As I write, I am looking at the modern city of Berlin on a beautiful Sunday. The parks and streets are filled with people, the churches far less so. Berlin is now a hyper-modern metropolis, with relatively few older buildings in the central city. Modernity is celebrated here, and Berlin is now the capital of a united and democratic Germany.
As its citizens will proudly tell you, Berlin's federal buildings advertise modernity and openness. Even the old Reichstag building, now home to the Bundestag, Germany's elected parliament, features a giant glass dome, glistening in its modern lines. The message is clear - this is a new Germany.
The destruction of World War II explains the relative lack of older buildings in Berlin. Much of the city was flattened by Allied bombing raids once Nazi Germany made clear that no surrender would come until the city was taken. The relatively few buildings in central Berlin that survived the Allied bombs had to face Soviet tanks. The evidence can still be seen.
Berlin is a city of ghosts. Outside my window now I see the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church; its famous steeple tower left broken and merely the ruins of the massive church remaining. There is a new modernist church building there now, sitting alongside the ruins of the old. There has been no king or emperor in Germany since Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated at the end of World War I, bringing an end to the Hohenzollern dynasty, but the ghosts of Prussian militarism still haunt the German memory.
Nazi ghosts also haunt the city, and will so long as human beings retain memory. This was the city of Nazi parades, thousands upon thousands of Nazi flags, Nazi salutes and the idolatrous ideologies of genocide and national destiny.
Most infamously, this was the city of Adolf Hitler and his demonic dreams. This city was to be the eternal capital of the Third Reich, with Hitler's architect drawing plans for Welthauptstadt Germania, featuring a Volkshalle that was to be crowned by a dome sixteen times the size of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Instead, Berlin has done everything possible to sweep Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime from its visible memory. This is not done dishonestly. The motivation is to prevent any possible celebration of Hitler or Naziism. Just last week, some foreign tourists were arrested for posing in a Nazi salute in Berlin. This is a city that advertises its tolerance of just about any lifestyle. But for the Nazi salute - no tolerance. Berlin is determined that the ghosts of the Nazis do not reappear in neo-Nazis.
Imagine, then, how the news from Charlottesville, Virginia breaks in Berlin. A demonstration billed as an effort to "Unite the Right" leads to counter protests and violence. Among those who attended the demonstration on Friday night were self-identified neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Photos quickly appeared in Berlin, showing protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia - in the United States of America - offering the raised arm of the Nazi salute.
Germany is all too aware of where claims of racial superiority lead. Just today, in the service of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, a martyr of the Confessing Church was remembered. Pastor Werner Sylton was a Lutheran pastor, but he was from a Jewish family. He is believed to have saved more than 1,000 Jewish converts to Christianity by helping them escape to other nations. He was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to Dachau, and eventually murdered by gas in 1942.
As Berlin awoke this morning to photos of Hitler salutes in Virginia, there was news of a car driven into a crowd protesting against white supremacy, of one woman killed in the attack, and of two law enforcement officers killed in a helicopter crash. This is America?
America has its own ghosts. The ghosts of American claims of racial superiority-specifically of white superiority-reach all the way to Berlin. Adolf Hitler and his race theorist, Alfred Rosenberg, took part of their inspiration from British and American race theorists. The American eugenicists, including those now celebrated by groups such as Planned Parenthood, offered ideological cover for the Nazi doctrines of racial superiority.
Those claims of racial superiority led straight to the extermination camps. Just days ago I passed the shores of beautiful Wannsee Lake outside of Berlin. It was at an estate there on the shores of this peaceful lake that the Nazi regime committed itself to the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem" on January 20, 1942. Millions of human beings, the vast majority of them Jews, would vanish into the gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps.
Just remember names like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor. The list goes on. The ghosts of history are never far. It was belief in racial superiority-the superiority of an Aryan race-that drove the Nazis to adopt the "Final Solution." Just ask a resident of today's Berlin. They know. They cannot not know.
Even a secular observer can see the lessons of history from Berlin. The evidence is pervasive, irrefutable, terrifying, and still visible.
But Christians must see much more than the lessons of history, though we dare not miss them. We must see claims of racial superiority-and mainly that means claims of white superiority-as heresy.
That is not a word we use casually. Heresy leads to a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the eclipse of the living God as revealed in the Bible. A claim of white superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity-every single human being-in his own image. It is a rejection of God's glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God's judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities.
Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ-the great good news of God's saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God's purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ.
You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible.
Berlin is filled with its ghosts. Just 56 years ago today-today-the Berlin Wall went up. The broken tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church stares me in the face. The lessons of history are everywhere.
America has yet to deal with the lessons of our own history. We have never been utterly conquered so that we had to. The lessons of slavery and Jim Crow segregation-all predicated on claims of white supremacy-have yet to be fully learned or even fully acknowledged. Our walls are not made of concrete and barbed wire, but they remain walls. Our churches have sometimes defended those walls, to our everlasting shame.
American Christians are fully accountable to the lessons of history, and we have our own hard reckoning to do. But we are far more accountable to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:13-15, Paul tells us: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostilityby abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace."
