It’s hard to believe we are already a month into 2017. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess.

Unlike last year, I’m not going to reproduce the entire list of the 2017 Reading Challenge each month. Instead, I’ll just offer a quick blurb on each book I read. I’ll also note whether the book came from a publisher, whether I might post a more complete review, and what category in the list it fits. Sound good? Alright, here we go…

The Righteous Mind (a book about a current issue)

This would have been one of the best books I read in 2016, but I didn’t complete it until the first week of January. Jonathan Haidt offers excellent psychological analysis of values. In doing so, he helps explain how people can disagree so sharply about politics and religion (hence the subtitle). I’ll probably need to go into more detail on this one at some point because it is definitely worth the time investment.

The 4-Hour Workweek (a book about productivity or time management)

I heard the hype of this Tim Ferriss book for a while, but finally decided to check it out. While I’m not necessarily trying to trim down to four hours of work a week so I can live anywhere and join the new rich, I do want to work smarter with my time. Ferriss’ book is good toward that end and you can implement some of the basics of his system regardless of your overall goals. See also the critique of his approach in What’s Best Next.

The Social Animal (a book about science)

David Brooks is one of my new favorite writers. I enjoyed this books which was basically a short story about a guy named Harold and his wife Erica that takes every opportunity to offer neuroscientific commentary on their unfolding lives, both together and apart. I really like Brooks writing style, and this book is basically an opportunity to gain the insights from many popular level psychology books, but with the information set in an engaging narrative frame.

A Quest for Godliness (a book about written by an author with initials in their name)

It’s J. I. Packer extolling the virtues of the Puritans. What more could you want? I’ve unfortunately not read much of Packer or the Puritans (directly) and I’m trying to remedy that here and there.

What About Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices and God’s Sovereignty (a book published by P&R)

Nothing seems to be more divisive in our junior Bible classes than discussing predestination and free will. Thankfully, this book came courtesy of P&R a while back. I finally got around to reading it before our section on election, and when I get to that post on recommended readings in this area later this week (hopefully), I’ll tell you more about this book.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different Than Us (a book targeted at the other gender)

This little gem from Jen Wilkin is both well-written and enjoyable to read. You can tell from the introduction it was written for women, but you should read this regardless of your gender. I was able to read this thanks to Crossway and can see immediately why it won awards. It is an excellent primer on the attributes of God that is theologically rich and accessible, a rare feat indeed.

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (a book of my choice)

More David Brooks goodness. I’m somewhat working in reverse chronological order since I read The Road to Character first, then The Social Animal, and then this. I’m working on Paradise Drive at the moment and then I’ll be caught up. In this particular volume, Brooks analyzes the sociological factors that shaped upper class America in the latter half of the 20th century in order to explain the tastes and customs of bobos (bourgeois bohemians). Would have been more interesting 10 years ago, but still relevant.

Unlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry Frees From Sin and Fuels The Christian Life (a book about Christian living)

If you’ve had questions about how grace and law fit together in the Christian life, this book is for you. I’ve read quite a few on the subject, and this is the best introduction to the subject at a practical, lay level. I’m really glad Crossway sent me a review copy and I’ll have to tell you more soon.

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3: The Divine Essence and Attributes (a book used as a seminary textbook)

I’ve been working on Richard Muller’s four volume series for a while, and finally finished volume 3. I read a good bit of this last year and am hoping to finish up volume four by the end of the semester. This is not exactly riveting reading, but it is an important resource for people who want to be sharp theologically when it comes to this particular time period.

The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of The Liturgical Church (a memoir)

This was an interesting read thanks to IVP. We left the church we had been at for the past five years and have been doing some ecclesiological exploring. I’ll have some blog posts on that in the near future and will mention a bit more about Anglicanism then. If you’d like to read an accessible conversion story from a former Charismatic, this book is for you.

His Love Endures Forever: Reflections on the Immeasurable Love of God (a book published by Crossway)

Similar to the book above by Jen Wilkin, this one by Garry Williams goes deep with attributes of God, but in an accessible way. They made for a great tandem read. Crossway did me a solid and sent both, so we’ll see about a further post in the coming weeks.

