Archives For Book Reviews

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

June 23, 2017 — 1 Comment

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!]

First it was novels. Then it was autobiographies. Now, it’s history’s turn.

As with previous sections in The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer begins with an overview of the genre. Here, she distinguishes between several periods in the history of history:

  • Ancient History
  • Medieval History
  • Renaissance History
  • The “Enlightened,” or “Rational,” Approach
  • Positivism to “Progress-ism” to “Multiculturalism”
  • Romanticism to Relativism to Skepticism (and Thence to Postmodernism)

Attentive readers will recognize that the the last two periods are overlapping as the telling of history fragmented according to your particular philosophical bent. The history of ideas and the ideas of history are forever intertwined.

So, when it comes to actually reading a historical account, Bauer again gives questions for each stage:

Grammer-Stage Reading (195-198)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Does the writer state his or her purpose for writing?
  • What are the major events of the history?
  • Who is this story about?
  • What challenges did this hero/ine face?
  • Who or what causes this challenge?
  • What happened to the historical hero/ine?
  • Do the characters go forward, or backward – and why?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Where does the story take place?

Logic-Stage Reading (198-206)

  • Look for the historian’s major assertions
  • What questions is the historian asking?
  • What sources does the historian use to answer them?
  • Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers? [Note: readers of the actual book are treated to a primer on fallacies at this point]
  • Can you identify the history’s genre?
  • Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (206-209)

  • What is the purpose of history?
  • Does this story have forward motion?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Why do things go wrong?
  • What place does free will have?
  • What relationship does this history have to social problems?
  • What is the end of history?
  • How is this history the same as – or different than – the stories of other historians who have come before?
  • Is there another possible explanation?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated histories 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:

So far with this list, I’ve got my work cut off for me, having only read Herodotus (would highly recommend). I’ve a copy of the few of the others, but while I’m thinking of it, I might venture to the local used bookstore and see what I can find. Although, you can actually piece together most of this list for less than $100. Not bad for what would be close to a year or more of reading for many people!

Last Friday, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. Unlike an ambush on Christmas morning a few years back, I saw them coming. I answered the door and the guy introduced himself and his wife, and then starting talking about comfort and read me 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

I mentioned that Ali has these verses tattooed on her back, which was accidentally wrong because its vv. 5-6. But, he then asked if we were religious or something like that, and I was like, yeah I’m a Bible teacher and we work with an on-campus ministry at UCF.

He quickly hit the eject button, offering me a Watchtower pamphlet and vaguely wondering if I might compare it to what I’d been taught. They were then on their way, and within 15 more minutes had canvassed our entire short neighborhood and were gone.

Now, part of me admires their courage in going door to door. I’ve done it before in other countries, and for a several weeks in Manhattan and I hated it. I also didn’t think it was very effective, especially since we’re called to make disciples and not converts.

But, it got me reflecting on evangelism, what works and what doesn’t, and how to pursue it in your personal life. Since I also have 3 recent books I’ve received for review on the topic, it seemed the stars had aligned (which is the subject of another post).

Questioning Evangelism

This is the best book I’ve read on the subject. I read the first edition back while I was at Dallas. Now Kregel has published a second expanded edition  of Randy Newman’s book (and sent me a review copy!).

The first part explains why asking questions is the best strategy. The second chapter leans heavily into Proverbs for biblical basis. The next part comprises 7 chapters that each deal with questions people are asking. Newman hits all the hot topics, and offers sample dialogues in the process. The final part explores the personal side of evangelism and deals with our hearts in the process.

The main thing that is new to this edition is dealing with questions related to Christian stances on homosexuality. That wasn’t as much of an issue when the first edition came out (no pun intended). Much like the other chapters, Newman offers answers not only to the questions posed to Christians, but offers questions we can ask that can help flip the script.

In the end, I think this is what makes the book most helpful. We should be ready to give an account for what we believe and why. But, we should also be able to question others in a gracious manner. I’ve often found that questions can change the tone of a discussion. They can also be a way to get people thinking about their own views as they seek to challenge mine. If you’d like an encouraging read that will help you do that better, you should check this book out!

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

This book by Alvin Reid was sent to me by B&H. Compared to the previous book, this is more of a general theology of evangelism, with encouragement to people who aren’t keen on it. It’s a kind of demystifying approach that I think can be helpful.

