Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Book Review: The Bible and the Blackboard

The Bible and the Blackboard: Biblical Solutions for Failing Schools by Dr. Gary Cass, Sam Kastensmidt, and Anthony Urti (Fort Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries, 2007) is a slim volume aimed at convincing Christian parents that the public schools are not the place for their kids. Of course no one ever comes to a topic without some slant, but it should be noted from the start that this book is published by Coral Ridge Ministries and the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. The former is an organization formerly headed by Rev. D. James Kennedy, pastor at the time of Coral Ridge Church (Kennedy has since passed away). The associated school is referenced a few times in the book as an example of a prospering Christian school. The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ was also founded by Kennedy and has a more political bent. Its name implies something of the outlook of the Center and the point of view of this book. To “reclaim America for Christ” implies a belief that the United States once had a Christian foundation, that this has been lost, and that it can and should be reinstated.

The Bible and the Blackboard takes this belief and applies it to education. The authors’ stance is obvious from the outset: “The education of children is the place where the culture war is engaged in its most critical struggle” (p. 5). From this first sentence we can add another assumption: there is a culture war between Christians and non-Christians and our children are at stake. Not surprisingly, the book argues that education in America, which originally had biblical and classical foundations, has lost its solid foundation and has become a den of secular humanism which is itself a religious belief. The authors argue that there is no place in America’s public schools for either Christian students or Christian teachers. While many would argue against sending one’s kids to public schools, including teachers takes it a step further. The authors argue that no teacher can work in the public schools without, however unknowingly, supporting and furthering the secular humanist agenda (p. 37).

Despite its subtitle — Biblical Solutions for Failing Schools — the bulk of this book is devoted to cataloging the history of schooling in the US and the problems with the modern public school system. A brief chapter at the end lists alternatives, all of which, the authors would say, are better than the public schools though they may have their own flaws. I was a little disappointed not to actually find many new or creative “biblical solutions for failing schools.” Homeschooling, of which I am a big fan, is touted as being among a most biblical approaches to education as it leaves education in the hands of the parents who are assigned that task in the Scriptures, but no biblical basis is given for any of the other alternatives offered from school vouchers to classical education.

In terms of its critique of schooling in America, the book has good points but in other places nuances are glossed over a bit too quickly. I liked the inclusion of a fairly thorough discussion of the court cases which have decided that parents have no say in what their children are taught once they enter the public schools. I find this is a topic which is not talked about often enough. All parents, no matter their belief system, should be aware of how they cede their right to determine what their child is taught once they drop them off at the public school doors. On the other hand, I found the discussion of the beginnings of education in the United States very light. The fact that so may of our Founding Fathers were not Bible-believing Christians but deists is completely omitted and they are praised for their faith and support for the Bible. Those who believe that we must “reclaim” American culture must, of course, believe that there was originally a Christian foundation which can be reclaimed. From my reading elsewhere, I would say that the Christian foundation of the United States, such as it is, owes little to the Founding Fathers. The Puritans in New England had religious reasons for desiring an educated populace and there was a time in the early 1800s when the Bible was integral to even public schools, but the Founding Fathers themselves, however much we may want to laud them, are not the source of any Christian roots.

The Bible and the Blackboard is not unique in its take on the role of the Church in society and its relationship to the State. There is a lot of attachment in conservative Christian circles to the idea that the United States began as a Christian nation. That we were once something provides justification for becoming that again. It both gives a precedent and provides hope that such things — a nation founded on Christian values and adhering to Christian principles — are possible. In this view the Church is a force in the world which can transform culture and can have a large impact on the State. On the flip side, the role of the State is often diminished. While there may be good reasons to favor limited government, the authors do not actually make these arguments (p. 74). The authors’ view is hinted at when they say: ” . . . some Christians view education as a matter that is properly within the control of the state and outside the concern and jurisdiction of the Church. Yet according to apostolic preaching, Jesus Christ has been made ‘Lord of all.’ What Christian could possibly argue that this all-encompassing lordship was meant to exclude the education of His little ones?” (p. 6). There is an interesting line of argument here — Jesus is Lord of all; therefore Jesus is Lord of (fill in the blank). Another assumption being made is that if Jesus rules (fill in the blank) that He does so through the Church. The Church grows in this view — since it can rightly claim dominion over everything — and the State shrinks. When Jesus as Lord of all reigns over all through His Church then there is nothing left for the State or anyone else to do.

But this is only one — albeit a quite popular– Christian understanding. There are alternative narratives which explain the place of the Church in the world very differently. Try this one on for size: the Church has always been an outsider whose values are in opposition to the popular culture of the day. Her people first and foremost are not citizens of this world. This is the Anabaptist view. It also has its own problems. Taken to an extreme it leads to a Church that abandons the world, that seeks to have no influence and glories in its aloofness.

The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle. The Church is not to abandon the world but neither is it the only God-given institution. Church and State stand as two distinct institutions, both established and given authority by God, both with a role to play, both under the authority of King Jesus. In a perfect world they would work in harmony. This is not a perfect world and so Christians live in a state of tension, in the world but not of it. Called to minister and interact, to bear witness to the truth, but more often than not feeling frustrated at every turn. Yet we are not called to usurp the role of the State even as we call it to repentance and godliness.

My short take on The Bible and the Blackboard is that it presents some good critiques of the modern American public school system and its philosophical foundations. I particularly liked this line: “If a philosophy of education [such as secular humanism] cannot explain why mankind is here, then it cannot direct mankind as to where it should go” (pp. 10-11). But the view it presents is an extreme one which relies on a certain reading of history and certain assumptions about the role of the Church and especially of the State.

Booklist: Living Books on WWII

As we continue with booklists I have put together over the years, today we turn to WWII.

Living Books on WWII

Adler, David A. Picture Book of Anne Frank. Adler’s biographies are decent picture book level introductions. Elementary.

Ambrose, Stephen. The Good Fight. Covers the major battles and movements of WWII in a page each with good writing. He also wrote Band of Brothers and books for adults which could be an option for high school. Elementary +.

Benary-Isbert, Margot. The Ark. Middle years.

Bishop, Claire. Ten and Twenty. Wonderful story. Upper elementary-middle.

Borden, Louise. Across the Blue Pacific, Greatest Skating Race, and Little Ships. Picture books. Elementary.

Bunting, Eve. Terrible Things. Elementary.

Chaconas, Doris. Pennies in a Jar. Elementary.

Coerr, Elizabeth. Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes. Re Japan. Elementary.

Commager, Henry Steele. Story of the Second World War. I like Commager’s books. I am not sure of the level of this one.

Deedy, Carmen. The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark.  Elementary.

Gallaz, Christophe. Rose Blanche. Elementary.

Hughes, Shirley. The Lion and the Unicorn. A Jewish boy in England. Elementary.

Hunter, Sara. Unbreakable Code. Elementary.

Johnson, Angela. Wind Flyers. Picture book. Elementary.

Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. Middle years.

Lutzer, Erwin. Hitler’s Cross. Hitler’s theology examined. Teens.

Marrin, Albert. A favorite author with a number of books on the war: Uprooted (on the Japanese in the US), The Airman’s War, Hitler, Victory in the pacific, A light in the darkness (re the holocaust), Overlord (re DDay), Secret armies (re code breakers). Teens

McSwigan, Marie. Snow Treasure. Wonderful book. Upper elementary-middle.

Miers, Earl Schenk. Men of Valor. An older author. Middle years (?).

Polacco, Patricia. Butterfly. Elementary.

Seredy, Kate. Chestry Oak. Upper elementary-middle.

Stevenson, James. Don’t You Know There’s a War On? Elementary.

Streatfield, Noel. When the Sirens Wailed. Middle years.

Tunis, John. Silence over Dunkerque. Middle years.

Werstein, Irving. Another favorite author with a lot of books on WWI. He has many on specific battles and also The Long Escape (re children in Belgium),  The Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, and That Denmark Might Live. Middle-teens.

Whelan, Gloria. After the Train and Summer of the War. Whelan has lots of good historical fiction. Middle years.

Booklist: Living Books on the 1920s & 1930s

As we continue with booklists I have put together over the years, today we turn to the period between the World Wars, roughly 1918-1940. 

Living Books on the 1920s and 1930s

The 1918 Spanish Flu 

Lasky, Kathryn. Marven of the Great North Woods. Elementary.

Marrin, Albert. Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. A favorite author. Middle-teens.

The Roaring Twenties

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. You can’t discuss the ’20s without Fitzgerald. Teens.

Hoobler, Dorothy. And Now, A Word from Our Sponsor : The Story of a Roaring ’20’s Girl. Middle years (?).

Prigger, Mary. Aunt Minnie McGranahan. Life in the 1920s. Elementary.

Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows. Not roarin’ but set in the ’20s. Middle years.

The 1930s, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression

Brown, Fern. When Grandpa Wore Knickers. Life in the early 1930s. Elementary.

Burch, Robert.  Queenie Peavy. Elementary-middle.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time. Re the Dust Bowl. I loved this book. Teens.

Gates, Doris. Blue Willow. Life in the ’30s. Middle years.

Hoff, Syd. Scarface Al and His Uncle Sam. Easy reader. From the wonderful author of Danny and the Dinosaur. Elementary.

Lied, Kate. Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression. Elementary.

Marrin, Albert. FDR and the American Crisis and Years of Dust. A favorite author. For international history, also try his Stalin: Russia’s Man of Steel. Middle-teens.

Peck, Richard. Long Way from Chicago and Year Down Yonder. Historical fiction; life in the 1930s. Middle years.

Peterson, Jeanne. Don’t Forget Winona. Elementary.

Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl. Elementary-middle.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. The former is shorter and easier to read. Both are classics. Teens.

Taylor, Mildred. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Middle years.

Turner, Ann. Dust for Dinner. Elementary.

Werstein, Irving. Shattered Decade 1929 and A Nation Fights Back. A favorite author. Middle-teens.


Borden, Louise. Good-bye Charles Lindbergh. Elementary.

Dalgliesh, Alice. Ride on the Wind. Re the Spirit of St. Louis. Elementary.

Quackenbush, Robert. Clear the Cow Pasture. Re Amelia Earhart. Elementary.

Ransom, Candice. Fire in the Sky. Re the Hindenburg disaster (1937). Elementary-middle.

Wells, Rosemary. Wingwalker. Elementary.


Bunting, Eve. Pop’s Bridge. Re the Golden Gate. Elementary.

Clinton, Patrick. Story of the Empire State Building. From the Cornerstones of Freedom series (be sure to get the older books that begin “Story of . . .”). Elementary.

Movies on the 1930s:

We watched a number of movies relating to this period. The movie industry really took off in the ’30s so one can find both movies made in the ’30s and those set in the ’30s.

Gone with the Wind – Though set in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Margaret Mitchell’s classic was both a best-selling book and movie in the 1930s. I made my kids discuss why people living through the Depression might have been so attracted to this story.

Bonnie and Clyde – Enough humor and violence for my kids. A slightly older movie, it does not really show much nudity or blood but there are a couple of “adult” scenes and Bonnie and Clyde’s deaths at the end are vivid (though again not bloody). The movie does a good job of showing that crime does not pay though it also hints at why people supported outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde at the time.

The Untouchables – Criminal activity was booming in the ’30s. This movie tells the story of Scarface Al Capone and his capture.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – We watched this a few years ago. It is the story of Homer’s Odysseus set in 1930s America. Humorous and and ultimately wholesome. I don’t remember how much adult content there was, not too much I think. Great soundtrack too.

The Grapes of Wrath – We didn’t want to take the time to read Steinbeck’s (long) classic but the classic movie covers a lot of the bases. My kids enjoyed it.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl – We watched this movie last time we studied this era, when my kids were much younger. I am not a fan of the American Girl franchise but I think this movie is one of their better pieces. When we watched it, our neighbor’s house across the street was being foreclosed on.

To see what people in the ’30s were watching (and for a more wholesome choice), try some Shirley Temple classics. The Little Colonel (set in post-Civil War south) is one of our favorites.

Happy reading (and watching)!


Booklist: Living Books on WWI

As we continue with booklists I have put together over the years, today we turn to the Great War, aka World War I.

Living Books on WWI

Buchan, John. The Thirty-Nine Steps. Not specifically about the war but a wonderful, don’t-miss fiction book. Middle-teens.

Granfield, Linda. Where Poppies Grow. Picture book. Elementary.

Harnett, Sonya. Silver Donkey. Set in France. Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert. The Yanks are Coming. Marrin’s books tend to tell all about an era and make good spines for older kids. Middle-teens.

McCutcheon, Patricia. Christmas in the Trenches. Elementary.

Mukerji, Dhan Gopal. Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. Middle years or a good read aloud for younger ones.

Reeder, Red. The Story of the First World War. Middle-teens.

Seredy, Kate. The Singing Tree. Hungarians. Middle years.

Vinton, Iris. Story of Edith Cavell. Re a British nurse. Middle years.

Werstein, Irving. Over Here and Over ThereThe Lost Battalion, The Many Face of WWI and 1914-1918: WWI Told in Pictures. If you can find him, Werstein is a wonderful older author. Middle years-teens.

And some movies . . .

I’d also like to mention some movies set in this era. The Humphrey Bogart classic African Queen is set during WWI.

Sergeant York is a fabulous a WWI movie everyone should see.

While looking for things to watch, I also ran across the Young Indiana Jones series. There are apparently two seasons, one set before WWI and one during WWI. From the reviews I read they are high school level for both violence and adult situations. We haven’t watched them but they sounded good.


Berkouwer on the Image of God

I recently delved into G.C. Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics: Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984; orig. pub. 1957). I have been accused of having some non-standard views of the image of God and I was excited to tackle this book and to see where Berkouwer stood on the issue.

This is a dense book and fairly wide ranging. Berkouwer tackles many issues that relate tangentially to his main topic and which I never would have thought to address (for example, is each new human soul a unique new creation?). Overall, I like how thorough he is and how he analyzes the various positions and their weaknesses. My biggest disappointment was that he does not state clearly once and for all how he would define the image of God. One has to piece together his arguments to see where he actually comes down. The short story on The Image of God is that if you have any interest in this topic it is a must-read book. It addresses many issue and shows the many weaknesses of the usual, pat answers. But you will not necessarily walk away with the issue resolved in your mind.

As Berkouwer says a number of times, we Christians have been studying the Scriptures for about a millennium and we have yet to come to one generally accepted conclusion of what it means that man was created in the image of God. The two big questions we have to address are: What is the image? and What affect (if any) did the Fall have on it?

As I said Berkouwer’s own position is a little hard to discern, but here is my take on it (scroll to the end of this article for the notes I took as I read the book):

  • Man was created to have a covenant relationship with God and cannot be understood apart from God. He must always be seen and understood in this relational light and never on his own. (God, on the other hand, may be understood apart from man.) When Genesis 9:6 says that man may not be killed it is because of his creational relationship with God. 
  • Man is a whole. He is both saved and judged as a whole. We must avoid all dualism which pits body against soul or speaks of one as the greater and one as the lesser part of man. Any identification of the image which places it in one part of man — usually in his soul to the exclusion of his body — must be rejected. 
  • There is a functional or public aspect to the image; to be in the image includes representing or showing God. 
  • Scripture shows man as totally corrupt with no goodness in him and we need to maintain this standard. God’s common grace restrains evil rather than preserving something good in us. If it were not for this, we would become completely dehumanized or demonized. 
  • In the New Testament, we are told that Christ is the image of God (not merely in the image). We do not become God, but as children reflect their parents we are to reflect God by being in His image. Being in the image is closely related to sonship. We are told to put off the old man and to put on the new. This is a renewal of the image of God in us. It is only in Christ, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, that man comes into his true nature as God intended him to be (in Genesis 1). This is a new creation. There is an already and not yet aspect to this renewal; as we become sanctified we reflect the image more and more. The image is connected with what makes us human; as we become more in the image, we also become more truly human.

To sum up and answer the two big questions, if I am understanding correctly what Berkouwer is saying, he would say that the image involves the whole man; it cannot be compartmentalized to one aspect of human nature or to the soul to the exclusion of the body, and that it is about relationship with God. There is also a public aspect to the image in that we “image” or represent God to others. The image of God in man was lost at the Fall, but for believers is being restored through the union we have with Christ in sonship as we come to better and better reflect God.

I largely agree with his position. I would add the following, which are not corrections to what he is saying (as if I could) but simply further thoughts:

  • In the modern world, we have come to use the phrase “image of God” in our argument against abortion so whenever someone suggests that the “image of God” was lost at the Fall, we have a knee-jerk reaction and fear that they are arguing for abortion and against the value of every human life. This a modern failing. We cannot base our definition of what the image is on a modern political argument. We need to start with the Scriptures and move forward from there. 
  • We have a tendency look at our anthropological definitions to determine what the image of God in us is. We say: “we are rational, we communicate, we have relationships” and then we equate the image of God with such things. This method starts with us and makes in image of God in our likeness.
  • We detract from who God is when we break Him into parts and identify some of these with the image of God. We say “God is love” and “God has dominion,” and because we can love in some fashion or because we rule over creation, we equate these particular characteristics of God with the image. But in doing so we ignore the doctrine of divine simplicity which says that while we may speak of God’s attributes in this way, due to our own human incapacities, that God Himself cannot be broken down in this way into parts, some of which are the “image” and some of which aren’t.
  • When we break down the image of God into specific parts — human rationality, human communication, even the ability to love — we also run into problems when we encounter people who, for whatever reason, cannot communicate or do not exhibit rational thought. We risk saying that the baby born with half a brain or the adult in a coma is not fully human because they lack some characteristic or ability. The image is not about ability unless it is the ability to have a relationship with God.
  • The image is not just something we are. It is something we are called to be.

That is my take on Berkouwer’s Image of God. Overall definitely a book to make one think. Below as promised are my more detailed notes.


My notes on the book:

Chapter 1:

In the first chapter Berkouwer discusses the definition of man and his nature among non-Christians. He spends considerable time on the humanists as these were prominent in his day. He argues that while the humanists have moved away from a completely idealistic, positive view of man, that they have can’t help but come back to it at some level. They have a view of the ideal man, what man should be (which seems Platonic). Berkouwer, for his part, argues that man cannot be understood on his own, apart from God. This is not a two-way street. God is not understood in the light of man, but man means nothing apart from God. Those who spend a lot of time talking about man’s nature but do not look at him in the light of God, have no self-knowledge. They theorize generally about others but do not know themselves.

Chapter 2:

In this chapter, Berkouwer gives an overview of how the image of God in man has been understood in Christian thought and what the key questions are. Despite millennia of study, there are still many questions on this point and no clear definition of what the image of God is. In reformed thought, it has been common to distinguish two uses of the phrase “image of God,” a wider and a narrow. In the wider sense, the image of God is about man’s essence, what makes him man, and this is something he cannot lose. In the narrower sense, it is about his nature and this he lost at the Fall. However, the Bible does not distinguish these two senses and as Bavinck points out we must view them as interrelated, and yet we always end up dualistic when we start with this framework. There are lots of problems with this wider/narrower conception. On one wide the Lutherans have traditionally held that the image of God in man is original righteousness and that it was lost. But they tend to back away from this somewhat and to say that there is some remnant that remains as well. On the other end, the Eastern Orthodox identify the image of God with the wider sense, that it is man’s essence and includes what makes him man, his personality, rationality, etc. But they end up semi-pelagian because it is hard to take this view and then not end up saying that there is some good in man and some ability to approach God. 

