Now that it’s officially summer reading season, I thought I’d give you more of a rundown on the lists in The Well-Educated Mind. You may vaguely remember the overview I gave of the opening section. If not, here it is again.

Chapter 5 is “The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel.” Bauer gives a 10 minutes history of the novel, which you’ll have to actually buy the book to read.

She then proceeds to tell you how to read a novel (beyond merely going from one word to the next in succession until the final page). She gives you tips and questions to guide you through reading at the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stage. Because I don’t want to deprive you of the joy layered reading, I’ll reproduce those below (parentheticals refer to pagination).

Grammar Stage Reading (71-73)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • Keep a list of characters as you read
  • Briefly note the main event of each chapter
  • Make initial notes on passages that seem interesting
  • Give the book your own title and subtitle

Logic-Stage Reading (73-81)

  • Is this novel a “fable” or a “chronicle”?
  • What does the central character (or characters) want? What is standing in his (or her) way? And what strategy does he (or she) pursue in order to overcome this block?
  • Who is telling this story?
  • Where is the story set?
  • What style does the writer employ?
  • What images and metaphors get repeated?
  • Pay close attention to beginnings and endings

Rhetoric-stage Reading (82-86)

  • Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?
  • Does the writer’s technique give you a clue as to her “argument” – her take on the human condition?
  • Is the novel self-reflective?
  • Did the writer’s times affect him?
  • Is there an argument in this book?
  • Do you agree?

Bauer then offers an annotated novel list. That is good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases (e.g. Gulliver’s Travels) to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

I’m still stuck on Don Quixote, but I think I’ll remedy that this summer and move on to the next. Here’s her chronological list:

I don’t know enough about modern novels to comment on the additions past 1900, but I think it’s a pretty solid list. I’m sure we could add or subtract some, but if you’re looking to deepen your understanding of quality literature, this is a good place to start.

On Sunday, I dropped my car off for a much needed oil change. Since it’s on high-mileage now (just under 250,000), I try to space them out as much as possible (within the guidelines). This is tricky because as the car has aged it has acquired a taste for oil. I can’t actually make it between oil changes without adding a quart or two along the way.

I usually have my fingers crossed when I drop it off because it seems just about every summer there is some sort of repair needed. My original Camry was good to me, and only needed routine maintenance until I totaled it just shy of 285,000 miles. This car has been a different story. Lemon is probably a strong word, but whoever had it before me got it off on the wrong trajectory.

During church, in fleeting moment of service, I noticed voicemails from the mechanic. As it was too soon to be ready, I knew this meant something need fixin.

Sure enough, my radiator was leaking. Not being entirely sure if this is a thing you can just ignore (probably not), and having an afternoon to take care of it, I drop the $500 to get it done.

All is well and good until I notice Monday morning that the car is leaking coolant. On a return trip to the mechanic to get the coolant topped back off, I set an appointment to come back Tuesday and see if it might be the water pump (spolier: it is).

Apparently, when the pressure is stabilized by replacing the radiator, other weak spots might give. In this case, it was the water pump, and as is my car’s custom, it couldn’t be replaced without fixing another broken mechanical part (a tensioner that had to be removed to get to the pump). Bottom line: another $500.

On Wednesday, I took a break from visiting the mechanic. But, I noticed the car was now leaking oil instead of its usual habit of burning it internally. Not knowing what that might entail, I decide to wait and see if it is still doing tomorrow (now today). Sure enough it was, and when I called they said they could check it out right away.

Luckily I did because a crankshaft pulley had lost a seal and the metal was scraping through the housing of the timing belt, leading to the oil leak. Had this continued on, it would have eventually ruptured, all the oil would have drained out, and the car would have been dead. An unfortunate third repair this week, and another $700 (I am rounding numbers for your convenience).

Now, would I have noticed this leak if I hadn’t been already vigilant because of the previous repairs?

Probably not.

It is inconvenient (and expensive!) to have to deal with car repairs by the quarter dozen?

