One of my favorite authors is Daniel Pink. He’s written about how right-brainers will rule the future, the surprising truth about what motivates us, and how to move and motivate others. His latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, just came out and I just read it. Like the others I’ve read, it is immediately practical and well worth your time.

The book has three main parts. The first covers the importance of timing in the rhythm of our days (as in actual days, morning, afternoon, evening). The second examines larger aspects of timing such as beginnings and endings, as well as the in-between (and the pitfalls it might have in store). The final part wraps up by showing the importance of group timing and our overall thinking when it comes to time.

Each of these parts has at least two chapters, with the middle part having three, and in between each chapter is a “time hacker’s handbook.” Pink has done this in previous books, but it is a nice touch. The chapters themselves present his research and lay out the main concepts. Then, these in between sections offer practical steps for applying the principles into everyday life.

For instance, the first chapter, “The Hidden Pattern of Everyday Life,” explains why you’re probably not productive during the afternoon hours. Pink explains the concept of “chronotype,” and helps you figure out what you are. There are “larks” (morning people), owls (night people), and what he calls “third birds” (what most people actually are). The short version for figuring out what you are is to ask when do you wake up on free days? (usually weekends). If it’s the same as work days, you’re probably a lark (that’s me). If it’s a little bit later, you’re a third bird. If it’s more than 90 minutes later, you’re an owl.

Further on in the chapter, Pink explains that most of us experience the day in three stages: a peak, a trough, and a rebound. For larks and third birds, the day unfolds in that order, which is why afternoons are disastrous for certain productivity tasks. Owls however experience the day almost in reverse: recovery, through, then peak. This explains why my 12th Grade Bible class is mostly zombies when we meet at 8:20 am, but the 9th Grade class is bouncing off the walls 2:20 pm (well, it’s not the only explanation).

Then, in the time hacker’s handbook for this chapter, Pink helps readers figure out their daily “when.” For people like me, analytical tasks are best done in the early morning, while insight tasks work better in the late afternoon or early evening. Decisions are best made earlier rather than later, lest I want to fall prey to some of the lapses of afternoon judgment that Pink chronicles so well in the introduction and first chapter.

The second chapter goes into more detail about how for many of us, the afternoon is a sort of Bermuda triangle of the day. The time hacker handbook offers tips for the perfect nap (hint: drink coffee right before, and then set your phone alarm for 25 minutes from when you close your eyes), as well as the best practices for breaks in general throughout the work day.

I found the rest of the book similarly helpful, and resonate with Pink’s closing line: “I used to believe that timing was everything. Now I believe that everything is timing” (218). While maybe overstated, this book makes a clear and concise case that when we do things is equally important as what, why, and how. It also represents the best kind of book. That is, it is well written and marries the theoretical to the practical. In my typical genre of reading, I wish there were more books like this. One day, there might be. But in the meantime, I’d highly recommend reading this book and taking the insights to heart.

Over the weekend, I spent some time reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. By “spent some time,” I mean I read the whole book. I first heard of Coates when his essay “The Case for Reparations” was published at The Atlantic. This was back in June of 2014 or so. Later, I got around to reading his book, Between the World and Me, which was very illuminating.

I say that in the sense of gaining perspective on a worldview that not only isn’t my own, but couldn’t possibly be my own. I grew up in the middle class suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee, where I and all my friends were white. Coates grew up in Baltimore, Maryland where I would imagine, he and all his friends were black. I’m a Christian. Coates is an atheist. I’m registered as a Republican (but don’t always vote that way) and a conservative one at that. Coates is a Democrat, and a liberal one at that.

In his first book, you are able to get a sense of what it’s like to see the world through his eyes. In this newest book, you have a kind of memoir of his life and thinking during the Obama presidency. All of the chapters were previously published at The Atlantic, and represent Coates’ selection of an article from each year of the Obama presidency that are his personal favorites. Each essay has an introduction that gives context for what he was thinking and experiencing around the time of writing. Since the article are previously published, you can actually read them all online (though if you’re like me, you might prefer an actual book in hand):

The book concludes with an epilogue, which is his more recent essay, “The First White President,” which came out about the same time as the book did. It rounds out the collection nicely and like the introductions to each chapter, gives perspective on the book as a whole.

