Jan 20

MagnessHolyLandHoly Land Revealed, taught by Jodi Magness, Teaching Company video ★★
In anticipation of a return to the Holy Land, I purchased this video. I was quite apprehensive, as the Teaching Company has a tendency for any series under the category of “religion” to be taught by liberal professors. Jodi was not only hyper-liberal, but also did not offer what the title suggests would be the topic. It would have been better titled as Holy Land archaeology or Holy Land history rather than Holy Land revealed. I assumed that she would delve into the Holy Land itself, discussing the geography, cities, archaeological digs, etc., but ordered in a historical fashion. Instead, the main video was not of the land itself, but of her in the classroom teaching. She was placed on a large square rug that, like a good obedient puppy, she never leaves save for one time, where she got her right foot about ⅔ the way over the edge of the carpet. I wondered if the Teaching Company had a hidden cattle prod that shocked her back onto the rug at that point.
Magness offers the richness of an archaeologist that has frequently dug in Israel. She spends an entire talk on her dig that revealed the toilet habits of the Qumram community (?), and much related to the Roman Masada ramp, which actually was quite interesting. Much of her talk oriented more around history than the land itself, which did not seem to be the topic suggested by the title of this lecture series.
Magness shows herself as a typical liberal, in that she easily holds extra-biblical materials, such as the writings of Josephus, as more credible than Scripture itself. She seems to delight whenever archaeology might suggest something contrary to Scripture, such as the dating of Herod’s slaughter of the children, or timing of the fall of Jericho. Sadly, she is unwilling to explore the controversy in these areas, but presents things as cut and dried. She is a perfect example of claiming that her scientific quest is “open-minded” and yet is hell-bent on proving a hypothesis, let all of the evidence be damned. Scripture over time has proven itself irrefutably infallible, about the only thing that one can safely hang their hat on, regardless of the storms and assaults of man. Archaeological evidence is highly subjective, the theories for interpretation of the data are constantly changing, and the evidence is often contradictory, leading to strange and obtuse theories to explain away the contradictions.
I learned some history in this presentation. I also learned a few interesting facts about the “land” itself. It wasn’t a totally worthless series, though it did not offer what the title and lecture subjects suggested that it would cover.
 
 

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Nov 22

Jerram Barrs

Jerram Barrs


FSchaefferEarlier FSchaefferLaterJerram Barrs on Francis Schaeffer; Part 1: the Early Years, Part 2: The Later Years ★★★★★
I’ve heard Jerram Barrs speak in the past, and thought that he was a touch boring. Thus, it was with mild trepidation that I approached this lengthy set of 23 and 25 lectures, all of approximately 45 minutes in length. This lecture series was anything but boring, one of the most gripping and fascinating lecture series that I’ve listened to in a long time. Barrs has the wonderful ability to providing an intimate discussion into the person of Francis Schaeffer, having worked with him and in the English L’Abri for many years. Barrs also offers personal life lessons that he learned from Francis Schaeffer, that makes the entire lecture series much more than a dry history of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. I’ve never met Francis Schaeffer, though I have spent time with Edith, having invited her to speak in Tacoma at a Crisis Pregnancy Center Spring Banquet. She was a real inspiration to be able to take around and provide for her care. I understand that Edith passed away a few months ago, making the Francis & Edith Schaeffer legacy now truly historical.
Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer


The first part of this series, The Early Years, is mostly historical, talking about Schaeffer’s early life, and becoming a Christian as a teenager. It speaks of his going to college against his parent’s wishes, and eventually to seminary, first at Westminster Seminary, and later at Faith Seminary when the Orthodox and Bible Presbyterian church split. Indeed, the greatest crisis in Schaeffer’s life occurred over observing the splits that occurred in the Presbyterian church, and Barrs spends much time reflecting on how this shaped the ultimate thinking and philosophy of Francis Schaeffer. The first part ends with a discussion of the structure of L’Abri.
The second part delves much more into the thinking of Francis Schaeffer, with a lot of discussion devoted to Schaeffer resolving issues as to why Christians tend to behave so badly towards each other, as well as why Christians are no longer able to communicate with the world around them. The encouragement is not to escape the culture but to engage the culture, by understanding where the culture is coming from. Culture is best learnt, according to Schaeffer, by looking at the arts, including painting, music, theater, and literature.
The only fault that I could find in this series is that the history of the later years of Schaeffer are poorly developed. Little is mentioned about Schaeffer and his development of an international presence, of his children (Frank is barely even mentioned), of his dealings with the presbyterian church in America, of his diagnosis of cancer, move to Rochester, MN, and eventual death. Barrs spends two lectures and occasional snippets in other lectures mentioning criticisms of Schaeffer, but these were the more superficial criticisms, such as those who attacked him for being a Reconstructionist while others attacked him for being a dispensationalist, neither of which is even remotely true, and obvious to anybody that has read Schaeffer. I would have appreciated more discussion of his thinking regarding presuppositional vs. evidential apologetics, which Schaeffer still receives charges about, or his stance on co-belligerency.
Schaeffer’s thinking is eminently personal, and always causes self-reflection. Jerram Barrs does a particularly exemplary job of bringing Schaeffer’s life and teaching home to an intimate and personal level. The lecture series will not leave one smugly self-satisfied. The series is not only informative but personally convicting, and Jerram Barrs does the series in a manner that approaches Schaeffer as a model of living true to his convictions, but always speaking the truth in love, something that each of us should emulate.