One problem with all the wider views of the image of God is that they are making an assumption. They assume that whatever makes man man, his humanness, has to be what is called the image of God. But the “man of lawlessness,” i.e. the antiChrist, is also called a man. Does he also bear the image of God? Though Berkouwer does not say it as such, we seem often to be making God in our image when we seek to define the image of God as what makes us human. We also tend to divide man when we do so. We do not identify his body with the image of God (eg. we do not have ears because God does) and so we separate body and soul. The image of God is only identified with non-physical characteristics. 

Schilder took what might be called a functional view of the image of God. Man was in God’s image because he was to be God’s image on earth, to show God. He still has the faculties he needs to do this but he no longer does it or can do it post-Fall. The image is lost but what makes man man is still there (but was never identified with the image). Berkouwer thinks that Schilder and two others who have similar views and whose names start with Sch- are on the right track. 

A main reason not to say the image is lost is Genesis 9:6 (and the verse in James). One can say that this is a historical fact — that the image of God was in man so others may not kill or abuse him — but Berkouwer is dissatisfied with this. Here Berkouwer returns to what he said in chapter 1, that man only makes sense in light of God.  Taking this idea to Genesis 9:6, he says that man cannot be killed with impunity because of his creational relationship with God. This seems like just the germ of an idea here which he will expand on later in the book. 

Chapter 3:

In this chapter Berkouwer discusses how the image of God has been identified. He starts by saying that there is no clear consensus. He dismisses the idea that there is any distinction between “image” and “likeness.” In the immediate context of Genesis 1, some have identified it with having dominion or with something about “male and female.” Berkouwer rejects both of these. He also spends some time on the relation between being in God’s image and being commanded not to make images of God. 

Calvin and Bavinck both understand the image in light of NT passages which speak of the renewed image of God in man. Berkouwer accepts this method but argues against Barth who goes a bit farther and sees the image of God in man as defined by Christ, the image of God. It is not, as Barth says, that Christ is the perfect definition of man but that He became man. 

Berkouwer then moves on to expounding his own theory which is largely based on the New Testament evidence. He includes not just those few verses which use the word “image” specifically but also others which speak of our becoming like Christ. John’s writings hold a prominent place in his theory. 

In the NT, Berkouwer argues, we are told to put off the old man and to put on the new. This is a renewal of the image of God. It is only in Christ, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, that man comes into his true nature as God intended him (in Genesis 1) to be (p. 99). Berkouwer speaks of this as a new birth and a re-creation. 

There is an outward, public or communal aspect to this as well — in our sanctification, the image of God becomes visible. It is seen by others. 

This renewal of the image of God in man has a now and not yet aspect — the image is renewed but in our sanctification and ultimately in our glorification it becomes clearer and clearer in us. 

To be like Christ in this way is not to be the same as Him. We do not become gods. The image of God Berkouwer links to being children of God. We reflect Him as children reflect their parents. It is similar, but not the same. Again, there is an outward aspect as we are called to reflect God in our lives. 

Chapter 4:

In this chapter Berkouwer discusses the problem of a “remnant” or vestige of the image of God remaining in man and how this can be compatible with total depravity. He looks first at Kant who seems to advocate total depravity but then as he talks about the remnant ends up backing off of this. This is typical of those who speak of a remnant of the image in man. It’s hard to maintain this position without saying that there is some good that remains in man. We need to be careful how we understand the use of the word “remnant,” however. When the confessions use this language, it becomes clear from context that they are not speaking of any goodness in man but of something which serves to condemn him all the more for his sin. 

Berkouwer spends some time on a dispute within the Lutheran church to show that using the categories of accident and substance also do not help in this discussion. 

Berkouwer ends the chapter by stating strongly that Scripture shows man as totally corrupt with no goodness in him and that we need to maintain this standard. He ends the chapter with a question: why does this not seem to be what we see? That is, why do men appear to have some goodness in them?

Chapter 5:

Berkouwer goes on to discuss the question he raised at the end of the last chapter: if man, post fall, is totally corrupted why does it appear that he can do good? He looks at Calvin and Kuyper and their arguments for and definition of common grace which has often been the reformed answer to this question. He notes that by their definition common grace restrains sin in man but does not enable him to truly do good though there may be outward conformity to God’s law. Common grace does not mean that there is some good still in people, though there is a tendency to take it in this direction. Berkouwer finds common grace a half-satisfying answer which still raises a lot of questions. 

Berkouwer goes on to look at a few other positions and spends considerable time on the Catholic position (official and unofficial). 

Because many equate “conscience” with what is good or from God in man, Berkouwer then looks at what the NT has to say about conscience. A “good conscience” is not a guide but an assurance of faith and salvation. A “weak conscience” is one that can be a false guide and is subject to whims. Never are we told in the Bible that our conscience is there to tell us what is right and wrong. God’s law is our guide for what is right and wrong (Heidelberg catechism). 

Berkouwer makes clear that there is a difference between (outward) conformity to God’s law and actual obedience.

At this point he begins to advance his own theory. As before, Berkouwer relates the image of God in man to his relationship with God. Our relationship with God cannot be divorced from our relationships with other people. These two are linked and we need our neighbor as well. We cannot understand our humanness as our will or reason because these things are individualistic and we are social.  

God’s work among people is a preserving more than a restraining. He preserves our common humanity so that we are not completely demonized or dehumanized. Our humanness is always threatened but there is a limit placed on our corruption.

Chapter 6:

In this chapter Berkouwer looks at the parts of a man and how he may (or may not be divided). The Bible does not give us a clear, scientific anthropology. Berkouwer’s emphasis throughout is on wholeness. In Genesis man’s body, made from dust, does not get a soul added to it but he becomes a soul. 

Berkouwer rejects a tripartite division (body, soul, and spirit) and being inherently dualistic (the third part mediates between the other two) and coming from Greek philosophy. He rejects dualistic conceptions which pit one part against another and inherently imply that one is greater and one is lesser. He rejects the idea that the body is the source of sin and that the soul is greater. Scripture speaks of sin coming from man’s heart.  Duality need not be dualism, however, if the two are not pitted against one another.

Various approaches try to locate the essence of man in one part, the central part. This might be the heart; Scripture seems to speak of the heart this way. More modern people speak of the “person.” This “personalism” emphasizes the relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ but also tends to a kind of subjectivity and away from fixed truth. Berkouwer rejects “personhood” as a solution.

Again Berkouwer ends by emphasizing the whole man. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body shows how important the body is. The whole man is saved. Scripture never speaks of a valuable part in man but of his lowliness in relation to God. 

Chapter 7:

In this chapter Berkouwer discusses the phrase “the immortality of the soul” and what part of man is immortal. Bavinck says that the soul is inherently immortal and that man’s body, as its organ, originally partook of this immortality. This immortality was lost and not mortality characterizes man.

Berkouwer looks at and rejects the position that there is a difference between death and dying and that dying has always been part of the plan as a kind of transition and something to draw men closer to God. 

Bavinck notes that many religions posit an immortal soul. But does this mean we should follow them?

Turning to the biblical evidence — In the Bible death and life are opposed. Scripture never speaks of “the immortality of the soul,” nor does it deny it. John says that those that have the Son have eternal life and those that don’t, don’t. Berkouwer believes we should take Christ literally when He says that Lazarus was asleep. Death, seen in the light of the Resurrection, is a sleep.

There is no intermediate state. Berkouwer spends a long time on this but in the end seems to simply say that it is a mystery what happens between physical death and judgment. 

Because we believe in the wholeness of the person, we need not fear science when it links psychic things to physical things (eg. explaining one’s emotions through chemical processes). 

Only God is essentially immortal. We have no natural immortality.  Scripture does not speak of “the immortality of the soul” and those who do tend to reject the Christian faith. It is not that there is one part of us, the soul, that is immortal and another, the body, which is not. There is no distinction between body and soul in the effects of death but judgment affects the whole man. Our continued existence is not a source of comfort but should make us fear judgment. So too the whole man, body and soul, is resurrected. The testimony of Scripture is not that there is some part which will escape death but that God will see us through it. “[L]ife is being-with-Christ.” 

Chapter 8:

Berkouwer turns next to the origin of the soul. There are two schools of thought: creationism, held mostly by Catholics and Calvinists, and traducianism, held mostly by Lutherans. The former says that each human soul is created directly by God and the latter that souls are not thus directly created. Catholics tend toward the creationism position in  part as a response to evolution. That is, they are willing to admit bodily evolution because they believe that the soul is added to the body as a separate creative act thus making the being human though he may be descended from apes. Lutherans tend to care less about the soul’s creation because they believe the image of God in man is original righteousness or holiness and that it was lost at the Fall. 

The problem with creationism is that it tends toward a dualism in the nature of man, a separation between body and soul and also a natural preeminence of the soul over the body as being more directly created by God. Berkouwer argues that traducianism also assumes a kind of dualism, however, since even it asks the questions about the creation of the soul as a separate entity apart from the body, a question Scripture never addresses. Thus the two positions actuary have common presuppositions and Berkouwer rejects both as asking the wrong questions. 

Chapter 9:

Next Berkouwer discusses human freedom and what it means to be free. He says we usually discuss this in anthropological categories, not biblical ones. Determinism and indeterminism are humanistic, not biblical, ways of viewing things. Biblically speaking we are not free from but free for. It is not about throwing off all restraint but about being free for the possibility of doing good.