Each chapter deals with a principle, which are helpfully collected on page 119:

  • God created you for his glory, to advance his gospel with the gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave you
  • In order to share Jesus confidently and consistently with others, first share him confidently and consistently with yourself
  • Shifting from giving an evangelistic presentation to having an evangelistic conversation takes pressure off the witness and relates the gospel more clearly to an unbeliever
  • God has sovereignly placed you in this world at this time with the abilities and gifts you have to bring glory to him and show the joy of the gospel to others
  • Effective evangelistic conversations connect the unchanging gospel with the specific issues people face
  • Expect people to be open to the gospel, and learn to share Jesus where they live
  • Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you
  • Developing a lifestyle of sharing Jesus consistently flows out of a plan to share Jesus regularly

After the principles, there is an 8 week challenge that readers can use to start living out the principles after reading the book. I think this book would work well in tandem with the previous since it is more of a philosophy and theology of evangelism itself, rather than an extensive look at one aspect (asking and answering questions). It also doesn’t get too far into answering objections, but I think it goes a great length to build confidence and a lay good foundation that will flourish in the future.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

If you noticed a trend in books on evangelism, and even in two out of the three I’m mentioning, you’re not wrong. Whether you’re freaking out, or just view yourself as a non-evangelist, most books on the subject are geared for you.

This one by Mark Teasedale, courtesy of IVP, is primarily aimed at teachers and students, rather than the person in the pew. While fairly short (under 150 pp), it is more or less designed to be used as a seminary or Bible school textbook. It is also designed to be used by the broadest range of denominational backgrounds, so most people I think reading this blog won’t find its theological framework helpful.

Compared primarily to the other two, I didn’t find this one as helpful. I wouldn’t use it in my classes, and I wouldn’t have students in SHIFT read it. I would however encourage them to read the other two, and would encourage you to do the same.

One of the most helpful books I read last month was Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family. It’s a short read, but offers valuable insights into the role technology plays in your life. I found much the same to be true of Crouch’s previous book, Strong and Weak, but as it pertains to leadership. At a larger cultural level, his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power was a nice compliment to his first book, Culture Making. Because IVP sent me review copies of Playing God and Strong and Weak, and Baker sent me The Tech-Wise Family, I’m just going to focus on those.

Tech-Wise Family

The book is a three part exposition of the Ten Tech-Wise Commitments (41-42):

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, and play, and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

If you’re curious about the first one, it relates to how technology makes things easier, which undercuts wrestling with issues on your own sometimes. That commitment, along with the next two are the foundation. Notice they have to do with space and time (and our stewardship and proper use of both). The next five relate to daily activities and rhythms. The final two almost function as a kind of eschatology of technology.

In terms of argumentation, the statistics scattered throughout help build the case that Crouch makes. In terms of application, I’m implementing #4 as a reminder that I own my device, not the other way around. I wouldn’t say that I am over-tethered to my iPhone, but it has definitely changed me in ways I don’t like. I’m hoping over the summer I can detox on not just the school year, but technology to some extent as well.

I would strongly recommend this book for your summer reading, especially in tandem with a book I wrote about at Christ and Pop Culture and will have more thoughts here soon.

Strong and Weak

You’re going to have to participate a bit with this one. Take out some paper and a pen. Draw a horizontal line and intersect it with a vertical line. Label the top right quadrant 1, and then move clockwise labeling the other three. On the horizontal axis, write vulnerability. On the vertical axis write authority. Label the quadrants as follows:

  1. Flourishing
  2. Suffering
  3. Withdrawing
  4. Exploiting

Alternatively, you could label the horizontal warmth and the vertical firmness. Then the quadrants would become:

  1. Kind
  2. Indulgent
  3. Absent
  4. Authoritarian

Those, you might represent as parenting styles, the former are styles of leadership that lead to the labels of the quadrants. This is the essence of Crouch’s Strong and Weak. We are not presented with a false choice between quadrant 4 or 2 (which is what it might feel like). Instead, we can aspire to be a deft combination of strength and vulnerability, something modeled for us in the Gospel.

I found this book prescient when I read it. It helped articulate a tension I had wrestled with in my own approach to the classroom and student ministry. Although I tend to sometimes err toward indulgent, I aspire to be firm, yet warm. I have made sure that I am an appropriate level of vulnerable with students in order to be authentic. Yet at the same time, I have to exert some level of authority. I let this play out often intellectually. by being authoritative with what I think, but also vulnerable enough to consider other ideas respectfully. Hopefully I’ve modeled this well in the classroom.

