The Full and Interesting Life of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin FranklinThe Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Franklin lived an amazing life, and wrote about it with wit and style in this autobiography. Born to a large Protestant family, he focuses on virtue in the first part of his book. Setting himself up as a printer, it's industry over idleness, arbitration over contention, temperance and frugality over indulgence and drink. He rejects Christian doctrine overtly while still believing in God, which leads him directly into moralism. With youthful zeal he sets the goal of becoming morally perfect, admitting he never reached it, but claiming he was better for the attempt. When he pursues humility the best he can do is the appearance of it, making him more persuasive in debates with others. This is very good advice, as it applies to rhetoric, but doesn't touch the heart of pride, which he sees everywhere including in himself.

He encouraged non-sectarian behavior, wanting to unite the public instead of let religious doctrine divide. He enjoyed George Whitefield's speaking ability but disagreed with his Christianity.

I was surprised at how little there was about the Revolutionary War in it. Franklin was in Paris for most of it, the American face appealing to the French for help. His rude reception in London after the Stamp Act was fun to read.

I learned a lot in his longer account of disputes between colonial assemblies, the Crown and Parliament over how to fund the French-Indian War. His satire about the King of Prussia claiming Britain for his own was delightful - his point being to refute the idea that the Stamp Act and other taxes were justified to pay for the war. His critique of Britain's many trade restrictions for the colonies was piercing. He noticed the incompetence of the British army in some respects during this war, which likely gave confidence that they could win in a confrontation.

When he came back to Philadelphia in 1776, just in time for the Constitutional
Convention, his account of London's posture toward the colonies was heavily relied upon in their deliberations.

Franklin seems to have started everything in Philadelphia: the library, the fire department, etc. He rejected slanderous journalism, refusing to print it. Later he moved in the highest circles of London and Paris society, with the like of Adam Smith and pretty French salon ladies.

On his return to America after serving as diplomat after the war, he served as governor of Pennsylvania for a few years, before retiring.

I'll end with a brief excerpt:

"As the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner [pushy, cocky, self-assurance they are right], that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure" (page 26).

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Surviving Un-Schooling

Surviving the Applewhites (Applewhites, #1)Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not very good.

A chaotic home-schooling family takes in a juvenile delinquent and reforms him by involving him in a big family project.

The premise is right up my alley, but there were a lot of drawbacks. Both parents are self-absorbed to the point of narcissism and neglect. The definition of education leaves a lot to be desired. The whole premise that if you just set kids free to be on their own they will learn best, is off-base.

On the bright side, it does help kids relate to:
1. Being an organized personality in a chaotic environment - frustrating!
2. A new family member to adjust to.
3. Finding your gift and contribution to make to the group.

The Sound of Music was a nice touch.

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Lincoln's Childhood, for Children

Abe Lincoln Grows UpAbe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lincoln has always intrigued me, and even more so since moving to the South and discovering people who still revile him.

Carl Sandburg wrote a classic biography in 1926, and this is something of a children's version of it, I gather. Sandburg's writing exquisitely captures the spirit of the nation during Lincoln's childhood years. This book covers Abe's life until he leaves his parents at 19 years of age.

Westward expansion was front and center, Lincoln's own father moving them several times from Kentucky to Indiana and Illinois. Indian hostility was intense. Johnny Appleseed and Mr Audubon make cameo appearances.

Besides this, I'll mention three formative events Sandburg highlights.
1. The death of his mother early, and arrival of his step-mother. This brought a higher standard of living and expectations on Abe. At the same time, his father looked down on "eddicatin."
2. Andrew Jackson's presidency showed him a backwoodsman could make it big.
3. Taking cargo on flatboats down the Mississippi to New Orleans showed him the wide world and the slave markets.

Sandburg subtly foreshadows Lincoln's later political life: the teenager practicing speeches, delighting in stories, and always reading and writing. Young Abe seemed to know the power of the spoken word, and he wanted to wield from a young age.

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Politics from the French Revolution

The Social ContractThe Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rousseau, a forerunner of the French Revolution, sets out to establish political authority somewhere – anywhere – other than royalty. He admits explicitly near the beginning that he rejects divine revelation as a guide. The only alternative is to set up something else as infallible and indestructible - in Rousseau's case: the "will of the people." Somehow, as you take larger groups of people into account at once, their individual selfish wills and desires will smooth and even out and a General Will that is best emerges. This is mere worship of man - of the collective state, really - put in political terms. The will of the people is sovereign.

