Black on the Air: Truth Unexpected


Over at Christ and Pop Culture, you can read my article on Larry Wilmore’s Black on the Air. After listening to a few episodes this summer, I knew I wanted to write something on the podcast. There’s actually several that I’d like to do something similar for, but this was the place to start.

Initially, I wanted to take the article in a more political direction. Wilmore clearly doesn’t like Trump, but he’s able to make light of it. Probably helps that he’s a comedian. Beyond that, his political commentary is mostly irenic toward those he disagrees with. Unless you really like Trump, and then you’d probably feel like Wilmore secretly works for CNN or something.

I also thought about commenting on Wilmore’s takes on race relations. However, I don’t feel particularly qualified to jump into that other than to say, if you are, how we say, “white,” you might want to get Wilmore’s perspective on some things.

As for the actual article I wrote, it focused mainly on two episodes from the podcast. In both, Wilmore ends up having theological discussions with Charlamagne tha God and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I won’t recount that here, but here’s some of my conclusion:

While I can’t vouch for all of Wilmore’s theology, I enjoyed his willingness to engage Tyson and not be afraid to ask hard questions. Because he seems to be operating from a place of faith, he wasn’t shaken when Tyson brought up the problem of evil. In an unexpected place, he provided a good model of apologetic dialogue, even if one disagrees with the content of what he was defending. Wilmore certainly didn’t argue with Tyson, but he didn’t let him escape some level of critique and thoughtful interaction. They both seemed to enjoy their conversation, and I’m looking forward to the next time he’s on as a guest.

If you’re curious about what the apologetic dialogue was like, read the rest of the article. And better yet, check out the episodes I alluded to. As a warning though, the podcasts contain language that isn’t safe for the little ears. That’s probably a different article entirely, but I should at least let you know that the F-word isn’t a stranger in the discussion. I don’t think the conversation itself took any inappropriate or crude directions from what I remember. But, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, you might not enjoy the podcasts as much as I do.

The Well-Educated Mind: Science

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most people couldn’t tell a very coherent version of the story of western science. Sure, certain names (Aristotle, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein) could be pieced together. But in terms of the flow of thought and discovery, I don’t think most of us are there.

A couple of solutions are available. One is to get Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory. Or, you could read her section on science in The Well-Educated Mind. There is much overlap between the two, including recommended books. The former is obviously more in-depth, so pick your path wisely.

This is the one section of the book is that is entirely new to the updated edition. It does round out things nicely, and helps to fill the lacuna in most people’s reading diet (is that mixing metaphors?).

As with other genres (novels, memoirs, histories, dramas, poetry), Bauer gives a 20 minute history of science writing (402-434):

  • The Natural Philosophers
  • The Observers
  • The Historians
  • The Physicists
  • The Synthesists
  • The Popularizers

She then helps readers learn to read science books following the three stages:

Grammar-Stage Reading (435-439)

  • Read a synopsis
  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Define the audience and its relationship to the author
  • Keep a list of terms and definitions
  • Mark anything that confuses you and keep reading

Logic-Stage Reading (439-442)

  • Go back to your marked sections and figure out what they mean
  • Define the field of inquiry
  • What sort of evidence does the writer cite?
  • Identify the places in which the work is inductive, and the areas where it is deductive
  • Flag anything that sounds like a statement of conclusion

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (442-443)

  • What metaphors, analogies, stories, and other literary techniques appear, and why are they there?
  • Are there broader conclusions?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated poem and poets list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

A Cartography of Christian Publishing

When I was in school geography was one of my favorite subjects. I actually went to the state geography bee when I was in middle school because the spelling bee was too mainstream.

I like to know the lay of the land and often that involves reading maps. Or, taking aerial photographs when the opportunity presents itself. Because you’re curious, that is the mouth of Tampa Bay when viewed from above and the thin line across it is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Anyway, you may be (rightly) wondering what this has to do with the title of the post. Well, I’ve been thinking for a while that it might be helpful to do a little cartography when it comes to Christian publishers and authors. I’ll tie this into the semi-abandoned series on book reviewing by explaining how to connect with the various publishers if that’s what your’e into. But, mainly I’ll focus on differentiating the publishers out there and giving you some authors to know.