Playing God

Although you can’t tell from Amazon, this book is probably as long if not longer than the other two combined. It is a “normal” size book, while the other two are smaller hardbacks. As such, it is more of a sustained argument that does several things at once. First, it offers a kind of biblical theology of power. Second, it traces those dynamics into our modern world and deals with topics like privilege and institutional brokenness. The book was published in 2013, but seems like it could have been written in the last six months.

The book itself is split into four parts. The first explains the origins of power, how it was a gift given to humanity by God, and how it quickly became a tool for idolatry. The second part begins the exploration of the misuse of power and opens up the discussion of privilege, which is essentially power you don’t realize you have.

We saw this played out humorously last night in an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews, who is African American) had a run in with a police officer who didn’t think he belonged in his own neighborhood. He didn’t have his badge on him and so it quickly escalated and ended up being very traumatic for him. He laments this to Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), who kind of initially blows it off saying he’s done crazy stuff all the time. We see a flash back of a cop yelling at him as he climbs into a window wearing a Jason-style hockey mask. Jake explains it’s for a prank and the officer just says, ok!

That’s privilege. When you have the power to do something looks shady and those with the authority to do something about aren’t the least bit suspicious, you are privileged. If you are considered suspicious simply for being somewhere, that’s a lack of privilege, which when it comes in contact with power causes problems.

I should probably make a separate post about all this, but you get the initial idea (hopefully). From here, parts 3 and 4 of Crouch’s book cover the institutional nature of power as well as the telos of powers. If you want a theology of power, in its original intended form and current corrupted version, this book is for you. It’s not necessarily easy reading, but it is biblical and cultural in a way that few writers seem able to pull off. Crouch does it pretty consistently.

Well, school’s out for summer, so I’m gonna start blogging again. About the only thing I consistently did through the spring was update you on reading, so let’s pick back up with that.

I read 17 books in May, which brings the year up to 67. Because of a line I read in a book I already finished in June, I’d like to tip the scales in June/July from consumption back to production. Expect more review posts instead of roundups like this. But for now, here’s the eclectic mix from May:

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (a book about parenting)

This might be one of the most important books I read over the spring, so I’ll try to get my actual review (I’ll start doing those again) out soon. Anything by Andy Crouch is worth your time, but this one especially so if you have kids or technology, or both.

Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today’s Global Communion (a book about the Reformation – sort of)

Was not particularly impressed by this one, although the series it kicks off could be promising.

Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era 

If you read things on the internet, you should probably read this. I’m debating whether or not to craft an article about this, or just do a review. The short version is that it covers how to read statistics, charts, and graphs correctly, and gives a rundown on how basic logical fallacies. He is certainly not a-political, but he points out errors on both sides of the spectrum throughout.

Reconsidering John Calvin

This is a collection of essays based on lectures Randall Zachman gave. It is also part of Cambridge’s Current Issues in Theology series. The opening essay on Calvin’s views on astronomy is worth the price of admission alone (spoiler: he had very progressive views on Genesis and science in the Bible in general).

My Beer Year: Adventures with Hop Farmers, Craft Brewers, Chefs, Beer Sommeliers, and Fanatical Drinkers as a Beer Master in Training

You may have noticed a theme with books on beer. I’ve tried to add more hobby reading, but I’m also curious to start writing about beer in theological perspective, something I don’t think many have dared to do. I think could list reasons for this, but I’ll save it for a post. This particular book traced the author’s journey toward becoming a certified Cicerone, which is the beer version of Sommelier (which is the wine version of a your local Starbucks Coffee Master, except leveled up several times).

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (a book about Christian living)

If Jared Wilson writes a book, you should probably read it. And if it’s a grace soaked manual on being a less than perfect disciple, you should read it and share too. I’ll do that in a review soon.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (a book by John Piper)

This might be John Piper’s most important book. Well, that’s possibly a stretch. It’s a bit longer than it needs to be, but it is one of the best book I’ve read on how to read the Bible. The reason is that is address both method and posture. Most of it actually about posture, and I think that’s its most valuable contribution. I’ll explain a bit more when I post about it and his other recent book.

Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body (a self improvement book)

I’ve started a new workout and diet routine, and it is thanks to Paul Maxwell pointing me to this guy’s resources. If you’re interested in a solid explanation of dieting and workout that is no gimmicks, you’ll want to check this out.