A better and more biblical view sees only God’s Word as infallible and sovereign, and political authority as balanced between king, elders and people. None of the latter three are immune from sin. Each can abuse their rights, and do. But each has a role to play. Rousseau wants to level it all to the absolute will of the people.

Rousseau occasionally hits some wisdom
- his basic understanding of the need to distinguish a legislative and executive branch of government.
- a state needs to check the power of rulers assigned to carry out their will, that they not usurp power belonging to the people. This is true, but in his context used to destroy royalty undeserving of such punishment.

Rousseau is thoroughly misguided at most points. Here are some examples:
Page 140 – “The word ‘finance’ is the word of a slave…. In a genuinely free state, the citizens do everything with their own hands and nothing by means of money.”
Freedom and finance are not contradictory, much less freedom and currency.

Pg. 143 – “The moment a people adopts representatives it is no longer free.”
This idea is part of the great leveling. There must be absolutely nothing standing between the individual and the state. Ironically this is what makes it possible for the state to tyrannize the individual! Representatives preserve freedom and help discern the will of the people. Rousseau seems to think figuring out the people’s will is all that’s needed, but representatives also play an important role in evaluating that will.

In book IV, chapter 8, he limits the prohibitions of a state to one: “no intolerance.” This was an attack on religion, on the Church, it continues today, and he calls for banishment of all churches from his state since they are the prime example of intolerance. He wants a limit to rulers’ power, but the will of the people is to banish anyone who holds there is only one way to salvation.

As one of the first and best modern attempts at establishing government apart from the truth of Christianity, Rousseau gives it a valiant go. But it’s thoroughly contradictory and unconvincing to me.

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Jurassic Park

Jurassic ParkJurassic Park by Michael Crichton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Jurassic World came out, and one of my children got really interested in dinosaurs, I got interested in the original book of Jurassic Park and came across it at the library.

Crichton relies heavily on dramatic irony – the audience knowing what’s coming while the characters don’t. The story and pacing are well done.

The whole work is designed to extol chaos theory. Mankind cannot control nature. Life will find a way to break through any barriers or control we try to impose. This assertion flies in the face of God’s call to humanity to fill and subdue the earth, to tend nature.

On the other hand, there is a healthy rebuke of the pride and presumption of modern science, easily assuming it is right, can’t be wrong, and nothing could go wrong because WE are doing it. If we have figured out HOW to do a thing (cloning, for example) then we should do it, for the glory or the money or whatever, no matter the possible harm it could do. We don’t have the maturity to handle the knowledge we have so quickly attained.

Yet the book encourages the wonder of science and discovery in the characters of the children and the archaeologists.

A decent read for a plane ride, but there is plenty better stuff out there.

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The Church

Doctrine of the ChurchDoctrine of the Church by Edmund Clowney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid treatment of the church from a generation ago.

Clowney begins with an introduction surveying the contemporary church (in this case, of the 60s and 70s). Its pitfalls were to socialize, secularize and sacramentalize the church. He then considers the church as the people of God, the kingdom and body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Spirit.

Packing with theological gold and insight, Clowney critiques the ecumenical movement along the way, as failing to reject heresy for the absolute principle of unity. He incorporates the Old Testament revelation of Israel as the people of God seamlessly into an understanding of His precious, redeemed people.

I read this 60 page booklet for a sermon on the church and found it very helpful theologically. There isn't much application, which isn't a fault as it was written for a different audience. Church elders would especially profit from reading this.

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This is How We Know What Love Is...

The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga #4)The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The conclusion to the Wingfeather Saga deeply satisfies.
Each book in the series got better, as far as writing style goes.

The end event is really bittersweet, done very well. There are many echoes of Lord of the Rings, and the strongest note is your identity, your name. Remembering who you are, and who names you, is vital to your character. This is true for the good guys and the bad guys.

Brotherly love and loyalty comes to its climax.
Find the good in people you think are bad.

These are lessons to learn, but he really tells a good story throughout, too.

Highly recommended.

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Bradford's Account of Plymouth

Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 by William Bradford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Bradford was the governor of Plymouth Plantation almost every year from 1621 to 1657 when he died. He relates first hand our legends of Squanto, the first Thanksgiving, the Mayflower compact, etc.

Some much beloved words come from his pen:
The term Pilgrim coined:
"So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting pace near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits" (50).

