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Archive for the ‘History’ Category


I’ve been wanting to read Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 since hearing Marcus talk about it on the Glenn Beck show one day while doing hospital visitation.  It is a moving, and powerful story that I enjoyed greatly.  I recommend people read it to gain a better understanding of how crazy our Rules of Engagement are.  This is the underlying message of Marcus’ account.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about: Operation Redwing was an attempt to capture or kill a high ranking Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2005.  A Seal team of 4 men were dropped into the mountains to locate and attempt to capture him.  They were discovered by some goat herders.  Militarily, you can’t be sure they are not connected with the Taliban and make your presence known so that a much larger force drops on you like a ton of bricks.  With the strange ROE in this War on Terror- terrorists don’t wear uniforms, and may not be holding a rifle- they knew they could face criminal charges while at least being crucified in the press if they killed the goat herders.  They set them free … and only Marcus lived to regret it.  These 4 men took on 150-200+ Taliban soldiers for 90-120 minutes.  Seal Team 10 and a Rapid Response team answered their call of distress, but the helicopter was shot down and all were killed.  Badly wounded, Marcus was able to escape until finally taken in by a village elder who swore to protect him.

It was a very good book and interesting read, but here is what I’d change (as if anyone cared):

  • Move the material about ROE and the press to a separate chapter.  Since it is interspersed as part of the narrative, it loses some of its rhetorical power to more of a soap box feel.
  • Double check the material on the training.  I was confused with varying accounts of how many guys dropped out when and how long various things took place.  I thought they might be errors, but I’m not sure.

This does not diminish what Marcus is doing here.  It is a book that needs to be written, and read.  Prior to getting to the ill fated mission you hear about Marcus’ background and how he and his twin brother were preparing to become Seals even as a teens.  You gain a better understanding of how difficult it is to become a Seal- the most elite fighting force in the world.  And you learn about how the press bungled the post-battle coverage.  You learn about the mammoth vigil that took place spontaneously at his parents’ ranch, and the generosity of so many fellow Texans.

In describing the battle itself, I wondered if this Texan was telling some tall tales.  It just seemed incredible to read what these 4 men did, and persevered despite serious injuries.  But it all makes sense when you take into account their training which identifies and selects men who can’t give up.  Their bravery and perseverance humbles me.  If you have half a heart, you too will weep when he is finally rescued, says ‘goodbye’ to his friends and comrades in arms, and is reunited with his distraught family.  You also get a taste of Seal culture, for better or worse (yes, lots of bad language and what I would consider blaspheme from the mouths of men who are Christians).  But you also gain a better understanding of how politics and the mainstream media make the task we ask these soldiers to perform most difficult, put their safety and our in unnecessary jeopardy.

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CavWife and I finally watched Amazing Grace, the biopic on William Wilberforce.  We suffered from some laser issues at times- the in-laws’ DVD player is in decline- which affected our ability to both enjoy it and follow the story line, at times.

I know a bit about Wilberforce, having read one of his books and read a short biography on him.  In preparing a lesson on the slave trade I did some more research on him.  As a result, I was more familiar with him than the other people in the room.  As a result, I was able to fill in some of the gaps in the story line.  The movie clocks in at a hair under 2 hours and it could have easily been longer.  There were some things I wish were in the movie, which focused on his romance/marriage and lengthy battle in Parliament to abolish the slave trade.  It is difficult to tell the story of such a long period of time in a meaningful way in 2 hours or less.

Most of the movie takes place when he meets the woman who will become his wife.  He tells her of how he became involved in the political battle.  The movie follows along to eventual victory.  The time shifts mean you have to pay close attention since Wilburforce doesn’t seem to change much physically.  John Newton, played well by Albert Finney, and the troublesome Clarkson do undergo some physical changes providing clues if you miss the message.

I am a great sinner.  Christ is a great Savior.

"I am a great sinner. Christ is a great Savior."

The movie clearly portrays his evangelical moorings, but doesn’t dwell on them in a way that would make a non-Christian too uncomfortable.  I particularly liked the quick scene with his butler.  Wilberforce explains some strange behavior on God.  “You’ve found God.”  “More like I’ve been found by God.”  I’m not sure about the exact wording, but it reflects the wording of his mentor’s song- “I once was lost, but now I’m found.”  But the movie does not cover his conversion- which was a fairly lengthy process so that is understandable- or that his faith was the impetus and sustaining force in the fight against the slave trade.

One disappointment was the scene in which his best friend died.  His friend lamented that he didn’t have William’s faith.  Wilburforce left it at that rather than offering the promises of the gospel to him.

The movie makes some quick mention of some of his other accomplishments, such as found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  This too flowed out of his faith.  He saw Christianity as not less, but more than his personal conversion.  His understanding of Christianity was that God transforms us, and society through us.  Wilburforce was so active in living out this vision that his health did suffer greatly.

... no longer belong to God, but belong to man...

... no longer belong to God, but belong to man...