First off, if you’re a white Republican, you should probably read this book. You will mostly likely come away from it like I did, less than convinced of some of the arguments. But, your perspective will be better enriched for having to grapple with Coates’ research and writing. I was encouraged to read more on some the topics he engages, and it changed my perspective on aspects of the Obama presidency. Were time travel to the past theoretically possible, I probably still wouldn’t vote for Obama. But, I would have villainized him less.

Second, I was struck by how Coates atheism comes to the fore in his introductions and how it informs his thinking. As an example, here is the opening paragraph of his “Notes from the Fifth Year”:

There was a time when I believed in an arc of cosmic justice, that good acts were rewarded and bad deeds were punished, if not in my lifetime, then in the by-and-by. I acquired this belief in cosmic justice at the vague point in childhood when I began to cultivate, however rudely, a sense of right and wrong. Tragedy is an unnatural fit on me. My affinity angles toward bedtime stories, fairy tales, and preposterous romance. I would like to believe in God. I simply can’t. The reasons are physical. When I was nine, some kid beat me up for amusement, and when I came home crying to my father, his answer—Fight that boy or fight me—was godless, because it told me that there was no justice in the world, save the justice we dish out with our own hands. When I was twelve, six boys jumped off the number 28 bus headed to Mondawmin Mall, threw me to the ground, and stomped on my head. But what struck me most that afternoon was not those boys but the godless, heathen adults walking by. Down there on the ground, my head literally being kicked in, I understood: No one, not my father, not the cops, and certainly not anyone’s God, was coming to save. The world was brutal—and to eschew that brutality, to indulge all your boyish softness was to advertise yourself as prey. The message was clear, even if I has trouble accepting it: Might really did make right, and he who swung first swung best, and if swinging was not enough, you stabbed, you shot, you did anything to make this whole heathen world understand that you were not the one (109-110).

Further on, he concludes,

Ideas like cosmic justice, collective hope, and national redemption had no meaning for me. The truth was in the everything that came after atheism, after the amorality of the universe is taken not as a problem but as a given. It was then that I was freed from considering my own morality away from the cosmic and the abstract. Life was short, and death undefeated. So I loved hard, since I would not love for long. So I loved directly and fixed myself to solid things—my wife, my child, my family, health, work, friends (110-111).

To me, the American tragedy is that public life, discourse, and experience has only confirmed for Coates that atheism is the correct path. In the absence of a truly evangelical political philosophy (one that is shaped for the public good by the truth of the gospel), this is the option that seems most viable to Coates. And, to be fair, if there isn’t such a thing as evangelical political philosophy possible, Nietzsche will have to do. By that I mean that if the central truth of Christianity isn’t true, and doesn’t have bearing on public life, then Nietzsche’s will to power is the way to go (and that is what Coates is articulating at the end of the first excerpt I quoted).

In essence then, I think Coates’ book is worth reading, not only because he is a great writer, but because he needs well thought out engagement from Christians who can think theologically and politically at the same time. People like Russell Moore for instance. But also people like you and me, who are willing to enter into his perspective for a weekend of reading. People, like me, who are very white, but want to see the world through different ethnic eyes in order to understand and empathize more fully with the damage that slavery and racism (as administered by people of my color) was wrought.

Given the political climate at the moment, and what a day like today represents, I’d add a book like this to your reading list. You’ll get the most mileage out of it if you read his other book first, and read this one in light of that one. The American tragedy that is the legacy of racism doesn’t have to be the final word. But, it likely will unless people committed to seeing the truth of the gospel invade all areas of society don’t speak up.

2018 is in full swing it seems. We’re one week down, and this is usually when the rubber meets the road on resolutions. If you’ve never read through Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, now’s a good time to do so. But, I’m not going to be talking about them, or that I’m reading The Religious Affections and got the whole set of his collected works for a steal at Logos a few months back (but do look for a review of this book soon).