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Oct 31

DavidCalhounAncient and Medieval Church History  (35 lectures)★★★★ and Reformation and Modern Church History (37 lectures) ★★★★★, by Dr. David Calhoun
These lectures were downloaded off of the Covenant Seminary website, and can be obtained for free. The series is excellent, and taught by one of the giants of church history, David Calhoun. Ancient and Medieval church history was excellent, but a bit too brief. The Reformation and Modern church history lectures also could have been much longer, yet were delightfully informative, even for someone quite aware of history of the church. David is a masterful lecturer, and holds one’s attention without difficulty. He does take some interesting viewpoints, such as coming down a bit soft on Kierkegaard and Karl Barth. This is in spite him admitting that he felt that Francis Schaeffer (who was one of his teachers at L’Abri) was one of the greatest theologians of all time. Dr. Calhoun is known as the historian of Princeton Seminary, having written the definitive history of that institution. His insights on American Christianity are fascinating and instructive. He will take you through the most interesting vignettes of church history, including recommending fishing books. For being free, there is no reason to not download and listen to Dr. Calhoun lectures—you will be ably instructed by a true master theologian, historian, and teacher.
 

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Oct 29

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Lecture Series on Calvin’s Institutes, by David Calhoun, given at Covenant Seminary ★★★
I will soon be reviewing a very lengthy lecture series by Dr. Calhoun on church history, and will be giving him 5 stars for that series. Indeed, Dr. Calhoun is one of the premier church historians of the later part of the twentieth century. The church history series displays his absolute brilliance, both with his knowledge of the history of Reformed thinking, but also displayed in his several volume set on the history of Princeton Seminary. I believe Dr. Calhoun has since passed away, and in both this and the history lecture series, Dr. Calhoun speaks of suffering from cancer, and undergoing chemotherapy. The series on Calvin’s Institutes followed his church history series. In the church history series he is very lively and dynamic in his speech. In this series, it sounds like he is worn out and lifeless. When I started the series, it almost sounded like Dr. Calhoun was bored with the topic. Then, I realized that Dr. Calhoun was not his old self because of his illness. Since I hold Dr. Calhoun as one of the giants of church history, along with Dr. Schaff, I would have never given him only three stars for this series, except that the lecture series was also terribly recorded, and there were sections that I simply could not follow what Dr. Calhoun was saying. The lectures are all almost 1.5 hours long, and there are 24 of them, so it is quite lengthy to work through this series. Calhoun gives all too brief of a summary of the breadth and depth of the Institutes, essentially working from from to back cover of the final version of the Institutes. For Reformed (Christian) thinkers, the Institutes are a must-read some time in one’s life. Thus, it will be the next systematic theology that I attack. At Calhoun’s recommendation, I will be reading the McNeill translation. This lecture series is a wonderful supplement to reading through the Institutes.