Absolutely.

But, better this week, when school is over and I have a work project that I can do in a waiting room. And, better now, when we could go down to one car, rather than earlier in the spring when we couldn’t or later in the fall when that isn’t feasible again.

The bottom line is that after spending more than the value of my car to keep it running, I need to find a new one. But, in God’s providence, I’ve got a couple of months to work all the details out, instead of having a dead car on my hands and need to do something ASAP.

And, as is custom, I can look to how God has taken care of my recent past as a blueprint and promise for how we will take care of our future. Although with the caveat that God is too creative to do the same thing the same way twice.

If you could though, pray for wisdom for us, and for provision. Since Ali quit Panera back in January, she hasn’t drawn a paycheck since early March (her last bonus). I just got my last paycheck for school last week. On paper, we don’t like we have steady income, although that will be different in a couple of months. If we rely on how our support has been payed out, that helps, but it is also coming from a source that has only been paying me for 6 months. We got a great deal on Ali’s car, but that was at the height of her Panera income, so it’ll have to be a different route this time.

In God’s providence, we have time to sort this out, but pray that we’ll be wise with our options and that God will bring the right car at the right time. He’s done it for us twice before, so it’ll be interesting to see how it comes about this time!

One of the most helpful books I read last month was Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family. It’s a short read, but offers valuable insights into the role technology plays in your life. I found much the same to be true of Crouch’s previous book, Strong and Weak, but as it pertains to leadership. At a larger cultural level, his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power was a nice compliment to his first book, Culture Making. Because IVP sent me review copies of Playing God and Strong and Weak, and Baker sent me The Tech-Wise Family, I’m just going to focus on those.

Tech-Wise Family

The book is a three part exposition of the Ten Tech-Wise Commitments (41-42):

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, and play, and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

If you’re curious about the first one, it relates to how technology makes things easier, which undercuts wrestling with issues on your own sometimes. That commitment, along with the next two are the foundation. Notice they have to do with space and time (and our stewardship and proper use of both). The next five relate to daily activities and rhythms. The final two almost function as a kind of eschatology of technology.

In terms of argumentation, the statistics scattered throughout help build the case that Crouch makes. In terms of application, I’m implementing #4 as a reminder that I own my device, not the other way around. I wouldn’t say that I am over-tethered to my iPhone, but it has definitely changed me in ways I don’t like. I’m hoping over the summer I can detox on not just the school year, but technology to some extent as well.

I would strongly recommend this book for your summer reading, especially in tandem with a book I wrote about at Christ and Pop Culture and will have more thoughts here soon.

Strong and Weak

You’re going to have to participate a bit with this one. Take out some paper and a pen. Draw a horizontal line and intersect it with a vertical line. Label the top right quadrant 1, and then move clockwise labeling the other three. On the horizontal axis, write vulnerability. On the vertical axis write authority. Label the quadrants as follows:

  1. Flourishing
  2. Suffering
  3. Withdrawing
  4. Exploiting

Alternatively, you could label the horizontal warmth and the vertical firmness. Then the quadrants would become:

  1. Kind
  2. Indulgent
  3. Absent
  4. Authoritarian

Those, you might represent as parenting styles, the former are styles of leadership that lead to the labels of the quadrants. This is the essence of Crouch’s Strong and Weak. We are not presented with a false choice between quadrant 4 or 2 (which is what it might feel like). Instead, we can aspire to be a deft combination of strength and vulnerability, something modeled for us in the Gospel.

I found this book prescient when I read it. It helped articulate a tension I had wrestled with in my own approach to the classroom and student ministry. Although I tend to sometimes err toward indulgent, I aspire to be firm, yet warm. I have made sure that I am an appropriate level of vulnerable with students in order to be authentic. Yet at the same time, I have to exert some level of authority. I let this play out often intellectually. by being authoritative with what I think, but also vulnerable enough to consider other ideas respectfully. Hopefully I’ve modeled this well in the classroom.

