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Around this time last month, I posted my February Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Reading was down slightly this past month, as was blogging. That was mainly because I had spring break and took advantage of having spring training games in my backyard. That, and I’ve started watching Mad Men. Once again, I have a slightly more annotated list this time around. Key word is slightly. I’ve also truncated the checklist to just include books I’ve finished at this point. If you want the whole list, see either my January Update or Challies original post.

Here’s the March reads:





(image via challies)


Around this time last month, I posted my January Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Actually, I’m a little early at this point, but I know going into the weekend what I’ll finish up. Also, I was having trouble getting my thoughts together for a review post. I have a slightly more annotated list this time around. Key word is slightly. I’ve also truncated the checklist to just include books I’ve finished at this point. If you want the whole list, see either my January Update or Challies original post.

Anyway, here’s what I read in February:

  • The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy
    • Like most essay collection on philosophy and pop culture, this was hit or miss (pun intended?)
  • The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind
    • This is a classic book, some of it dated, but most of it still very relevant for diagnosing issues with how (some) evangelicals approach intellectual issues
  • The Pastor: A Memoir
    • I loved this book, and as I said before, am on a Peterson kick at the moment. Highly recommend reading this if you’re involved in ministry.
  • Philosophy in Seven Sentences
    • This was a great overview of important thinkers in philosophy. I’ll say more in my review
  • Five Views on The Church and Politics
    • This book correlates the five views in Niebuhr’s Christ & Culture to approaches to politics. Different views, but not a lot of sparks in the responses.
  • The Birth of The Trinity
    • This book is cost prohibitive for many, but important in terms of explaining the early church’s hermeneutical moves that helped shape our understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion
    • Very important in light of the upcoming political season. You can be patriotic without being an idolater, but it is apparently really difficult.
  • Politics for Christians
    • This ended up being more philosophical than I expected, and it made be want to read more of Beckwith
  • The Miracles of Jesus
    • I like the charts, but it wasn’t a very engaging read. It is thorough and exhaustive, but also kind of flat.
  • This is Awkward
    • Really enjoyed this one because it made me feel slightly more normal (but not less awkward).
  • Happiness
    • Turns out there isn’t a substantial difference between happiness and joy according to the way the biblical authors used the word. Also hashtag blessed can also be hashtag happy.
  • How to Be an Atheist
    • Excellent dismantling of atheistic approaches to science, reason, and morality, showing their skepticism toward religion needs to be applied more rigorously to their own views
  • Habits of Grace
    • Great introduction to the spiritual disciplines in three fold form (Frame would be proud)
  • Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife
    • Horrible marketing with this one. It came unsolicited with a sticker that said “Are evangelical men more likely to abuse their wives?” Not cool Zondervan. However, an important book that was engaging and got me thinking. I’ll post more later.





(image via challies)

Realistically, this probably won’t happen. But, since noting the perils of reading too much, I have thought about ways to cut down. In that post I also pointed out Tim Challies Reading Challenge. After giving it a bit of thought, it seemed good to me and the Holy Spirit to give it a shot.

I need to prioritize reading in order to feed myself, but I need to prioritize other tasks more so that reading doesn’t become a gluttonous activity. I go back and forth about spending my morning doing other things and pushing reading into the afternoon. Ultimately, this might be best since I like reading enough to still do it in the afternoon, whereas making it to the gym can be put off once I’m tired. I may have to ease into adjusting my morning routine, so bear with me.

When it comes to the reading challenge, if I complete it in full, I’ll read 104 books. That’s a bit low for me, given my past history according to Goodreads. As you can see, I usually average around 150 a year:

Book stats

(Not pictured: 2012, which was a low year of 103 books)

Full disclosure, I didn’t read the NICOT Psalms volume cover to cover (I’m doing that this year). I did read enough of it to consider it “read” though. I do that with some longer works, usually commentaries, but not with the other two longest books pictured, which I did read cover to cover. Anyway, I digress…

This year, I thought I’d try to broaden my reading and get back to reading more for enjoyment than for busyness. I say that because I often I end up reading books that are ok for the most part (usually 4 stars given my rating system) but are not particularly enjoyable. I feel obligated to read these books for one reason or another, and so dutifully complete them. Often, this turns into a form of procrastination. Everyone only has so much time in the day, so if I’m reading 150-160 books a year that average 256 pages (last year at least), then I’m doing that instead of many other things. I feel obligated to read these books, but often I don’t really have to, and I’m putting off doing something else (like writing).

