All Cell Detox: Thoughts on Being Tech-Wise

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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8-Bit Philosophy: Is Technology Killing Your Creativity? (Probably)

There is much to consider here. On the one hand, I’ve noticed that using technology has altered my thinking and ability to focus. On the other hand, it has enhanced my ability to do things like say, write a blog. All of this just makes me want to re-read The Shallows. In a similar vein, you should read how your paper brain and Kindle brain are different.

New Books of Note

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One of my earliest reviews was Joe Thorn’s Note to Self. I thought it was an excellent little devotional work.It is not so much something you read and move on from, but continue to come back to read time and time again. In a very similar vein, Joe Thorn’s most recent book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God For the People of God, offers readers devotional readings to be savored and re-read. The 50 short chapters are divided into three parts, one for each person of the Trinity. Each chapter focuses on either the person or work (or both) of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. I gave it an initial read-through so I could comment here, but I plan to go back and read them with my wife this summer.

Initially what really caught my attention was Thorn’s introduction, which you can actually watch an interview about here or read the excerpt offered below. The short version is that in 2011, Thorn went through a “dark night of the soul.” In the process of reaching out to David Murray, making some lifestyle changes, leaning more into God and the gospel, he began finding a way out of the darkness. It resonated with me because much of what he described feeling was what my summer was like last year and I’ve only recently started feeling semi-normal again. I don’t think my experience was as intense as Thorn’s, but there seemed to be similarities. Knowing that, I now know that this will be a book that I come back to when the anxiety seems overwhelming, and that seems to be what Thorn has in mind for readers. As he says by way of conclusion,

What follows are fifty daily readings that reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief. Much of this I preached to myself over the last couple of years, and all of it is directed toward my own heart. So, for instance, when I write “there is a kind of deficiency in your christology,” I’m referring primarily to my own weakness. But if you find yourself with a heart like mine, weak and in need of grace, I pray these readings will be an encouragement to you. For God offers his grace to people like us. (18)

What I hope you will discover—what I continue to learn over and over again—is that all of us are far weaker than we know. Our sin, which is much darker and goes much deeper than we realize, is the real source of our most significant weakness. Neither you nor I can measure up to God’s standards. We are trapped in our condition of guilt, and the only hope is the offer of grace by our triune God. (19)

Joe Thorn, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God For the People of God. Wheaton: Crossway, february 2015. 144 pp. Paperback, $10.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!


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Although I didn’t request it, I recently found myself with a copy of Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. A simplistic explanation of the book is that it’s like the main song from Frozen. Or, at least it’s a plea to reader to not get so worked up about things that would otherwise make us angry. In that sense, the book is an explanation of the author’s own journey to being less able to be offended.

On the one hand, I appreciate Hansen’s argument since I’m already tired of the current outrage culture and cannot really relate to it. To some extent, I’m already unoffendable, and I worry that might not be a good thing. I’ve wondered if maybe I should be more outraged than I am about certain things. In that sense, I’m kind of predisposed to read Hansen’s book as a justification for what I already feel.

On the other hand, I think there is probably room for a general ability to be offend and outraged when the time calls for it. Hansen’s argument is that we’re not necessarily entitled to our anger (hence the need to “let it go”), and that righteous anger is generally a myth. I’m not sure I completely bought the argument for the latter, but I do think placing things in the righteous anger category doesn’t necessarily mean that being worked up about the issue is psychologically or spiritually healthy for everyone involved.

That being said, I enjoyed reading the book, will probably reflect on it a bit more, and would recommend others read it as well. I’d particularly be interested what some other reviewers think since this book is a little outside of the normal types of books I see reviewed (based mostly on whose reviews I read). I think at the very least, we as evangelical Christians could probably stand to be less offendable than we currently appear to be, but whether or not we should be completely unoffendable is something we could still explore.

Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, April 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!