Introduction to World Christian History (a book about church history)

Thanks to IVP, I was able to read this introduction by Derek Cooper. I had taken several church history classes in seminary, but this focused more on the margins of the normal church history narrative. It’s a relatively short read, but is especially interesting if you like geography and learning about how Christian expanded and diversified through the centuries.

Union With Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God (a book about theology)

I only read this because Tim Keller blurbed it. And boy, was that a good choice! This is a pretty neglected doctrine, especially at the practical level. Yet, when one thinks of “in Christ” language in Scripture (especially in Paul), there could hardly be a more important subject. If you’d like to remedy the gap in your understand about what this doctrine is and why it’s relevant to you personally, this is the book for you.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically (a book about evangelism)

This was an interesting read. Helpful as an overview to evangelism (it’s designed to be a textbook), but still relevant to someone who has taken classes on the subject (me). It’s part theology of evangelism and part how to do evangelism organically. Because it is designed to be used by a wide variety of Christian traditions (and some I wouldn’t consider actually Christian), readers might quibble with some of the analysis and application. But on the whole, it’s a fairly useful book on a semi-neglected subject.

One of the most influential books I read is Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to The Classical Education You Never Had.* It’s been about 10 years since I read the first edition, and now there’s a slightly updated and expanded version.** I decided to revisit this newer version and will post some lists from it in conjunction with the 2017 Reading Challenge.

As you might imagine, the path to a well-educated mind involves quite a bit of reading. But, it is reading in a certain mode. To explain, Bauer takes 4 introductory chapters just going over preparations one needs to make in order to succeed. It is here that she presents 4 steps to a well-educated mind. They are:

  1. Schedule regular reading and self-study time
  2. Practice the mechanics of reading
  3. Practice taking notes as you write and then summarizing
  4. Practice grammar-stage reading skills

It is worth noting that these are the same steps you need to take with reading for a Ph.D program. I’ve got the first two steps down, but habitually struggle with step 3. When it comes to step 4, I do about half of the six principles of grammar stage reading. I bet you were curious what that entailed, right? In order to read well at the grammar stage, you should (54-55):

  1. Plan on returning to each book more than once to reread sections and chapters.
  2. Underline or mark passages that you find interesting or confusing. Turn down the corners of difficult sections; jot your questions in the margin.
  3. Before you begin, read the title page, the copy on the back, and the table of contents.
  4. At the end of each chapter or section, write down a sentence or two that summarizes the content. Remember not to include details (this will come later)
  5. As you read, use your journal to jot down questions that come to your mind.
  6. Assemble your summary sentences into an informal outline, and then give the book a brief title and an extensive subtitle.

These steps could be applied to any books you seriously read. If you apply them to the books in the 2017 Reading Challenge, you’ll definitely read less books, but probably have a richer experience in your reading. It’s honestly what I would recommend, as well as keeping an eye out for my next post that will have her list of recommend novels that you can plug into the challenge.


*You owe it to yourself to check out her three volume (hopefully soon to be four!) history of the world:

**Because I hope you’re curious, the main expansion has to do with adding a list of science books. These come primarily from her other most recent book, The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory. Much of the rest of the material is more or less the same. I went page by page through it for comparison and since page numbers track very closely, there is little there is new other than the science section.

Saturdays can mean many things. Mine usually mean a day off to recharge and refresh in various ways. This is often through reading, which is what is mostly on tap for today.

It can also mean letting my body recover from the week, something I need after going back to a more strenuous workout routine. I posted on this a few times already (here and here), and can’t promise this won’t be the last diet and exercise related post. On the other hand, I’ll try to not turn this into a fitness blog. At this point, I figure if you do workout, it should be interesting. If you don’t, it is a New Year and sometimes that’s when people give the old gym membership a go.

Anyway, since what I did this week will be fairly stable, I’ll probably only update each week if what is listed below changes radically in terms of exercises or weights involved. Normally, I would either do what’s on Friday below in two separate days (shoulders Thursday, arms Friday), but for me, combining them wasn’t all that difficult. Here’s how the first week went, and I’m looking forward to two rest days before tackling the next!