Instead, I’d like to read less but read better. Hopefully, this first leg of the Reading Challenge can help. The way it works is like a snowball. You begin with the Light Plan, which includes 13 books:

  • A book about Christian living
  • A biography
  • A classic novel
  • A book someone tells you “changed my life”
  • A commentary on a book of the Bible
  • A book about theology
  • A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle
  • A book your pastor recommends
  • A book more than 100 years old
  • A book for children
  • A mystery or detective novel
  • A book published in 2016
  • A book about a current issue

Some of these are obviously in my wheelhouse. It does have quite a bit more fiction than I usually read, but I need to read more of that anyway. I put some thought into it and came up with this list for the first leg:

Some of these are still pretty typical reads for me, but I think it is a little bit broader than normal. I’m trying to utilize books for review where possible, but also trying to think outside the lines when I can. I’m still taking recommendations for a “book that changed my life,” I got a few on Twitter, but am still undecided. Feel free to lobby for something for me to add there.

In the meantime, I’ll get to reading and once I finish this set, I do another set of 13, then a set of 26, then a set of 52. Sounds like fun right?


As is my custom, several weeks back I started a series on book recommendations and then promptly abandoned it. I gave some recommended readings in Reformed theology, promised some on systematic and biblical theology, and well here we are. It would be pointless to promise when those posts will arrive, but most likely it will be before Easter (ever the optimist I am).

In the meantime, this is a collection of previous posts with commentary recommendations. What is a biblical commentary you ask? It is a book designed to help you understand either a specific book of the Bible or a collection of books in the Bible. If you have a study Bible, the notes in it a usually a short version of what a full commentary is (although the ESV and NIVZSB are pretty commentaries in their own right). It is a book that should help you understand the literature, culture, and theology of a given book of the Bible. That last point is somewhat disputed when it comes to commentaries that are more technical. That is, those commentaries tend to go into extensive detail on the literary, cultural, and historical side of things, but do not always terminate in explaining the theological message of the book.

Commentaries come in many shapes and sizes. They also tend to get published in series. Some of these are specific to the Old or New Testament, and some are for the entire Bible. The website that I like to gather recommendations from categories commentaries as either devotional, pastoral, or technical. This is roughly a beginner, intermediate, advanced kind of categorization, although the difference has to do more with focus. The devotional commentary is more for the average person who just wants to understand the book of the Bible better as part of their own personal growth and study. The pastoral commentary is generally more for pastors and teachers of the Bible, and goes into more detail in places. The technical commentary is for pastors and professors and as you might imagine, goes into even more detail, often focusing more on literary and cultural dimensions and less on the theological ones.

A couple of years ago, I put together a series of posts with my recommend commentaries for each book of the Bible. Here are the Old Testament lists:

The post on Old Testament Backgrounds gives a good orientation to both the background of the Old Testament and how to select commentaries on it. After I finished the series, I collated my recommendations into a single post, which you can read here.

Here are the New Testament lists:

There isn’t a corresponding New Testament backgrounds post, but this is a similar type of post. Along with all of this, you can read my reviews of specific commentaries, although they are rarely very in depth.


Every now and then I’ll read about book about reading other books. It’s kind of weird when you think about it like that, but some books are more about other books than they are about themselves. My favorite in this category is probably Tony Reinke’s Lit. While that’s a more comprehensive theology of reading with general tips about how to do it well, it still is a book about reading other books.

More recently I recommend a book called You Must Read, and did the write up for Christ and Pop Culture’s member offering, A Christian Guide to The Classics. Both of those books were aimed at making you want to set down the book you were reading and go read something better (no offense). In a very similar vein, Douglas Wilson takes the space in his most recent book to recommend 9 authors that you should read. Those authors are:

  • G. K. Chesterton
  • H. L. Mencken
  • P. G. Wodehouse
  • T. S. Eliot
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • C. S. Lewis
  • R. F. Capon
  • M. S. Robinson
  • N. D. Wilson

There’s a few things we could note about this list. One is that the last author listed is Doug’s son. The other is perhaps that Robert Farrar Capon and Marilynne Robinson don’t usually abbreviate their names. Another is that this is pretty exclusively a 20th century type of list. However, if we think of this as Wilson’s suggestion of people he personally enjoys reading, it’s not that big of a deal. He at least admits he contrived it to be all abbreviated names, and he makes no bones about presenting his son, who objectively speaking, is a pretty accomplished writer.