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May 16

rosettaSToneFrom the Rosetta Stone to the US Tax Code: The History of Taxation. A Seminar with Charles Adams ★★★★★
This is a series of 10 lectures in 14 hours that Charles Adams delivered for the von Mises Institute. Charles Adams was a young lawyer when he inadvertently became involved in his undesired rise to fame as a tax lawyer. Adams eventually wrote a book on tax law which had difficulty being published but eventually caught the eye of certain people high in politics, leading him to further fame. He is strongly libertarian, though he is unwilling to claim that it is rational to expect eliminating taxes altogether. Adams successfully shows how much of the events that shaped the world, such as major wars and revolutions, and even things such as the Rosetta Stone, revolved around the issue of taxes. He is the first to persuade me that the Civil War probably had more to do with uneven distribution of taxes than issues of slavery or state rights. There are many gems throughout. An example is his emphasis that a graduated income tax is a misnomer, which should be called an income extortion, since all graduated “taxes” are in reality extortions. He was also able to show how graduated taxes were a major source for political instability, the cause of social class instability, and ultimately the instability of the state. Adams lectures in a  casual style, very relaxed, telling many anecdotes about his own personal history with rogue internal revenue agents, mostly in terms of fighting for his clients. The lectures are slightly disorganized, and they don’t fit neatly with the titles that they were labeled with.
A few people who will have read to here will still think that the state is your friend and looking after your best interest. Perhaps so, but definitely not the United States. He shows how US tax laws have some unique differences from any other tax law in the world. He rightfully identifies the IRS as worse than the Gestapo, since the IRS has certainly way outdone the Gestapo on spying on US citizens, knowing their every move and every dollar spent. Yet, they are also able to persuade the masses that they are an impartial and benign entity. Recent IRS news shows us just the opposite. I didn’t realize it that every country in the world taxes people as residents and not as citizens: what this implies that US citizens are the ONLY people in the world are supposed to be taxed even though they no longer live in the United States. Adams ends by showing how 8 simple laws can help bring sense back to taxation. The laws aren’t what you think they’d be. The first is to end government spying on American citizen’s cash flow. He strongly recommends an emphasis on indirect taxes, with direct taxes being apportioned evenly throughout the population (e.g., a flat-rate income tax, everybody pays, and all pay the exact same percent) as has been stated so clearly in the US constitution.
This lecture series can be obtained for cheap from the von Mises Institute website, and highly worth it. Dennis, if you wish to make comments that should not be seen in the public domain, I’ll be happy to make this post private with a password.
 

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Apr 10

MandarinIPimsleur Mandarin Chinese 1 ★★★★
I have found need to learn Mandarin, since I may be going to China for several months to teach at a medical school. There are many methods and courses out there for learning Mandarin, and in the end opted for this course. The Pimsleur method has many strengths to it, in that it focuses on teaching language like a child may learn a language. It offers the need to continually respond and recall words and phrases learned in the past. It allows one to learn a language while driving a car, or doing other activities. It also overcomes the greatest problem with learning an oriental language, in that it doesn’t waste time doing the most difficult activity, which is learning the writing system. Mandarin is a fundamentally an easy language to learn, in that there is importance to word order, but otherwise, the grammar is very simple. There are no verb tenses, no noun forms, no articles, no genders to learn. There is the problem of many words sounding very similar to western ears, and tonal qualities of the word can completely change the meaning of the word.
I am not giving the Pimsleur series 5 stars for a number of reasons. Even for all of its strengths over such language programs such as Rosetta Stone, it still doesn’t achieve the excellence of  French in Action. There are reasons for this…
1. It ignores the value of the written word. This is problematic because a) I often think in terms of words and sentences, and visualize what I am trying to say by visualizing in my mind the written word. The Pimsleur technique assumes that this sort of thinking doesn’t occur, yet it does as a child learns to read and write. b) The vocabulary of a auditory language problem is going to be limited, and the ability to interact with other language learning means, such as dictionaries (in Pinyin) and other resources becomes impossible unless one ventures outside of Pimsleur and learns Pinyin or written Chinese characters.
2. It doesn’t do well at developing the didactic part of learning a language. It is true that all aspects of a language can be learned by intense use, such as a child would learn a language. But, it is also true that adults can learn a language faster by grasping the rules of the language ahead of time.
3. Because of the absence of written text to accompany the teaching, it is hard to review what one had learned. It is true that review of words and phrases are constantly being mixed in with learning new words, but it is difficult to predict when a review will occur. At minimum, Pimsleur should have a summary review about every 10-15 units, but it doesn’t.
In spite of these shortcomings, I will continue to use Pimsleur all the way through the third section, but will supplement Pimsleur with other Mandarin language texts.
 
 

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Apr 10

AndrewWilsonMasters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, taught by Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★★
The Art of War, Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★
These are two series on war strategy taught by Andrew Wilson. The first series provides a chronological account of the most influential thinkers on war strategy, including Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Machiavelli, Napoleon, Jomini, Mahan, Corbett, and others. Wilson first defines what he means by strategy, and compares that to the often confused  tactics. He allows one to see how thinking about war, including when to conduct a war, the expected outcomes of the war and what one expects to accomplish by war, when it is best to not engage in war, how to pick your enemies, how to play your friends, etc. all have evolved, and involve the greater spectrum of what we view as war strategy.
The Art of War is a more thorough summary of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This additional six lectures to the above 24 lectures, including 2 on Sun Tzu, include little in addition of great value except to the most curious.
 