Monday

  • Chest Press (100 each arm) 5×5
  • Incline Chest Press (100 each arm) 5×5
  • Machine Fly (190) 5×5
  • Triceps Press (140) 4×10
  • Decline Dumbbell Fly (50 each arm) 4×10

Tuesday

  • Underhand Row (100 each arm) 5×5
  • Lat Pulldown (165) 4×10
  • Bent Over Row (90) 4×10
  • Seated Row (150) 4×10
  • Hammer Grip Pulldown (170) 4×10

Wednesday

  • Leg Press (250) 4×10
  • Quad Extension (110) 4×10
  • Calf Extension (350) 5×5
  • Leg Curl (110) 4×10
  • Squats (90) 5×5

Friday

  • Barbell Curl (60) 2×21
  • Skullcrusher (60) 2×21
  • Hammer Curl (45 each arm) 5×5
  • Shoulder Press (120) 5×5
  • Chin Raise (90) 5×5
  • Arnold Press (60 each arm) 5×5
  • Shoulder Fly (35 each arm) 5×5
  • Triceps Pulldown (90) 5×5
  • Overhead Cable Curl (40 each arm) 4×10
  • Bent Over Shoulder Fly (25 each arm) 5×10

Yesterday on Instagram, I promised a post on predestination and free will. Rather than get all controversial, I thought I’d post about Trump and politics instead. At this point, he has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States (technically 44th person to hold office though because Grover Cleveland). This video was from back in February, when it was still somewhat doubtful he’d get the nomination, let alone win. However, I think some of the themes hit on in this video help explain some of what transpired in the past 11 months. In slightly PG-13 fashion, and with an assist from French Marxist philosophers, it helps explains the conditions that would lead to the rise of a politician like Trump. In an age of political theater, truth isn’t what it used to be and frankly, isn’t what people seem to be looking for in the first place.

You can see that to some extent even in the evangelical world by looking at comments and such on this article by John Piper (you can see the comments on FB or Twitter). Many people seem to fail to grasp basic reading skills, much less simple logic and the ability to offer cogent arguments. They also seem pretty reactionary and volatile for no particular reason (or in some cases, petty reasons). I think it’s a much needed article from someone, who like myself, didn’t support Trump back in the fall. It offers wisdom and guidance for living under less than ideal circumstances. We should be thankful for men like John Piper, not quick to dissect and disagree with them when they don’t say things that immediately line up with our own thinking.

While more could be said on this topic, I’m not particularly interested in doing that at the moment. If you like these kinds of videos, you might also want to watch this one and find out if President Trump is a fascist, since that might drastically affect the next four years of your life. And regardless of what you think after watching it, pray for your new President whether you like him or not.

Earlier this month, I mentioned that I was doing the 2017 Reading Challenge. I should be clear that I think this time I’m approaching it as less a challenge and more a good categorical list that helps pick books to read. For me, reading 100 books isn’t that challenging, but reading wider is. Whether that’s you, or whether you’re just trying to read a bit more than usual this year, I have a suggestion.

If you look at the lists in the challenge (see here), you’ll notice this time around there are several “your choice” options. Nine of them to be exact. You’ll also notice several other categories get repeated:

  • Christian living (6)
  • Theology (5)
  • Church history (2)
  • History (2)

In addition, there are several other potentially overlapping categories, such as:

  • A book about holiness or sanctification
  • A book about spiritual disciplines
  • A book about prayer

Anything there would most likely also be considered a book on Christian living as well. So, there’s essentially 9 christian living options, 9 free picks, and 9 books potentially about theology (because of other categorical options, you’ll see them when you look at it). For the eager theological reader, you could always co-opt these and use my theological add-on from last year.

On the other hand, there are several missing categories. I would add these:

  • A book of philosophy
  • A book about philosophy
  • A book on sociology
  • A book on neuroscience
  • A book on psychology

In case you’re curious, the main distinction I have in mind between “of” and “about” would be that “of” refers to a primary source. So, a book by Kierkegaard rather than about Kierkegaard. Certainly there are other categories one could add, but these are what jumped out at me this time around.