If I were to imagine a table of contents it might look like this:

  • Publishers
    • Baker/Baker Academic
    • B&H/B&H Academic
    • Brazos
    • Crossway
    • Eerdmans
    • Fortress Press
    • IVP/IVP Academic
    • Moody
    • P&R Publishers
    • Wipf & Stock
    • Zondervan/Zondervan Academic
  • Book Series
    • NSBT
    • NET
    • SIET
    • Counterpoints
    • Spectrum
    • PTMS
    • TCL
  • Authors
    • Vern Poythress
    • John Frame
    • Oliver Crisp
    • J. I. Packer
    • Matthew Levering
    • Michael Bird
    • John Walton
    • Cornelius Van Til

Now, that’s just a start as far as authors. And, if I’m being honest, it is a list mostly related to books I need to review. But, pro-tip, this is part of making reviews more interesting than book reports. I’m sure I’ll add authors as well. And, if you’re not clear on what the abbreviations in the book series list stand for, that’s perfect because then I can explain it.

I’ll probably get the ball rolling on this series some time next month. I’m open to suggestions to be added to any of the above lists. At the end of the day, I want to provide a general overview of publishers, authors, and series to keep an eye out for if you’re serious about biblical and theological reading. Hopefully, I can do better at that than I did at the state geography bee.

All Cell Detox: Thoughts on Being Tech-Wise

I joked earlier on Instagram that I had been taking this supplement and now I can’t find my phone. The truth is, I’ve been doing some summer reading that’s reshaping how I think about technology in general, and phones in particular.

It all started back in April when I did a brief review of Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. In my conclusion, I said,

My main takeaway from reading the book is that it starts a conversation we should all be having. I know that my life has changed radically since I purchased my first iPhone in 2009. Whether for advances in productivity (thanks to apps like Things and Evernote) or the pull of imminent distraction (thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter being accessible at all times), my daily life is no longer the same. Rather than treating technological advances as givens, we ought to think about the good as well as the potential bad they bring.

You can read the whole thing here, and I think still get a free copy if you join Christ & Pop Culture.

Around this same time, I also read Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family. My biggest take-away from that book is that I own my iPhone, not the other way around. It should go to bed before I do, and I should rise and shine before it does. I’ve slowly adapted toward this, but I still need to get an actual alarm clock for it to work.

Since then, I’ve been reading various books on technology, productivity, and social media. I mentioned this already, but after reading Deep Work, I deleted social media (minus Instagram) from my phone. I’ve actually since deleted my mail app (Inbox and the native Apple one).

Because I’m still sitting at the computer more than usual this summer, I still have access to the social media sites, and still probably check them more than I should. But, when I’m away from the computer, I’m more or less away from the computer.

And you know what?

Life actually goes on. Nothing has happened that made me reconsider the decision, and my thoughts have been clearing up so much I’m not particularly tempted to go back.

When I’m at the gym in the morning, I tend to catch up on blogs I read and even outline article ideas instead of scrolling aimlessly through Twitter and Facebook. It ends up being a great time to sort out my thoughts at the beginning of each day. It’s also before I’ve checked e-mail or anything, and shortly after I’ve gotten up. If you’re looking for a way to start the day with clarity, I’d highly recommend it.

In the midst of this, I’ve been thinking through how social media and technology use relates to ministry and teaching. There are a couple of resources I’d recommend on the subject, but I’m going to save them for our newsletter. In our next update, I’m going to how this summer reading is hopefully going to change what student ministry looks like in the fall.

If you’d like to read more about that, use the form below to sign up for the newsletter. In it, I’ll be sharing insights from my reading that I won’t cross-post here. I also go into detail about future plans for the college ministry as well as our prayer requests and needs.

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The Well-Educated Mind: Poetry

One of the little known facts of a good seminary education is that you learn to read poetry. It is one of the predominant genres of literature in the Bible, although often in books no one reads (e.g. most of the prophets).