Well over a month ago, I wrote about how far behind I was on posting reviews. I’d like to say that’s changed since then, but the holidays came and went and now here we are. At least you know the best books I read in 2017, and that I have numerous piles of unread books.

You also might remember I mentioned a TheoFit challenge back at the beginning of December. That didn’t go particularly well. However, I’ve lost 6 pounds since January 1st, so I’d say the current 12-week cut is going well.

I mention these together because I realized the failure related to both was connected. It’ll take me a minute to tie it all together to bear with me…

In essence, I look at accumulating extra weight and having books that I’ve read but not commented on as the same. They are both types of either over consumption, or consumption without proper exercise. When it comes to dieting, it’s not that I haven’t been exercising for the past few years, it’s that I’ve just been eating too much. Likewise, the reason I haven’t been posting reviews isn’t because I haven’t been reading. I’ve just been over consuming.

Moving forward, I decided that I need better sustainable healthy habits. This in terms of both eating and exercise, and the mental version of those, reading and writing. I wouldn’t say this is a New Year’s resolution, although I am fond of those (read this from last year, and this from an earlier year).

I like the opportunity to reflect and refresh each year around Christmas and New Years. As a teacher, there is a natural break that occurs around this time. And as someone living in a state different than where I grew up, I usually have a road trip on my horizon sometime in November/December to sort out thoughts and hit the reset button on life.

My recent trip up to Knoxville to see my parents did just that. Ali wasn’t able to go because of work conflicts, so I had 10 hours in my car twice and the better part of the week in a new/old environment. I spent a good bit of the mornings at the Starbucks I used to work at, tying up end of the year loose ends and thinking ahead.

It proved helpful to evaluate goals and routines and think about how I could tweak the current one and establish a better rhythm. I’ve been thinking as well in terms of a “rule of life” ever since I read Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder. I’ll unpack that in a different post, but the short version is that a rule of life is kind of a manifesto for how you’re going to divide up the time you’ve been given. Because of that it has concentric circles that cover hourly, daily, weekly, and annual rhythms. I’m still working out the details on that, but here’s I’ve at least gotten the outer framework together.

Which brings us back to TheoFit. I realized that I didn’t need a diet per se, but a new rhythm of life when it came to eating and exercising. The best way to get in lean muscular shape is to alternate between a cut and a bulk every 12 weeks. That’s to say 12 weeks you’re aiming for a 20% calorie deficit, and then the next 12 weeks you’re in a 10% calorie surplus.

I realized that this rhythm would work well if I framed it in terms of months rather than weeks and started the cut January 1st. So, for January, February, and March I’m a cutting phase. This means consuming less, and so I thought I’d import that mentality into other areas. This would mean practicing frugality in terms of spending, and focusing on writing more than reading. I’m also thinking of it in terms of working harder and longer hours on projects like support raising, as well as house projects that have been overlooked.

The next three months, April, May, and June, would be a bulk and so I could focus on consuming more and relaxing a bit more than a single Sabbath. This works out well since it encompasses Ali’s birthday month, as well as the end of the school year when life is rather hectic on its own and maintaining a cut is more difficult.

Then, in July, I’d switch back to a cut, which will helpfully overlap with the beginning of the school, which means after a bit of a break in June, I’d be re-focused and leaning (get it?) into a new school year. Finally, the year would end with a bulk, which is helpful since the last three months include Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This also works well if we think of cutting and bulking in terms of pouring out and being filled. I tend to think of social activities, especially as related to ministry, in this way. So, in this scheme I’m “pouring out” on the front end of semesters, which is when students have more time on their hands anyway. It’s also when it’s more important to establish and build relationships. During the beginnings of breaks, I’ll naturally be back on a “being filled” time, which will help me recharge in order to be more available by the start of the next semester. In the midst of that, I’ll be able to be present for graduations and holidays, but it’ll be in a season of renewal.