Paul does not merely admit this to be true-that God is creating "one new man" as a new humanity in Christ-he celebrates this truth as central to Christ's gospel. If we do not celebrate this truth, we have not tasted the salvation accomplished by Christ.
Seen from Berlin, the news from Charlottesville is alarming. Seen as a Christian, the images are heartbreaking. The ideology of racial superiority is an evil anti-gospel that leads to eternal death.
The lessons of history are warning enough. The lessons of heresy are even more pressing. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we dare not miss the lessons of history and heresy. God will judge us. This we know.
The medal ceremony at the Olympics is a moment of rare pomp and ceremony in this informal age. The ceremonies represent both climax and catharsis, with athletes awarded the coveted gold, silver, and bronze medals placed around their necks.
It was not always so.
When Eric Liddell, "the Flying Scot," won the 400 meter race and the gold medal at the 1924 games in Paris, there was no awards ceremony. Back then, the medals were engraved after the games and mailed in a simple package to the victors. But, even without the medal ceremony, there was glory. Liddell instantly became a hero to the entire United Kingdom and was recognized as one of the greatest athletes of his age.
Americans of my generation remember Eric Liddell largely because of Chariots of Fire, the 1981 British film written by Colin Welland, produced by David Puttnam, and directed by Hugh Hudson. The film was a surprising success in both Britain and the United States, winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture. The musical score for the film by Vangelis won another of the Oscars, and its theme is still instantly recognizable to those who have seen the movie.
To its credit, Chariots of Fire recognized Eric Liddell's Christian faith and testimony. His story is inseparable from the drama of his refusal to compete on Sunday, believing it to be a breaking of God's commandment. Though this determination was well-known before the 1924 Olympics, it became internationally famous when heats for Liddell's best race, 100 meters, were scheduled for Sunday.
The dramatic plot of Chariots of Fire presented a personal competition between Liddell and Harold Abrahams, another top runner who had experienced the agonies of anti-Semitism as a student at Cambridge. When Liddell withdrew from the 100 meter event, Abrahams won, bringing Britain glory. Liddell had become a figure of ridicule, with everyone from athletic officials to British leaders unable to persuade him to sacrifice his moral convictions for the Olympic glory he was promised.
Liddell was left to run the 400 meter race, an event for which he was not favored and to which he knew he brought liabilities in terms of his racing form. But run he did, and he ran right into the history books, winning the gold medal with a personal story that shocked the world, even in the 1920s. His intensity of Christian conviction was already out of style and often ridiculed, but Eric Liddell became one of the most famous men in the British Empire and the larger world of athletics.
Those who have seen Chariots of Fire well remember how it ends, with the magnificent and sentimental music of Sir Hubert Parry's anthem "Jerusalem" and William Blake's famous words: "Bring me my Bow of burning gold; Bring me my Arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire!"
Then the screen fills with these words in text: "Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of World War II. All of Scotland mourned."
But in those few words was the real story of Eric Liddell. Yes, he was one of the most famous athletes of modern times and the Olympic glory of Scotland. He was also a Christian who refused to compete on Sunday and refused to compromise. Unquestionably, Eric Liddell was made to run. And yet, more than anything else, Eric Liddell believed that "God made me for China."
Many Christians are proud to quote Liddell's most famous lines from Chariots of Fire: "God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure." God did make Eric Liddell fast, and he ran for God's glory, but those words were not actually from Liddell. They were written by Colin Welland and put in the voice of Liddell, as played by actor Ian Charleson.
What Liddell did say, and more than once, was that God made him for China. This is what the viewers of the movie never learned. Liddell was born in Tientsin, China to missionary parents in 1902. James and Mary Liddell were in China under the commission of the London Missionary Society. As Duncan Hamilton, author of a very fine new biography of Liddell explains, as a young boy Eric Liddell simply considered himself to be Chinese.
Later, Eric and his brother would be sent to boarding school near London and would know their parents only through correspondence and brief visits. But China was always on Liddell's heart. As a student at the University of Edinburgh, Liddell became very well known as both a runner and a preacher. He was especially powerful as a preacher to young men. Liddell spoke passionately but conversationally, explaining that the best preaching to young men took the form of a simple talk, in Duncan Hamilton's words, "as if chatting over a picket fence." But Liddell's clear biblical and evangelical message came through, and powerfully.
He preached before, during, and after his Olympic glory. He returned to graduate from the University and Edinburgh shortly after the 1924 Paris games and made preparation to go to China as a missionary, also under the direction of the London Missionary Society.
He taught school, preached, and eventually found a wife, Florence. With her he had three daughters, though he was never to see the third. After decades of internal warfare and turmoil, China was thrown into the horrors of Japanese occupation during World War II.
Those horrors are still unknown to many Americans, but much of China was submitted to massive rape and murder by the occupying Imperial Japanese forces. Liddell eventually sent Florence, then pregnant with their third child, and their two daughters to Canada for safety. It was just in time.
