Recommended Reading – Rodney Stark’s “God’s Battalion: The Case for the Crusades”

If you want to read a judicious and scholarly work on the Crusades that is an able defense of the just war theory in response to Muslim conquest, Rodney Starks “God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.” Stark is a scholar at Baylor University who is not afraid to go against group think. I have read the book a couple of times and find it thorough. He exhibits a Christian horror of war and is careful to identify overreach and unjustifiable bloodshed on the part of those who fought in the name of the Christ. I recommend Stark’s works in general.

The Crusades, the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials are essentially cliches in today’s flattening out of the achievements of the West and of the Church in particular. In a world of much cruelty and horror the aberrations of the church barely show on the radar screen of history. They are real blips and warnings to all Christians who default to war as a response to persecution and oppression. They are a continued warning to a Church that forgets Christ’s kingdom is not from the this world. But in context Christianity escapes in large measure the pointing finger of those who in a multi-culturalists manner cannot allow Christianity its true accomplishments.

The recent uptake in pacifism among Evangelicals often rather ignorantly relies on these episodes to proof their points. See Brian Zahnd’s A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace. Zahnd does not credit Christianity with the natural instinct toward peace that resides within its DNA, not so much doctrinally, which it obviously has, but in actual history.

My Favorite JI Packer Book

My favorite book of JI Packer’s is one I do not hear a lot about, Keep in Step with the Spirit. It is a significant contribution to understanding sanctification and the many nutty ideas that get us sidetracked. He is generous with the “deeper life” movements ensconced in the Pentecostal and Keswick traditions, but he does take them to task for views that just do not stand up to the Bible’s teaching and human experience. I grew up with the Higher Life movement and always felt uncomfortable with Watchman Nee and the teachings on sanctification flowing out of Columbia Bible College (and the English Keswick movement) that flowed into our church. They seemed to be, and are, the search for altered states of consciousness, as in talking myself into something that will reduce the pain of spiritual combat and relieve me of the duty of choice. This may work short term but the mental gymnastics it requires cannot be kept up. Requires too much smoke and mirrors.

The Puritan model of sanctification is my own and the one in which Packer has confidence. Sanctification is not an act of God but a work of God that requires my cooperation in making moral choices of my own free will. Some Pentecostal and Wesleyan traditions make sanctification an act, a one step act of God bringing the Christian to the higher life through a faith step by the believer. In other words, as we were saved through faith in justification so we are saved through faith in sanctification. I don’t see it taught in the Bible nor validated in experience. What it does do is bring a mental and spiritual malaise upon Christians as they search for the one key that will unlock the door to victory. Packer deals with this powerfully and puts it to bed.