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Vern Poythress can’t seem to stop publishing books. Since In The Beginning Was The Word came out in 2009, he’s published 10 books, with an 11th coming out later this year (making it the third this calendar year). On the upside, he’s applying his unique triperspectivalistic vantage point to variety of topics (math, philosophy, biblical interpretation, sociology, etc.). On the downside, many of these books are fairly boring to read and often seem like Van Tillian class syllabi prepared for publication rather than individual works in their own right.

Such is the case with The Miracles of Jesus, which after a useful template for analyzing miracles in the first part of the book, proceeds to analyze each and every miracle in the gospel of Matthew in successive short chapters. It is repetitive and dull when read straight through (e.g. chapters 11, 21, 23, 34 are all called Many Healings, and chapters 27 and 29 are variants called Healing Many). It would however serve as an excellent resource to anyone preaching through Matthew who would like to consult Poythress’ analysis of the various miracles that occur. It is also useful for the template in the first part of the book discussing how to think about miracles typologically and within the history of redemption. Beyond that, it is, like several other Poythress releases, not riveting chapter by chapter reading. Nonetheless, I value the way Poythress approaches the issues and will continue to try to get my hands on each and every new book he pumps out (even if sometimes I’m doing so as a collector).

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On a different note, It is fashionable among contemporary New Testament studies to suggest that the Reformers were less than adept when it comes to reading Paul. I’ve suggested a recent monograph on the topic, but now there’s a volume of direct readings of Paul from various New Testament scholars and systematic theologians. Reformation Readings of Paul: Explorations in History and Exegesis is edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan Linebaugh. In it, they curate paired chapters in which the first examines a Reformer’s reading of a Pauline text (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, and other Pauline letters are the categories) and the second compares the text of that letter and the theology of that Reformer (and they are Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, and Cranmer). The former comes from the pen of a theologian and the latter from a New Testament scholar. The paired essays are finished off with a concluding essay from Gerald Bray that is rather devastating to anyone suggesting the Reformers mis-read Paul.

If something like that is your cup of tea, you will most likely want to grab a copy of this book. I personally was not that drawn in, but I think it may come in handy later on. While I have a recurring interest in Paul, my local church and school context doesn’t generate a lot of buzz around this issue. There are a handful of guys that I hang out with at church that are aware of the discussion in Pauline in studies. Some have even read N. T. Wright. But, none of them are asking questions about whether the Reformers read Paul well. I realize that question has more bite/teeth in the larger online world that I participate in. And because of that, I’d recommend this book if those questions perplex you.

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In a different vein, you might be interested in checking out Christopher J. H. Wright’s How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. It is presented as a follow up to How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth (and visually looks like it, as well as How To Read The Bible Book by Book). Like the previous books, it is very user friendly, but unlike them, has a more niche audience. While I’d recommend the previous two volumes to pretty much everyone (especially older high school and college students), this volume is mainly for pastors, and others like myself who teach from the Old Testament.

The first part of the book explains why we should preach and teach from the Old Testament, while the second half explains how we can preach and teach from the Old Testament. The first part is very helpful when it comes to typology and preaching Christ from the OT. The second part is likewise helpful, as it goes genre by genre in paired chapter explaining first the nature of the genre and second, how to preach and teach from it. Wright is a seasoned OT scholar, and if you spend time preaching and teaching from the Old Testament, you’ll probably benefit from his insights. While it might not be a one-stop handbook for understanding the Old Testament better, it does collate the basics you need to know to handle the different Old Testament genres effectively.

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Lastly, let’s say you were interested in getting a better grasp on the book of Revelation. There’s many ways you could go about this, but a helpful thematic way would be to pick up J. Scott Duvall’s The Heart of Revelation. After a brief introduction and a glossary that introduces the “cast of characters,” Duval proceeds to trace 10 key themes through the book of Revelation:

  • God
  • Worship
  • The People of God
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Our Enemies
  • The Mission
  • Jesus Christ
  • Judgment
  • The New Creation
  • Perseverance

Read in tandem with a commentary to answer your further questions as they arise, I can’t think of a better way to get a big picture understanding of one of the most bewildering books of the Bible. While Vern Poythress’ The Returning King goes section by section (and provides a good companion to this volume), I think Duvall is on to something with his thematic overview. Sometimes, in a complex book like Revelation, the forest gets lost as you try to examine each and every tree. Not the case with this book. If you’ve frequently been mystified by Revelation, this book might not answer all your questions, but it will give you a better framework for making sense of the book as a whole.