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories Are Misunderstood

This was a great followup to the author’s previous book on the most misused verses in the Bible. I have to do a review soon, so I’ll explain more then.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World

This was a kind of follow up to The Benedict Option. Written by the archbishop of Philadelphia, it isn’t so much a Catholic answer to or version of the Benedict Option. It is rather a wise leader’s reflections on how culture has changed and how to remain a faithful presence within it.

Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity (a book about Christian living)

You might have seen that recent TGC article about the fallout from Mars Hill. If you’d like a more in-depth perspective, as part of a book that’s about something else, you’ll want to read this book from a drummer in several Tooth & Nail bands, but also a former member of Mars Hill.

Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century

If Chuck Klosterman writes it, you should read it. This was his collection of essays from the past 10 years, mostly published elsewhere, but collected here with his introductions that give historical context.

How Does Sanctification Work? (a book about sanctification)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, you should go read that, and see how you can get it for free!

I Told Me So: The Role of Self-deception in Christian Living

I had higher hopes for this, but it’s a useful primer on how self-deception works. More importantly, the author gives constructive advice for how it relates to the Christian life and growth (see previous book).

The Juvenilization of American Christianity (a book about church history)

This wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read, but is important to see how the efforts to reach youth culture have weakened American Christianity. To add insult to injury, we don’t actually do that well at reaching youth. This book helps explain part of the mess.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

If you ever wanted a history of the world traced through beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, and soda, this book is for you. I’ve moved on to his history of food, and hope to also get his book on the history of social media.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

This book is a satire, and it is biting. Obviously, the take away is that the opposite of the ten things is what will help your child’s imagination flourish. I was pleased that I was already doing some of these things in the classroom. Adding a few more will be part of my summer goals.

 

If you’ve never heard of The Benedict Option, you’re probably not alone. You may have heard of Benedict of Nursia (modern day Norcia in Italy), but didn’t know he offered an option for living in a post-Christian nation. Well, Rod Dreher thinks he does, and after numerous articles, finally published a book on it.

In some sense, it is not a new concept. Much of the discussion dates back to a quote from Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue. As Christopher Cleveland does a superb job of explaining, theologians have been talking about this for 35 years. But, as with many academic theological discussions, the general public remained blissfully ignorant.

With Dreher’s book in print now, the discussion is much more publicized. He writes not as an academic, but as an informed lay person who is a good writer (good enough to make a living doing it). Having been somewhat watching the discussion from afar, I decided a trip to California was a great time to actually read the book (see above)

Rather than summarize it myself, I’d suggest you read Jake Meador’s review at Mere Orthodoxy. He provides the best summary that could function like a Cliff Notes if you need it to do so. For an extensive critical interaction, see James K. A. Smith’s review. I would tend to agree with his assessment that much of what Dreher offers sounds like fundamentalism minus the rapture. But, I wouldn’t necessarily consider Smith’s a review a “total takedown,” and would like to point out, he has his own axe to grind with contemporary Christian approaches to culture.

In terms of other interactions, intriguing but off the mark is The Atlantic’s article on the book, which provides an outside perspective on the whole discussion. Much better in terms of thoughtful critique are Alan Jacobs, Rusty Reno, and Greg Peters. From Peters’ perspective, the book “doesn’t raise the tenor of faithful Christian living so much as trivialize the monastic vocation.” He also points out that the real Benedict Option is to, well, be a Benedictine monk, an option still open to many. And, note also his conclusion which points out several historical inaccuracies.

As far as my opinion on all of this, I don’t completely buy it. I tend to follow Carl Trueman here, who on his blurb on the back says “This is the kind of book I am going to use to get the thoughtful people in my congregation reading and discussing.” In his Mortification of Spin podcast a few weeks back, he interviewed Archbishop Charles Chaput about his book Strangers in a Strange Land, which he commends more than The Benedict Option. While written by a Catholic Archbishop, the book has much to offer Protestants to think trough about living within this post-Christian nation. Also of note is Baptist Russell Moore’s excellent book Onward (which is only $3.31 on Amazon right now!). He also blurbed this book, but you can tell that it is more for it to be a conversation starter.

In the end, I think the value of Dreher’s book is that it throws a provocative option out there. I don’t think it is viable and certainly isn’t exegetically warranted (as in it is the “biblical” option, whatever that might mean). But, if you think it is wrong, you have to honestly think about what a better option might be. And if you’re interested in doing that, grab this book, Onward, and Strangers in a Strange Land (my next read), and let’s start a book club.