In terms of practicality then, this all means that up until Easter, I’m eating less and moving more. I’m reading less and catching up on reviews and other article ideas. And I’m meeting up with students and trying to be more intentionally social. We’ll see how it all goes, but I’m excited to work into this rhythm and see how God works in the process.

As I sit and write, this is generally my view. I could of course look out the window to my right, which I often do in anticipation of the mail coming. That’s usually because the mail brings books, which at this point overflow their shelves. Thankfully, those books are most often provided by gracious publishers.

In one sense, this helps build my library. But, in another sense it more often than not contributes to my anti-library. This is a phrase I came across in an article on Inc the other day. Several people shared it, and so maybe you’ve already read Jessica Stillman explain why you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever have time to read.

It’s always gratifying to read an article urging you to do something you’ve been doing for over a decade. For a variety of reasons, I’ve built quite the antilibrary. To be clear, these are books you have that you haven’t read. At the end of the day, it should be a

powerful reminder of your limitations – the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

Bookshelves should in a certain sense be monuments of your ignorance. I pointed to them and called them that once during a Bible study. When people come over for the first time they will often ask if I’ve read “all those books.” The short is of course no, and I probably never will. I’ve read a good bit of them, but just for realism sake, in the picture above, there are just over 100 books that I haven’t read. And that’s one of 6 bookshelves I have (not all that big). And that’t not counting the thousands of books in my Logos library that I’ll never touch.

This all reminds of an illustration I learned in seminary and why second and third year seminary students are often the worst. I should probably start by defending that statement. In general, a first year seminary student knows in some sense that they don’t know much. But ah, after that first year, they realize how much more they know than their peers back home or in small group at church.

That is when the danger starts because it often leads to “cage stage,” where they are out to correct any and every person who they think is “off track” or “heretical.” This tends to last through the third year, and in some cases into the fourth. Mine was corrected sometime during the third year and it was because I became more focused on what I didn’t know and less focused on using what I did know as a weapon.

A big part of that, I think, is having unread books around me. One of my professors explained this phenomenon by drawing a small circle on the board and then a very large circle. He said hypothetically speaking, the small circle represents how much you know, and the large circle represents how much I know. What does the edge represent?

The edge of course represents the boundary between your knowledge and ignorance. The more you know, the larger that boundary is. As you grow in knowledge you should also grow in recognition of the edge, which is where your ignorance starts. In other words, a thirst to read and learn more can actually lead to intellectual humility if you’re constantly reminded of how much you don’t know. And what better way to remind yourself than to constantly see books you don’t have time to read?

I have found this generally speaking to be true in my own life. I graduated seminary knowing that I knew a lot, but also being painfully aware of all that I didn’t know and had yet to learn. In Stephen Covey speak, what I didn’t know I didn’t know had shrunk considerably.

Along those lines, this is also a round about case for why pastors should go to seminary and not just be self-learners. It obviously won’t always avoid this issue, but I’ve found that seminary trained pastors both know more and are more aware of what they don’t know. Pastors with marginal training so they could plant a church faster, or with shortcut training usually end up landing in a place where they don’t know what they don’t know and it proves dangerous to their congregations and staff. That can and will probably be another post entirely.

At the end of the day, you obviously shouldn’t waste money stockpiling books you’ll never read. But, if you do find yourself with too many books and not enough time, it sounds like you’re probably in good company, if you think of it in the right sort of way. That is to say, the sooner you can admit ignorance, the quicker you can truly begin to learn.

From time to time, I like to read a book or two. Earlier in the year, I tracked my progress by posting monthly updates. Those fell by the wayside, but if you’re interested (and even if you aren’t), they can be found here:

The reason the posting went by the wayside is that I stopped trying to complete the challenge and reverted to a longstanding habit of just reading what I want. Or, in many cases, reading what I think will be useful for ministry to millennials in a post-Christian culture. If you keep up with our ministry to students at UCF, you’ll have read in our last newsletter how this paid off toward the end of the semester.