I’ve actually since passed it along to a student of mine who has been interested in the book. I’ve tried tackling it in class at various times (and in vain promised a forthcoming Revelation Bible study), but to no avail. Part of this because, hey, it’s hard to teach Revelation. The other part is that it doesn’t neatly fit with the subjects I currently teach (Old Testament, Systematic, Biblical and Practical Theology). In any case, if I give it another go, I’d like to be able to utilize the thematic approach here. Maybe that’s even the basis of a good summer Bible study. Who’s to say?

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It is a feeling that still haunts me. Around this time 2 years ago, I was about to experience burnout. But I didn’t know it. Based on the trajectories I had setup, I’m not sure reading this book would have stopped it at that point, but it couldn’t have hurt.

This is a deceptively simple book. In Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash offers just what the subtitle promises: seven keys to a lifelong ministry and sustainable sacrifice. They are:

  1. We need sleep
  2. We need Sabbath rests
  3. We need friends
  4. We need inward renewal
  5. Beware of being on a platform
  6. Beware of discouragement
  7. Pursue in ministry because joy motivates you

Nothing here is necessarily revolutionary. However, Ash puts them in a framework that includes many personal stories (almost one per chapter), as well as some opening material that distinguishes between sacrifice and burnout. He then offers a big neglected truth (we are creatures of dust), before offering his four practical implications of that truth (see 1-4 above) and then three motivational questions to ask yourself. After working through those, there is a postscript from a medical doctor explaining burnout and then some suggested readings.

While the first four items above should not be surprising, they are things those of us in ministry need to remember regularly. When I experienced burnout almost two summers ago I think it was primarily because of lack of sleep, lack of true Sabbath rest (I had been taking a day off, but not really resting), lack of quality friendships (or at least spending time with friends I had) and lack of regular inward renewal (wasn’t really doing a quiet time to speak of). As a result, I hit a wall at the end of the semester and basically had generalized anxiety disorder for most of the summer and didn’t really come out of it until early the following year. I survived, but I certainly don’t want to feel that way again any time soon (or ever really).

All that to say, this book is worth putting on your shelf (after you’ve read it) if you’re in ministry. As the subtitle suggests, these keys are not for ministry in general, but are kind of back-end suggestions (or principles) for how your ministry and level of service can be zealous but sustainable.  Some forms of zeal can be maintained in their intensity for a short period of time. But, eventually, like me, you might hit a wall, and spend a summer wondering how you’re ever gonna move on and get back to your normal self.


Christopher Ash, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable ServiceEpsom, Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, March 2016. 112 pp. Hardcover, $12.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to The Good Book Company for the review copy!

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Around this time last month, I posted my March Update as part of Tim Challies Reading Challenge. Reading was down slightly this past month, as was blogging (to say the least). Rather than spring training games, it was a week in California that through everything off, but boy was it worth it (still hanging in there with Mad Men too, just started season 6). I decided to not really annotated the list this month. Believe it or not, the truncated list is kind of a pain to add new reads to, so I’m back to the full list of books. The benefit is that it saves me time and now you can see what kinds of books I might read in the coming months.

Here’s the April reads:

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (8 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (2 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book written by a Puritan
  • ☐ A book recommended by a family member
  • ☐ A book by or about a missionary
  • ☐ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
  • ☒ A book written by an Anglican (Paul and The Trinity)
  • ☐ A book with at least 400 pages
  • ☐ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien
  • ☐ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title
  • ☐ A book with a great cover
  • ☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
  • ☐ A book about church history
  • ☒ A graphic novel (Watchmen)
  • ☐ A book of poetry

THE COMMITTED READER (8 BOOKS)

  • ☐ A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with
  • ☐ A book written by an author with initials in their name
  • ☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
  • ☒ A book about worldview (The Experience of God)
  • ☐ A play by William Shakespeare
  • ☒ A humorous book (This is Awkward)
  • ☐ A book based on a true story
  • ☐ A book written by Jane Austen
  • ☐ A book by or about Martin Luther
  • ☐ A book with 100 pages or less
  • ☐ A book with a one-word title
  • ☒ A book about money or finance (The God Ask)
  • ☐ A novel set in a country that is not your own
  • ☐ A book about music
  • ☒ A memoir (The Pastor: A Memoir)
  • ☒ A book about joy or happiness (Happiness)
  • ☐ A book by a female author
  • ☒ A book whose title comes from a Bible verse (Eat This Book)
  • ☐ A book you have started but never finished
  • ☒ A self-improvement book (Nudge)
  • ☐ A book by David McCullough
  • ☒ A book you own but have never read (The Work of Christ (Contours in Christian Theology))
  • ☐ A book about abortion
  • ☐ A book targeted at the other gender
  • ☐ A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
  • ☐ A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you