Playing God

Although you can’t tell from Amazon, this book is probably as long if not longer than the other two combined. It is a “normal” size book, while the other two are smaller hardbacks. As such, it is more of a sustained argument that does several things at once. First, it offers a kind of biblical theology of power. Second, it traces those dynamics into our modern world and deals with topics like privilege and institutional brokenness. The book was published in 2013, but seems like it could have been written in the last six months.

The book itself is split into four parts. The first explains the origins of power, how it was a gift given to humanity by God, and how it quickly became a tool for idolatry. The second part begins the exploration of the misuse of power and opens up the discussion of privilege, which is essentially power you don’t realize you have.

We saw this played out humorously last night in an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews, who is African American) had a run in with a police officer who didn’t think he belonged in his own neighborhood. He didn’t have his badge on him and so it quickly escalated and ended up being very traumatic for him. He laments this to Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), who kind of initially blows it off saying he’s done crazy stuff all the time. We see a flash back of a cop yelling at him as he climbs into a window wearing a Jason-style hockey mask. Jake explains it’s for a prank and the officer just says, ok!

That’s privilege. When you have the power to do something looks shady and those with the authority to do something about aren’t the least bit suspicious, you are privileged. If you are considered suspicious simply for being somewhere, that’s a lack of privilege, which when it comes in contact with power causes problems.

I should probably make a separate post about all this, but you get the initial idea (hopefully). From here, parts 3 and 4 of Crouch’s book cover the institutional nature of power as well as the telos of powers. If you want a theology of power, in its original intended form and current corrupted version, this book is for you. It’s not necessarily easy reading, but it is biblical and cultural in a way that few writers seem able to pull off. Crouch does it pretty consistently.

While the last day of school was May 25th, it feels like summer only really started this week. We did have our end of the year teacher workday last Tuesday, so this is the first week without any school obligations. Although, I am not without a bit of prep and planning to do for the next year.

This completes my 7th year teaching at International Community School, so I’d like to announce that next year I am taking my sabbatical. Just kidding, although my teaching neighbor for the last few years is doing just that, but to focus on being a stay at home mom (and after 11 years, so she’s earned it more than I have).

For me, I’m gonna shift focus away from school for several weeks and do some decompressing. May always takes a bit out of me, socially at least. I’m pretty caught up on reading, so I’m actually gonna catch up on writing instead over the next few weeks. Ali and I are in a new workout routine and will probably make some theme park runs in the near future.

As far as life in general, we just had a new roommate move in, who is starting at RTS in the fall. He’s one of Ali’s brother’s best friends and is a pretty cool guy. In some ways, he reminds me of me 10 years ago: in a new place and about to start seminary. We also had another new roommate move in back in March that graduated from Liberty and is looking to find work at a church in youth ministry. He’s also pretty cool, and we’ve already a few good theological discussions.

Our other roommate Matt, one of my best friends from back in the day in Tennessee, is still living with us as he goes through a divorce. Up until last May, we had been living with him and his wife and a teenage girl they were fostering (not through the system though, long story). We are renting a large house and had been easily able to split the living quarters (upstairs and downstairs) as well as rent.

Relationally, things began deteriorating between the three of them last February, and it culminated in the girl getting kicked out, and the wife abandoning to go be with her the following week. She left without warning and we haven’t seen her since (although Matt has, but only after over 6 months). Obviously, there is a lot more to the story, and it’s still brewing in the background. Matt had lost his dad unexpectedly earlier that year, so it was two back to back losses and he’s had a pretty hard time dealing with it. The trauma we experienced pales in comparison to his.

I only mention all that because it explains what things have been like inside our home for the past year. I don’t often post personal updates, and I don’t want to spend too much time talking about someone else’s story. At the same time, because we lived together, it is part of our story now too. Peace was a struggle but it has come gradually and we are thankful. Matt’s not out of the woods yet, but God’s brought people into his life to share his burdens and be the body of Christ.