For Calvin man lost “free will” at the fall but it is not that he no longer wills but that he is no longer free to choose good. It is enslavement to sin. Divine grace makes us once again free to do good. 

Berkouwer speaks of this as “real freedom.” “Formal freedom” is what people are often talking about — being able to choose freely between two options, one good and one evil. But this cannot be modelling the image of God because choosing evil can never reflect God. Man is free in his submission to God. The closer we get to God the more free we become. 

Liberation, freedom from a number of evil, oppressive things, is the work of the gospel and a sign of the kingdom of God. It is a blessing. 

There is some question of the origin of sin and if Adam and Eve had formal freedom if God created the possibility for sin. Berkouwer rejects this idea but does not offer an alternative, only speaking of “the riddle of sin.” 

Berkouwer rejects the idea that God created man with formal freedom and with two paths equally open before him. Even in those passages in which He says “choose which way you will go,” He also always makes clear which path should be chosen. There is also a command saying which way to go, never an arbitrary choice. The command given to Adam and Eve was not a probationary one. It was not an either-or choice. It was the serpent who interpreted it that way. 

Chapter 10 (conclusion):

In the final chapter, Berkouwer discusses the phrase “man of God” as it appears in the NT. It occurs only twice in the NT. He says it refers to any believer and denotes a close relationship with God. Becoming a man of God is the opposite of annihilation. 

True human nature is not obscured but only becomes more pronounced in right relationship to God. 

“Man rediscovers his destiny only in sonship, in which the following of God restores the image of God.” (p. 352)

It is not wrong to speak of man’s greatness but we must speak of it as the Bible does. Greatness comes through service and points to God. The man of God is the central point of creation rightly understood. Man is sometimes lumped with beasts and at other times is not. We must understand his position relative to the rest of creation. He is central but not independent of it. His centrality is seen also in the corruption of all creation through his Fall.  

The relation between men and angels is not one of higher and lower or greater and lesser. 

Summary of points Berkouwer makes:

  • Man cannot be understood on his own, apart from God. To try to do so is humanism. This is not a two-way street. God is not understood in the light of man, but man means nothing apart from God
  • There are not two senses of the image. Reformed Christians have tended to speak of the image in wider and narrower senses but there are problems with this. The Scriptures do not make this distinction. It tends to lead to semi-Pelagianism.  Neither can we distinguish between the image and the likeness.
  • When we identify the image of God with certain characteristics we tend to divide man in unbiblical ways, placing the image in his soul/spirit and ignoring his body. 
  • Those with a function view of the image — it is something we do

 — are on the right track. There is an outward aspect of the image; it is something we show or represent.

  • Man cannot be killed with impunity (Gen. 9:6) because of his creational relationship with God. 
  • Christ is the image of God. In the NT, we are told to put off the old man and to put on the new. This is a renewal of the image of God. It is only in Christ, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, that man comes into his true nature as God intended him (in Genesis 1) to be (p. 99). This is a new creation. 
  • The image of God in us is linked to sonship. We reflect him as children do their parents but we do not become God. 
  • There is a now and not yet aspect to the image. It becomes clearer and clearer in us as we are sanctified. 
  • Those who speak of a remnant of the image in man tend to end up speaking of some residual goodness in him. Scripture shows man as totally corrupt with no goodness in him and that we need to maintain this standard. 
  • We must always consider the whole man. In Genesis man is not a body with a soul attached but the body becomes a soul. The two cannot be divided. There may be a duality (two complementary parts) but we cannot accept a dualism (two parts in conflict with each other or where one is the greater and one the lesser). The whole man is saved. Judgment also affects the whole man.
  • The image is often identified with what makes us human (as opposed to angels or animals). True human nature becomes more pronounced in right relationship to God. 
  • There is always a threat that we will be dehumanized or demonized. “Common grace” is God’s restraining (nor preserving) work. Our humanness is always threatened but there is a limit placed on our corruption.
  • “[L]ife is being-with-Christ.” 
  • Man lost “free will” at the fall but it is not that he no longer wills but that he is no longer free to choose good. It is enslavement to sin. Divine grace makes us once again free to do good.
  • “Man rediscovers his destiny only in sonship, in which the following of God restores the image of God.” (p. 352)

Booklist: the Early 1900s

Today we are looking at books on the early 1900s up to World War I. Some of these topics overlap with my previous list on the late 1800s.

Living Books on the Early 1900s

China and the Boxer Rebellion

Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion. Teens.

Silbey, David. The Great Game in China. Slightly shorter and more accessible than Preston’s book. Teens.

Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Foster, Genevieve. Theodore Roosevelt. Foster’s books made wonderful spines for a wide range of ages. Elementary +.

Fritz, Jean. Bully for You Teddy Roosevelt. Elementary.

Kent, Zachary. The Story of the Rough Riders. Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series is good if you get the older books whose titles all begin “The Story of . . .” Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America. Teens.


Crew, Gary. Pig on the Titanic. Picture book. Elementary.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the San Francisco Earthquake. Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series is good if you get the older books whose titles all begin “The Story of . . .” Elementary-middle.

Women’s Suffrage

Fritz, Jean. You Want Women to Vote Lizzie Staunton. Elementary.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Nineteenth Amendment. Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series is good if you get the older books whose titles all begin “The Story of . . .” Elementary-middle.

Wise, Winfred. Rebel in Petticoats. Middle years (?).

Woolridge, Connie. When Esther Morris Headed West. Elementary.

Immigration and Immigrants

Bartone, Elisa. Peppe the Lamplighter.  Elementary.

Bunting, Eve. Dreaming of America. Elementary.

Estes, Eleanor. The 100 Dresses. A Polish girl in Connecticut. Elementary-middle.

Forbes, Kathryn. Mama’s Bank Account. Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco. Elementary-middle years.

Judson, Clara Ingram. The Green Ginger Jar. A mystery set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Middle years.

Stein, R. Conrad. Story of Ellis Island. Cornerstones of Freedom series. Elementary.

Wells, Rosemary. Streets of Gold. Elementary.

Industry and Invention

Judson, Clara Ingram. Andrew Carnegie. Middle-teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. Along Came the Model T and Ahoy! Ahoy! Are You There? A Story of Alexander Graham Bell. Elementary.

Silverberg, Robert. Light for the World: Edison and the Power Industry. Teens.

Spier, Peter. Tin Lizzie. Elementary.

Yolen, Jane. My Brothers Flying Machine. Elementary.

Factory Life

The Lowell Mill Girls: Life in the Factory. Letters. Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert.  Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy. Marrin manages to tell quite a bit about the whole era. Middle-teens.

Paterson, Katherine Lyddie. Middle years.

Selden, Bernice. The Mill Girls. Middle years.

General Life

Steig, William. When Everybody Wore a Hat. Elementary.

Booklist: the Late 1800s, Pioneers and the West

In my ever-growing lists of living books we are now up to the late 1800s (i.e. post-Civil War). We are including in this period pioneers and the settlement of the west. Some topics which span the turn of the century, including industrialization and immigration, will be saved for the early 1900s list.

Living Books on the late 1800s


Robinet, Harriette. Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule. Middle years.

Taylor, Mildred. The Land. Book 1 of the Logan family saga. Middle years.

Werstein, Irving. This Wounded Land. Middle years-teens.

California Gold Rush

deClements, Barthe. Bite of the Gold Bug. Elementary.

Roop, Connie. California Gold Rush. Elementary.

The Pony Express (1860-1861)

Bulla, Clyde Robert. Riding the Pony Express. Elementary.

Coerr, Eleanor. Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express. Elementary.

Great Chicago Fire (1871)

Hoffer, Peter Charles. Seven Fires: The Urban Infernos that Reshaped America. Teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. They’ll be a hot time… Elementary.

NYC Blizzard of 1888

Stevens, Carla. Anna Grandpa and the Big Storm. Elementary.

Chicago World’s Fair (1893)

Lawson, Robert. The Great Wheel. Elementary.

Peck, Richard. Fair Weather. Middle years.

Blizzard of 1896

Bird, E.J. Blizzard of 1896. Middle years (?).

Spanish American War (1898)

Marrin, Albert. The Spanish-American War. Teens.

Werstein, Irving. 1898: Spanish American War. Middle-teens.


Lomask, Milton. Andy Johnson (1865-1869). I really like this older author. Middle-teens.

Venezia, Mike. Venezia has a series of humorous books on the presidents. Elementary.

Pioneers & Pioneer Life

Avi. Prairie School. Elementary (?).

Brinks, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn. Don’t miss the sequels too. Elementary-middle.

Bunting, Eve. Dandelions and  Train to Somewhere. Elementary. (re orphan trains). Lovely picture books. Elementary.

Cather, Willa. O Pioneers and My Antonia. I love Cather. Teens.

Caudill, Rebecca. Tree of Freedom. Elementary (?).

Coatsworth, Elizabeth. Sod House. Elementary.

Coerr, Eleanor. Josefina Story Quilt. Easy reader. Elementary.

DeFelice, Cynthia. Weasel (series). We listened to the first one and found it a little freaky so not for the timid child. Middle years.

Fleming, Alice. King of Prussia and a Peanut Butter Sandwich. Russian immigrants make their way to Kansas. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Cabin Faced West. Middle years.

Gregory, Kristiana. Legend of Jimmy Spoon. Middle years.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Trouble at Otter Creek. Elementary.

Holm, Jennifer. Our Only May Amelia and Boston Jane (series). May Amelia is set in Washington state in 1899. Middle years.

Larson, Kirby. Hattie Big Sky (series). We loved these. Middle years.

MacLauchlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. Check out the rest in the series as well. Elementary-middle.

Rounds, Glen. Sod Houses on the Great Plains. Elementary.

Steele, William O. This favorite author has lots of books on pioneer and Native American life that will appeal to boys. Some are: Flaming ArrowsWinter DangerWestward Adventure, Buffalo Knife and Wilderness Journey. Middle years.

Stein, R. Conrad. Story of the Homestead Act. From the wonderful Cornerstones of history series. Look for the older books whose titles start “Story of” NOT the newer ones. Elementary.

Turner, Ann. Grasshopper Summer (A plague of locusts hits the prairie) and Dakota Dugout. Elementary.

Whelan, Gloria. Next Spring an Oriole. Easy reader. Elementary.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie (series). Little House in the Big Woods is a fairly easy read. Elementary-Middle.

Yates, Elizabeth. Carolina’s Courage. Elementary.

Cowboys and Such

Dewey, Ariane. Narrow Escapes of Davy Crockett. Tall tales. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Make way for Sam Houston. Elementary.

Holling, Holling C. The Book of Cowboys. Elementary.

Hurley, William. Dan Frontier. A Davy Crockett type character. Elementary.

James, Will. Smokey the Cow Horse. My librarian was very excited about this one. elementary (?).

Miers, Earl Schenck. Wild and Woolly West. A wonderful older author if you can find him. Middle years (?).

Marrin, Albert. Cowboys, Indians and Gunfighters and War Clouds in the West (re Native Americans and cavalrymen). Marrin is a favorite author.  Middle-teens.

Quackenbush, Robert. Quit Pulling My Leg. Re Davy Crockett. Elementary.

Rounds, Glen. Cowboys. Early elementary.

Silverberg, Robert, Ghost Towns of the American West. Teens.

Steele, William O. Story of Daniel Boone. Elementary (?).

Steig, Jeanne. Tales from Gizzard’s Grill. Poetic. Elementary.

Werstein, Irving. Marshall without a Gun. Middle years-teens.


Dalgliesh, Alice. Bears on Hemlock Mountain. Elementary.

Glubok, Shirley. Art of America in the Gilded Age. Elementary-middle.

Marrin, Albert. Saving the Buffalo. Middle years.

North, Sterling. Wolfling. Middle years.

Roop, Connie. Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie. Lighthouse keeper. Elementary.

Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi.  There is also an abridged version called The Boy’s Ambition. Middle-teens.

Whelan, Gloria. Wanigan. Life of a girl in timber country on Lake Huron in 1878. Middle years.

Yolen, Jane. Mary Celeste. Shipwreck in 1872. Elementary.

Happy reading!

Booklist: the Civil War

Today we are looking at books on the American Civil War (including the build-up to it).

Living Books on the Civil War

Adler, David. Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln, Picture book of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Picture Book of Harriet Tubman. Adler has a number of these picture book biographies. Elementary.

Arnold, James and Roberta Wiener. Various titles. These two have a series of books on specific years of the war. They are not truly living books but if you have a child who wants a lot of detail they are good. Elementary-middle.


Avi. Iron Thunder. Middle years.

Beatty, Patricia. Turn Homeward, Hanalee. Middle years.

Beller, Susan. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb: Soldiering in the Civil War. Not the nest living book but some of the kinds of details boys like. Elementary-middle.

Brown Paper School (pub.). Book of the American Civil War. Not a true living book but I do tend to like books from this publisher. It is a series of stories, anecdotes etc. on the Civil War including some hands-on crafts and recipes. The stories themselves are not bad and use characters to bring the time alive but it is not a continuous narrative. Elementary-middle.

Coit, Margaret. The Fight for Union. On the build-up to the war. Middle years.

Crane, Stephen. “The Red Badge of Courage.” Famous short story. Middle-teens.

Fleischman, Paul. Bull Run. Middle years. (My post on literary analysis of Bull Run is here.)

Foster: Genevieve. Abraham Lincoln’s World. Foster’s books always do a  good job covering an era and can be used for a wide range of ages. She also has a biography simply titled Abraham Lincoln. Elementary +.

Fradin, Dennis. Bound for the North Star. A collection of stories from the Underground Railroad. Middle years +.

Fritz, Jean. Just a few words, Mr Lincoln. Re the Gettysburg address. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Stonewall and Brady. Longer books from this prolific author. Middle years.

Gauch, Patricia. Thunder at Gettysburg. Elementary-middle.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Abe Lincoln’s Birthday. Elementary.

Hunt, Irene. Across Five Aprils. Middle years.

Jerome, Kate. Civil War Sub: The Mystery of the Hunley. Easy reader. Elementary.

Kent, Zachary. The Story of John Brown’s Raid. From the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This is a great series as long as you get the older books that begin “Story of . . .” Elementary.

Marrin, Albert. A Volcano beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War against Slavery and Abraham Lincoln: Commander in Chief. One of my favorite authors for older grades. He also has books on Lee and Grant. Middle-teens.

McGovern, Ann. Runaway Slave. Elementary.

Monjo. Me and Willy and Pa (re Lincoln) and The Drinking Gourd (re the Underground Railroad). Elementary.

Moss, Marissa. Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds. Elementary.

Myers, Laurie. Escape by Night. Features Covenanters (yay!) but I am not sure they are portrayed accurately. Middle years.

Paulsen, Gary. Soldier’s Heart. Paulsen writes books boys like. Middle years.

Peck, Richard. River Between Us. Middle-teens.

Philbrick, Rodman. Mostly True Adventures of Homer P Figg. Middle years.

Polacco, Patricia. Pink and Say. Elementary.

Read, Thomas. Sheridan’s Ride. Loved this poetic account. Elementary.

Roop, Peter. Take Command, Captain Farragut. Elementary.

Sobol, Donald. Two Flags Flying. Tells the story of the war through characters on both sides. Could be a good spine for younger kids. Elementary.

Steele, William O. Perilous Road. Middle years.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Underground Railroad. Also from the Cornerstones of Freedom series (see Kent above). Elementary.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book that started the war (according to Lincoln). Teens.

Turner, Ann. Abe Lincoln Remembers and Nettie’s Trip South. Elementary.

Venezia, Mike. Various. Venezia has a series of humorous but informative biographies of the presidents. Elementary.

Vinton, Iris. Story of Robert E. Lee. Middle years.

Werstein, Irving. Abraham Lincoln vs Jefferson Davis. Middle years-teens.

Booklist: the Early 1800s

Last time I gave you the books we used on the American Revolution. This time we will look at books covering the period from the Revolution until the Civil War, so the very end of the 1700s and the early part of the 1800s.

Living Books on the Early 1800s

Adler, David. Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson, Picture book of Lewis and Clark and Picture Book of Sacagawea. Adler has a number of these picture book biographies. Elementary.

Avi. Hard Gold. 1859 Colorado gold rush. Middle years.

Avi. True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Historical fiction set in the 1830s. Middle years.

Bacheller, Irving. Light in the Clearing. This is one of my favorite books ever. Martin Van Buren is a minor character; it is mostly fiction. I am calling it high school age but there is nothing inappropriate in it so you could read it to young children. Teens.

Barsotti, Joan. Grandmother’s Bell and the Wagon Train (set in 1849). Elementary.

Bohner, Charles.  Bold Journey: West with Lewis and Clark. Middle-teens.

Carr, Mary Jane. Children of the Covered Wagon. Middle years (?).

Commager, Henry Steele. The Great Constitution. I was really pleased with this older book. I would say the level is middle school but you could use in late elementary or early high school.

d’Aulaire, Ingrid and Edgar. George Washington. Elementary.

Davis, Louise Littleton. Snowball Fight in the White House. Re Andrew Jackson. Easy reader.

Fleischman, Paul. Path of the Pale Horse. Re Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in the 1790s. Middle years (?).

Fleming, Candace. A Big Cheese for the White House. A giant wheel of cheese is given to President Jefferson. Elementary.

Foster: Genevieve. Year of the Horseless Carriage: 1801. Foster’s books always do a  good job covering an era and can be used for a wide range of ages. Elementary +.

Fradin, Dennis. Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words. Elementary.

Fritz, Jean. Great Little Madison and Make Way for Sam Houston. Longer books from this prolific author. Middle years.

Fritz, Jean. Shh We’re Writing the Constitution. Fritz has a number of these short books. Elementary.

George, Jean Craighead. Ice Whale. Japanese whaling. Middle years.

Guerber, Helen. Story of the Great Republic. A good older spine book. Elementary.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Mary’s Star (re orphans in Virginia in the 1780s) and For Ma and Pa on the Oregon Trail. Elementary.

History Channel. The Presidents. A video series on the presidents that is helpful if you are not studying each one individually. The first 5 presidents are covered in 45 minutes so you can tell it is not in-depth but does mention major events in their terms. All ages.

Kelly, Regina Zimmerman. Miss Jefferson in Paris. Middle years.

Knight, David. The Whiskey Rebellion. Middle years.

Latham, Jean Lee. Carry on Mr. Bowditch. A young man growing up in the nautical world in New England. Middle years.

Lindop, Edmond. George Washington and the First Balloon Flight. Elementary.

Lomask, Milton. John Qunicy Adams and This Slender Reed (re James K. Polk). Middle years.

Marrin, Albert. George Washington and the Founding of a Nation and 1812: The War Nobody Won and Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People. One of my favorite authors for older grades. Middle-teens. See also the end of his Sea Rovers re the Barbary pirates in Jefferson’s day.

Marshall, H.E. This Country of Ours. A good spine book for this era. Elementary +.

Martin, Patricia Miles. James Madison. Middle years.