In the coming months, I think we’ll find that books on sociology come in handy. I’ve been on a David Brooks kick (who is more popular) and have several sociological titles in my queue. I’m also hoping to do more reading in the science of decision making and other topics in neuroscience. And I shouldn’t forget psychology.

Also, I would suggest an “ad fontes” approach for the free picks in reading. That is, go back and read some primary sources. If you’re used to reading theology and biblical studies frequently, try to not read anything new for a change. Have you read any Aquinas? Start here. What about Augustine? Surely you’ve read his Confessions? I could go on, but you get the idea.

Basically, the way I think we get the most out of this challenge is to read outside of our normal drifts. If you tend to read more newer popular theology and biblical studies, still keep the categories, but go back to classics and sources that have stood the test of time. Pick some authors that have been around for centuries and proved their worth. I can’t promise that I’ll do this as much as I could this coming year, but I’d like to actually strive for it and encourage you to do the same!

When I posted about the TheoFit cut last week, I almost went on a tangent about workout routines. But, I realized it made sense as its own post. Hopefully, if you’re not doing the cut, some of what follows will still be of interest and/or help.

For a bit of history, I started working out regularly about 12 years ago. It was in response to going away to college for 2 years and coming back with a gut (it has made a comeback in recent years, btw). Once I moved to Dallas, I was able to start working out at a gym. This was thankfully because the powers at be at Dallas Seminary didn’t want to perpetuate the fat preacher stereotype so they gave us all a free membership to the Tom Landry Fitness Center at Baylor Hospital. It was a glorious 4 years.

During that time, I was fairly consistent at 3 days a week, mostly upper body (and abs) workouts. I tended to do 3 sets of 10 and maybe 7 or exercises (so 7x3x10). I also did these exercises in a circuit with as little rest as possible in lieu of cardio.

I continued this when we moved to Florida, but with some minor adjustments. I began to alternate pushing and pulling exercises in order to move through the routine faster. I still did roughly the same number of exercises and sets and reps. Then, I did a bulking phase and switched to heavier weights and did 4 sets of 5. After a few weeks, that would become 4 sets of 6, then 7, then 8. Then I would add weight and reduce back to 5 reps.

Then, in an unfortunate act of hubris, I ending up tearing my left pec and biceps tendon. That put all significant lifting to a halt for about 3 months, and then meant starting over with most basic exercises. I’ve just now regained that strength from 2 years ago.

During the rehab phase, I started doing an exercise routine that was similar to the one Paul suggests for the cut. It started as a 4 day split and then after 4 weeks moved up to 6 (two leg days). It also had 30 minutes of cardio tagged to the end (barf) and typically had you doing 4 sets of 8 for 7 exercises (7x4x8). You were also, by the time you got to weeks 5-8, supposed to be doing 80% of your max on those sets. If you’re trying to figure out your max, you can use this calculator. As an example, if you can curl 40 lbs for 10 reps, your max is 53, and 80% would be 42.

All that to say, you have some options in the lifting department. I think if you do the cut, and you’ve previously been lifting regularly, you should stick to the 5x5x5 setup (5 exercises in 5 sets of 5). Ideally, you do 5 days, but for time constraints might do 3.

If you want to do a variant, think in terms of total load. So for instance, I can do 5 sets of 5 Arnold Presses with 60 lbs dumbbells. That’s a load of 1,500 (insert appropriate unit of measurement here). If instead I did 3 sets of 10 with 50 lbs dumbbells, that’s technically the same load, but it works your muscles differently. Because of that, I’ll alternate every few weeks. The last few weeks I was doing 8x5x5 (or 7x5x5), but this past week I’ve been doing 5x3x10. Before I did that crazy day split workout, I was doing 10x4x10. You get the idea.

The goal, that I think is clear is that you have a plan and are consistent. I can do a 5x5x5 workout in about 30 mins, which means a 3 day a week plan is 90 mins in the gym. That’s not too bad. I’m gonna try to shoot for the 5 day deal as part of rebuilding my morning routine. Today is chest day, and I’m about to head over to Planet Fitness. I’m gonna try to hit it hard until the end of March because at that point, a trip to California will crash both the diet and the workout.