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since I last made it to an ETS regional. Actually, looking at the timeline, I think I go every three years because my first one was in 2011. I also have presented at each one (you can read the previous papers here), and continue that tradition this year.

I re-worked a paper from my Romans class at Dallas. It need some revision and updating, both for newer resources and evolution in thought. The result is called New Perspectives on Paul: Reconciling Wright, Schreiner, and Thielman on Justification. Here is the intro:

The purpose of this paper is to offer an epistemological framework that is suitable for harmonizing differing positions on the nature of justification. The focus here is first, on introducing the framework, and then second, on demonstrating its usefulness in some recent dialogue, namely, the plenary addresses from the 2010 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society Rather than a rigorous exegetical defense, this is a proposal using a tool of epistemology to attempt to solve a theological difficulty. While all the different perspectives are not completely resolvable, the three presented at the 2010 annual meeting just might be.

I don’t pretend to think it solves all the problems associated with interpreting Paul’s theology. I do however think that John Frame’s triperspectivalism is a useful tool for navigating the different emphases and integrating various conclusions into a coherent whole. As to whether anyone agrees, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

A couple of weeks back my father in-law Tim Kaufman published his first book, Singing Hallelujah When You Feel Like Hell. The title plays on both his gifting as a singer and his experience with clinical depression. Though the subtitle is “a true life story of how to triumph through depression,” it is not a typical self-help book. It is also not prosperity gospel nonsense that may promise that if you just believe enough or follow these steps your depression will go away. But it is the story of how Tim lived through periods of time when darkness was nearly his only companion. And it is an example of how a variety of factors work together in helping someone through the valley.

I was glad to read through the book when it was still in the editing stages. Here is the blurb that I submitted:

Singing Hallelujah When You Feel Like Hell isn’t just a book with a clever title. It is a firsthand account of someone who has been through the darkness and lived to tell about it. Tim is not just my father-in-law, he is also a wise and godly man who is willing to be vulnerable with his own story in order to reach out and minister to the many friends and loved ones we have who deal with depression. Odds are that even if you haven’t struggled with it, you love someone who has or does and they would benefit from reading this book.

While I don’t have firsthand struggles with depression, I did have a period of about 6 months of burnout where I had many of the same symptoms. In retrospect, I’m glad because I think I am able to be more sensitive now to advice people give that isn’t particularly helpful. Part of the issue with struggling through depression is that you just don’t have the will to do much of anything. Because of that, advice, while possibly true and godly, isn’t necessarily what you might need. It is true that you need to believe the gospel, pray, and search the Scriptures. But when you’re really depressed, it is hard to even get out of bed, much less focus on anything of value.

Since Tim has struggled with that, and been in ministry for decades, he is able to tell his story from between two worlds so to speak. Depression is a spiritual issue, but it is not only a spiritual issue and Tim is more than aware of that. I tend to think of things like depression triperspectivally (not a surprise if you know me well). As such it has normative dimensions which are the spiritual components. But, it also situational factors that are usually life stories that have left scars resulting in shame and perhaps internalized anger. And there is also the existential components of brain chemistry and dietary and exercise habits (or lack thereof).

To treat any of these in isolation is to miss part of what’s going on. What’s good about Tim’s book is that though he doesn’t use this terminology, he is aware of how all those issues have come into play in his story of the triumph of grace in his life. And if that is something you’d like to read more about it, you ought to make sure you pick up a copy of his book for yourself!

I know you’ve waited with baited breath for my update on what I read in February. Or maybe just regular breathing, I’m not actually clear on the difference. Either way, the day has come and here’s the rundown on what I finished up this past month. If you’re keeping score at home, I had 14 books last month, and 14 again this month. So, cheers to consistency. Also, so far everything has hit a category on the 2017 Reading Challenge, so also convenience.

Meet Generation Z (a book published in 2017)

It’s perhaps no secret I spend several days a week hanging out with Generation Z, otherwise known as high schoolers. I thought I’d see what James Emery White had to say about them, and I’ll let you know more about it when I post a longer review.

The Dynamic Heart: Connecting Christ to Human Experience (a book about Christian living)

I’ve recently felt like I needed to read more practical theology, and this from Jeremy Pierre hit the spot. It is also a book I’ll need to elaborate on in a different post. But, it’s something you should check out if you’re interested in the basics of thinking through how the gospel relates to your everyday experiences (and might want to reflect a little deeper on those as well)

Signposts to God: How Modern Physics and Astronomy Point the Way to Belief (a book about the natural world)

While technical at times, this was an enjoyable dip back into cosmology as it relates to Christian belief. It contains a nice primer on modern physics and very clear apologetic thinking on how science actually helps support belief rather than undermine it.

