Archives For Personal Adventures

It might be a tad too late to post about this, but better late than never.

Tomorrow, December 1st, my friend Paul Maxwell is starting a 31 Day Fitness Challenge for his TheoFit website. The challenge has 3 components to it:

  • 20% calorie deficit in your diet
  • 4-5 days a week of resistance training (he gives three options here)
  • Eat 1 gram of protein per lean pound of body weight

I’m already pretty on board with the last 2 elements. But I kind of just eat and drink what I want, and so have packed on the pounds over the years. If you’re in a similar boat, this could be a good way to jump start those New Year’s Resolutions (which I’ll have more to say about soon).

Since this is last minute, if you’re gonna jump start the challenge, you’ll really just need to get the diet pieces sorted out tomorrow and over the weekend. You can start the workout routine later next week.

I’m fond of using this calculator to figure out what a calorie deficit looks like. In my case, I weigh 235, am 6’2, and have about 20% body fat. I’m in the moderate exercise category, but I’m going to level up by adding more cardio over the next 31 days. When I plug those numbers into the calculator, here’s what I get:

  • Maintenance calories: 3400ish
  • Cutting calories (25% deficit): 2500ish
  • Protein goal: 190 g per day

A pound of fat is roughly 3500 calories, so if I maintain the deficit over the course of the 31 days, I should expect to lost around 8 lbs. If I move more and eat less, I’ll lose more. But, if I just stick to the stated deficit, I’ll be lucky to drop 10 lbs. Ultimately, I’d like to lose a little more than 20, so I might maintain the cut for a couple of months. But, at the very least, I’m going to do it in December, and if this is something you’re interested in, you should join me!

If you become a TheoFit member, you’ll be able to join the Facebook group for support and Q/A. I’ll be in there posting, and I’ll also be on the podcast later in December.

Between now and then, I’ll explain what I do for workouts, and what I’ve found is necessary for my lifestyle and blood type in order to lose weight. Obviously knowing what to do is only part of the problem. The other part is motivation and execution, and thankfully, that’s what Paul is trying to help people out with. If you’ve known what to do but just find you can’t bring yourself to do it, maybe the TheoFit community is what you need. At this point, can’t hurt to give it a try, and now’s a good time to leverage motivation to make some habit changes!

Sometimes a blog post like this is a shot in the dark. But, it is Giving Tuesday after all, and as we all know, it can’t hurt to ask! At the very least, it’ll be a good primer to get you up to speed on what we’re up to in college ministry.

To not bury the lede (yes, that’s how you spell it), Ali and I have slowly but surely been raising monthly support in order to devote more time and energy to the calling for student ministry we feel God has placed on our lives. We don’t anticipate being entirely financially dependent on support, but would like to find a balance that involves not both working multiple jobs in order to make our budget work (I explain that a bit more here).

At present, our average in monthly support was just under $1500 for the fall semester. We would like to gradually double that over the course of the spring semester to be closer to $3000. At the very least, we’d like to be able have doubled it by the start of next school year. The hope is that by then we can mostly focus on doing student ministry and not juggling it with the vague anxiety that we should be spending spare time trying to raise monthly donations.

If you feel this would be a worthy cause to donate to, you can give to the non-profit ministry we work under in one of two ways:

1. You can send a check to:

SHIFT Ministries

12472 Lake Underhill Rd. #428

Orlando, FL 32828

Address the check to SHIFT Ministries and In the FOR section, write Account 102 (do not address it to me)

2. You can visit this link and give online.

Select an amount (e.g. $50, $100)

On the drop down menu, select my name (102 – Nate Claiborne)

Enter your card info (or at the very bottom, select “Bank Account”)

Select whether to cover card fees (it’s 3% we don’t get otherwise)

Select whether to setup automated giving and whether to give weekly, every other week, or monthly

By doing this, you are enabling us to do more with the on-campus ministry at UCF that we stepped into leading at the beginning of this past semester.

To give a little background, this is all related to our role as associates with SHIFT Ministries. The college portion is known as SHIFT at UCF. SHIFT is a registered student organization that meets once a week during the semester, and typically does various outreach activities. This is including but not limited to tabling at the student union during the week in order to engage Christian and skeptic students alike.