Along with members of the China Inland Mission and many others, Christians and non-Christians alike, Eric Liddell was forced into a foretaste of hell itself in the Weihsien Internment Camp. He would die there shortly before the end of the war. In the concentration camp, Liddell became legendary and his witness for Christ astounded even many of his fellow Christians.
As Hamilton writes: "Liddell can sound too virtuous and too honorable to be true, as if those who knew him were either misrepresenting or consciously mythologizing. Not so. The evidence is too overwhelming to be dismissed as easily as that. Amid the myriad moral dilemmas in Weihsien, Liddell's forbearance was remarkable." He became the moral and spiritual leader of the horrifying reality with that camp.
Chariots of Fire was released when I was a seminary student. Like so many other young Christians, I saw the movie and was greatly moved by it. But, even then, I wondered if Liddell could really have been what so many others claimed of him.
Not long thereafter, a professor assigned me to read Shantung Compound by theologian Langdon Gilkey of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Gilkey was in many ways the opposite to Liddell. Gilkey was a theological liberal whose father, famously liberal, had been the first dean of the chapel at the University of Chicago. Langdon Gilkey had gone to China to teach English after graduating from Harvard. He found himself interred with Eric Liddell.
In Shantung Compound, Gilkey analyzed what happens when men and women are put under extraordinary pressure. He argued that the worst moral dilemmas in Weihsien came not from their Japanese captors, but from the prisoners themselves. His point was that, for many if not most of the captured, the experience brought out the worst in them, rather than the best. He changed the names of those inside the camp when he told their stories.
There were a few moral exceptions. Gilkey wrote of one exceptional individual, a missionary he named "Eric Ridley." Gilkey wrote: "It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known." Gilkey described how Liddell had largely single-handedly resolved the crisis of a breakout of teenage sexual activity in the camp. In the midst of a moral breakdown, with no societal structures to restrain behavior, few even seemed to want to help.
Gilkey made this observation: "There was a quality seemingly unique to the missionary group, namely, naturally and without pretense to respond to a need which everyone else recognized only to turn aside. Much of this went unnoticed, but our camp could scarcely have survived as well as it did without it. If there were any evidences of the grace of God observable on the surface of our camp existence, they were to be found here."
Gilkey had renamed individuals as he wrote about them, but he described "Eric Ridley" as having won the 400 meter race at the Olympics for England before going to China as a missionary. Eric Ridley was Eric Liddell, and Langdon Gilkey was writing of a man he has observed so closely as a living saint. I realized that Langdon Gilkey had told the most important part of Eric Liddell's story long before Chariots of Fire.
Gilkey closed his words about Erid Liddell with these: "Shortly before the camp ended, he was stricken with a brain tumor and died the same day. The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric's death had left."
Liddell indeed died of a brain tumor, suddenly and unexpectedly. The cause of his death only became clear after an autopsy. Eric Liddell died in the nation where he had been born. Indeed, he has sometimes been listed as China's first Olympic medalist. He never saw his third daughter.
"God made me for China." Eric Liddell lived his life in answer to that calling and commission. As Duncan Hamilton explains, Liddell "considered athletics as an addendum to his life rather than his sole reason for living it."
Eric Liddell ran for God's glory, but he was made for China. He desperately wanted the nation he loved to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believe. David J. Michell, director for Canada Overseas Missionary Fellowship, would introduce Liddell's collected devotional writings, The Disciplines of the Christian Life, by stating simply that "Eric Liddell's desire was to know God more deeply, and as a missionary, to make him known more fully."
Christians must remember that Olympic glory will eventually fade. There will be medalists for all to celebrate. But, will there be another Eric Liddell? At the very least, his story needs to be told again. The most important part of his story came long after his gold medal arrived by mail.
Was he against it, before he was for it? Is he really against it now?
The ordeal experienced last week by popular author Eugene Peterson was agonizing to observe, largely self-inflicted, and virtually inevitable. You should pay close attention to it, for you might very well be next.
The ordeal began with Peterson, one of the most influential authors among evangelical pastors, responding to two straightforward questions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service referenced homosexuality and same-sex marriage and then asked Peterson if his view on the morality of same-sex relationships had changed. Peterson was pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland for 29 years, before retiring in 1991. In his answer, however, Peterson said, "I haven't had a lot of experience with it." An earlier congregation where he served as associate pastor, included "several women who were lesbians," but didn't "make a big deal about it." The congregation he served as pastor was much the same: "I don't think we ever really made a big deal of it."
They had a gay musician, but, "nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician." His answer was convoluted, but he concluded, "it's not a right or wrong thing as far as I'm concerned."
Peterson was then asked, "If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?" Peterson answered simply, "Yes."
That "yes" blew up the evangelical world like a signal flare. The RNS headline on the interview stated that Peterson had changed his mind on the question. A significant number of evangelicals responded with immediate shock and disappointment at Peterson's answer. The largest Christian bookstore chain said that it was considering whether to continue selling Peterson's many books, including The Message, his best-selling paraphrase of the Bible.
But, almost as quickly as his "yes" appeared, it was retracted.