Seeing as how it is December though, and people are posting “Best Books of 2017” lists and whatnot, I decided I’d follow suit. I’m more or less on track to complete my Goodreads challenge of reading 175 books. That is actually less than last year (188), but more than in previous years. I’m currently at my 2015 total (you can see my stats here).

Because I’m also a bit behind on reviews, this is going to be more or less a table of contents for posts over the next several weeks. Rather than try to crank out a 1500 word post with something substantial on each book, I’ll actually try to post a reviews and articles on why I liked and found these books valuable. Although you can see them in the picture, here’s a bullet list:

  • The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
  • None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
  • The Spirituality of Wine by Gisela Kreglinger
  • American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales
  • Summa Philosophica by Peter Kreeft
  • Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge
  • Chuck Klosterman X by Chuck Klosterman
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • Movies are Prayers by Josh Larsen
  • The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson
  • The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest by John Walton & J. Harvey Walton
  • When Your Twenties are Darker Than You Expected by Paul Maxwell
  • Political Visions and Illusions by David Koyzis
  • Was the Reformation a Mistake by Matthew Levering
  • Recapturing the Wonder by Mike Cosper
  • Beauty, Order, and Mystery edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand
  • Free of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller
  • The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing by Jonathan Pennington
  • God Is and Faith. Hope. Love by Mark Jones
  • One by One by Gina Dalfonzo
  • The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse
  • 12 Ways you Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Bear in mind these are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily the best books that came out this year. Some of these are a few years old, and a few are even older. Because of how reading is and should work, many of your “best books I read this year” will be books that didn’t come out in 2017. Yet, because I make some many requests for reviews, most of the books that come across my desk are newer.

I usually compensate for that over the summer break by reading older and/or non-theological works. There were several threads like this over the year that I should mention. First, I read several books related to beer and thoroughly enjoyed several of them. Standouts are:

Second, I finished working my way through David Brooks’ books and really enjoyed The Social Animal, Bobos in Paradise, and On Paradise Drive. The first is the standout in the list and is an intriguing fictional narrative approach to explaining neuroscience. The second is a critique of some millennial tendencies before I think they were associated with millennials as a generational category. The last is an historical look at American surburbia expansion.

Third, I read several books related to physics and geology:

In conjunction with this, I read several books on matters related to the earlier chapters of Genesis. Somewhere down the road, I’ll have to tell you all about it. The short version is that dinosaurs are real, but I’m pretty sure they were killed by a comet millions of years ago and I’m trying to figure out how that interfaces with a semi-traditional reading of Genesis. Should be fun right?

It might be a tad too late to post about this, but better late than never.

Tomorrow, December 1st, my friend Paul Maxwell is starting a 31 Day Fitness Challenge for his TheoFit website. The challenge has 3 components to it:

  • 20% calorie deficit in your diet
  • 4-5 days a week of resistance training (he gives three options here)
  • Eat 1 gram of protein per lean pound of body weight

I’m already pretty on board with the last 2 elements. But I kind of just eat and drink what I want, and so have packed on the pounds over the years. If you’re in a similar boat, this could be a good way to jump start those New Year’s Resolutions (which I’ll have more to say about soon).

Since this is last minute, if you’re gonna jump start the challenge, you’ll really just need to get the diet pieces sorted out tomorrow and over the weekend. You can start the workout routine later next week.

I’m fond of using this calculator to figure out what a calorie deficit looks like. In my case, I weigh 235, am 6’2, and have about 20% body fat. I’m in the moderate exercise category, but I’m going to level up by adding more cardio over the next 31 days. When I plug those numbers into the calculator, here’s what I get:

  • Maintenance calories: 3400ish
  • Cutting calories (25% deficit): 2500ish
  • Protein goal: 190 g per day

A pound of fat is roughly 3500 calories, so if I maintain the deficit over the course of the 31 days, I should expect to lost around 8 lbs. If I move more and eat less, I’ll lose more. But, if I just stick to the stated deficit, I’ll be lucky to drop 10 lbs. Ultimately, I’d like to lose a little more than 20, so I might maintain the cut for a couple of months. But, at the very least, I’m going to do it in December, and if this is something you’re interested in, you should join me!