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Mar 03

SeanCarrollMysteries of Modern Physics: Time; Teaching Company Series, by Dr. Sean Carroll ★★★
I’ve been doing much reading on the issue of time, mostly focused on the aspect of God existing outside of both space and time. The title of this series suggested that physics might provide help in this regard. In reading debates on God and time I noted that the more conservative philosophers came under criticism for not understanding the new modern scientific thinking regarding time. Perhaps I was missing something, so this series seemed to be relevant in my quest for understanding. It wasn’t.
Dr. Carroll was a reasonably good lecturer and was easy to follow. The pace of the lectures was quite slow. Ultimately, the focus on the real issue (the physics of time) was continually side-skirted. In the first portion of the course, Carroll discusses the physics of entropy and its reversible nature. Even though I knew that entropy was time-directional, the extent of this discussion seemed irrelevant to grasping why entropy was uni-directional. Carroll then spent a section talking about the psychology of time, our perception of time. All relevant, but it doesn’t explain time itself. Finally, Carroll delved into the latest big-bang theory of the development of the universe, and other thoughts on contemporary physics. In order to work, the big-bang theory must arbitrarily assign a small entropy to the beginning of the universe. You wonder how many more rabbits were pulled out of the hat to create the big-bang according to modern physics? The ultimate rabbit trick is the multiverse theory, where the universe separates into two different universes with every action. Carroll is correct to identify the multiverse theory as the “ultimate free-lunch”, in that it is unproveable, and offered as a slight of hand in order to defend the physicist’s fundamental philosophy of life rather than trying to describe nature. Indeed, discussions on the latest and greatest in physics suggested that physicists were smoking some fairly strong weed, and reading too many fantasy books. Einstein’s theories were of no help either, because though one could slow down time in your personal perspective, you always returned to time-on-earth as it otherwise would have been. Einstein doesn’t explain speeding up time by slowing down… how could one slow down not relative to any other point in the universe? Such “slowing down” motion would always be perceived from the observer at point zero as accelerating, yes?
This lecture series was a bit too long for what Dr. Carroll attempted to do, which was to explain time. Although he gave a lovely discourse on physics, time remained the same. Time remains unexplained and unexplainable, and we are caught (created) inescapably in time, to know nothing other than a universe (or heaven) that has a history and the clock ever clicking. For us, there will never be a physics where time is not a part of the equation.
 

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Feb 02

BriwaThe Everyday Gourmet: Making Healthy Food Taste Great, by Bill Briwa and Connie Gutterson of the Culinary Institute of America, The Teaching Company ★★★★★
Perhaps you noticed that we already reviewed a Teaching Company Video series with Bill Briwa. That series was 24 lectures long, whereas this one is only six lectures long. Bill is an awesome instructor, and with the help of the Culinary Insitute nutritionist fills us in as to how a gourmet chef actually manages to cook gourmet food at home while keeping it completely healthy. The series was enjoyable to watch, and Betsy found the series most inspiring. Briwa spends much time in discussing how different grains can be incorporated into the diet, and how to plan left-overs (planned-overs) for cooking successive meals. Thus, a grain like barley can be cooked and then incorporated into various different schemes. Though a few of his productions did not look terribly appealing, for the most part, the meals appeared to be most savory, and not the bland horrid taste that someone would expect from something really healthy. The series also comes with a hard-bound cookbook to make it easy to begin various healthy menus immediately.
 

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Jan 24



The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking, by Bill Briwa (DVD, The Teaching Company) ★★★★★
The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts, by Steven Durfee (DVD, The Teaching Company) ★★★★★
These are two separate series offered by the Teaching Company, but because of their similarity, I’ll be reviewing them together. Briwa also did a short series on healthy cooking, which will be briefly reviewed later. Both chefs are prize-winning in their fields, and both teach at the Culinary Institute of America. Both series comes with accompanying hard-bound texts with the exact recipes for what is being cooked. Both are very well done, with clear teaching and superb examples of various dishes discussed. Watching these DVDs makes you want to get into the kitchen and attempt some of the recipes, realizing that a few of them can be a little bit tricky. They’ll have to be tried out on ourselves before we invite guests and then serve them something that flops. The only reason I would have liked to have given each of the series a few less stars is that they were way too short. I hope that Briwa and Durfee would be able to produce a lengthier version of this set that is more comprehensive of the styles of cooking and types of dishes that could be made in a normal home. There was great entertainment in watching these videos, but hopefully you dear reader won’t be tortured by our first experiments in gourmet cooking.

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