The very next day, Peterson released a long statement, published in full at The Washington Post. He retracted his "yes" and said that he would actually not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. "That's not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such as couple as their pastor."
He also stated: "To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything."
So, within 48 hours of the original interview, Eugene Peterson had issued a statement retracting his "yes" to a same-sex wedding ceremony. He now affirms marriage as "one man to one woman."
The brushfire then switched directions. Now, folks displeased with Peterson's RNS interview were at least partly comforted by his retraction, while those who had been comforted by his "yes" were hurt and infuriated by his subsequent "no."
Jonathan Merritt ran a story at RNS within hours of Peterson's retraction, noting that in 2014 Peterson had already told a conference in which he indicated his evolution on LGBTQ issues and looking back on his tenure as pastor, he said "I started to change my mind." He also spoke of talking to parents whose children had come out as gay saying, "they've finally accepted that this is not a bad thing, that this can be a good thing. This can be a flourishing thing."
What is really going on here? What does Eugene Peterson really believe about LGBT relationships and behaviors or about same-sex marriage? We really don't know. We will probably never really know.
His retraction allows his books to be sold, but the ordeal has done massive damage to his reputation. One of the best-selling authors in the evangelical world is now, in effect, a giant Rorschach test. You can read him as fully open to LGBT relationships, but forced by political and economic pressure to act as if he isn't. Or you can read him as basically a traditionalist on the question, who felt under pressure to affirm same-sex marriage and succumbed to the pressure, only to regret and retract quickly. Those do not exhaust the possibilities.
I have enjoyed many of Eugene Peterson's writings. He is an elegant literary stylist, and he seems never to forget a pithy quote-saved just for the right paragraph. He also knows how to deploy the English language with powerful simplicity. Just consider these sentences from his pastoral memoir, The Pastor: 'I was astonished to learn in one of these best-selling books (on church life) that the size of my church parking lot had far more to do with how things fared in my congregation than my choice of texts in preaching. I was being lied to and I knew it.'
He even pulled off what might be the greatest (and shortest) literary achievement of my lifetime, using a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, no less, to redefine Christian discipleship as "a long obedience in the same direction." His turning of the words of Nietzsche into a definition of what it means to follow Christ was brilliant, clarifying, and unforgettable.
Thus, Eugene Peterson understands the stewardship of words. In another of his books, he stated: "We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us.' Indeed.
Several thoughtful evangelicals expressed concern and discouragement that Peterson had basically "shrugged" or "sighed" in his answers, concealing more than he revealed - and about an issue that really did require a yes or no answer.
But there should have been no surprise. Eugene Peterson has never been very clear about controversial questions, or on many crucial biblical and theological questions. His writings were categorized as "pastoral theology," and there is little explicit doctrine in his books. His background was Pentecostal as a boy, and according to his memoir, he basically became a Presbyterian by accident. "I was not aware of choosing to become a Presbyterian. I didn't go over the options available to me, study them, interview representative men and women, assess the pros and cons, pray for discernment, and then apply for membership. The Presbyterians needed a coach for their basketball team. I knew how to do that and I did it. . . . I was never self-consciously a Presbyterian. I am still not."
That says a lot about Eugene Peterson, but it probably says more about the denomination of which he is a minister, the liberal Presbyterians known as the PCUSA. One of that Presbyterian denomination's most famous pastors says he was never even "self-consciously a Presbyterian." That just about says it all.
In The Message, Peterson's best-selling paraphrase of the Bible, he avoided dealing with same-sex behaviors or relationships directly , even when addressing texts like Romans 1:26-27 or 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, where he translates same-sex behaviors simply as promiscuity in general.
Peterson has made his reputation as someone who does not deal with controversial questions. He also seems to be incapable of a clear answer on this question, even now. His "retraction" was devoid of any engagement with the Bible. His concern, he said, was for his congregation and the "historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage." There was really nothing about the morality of LGBT behaviors and relationships at all. Would anyone really be surprised that Eugene Peterson holds to the PCUSA's LGBTQ-affirming positions on these issues? If so, why?
Matthew Vines, a prominent LGBTQ activist and author, is absolutely right, by the way, when he argued that Peterson's answer on the question of same-sex marriage is far less significant than his position on normative morality: "The main dividing line in the church is not whether Christians support same-sex marriages. It is over the more basic question of whether they believe all same-sex relationships are sinful in the first place."
But Eugene Peterson is also 84 years old. The interview with RNS was actually a valedictory event, of a sort. He announced that he would not be doing any more public speaking or teaching. Peterson had every reason to expect that he would conclude his public ministry without having to answer these questions.
Until that final interview...
Most of his generational colleagues are either dead or safely retired. Peterson's longevity is a testament to his continued literary production and power. He almost made it home without answering the question, but then it happened.
Consider these lessons from Eugene Peterson's ordeal.
First, there is nowhere to hide. Every pastor, every Christian leader, every author - even every believer - will have to answer the question. The question cannot simply be about same-sex marriage. The question is about whether or not the believer is willing to declare and defend God's revealed plan for human sexuality and gender as clearly revealed in the Bible.