McKissack, Patricia. Amistad. Picture book version of the story of this famous slave ship. Elementary.

Meader, Stephen. Whaler Round the Horn. Re whaling. Middle years.

Monjo. Slater’s Mill. Elementary.

Myers, Laurie. Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale. Elementary.

O’Dell, Scott. Streams to River. Re Sacagawea. Middle years.

Peterson, Helen Stone. Abigail Adams: Dear Partner. Elementary.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Revenge of the Whale. Re whaling. Middle years (?).

Quackenbush, Robert. James Madison & Dolly Madison and Their Times and Who Let Muddy Boots into the White House (re Andrew Jackson). Elementary.

Redmond, Shirley. Lewis and Clark: a Prairie Dog for the President. Easy reader.

Richards, Norman. Story of Old Ironsides (The story of the USS Constitution) and The Story of the Alamo. From the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This is a great series as long as you get the older books that begin “Story of . . .” Elementary.

Roop, Connie. California Gold Rush. Elementary.

Schiel, Katy. The Whiskey Rebellion. Not the nest living book but it is hard to find books on this topic. Elementary-middle.

Siegel, Beatrice. George and Martha Washington at Home in New York. Might be a little dry. Middle years.

Sperry, Armstrong. All Set Sail. Re whaling. Middle years-teens (?).

Spier, Peter. Erie Canal. Elementary.

Stanley, Diane. The True Adventures of Daniel Hall. Re Whaling. Elementary.

Steele, William O. Andy Jackson’s Water Well and We Were There on the Oregon Trail. Elementary.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Oregon Trail. Also from the Cornerstones of Freedom series (see Richards above). Elementary.

Steinberg, Alfred. James Madison. Middle years.

Sterne, Emma. Long Black Schooner. Re the Amistad. Middle years.

Venezia, Mike. Various. Venezia has a series of humorous but informative biographies of the presidents. Elementary.

Vinton, Iris. We were there with Jean Lafitte. Re the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans. Middle years (?).

Widdemer, Mabel.  James Monroe: Good Neighbor Boy. Middle years.

Young, Stanley. Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too! Middle years.

Book Reviews: C.R. Wiley on the Household and the Cosmos

Dear Reader,

I recently read not one but two books from C.R. Wiley, a Presbyterian pastor from Connecticut. I actually read the second book, The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2019), first, because a friend had asked my opinion on it. I realized as I did so that this book was actually a follow up to Wiley’s earlier work, Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart (Eugene, OR: Resource Publication, 2017), and that it did not stand well on its own. I walked away from Cosmos with a number of questions, often unsure at what Wiley was getting at, so I decided I had better read Man of the House, a longer book which explains his theories a little more fully. 

Though Wiley himself is a pastor, my short take on these two volumes together is that they are just not inherently Christian. The big idea Wiley presents will certainly appeal to some Christians and he does make use of the Bible in making his arguments, but he also looks to non-Christian sources, particularly Roman ones, and the theories he presents are more about economics and political order than about theology.  Now these things are not unrelated — everything ultimately comes back to our worldview and our ideas about God and the universe — and so we may evaluate Wiley’s ideas in the light of a biblical worldview, but how he gets where he gets is not an inherently theological exercise, if that makes sense. It actually helped me greatly to understand this. After reading Cosmos and to a lesser extent while reading Man of the House, I was left wondering about Wiley’s positions on certain high intensity theological debates of our day. He seemed at times to skirt various controversial issues but not to clearly state his view on them. When I realized he was just not giving me theological arguments, this made a little more sense. So while some of his positions may tend to support this school of thought or that one, if you are looking for books on Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) or the Family Church movement, these are not really the place to go. 

The heart of Wiley’s books is to present a particular view of Creation (the cosmos, that is) and to make an argument for how we should live and structure our households within that greater structure. There are a few big assumptions which he makes from the outset which really shape his argument. He also covers a lot of ground so I have struggled in writing this to know how to organize all the material. In the end I think the best way to proceed is for me to go topic by topic and to sum up his arguments and give my reflections on each and then at the end to try to pull it all together and look at the bigger themes. 

Wiley on  . . . the State of the World Today

We can begin to see where Wiley is coming from even from the titles of his books. The Household and the War for the Cosmos tells us that there is a battle afoot, and  Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart tells us that Wiley thinks that a catastrophe is coming and that we need to prepare now. There is a tone of survivalism here but Wiley does not advocate running off to the wilderness with a stock of canned goods. Though he fears a breakdown of society, one which he would say has already come in many ways, his solutions have to do with building one’s own household and especially becoming self-sufficient in an economic sense. He does not advocate a retreat and actually does urge us to become involved with our neighbors and with local politics. 

One of the big assumptions Wiley makes is that the world is not in a good place and is headed for a worse one. He seems to idealize a past age, looking to a time before the rise of atheism and “sciencism” as the epitome of human civilization (Cosmos, p. 100). The modern world, on the other hand, is a low point. Even the paganism which came before Christianity is better than where we are now (Cosmos p. 101). While he is not without some optimism for the future (Cosmos p. 102), his theory is based on the premise that civilization will end and that it will do so relatively soon (Man p. xiii). It is a long, slow end he predicts and so his suggestions are not the “run away” type but the “build your life to withstand the coming cataclysm” type (Man, p. xiv).  What does the “end of civilization” look like? Beyond the breakdown of the family, Wiley mentions political disintegration and economic failure including such things as banks collapsing (Man, p. 9). 

I find Wiley’s critiques are often good and I like his point about how all the things the family used to do (eg. education, care of the elderly) have been taken away and outsourced to others. I am less inclined to agree with his assessment of the current situation vis-a-vis the past and the future. There is an eschatology underlying this all, one that says that the world is getting worse. Yet Wiley does not look to the end times for relief but anticipates a cataclysmic event which Christians can survive. It would be interesting to hear where Wiley places himself in the whole post-, pre-, a-millennial spectrum. The “world is going to hell in a handbag” attitude smacks of premillennialism, but he seems to look for answers, not in a rapture or the Second Coming, but in this time.

On  . . . Piety and the Cosmos

In Cosmos Wiley champions the virtue of piety. In our society “piety” has been downgraded first to “devotions” and then to “quiet times” (or even “QTs”). These take something that was meant to be all-encompassing and make it a personal matter accomplished in 15 minutes in the morning (Cosmos p. 14). When we eliminate the word “piety,” we also eliminate the idea (Cosmos p. 17).  For the definition of true piety, Wiley turns to both classical, especially Roman, sources and to the Bible. Based on Acts 17:23, he defines piety as reverent action towards God, leaders, family, and all to whom reverence is due (Cosmos p. 25). 

Piety is based on a certain understanding of the world which was believed in ancient times, both in (pagan) Roman culture and among Christians, but which has been lost to us today. Again, his sources are both biblical and classical, though he tends to lean heavily on the Roman ones. This worldview is summed up in the word “cosmos.” This word implies that everything that is is part of one unified and ordered system. It includes both the physical world and the spiritual one, and every thing and every being within this system has its place. Wiley advocates a return to the idea that everything is connected and that it has order. With order comes hierarchy. Piety, right duty to the other members of the hierarchy, holds the whole thing together (Man, p. 93). 

Within the cosmos are microcosms. The most basic unit within this order is the household. The cosmos itself is like one giant household of which Jesus is the governing Lord (Cosmos pp. 63, 64). The structure of the cosmos he compares to a set of Russian nesting dolls. The household is the smallest but also the most essential unit. Households together form villages, which in turn form cities, and so on. 

The purpose of our households is to serve as microcosms of the largest “cosm” of all (Cosmos p. 88). The head of the household is a kind of mediator, standing “between his household and heaven, representing each to the other” (Cosmos p. 74). Even the small household has power, like the fulcrum of a lever, to impact the world (Cosmos, p. 116). 

Though he relies more on Roman than biblical texts to support this view, I do think Wiley has something with this view of cosmos. The Bible certainly does give us an ordered Creation, containing both physical and spiritual beings, with God as the Creator of all and the Authority over all. I am a little less enamored of some of his particular emphases. I think there are dangers in the nesting doll image he uses and he overemphasizes authority structures, points we will explore as we delve a little deeper. 

Sidebar (Wiley uses lots of sidebars within his first book so I am going to use them too, to discuss a few points which would not otherwise fit well in the overall narrative): Within the layered cosmos, Wiley says: “Just a little above us, there are principalities and powers . . . Paul actually names their chief: ‘the Prince of the Power of the Air’” (Cosmos p. 56). This name is, of course, given to Satan. But this is not the biblical order. Satan is not our rightful ruler. Nor are we subject to spiritual authorities (other than God Himself), but we will rule over and judge them. Wiley later says: “The principalities continue to rage against the Lord of the Cosmos (Cosmos, p. 114), again implying that there is an active and powerful role that Satan plays in our world whereas the witness of Scripture is that Satan is bound. Yes, our battle is a spiritual one, but our enemy is not a powerful one.

On . . .  the Household

Wiley traces the origin of the household as the basic human structure to the first chapters of Genesis.The command to households there is to be fruitful, a task which he applies to work, procreation, and culture (Cosmos, pp. 117-18). Woman is given to man because “it is not good for him to be alone,” which Wiley understands as meaning that he will not be as fruitful alone (Man, p. 58). [Certainly he will not produce children alone!] For his biblical model, Wiley looks primarily to Abraham’s household which includes not just his wife and son but also many slaves or servants (the Hebrew word is the same). A household is a family but more than a family. A household is a stronghold (Man, p. xvi). Built rightly it can withstand the cataclysm to come.