Earlier in the summer, I explained a bit of our philosophy of ministry and some of what we hope to accomplish in our work with college students at one of the largest universities in America. I explain what our target is here.

In addition, we see our role with SHIFT extending in both directions generationally. This is because we would like to add some initiatives with the high school students as an outreach of SHIFT, as well as some work with the young professionals at our church. We want to reach our generation as well as the next as a means to reaching our city, which is one of the more post-Christian ones in the nation (#25 in this list for instance).

For a brief history of how we got here, you read my earlier posts here and here, as well as our initial support letter. In the other direction, you can read our most recent life update here.

We have been grateful for all the support we have received to date and wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are without it. We are realizing in retrospect that we underestimated how much of a transition we were taking on this past year. Ali went from one crazy job to two part times that are less so (and even together are still probably less than half what Panera was). I added a long term project at an existing job and reactivated an older job that had gone dormant. To add to this, we also changed churches and tried to get plugged in. Oh, and I got sick at the beginning of the semester right before it looked like a hurricane was going to wipe us off the map.

Things have calmed down, just in time for the holidays. Hopefully we can use the time over the break to plan out the spring semester and began expanding some of our on-campus initiatives. To keep up with that, you’ll need to subscribe to our newsletter. I post about it on here from time to time, but you’ll get more info through that channel.

I appreciate your consideration of supporting us and would also welcome your prayer that God continues to provide for us in the coming weeks and months!

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!

This time last year, we left the church we had been attending since moving to Florida. It was something we had considered the previous fall, and loosely the fall before that. We had actively tried to sever ties the summer before that. If you’re keeping score, that means our relationship with that local church had been uneasy since 2013.

This time ten years ago, I packed up most all of my belongings and moved to Dallas. I had just finished my undergrad and was about to start working on a Th.M at Dallas Seminary. In a sense, my complicated relationship with the local church started then. This was both because I would for the first time be able to actively find my own church home, and also because I would leave Texas with some fairly well developed ideas about what a healthy church looks like.

I would come find out later that Mark Dever had similar ideas and I hadn’t really done anything to reinvent the wheel. This was of course a relief, but didn’t help the situation we found ourselves in from 2013-2016. It also didn’t help that while we were in Dallas (I became a we in 2009), we were covenant members of The Village Church, a little Baptist church in Flower Mound that set the bar pretty high for wherever came next.

Ironically, it was because we went to The Village that we were both destined to end up at the church we did and also to have an ultimately negative experience there. Maybe “destined” is too strong of a word, but there was a certainly a trajectory set.

The Village of course wasn’t a perfect church, because that church doesn’t exist. But it was a church that sought to make the manifold wisdom of God evident through the way they did church (see Ephesians 3-4). It was also part of the Acts 29 network, which led us to search for a church in that network when we moved to Florida. At the time there was only one with a weird hybrid sort of multi-site thing going on. At the advice of the connections pastor at the main campus, we ended up at the campus closest to the University of Central Florida.

This was mid 2011. If you’re familiar with evangelical timelines, this is before the fall of Mark Driscoll and Tullian Tchividjian. One of those pastors directly mentored our church and pastor, and the other moved here while he was still on his downward trajectory. Both of them exerted a significant influence on the tone and theology of the sermons we sat under for several years. And this was in ways overt and covert.

In retrospect, this time period in American evangelicalism was weird. I suppose it is still weird, but I think it was the decline of the pastor as personality. Obviously there are still churches where this is the case, but with Driscoll and Tchividjian having been disgraced and trying to be re-graced, we find ourselves in uncertain ecclesial waters.

And in that light, I wanted to pick back up my adventures in ecclesiology series, but try to tie in some reflections of seminary ten years later. Not entirely sure what this will look like, but I need some processing space, and time has elapsed enough to start doing that I think. It might be messy, but so is church life. I will do my best to offer some level of anonymity.

I’ve intentionally not mentioned the name of the church or any staff so far. If you know the situation, then you know names and such. If you don’t, you don’t need to. I’ll try to be sensitive, but I’m also telling my story and my experience. My interpretation can be disputed, but I’ll try to stick to narrative details that are open to verification. And hopefully, along the way I can add some wisdom to both the seminary discussion and thinking through life in the local church.

But, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to try and be consistent about putting thought to pixel.

The mountains are often lovely this time of year in Florida. However, this mountain is fake, and our only access to it is because we have Disney passes and it’s a ride in Animal Kingdom. Not this past weekend, but the weekend before that we celebrated our 8 year anniversary by a little getaway down to Disney. We essentially re-allocate our date night budget to maintain passes and take budget getaways in the off-season.

I’ve neglected blogging the past few months for a variety of reasons. Ever since Ali quit Panera back in February, we’ve been transitioning into some new phase almost every month. At this point though, I think we’re adjusted and starting to build some momentum. To give you an idea, here’s the lay of the land right now:

I’m still teaching like I have for the past 6 years. This year I just have Bible classes and a lone once a week elective called Sports Journalism which is kind of a way to trick boys into taking a writing class, but also an excuse to talk sports for an hour each week for credit. I’m also the team leader and editor for an extended research project for Docent Research Group, and I still teach private piano lessons every Wednesday.

On top of that, we’ve stepped into leading an on-campus ministry at the University of Central Florida called SHIFT. Because of hurricane and other logistical setbacks, we got a late start, but we’ve been meeting regularly on-campus for the past month. December will be a time of planning and preparing for the next semester and as things come together I’ll tell you more.

Ali has been working at our local World of Beer, which in addition to being a place for me to read and decompress on the weekends, has been a place for missional engagement. We’re focusing on connecting with her co-workers and building relationships in order to love on people better. Ali has also been working twice a week at our herbalist, who is the mom of one of Ali’s high school friends. She’s who we go to when we have routine sickness and stress. Ali is getting over being sick at the moment, and I was sick at the beginning of September, but we both recovered quite nicely via natural remedies rather than antibiotics.

While it would be ideal for Ali to not work, what she’s been doing has paled in comparison to Panera, both in time and stress levels. And, like I said, it’s provided a good opportunity to get to know some people in our area that aren’t in the Christian bubble. As we continue to raise support (you can sign up to support us monthly here), we may plan to keep this in the mix.

In addition, Ali and I are in the membership process at a new church called NewCity Orlando. After our last experience, it has been an almost 180. I haven’t fully told the story of that, but I’ll probably start soon. But for now, after checking out a few places, we felt at home at NewCity primarily because of the solid worship and preaching. It has also helped that the pastor has told me that they want to be a church known for hospitality and spiritual formation, two things that are passions of ours, but mostly absent in our previous experience.

As far as blogging has gone, I’ve been allocating time elsewhere. I’m horribly behind on reviews, but am planning to start the catch up process soon (as in now). Part of the delay has been deciding how to divide reviews between here and potentially blogging through our on-campus ministry website. I finally realized I just need to keep them on here for now, but also add more non-review type posts. I’m hoping to ramp up consistency going into the new year.

We’ll continue to focus on more ministry initiatives related to SHIFT and pray that support comes in. But, I’d like to consider what I do on here as part of our ministry and plan accordingly. We’ll see how that goes in the next few months!

Before I really tell the story of the last week here in Orlando, a couple of caveats are in order. First, I’m writing this from my intact house that has power, water, and wifi. Second, what we lived through was not on the same level as say my friend Steven in the Bahamas during Hurricane Andrew (i.e. in a bathtub under a mattress watching the roof separate from the walls). Nor is like what those in Houston and the rest of Texas endured with Harvey. Rather, I’ve just been reflecting on what it’s like to live in the shadow of impending doom for the better part of a week.

About this time last week (Tuesday), I was at school and began to realize that the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic was headed our way. This was helpful in order to prepare, but also meant anxious limbo for at least another 5 days.

Actually, it was almost too late to prepare. Apparently I was late to the party and everyone else realized on Monday that we might be screwed in a week’s time. Wal-Marts and Publixes gradually ran out of canned goods, bread, and bottled water. It was however a great time to buy perishables.

