our souls.” – Matthew Henry, Commentary on Ruth 4, in Randall J. Pederson, Matthew Henry Daily Readings (January 9).

“Then Ben-Gurion entered the Knesset chamber. There were rumors that the prime minister had a special announcement to make, but none of the members, nor any of the press, had any idea what he was about to reveal…Then Ben-Gurion stood at the podium, and the chamber hushed. In a solemn voice cracking with emotion, he announced, ‘I have to inform the Knesset that a short time ago one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann-who was responsible, together with the Nazi leaders, for what they called the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” that  is the extermination of six million of the Jews of Europe-was discovered by Israeli Security Services. Adolf Eichmann is already under arrest in Israel and will shortly be placed on trial in Israel…Nobody moved.” – Neal Bascomb, Hunting Eichmann, page 298.

“Might not the space dividing Calvary and the Garden be the best of all starting places from which to reflect upon what happened on the cross, in the tomb, and in between? – Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, page 3.

“…the Gospel is restorative, that is, Jesus announces the restoration of creation from the effects of sin. Thus, the gospel is fundamentally about creation, fall, and redemption. Jesus’ announcement of the gospel constitutes a resounding, ‘yes’ to his good creation and at the same time a decisive ‘no’ to the sin that has perverted it.” -Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, page 121.

And so I go back and enjoy the places where I have “travelled” in this year gone by. Do you ever do that? What a good time it is. But the afternoon’s golden beams have given way to the dusk’s strange and muted light and so to the encroaching night. This too is like the end of a year. And so as we close this year, here’s hoping we have all travelled to some good places in our reading, though maybe hard places and uncomfortable places, yet places that will prepare us to keep going onward and forward in Christ.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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