I recently read Benjamin Merkle’s The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great (not the Ben Merkle at Southeastern Seminary). I have commented often here on the value of history reading for pastors (as well as others), and this book has much value in this realm as well. Alfred was an amazing man who accomplished much.
The first six chapters of the book primarily tell of the struggle of Alfred and his predecessors against the Viking invasions. There are compelling battle stories and reminders of the blessing of peace. Also the description of the “shield wall” formation used in battle provides a powerful picture of church unity.
The great strength of the book in my opinion, though, is chapter seven which describes Alfred’s effort to rejuvenate his country. They had resisted the foreign invader, but he realized they needed more to ensure domestic health. He believed the Vikings were only a symptom of the greater problem of his people’s turn away from Christianity and the resultant loss of learning and character. Here are a few quotes:
“The English church had grown complacent, indolent, and lethargic. Numbed by their prosperity, their love of learning grew cold, and their interest in Christian study died off altogether. . . . By neglecting the study of the great works of Christendom, the Bible in particular, the Anglo-Saxon people had lost not only the ability to read but more important, the ability to understand the wisdom of God. England, through her intellectual lethargy, was slowly devolving into a pagan nation, a people who neither knew nor served the Christian God.” (179)
“If Christian virtue were to return to England, then the Anglo-Saxons would need to return to Christian learning. With an eye toward restoring this learned piety to the people, Alfred orchestrated a tremendous revival of literacy, a revival that culminated in the greatest literary renaissance ever experienced in Anglo-Saxon Britain.” (184)
“Alfred truly was the great king of England, the one monarch who rightly understood the needs of the nation and unrelentingly gave all he had to supply those needs.
England, and the many nations descended from her, still have Alfred to thank for a substantial portion of the heritage and freedoms that they enjoy today. The title ‘Alfred the Great,’ so strangely offensive to the modern ear, was well deserved by the Anglo-Saxon warrior-king.” (233)
There is much to glean from Alfred on the work of restoring a culture, of the value of learning, and the renewal of the church.