In the midst of all this, the decision Ali and I made last summer to start the support raising process and see where God would lead us has culminated in formally coming on staff with a college ministry at UCF. I am still continuing to teach my normal schedule, although without any electives (besides sports journalism, and possibly weightlifting). I plan to continue doing that for the foreseeable future.

Because Ali quit Panera (after almost 11 years) back in January, we’ve been in the process of raising support. We are covered for the summer, but the fall is a question mark. We are a good ways along, but have quite a bit more to go in order to not have side jobs. That means at this point, Ali will be working a couple of part time jobs moving into the fall, and I’ll continue teaching at the school, as well as minimal private music lessons and the editing and research work I do.

We are hoping to take advantage of the two less busy months and spend as much time planning for the fall as we can. Planning in the financial sense (raise monthly support), as well as missional sense (how SHIFT will do para-church ministry in the fall). We are also trying out a summer Bible study to see if that’s helpful for students that are incoming freshmen as well as those still around in the summer. And, we need to solidify leadership and other back-end things that I won’t bore you with right now (but might if you ask later).

I’m looking forward to the change of pace, but am also not kidding myself about how much juggling is in our future. There is less of that the sooner we meet our August 1st goal of monthly support. In the coming days, I’m going to be processing some thoughts about our ministry on here. We are taking a step of faith by losing a primary source of income in order to pursue our calling. If that’s something you’d like to invest in, do not hesitate to contact me (and I might contact you before you know it).

In the meantime, I hope to get back in the writing groove, live without an alarm for a few weeks, and enjoy some much needed rain here in central Florida.

Well, school’s out for summer, so I’m gonna start blogging again. About the only thing I consistently did through the spring was update you on reading, so let’s pick back up with that.

I read 17 books in May, which brings the year up to 67. Because of a line I read in a book I already finished in June, I’d like to tip the scales in June/July from consumption back to production. Expect more review posts instead of roundups like this. But for now, here’s the eclectic mix from May:

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (a book about parenting)

This might be one of the most important books I read over the spring, so I’ll try to get my actual review (I’ll start doing those again) out soon. Anything by Andy Crouch is worth your time, but this one especially so if you have kids or technology, or both.

Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today’s Global Communion (a book about the Reformation – sort of)

Was not particularly impressed by this one, although the series it kicks off could be promising.

Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era 

If you read things on the internet, you should probably read this. I’m debating whether or not to craft an article about this, or just do a review. The short version is that it covers how to read statistics, charts, and graphs correctly, and gives a rundown on how basic logical fallacies. He is certainly not a-political, but he points out errors on both sides of the spectrum throughout.

Reconsidering John Calvin

This is a collection of essays based on lectures Randall Zachman gave. It is also part of Cambridge’s Current Issues in Theology series. The opening essay on Calvin’s views on astronomy is worth the price of admission alone (spoiler: he had very progressive views on Genesis and science in the Bible in general).

My Beer Year: Adventures with Hop Farmers, Craft Brewers, Chefs, Beer Sommeliers, and Fanatical Drinkers as a Beer Master in Training

You may have noticed a theme with books on beer. I’ve tried to add more hobby reading, but I’m also curious to start writing about beer in theological perspective, something I don’t think many have dared to do. I think could list reasons for this, but I’ll save it for a post. This particular book traced the author’s journey toward becoming a certified Cicerone, which is the beer version of Sommelier (which is the wine version of a your local Starbucks Coffee Master, except leveled up several times).

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (a book about Christian living)

If Jared Wilson writes a book, you should probably read it. And if it’s a grace soaked manual on being a less than perfect disciple, you should read it and share too. I’ll do that in a review soon.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (a book by John Piper)

This might be John Piper’s most important book. Well, that’s possibly a stretch. It’s a bit longer than it needs to be, but it is one of the best book I’ve read on how to read the Bible. The reason is that is address both method and posture. Most of it actually about posture, and I think that’s its most valuable contribution. I’ll explain a bit more when I post about it and his other recent book.

Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body (a self improvement book)

I’ve started a new workout and diet routine, and it is thanks to Paul Maxwell pointing me to this guy’s resources. If you’re interested in a solid explanation of dieting and workout that is no gimmicks, you’ll want to check this out.

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories Are Misunderstood

This was a great followup to the author’s previous book on the most misused verses in the Bible. I have to do a review soon, so I’ll explain more then.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World

This was a kind of follow up to The Benedict Option. Written by the archbishop of Philadelphia, it isn’t so much a Catholic answer to or version of the Benedict Option. It is rather a wise leader’s reflections on how culture has changed and how to remain a faithful presence within it.

Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity (a book about Christian living)

You might have seen that recent TGC article about the fallout from Mars Hill. If you’d like a more in-depth perspective, as part of a book that’s about something else, you’ll want to read this book from a drummer in several Tooth & Nail bands, but also a former member of Mars Hill.

Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century

If Chuck Klosterman writes it, you should read it. This was his collection of essays from the past 10 years, mostly published elsewhere, but collected here with his introductions that give historical context.

How Does Sanctification Work? (a book about sanctification)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, you should go read that, and see how you can get it for free!

I Told Me So: The Role of Self-deception in Christian Living

I had higher hopes for this, but it’s a useful primer on how self-deception works. More importantly, the author gives constructive advice for how it relates to the Christian life and growth (see previous book).

The Juvenilization of American Christianity (a book about church history)

This wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read, but is important to see how the efforts to reach youth culture have weakened American Christianity. To add insult to injury, we don’t actually do that well at reaching youth. This book helps explain part of the mess.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

If you ever wanted a history of the world traced through beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, and soda, this book is for you. I’ve moved on to his history of food, and hope to also get his book on the history of social media.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

This book is a satire, and it is biting. Obviously, the take away is that the opposite of the ten things is what will help your child’s imagination flourish. I was pleased that I was already doing some of these things in the classroom. Adding a few more will be part of my summer goals.

 

Just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Zondervan’s Five Solas Series is complete. What’s more, you can get a sweet deal on the bundle from Westminster Bookstore.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading thanks to the generosity of Zondervan. My favorite so far has been Thomas Schreiner’s Faith Alone. It was the first to be published and I think represents the goals of the series best. God’s Word Alone is a bit lengthy, though to be fair, Matthew Barrett tries to cover quite a bit of ground. But, for comparison sake, you can see how it stacks up against the other titles in the series.

I posted a few thoughts on God’s Glory Alone, and I’m just getting into Christ Alone and Grace Alone. For the former, I’m interested to see how it compares to Stephen Wellum’s also recently published God The Son Incarnate. For the latter, I’m looking forward to Carl Trueman’s exposition of grace, especially after he changed my mind about Luther.

On the whole, I think this is an important series to track with, although it is certainly not for everyone. If you’re interested in issues related to justification and the New Perspective on Paul, you’ll want to grab Faith Alone. If you’re interested in protecting or defending inerrancy, and historical views on the subject, you’ll want to snag God’s Word Alone. If you’d like a more accessible Christology than Wellum’s more thorough volume, then grab Christ Alone. And if you some classic Trueman, grab Grace Alone.

The whole set might not be for everyone, but it is for me, and thankfully Zondervan agreed and I’ll be finishing it out over the summer and preparing to party like it’s 1517 come October.

This month, I feel like I did a decent job of diversifying my reading. That trend will probably continue going into the summer, although May is gonna be a little crazy.

I added 13 books this month, which is back closer to January and February, with 12 of the 13 hitting categories in the challenge. That also means I hit 50 for the year. Most of these I read cover to cover this month, but a few (you’ll notice them) are much longer and it just happened that I finished them in April.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (a book about current events)

Here’s what I already wrote on Rod Dreher’s book.

Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels (a book about theology)

This was another part of my pre-Easter reading. I’ve got a post in the works about how this fills in a significant lacuna in another semi-controversial book that just came out. I’ll keep it ambiguous until then.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (a book about history)

I don’t often read brief histories of humankind. Much less do I read radical gay vegan takes on it, that go where only Nietzsche and Foucault dreamed of going. Yuval Noah Harari is probably a presuppositional apologetist’s best friend because he starts with atheism and then consistently traces out how it would apply to the human species and their cultural products and practices. I need to trace that out more, and hope to do so soon.

The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Courses (a book recommended by a friend)

You may notice an uptick in beer related reading, but I’m not quite ready to explain why. Let’s just say it is actual research, and also attempting to understand one of life’s simple pleasures.

An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans

If Michael Bird writes a book, I’ll probably read it and tell you about it. I need to do a more formal review of this one, so I’ll wait and tell you more then!

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (a book of your choice)

I spent the better part of Easter weekend finishing this up and it is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend wrestling with Fleming Rutledge’s work. While it is a theology book, it is conversational in tone and culturally saavy in references and anecdotes. In other words, this isn’t your typical 600 page theology book. I wouldn’t say I quite agree with everything she wrote, and this post from Andrew Wilson explains a good bit why.

Know Why You Believe (a book about apologetics)

I’ve got a review of this third volume in the KNOW series from Zondervan in the works. It also made for a great read during Easter weekend.

The Triunity of God (Vol. 4 in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) (a book you have started but never finished)

This represents finishing Richard Muller’s massive study in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. I can’t really summarize my thoughts here, but I can let you know that an updated version of this series is coming out soon(ish) that will include two new volumes. If you’ve thought about getting them, wait until then (because $500 on Amazon is not worth it)

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (a book your pastor recommends)

When I graduated Dallas in 2011, I got Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics. I would wish that everyone who fancies themselves a theologian would take the time to work through these volumes. Maybe not drag it out as much as I did, but if you read one multi-volume systematic, make it this one.

Paul and His Recent Interpreters (a book you own but have never read)

This was originally going to be part of N. T. Wright’s fourth volume in the Christian Origins and The Question of God series (otherwise known as PFG). But, it became its own volume and came out later. I got a review copy from Fortress, so I’m going to share more in a seperate post.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a book about Christian living)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, if you’re a member, you can get it for free!

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (a book for teens)

Once again, I’ll have more to say on this one in a review. But for now, it has become a late addition to my textbooks for next year but it was written by an 18 year old girl and it makes good on the promise in the subtitle.

Reality Is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (a book of your choice)

I’m not sure I can actually explain where I’m at on this one. On the one hand, it is supposed to be a popular level physics book. On the other hand, I had a hard time understanding it and people tell me I’m smart. I think it might be because of how much of a paradigm shift it is (time and space don’t exist the way you think they do). But, as I’m about to embark on an Interstellar re-watch, I’ll have more thoughts down the road I imagine.

If there’s one thing I do on this blog consistently, it’s start blog series with reckless abandon and then never come back to them. However, I intend to pick back up the book reviewing one, as well as the seminary one. I don’t think there’s any more recently orphaned ones (besides an on-going story about a trip to California that now has a Part 2), and so another a new one doesn’t complicate things too much.

This one has been rummaging around in my mind since at least this time last year. When I was younger, I listened to a tape series called Adventures in Odyssey (cue nostalgia for some of you). This series is something like “adventures in ecclesiology.” Probably lamer to be honest. But, I couldn’t think of a better title.

Everything kind of started when I left for college (not surprising right?). Up to that point, I had been at the same church since 3rd grade. That I can remember, I had only been part of one other church before that. During the two years I was at Word of Life, you really couldn’t regularly attend a church. Well, you could, but it took more effort than I was willing to put in. I did enjoy two churches in Florida, and exactly zero in New York.

