Archives For Book Reviews

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.

February has been an interesting month. Ali quit her job of over 10 years, effective Jan 31st. For a little backstory why, you should read this. She’s been recuperating, and detoxing, and is now house sitting down in West Palm Beach before coming back to a new routine.

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of going away for Valentine’s when hotels around Disney are basically fighting for business. That meant two nights away for next to nothing. In that time, thanks to a generous gift card, ate at Sanaa for under $30, went to all four parks, and even made a Saturday morning run to Island of Adventures (just kidding we drove). It was also the first time ever that we didn’t have to worry about when we would get back.

Previously, we’ve had trips to Disney ruined by texts from Panera about orders that came in, or disasters on the horizon. We’d always have to make sure we got home early enough to recover for a potentially early Monday morning. Or, have to spend the better part of the weekend away recovering from a crazy week.

This time though, Ali was at school with me for Ask Anything Friday, and then we made our way down to Disney. We were able to just kind of go with the flow. Weird right?

It’s these more causal trips at Disney that get me thinking about psychology and sociology. As you might expect, it resulted in an article over at Christ and Pop Culture about Disney as a religious pilgrimage. You need to read the full article to get the flow, but here’s a teaser intro:

[O]ne recent article notes, “Disney operates as pilgrimage site, creating sacred space where people can transcend the ordinary.” Americans who might scoff at the idea of a medieval pilgrimage won’t think twice about traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit Magic Kingdom and see cartoon characters incarnated right before their ecstatic children’s eyes.

I’m hoping to write about the other parks in the near future, but haven’t quite worked out the details yet. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to our next trip that isn’t constrained by an insane work schedule. I’m also hopeful that we’ve made the right choice and that God is leading us on our own pilgrimage. If you’d pray for us, that’d be great. And even better, if you’d like to support us on a monthly basis, it helps make a years long dream a reality. You can do that here, and while you’re at it, subscribe to our newsletter. I’ve got some exciting news for later in March and you won’t want to miss it.

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It’s a New Year and time to resurrect philosophy Friday. Maybe not every Friday mind you, but many of them. In the past I had previously just posted videos with sparse comments (see here for instance). Now I’d like to actually do some philosophizing (with and without a hammer), as well as post about some philosophy books I’ve read or am reading. We’ll kick it off with a recent bio of Kierkegaard which pairs nicely with another book on him I’d recommend (this one).

First off, thanks to Zondervan for not only sending me a copy of Stephen Backhouse’s Kiekegaard: A Single Life, but also the sweet tote as well! I wasn’t able to make it to ETS and so missed out on coming by the Zondervan booth and perhaps getting the tote that way. I should probably use the tote to cart books around, but I’m pretty committed to using my biceps to curl a stack.

As far as Backhouse’s book though, I enjoyed it over coffee for a couple mornings before finishing it with zest. While each chapter moves more or less chronologically through Kierkegaard’s life, they each highlight a different theme. Kierkegaard is a complex figure, if you weren’t aware. And even if you were, it doesn’t change that there’s much to uncover in the mystery of his life.

I am by no means a Kierkegaard scholar. I just find him intriguing and have general grasp of some of his major ideas. Backhouse’s book helps you learn about Kierkegaard the man, and in turn helps you better understand Kierkegaard the philosopher. Though I read Mark Tietjen’s book first, I would recommend reading both of these in reverse order. They overlap at places but are ultimately complimentary to one another. Backhouse’s book doesn’t avoid dealing with themes in Kierkegaard’s writing, but they are not the focal point. By contrast, that is Tietjen’s focal point as he is trying to introduce Kierkegaard’s thought to new readers.

After reading both books, I think Kierkegaard represents a philosopher that evangelicals ought to pay a bit more attention to in coming years. That of course is different than saying “adopt uncritically.” But, it seems that much of what Kierkegaard was against in the Danish church has found its way into many American evangelical churches. One need only look at this book list to see what I might mean. By learning more about Kierkegaard’s life and context, I think we are better able to adopt his posture in some regards, without making some of the mistakes he made (and maybe avoiding pseudonyms altogether). In that light, take and read this great intro to Kierkegaard.