Second, you had better have your answer ready. Evasive, wandering, and inconclusive answers will be seen for what they are. Those who have fled for security to the house of evasion must know that the structure has crumbled. It always does.
Third, if you will stand for the Bible's clear teachings on sexuality and gender, you had better be ready to answer the same way over and over and over again. The question will come back again and again, in hopes that you have finally decided to "get on the right side of history." Faithfulness requires consistency - that "long obedience in the same direction."
That is what it means to be a disciple of Christ, as Eugene Peterson has now taught us-in more ways than one.
David McCullough once told of Teddy Roosevelt during his time in the Dakota Territory and before his arrival on the world scene. Two thieves who had been on something of a crime spree in the territory had stolen Roosevelt's rowboat, and he was determined to chase them down and arrest them. He chased the thieves for 40 miles of rough landscape, through deep snow and in constant danger of attack, and indeed brought them to justice. McCullough then tells the reader: "But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina. I often think of that when I hear people say they haven't time to read."
Theodore Roosevelt was a very determined man and a (clearly) determined reader. Anyone who reads Tolstoy in the midst of a foot chase after robbers in the Badlands gets my vote for gold medalist in the reading competition. With the arrival of warm weather, most of us are able to turn to a stack of books that had to wait for summer. The following is my list of ten recommended books for summer reading. This list must be seen for what it is - a recommendation of ten books I am eager to recommend - books that I found thought-provoking and fun. My summer list tends, quite naturally, to reveal what I most enjoy reading in the season. As usual, the list is weighted towards history and historical biography. I have a big stack of fiction for the season as well. Those books, along with Anna Karenina, will have to wait for another list. Enjoy.
1. John Julius Norwich,Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016). By the time I read the subtitle of this book, I was already hooked. Why hadn't anyone written a book like this before? It took John Julius Norwich, a skilled writer and historian, to bring these four great princes who dominated the sixteenth century together into one story. Perhaps at no other time in history did four rulers of this stature reign together, and their reigns and ambitions were constantly in conflict. Their personalities were massive, the political (and theological) stakes were never higher, and their stories are compelling. The cast of characters includes sultans and knights, multiple wives and warriors, a series of disastrous popes, and the reformer Martin Luther. Norwich, author of well-regarded books including Byzantium, summons the past and leaves the reader wanting to know even more.
When Suleiman succeeded to the Ottoman throne at the age of twenty-five, he was already an experienced ruler. At fifteen he had been appointed Governor of Caffa in the Crimea, a major trading post where he had remained for three years; subsequently his father, the aptly named Sultan Selim the Grim, had appointed hims Governor of Istanbul. But it had been an unhappy time: eight years during which Selim had instituted a reign of terror. He had been intelligent and cultivated enough - some of his verses are, we are told, among the loveliest in all Ottoman poetry - but he seemed to conceive of government solely in terms of executions. When he had dethroned (and subsequently murdered) his own father, Bayezit II, in 1512, his first act on his succession was to have his two young brothers and five orphan nephews strangled by the bowstring. Thus it was that, by the time of his succession, Suleiman was the only male member of this entire family left alive.
2. Tom Clavin, Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West(St. Martin's Press, 2017). Understandably, but regrettably, most Americans know what they think they know about the American West from movies and television. Furthermore, many of the early books written about Dodge City and figures like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were about as fictional as Gunsmoke. I grew up watching Gunsmoke with my grandfather, and Marshal Dillon was my hero. The good news is that the real story of the West is actually even more interesting, if also more complicated, than the stories Hollywood told. Tom Clavin is not an academic historian, but he is an accomplished writer and a former reporter for The New York Times. He knows how to chase down a story, and Dodge City is a great example of journalistic history. A few years ago, friends took me out to Melody Ranch, Gene Autry's old movie set in the rural hills outside Los Angeles. I realized then that I was walking on the set where almost all of the westerns of my boyhood had filmed. They just changed the signs on the storefronts. I felt let down. Readers looking for a story that is bigger than life and still hard to pin down will not be let down by Dodge City.
There was no police force when things got out of hand. The nearest law enforcement was seventy-five miles to the north, in Hays City. And cowboys were not the only problem. Buffalo City was renamed Dodge City - it would not be a formally incorporated city for another three years - and was on the edge of the frontier, a place that for a variety of reasons drew thieves, drunks, deserters, guerrillas still trying to relive the looting and pillaging days of the Civil War, and others with a price on their heads. All this put Dodge City in the late summer of 1872 on the precipice of being a totally lawless town. It was inevitable that murder was one of the crimes committed.... Within a year fifteen men had been murdered, with the bodies being hauled up to the new cemetery, Boot Hill, for burial. It was into such lawless and dangerous surroundings that Bat Masterson, still a teenager, first arrived in Dodge City. Wyatt Earp would find this way there too, and eventually both young men would be given badges and a mandate to tame a town on the brink of violent chaos.