Wilson seems to be one of those kinds of pastors/writers that you either love or hate. I think Andy Naselli sums up well how I feel:

Doug Wilson is brilliant, and he communicates brilliantly. That’s a rare combination. I’ve saidbefore that when I read or hear Doug Wilson, he usually evokes one of three responses: (a) I strongly agree. Witty, pithy, insightful. I wish I would’ve written or said that. (b) I strongly agree, but an improved tone could win others over. (Think Tim Keller.) (c) I strongly disagree, and the tone is off-putting.

I think it’s healthy to have this kind of range of responses. It is probably unhealthy, for your opinion of any writer, to feel (a) all the time. On the other hand, Wilson, being someone who wrote a book defending sarcastic satire (see Frame’s review, and Wilson’s response), can very often rub people the wrong way. I’m not usually on the receiving end of that and so usually enjoy reading Wilson and find myself agreeing more often than not.

If one thinks of the book like the earlier ones I mentioned, then the take-away is in the conclusions to each chapter where Wilson offers his suggested path through the works of the authors he recommends. His brief biographical sketches in each chapter are entertaining, but ultimately, if this book doesn’t make you want to read at least some of the authors listed, it has failed to meet its own goals. I came away wanting to read more Wodehouse, who Wilson originally got me interested in back in seminary. I was also intrigued about Robert Farrar Capon and Mencken. I’ve read much of Lewis already, as well as the main works of Tolkien. I need to read Gilead at some point. And of course, I should give Chesterton a shot sometime soon.

While this was an enjoyable read for me, it’s not a book for everyone. If you like Wilson, you’ll like this book. If you don’t like Wilson, then you probably wouldn’t want to read this or anything else he writes and might be tempted to be overly critical of this book. That would be unfortunate since the focus of this book is one the other authors that Wilson wants us to read. As a road map to their writings, I think this book is worth checking out. But, since the meat is in the conclusions, you could almost just skim it in your local bookstore, and then go buy some Wodehouse, Lewis, or Robinson.

Douglas Wilson, Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your BookshelfWheaton: Crossway, 2015. 176 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

Over at Lifehacker, I saw this image giving a rundown on logical fallacies (thanks to and it seemed like the perfect post for philosophy Friday:


I mentioned on Monday that I had withdrawn from Ph.D studies at SBTS. It wasn’t actually official until today when I received the e-mail from the registrar, but everything on my end was done back at the beginning of December. Rather than fully explain what I’m planning to do long term when it comes to Ph.D studies, I thought I’d explain more about what I’m doing now short term.

Ever since I was at Dallas, Ph.D work has been the plan, but in a kind of abstract sense. I’ve had general aspirations, but no actual plans until my final year at Dallas when I first started an application to SBTS. When that remained unfinished, Ph.D work became a kind of “sometime, someday” sort of thing.

This of course all changed last fall when I re-applied to SBTS, took the entrance exams, and got accepted. Because of how quickly that process came together, I didn’t have time to really reflect on what I was getting into until this past summer. I think part of the outcome of doing that was realizing I ultimately wanted to do a theology Ph.D, and I explained last post where that led.

Because actually doing Ph.D work was now on my radar, I started doing some reading about it to look for guidance. Very helpfully, I was able to get several of the books that entering Ph.D students at SBTS are required to read:

The take-away from the first one is that you need to have set time to write in your schedule, which is part of what I’m doing right now. I’m still working through the second but am finding it very helpful and possibly something to use in a critical-thinking/creative problem solving class I’m helping put together. As for the latter, it’s just a good general overview that I had originally read at Dallas. I re-scanned the newest edition and you can read my thoughts on it here.

In addition, I am hoping to read the following two titles soon, which would also be required reading if I were starting SBTS

The former I skimmed at Dallas. It is helpful as far as providing a framework for organizing your research in a paper format. The latter I’ve only heard good things about. I imagine that is similar to the recent book by Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. The chapters are a bit on the long side, but the insights into clear grammar and style are worth it.

Though not required at SBTS, I recently read this trio of books:

The first has some good general advice for submitting papers to journals but is mainly helpful if you’re writing psychology articles. The second is a good overview of the dissertation process, though I’m not sure how applicable it is for humanities Ph.D’s. The advice on choosing an adviser and topic I found particularly helpful.