If you become a TheoFit member, you’ll be able to join the Facebook group for support and Q/A. I’ll be in there posting, and I’ll also be on the podcast later in December.

Between now and then, I’ll explain what I do for workouts, and what I’ve found is necessary for my lifestyle and blood type in order to lose weight. Obviously knowing what to do is only part of the problem. The other part is motivation and execution, and thankfully, that’s what Paul is trying to help people out with. If you’ve known what to do but just find you can’t bring yourself to do it, maybe the TheoFit community is what you need. At this point, can’t hurt to give it a try, and now’s a good time to leverage motivation to make some habit changes!

Sometimes a blog post like this is a shot in the dark. But, it is Giving Tuesday after all, and as we all know, it can’t hurt to ask! At the very least, it’ll be a good primer to get you up to speed on what we’re up to in college ministry.

To not bury the lede (yes, that’s how you spell it), Ali and I have slowly but surely been raising monthly support in order to devote more time and energy to the calling for student ministry we feel God has placed on our lives. We don’t anticipate being entirely financially dependent on support, but would like to find a balance that involves not both working multiple jobs in order to make our budget work (I explain that a bit more here).

At present, our average in monthly support was just under $1500 for the fall semester. We would like to gradually double that over the course of the spring semester to be closer to $3000. At the very least, we’d like to be able have doubled it by the start of next school year. The hope is that by then we can mostly focus on doing student ministry and not juggling it with the vague anxiety that we should be spending spare time trying to raise monthly donations.

If you feel this would be a worthy cause to donate to, you can give to the non-profit ministry we work under in one of two ways:

1. You can send a check to:

SHIFT Ministries

12472 Lake Underhill Rd. #428

Orlando, FL 32828

Address the check to SHIFT Ministries and In the FOR section, write Account 102 (do not address it to me)

2. You can visit this link and give online.

Select an amount (e.g. $50, $100)

On the drop down menu, select my name (102 – Nate Claiborne)

Enter your card info (or at the very bottom, select “Bank Account”)

Select whether to cover card fees (it’s 3% we don’t get otherwise)

Select whether to setup automated giving and whether to give weekly, every other week, or monthly

By doing this, you are enabling us to do more with the on-campus ministry at UCF that we stepped into leading at the beginning of this past semester.

To give a little background, this is all related to our role as associates with SHIFT Ministries. The college portion is known as SHIFT at UCF. SHIFT is a registered student organization that meets once a week during the semester, and typically does various outreach activities. This is including but not limited to tabling at the student union during the week in order to engage Christian and skeptic students alike.

Earlier in the summer, I explained a bit of our philosophy of ministry and some of what we hope to accomplish in our work with college students at one of the largest universities in America. I explain what our target is here.

In addition, we see our role with SHIFT extending in both directions generationally. This is because we would like to add some initiatives with the high school students as an outreach of SHIFT, as well as some work with the young professionals at our church. We want to reach our generation as well as the next as a means to reaching our city, which is one of the more post-Christian ones in the nation (#25 in this list for instance).

For a brief history of how we got here, you read my earlier posts here and here, as well as our initial support letter. In the other direction, you can read our most recent life update here.

We have been grateful for all the support we have received to date and wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are without it. We are realizing in retrospect that we underestimated how much of a transition we were taking on this past year. Ali went from one crazy job to two part times that are less so (and even together are still probably less than half what Panera was). I added a long term project at an existing job and reactivated an older job that had gone dormant. To add to this, we also changed churches and tried to get plugged in. Oh, and I got sick at the beginning of the semester right before it looked like a hurricane was going to wipe us off the map.

Things have calmed down, just in time for the holidays. Hopefully we can use the time over the break to plan out the spring semester and began expanding some of our on-campus initiatives. To keep up with that, you’ll need to subscribe to our newsletter. I post about it on here from time to time, but you’ll get more info through that channel.