THE OBSESSED READER (21 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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I’ve had an interest in counseling ever since I took a class on biblical counseling at Word of Life. Then, I majored in psychology at Liberty University. Ever since then, I’ve come back frequently to think through issues of integrating psychology and theology and how counseling works in the local church. Along the latter lines, I was able to get a review copy of Paul Tautges’ Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship. This is a slightly revised and expanded version of the 2009 book by the almost same title (and different publisher). In it, Paul Tautges argues for not just biblical counseling over against integrated models of counseling, but also for the importance of one another counseling in the local church.

Helpfully, Tautges begins each chapter with a thesis about authentic biblical counseling. In his estimation it:

  • Is nothing more, and surely nothing less, than the fulfillment of the Great Command to make disciples of Jesus Christ by the delegated authority of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (23).
  • Stands in awe of the power of God’s gospel to convert thoroughly sinful men and women from thoroughly sinful thoughts, actions, motives, emotions, and desires to Spirit-generated new creations that reflect the beautiful love and holiness of Jesus Christ – the Lord we are now called to follow (41).
  • Recognizes God’s holy calling for the believer and the disciple’s personal responsibility for self-discipline, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in a manner worthy of his or her high position as a new creature in Christ (67).
  • Lives out God’s redeeming love through believers as we take initiative to restore brothers and sisters who are experiencing spiritual defeat in the battle with indwelling sin (99).
  • Chooses no other foundation to build its philosophy and practice upon than the Scriptures: the will of God faithfully revealed to man by the Spirit from the living Word, Jesus Christ (113).
  • Grips the wisdom of God embodied and revealed in Jesus Christ and refuses to surrender the higher ground of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Truth in the gospel to the inferior wisdom of man (133).
  • Requires the nurturing power of stimulating relationships with other Spirit-indwelt believers in the context of a community of living faith that pursues the beauty of God’s holiness and revolves around the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ (157).

On a positive note, I think this book is useful for giving an account of how discipleship can incorporate the one-anothers of the New Testament. As believers in the local church are better equipped to give wisdom counsel in the mundane moments of everyday life, crisis counseling might be less needed. The meat of the book (chapters 2-6) covers this and because of the follow up discussion questions in each chapter, might make a good small group resource.

On a negative note, I think too much is made in this book of the dangers of secular psychology. It is cited as a main motivation for the writing of the book (detailed in chapter 1) and then fleshed out in more detail later (chapter 7). The stance is rather combative and probably won’t convince anyone who is on the other side. I am generally sympathetic to biblical counseling models over against some integrationist accounts and I found some of the rhetoric kind of off-putting and unnecessary (not to mention philosophically problematic). I think the book could have lacked this material and still fulfilled the vision of the title and provided an excellent resource to help small groups disciple their members better.


Paul Tautges, Counseling One Another: A Theology of Interpersonal Discipleship. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, February 2016. 195 pp. Paperback, $14.95.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Shepherd Press for the review copy!

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Earlier this year, I started doing an “On The Blog This Month” post. Today would normally be that day. However, I got behind last month on my plans and most likely won’t turn that around this month. There’s a few reasons for this.

First off, I probably went to a few too many spring training games. Six to be exact, although half of them were rained out (thanks Florida!). I had a fairly solid run during my spring break though. I saw a Braves-Phillies game (or most of one) at the Braves stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Then, I was able to get an Astros-Nationals game at the Astros complex, which has the best seats for the money (see picture). Two days late I made it to a Nationals-Braves game at the Nationals stadium, which was not entirely impressive. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the last season for both the Nationals and Astros in central Florida. They’re both moving south to share a complex in Palm Beach County. Lame.

Second, this Thursday, Ali and I are headed to California to chaperon the senior trip for the school I teach at. It’s been about 15 years or so since I was in the Bay Area and even longer since I was able to go to Yosemite. The second week of April is when our school does testing for grades 1-11, so I’m normally off. Last year that meant going to TGC for free, and the year before it was T4G in Louisville and working out some details for a Ph.D program I ultimate dropped out of. I could have road tripped up to Louisville again. Or, I could go to California for a week for free. For an additional $11, Ali could go too because they needed more chaperons, she had vacation, and I had miles. Easiest decision in a long time.
In light of all that, I probably won’t be doing too much blogging the rest of this month.  I’m simultaneously anxious and looking forward to not having books, a laptop, or potentially reliable internet for just over a week. I opted not to try to draft out posts ahead and probably won’t feel a compulsion to “catch up” when I get back. I’ve got a hefty stack of read and needing to be reviewed books. Maybe I’ll post on that before I leave and whatever seems most interesting will get reviewed first when I get back.