The last book was particularly informative, even if it is geared more toward students looking to do a Ph.D in biblical studies rather than theology. A point that Witherington made that was helpful for me personally is that teaching the Bible really requires you to be a generalist while getting a Ph.D requires choosing a specialty. I latently realized that my dissertation topic doesn’t pin me down to a certain specialty for the rest of my teaching career. But it was helpful to have Witherington expound on it and explain that I didn’t have to lose my love for generality in order to pursue a career in teaching. In fact, I’ll probably need it if I want to teach theology well.

I have some titles that I’ll be working through, but I’ve found that generally, I’m looking at titles about researching and writing better since that’s the bulk of the dissertation. In addition, I’m looking at titles that give an overview of the process and then I’m putting together a general reading plan to nail down potential topics. I’ll have more to say about that Friday.

If you have any advice on this, I’d love to hear it. Anybody else preparing for Ph.D work or even in the middle of it? What did you find helpful?

Top Links

Together For The Gospel Main Sessions

All the audio for the main sessions of Together For The Gospel are online now. I’d really recommend Kevin DeYoung’s and John Piper’s messages.

Holy Week Day 1: Palm Sunday (Justin Taylor)

This series of videos will run all week corresponding with the book The Final Days of Jesus (see my review Tuesday)

Hollywood, Movies, and The Bible: Should We Rewind on How We View? (Darrell Bock)

I have watched with great interest the thumbs up or thumbs down on the host of recent Hollywood movies. I have seen those opinions raised often with a sense that if you think otherwise, the Holy Spirit must have departed your soul while you were at the movie or departed from it before you made the decision to go.

As one tasked to discuss cultural engagement at a seminary, I’m interested to see how church leaders respond to these films. And I am worried we are missing the boat on Noahand other movies, whether made by those inside or outside of the church. The questions we are asking about their content are important, but the tone and how we are reacting may be missing the mark. We may need to push rewind and rethink how we review what Hollywood produces for us.

Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical? (Stephen Altrogge)

I recently read two articles by a well known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.

The desire behind the article was good: the author was trying to demonstrate that Jesus is sufficient for every facet of life. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.

This List Reveals The Heartbleed Affected Passwords to Change Now (Lifehacker)

By now you’ve probably heard about the massive Heartbleed security bug that may have compromised the majority of the world’s web sites. Everyone should change their passwords on the affected sites—but only after those sites have patched the issue. Mashable is maintaining and updating a list of the most popular sites you should change your passwords for ASAP.

Random Thoughts

  • I had a great time in Louisville last week. It was good to actually hang out in person with several friends I know through blogging and Twitter. Also, I was able to meet my Ph.D adviser and talk with the director of doctoral studies about some independent study options. It more less sealed the deal since I found out I could have my cake and eat it too (more on that later).
  • I will probably have some book giveaways in the near future. For one, I need to reduce, but also, I got about 30 free books at Together For The Gospel and now I have duplicates. Some of those I have reviewed, so I’m thinking I’ll add a giveaway to the existing review and then post about it on Twitter/Facebook.
  • With the prospect of doctoral studies on the horizon, I’m trying to decide how to spend my free time the next few months. Do I get a head start? Do I just pleasure read? Do I start working on French/Latin/German? Do I just not read at all for a while? (No). Probably will do some planning this next week since, because of testing, functions like a second spring break.
  • They just opened a new Panera literally across the street from our neighborhood. Though I am Starbucks loyalist, I am more of a “nice outdoor patio” loyalist, so I think I found a new hang out and study spot. Also, I see many discipleship meetings on the horizon, and potentially an apologetics or theology group. We’ll see.

From My YouTube History

A History of Pizza

Nan’s First Roller Coaster Ride


Yesterday, I posted this picture of Matt Perman’s just released book, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while, and now it’s finally arrived (You can read a sample here).

In the preface of the book, Matt lays out 12 myths about productivity that many of us may have unwittingly bought into (13-16). Originally, I thought I’d list these out for you followed by the corresponding truths that Matt explains in his book.

Instead, I thought it would be interesting to quiz yourself and see how God/gospel centered your view of getting things done is. At the end I’ll list the myths and truths in total. Let’s see how you do:


  1. Productivity is about getting more done faster
  2. The way to be productive is to have the right techniques and tools
  3. It is not essential to give consideration to what God has to say about productivity
  4. It is not essential to make the gospel central in our view of productivity
  5. The way to be productive is to tightly manage yourself (and others!)
  6. The aim of time management should be our peace of mind
  7. The way to succeed is to put yourself first
  8. We will have peace of mind if we can get everything under control
  9. To-do lists are enough
  10. Productivity is best defined by tangible outcomes
  11. The time we spend working is a good measure of our productivity
  12. Having to work really hard or even suffer in our work means our priorities are screwed up or we are doing something wrong.