3. Giles Milton, Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat(Picador, 2016). Winston Churchill is remembered as perhaps the largest character on the landscape of the twentieth century, and he is most remembered for his courageous leadership of Britain and the entire free world during the dark years of World War II. Of course, he is also remembered for his brave and costly role in warning Britain and the West of the looming Nazi challenge when the leadership class was awash in dishonesty and denial. Less remembered is the fact that Churchill was an early proponent of mechanized warfare and saw the tank as the determinative land-based weapon. Even less known is his role in commissioning and supporting his unofficial "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare" during the war. Churchill knew that the long battle against Hitler would have to be fought on every level, and that would mean sabotage, espionage, and innovation in deadly weaponry. The operation, referred to as "Baker Street" due to its location in London, was a directorate of the dark arts of war. The brilliant inventors of Baker Street would develop bombs and instruments that would prove crucial to the war effort, but were decidedly "ungentlemanly." They used what they could find. At one point, looking to develop a delayed fuse for an important bomb, the inventors finally landed on a hard candy melting in liquid as the perfect delayed fuse. When the liquid threatened to dampen the fuse itself, they figured that a condom would serve as protection. Then the inventors bought up all the hard candy and condoms in a nearby English village, the locals assumed that a team of candy-chewing playboys had invaded. Actually, it was a team of inventors and technicians who would help Britain and the Allies to defeat the Nazis. Milton's book will also remind readers that most characters found in fiction are based in a real life or lives. Those familiar with Ian Fleming's character "Q" from the James Bond series will see that Fleming had plenty of inspiration from Winston Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.
"Before he left, Winston Churchill had requested that he collect one example of every weapon produced by the team. These were to be saved for the nation and given to the Imperial War Museum where they would be put on special display. Churchill was anxious that the efforts of Jefferis's workforce should have some sort of public recognition. Macrae set to the task with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, handing over limpets, sticky bombs and any number of booby traps. But it was all to no avail. None of them went on display, and nor was there to be any mention of MD1 in the museum's exhibits about the war. 'We created an establishment which contributed more to the war effort than any other weapons design department,' said Macrae. But it was an establishment so ungentlemanly in its outlook that it was to be for ever erased from history.'"
4. Craig Shirley, Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980(Broadside Books, 2017). This is Craig Shirley's fourth book on Ronald Reagan and his presidency, and probably the most unlikely. In Reagan Rising, he tells Reagan's story from his razor-close loss to President Gerald Ford for the 1976 Republican nomination to his landslide election as President of the United States in the 1980 election. But Shirley also tells the story of Reagan's intellectual and political development - in many ways Reagan in 1980 was different from the Reagan of 1964 or 1976. Shirley also lays out the redefinition of the Republican Party and the transformation of the American political landscape. I worked as a teenage campaign volunteer in the 1976 Reagan campaign, responsible for enlisting South Florida high school students in the Reagan cause. It was in the course of that campaign that I met Ronald Reagan and saw him in unscripted moments before a campaign event as well as behind the podium. I knew then that Ronald Reagan was a man of ideas, passionately held. I knew the outlines of the story from 1976 to 1980, but Craig Shirley now offers the definitive narrative of those years in Reagan Rising. Readers will understand today's political landscape far better after reading this book.
"Running for president is never easy, and it was especially hard for Ronald Reagan, as he had not just the usual obstacles to overcome, but also those of the skeptics in his own party and a very hostile and malicious national media. He had a halfhearted attempt in 1968, ran full out in 1976, and even more so in 1980. But then, he was a fully formed American conservative. Many times, however, he heard from critics in the GOP establishment that he was 'just an actor.' But as he wisely said later, in the waning days of his presidency, after being asked if he'd learned anything in Hollywood that helped him to be a good president, 'I've wondered how you could do this job and not be an actor.' .... Reagan remains one of the most fascinating figures of history and the American presidency, in part because he was a constantly evolving individual. his worldview in 1964 was not his worldview in 1980. his conservatism had changed, from simply being against the intrusions of government to the more positive advance of individual freedom."
5. Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution: A New History (Basic Books, 2017). There was more than one Russian revolution in 1917, of course, but we remember that year in Russia as the tumultuous and radical transformation of Russia from the autocracy of the Romanov dynasty to the dictatorship of the Communist Party. As Sean McMeekin reveals, it was a descent from one circle of hell into yet another. The centennial of the fall of the Romanov's and the rise of the Soviet Union comes with the centennial of America's entry into World War I and the birth of John F. Kennedy. It was a pivotal year from the old world into a new world. McMeekin is a professor of history at Bard College. The Russian Revolution is the best history of the Bolshevik Revolution to emerge in recent decades, and McMeekin made skillful use of newly available archives to prove a major point missed by many others - that Imperial Germany largely funded Vladimir Lenin. The story of Russia in 1917 is riveting and important. The Russian Revolution: A New History is the best new work that tells that story and does not hide its bitter lessons.