After that, not sure what I’ll shift to, but I’ll be sure and have some before and after pictures to post no matter what.

With so many bands going on 10-year anniversary tours for albums that came out between 2005-2007, I’ve been thinking about nostalgia. The cynical part of me wondered if these tours were simply cash grabs to take advantage of the fact 10 years later the demographic is older and will buy more merch. The musician in me understood that bands play music live because they really enjoy it and playing familiar songs that haven’t been played in a while could be refreshing. There is also a sense in which the crowd would show more energy for old favorites than new material.

I liked the different take in the video, suggesting that nostalgia takes familiarity from the past in order to help navigate the present and future. I’d like to do some more exploring on the subject, but in the meantime, I’ve got some tickets to buy for a 10-year anniversary show next weekend.

Over the years, I’ve actually written quite a bit about New Year’s Resolutions. I am generally a fan, although not in a completely uncritical sort of way. I find it helpful to use the break over Christmas to re-evaluate my life and make changes were it seems appropriate. I’ve realized that this involves habit building rather than rule making. In some cases, it may just be one resolution to rule them all (hint: get up earlier). In others it may involve adding integrating a new habit into an existing one (like adding the 7 minute workout to the end of lift session).

No matter what, it’s important to keep in mind what I’ve said elsewhere:

Remember that New Year’s resolutions are entirely optional. You’re not a bad person if you don’t make them, and perhaps more importantly, if you don’t keep them. I imagine many people have good motivations for making resolutions, have thought through a plan for keeping them, but then fail miserably. Failure can be instructive, but it can also be tempting to despair of guilt when this happens.

Such guilt is well-placed if your New Year’s resolutions are attempts to be your own Lord and Savior. If that really were the case, you would bear the sole responsibility of becoming a better you. Do more. Try harder. Resolutions become a means to an end. It may be too easy to get stuck in this cycle, longing for a verdict of “righteous” that never comes.

Thankfully, the gospel proclaims that our justification before God is grounded not in what we can do but in what God in Christ did. As we are constantly reminded of this, we should reorient our own resolutions away from self and social pressure to resolve from a place where we enjoy the justification that matters most.

We can glorify God in whatever we do, and New Years can be a time to examine if our life habits are doing just that and make adjustments accordingly. For me, this has led to New Year’s resolutions aimed at being a better steward rather than a better savior. When it comes to habits of health, if I’m approaching them as steward instead of savior, I’ll likely be more realistic about what I can accomplish. In addition, I’ll revisit my habits on a regular basis instead of only once a year (or even less).

With that helpful theological caveat in mind, here’s several things I’d like to enhance this New Year:

  • Bible reading
  • Prayer
  • Fitness
  • Writing
  • Discipleship

For each, there are already baseline habits in place that either need expansion or revision. I’ll post about each in the coming weeks, but one in particular that I wanted to draw your attention to is TheoFit. Paul Maxwell put it together and is running what’s called a “cut” starting January 15th. If you’re curious about what a “cut” is, here’s his short explanation:

If this is something you’re interested in, sign up and check out the rest of his videos.

I’ve already been doing something close to the workout that he talks about. On Monday, I’ll explain some variants I think are worth pursuing. I think the lifting is flexible, but the diet part is not. If you really want it to be a cut, then lower calorie and higher protein intake are key. Working out helps build muscles but also raises your daily caloric threshold. Because I workout regularly and am fairly muscular (but also have a gut), I can safely eat 3000+ calories a day and not gain weight, I know that from experience, but also from using this calculator (see Paul’s note). However, if I don’t reduce that, I shouldn’t expect to lose weight, no matter much I work out or how much cardio I might do (or think about doing).

That being said, if you’re looking to establish some better health habits in the next few months, consider joining us. You’re not necessarily making a New Year’s resolution, you’re making a 8-12 week commitment that might help you reshape your eating and exercise habits for the long term.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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