My first, how you might say, “awkward” experience with a church was at one of those Florida churches. It wasn’t actually even during my time at school in Florida, but on a trip back through to see friends and go to a concert in Ybor. That Sunday, I went to the one church because that’s where the guy I was staying with went. I had gone several times while I was in school because my buddy Steven and I had recorded an album for the current (at the time) worship pastor.

This particular Sunday involved me being a bystander while a pastor broke up with his church. While I don’t know the history of the church, I think the guy had planted it, and at the very least had been the pastor of the church plant for several years at that point. His message, and I’m using that word loosely, was basically, it’s not you, it’s me. He explained why he was leaving, and then from what I understood, moved to North Carolina and started working at Barnes & Noble.

Had I been a member of this church, it might have been more devastating than awkward. I think everyone had been blindsided. Luckily, that worship pastor I mentioned was able to step up and start preaching and now he’s the lead pastor (and has been for over 10 years, longer than the previous guy). While that is a good thing, I am guessing the original pastor peacing out wounded quite a few people and it took the church some time to heal. I am also guessing that he was experiencing pretty significant burnout, and so hopefully he has healed as well.

This story, while relatively minor in my own personal history, opened up a new perspective on the local church. Up to the time I left for college, I had a pretty bland Bible belt Baptist church experience. I have no complaints, because I think I went to a pretty healthy church. It probably had its issues, but I wasn’t necessarily in the know. The church is different from when I left it, but, the pastor I grew up with is still the pastor of the church. Other staff have shuffled in and out, but he’s still going strong.

This particular experience at the church in Florida was perhaps a firsthand entrance into church drama. It was the first time I saw a pastor lose pastoral credibility right in front of my eyes. Much of what happened that day might have been solved by better accountability. At the same time, I’m sure it wouldn’t have fixed everything and I’m not privy to all the underlying details. I know what he publicly presented to his church, but I don’t know the back-end workings.

In the end, it may have been what helped develop my conviction that pastors who haven’t been vetted by a really solid seminary probably shouldn’t be planting churches. A corollary to this is that pastors who couldn’t get hired by a local church didn’t need to strike off and form their own. I certainly left Dallas with those convictions, in part after seeing everything you have to go through to get a ministerial seal of approval from a serious seminary. But, as I have also seen firsthand, just because someone has a seminary degree and seal of approval, it doesn’t mean they will be a good pastor.

These things are tricky aren’t they?

All of this serves as a kind of introduction to my way of processing my personal history with the local church, which has certainly had ups and downs. I’ve witnessed church issues and no doubt caused a few myself (we’ll get to that). My sample size is admittedly small, but I’ve read widely in both the history of the church and the recent history of evangelicalism. I’ve also never been on staff at church and I’m going on staff with a parachurch ministry. That obviously skews my perspective a bit.

I’m not here to trash the church, in general or particular. I’m just trying to think through a healthy relationship with the local church in general (especially as it pertains to young adults) and in particular (as it pertains to our recent church search that was set in motion this time last year). I’m also trying to think through what activities the local church should be spending more time on, and what parachurch ministries (especially college campus ones) can and should focus on doing. I’d also like to touch on how something like the Benedict Option fits into all of this, but it might take a while to get there. But, if you’re along for the ride, we’ll get there eventually.

If you’ve never heard of The Benedict Option, you’re probably not alone. You may have heard of Benedict of Nursia (modern day Norcia in Italy), but didn’t know he offered an option for living in a post-Christian nation. Well, Rod Dreher thinks he does, and after numerous articles, finally published a book on it.

In some sense, it is not a new concept. Much of the discussion dates back to a quote from Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue. As Christopher Cleveland does a superb job of explaining, theologians have been talking about this for 35 years. But, as with many academic theological discussions, the general public remained blissfully ignorant.