"The crazy twists and turns of the Russian Revolution should give us pause in drawing pat historical lessons from it. Far form an eschatological 'class struggle' borne along irresistibly by the Marxist dialectic, the events of 1917 were filled with might-have-beens and missed chances. The most critical mistake of the tsarist government was the decision to go to war in 1914, a decision warmly applauded by Russian liberals and pan-Slavists but lamented by conservative monarchists. For this reason, it is hard to fault Nicholas II for refusing to take liberal advice during the war, to surrender power to ambitious politicians who had already shown poor judgment. Strange as it may seem to modern sensibilities that the tsar preferred the counsel of the peasant faith healer Rasputin to that of the elected Duma leaders such as Rodzianko, the fact is that, had he listened to Rasputin instead of Rodzianko in 1914, he might have died peacefully on his throne instead of being butchered by the Bolsheviks in Huy 1918."
6. David McCullough, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For(Simon and Schuster, 2017). Just write it down: Everything written by David McCullough deserves a place on your reading list. In The American Spirit, McCullough brings together fourteen speeches and addresses he delivered between 1989 and 2016, and each is an experience unto itself. The first address, "Simon Willard's Clock," was delivered to a Joint Session of Congress. The last, "A Building Like No Other," was delivered to the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. David McCullough is a rare combination of historian and orator. The only thing better than reading one of his addresses (or books) is hearing it. He loves this country and he loves its stories, but he is also a historian who understands that the stories must be told well, and honestly. The American Spirit reveals a deep reverence for the institutions and values of democratic self-government. Those who doubt the power of a spoken address to move a modern audience need only to read this book. I hope they will.
"The lessons of history are manifold. Nothing happens in isolation. Everything that happens has consequences. We are all part of a larger stream of events, past, present, and future. We are all beneficiaries of those who went before us - who built the cathedrals, who braved the unknown, who gave of their time and service, and who kept faith in the possibilities of the mind and the human spirit. An astute observer of old wrote that history is philosophy taught with examples. Harry Truman liked to say that the only new thing in the world is the history you don't know. From history we learn that sooner is not necessarily better than later . . . that what we don't know can often hurt us and badly . . . and that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. A sense of history is an antidote to self-pity and self-importance, of which there is too much in our time. To a large degree, history is a lesson in proportions."
7. Daniel Mark Epstein, The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House (Ballentine Books, 2017). How many Americans know that Benjamin Franklin had an acknowledged illegitimate son, who served as royal Governor of New Jersey and remained a loyalist to the end, dying in London, estranged from his father, one of the most famous of the American Founding Fathers? Too few. As you do already know, truth is so often stranger than fiction. In 1776, Ben Franklin, already one of the most famous of Americans, would loom ever larger as an American patriot. That same year, his son, William Franklin, would be arrested for treason. Given their opposing commitments in the Revolutionary War, the likely question was which would hang for treason, father or son? Any story like this - epic in scale and yet personal in scope - requires a careful telling. Daniel Mark Epstein tells the a story of Ben and William Franklin with care and pathos. Along the way readers will gain insight into the larger canvas of the American Revolution and the emerging shape of the British Empire. The story of William Franklin is undeniably tragic, but it is also fascinating.
"Benjamin would have liked to see his son follow him in the printer's trade, but the boy declined. If he could not go to sea, he was hell-bent on being a soldier, and in no time he proved he was good at it. At sixteen he enlisted in the king's army; by eighteen he had distinguished himself, having risen to the rank of captain during King George's War. In the seemingly endless war with France, the enemy and her allies (various Indian tribes) engages in gruesome raids upon the settlements of the New England borders, and in battles on the high seas. French-led Indians burned Saratoga in 1745 and murdered trappers and British patrols in Albany in 1746. William marched north to Albany and wintered there with his company under severe and dangerous conditions, with rusted guns, spoiled beef, and cutlasses so soft they would bend and stay bent like wax. Sixteen British soldiers were killed in a single Indian ambush. While dozens deserted, William Franklin stood his ground, and he volunteered to join a march on French forces at Saratoga. He came home briefly in May 1747, as a captain charged with hunting down deserters and hauling them back to camp. Captain Franklin, seventeen years old, discharged his duty with a zeal and efficiency his father admired."
8. Thomas E. Ricks, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom (Penguin Press, 2017). Elegantly written and powerfully told, Churchill and Orwell is the story of two men who, while extremely different in background, temperament, fame, and fortune, are rightly joined together as among the greatest defenders of freedom in modern times. Thomas E. Ricks, author of The Generals, recognizes that Churchill and Orwell are, in the traditional sense of biography, a mismatched pair. Churchill was born to the British aristocracy and was catapulted to fame at a very young age. From his early twenties until his death, there is hardly a day in Churchill's life that was not documented in some way. Not so for George Orwell. Eric Arthur Blair, who took the pen name George Orwell, was born in India and grew up in Britain in the hardships of the working class. They were politically opposed on many questions, but to focus on their political differences is to miss the story that Thomas Ricks tells - the story of two men, each gifted with a powerful command of the English language, who would in their own way fight the great war against tyranny in the twentieth century. Orwell and Churchill would become two of the most powerful enemies of both fascism and communism in their times. Readers of Churchill and Orwell will be reminded of the truth that ideas have lasting consequences indeed. The inheritors of freedom in our day are deeply indebted to both.