Private Property established:
He also undoes the socialist set-up of the group's charter, going to private property instead. "... assigned to every family a parcel of land.... made all hands very industrious" (133).

But there were many surprises in the book for me, too.

1. The Arminian theological controversy broke out in the Netherlands while the Pilgrims sojourned there. A couple of them got involved, trying to refute Jacobus Arminius.

2. Bradford says the Indian women are much more modest than English women (pg. 99). I'm sure this evaluation is prejudiced by his greater familiarity with English culture, and the fear or natural shyness Indian women would have encountering white men. But still, an intriguing comment. Immodesty was a big problem in Elizabethan England.

3. As separatists, the group rejected the Church calendar, including the celebration of Christmas. The governor sent everyone out to work on Christmas, and when some less persuaded of the separatist view stayed home or played in the streets, he took away their tools and told them to stay inside.

4. Squanto seems to have gotten greedy, playing English off Indian groups, and vice versa, or at least that's what Bradford thought: "Squanto sought his own ends and played his own game, by putting the Indians in fear and drawing gifts from them to enrich himself, making them believe he could stir up war against whom he would, and make peace for whom he would..." (109).

5. Much of the book is taken up with the colony's financial troubles. Those funding them back in England expected gold and goods to flow back home and enrich them. When this didn't happen, some backed out and those that stayed were less than helpful in supplying the colony. One agent in particular just ripped the Pilgrims off badly. Clarifying accounts across the ocean was tedious and time-consuming. The Dutch and French both pressed in, claiming lands and trapping rights, etc.

6. The group had to deal with radical sects that came their way in later years from England. Roger Williams passed through. Groups that rejected the church altogether, "sowing the seeds of Familism and Anabaptistry, to the infection of some and danger of others; so that we are not willing to join with them in any league or confederacy at all" (353).

7. They also had to deal with gross sin. Not every one of them was a dyed-in-the-wool pious separatist. Many servants were at a dead end in England due to their poor moral character, and saw a chance to start over, or exploit new ground in America. Sodomy, rape and bestiality, besides adultery came up, and their adjudicating of these according to Scripture was fascinating, some being executed and others not, depending. (354ff).

8. They wanted a minister, but made do with Elder Brewster for several years. Steve Wilkins in his review of the book, in Veritas Press' Omnibus III, says this focus on the state to the detriment of the church set America on the path of looking to the state to fix our problems while giving much less respect to the church, comparatively. This may be overstated, but Wilkins is on to something. To their credit, they gave several a try, but they were either incompetent, poor preachers, too weak-willed for the hard country, or had crazy views (or just incompatible with the particular Pilgrims).

9. The Mather family (Increase, John, Cotton, etc.) lived nearby in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that would become Boston and Salem. There was a fair bit of correspondence back and forth between the governors and the Pilgrims sought theological advice on a few matters, besides working together against Indian threats. Yale College was being formed in the later years of Bradford's writing and governing.

The Pilgrims sought to establish a new world, flee persecution, find greater opportunity to provide for their families, and expand the knowledge and kingdom of Christ to new lands. We should laud their fortitude and faith, and learn all we can from their experience.

Have your high schoolers read this book!

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Romans 11

It seems God has rejected Israel, since they are rejecting Jesus.
But Elijah felt like that, too, when God had His remnant.
God is bringing Gentiles in, now, and they shouldn't be arrogant toward the Jews.  The root supports you, and you are in by faith alone, not by how much better you are than the Jews.
They are disobeying for a time, that God's mercy later may be shown.

How this is about Jesus
He is the vine, we are the branches.  The metaphor of the tree that Paul uses, where Jews are broken off the tree when they reject Jesus, fits John 15 exactly.
Jesus did come from the stump of Jesse, the root of Abraham and David.  The deliverer came from Zion.

We do well to study the history of the Jews (I recommend Paul Johnson's history).  Instead of disdaining and rejecting them as either legalistic Pharisees (Orthodox) or liberals, find the good.  "As a Driven Leaf" by Milton Steinberg is good.


Isaiah 56-58

Don't let foreigners stay away from Me - My house is for them, too.  Their hope is not cut off.
Israel's leaders are blind, without a voice to warn of danger, selfishly devouring the sheep by indulging in wine and hard liquor.

The righteous rest, but you idolators weary yourselves with your false worship.
You burn with lust (perverted SEX), slaughter your own children (ABORTION).
Can your idols save you like I can, when trouble comes?
I will restore and speak peace to My Israel, though she has been rebellious to this day.
Some will heed and rest, but others will have no peace in their continued wickedness.