By Wednesday, we were looking at a landfall from a Category 4 storm somewhere a bit south, or worst case scenario, an extended coastal brush that would mean Cat 2 or 3 winds here in Orlando for 10-12 hours. At one point, we were projected to have sustained winds of 80-90 mph all night on Sunday in the best version the models had to offer.

Now, people outside the state need to realize that because of the aforementioned Hurricane Andrew, houses built when ours was (2005) had to be built to code that meant that could withstand winds in the 110-120 mph range. So, there is no need to evacuate for fear that the big bad hurricane is going to blow our house down. Shingles gone and roof leaks are on the table, but structural integrity is more or less assured in our case at least (if it wasn’t, we would have evacuated even though Orlando is one of the last places that would have a mandatory order like that).

But, while the house might stand, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the storm whips up winds strong enough to throw a projectile through one or more of our windows. They may be double-paned and rated for winds up to 120 mph, but that doesn’t help if the wind throws someone’s garden gnome through a bedroom window at 3am.

Of course, this is why some people board up their windows. I inquired earlier in the week if our landlord wanted this done, and the answer was no. This was helpful, in that it meant he was willing to take financial responsibility for any damage. Also, I was off the hook for doing something I was ill-equipped and under-resourced to perform (plywood was basically gone by mid-week).

However, that meant living the rest of the week with the uneasy “what am I going to do at 3am if a window is busted in by a garden gnome or a random coconut and it rains into whatever room that is for the next 6 hours” feeling. We have a rather large house with some rather large windows that actually couldn’t be boarded up even if I had been able to do so.

There was also the vague anxiety that comes from seeing the recommended hurricane prep lists and knowing that even 4 days out, you can’t get everything on the list before the storm comes because everyone freaked out after Harvey and got to the resources first. Once I came to terms with the fact that we would have flashlights, food and water for 3 days, contractor grade trash bags to throw stuff into if a window broke and that was it, the anxiety subsided a bit.

But, that meant we were still 72 hours out or so, and there was nothing to do but wait. I spoke in chapel on Thursday for a bit about the fact that the most frequent command in Scripture is “do not fear,” and we worship a God who calms storms and walks on water. At the end of the day, I encouraged the students to avoid pics of destruction on social media and size comparisons to Andrew since neither of those things were likely to make anyone feel better. And we talked about God’s omnipresence and the fact that he already sees the bright sunny day on Tuesday and knows the outcome of the storm better than we even know ourselves. Whoever said theology wasn’t practical has never really studied it.

By Friday afternoon, we were in the 48 hour window where everything was starting to shut down. By Saturday afternoon, pretty much everything was closed and you either had the resources you needed or you didn’t. The course of the storm kept changing, but as you’ll notice in the picture, being on the edge still meant a Category 4 Hurricane could come straight through Orlando. When Hurricane Charley in 2004 came through our part of town (as a Cat 3), it looked like a bomb was dropped, because as you may or may not know, if you live in inland, you get the hurricane and any tornadoes it decides to spawn. So there was that reality to live with.

Sunday was the day the storm was coming, it was just a question of when and how strong. To cut to the chase, it ended up being something less than a Category 1 in our part of Orlando. We had a ton of tree debris in our backyard and we lost power for about 36 hours, but thankfully that was it. The rest of our city, and the state as a whole didn’t necessarily fare as well. For many, normal life won’t resume until next week. For some, it won’t really resume at all in a form similar to what was lost over the weekend.

Even worse is some of the devastation in the Caribbean. While I can’t fully imagine what that’s like, a lesser version of it was something I had to come to terms with earlier in the week because it was a live option. At the end of the day, Floridians often scoff at hurricanes and host parties when they’re supposed to come because they almost always fail to deliver a direct hit (especially here inland). This time around everyone seemed to be taking things seriously. And while we dodged the proverbial bullet in our part of town, not everyone had that same outcome. Once you’re on this side of the storm, it’s time to figure out who needs help and spread the resources around to help rebuild. I’m not sure what that looks like for the rest of our week, but I’m hopeful that this will be a time we can come together and extend the helping hand when it’s needed most. At the very least, I’ve got a trunk full of junk food to return to Wal-Mart tomorrow, and an entry to put in my gratitude journal about missing the brunt of a hurricane two years in row now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.