With Dreher’s book in print now, the discussion is much more publicized. He writes not as an academic, but as an informed lay person who is a good writer (good enough to make a living doing it). Having been somewhat watching the discussion from afar, I decided a trip to California was a great time to actually read the book (see above)

Rather than summarize it myself, I’d suggest you read Jake Meador’s review at Mere Orthodoxy. He provides the best summary that could function like a Cliff Notes if you need it to do so. For an extensive critical interaction, see James K. A. Smith’s review. I would tend to agree with his assessment that much of what Dreher offers sounds like fundamentalism minus the rapture. But, I wouldn’t necessarily consider Smith’s a review a “total takedown,” and would like to point out, he has his own axe to grind with contemporary Christian approaches to culture.

In terms of other interactions, intriguing but off the mark is The Atlantic’s article on the book, which provides an outside perspective on the whole discussion. Much better in terms of thoughtful critique are Alan Jacobs, Rusty Reno, and Greg Peters. From Peters’ perspective, the book “doesn’t raise the tenor of faithful Christian living so much as trivialize the monastic vocation.” He also points out that the real Benedict Option is to, well, be a Benedictine monk, an option still open to many. And, note also his conclusion which points out several historical inaccuracies.

As far as my opinion on all of this, I don’t completely buy it. I tend to follow Carl Trueman here, who on his blurb on the back says “This is the kind of book I am going to use to get the thoughtful people in my congregation reading and discussing.” In his Mortification of Spin podcast a few weeks back, he interviewed Archbishop Charles Chaput about his book Strangers in a Strange Land, which he commends more than The Benedict Option. While written by a Catholic Archbishop, the book has much to offer Protestants to think trough about living within this post-Christian nation. Also of note is Baptist Russell Moore’s excellent book Onward (which is only $3.31 on Amazon right now!). He also blurbed this book, but you can tell that it is more for it to be a conversation starter.

In the end, I think the value of Dreher’s book is that it throws a provocative option out there. I don’t think it is viable and certainly isn’t exegetically warranted (as in it is the “biblical” option, whatever that might mean). But, if you think it is wrong, you have to honestly think about what a better option might be. And if you’re interested in doing that, grab this book, Onward, and Strangers in a Strange Land (my next read), and let’s start a book club.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now posted on 3 consecutive NIV Study Bibles from Zondervan. First, it was the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Then it was the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Now, it’s the Faithlife Study Bible.

If you’re not familiar (and even if you are), Faithlife is the parent company of Logos Bible Software. As such, this is a resource that has been available on Logos for a while, but not in print. Actually, the idea goes back to 2011. Since then, the notes have been edited and expanded by a team of collaborators, so much so that there are not authors listed for the notes like most study Bibles. There are major articles by specific authors, but the notes are truly a team effort more so than other study Bibles.

In addition, there is a strong visual element to this study Bible. Not that other study Bibles don’t have graphics and/or illustrations. But, it seems to be more of a focus here. You can get a feel for that by browsing the sample that is offered here (also see the infographics offered here).

As you browse that sample, you’ll notice on pages 34-35 that there is an article on How to Study The Bible. While it might seem germane to point out, the purpose of a study Bible is to help people study the Bible. The problem that is often encountered is that people don’t just naturally know how to study the Bible (probably because we don’t always teach how people to study books well in general). While the Faithlife Study Bible provides answers to questions readers will have, it also hopes to help shape readers into study-ers, as they learn how to take their study into their own hands.

From what I’ve gathered, it seems like the Faithlife Study Bible fits somewhere between the aformentioned ones. It retains a good bit of cultural background info (maybe more so than a typical study Bible), but that’s not the main focus. On the other hand, it aims to provide good introductory articles, as well as a side articles on topics important to theology, biblical studies, and even discipleship. It manages to do so with being too bulky, or overwhelming the reader with information. In short, it might be one of the best introductory study Bibles you could give to someone. While I think I’ll always be partial to the ESV Study Bible, I’m going to be checking this one out a little more thoroughly in the coming weeks and months to see if my initial impressions prove true, and if it just might sway me to change by loyalty.

In the meantime, check it out for yourself, and enjoy the video below with Q&A on the book with Michael Bird!