While there are some rather obvious differences between Hebrew and English poetry, some of the principles of reading the former transfer to the latter. And, I would add that it can work in the reverse as well.

In that light, what Susan Wise Bauer offers in The Well-Educated Mind may help you read the Bible better. This is actually one of the longer chapters in the book, and begins with some insights on the way language is used in poetry before proceeding like the others with a history of the genre. After covering, novelsautobiographies,  histories, and dramas, this is the second to last chapter (and last in the original edition).

Bauer divides the history this way (324-343):

  • The Age of Epics
  • The First Lyrics
  • Roman Odes
  • Medieval Poetics
  • Renaissance Voices
  • Romanticism
  • American “Romanticism”
  • Modernism
  • Alienation

She then offers the questions you need to ask when making sense of poetry.

Grammar-Stage Reading (343-347)

  • Read 10-30 pages of poetry
  • Read the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Read the preface
  • Finish reading

Logic-Stage Reading (347-351)

  • Look back at the poem; identify its basic narrative strategy
  • Identify the poem’s basic form:
    • Ballad
    • Elegy
    • Epic
    • Haiku
    • Ode
    • Sonnet
    • Villanelle
  • Exam the poem’s syntax
  • Try to identify the poem’s meter (or meters)
  • Examine the lines and stanzas
  • Examine the rhyme pattern
  • Examine diction and vocabulary
  • Look for monologue or dialogue

Rhetoric-Stage Reading

  • Is there a moment of choice or of change in the poem?
  • Is there cause and effect?
  • What is the tension between the physical and the psychological, the earthly and the spiritual, the mind and the body?
  • What is the poem’s subject?
  • Where is the self?
  • Do you feel sympathy?
  • How does the poet relate to those who came before?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated poem and poets list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

Bauer then lists a few more “must read” poets that are writing after the modernists (and in some cases still writing). But, she notes that history has not sorted out the good from the great quite yet, and so I’m leaving them off this list.

2017 Reading Challenge: June Update


For the first time in a while, I focused more on writing than reading this past month. I had intended to post Monday through Friday all month, and other than last Wednesday and Thursday, succeeded.

I did however still read quite a few books. 12 to be exact, which is 79 for the year. That means I’m more or less on pace to hit my average of 150 for the year. I’m no Don “The Dragon” Carson, but I feel like that’s a solid number.

I’ve more or less given up on the challenge and am just reading what I either want because of research interests, or have to because of pending reviews (which coming back in bigger numbers soon).

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax

This, along with two titles below are part of a research interest in the effect digital technology has on us. I’m curious for personal reasons, but also because of ministering to students. After reading this book by David Sax, I’m gradually personal the analog in my own life and will be making some classroom changes in the fall.

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse

I posted on this previously, and saw this review earlier today of this book by Ben Sasse, senator from Nebraska. Because of his emphasis on production rather than consumption, I made a concerted effort this past month to prioritize production before settling into a few weeks of summer of break. I feel pretty good about it, and am hoping I can maintain the habits once break is over.

Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught and Why it Matters by Carl Trueman

I generally read most everything Carl Trueman writes. I enjoyed this entry in the 5 Solas Series, and appreciated his use of Aquinas early on. I’ll have more to say in a review later.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

This, along with the Revenge of Analog and The Glass Cage, is part of my technology study. I read this over a weekend and immediately deleted social media from my phone, as well as my mail app. I haven’t gotten to the really deep work yet, but I’m well on my way.

Hope for The Same Sex Attracted: Biblical Direction for Friends, Family Members, and Those Struggling with Homosexuality by Ron Citlau

I posted about this in New Books of Note. I have some friends that actually struggle with this and so I’m waiting to say more until I get their insight.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I’m hoping to have an article on this soon. It is for people in a hurry (it’s short), but it’s also sitting a top of the New York Times Best Seller list. It is also not easy reading, but it’s enjoyable.

Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings by Josh Larsen

I’m hoping to post a review on this later in the week, and tell you how you can get a free e-Book of it.

Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ by Michael Heiser

This is the latest book by Michael Heiser aiming to bring technical biblical scholarship to the masses. I think it succeeds for the most part, although there are few too many page to page and half long block quotes for my liking. I get why they are there though, since in many cases they are the author’s summary of a research article (the author of the article, not Heiser) and so help condense what could be an unwieldy book. As far as content, I’m still processing, but if you come to the college Bible study, you’ll find out what I think.

Christianity: The Biography—2000 Years of Global History by Ian Shaw

I’ll have a highlight of this book in a few weeks.

Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction edited by Justin Holcomb

This series edited by Justin Holcomb that has two more volumes coming out later this year (Sacraments and Salvation). As the title indicates, these are subjects that have multiple versions. The book is ordered historically, and features some superb articles. I’d recommend it if you’re looking to explore the subjects.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene Peterson

This is Eugene Peterson’s latest, and a collection of sermons. They are organized according to biblical figure. Readers are treated to Peterson’s sermons from the writings of Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John. The sermons are fairly short when read and so this could be a good devotional reader if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us by Nicholas Carr

I’ll have more to say on this in a collected post on the books connected to technology. The short version is that we should all be a bit more reflective when it comes to automation and how it forms or deforms us.

The Well-Educated Mind: Dramas and Plays

If there’s a genre of literature I’ve left mostly unexplored, it’s dramas and plays. I read some Shakespeare for my last ever undergrad class (Freshman Comp because you’re curious). Beyond that, basically nothing. But, that’s what Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind is good for. The list below will help you and me fill in the gaps in our literacy.

Before getting to that though, I’ll give the questions she suggests asking the works that you read. Before she gives the readers that, she offers a history of the play in five acts:

  • The Greeks (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aristotle)
  • Mystery and Morality (Everyman)
  • The Age of Shakespeare (Marlowe and Shakespeare)
  • Men and Manners (Moliere, Congreve, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Wilde)
  • The Triumph of Ideas (Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, Eliot, Wilder, O’Neill, Sartre, Williams, Miller, Beckett, Bolt, Stoppard)

After a brief explanation of the purpose of reading plays (“what theater can do better than TV is to imagine.”), Bauer gives her questions in the stages we’ve seen so far in novels, autobiographies, and histories.

Grammar-Stage Reading (268-273)

  • Look at the title, cover, and general organization of the play
  • When you encounter stage directions, read them carefully
  • Keep a list of characters as you read
  • Briefly note the main event of each scene
  • Can you identify a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution?
  • Which “act” of the drama does the play belong to?
  • What holds the play’s action together?
  • Write a two- or three-sentence explanation of the play’s title

Logic-Stage Reading (273-277)

  • If the play is given unity by plot, list the events that lead up to the play’s climax
  • If the play is given unity by character, ask for each major character, the same basic questions you asked for the novel
  • If the play is given unity by an idea, can you state the idea?
  • Do any of the characters stand in opposition to each other?
  • How do the characters speak?
  • Is there any confusion of identity?
  • Is there a climax, or is the play open ended?
  • What is the play’s theme?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (277-279)

  • How would you direct and stage this play? (Depending on how much you like it, you could do this exercise for a scene, an act, or the whole thing)

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated drama list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

With that in mind, here’s the list:

How I Organize My Library

Summer is often a time of refreshing. You might not expect that because it is often miserably hot outside here in Florida. But, I like to do some organizing and cleansing over the summer and this takes places in many domains.

After nearly becoming without form and void, my library was in need of an overhaul. Conceptually, this weighed on my mind for a couple of weeks before I could get started. I try to organize by topic and work with the available shelf space. Also, annoyingly to some, I do not put books in alphabetical order. I simply group them by topic and fit the books into the cubbies as space allows.

Because of that, I can usually tell someone where a given book is off the top of my head. This is always helpful until they borrow the book and I never see it again.

It doesn’t happen all that often, and judging from the pictures below, you’d probably imagine it doesn’t hurt the overall scale when it does.

You can’t quite see it off to the left, but there exists my Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Bryson section that merges into the pop culture collection.