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When I was looking through the available books on BookLook Bloggers, I came across Jeff Goins’ most recent effort, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do. To cut to the chase, the path Goins suggests looks like this (196):

  • Awareness: Before you can tell your life what you want to do with it, you must listen to what it wants to do with you
  • Apprenticeship: Every story of success is s story of community. Although mentors are hard to come by, accidental apprenticeships are everywhere. Your life is preparing you for what’s to come.
  • Practice: Real practice hurts. It takes not only time but intentional effort. But some things do come naturally. Be open to learning new skills, and wathc for sparks of inspiration to guide you.
  • Discovery: Don’t take the leap; build a bridge. You never “just know” what you’re supposed to do with your life. Discovery happens in stages.
  • Profession: Failure is your best friend. Don’t push through obstacles; pivot around them. Let every mistake and rejection teach you something. Before a season of success, there often comes a season of failure.
  • Mastery: A calling is not just one thing. It’s a few things, a portfolio that isn’t just your job but the life you live.
  • Legacy: Your calling is not just what you do; it’s the person you become – and the legacy you leave.

While this more or less lays bare the conceptual structure of the book, it doesn’t give you the full picture. Goins is a masterful storyteller and so part of the effect of reading is the way his stories might spark your imagination. Personally though, I was more interested in the conceptual structure and particularly the follow up exercises that Goins suggests doing to pursue this particular path. As I’m still in a place of clarifying and consolidating my calling and work, I found Goins these the most helpful and still need to put some of the suggestions into action.

If you’re in a place where you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, or like me are in a season where graduation looms large and helps you re-think life, this book might be worth checking out. At the very least, it might make an excellent graduation present to either some embarking on college or a career. I learned a lot in my 20’s, but one thing I learned the harder way was that figuring out your work is not an easy task. But as Goins helps explain, it’s not supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away. Rather, Goins will hopefully help readers work their way down the path that will clarify exactly what they were meant to do.

Jeff Goins, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To DoNashville: Thomas Nelson, March 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!


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For a while, I wondered whether or not to request a review copy of Michael Wittmer’s Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? I had heard both good and critical things about it, and it seemed to be getting enough publicity without my 2 cents. But then, a copy showed up unexpectedly with a note from Wittmer himself. I’m not sure whether I was specifically selected by the way it was worded or whether my name came from a list of people that ought to get a review copy. So, if you’re reading this Dr. Wittmer, thanks for the copy, personal invitation or not!

To the book itself, I thought it was a bit mis-titled after reading it. The question posed by the subtitle arises from the background of fundamentalist evangelical culture that seems to treat pleasures of the world as antithetical to true Christian living. I went to a Bible Institute the first two years of college that gave that impression and it seems like Wittmer had a similar college experience. Wittmer’s answer in this book is really to offer a balance between a Kuyperian and Two-Kingdoms approach to appreciating culture. In that sense, it’s not really a plea to be “worldly” in either negative connotation (as in Scripture) or in a sense of being overly focused on the good pleasures of creation in the here and now.

As you read the book, Wittmer works through four major parts: Creation, The Meaning of Life, Fall, and Redemption. Curiously, “Consummation” isn’t a separate part but is instead the last chapter under Redemption. In it, the Beatific Vision is more or less absent, and God’s presence as part of the Consummation of all things is a seemingly minor feature. In trying to address the problem of conservative Christians undervaluing creation and recognizing its original goodness, Wittmer has perhaps unintentionally downplayed a major feature and expectation of life on the new earth. At the same time, maybe I need to read Wittmer’s other book, Heaven Is A Place on Earth to get the full picture of his thought on the matter.

For the rest of the book, I thought Wittmer did a helpful job of explaining the original goodness of creation and our life in it (parts 1 and 2). His section on the Fall is likewise helpful in moving readers to see that the problem is not creation or culture, but sin and its effects on both. In addition, I think Wittmer offers an interesting alternative between Kuyperian views of culture and a Two-Kingdoms approach. In that case, the fourth part of the book is where Wittmer I think invites the most critical interaction and engagement and attempts to further the conversation on topics that relate to eschatology and culture. If that’s something that’s right up your alley, you might want to check this volume out!