Think you did pretty good? I’m hoping you guessed that #3, #4, and #7 are definitely myths. The truth is though that these are all productivity myths in one way or another. Matt sheds light on this by presenting the corresponding truth for each of the above myths:

  1. Productivity is about effectiveness first, not efficiency
  2. Productivity comes first from character, not techniques
  3. We cannot be truly productive unless all our activity stems from love for God and the acknowledgment that he is sovereign over all our plans
  4. The only way to be productive is to realize that you don’t have to be productive
  5. Productivity comes from engagement, not tight control; when we are motivated, we don’t need to tightly control ourselves (or others)
  6. Productivity is first about doing good for others to the glory of God
  7. We become most productive by putting others first, not ourselves
  8. Basing our peace of mind on our ability to control everything will never work
  9. Time is like space, and we need to see lists as support material for our activity zones, not as sufficient in themselves to keep track of what we have to do
  10. The greatest evidence of productivity comes from intangibles, not tangibles
  11. We need to measure productivity by results, not by time spent working
  12. We will (sometimes) suffer from our work, and it is not sin

If some of these truths seem counter-intuitive, or liberating to the way you approach your daily work, you should probably check out What’s Best Next. You should probably read this post by Matt explaining more about why he wrote the book. If you’re interested in trying to secure a free copy, there are other bloggers offering giveaways, here, here, and here. As always, Justin Taylor has a good write-up too.

Hopefully, I’ll have a fully review of my own by next week. So far, it’s a very beneficial read that I’m hoping will reshape the way I approach juggling my current schedule. I’m definitely tempted to believe that efficiency is more important than it is and that tangible results are most important. I expect to have a better understand of why that’s not the case as I continue reading and applying the wisdom in this book.


I recently finished reading Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien. It is an excellent book if you like Tolkien and are interested in his ideas. Even if you are not, it is still excellent. As the framework for his book, Kreeft highlights 11 areas of philosophy and 50 questions that Lord of The Rings deals with. Though he notes that this list is far from a complete introduction, it is nonetheless a “representative sample of the most important of them [the questions to be asked],” and specifically, “the ones that make the greatest difference in our lives” (27). So, if you could highlight 50 questions to spend the rest of your life answering, here they are (and you can read Kreeft’s book to see how Tolkien, and Lewis would answer them):


  • How big is reality?
  • Is the supernatural real?
  • Are Platonic Ideas real?

Philosophical Theology

  • Does God exist?
  • Is life subject to divine providence?
  • Are we both fated and free?
  • Can we relate to God by “religion”?


  • Are angels real?
  • Do we have guardian angels?
  • Could there be creatures between men and angels, such as Elves?


  • Is nature really beautiful?
  • Do things have personalities?
  • Is there real magic?


  • Is death good or bad?
  • Is romance more thrilling than sex?
  • Why do humans have identity crises?
  • What do we most deeply desire?


  • Is knowledge always good?
  • Is intuition a form of knowledge?
  • Is faith (trust) wisdom or ignorance?
  • What is truth?

Philosophy of History

  • Is history a story?
  • Is the past (tradition) a prison or a lighthouse?
  • Is history predictable?
  • Is there devolution as well as evolution?
  • Is human life a tragedy or a comedy?


  • Why do we no longer lover glory or splendor?
  • Is beauty always good?

Philosophy of Language

  • How can words be alive?
  • The metaphysics of words: Can words have real power?
  • Are there right and wrong words?
  • Is there an original, universal, natural language?
  • Why is music so powerful?

Political Philosophy

  • Is small beautiful?
  • Can war be noble?

Ethics: The War of Good and Evil

  • Is evil real?
  • How powerful is evil?
  • How weak is evil?
  • How does evil work?

Ethics: The “Hard” Virtues

  • Do principles or consequences make an act good?
  • Why must we be heroes?
  • Can one go on without hope?
  • Is authority oppressive and obedience demeaning?
  • Are promises sacred?

Ethics: The “Soft” Virtues

  • What is the power of friendship?
  • Is humility humiliating?
  • What should you give away?
  • Does mercy trump justice?
  • Is charity a waste?