The rest of the shelf is apologetics, which in my mind includes worldview stuff, world religions, history, politics, science, sports, and music. It’s an eclectic blend, but I think it makes the most logical sense.

Over by my side of the bed, I’ve collected some favorite authors:

  • Kevin Vanhoozer
  • Vern Poythress
  • Peter Leithart
  • Arthur Custance (haven’t heard of him have you?)
  • Eugene Peterson
  • John Piper
  • Tim Keller
  • David Bentley Hart
  • David Wells
  • N. T. Wright (popular level trilogy)
  • Carl Trueman

Over by Ali’s side of the bed, I put the marriage books, as well as Christian living and some practical theology (slight difference in my mind between the two). I also have all my counseling books here.

In my office, you’re immediately greeted by some crate shelves with pastoral leadership, business, discipleship, and writing books. You’ll also notice three matrushkas my dad got in Russia. Some might call them Russian nesting dolls, but since they’re football players it doesn’t seem appropriate.

Here by reading chair, you’ll notice some crates with history books, particularly those by Susan Wise Bauer. You’ll also see my beer/food shelf for some research I’ve been doing. On the desk, I’ve collected by study Bibles for easy access.

Here is the theology shelf. Not quite as big as you’d expect right? That’s what happens favorite authors end up filed in other places. Down to the left you’ll notice what is not a currently reading section and a small assortment of church history books that didn’t fit elsewhere.

The much larger shelf contains not only the biblical studies and hermeneutics books, but houses my collection of SeaWorld animals. One is for studying, the other is for inspiration, you decide which is which. You may notice what appears to be a blank cubby, but don’t worry, it has been filled.

And last but not least, the fiction shelf out in the living room. On the opposite is the DVD collection. This shelf also includes Lewis and Tolkein for obvious reasons.

It took about a week, but I think in the end it was worth it. My workflow is always better when things like this are organized, and the aesthetic elements is an added bonus.

Why We’re Studying Ruth This Summer

Over the course of this summer, I’m leading a Bible study on Ruth with college students. SHIFT hasn’t historically done things over the summer, but since we were just stepping into being more involved, I wanted to do at least something during June and July.

For a variety of reasons, I thought Ruth would be a good book to study. First, it’s relatively short. Because of this, it’s also a story many people are already familiar with, making it easier to dig in a little deeper. Second, it’s a great place to start learning to see the Gospel in the Old Testament. The way Boaz acts models Christ in many tangible ways. Third, it’s particularly relevant in both sociological and political senses. I’ll elaborate on this more in the future, or you can use your imagination.

When doing a Bible study, I like to focus on helping students really see what’s there in the text. I also like to draw theological principles from the narrative that can then be used as starters for application. I’m also fond of digging into historical and cultural background in order to make the “weird” parts make more sense. Often, those parts end up being more important than you think. Ruth, as we’re about to find out in chapters 2 and 3, is no exception.

All in all, it’s the perfect test book for a two month summer study. It also helps that Ruth was the focal point for one of my Hebrew classes at Dallas. That gives me a bit of a head start in preparing each week as I could shoot from the hip and probably be fine. But, I like to do a little refreshing and the main way I’ve been doing that is with Daniel Block’s Ruth.

One of my favorite commentary series is the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. A few years back, they released a counterpart to it called Hearing the Message of Scripture. I posted about the inaugural volumes on Obadiah and Jonah respectively. They’ve since rebranded the series to complement the NT one and now it’s just called Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament.

This volume by Block is the first in the rebooted series. I like the layout of the commentaries because they mimic the exegetical method we were taught at Dallas. There is the added feature that these commentaries focus on discourse analysis.

Because you’re curious what that means, here is Block explaining the goal of the series:

The primary goal of this commentary series is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard. While we recognize the timelessness of the biblical message, the validity of our interpretation and the authority with which we teach the Scriptures are related directly to the extent to which we have grasped the message intended by the authors in the first place (9-10).