Michael Wittmer, Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2015. 208 pp. Paperback, $15.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology

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When I first started seminary, I had to take a class on research methods. It was only a credit hour, and in addition to the Turabian style manual, one of our textbooks was Nancy Vyhmeister’s  Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology. There may have been a second edition available at that point, but my original copy is the first edition. I barely remember reading it, but judging from the internal highlights, I pretty clearly did.

Now, roughly 7 years later, there is a 3rd edition of the book that is about 60 pages longer. The basic material is more or less the same, though the structure is updated. In the newest edition, the opening chapter lays out a definition of research and is then followed by the first formal part of the book which is comprised of 9 chapters on 9 different kinds of theological research:

  • Biblical exegesis and interpretation
  • Literary research
  • Descriptive research
  • Program development
  • Case studies
  • Action research
  • Writing for publication
  • Academic theses and dissertations
  • The D.Min project

New to this edition are the chapters on literary research and writing for publication, the latter of which I found particularly helpful. Also, compared to the first edition that I read in seminary, it is much more helpful to have the different kinds of research laid out and explained at the beginning of the book rather than the end like the original edition (which also did not separate the material of the book out into separate parts).

Having gone through some basics to differentiate these different kinds of research, the following section, which is the heart of the book, is about actually carrying out the research. Here, readers are guided through the entire process, beginning with developing research thinking and choosing a topic, through gathering and evaluating resources, and eventually to organizing and writing the actual paper. New to this edition is a very needed chapter on evaluating on using internet sources. The final section of the book focuses on formatting and explains briefly the ends and outs of presenting the final product of the research project.

Though not an exhaustive word on the topic, this book is fairly standard for seminary preparation. I had to read it at Dallas starting the Th.M program and it is also part of the opening Ph.D seminary on research methods at Southern. If you are considering seminary or are already planning on attending in the near future, you could get a jump start by reading this book now.

That being said, the book is not the final word and so shouldn’t be treated as definitive. At Southern for instance, several other resources on research methods are required reading (books like How To Write A Lot, They Say / I Say:  The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through The Information Fog, and Stylish Academic Writing). While Vyhmeister provides a good general overview of the process, other more detailed works should be consulted to round out your research abilities.


 

Nancy Jean Vyhmeister &Terry Dwain Robertson, Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and TheologyGrand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2014. 304 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

An Animated Overview of Daniel Pink’s Drive

Thanks to Matt Perman posting this, you can now watch a 10 minutes animated run-down on Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s a book that is helpful if your job involves working with people, and I regularly return to it for insight. If you don’t have time to read it, you’re probably too busy (it’s a quick read or even scan). But, if you’ve got 10 minutes, this is well worth your time.

What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done

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Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things DoneGrand Rapids: Zondervan, March, 2014. 352 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy and Matt Perman for letting me be part of the street team!

Every now and then, a book comes long that is actually life changing. Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done is one of those books. Looking at the subtitle, this shouldn’t be surprising. If the gospel is what Christians claim it is, it certainly ought to transform how we get things done, and radically so. Perman’s book is aimed at both unpacking the connection and helping tease out how it affects your day to day work. 1

He does this in 7 parts. The first, “Making God Supreme in Our Productivity,” takes four chapters and debunks the first four productivity myths. Here, Perman is explaining how our understanding of who God is should connect to how we get things done. Having a God-centered understanding of our day to day activities puts them into a context that prizes effectiveness over efficiency. It also means that our work stems from a love of God and love of our neighbors. In the end, the most unproductive thing we could do is attempt to be super productivity while ignoring the role that God plays.

In the second part of the book, Perman moves from the God-centered, gospel foundation of productivity to its initial application in our day to day lives. If our understanding of productivity is truly God-centered, it affects the core motivations we have in getting things done. Ultimately, we should want to be productive for the good of others, not just to feel better about ourselves. Because we stand fully justified before God, we are not earning a status and thus are able to freely do good works out of love for our neighbors. What’s more, we do not have to feel the burden of needing to have everything under control. Our peace of mind comes from resting in the gospel, not getting everything done or having the perfect plan to do so. Further, redeemed productivity is animated by prayer and helps us to know what is most important, put that first, and then focus on doing what’s best next.