The film does a good job of telling people about part of this great man’s life.  It is a fairly low budget film.  That it is a period piece helps it to feel like something you might see as a mini-series on PBS.  But I wasn’t looking for style points.

It is sad that most people don’t know about this man, and his lengthy struggle to see the slave trade come to an end, and soon thereafter slavery itself.

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This movie won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.  Charlie Wilson was not a very upright guy.  He was conservative in his politics, and liberal in his personal ethics.  Okay, he was a womanizer, and some of those scenes display breasts and Tom Hanks aging buttocks (I don’t think they used a body double on that one).  He has a long term affair with a rich “Christian” lady, and was accused of using drugs during an investigation by Rudy Guliani.  There are enough F-bombs dropped to make a young Eddie Murphy uncomfortable.

Yet … it has a quirky sense of humor that I found hilarious (CavWife, not so much).  I really appreciated the interplay between Hanks and Hoffman.  Philip Seymour Hoffman was just plain over the top in his role as Gus, an old school CIA guy who is on the outs with the new (Carter era) regime).

Useless Rabbit Trails: At one point I wondered aloud about one character- She really reminds me of Amy Adams.  Good reason, it was Amy Adams.  CavWife was astounded at Julia Roberts’ daring bikini scene- daring because she was like 4 months pregnant at the time.  But she didn’t look 4 months pregnant, or even pregnant.

Back to the Real Deal: And it had a message need to heed, regardless of whether or not you think we should have gone into Iraq in the first place.  Charlie Wilson was able to sell the Afghan War as a great opportunity to “kill Russians” and further the cause of the Cold War.  He was the right guy in the right place at the right time to increase the funding necessary to help Afghanistan defend themselves from the USSR.  You also see that some of interest was generated from the humanitarian angle.  Wilson was won over after a trip to a refugee camp.  And so were other key people.

After the war, and subsequent fall of the USSR, Charlie Wilson tried to do the right thing: rebuild Afghanistan.  But he could get no money for schools, much less roads.  So, we helped destroy Afghanistan but left them to rebuild.  As he noted, there would be no NY Times to remind them that we had helped them defeat the USSR (actually, would the NY Times tell us that?).  With a population in which 50% of the people were under 14, they sorely needed education and attention from us.  But they didn’t, and the Taliban turned their hearts against us.  As the movie ends, there is an earthy quote from Charlie Wilson to the effect that we screwed up the end game.

And this is what some want us to do in Iraq- screw up the end game.  I’m not excited about dumping lots of money into Iraq.  But history teaches us that if we don’t try to help them, the next generation will be turned against us- not for removing Sadaam, but for not finishing the job.

I thought this an odd message from Hollywood.  I agree with the message, I was just surprised to hear it coming from  that source.

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The rather lengthy Gods and Generals (216 minutes) is part of an even lengthier trilogy of films about the Civil War (aka the War Between the States and the War of Northern Aggression, depending on where you went to school).  This first installment focuses on the life and role of Stonewall Jackson.  It concludes 2 months prior to the battle of Gettysburg with his death after taking friendly fire.

It focuses primarily on the Southern perspective of the war, though Lt. Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) provides a brief glimpse of a Northern perspective- and a far more philosophical one.  The Southern perspective was that the North sought to violate their land and oppress them.  Jackson’s allegience was to the State of Virginia, and what she decided he would do.  They neglect to mention anything about the initial aggression of the Confederates at Fort Sumter.  They think the Republicans as war profiteers, and Abraham Lincoln as a war monger who seeks to disrupt their civil, gentle lives.

Very surprising was an exchange between Jackson and his cook, a free African-American, after they prayed.  Mr. Lewis prayed for the freedom of the rest of his family.  Gen. Jackson told him many Conferate leaders wanted the slaves freed.  Hmmm.  So which state right were they fighting for?  Wasn’t it the right to maintain the enslavement of others?  The cook could see the contradiction.  The cook could see the gap in Stonewall Jackson’s piety.  But Stonewall couldn’t see it.

Chamberlain expressed these very sentiments.  The South saw itself as fighting a second war of independence.  But that freedom was limited to white citizens, what people like President Lincoln where trying to change.

Chamberlain talked about God periodically, but there was not glimpse into his personal piety.  Jackson would pray at the drop of a hat.  He had a very warm piety- but the acting of those scenes seemed outside the realm of my experience.  I just have to wonder if the writers and director were people of faith- because the way it was written & directed made it feel foreign to them.  Like a white guy trying to be black- it just doesn’t work.

The movie had 3 lengthy battle scenes: the battles of Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancelorsville.  They were not gory.  You certainly got the impression that the Union leaders had no concern for their men.  In battle men will die, but you should implement a strategy that gains victory at minimal cost of life.  They would march their men into strongly fortified killing fields.  God shall hold them accountable too.