I appreciate your consideration of supporting us and would also welcome your prayer that God continues to provide for us in the coming weeks and months!

As Thanksgiving break approached, I had made mental plans to start the update process. After several years post-seminary of aggressive book reviewing, I needed a break. But, over time, the break became the new normal, while the reading habits stayed pretty much the same.

In all likelihood, I won’t completely catch up on reviewing books I received and read for review. However, you’ve got to start somewhere, so here we are.

Initially, I had planned to start up around the time of ETS national conference (week before Thanksgiving). But then I realized that most of the people who cared would be there and not really paying attention to blogs. Last week I had hoped to do a complete inventory of what needed to reviewed and/or read and then reviewed. However, the virus that had been lurking the last week of class decided to fully activate on Monday. Thankfully, my immune system came through in the clutch and after stumbling through two days of low grade fever (99-100ish), I finally sweated the virus out the night before Thanksgiving. Just in time for a food coma.

Post food coma I remembered that I was on break and so decided to just embrace it. Which brings us to today, when break is officially over.

With all this interim build up, I thought it might be helpful to at least start the review process later this week and review the top 17 or so books that I’m due to write about. Think of it as a kind of “what to buy that book lover for Christmas” list.

I am hoping that I can break out of what has been a kind of extended writers block. Some of it was no doubt due to over-thinking how to approach the book reviewing task in a way that is still relevant. At the end of the day, I realized I should just keep doing what I was doing because I received a fair amount of positive feedback about it, and it worked pretty well when I was doing it before. I’m not particularly worried about SEO or leveraging the blog for monetary gain. I just want to read well and write well about what I’ve read. There’s books out there you should know about, and as long as publishers are willing to send them to me, I’m willing to tell you about them.

So, in that vein, I’ll need to come up with a list of books to start with. Hopefully, I can put that together tomorrow or Wednesday and then start producing the goods later this week. And hopefully narrowing the pile down doesn’t itself become a Herculean task. So far I’ve read 150 books this year so you never know. If by chance there are books you know I’ve read that you want to make the initial list, be sure and say so!

Last week we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Also, some of us sort of celebrated Halloween on the same night. I dressed up as an Astros fan and that proved providential the following evening.

Anyway, as with most parties, there is a sort of after party that could go on for who knows how long. The lead up to the 500th anniversary lasted several years, so I can only imagine that the post-party goes on for at least a couple more. It will certainly linger into next week when ETS meets and everyone theologically nerds out for a few days before Thanksgiving break.

In light of that, I thought it would be a good time to catch up on book reviews. And this is especially so as they pertain to the Reformation. The obvious place to start is with a volume that Crossway sent me and I finally managed to finish over the weekend. Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary is hefty (just under 800 pages) and features quite the list of contributors. There are 20 to be exact, and 21 if you count the lengthy prologue by Michael Horton.

Matthew Barrett is both editor and contributes the introduction as well as a later chapter on the bondage and liberation of the will. If you’re keeping score at home, that means he’s the editor of several Reformation related works in the past couple of years (The Five Solas Series). Not to mention his work as co-author on John Owen and The Christian Life. Makes you wonder how many college football games he manages to watch each weekend and how far along he is in Destiny 2.

After the introduction, the rest of the chapters proceed, get this, systematically. That’s not entirely true though. The first two chapters after the introduction involve Gerald Bray telling us about medieval context and Carl Trueman and a Ph.D student/TA of his giving us the rundown on the Reformers and their different reformations.

From there, it actually does proceed systematically starting with Scripture, and then moving to doctrine of God and through the rest of the doctrinal topics just like a systematic theology would. Since it is a work of Reformation theology, the authors primarily focus on the theology of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and few other heavy hitters from that era. Each chapter ends with a short bibliography of primary and secondary resources so that interested readers can dig a little deeper.