With this theology foundation in place, the next 4 parts of the book unpack Perman’s approach to getting things done. It can be summarized in the acronym DARE:

  • Define
  • Architect
  • Reduce
  • Execute

Part 3 covers how to “Define” your tasks. That is, know what’s most important and what needs to really get done. In order to really know this, you need to have a life mission statement as well as a thorough understanding of the various roles you fulfill in life. Ultimately, your mission is to go and make disciples, bringing glory to God in all that you do. Your vision on the other hand, relates to your calling, and is the specific way you are going to fulfill the mission. Because of this distinction, you can fulfill the mission but miss your personal vision. That’s not ideal, and what Perman writes in this section should help you clarify your understanding of mission as your particular calling and vision.

Having defined your calling and roles, it is much easier to actually plan what you need to be doing. Part 4 explains how to architect this out. The key is to actually plan on a week to week to basis and to focus more on setting up routines rather than endless to-do lists. I’ll probably have more to say on this in a later posts as I found this especially helpful. Readers who have used David Allen’s Getting Things Done will probably find Perman’s tweaks helpful. I am familiar but haven’t been utilizing it, but I can see how Perman has gotten around a typical problem people run into when managing individual tasks vs. larger projects (and where the line between the two is). It’s not a radical enough shift to through people off, and if you don’t use GTD, it’s not a huge issue.

Once you’ve defined and planned (“architected”), it is important to know when and how to reduce what you do. This is the focus of part 5. One key is to only schedule to 70-75% capacity rather than entirely filling up your plate. You need a flexible schedule to account for, well, life. If you’re always scheduled full to the brim, there are always going to be things that don’t get done and you’re probably going to carry out a very frustrated existence. By only planning for 70-75% you’ve reduced your day to day load and will actually be more productive in the long run. Helpful also in this section is the chapter on harnessing time killers and working with interruptions and procrastination.

Finally, you actually need to get things done. Execution is the focus of part 6, and Perman has many valuable insights. Particularly helpful is the chapter on processing e-mail, in which he suggests you can, and then explain how you can get to inbox zero everyday. I’ve been doing this for a while thanks to Mailbox app, but that’s probably another post as well. The insights on e-mail are part of Perman’s overall helpful tips for processing what comes your way. He relies heavily on Allen’s system in GTD, but he makes it his own and has clearly put a lot of thought into optimizing it further.

Before bringing the book to a close, Perman offers one last section on how to live out the system he is suggesting. He also connects it to larger concerns about the improvement of society and being responsible citizens of the kingdom of God in this world. After this, there is a toolkit section that includes a helpful 500 word summary, a list of recommend further reading, and a link to the online toolkit for further resources from Matt.

As I said in opening, this book is truly life changing. The reading of the first couple parts really opens your eyes to see productivity in a God-centered way. It helps to redeem management books and the like by setting them within a gospel-centered framework. The life-changing part of the core 4 parts I think comes more in the implementation rather than in the reading. In that light, this is a book that I’ve now read, but am certainly not done with. I’ll be back in it multiple times in the coming days and weeks and I seek to wisely implement the insights Perman has for productivity to the glory of God. If you are serious getting things done effectively and want to glorify God in your day to day activities, I highly recommend picking up this book. It will easily repay the investment of time and money you put into it. While I’m reviewing it now, this probably isn’t the last post that I’ll have on it. As I put much of what Perman says into action, I plan to post here and there about how I do it. In the meantime, pick up a copy for yourself and join me on reorienting productivity in a gospel centered, God-honoring direction so that we can do more for God and our neighbors.

Notes:

  1. Here is his post explaining more about why he wrote the book. Also, check out his post with more goodies from the book, and his online toolkit to go with the book.