Don't use your fast days to oppress the poor and serve yourself all the more.
If you help and feed the poor, and direct your desires to God instead of yourself on the Sabbath, then God will bless you.

How this is about Jesus
56 - He quotes verse 7 when Israel's leaders devour the sheep and degrade the Gentile worship area as an animal and money exchange.
58 - He speaks against oppression of the poor, and sincerity of worship.

Self-serving leadership is a recurring problem in the church.
The West's idolatry is obvious in our sexual perversions and abortion holocaust.
Our selfishness is evident in doing what we want on the Sabbath (Lord's Day), instead of spending it with the Lord and His people.


Romans 10

I desire my fellow Jews to be saved, and they have zeal, but not according to the truth of Jesus the Messiah.  You can get righteousness by either obeying the law (no one can) or by faith in Christ.
How will anyone believe without being told?  They have heard (Psalm 19:4) but have not yet understood.

How this is about Jesus
The law's purpose is to show righteousness and lead us to Jesus who kept it for us.
Verses 9-10 are an early and basic Christian creed.  Jesus is Lord.  God raised Him from the dead.

Believe and confess this, with your heart and lips and life!
Be zealous to bring the truth to your fellow countrymen.  They've heard in a way already (even if they've never heard of Jesus), but they need to hear it again, perhaps more directly.

Isaiah 53-55

God's servant had no physical attraction to draw men to His power, but was despised, rejected, considered afflicted by God.  His piercing was for our sins; His wounds for our healing.
He will justify many through His work, have much plunder, and be satisfied.

The barren woman will have tons of children and need a bigger house.
This means God's people, on whom He will have compassion and restore to righteousness, peace and blessing, along with their children.

Come to the Lord for free filling!  Forsake your sins.
God will rain joy and peace and song on you.

How this is about Jesus
Chapter 53 is a high point in the whole Old Testament as far as speaking of Jesus.  The Ethiopian eunuch was reading this chapter by God's providence when Phillip drew near him (Acts 8).
I enjoy meditating on Christ with 53:11 - that He is satisfied now with His work.

Don't be discouraged by Christian missionaries beheaded - they are following Jesus in the spirit of Isaiah 53.
Rest in God's promises to enlarge His family and rain righteousness and provision on you, for free.


Romans 9

I am in anguish for my fellow Jews who have such outward blessing in their covenant with God, but have not come to faith in Christ.
But God's plan hasn't failed - He always chose only some from Israel for salvation, rejecting others.
Who is saved is up to God, not us.
We might object that God shouldn't blame us, then.  But we are all His creatures - if He wants to punish some of us to show His justice, and save others to show His mercy, He can do that without blame.
Many in Israel sought God's favor, but on their own efforts without faith and got nowhere.  The newcomer Gentiles with simple faith have surpassed them.

How this is about Jesus
He says Himself that we cannot come to God unless the Father draws us.
He was the younger brother chosen in Israel over His elders, to their anger, resentment and rejection.

We need to thank God for His mercy - that our salvation isn't up to our efforts or we'd never attain it.
Avoid blaming God for His election and salvation plan, as if we can spot holes or injustice in His plan.  We are the creation, not the Creator!

Isaiah 50-52

God's Servant comes and sustains the weary with words, gives His beard to be plucked.  But He sets Himself to His task, and God helps Him.  Meanwhile Israel contends against God in the dark, trying to make their own light.

O Israel, look to Abraham and Sarah, how God gave them great promises when they were small.
God will save you now, too, with comfort, joy, gladness and singing as you return home.

Jerusalem will be pure.  You will leave Assyria as you left Egypt.  Leave its impurity!
My servant will be lifted up but mangled, and sprinkle nations that way.

How this is about Jesus
50 - His beard was plucked; He set His face to go to Jerusalem.
52 - He is the servant lifted up and mangled on the cross.

Look forward to your full ransom and return home.
51 - Look back to promises God has kept to His past people, for encouragement now.
52 - The Gospel of God's reign and our return is beautiful.

Isaiah 51:11
"And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."


Franklin's Pride Admitted


"There is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as Pride.  Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, andn will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility."

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - page 144.

I'm only a third through this book, but Franklin has a moment of insight into himself here.
His method of self-improvement is shot through with pride and presumption...