One thing I was struck by while reading (although I did not cry out to St. Anne) is that this book almost had to be a team effort. Because of the level of detail in each of the essays on their particular doctrinal and historical context, it is hard to imagine any one scholar could have pulled it off. This is exactly what you want in a book like this. While it could have easily been a bunch of chapters that Barrett probably could have written himself on the weekends, it is instead a group of scholars brought together to flex their expertise muscles.

Because of that, I think the book fills a bit of a gap in available resources. If I wanted a snapshot of Reformation teaching on sanctification for instance, I could grab Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology. But, the section on that in there isn’t going to into much detail. If I really want to get a solid overview, but not quite a book length treatment, I probably can’t do much better than Mike Allen’s chapter in this volume (and then if I want more, I could read his new book, or see if he can grab Chipotle later this month).

In other words, this is a book that stands before you, justified by the works put into it. It doesn’t seem to have just been thrown together to take advantage of the Reformation party. Instead, it is a useful resource and entry point for anyone who wants to dig into the theology of the Reformation. The chapters are well organized and the bibliographies can take you further up and further in if that’s what you want. I’m glad I was able to read through this in the lead-up to the 500th anniversary, and I’m sure I’ll consult it more in the future as the need arises.

This time last year, we left the church we had been attending since moving to Florida. It was something we had considered the previous fall, and loosely the fall before that. We had actively tried to sever ties the summer before that. If you’re keeping score, that means our relationship with that local church had been uneasy since 2013.

This time ten years ago, I packed up most all of my belongings and moved to Dallas. I had just finished my undergrad and was about to start working on a Th.M at Dallas Seminary. In a sense, my complicated relationship with the local church started then. This was both because I would for the first time be able to actively find my own church home, and also because I would leave Texas with some fairly well developed ideas about what a healthy church looks like.

I would come find out later that Mark Dever had similar ideas and I hadn’t really done anything to reinvent the wheel. This was of course a relief, but didn’t help the situation we found ourselves in from 2013-2016. It also didn’t help that while we were in Dallas (I became a we in 2009), we were covenant members of The Village Church, a little Baptist church in Flower Mound that set the bar pretty high for wherever came next.

Ironically, it was because we went to The Village that we were both destined to end up at the church we did and also to have an ultimately negative experience there. Maybe “destined” is too strong of a word, but there was a certainly a trajectory set.

The Village of course wasn’t a perfect church, because that church doesn’t exist. But it was a church that sought to make the manifold wisdom of God evident through the way they did church (see Ephesians 3-4). It was also part of the Acts 29 network, which led us to search for a church in that network when we moved to Florida. At the time there was only one with a weird hybrid sort of multi-site thing going on. At the advice of the connections pastor at the main campus, we ended up at the campus closest to the University of Central Florida.

This was mid 2011. If you’re familiar with evangelical timelines, this is before the fall of Mark Driscoll and Tullian Tchividjian. One of those pastors directly mentored our church and pastor, and the other moved here while he was still on his downward trajectory. Both of them exerted a significant influence on the tone and theology of the sermons we sat under for several years. And this was in ways overt and covert.

In retrospect, this time period in American evangelicalism was weird. I suppose it is still weird, but I think it was the decline of the pastor as personality. Obviously there are still churches where this is the case, but with Driscoll and Tchividjian having been disgraced and trying to be re-graced, we find ourselves in uncertain ecclesial waters.

And in that light, I wanted to pick back up my adventures in ecclesiology series, but try to tie in some reflections of seminary ten years later. Not entirely sure what this will look like, but I need some processing space, and time has elapsed enough to start doing that I think. It might be messy, but so is church life. I will do my best to offer some level of anonymity.

I’ve intentionally not mentioned the name of the church or any staff so far. If you know the situation, then you know names and such. If you don’t, you don’t need to. I’ll try to be sensitive, but I’m also telling my story and my experience. My interpretation can be disputed, but I’ll try to stick to narrative details that are open to verification. And hopefully, along the way I can add some wisdom to both the seminary discussion and thinking through life in the local church.

But, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to try and be consistent about putting thought to pixel.