"When they were confronted by a crucial moment in history, Churchill and Orwell responded first by seeking the facts of the matter. Then they acted on their beliefs. They faced a genuinely apocalyptic situation, in which their way of life was threatened with extinction. Many people around them expected evil to triumph and sought to make their peace with it. These two did not. They responded with courage and clear-sightedness. If there is anything we can take away from them, it is the wisdom of employing this two-step process, especially in times of mind-bending crisis: Work diligently to discern the facts of the matter, and then use your principles to respond. . . . We should remember that most of us, most of the time, do not welcome the voices of people like Orwell and Churchill appearing in our midst. Most of us, when confronted with a crisis, do not dive into the matter. Rather, we practice avoidance."
9. Lynne Olson, Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War (Random House, 2017). Part of this story is fairly well known - that in the darkest days of World War II and the Nazi threat, London became Europe's headquarters for freedom. Heads of state and national leaders of various stripes all headed to London, hoping to enlist others in the cause of liberty for their nations and the defeat of Hitler. Less known are the unmatched personal stories within this larger story. Lynne Olson, author of one best-selling book about London in the war, Citizens of London, now gives us another compelling read. The chapters read like spy thrillers, which several are. The cast of characters she narrates is vast and variegated, from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, brave but infuriating to her hosts, to Norway's King Haakon VII, tragically proved right in his warnings of the Nazi menace. There are many more, with their stories. Last Hope Island revises our memory of World War II and how a unified Allied front came to be headquartered in London, a beacon of freedom - and a last hope indeed - for much of Europe.
"In the predawn hours of May 10, 1940, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands gently shook her daughter awake. 'They have come,' she told Princess Juliana. This time, the early morning invaders arrived from the air. They dropped by the thousands over bright green polders and fields ablaze with red and yellow tulips, over steeples and windmills, over orange-tiled roofs of peaceful Holland. Awakened by the roar of aircraft overhead, the Dutch, many still in nightgowns and pajamas, poured form their homes and peered upward. While milkmen distributed their wares door-to-door and housewives headed to market, german parachutists were landing in country gardens and city streets. To some of the children looking on, it seemed like a fascinating new game. Queen Wilhelmina knew otherwise. Like King Haakon, she had been warning her government for years of the growing danger of Hitler and Germany, but, as in Norway, government officials paid no heed to their monarch."
10. Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilke, The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK's Five-Year Campaign(Simon and Schuster, 2017). I fully expected that the centennial of John F. Kennedy's birth on May 29, 1917 would mean the release of at least one major new biography of America's 35th president. Surprisingly, that was not the case. Furthermore, most of the more recent books on Kennedy and his administration have been disappointments. The best books are at least a decade old by now. In The Road to Camelot, Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilke offer something different than a personal biography of Kennedy. They give us the biography of a presidential campaign, indeed, of what may well be called the first modern presidential campaign. Both of the authors were longtime reporters at The Boston Globe, and they have worked this story thoroughly. They remind us of Kennedy's effort to gain the vice presidential nomination in 1956, but trace his determination to win the White House to at least 1955. An undistinguished legislator, Kennedy put himself forward as a presidential candidate and as the vanguard of a new generation. Oliphant and Wilke trace the political strategies and alliances that led to Kennedy's capture of the Democratic nomination and his razor-thin victory over Richard Nixon in the 1960 election. Kennedy's victory in 1960 was by no means a sure thing. Had the political winds blown even slightly differently between 1956 and 1960, JFK's political career might have ended in the Senate. It didn't, of course, and The Road to Camelot is the best telling yet of John F. Kennedy's road to the White House and the emergence of the modern media-driven presidency.
"One reason Kennedy decided to move forward is that it was the only direction his fortunes could go. In the mid-1950s he was not a consequential figure in national politics. Even after nearly a decade in Congress he was considered more of a socialite and a war hero than a political leader. He had no developed philosophy or ideology, and his Senate contemporaries considered him an indifferent Democrat with occasionally independent tendencies. He was not involved prominently in any great cause or issue, and enjoyed no real standing inside the Senate. He was not even the undisputed master of politics in his home state. He was nowhere near the top of any list of Democrats to watch. When assessing him as a politician, the word commentators used most frequently was potential, not power."
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.' And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, 'This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.' And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. [Acts 6:8-15, esv]
We are not gathered here together by accident. Before us are over three hundred new graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, arrayed in all their commencement glory. Beside them sits one of the most remarkable assemblies of scholar-teachers ever to serve Christ's church. Filling out this congregation are those who come to celebrate and witness this great moment. Wives, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and pastors, all gathered for an event that commands our attention and seizes our hearts. This is hardly the first commencement of this institution. Today marks the 219th commencement exercise since Southern Seminary was founded in 1859. But here we are in May of the year of our Lord, 2017 - and the stakes are high. Very high.
The Christian ministry has never been for the faint of heart. The ministry, biblically defined, is combat duty in spiritual warfare. These graduates have been prepared to be front-line officers in that warfare. Today is part of their co