If you are interested in a movie about the Civil War, there are better.  This was long, laborious and leaned toward propoganda.  I had to watch it in 3 sittings, and though some scenes were quite touching, overall it seemed too much like Gone with the Wind with flowerly language and bold statements.  Having said all that, I may now be forced to return north of the Mason-Dixon line.

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Memorial Day


We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm. –  Winston Churchill

Thanks to all those who have served our country with honor & courage in times of war & peace.  I know that peace doesn’t come without a price, and that some are willing to pay that price since some of us would make really lousy soldiers.

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This will be my final post on Revival & Revivalism, I think.  Although this is a very long book, clocking in at about 400 pages, it is a very good book that blends historical narrative and theology to tell the story of a major shift in American Evangelicalism.  It was more than a pragmatic shift, but a theological shift.  Iain Murray also notes some of the cultural shifts that paved the way for the other shifts.  Christianity is not isolated from the surrounding culture, but often begins to echo it, sometimes in very negative ways.

In the 12th chapter Murray follows the Baptists in Transition.  Their experience was quite different from that of the Presbyterians and Methodists.  The Presbyterians experienced some difficulties and conflict with the new measures and new theology.  But many of those for the new measures and theology ended up leaving for a less confessional expression of the church.  The Methodists easily embraced the new measures and didn’t agree with the old theology from the get go.  The Baptists prior to this time were largely Calvinistic.  This transition left Baptists in America largely Arminian and often supportive of the new measures popularized by Finney.

One of the things that struck me about the early American Baptists was there “catholicity of spirit”.  They emphasized common ground with other Christians, rather than the differences.  Murray notes that a Presbyterian minister preached at Richard Furman’s funeral, and no one batted an eye.  Or that J.P. Boyce wasn’t attacked for calling the Westminster Confession “our confession”.

The thing that shouldn’t surprise any of us is that they arguments used against Calvinism then are the same as those used to argue against the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC today.

1. Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism were confused and considered as one.

2. Calvinism was viewed something that stifled evangelism and revival.

The first is a sign of either ignorance or an uncharitable spirit.  The ‘strawman’ argument is unloving to the brother with whom you disagree.  The second argument is clearly disproved by history, as Murray repeately shows in his book.

With regard to the new measures, the conflict was not regarding the use of means, but which means.  The old theology, largely Calvinistic, argued that God appointed the means to evangelism and revival in His Word.  We are to use those means and trust Him to fulfill His purposes in our generation.  The effectiveness of those means is under His control, not our.  The new theology, supporting the new measures, placed the efficacy of means under our control, not His.  The new measures also used new means that are not mandated by Scripture.  There is nothing inherently wrong with many of those practices, but to mandate them, or use them as the signposts of revival is wrong.  To rely on them rather than God to produce revival (or treat them like magic, God will send it if we do these things) is wrong.

These new measures led to some other new practices from which Baptistic groups like the SBC today have been unable to entangle themselves despite the best efforts of their Calvinistic contingent.  They took a low view of membership, often baptizing people immediately upon walking the aisle.  People were not well instructed and examined to see the validity of their profession of faith.  Many soon wandered away after the excitment was gone.  It is not uncommon today to find SBC churches (and some Presbyterian churches too, to be fair) with rolls that far exceed attendence.  Low expectations of membership runs rampant today.  These are human problems, not Baptist problems.  But they find a welcome home in many Baptist churches because of this transition in both theology and practice.

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Iain Murray traces the development of Revivalism in Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism.  Three factors are most important in the development of revivalism as distinct from revival: the Kentucky revivals, Dr. Nathaniel Taylor and Charles Finney.

The story begins in Kentucky during the revivals during the Second Great Awakening (early 1800s).  There were physical phenomena in previous revivals, but in Kentucky they seemed to take on a life of their own.  Previously, wise pastors put the emphasis on the proclamation of truth.  Most of the revivals took place among Calvinists, so there was an emphasis on doctrine influencing practice.  In Kentucky, the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists would join together for camp meetings.  They would celebrate communion, and people would hear a number of sermons.  The camps grew so large, you could have multiple sermons being preached at the same time.  When physical manifestations popped up, some of the pastors began to encourage them rather than restrain them.

By and large the Methodists encouraged the physical manifestations.  The Presbyterians were split over them.  What ended up happening is that those who supported and encouraged these physical manifestations soon began to preach against Calvinism as anti-revival and unbiblical.  They were anti-doctrine in general, and loathed Reformed Theology in particular.  Francis Asbury was one of the leaders in this new attack on Calvinism here in America.  He was one of the people who began to institutionalize the camp meetings.  He thought certain practices produced certain results.  The physical manifestations became necessary elements of revival, which was a new development.  This is a sad development, in part, because American Presbyterians had often assisted the fledgling Methodists.  This was clearly a knife in the back.

At the new Yale Divinity School, Dr. Taylor began his assault on Calvinism.  He rejected the doctrine of depravity.  He began to popularize Grotius’ governmental theory of the atonement.

(more…)

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