He then goes on to elaborate how this connects to discourse analysis:

Discourse analysis, also called macro syntax, studies the text beyond the level of the sentence (sentence syntax), where the paragraph serves as the basic unit of thought (10).

In this way the series differs a bit from its New Testament counterpart in focus on larger units for comment. The NT series lays out each verse in Greek and then comments verse by verse. This series goes discourse by discourse.

When it comes to the individual chapters of the book, the structure is similar. Each chapter of the commentary has these sections:

  • The Main Idea of the Passage
  • Literary Context
  • Translation and Exegetical Outline
  • Structure and Literary Form
  • Explanation of the Text
  • Canonical and Practical Significance

There is usually a select bibliography as well that begins the commentary (similar to NICOT). Particular to this volume, Block opens with a translation of Ruth as a whole and divides the book into Acts like a play. He also offers an outline for a dramatic reading of the book at the end.

In terms of the commentary itself, there is untransliterated Hebrew in the main body, but usually parenthetically. Readers untrained in the original languages can ignore these parentheticals, as well as most of the footnotes where the more technical discussion takes place (again, not unlike NICOT).

One potential downside is that it would be difficult to locate specific comments on a specific verse in this commentary. For what I’m using it for, it’s not a downside since I’m reading straight through sections at a time (I read everything on chapter 2 today for instance). But, if you had a quick question about a phrase or a word, it’s not as easy to locate Block’s comments on it as it would in a different series.

However, that’s why it is usually best to consult several commentators on a given book. I would normally do that, but I also happen to be doing some editing work on an on-line study Bible, and I read through the Ruth notes today for work and for Bible study prep (nice how that works out sometimes). I’m also going to consult another volume (the NICOT one, you probably know my second favorite series at this point) here as a I wrap up this post.

In the end, I would highly recommend not only studying the book of Ruth in more detail, but using this volume on Block as a companion to help you see how the story fits together. There is much more to Ruth than a casual reader in English would pick up. Using a tool like this will help you see with new eyes what’s been there all along.

New Books of Note

On Pastoring by H. B. Charles Jr. is exactly what the subtitle implies: a short guide to living, leading, and ministering as a pastor. It is 30 short chapters divided into three parts:

  1. The Pastor’s Heart
  2. The Pastor’s Leadership
  3. The Pastor’s Ministry

While I think most of the insight is fairly basic (or should be), I also think a lot of it is ignored or just never learned. By that I mean, it’s things you should know if you’re a pastor, but that doesn’t mean you do know them (or were properly taught or mentored at some point in time).

The highlights to me were the chapters on being a healthy pastor (in a holistic sense), leaving a godly legacy, being faithful where God puts you, and trusting the sufficiency of God’s Word over life experience. You’ll notice the first three go in the first section of the book, and I think it was the strongest.

I would consider myself a non-traditional pastor in the sense that I’m primarily a high school Bible teacher and also work with an on-campus ministry. Pastor is not my title, but I shepherd young hearts and minds and so I try to self consciously think of myself in that role.

That being said, what Charles offers readers here was useful to me, even post seminary and several years into my vocation. It was a good refresher and reminder on things I need to keep close guard. I would anticipate it could work that way for you as well!

Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson is one of the more “real” books on spiritual growth I’ve read in a while. In the first part of the book, he devotes a chapter to each of the wrong “Jesuses.” They are:

  • Life Coach Jesus
  • Checklist Jesus
  • Movement Leader Jesus
  • Visionary Jesus

After another chapter related to the pride and despair of following these false Christs, Johnson turns the corner into the second part of the book that offers an antidote. He presents a chapter on the proper function of the law, then the Gospel, and then a closing chapter encouraging readers with humility and hope. It’s there that you see how much Johnson is in transition and growth himself and isn’t writing from a place of having it all figure out.

An interesting subtext to the book is that the church frequently mentioned in part 1 is Mars Hill. I don’t think he comes right out and says it, but knowing he is from Seattle makes it fairly obvious. I appreciated his honest reflections about some of the problems and the effect it has had. He doesn’t go out of his way to bash Mark Driscoll or the church, but you can tell that movement leader Jesus wasn’t exactly what the church needed.