The Brewer’s Tale: The History of the World According to Beer (a book about history)

This is one part history, one part technology. And the technology in question is the art and science of making beer. If you enjoy craft beer (I realize being a Calvinist, I’m stereotyping myself here), you’ll definitely enjoy this. But even if not, the way that brewing interfaces with the development of civilization is fascinating.

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (a book with a great cover)

I think the title oversells it a bit (and that’s even with the cool graphic design that is more subtle on a physical copy). However, Mlodinow is what a good science writer should be: clear, witty, and practical. Having majored in psychology, this wasn’t particularly mind blowing, but was a good refresher nonetheless.

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) In the Future Tense (a humorous book)

This, for now, completes my trek through David Brooks books. I think I liked this one the least, but there is still enough snark and cultural commentary to keep it a 4 star rating. Come for the opening chapter surveying America’s suburban landscape. Stay for the closer that ties it altogether into a trenchant commendation and critique.

The Spirituality of Wine (a book by a female author)

I’m not the biggest fan of wine, but I am interested in spirituality. The author of this particular volume grew up on a winery in Germany and also has a Ph.D in theology. Her book is part history of wine making, part biblical theology of wine, and part theological reflections on its use (and a chapter on potential abuse). I’ll have more to say in my full review.

The Selected Shorter Writings of John Frame, Vol. 2 (a book by your favorite author)

I’m slotting this into the favorite author category, although realistically I could put about 10 different authors there. Frame has a special place though because of his lucidity and the intriguing nature of his thought. I was reminded in reading this how much I need to keep reading his stuff. I also need to RSVP to his retirement chapel and lunch. I’ve got Vol. 3 to work through as well and a post highlighting why you need to know him as a theologian. Of the three volumes, this does the most work on Van Til, and Frame, I think, is his best interpreter and critic.

Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits That Bind You (a book about Christian living)

This one from Erin Straza (full disclosure, my managing editor at Christ and Pop Culture) came just in time. My wife and I are both wrestling with our comfort idols in different ways and I think Erin’s book is just the thing we needed. I finished it over the weekend and Ali took it with her to West Palm while she’s house sitting this week.

The Theology of the Christian Life in J.I. Packer’s Thought: Theological Anthropology, Theological Method, and the Doctrine of Salvation (a book about theology)

While an interesting doctoral dissertation on the theology of the Christian life in J. I. Packer’s thought, the book is ultimately a critique of it. I’ll have more to say in my post on Packer, but the short version is that in the author’s view, Packer’s theology is quite good enough for the new postmodern condition we find ourselves in.

American Girls: Social Media and The Secret Lives of Teenagers (a book about sexuality)

As I said above, I spend a fair amount of time with teenager every week. This book caught my eye because it is about their so-called secret lives, and focuses on the experiences of girls via exhaustive interviews the author conducted. The result is a haunting look at the ways social media has changed the social and moral landscape for many teenagers in Generation Z. It is graphic and disturbing, but an important read if you have teenagers or work with them in ministry context.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (a book by Sinclair Ferguson)

This is Sinclair Ferguson doing what he does best: explain theology so ordinary people can understand it. The premise of the book is that several key passages provide “blueprints” for what growing in Christ (sanctification) looks like. Ferguson then works topically through the material, but draws extensively on exegesis of the passages in question. If you’re looking for a solid read on Christian growth, look no farther.

The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (a book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with)

If you like false dichotomies and appeals to emotion, you’ll probably like this book. A constant refrain is the author not “being able to see” how a loving God could do something. Love is never particularly defined in biblical categories, and so much of what follows is based on what the author thinks love is and so his account of providence is molded into that frame. He also commits the fallacy of making God’s love his master attribute that takes logical priority, a move not substantiated by Scripture or tradition. At the same time, I think you should read this book if you’re interested in the debate on sovereignty, free will, and providence, and I’ll explain why in a separate post.

Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (a book about theology)

Not the most riveting read, but it does have the virtue of pitting Paul Helm against William Lane “Cosmological Middle Knowledge” Craig, as well as Greg Boyd and Dave Hunt. Boyd does much of what the previous author did, and Craig doesn’t make molinism any more compelling though he is pretty sophisticated when it comes to this sort of debate. In the end, I was just looking forward to Muller’s book later this spring.