Archives For Book Reviews

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.

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?

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.

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.