December 31, 2014

Top five best books I read in 2014

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

In no particular order, here are the best five books that I read in 2014.  These are the ones that taught me the most or that were key in my intellectual development.  All these books are highly recommended.  (Last year’s list is here.)

1. Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen

This volume is central to anyone who seeks to understand the Covenant Theology of the Particular Baptists.  The Covenant Theology of the authors of the 1689 London Baptist Confession has been under-appreciated and much neglected.  The nature of the covenants has a huge impact on how one understands other theological doctrines like ecclesiology, eschatology, the nature of the law, Baptism, etc.  It is no side matter. Putting the two Covenants –Old and New– together is a difficult task and yet at the same time, it simply cannot be ignored.  This book is one of the most important works for Reformed Baptists to go through in their quest to understand Covenant Theology.  Edited by James Renihan, it is the compilation of two works by Particular Baptist Nehemiah Coxe and Congregationalist John Owen.  From Coxe, we get the full text of his “A Discourse of the Covenants” and from Owen, we get his exegesis of Hebrews 8:6-13.

2. The Rise and Decline of the State by Martin van Creveld

What is the State? Where did it come from? Has it always existed? Van Creveld answers these questions and many more in his important volume on the history of the State.  One false assumption that exists throughout the Western world is that the State has always been with humanity.  But by careful analysis and precise definitions, van Creveld shows how the role of governance has existed in different forms and through different social structures from ancient tribes to Ancient empires to the city-states.  He discusses the historical role of religion in the rise of the State and how the State as it is known today, not necessarily in one form (such as monarchy and democracy), had its origin in the 14th century, but did not attain its actual triumph over previous social structures until the 17th century.  He discusses the state “as an instrument” of government (which relies on a distinction between government and state), which progresses to the state “as ideal,” which then expands and spreads worldwide.  He also marks the late 20th century as the beginning of the end of the historical nation state and how globalism is swiftly leading the model of government into a new territory.

3. From the Finger of God by Philip S. Ross

This book, subtitled “The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law,” was very important for my developing doctrinal issue with the rise of “theonomy.”  It is by misunderstanding the historic and confessional doctrine of the threefold division of the law that the theonomists have been able to state time and again that we must choose between the Judicial Laws of the Mosaic Covenant or reject the Biblical grounding for a political philosophy.  But by clearly differentiating between the Natural/Moral Law, which exists independent of temporal Covenant contexts, and the positive laws of Israel, which are only applicable for the certain Mosaic Covenant context, we realize that it is a hermeneutical mistake to bring the Judicial Laws to our present context as binding on all nations.  There is a unique place that the Moral Law has in the Doctrine of God’s Law and the Bible makes the Moral Law distinct by describing it as coming “from the finger of God” as opposed the Judicial Law, which, while inspired by God, was written down by Moses.  This distinction between moral and civil needs to be understood in dealing with the claims of the theonomists.

4. Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism by Jorg Guido Hulsmann

I am a big fan of the care and precision exercised by Hulsmann in every single one of his works.  He is a Misesian to the core and in this huge biographical volume, one can really get a sense of the high regard in which he holds the 20th century’s greatest economist Ludwig von Mises.  This tome is a masterpiece.  Not only does Hulsmann describe the life and context of Mises as a man, but he also considers the political and economic situation into which Mises was born and educated.  The pre World War II situation of Europe is discussed in detail, for one must understand what was happening culturally, which was reflected in the educational institutions.  Mises was born into a context of increasing epistemological skepticism and a rising trend toward socialism.  Mises was immersed in this propaganda and it was expected of him that he toe the intellectual line.  Mises, however, became one of the most powerful voices for individual liberty in his day and overcame remarkable obstacles to present his ideas to the world. Escaping Europe during the Nazi Regime, Mises, a Jew, made it to the United States and there, late in his life, contributed some of the most important works in economic history.  One not only sees the development of his stunning logic and critiques of all enemies of freedom, but we also get a glimpse into the person and character of Mises.  He was dedicated to freedom, anguished about the downfall of his beloved Austrian homeland, and a thinker for the ages.  A powerful tale of the economist that brought the Austrian School of Economics, almost single handedly, to the United States to be carried forward by his student F.A. Hayek and his brilliant and dedicated disciple Murray N. Rothbard.  Without him, there may not have been a Ron Paul movement and rise of Austrian economic thinking at a popular level.

5. The Great Deformation by David Stockman

David Stockman is probably my favorite economic commentator.  In this book, Stockman presents a revisionist history of recent economic occurrences in the United States.  Stockman completely obliterates the Keynesian consensus regarding the Great Panic of 2008 and takes the Power Elite to task for their lies, deceit, and monetary coup d’etat.  The alarmism that arose during the stock market crash is explained prolifically and polemically here by Stockman as he rejects the view repeated everywhere throughout the media about the nature of the crash and the “necessity” of a financial bailout.  It is a big deal for someone of Stockman’s profile to dissent so sharply from the Official Narrative.  Dismissing the so-called “free-market” Monetarists led by the late Milton Friedman as basically Keynesian, Stockman heaps criticism on the monetary socialism of the Reagan years and effectively destroys their own claims that they were the party of limited government and financial conservatism.  After dealing once and for all with the myths of the bailout years, Stockman turns his attention to economic history since the New Deal and slaughters a plethora of sacred cows.  There is no “party of good” vs. “party of bad” paradigm in Washington in the 20th century.  The Keynesian economists and their political counter-parts exist throughout the political establishment and both “parties” are to blame precisely because both parties represent the Federal Government and its war on capitalism and freedom.  They are not enemies of each other, even though they play such on TV.  In any case, history does not reflect well on their track record and we live in an era of bubble finance and central bank induced credit booms and inevitably subsequent busts.  For all the alleged ignorance on the source of bubbles and economic collapses, the monetary establishment continues to do exactly the same thing, year after year, and weeds away at any remaining trace of capitalism that may exist in this Keynesian world of monetary suicide.  As I work in the financial industry, I read David Stockman’s blog on a daily basis here.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com