Part of being built rightly is to have the right structure. There is duty within a household because there is an authority structure.There is also a common goal. Because the sons inherit, they are in a sense working for themselves when they contribute to the family business. They have a stake in the greater enterprise which a slave or hired man does not. Wiley makes a nice connection here to our status within God’s household — we also are heirs and when we work for His Kingdom, we are working for our own good as well (Cosmos, p. 97). 

A household has an economy and a polity and a law. A husband and wife together form the smallest polity (Man, p. 14). Even within such a small unit, a head is needed (Man, p. 15). There is a common good which is worked for and each member has a role to play and something real to contribute, even young children. This is the economy. The law refers to the rules and duties which structure the household interactions. 

The structure within the household Wiley compares to that of a Sovereign and his subjects. The king defends the subjects and they in turn support him (Man, p. 7). The responsibility of the one is defense and of the other is obedience. In this analogy, the husband and father plays the role of king and his wife and children are the subjects. Working towards a common goal — which bringing one’s work home again allows — helps cement these authority structures (Man, p. 71). Within that structure, everyone has a role to play: “In a justly ordered house there are roles to assign; but we should also exercise wisdom when working with people and their idiosyncrasies” (Man, p. 70). The family business, whatever it is, gives everyone a role since it provides more work to go around. Of course, there is other work to do as well. Wiley seems very much in favor of homeschooling (Man, p. 45), but there are of course other jobs that need done to make a household run smoothly as well. I will say for Wiley that he seems to value everyone’s contribution, men and women, adults and children. Wiley does favor traditional sex roles, though his argument is not from Scripture but from nature — the traditional roles work well because men and women have natural strengths and weaknesses (Man, p. 46). Children, too, are contributors to the household and Wiley argues that we would have more children if we valued them for their economic and labor contributions (Man, p. 61).

The household is indeed an important biblical concept. Though Wiley makes it a cornerstone of his schema, his conception of it is ill-defined. He seems to imply that all people should be part of households but he does not address how this happens. Singleness, for Wiley, is not an ideal choice.Though he references the biblical text in which the Apostle Paul seems to praise singles as better able to serve God, he does not seem to accept this principle but to be rather dismissive of it, saying that:

“Rather than challenge [the choice to opt out of family life], or even question it, many evangelicals, especially in coastal cities, justify it, citing 1 Corinthians 7 and Paul’s reflections on the advantages he enjoyed as an unmarried apostle.” (Cosmos p. 8) 

Even if singles were to join themselves to households, it is not clear what role they would play. Abraham’s household which included many servants/slaves is Wiley’s model and yet when he discusses the household he speaks as if every man should be the head of a household. There is no place for workers in his schema (as we shall see when we look at his economic views). Yet big households don’t run without labor. If you are to have a successful family business, you will need eventually to hire people beyond your spouse and children. Wiley’s model seems to necessitate and yet disparage those who work for others.

Wiley does not address those households mentioned in the New Testament. In many ways, these would strengthen his argument. Often we see households operating, and being saved, as a unit. There is certainly much here for us independent, individualistic Amercians to think about. But there are also some ideas which may not fit well in Wiley’s schema. We see, for instance, women as the head of households in the New Testament. (The roles of men and women within the household will be discussed further below.)

On  . . .  the Household Economy

The problem Wiley sees in modern society is that all these parts of the household have broken down. There is no head and so there is no law. A major focus is the lack of an economy. As people began to work outside the home more and more, there was no common purpose for the family and thus nothing to tie its members together. As an antidote Wiley urges each household to build its own economy. What this looks like practically speaking is owning a means of production and working for oneself: “Productive property gives the household economy something to work on together, something to offer the world in exchange for a living” (Man, p. 30).  To work for another he calls “wage slavery” (Man, pp. 40ff, 116), a loaded term if ever there was one. “Here is the truth: if you do not own productive property you work for someone who does. Ownership is freedom and wage earners are not owners. It is just that simple”(Man, p. 39). By essentially establishing a family business, the household decreases its dependence on the larger societal system but also gives its members a reason to once again work together. 

“The goal is to bring your work home with you — to make the household the center of productive enterprise once again. This can mean bringing members of your household into the venture at some point” (Man, p. 42). Beyond working out of the home, Wiley also advocates other practices which make one less dependent on the border economy, from gardening to homeschooling to a certain kind of estate planning.

It is odd actually to read these books in the midst of 2020, a time of pandemic and unrest, when many have lost their jobs, stability and possibly their health. It is odd, but it is also instructive. I suppose we all evaluate things based on our own experience. For me, my husband spent some years working as a “freelancer” (something Wiley praises) though he is now once again working for a (relatively) big company. He has also worked with and for friends who have started their own businesses. I have been in the craft world and know many people who make and sell goods as a way to support themselves. I have to say any kind of working for yourself is tough and when the hard times have hit, as they have in 2020, these people have taken a big hit.  I am much happier and more secure with my husband working for a big company that has some deep pockets to help it ride out this rough spell than I would be if he were still “freelancing”, or than my friends are who work for themselves. [It is actually quite heartbreaking to read their stories.]

Wiley says that self-employment brings freedom and security and that working for a wage is slavery (Man, p. 40). I would say that is not necessarily the case. As I would think anyone who owns their own business would say, there is a lot of “slavery” involved in that as well. You cannot walk away from it. You cannot go on vacation easily. There are lots of ways we are bound and constrained in life and working for oneself is often less certain and more constricting. Wiley does acknowledge that there are trade offs, but comes down firmly on the side of owning one’s own business: “Most people today depend on the corporate economy to maintain their freedom from the demands of self-employment and business ownership. But the price of that freedom is wage slavery.” (Man, p. 129) Yet those who work for themselves are still in many ways dependent upon other people. You need customers to patronize your business and to buy your goods or services. When a crisis like COVID comes and the economy shuts down and people have less money, those with small businesses are hit hardest. There are different kinds of crises of course, but in the current one, the person working for a large company is a lot more likely to still have an income than the small businessman.

Wiley starts with an economic assumption — that to work for someone else for a wage is akin to slavery. He equates freedom with ownership and minimizes other obligations and risks that come with owning one’s own business. I would add that in doing so he also minimizes the difference between actual slavery in which one person owns another and simply having a job one can walk away from. In the words of Ishmael, narrator of Moby Dick:

“Who aint [sic] a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about — however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way — either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

Side bar: As I have said, Wiley doesn’t spend a lot of time on theology as such but he does occasionally touch on the topic. In discussing the roles of people within the household, he dares a comparison to the roles within the Godhead:

“In the Trinity, each of the persons is equally God, yet each has a function within an ordered hierarchy. The Son obeys the Father, but the Father does not take orders from the Son. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but the Father and the Son do not proceed from the Spirit. By using the Trinity as a model for understanding human hierarchies, people are free to honor those above them without degrading themselves. And those in authority can honor those beneath them without any loss of authority.” (Man, p. 21). 

Though it is not completely clear how Wiley would draw the lines here, this sounds a lot like the heresy known as Eternal Submission of the Son (ESS) or Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). By either name, this heresy says that in eternity (and not just during Jesus’ time on earth) the Son has been and will continue to be subordinate to the Father. The problem with this idea is that it makes the Son less than the Father and thus inserts a difference within the Godhead, ultimately making the Son less God than the Father is. For more on this topic, I would refer you to the Reformed Brotherhood and The Aquila Report

On . . .  Marriage and Headship

In his second book, Wiley addresses the biblical commands for a husband to love his wife and a wife to submit to her husband. Here he says that submission is a stumbling block for many but that it should be something to be proud of because in submitting, one is playing their part within the larger order (Cosmos, p. 108). His argument grates a little because it emphasizes the command to wives to submit and largely ignores the command to the husband to love. I think he could actually make a much stronger argument if he were to appeal as well to the commands for Christians to submit to one another. In a context in which submission flows in many directions and everyone has those they submit to, the whole thing becomes more palatable to modern sensibilities and highlights as well the ordered schema Wiley proposes.

When it comes to arguing for the husband as the head of the household, it is not to the Scriptures that Wiley turns. His arguments on this point come from what we might call natural law or perhaps just good old-fashioned common sense. In order to lead and judge, he says, the head of the house must be able to distance himself from the other members of the household. A mother, he says, is not able emotionally to do this (Man, p. 75). Physical strength is also a factor: “When it comes to household order, might must serve right. In the vast majority of households the father is the best equipped for the job” (Man, p. 75; emphasis original). The leader must have what he calls “gravitas” which we might define as the weight of authority. One with gravitas commands respect by his mere presence. This, Wiley says, comes more naturally to men: “Here’s something else egalitarians don’t like about gravitas: it is easier for men to acquire it than women, Physical strength is a big reason, but not the only one — height helps — as does a deeper voice” (Man, p. 78). As he defines it later, this gravitas comes down to a willingness to walk away if need be (Man, p. 81), not something that I would consider a good quality in a husband and father. The rule that the man of the house exerts, for Wiley, is one of power and the ability to bring physical judgment to bear (Man, p. 79). And, as he makes clear, the law of the house is to be one of justice, not primarily of love (Man p. 68). 

In terms of how a man is to lead, Wiley argues that the man of the house should be above all just. He must not lord it over his “subjects” but must have self-mastery. In order to do so a man must follow the command to — here Wiley appeals to the wisdom of the oracle at Delphi — “know thyself” (Man, p. 82). 

There is an assumption here that might makes right. The man is the head of the household, not because this is what the Scriptures dictate, but because of his physical, and to a lesser degree his emotional, characteristics. One is left wondering, if a wife were the physically stronger party if it would be okay for her to be the head.