Over Christmas break, I was mostly reading books, but I saw my fair share of Tweets. The one above caught my eye, and also got me thinking. I’m not sure I properly qualify as a young academic, but I have had book reviews published in a journal. I’ve also done my fair share of book reviews (that page is out of date, but you get the idea).

I’ll keep this short, because 1000 words about why a tweet is wrong seems either petty or excessive (or both). I’m going to assume that because this is a tweet, it is reflective of in the moment thinking. Looking through the mentions, it seems to be prompted by Leeman reading a poorly constructed review of one of his professor’s books. I would assume as well this isn’t the first time Leeman has come across a shoddy review by a young academic, otherwise he wouldn’t think to make a new rule.

It is not entirely clear how to divide the reasons that come after “Either.” It could be a binary, in which case it would be a false dichotomy. To avoid that, let’s say there’s 4 elements. Young academics doing book reviews:

  1. Try too hard to prove themselves
  2. Are extra critical (probably in excess, because more is probably better in most cases)
  3. Miss the forest for trees
  4. Say nothing of value (presumably scholarly)

Having easily done several hundred book reviews since my time at Dallas, I will be the first to confess I have done all of these. It is hard not to think about #1 if the review is being published somewhere that receives a wider reading than your personal blog. My review of Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith, might be close to violating #2, but I still stand by it. It was also one of the few reviews I’ve done that was published in a journal. And, in a point I’ll come back to, there was professorial oversight.

#3 is certainly a danger if you’re not able to do synthesis and big picture thinking. The result is a review that provides a good chapter by chapter summary, but offers no overarching conclusions. And when that is done, #4 is also in play. Anyone can read a book, and with time and effort, summarize what each chapter says. But, without some kind of critical interaction, or evaluative comments, no scholarly value is imparted. Judging by the output of my reviews, you can rest assured many are guilty of #4, and some are surely #3, but I’d have to go back and figure out which ones. #4 is probably the biggest issue in book reviews in general, but if one were to take time to compile data, I don’t think it would be limited to younger reviewers.

All that being said, I don’t think this is a young academic problem. It is much more likely to happen with younger, less established scholars. But, one only has to subscribe to JETS or Themelios to find reviews that come from older academics that hit one of these 4 elements. Maybe the one the least likely to happen is #1, but then we have the sad tale of G. E. Ladd, who published books in pursuit of #1 and was devastated by a review from another establish scholar that violated #2.

If we look at this list as a criteria for editors to keep in mind, I think we’re much close to a new guideline. The age or rank of the academic involved shouldn’t have bearing on publication if the review does the following:

  1. Does not seem out to reinvent the wheel via book review
  2. Is appropriately critical (summarizes and evaluates)
  3. Describes both forest and trees where appropriate
  4. Adds value to the scholarly discussion of the book in question

We need more reviewers, young and old, who are capable of doing the above. And perhaps more significantly, are capable of realizing when you can’t do this with a particularly book. Perhaps this is the element that Leeman’s Tweet hits on. Younger academic reviewers may be less able to sense when they can’t fulfill the criteria. That is one reason why I appreciated the opportunity to do an independent study right before graduating Dallas that focused on writing good book reviews. It was overseen by Dr. Glenn Kreider, who helped me shape reviews that met the above criteria. The resulting reviews were divided between two journals. In each case, I was the primary reviewer, but because I completed it under Dr. Kreider’s supervision, his name appears as well.

If we’d like to avoid more reviews like the one Jonathan Leeman read, maybe we ought to have more seasoned professors like mine who are willing to shape the reviewing tendencies of young academics. If they produce shoddy reviews, it’s probably not because they’re young, but rather untrained. Or worse, they’ve had shoddy reviewers modeled for them by older academics who should know better.

As I look ahead to the reviews I’ll do this year, I want to be more clear about my limitations and strive to hit the criteria Leeman gave us. I want to be more selective, while still writing on many books. That probably means less full critical reviews, but hopefully it will mean better quality reviews when they’re completed. And also, thanks to Leeman’s tweet, I think I want to resurrect the series on doing quality book reviews.

Or maybe I’ll just review tweets about book reviews…