All that being said, I think this is a helpful book for what it critiques, but I didn’t find the solution as helpful. It is more in the Lutheran vein of theology, but if that’s you, you’ll appreciate his approach. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, it has to do with how you view the law functioning in Scripture, and how much continuity or discontinuity there is in the Old and New Testament approaches to sanctification. I should probably devote another post to explaining that in more detail!

James Emery White’s Generation Z is a helpful tool for understanding the generation coming behind millennials. The first part of the book does some demographic exposition. The second part offers an approach to reach this generation. Three appendices present talks that White gave on hot button issues like gay marriage, the spiritual world, and whether belief in God is coherent or not.

In case you’re not clear on generational distinctions, Generation Z are those born between 1996-2010. So, in essence, every high school student I’ve taught to date. White’s book offers many surprising and potentially alarming statistics about this generation. The main ones tended to relate to how this generation is less religious, but not necessarily uninterested in spiritual things.

In general, I think the picture White sketches in the first part of the book is helpful. And while he has a good track record at his church, I didn’t find the new approaches in the second part that compelling. Admittedly, there is a thin line between catering to culture and challenging it. While not mutually exclusive, I think I would default to following the track Tim Keller is on. In terms of differences, I think Keller is more nuanced, and falls more on the side of challenging rather than catering (the latter of which isn’t the same as caving in on convictions, just so you know). But, this book is a good starting point for understanding some of the issues, and at least seeing an approach that you can choose to follow or modify.

Ron Citlau’s Hope for The Same-Sex Attracted is written from the perspective of someone who struggles with just that. But, he is also a pastor and has been happily married for years. He writes to those who have struggles similar to his, but who need the hope that the Bible provides.

To be clear, that hope is never cast as becoming a “normal” heterosexual married person. Instead, the first part of the book presents three obstacles that Citlau sees to having hope. Then the second part of the book discusses five gifts that can help those who struggle with same sex attraction. He then closes out the book with a chapter to church leaders and then one to those that struggle.

Citlau openly critiques the gay Christian identity movement (if you can call it that) in the first chapter. He is clear that he doesn’t think it is helpful to identify as gay even if one is committed to biblical sexual ethics and a life of either celibacy or heterosexual monogamy. He likewise sees the spiritual friendship movements and obviously gay marriage as obstacles to true hope.

The gifts that he sees that can provide hope are the church, healing communities and Christian therapy (but is not championing reparative therapy), singleness, marriage, and lament. I thought the last chapter was a unique contribution to the discussion and relies heavily on J. Todd Billings’ Rejoicing in Lament.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this book. While the stories of life change peppered throughout are helpful and hopeful, I found myself wondering who the book was truly for. It is clearly for Christians who experience same sex attraction. But, it is not routine (from my experience) for people who have same-sex attractions to identify themselves as same-sex strugglers. They either only have attractions to the same sex and so identify as gay, or can be attracted to both and identify as bisexual.

In a sense, by definition Citlau is bisexual because he is attracted to his wife, but still has some struggles with same sex attraction. I would think that he would consciously reject that label, and would encourage others to do the same if they have similar experiences (and I’m not suggesting he should adopt that label either).

I would agree that if your identity is wrapped up in your sexuality (gay or straight) that is the bigger issue. But, using conventional labels to name your experience isn’t the same thing. I think you can say you struggle against same sex attraction because you are committed to a traditional sexual ethic, but also acknowledge that you experience bisexual sexual attraction. That’s not an option open to readers of this book, but I think it should be a valid option.

In the end, I think if I were to suggest this book, it would be in dialogue that asks for the reader’s opinion. I wouldn’t suggest to someone “you need to read this book,” because I don’t think I fully agree with the approach. But, it could be good to start a conversation about what hope for the Christian who has non traditional sexual attraction patterns looks like. This book, read in conjunction with a couple of others that are committed to a traditional Christian sexual ethic could prove helpful in the long run.

[Thanks to Moody, New Growth Press, Baker, and Bethany House for sending me these review copies!]