Biblical ideas and models of leadership are not discussed. The command to the husband to love his wife is downplayed and biblical servant-leadership seems to be completely unconsidered. Instead, a man attains leadership because of his physical superiority and maintains it through a combination of physical power, economic savvy, and emotional distance. 

Sidebar: As has been alluded to above, the man of the house is also a mediator between the household and the rest of the cosmos within which it is nested (remember those Russian nesting dolls?): “In order to honor the past, or what is above, people in your house will need to pass through you to do so. It is simply a matter of where you are in relationship to these things. You come between . . . You are the priest of your house. You are the first of many layers.” (Man, p. 95). Here again we teeter on the edge of a particular heresy. And again it is not completely clear where Wiley stands theologically but what he has to say sounds very much like the Family Church movement — good words that nonetheless convey a bad idea. Simply put this theology posits a kind of series of “umbrellas of protection.”  A man’s wife and kids are under his umbrella of protection. They are safe as long as they stay there. The man in turn represents them to the larger world, including both the church leadership and God Himself. Practically speaking if a wife has a question, she is to go to her husband and does not have direct access to her elders. That can be quite problematic of course if she has issues with her husband. But even more problematic is that the husband/father is made the mediator for his family whereas Scripture tells us that there is one Mediator, Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). For more on this topic see  Theology Gals.   

On . . .  Parenting

Wiley doesn’t have a lot to say directly on parenting. He does tell one rather disturbing story from his own teenage years in which he decided he no longer had to obey his mother. In the heat of argument she tried to slap him, he ducked and she ended up injured. For Wiley the point of this story is that the father, who is bigger and more powerful, is necessary to keep the child in line (Man, p. 67). The entire dynamic here is again one of might makes right. It is sad to me that Wiley endured this as a child, but it is even sadder that it is still the dynamic he expects as an adult. There is no talk here of training, no mention of sin or of guilt, and nothing about addressing the child’s heart attitude. 

In a schema in which there must be one leader in each household, it is unclear how a child transitions to adulthood and at what point new households are formed. Because the person your child marries essentially comes into the family business, Wiley is in favor of, if not arranged marriages, at least parents having a strong say in whom their children marry (Man, p. 131). Children (presumably fairly grown ones) may also be exiled from the household. While he cautions patience, Wiley also says children must earn their inheritance and some are simply incorrigible and must be disowned: “[I]t may be necessary to cut a child off completely” (Man, p. 132).   

Side bar: Wiley also speaks to how children should address adults:

“All other adults should be ma’am and sir. Should it happen that some adult eschews such respect and says to your child something like, “Mr. Johnson is my father — call me Bob!” you ought to take him aside and let him know the ground rules with your children. If Bob can’t handle adulthood, don’t let your children spend time with him.” (Man, p. 97)

I have a couple of thoughts here. Ma’am and sir are fairly cultural. We had a family in our church for a while whose kids ma’am-ed and sir-ed everyone. They were from the south and it came naturally from them. My son picked up the habit but it did not come naturally to him. When he said ma’am to a dear sweet 90-something year old friend of ours, she was horrified and thought she had offended him and began apologizing profusely. In New England, ma’am and sir don’t always sound polite (though Wiley is in Connecticut so I don’t know why he doesn’t see this). I teach my kids that attitude in how they speak to adults is the most important thing. You can say ma’am and sir and still be sassy. You can not say them and still convey respect. When I told my teens about this passage, they thought it was rather rude not to call Bob, Bob, if that is what he prefers. To cut Bob out of one’s life seems cruel. Maybe he is a good Christian man at church whose influence would benefit your kids. Maybe he is not, but maybe your family’s influence would benefit him. 

On  . . .  Government

The household is the smallest institution and the government is the largest but in between there are others (Man, p. 114). It is the biggest institutions that Wiley is most critical of, including the government and large corporations: “[P]eople build institutions for shelter. But here is another thing: when it comes to institutions, bigger isn’t always better. Bigger usually comes with hidden costs” (Man, p. 62). 

While he acknowledges that a “[j]ust civil authority is a good thing” (Man, p. 103), Wiley does not seem to find much good in the government. They serve their own interests: “Governments are Janus-faced things, looking after your interests with one face, while pursuing their own with the other.” (Man, p. 103) The bigger and more powerful the government is, the worse it is: “The state continues to grow and centralize, technology tracks us (and increasingly it is used to manipulate us), progressive multinational corporations standardize us and commodify us, popular media seek to indoctrinate us and addict us, and state-run education and healthcare are eliminating private rivals so as to make us ever more dependent on government largess.” (Cosmos p. 115).

Not surprisingly a major function of government, as Wiley sees it, is to protect private property as well as to preserve order (Man, p. 104). In general, “householders should favor limited government” (Man, p. 108). He is not big on the welfare state, saying it undermines the household, and argues that child-care and eldercare should both return to the home (Man, p. 110). Though he is very careful not to advocate disobeying one’s government, Wiley gives specific advice on how to (legally) keep from paying too much in taxes (Man, pp. 108ff). It should be noted that most of his vitriol is reserved for big government. He advocates being involved in one’s local community and sees the value of local government (Man, p. 106). 

Again we see that there is a particular view espoused, and it is one that is fairly anti-government. This is not the biblical view. The Scriptures tell us that, however its powers may be abused, government is a God-ordained institution which is given as a blessing for mankind. Even under one of the most egregious governments known, Paul is able to say that governments are given by God for man’s good (Rom. 13:1ff). 

On  . . the Church

The Church is also a kind of household. As microcosms, our households bear witness to God’s: “Your household can even be a witness to the household of God by the way it works.” (Man, p. 134) In the end times, our households will not continue as they are but there still will be a Household: “Now, the bridge that connects the houses we live in today, and the one we will dwell in someday, is the Church. It is the witness to and even an inchoate embodiment of the eschatological household.” (Man, p. 98) 

But the Church is also a contemporary institution. Though quite skeptical of large secular institutions, Wiley does say that: “Households can’t stand alone.” They can and should unite with other households. In order to do so, they must find common ground. This common ground Wiley calls moral goodness. The Church is the mediating institution which promotes moral goodness (Man, p. 122). For a pastor, he has surprisingly little to say beyond this on the role of the church or its relationship to the individual households which comprise it. 

While there is some grand language about it, there is little practical discussion of how individual households relate to the Church. I would argue on the contrary that, while it is a great blessing to have one’s biological family as part of one’s spiritual family, for Christians the spiritual family, i.e. the Church, is the primary unit. This understanding helps resolve some of the problems which Wiley’s understanding of the household raises. Singles, who are not otherwise  part of a household, have a place within God’s household. The Church itself should not be viewed as a confederation of separate households but as the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). Nor is it bound together by “moral goodness.” It is rather our union in Christ which unites us. 

On  . . . Virtue

Though he does not spend a lot of time discussing it directly, virtue is an important subject for Wiley. This is how he ends his first book:  “[I]f your household can retain its independence through moral virtue, like Noah and his house, your heirs may someday step into in [sic] a world wiped clean.” (Man, p. 136) There is an implication here that just as Noah’s family, out of all his contemporaries, was saved because he was a righteous man, so our families too will be delivered because of our virtue. Elsewhere he says: “If the members of your household are virtuous, then even if they lose everything, they stand a good chance of recovering their fortunes, given time” (Man, p. 125). There is an element of prosperity gospel in this — we are rewarded for our virtue with material success. 

There is no doubt that for Wiley the primary virtue to be cultivated is piety, that right relation to others within the household and the cosmos (which seems to come down more than anything else to submission to those who hold a position of authority over one). How then does one cultivate piety or any other virtue? Wiley says: “But virtue is the most difficult thing of all to give someone, because it isn’t really ours to give. It has to be drawn out of the person himself.” (Man, p. 134) This is an interesting statement. We have seen that Wiley relies fairly heavily on classical sources, especially Roman ones, and I detect the flavor of classical thought here as well (See this post on David Hicks’ Norms and Nobility in which I discuss how the classical approach known as dialectic assumes that knowledge is within man and must be drawn out). Wiley seems to say that virtue is something inherent within us that must be brought out. This is not biblical Christianity. Goodness is defined by the character of God. As fallen people, we have no inherent goodness unless and until He redeems us. 

Drawing Some Conclusions

There is a lot of material in these two short books of Wiley’s and much to respond to. Above all I would say that what Wiley gives us is not a theological treatise but an economic and to a lesser extent a social one.  Though his books have an eschatological tone, the crises he sees and solutions he proposes are very much of this world. The heart of his theory is an economic view which says that freedom, protection, and deliverance come through ownership and work. The end goal is to have sufficient financial independence to withstand economic and societal crises in this world. There is little here that is spiritual. The overall outlook is quite materialistic in that it speaks to and about the physical world and its problems. 

In his sources, Wiley as often as not turns to non-Christian, even pagan, classical sources.  When he does use biblical sources, he does not look at the whole counsel of Scripture on a subject. For instance, his take on households is based on Abraham and Noah but does not consider how households are spoken of in the New Testament. Even when there are good biblical arguments, eg. for the husband/father as the head of the household, Wiley turns to non-biblical arguments. 

I don’t want to imply that there is nothing good here. Wiley’s critiques of our modern society and especially of how certain policies undermine the family are on point. His argument for the cosmos as a greater structure which has order, particularly as contrasted with modern views of a completely materialistic “cosmos,” are also good. 

The bottom line on both Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos is that they are promoting a particular view of what a household, and particularly the work of that household, should look like. While it may be a position some Christians take, it is not an inherently Christian position nor is it the only way Christians can see the issue. Christ’s work on the cross, His incarnation and His act of redemption on our behalf make absolutely no difference to Wiley’s theory. 


[1] Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart (Eugene, OR: Resource Publication, 2017)

The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2019)