Lastly, I’ll be focused on some other personal writing projects which may or may not terminate in blog posts. I was hoping to be able to announce what it is for in this post, but it’ll need to wait until next month’s post most likely. April will be a very busy month for a variety of reasons (travel, wife’s birthday, second Underoath show, Death Cab, etc.). Hopefully it winds down a bit in May, but then there’s graduation and feeling all the feels that go with that. I still want to maintain somewhat of blogging regimen, but it’ll be touch and go for the next 6 weeks. At least now you know why!

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

Here’s the March reads:

THE LIGHT READER (7/13 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (1/26 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (6/52 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (15/104 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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I have long been perplexed by Karl Barth. I had only vague ideas about anything he said before going to seminary. There, I didn’t study anything he wrote directly, and unfortunately had mostly indirect contact through Cornelius Van Til. It took a few years to recover from that and then start to figure out what do to next.

On the one hand, I’d rather just ignore Barth. He’s notoriously difficult to understand, but unlike Van Til, he has more than a few interpreters willing to help you out. He is probably the most influential and/or important 20th century theologian. Yet, he has had an uneasy relationship with evangelicals. As a case in point, Crossway’s Theologians on The Christian Life series features three 20th century theologians, one of whom is still living and none of whom are named Karl Barth. When one thinks of solid evangelical Reformed theology, most non-scholars don’t really think of Barth.

On the other hand, I’d like to get a better handle on what’s useful and insightful from Barth. However, I don’t want to pull a Brandon Smith and read the entire 8000+ page Church Dogmatics in a year (or more). One might hope Derek Rishmawy would do a read and blog through like he did for Bavinck, but Ph.D studies are probably too time consuming. Beyond that, it could be hard to know where to start with Barth, mainly because there are so many options (Hunsinger’s How to Read Karl Barth is waiting on my shelf)

The best bet I think at this point is to pick up Michael Allen’s Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader. You probably knew I was going to say that because the picture of the book is at the top of this blog post. I’ve been able to grab coffee with Dr. Allen several times since he came to RTS Orlando and he is exactly the kind of person you’d want to explain Barth to you.

However, that’s not exactly what’s going on here. In this volume, Allen provides readers with key passages from the Church Dogmatics. Before each, Allen offers a few paragraphs of introduction and orientation and a short bibliography of further reading. In the excerpts themselves, he offers explanatory footnotes to give insight along the way. The result is an entry point into Barth’s Dogmatics that allows you to get the feel of Barth’s thought and style. If you have the Dogmatics in full you could look up the excerpts and read before and after for further context. Or, you could just read straight through Allen’s volume and then check out something like Hunsinger before trying to tackle the Dogmatics in full.

I found my own read thru to be helpful. I’ve started and stopped CD I.1 several times, and maybe one day I’ll get through them all. In the mean time, I benefited from the readings that Allen offers and would highly recommend this volume as the place to start if you want to wrestle with Barth.


R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and ReaderNew York: T&T Clark International, May 2012. 256 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Bloomsbury Academic for the review copy!

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Between the time I write this and you read it, I will have voted in the Florida primary. Kind of seems like an exercise in futility at this point, but since I could walk to the polling place (or drive by it on the way to gym) it also seems wrong to not exercise my civic duty before I exercise by upper body and quads. Also, since the polling place is a Unitarian Universalist church, it will be nice to see that location being used for something productive (just kidding, although not really, I’m just being ironic given what I said just a few sentences ago).

Anyway, let’s talk politics.

Recently, IVP Academic sent me a couple of books on the subject, as did Zondervan. The first I’ll mention is Francis Beckwith’s Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft. It is part of the Christian Worldview Integration Series, which I’ve commended previously (here, here, here, and here). Along with J. P. Moreland, Beckwith served as a series editor, and this gave him a chance to put the vision in the series preface into practice.

Over the course of 5 chapters, Beckwith covers topics like separation of church and state, secular liberalism, natural rights and natural moral law, and the Christian’s relationship to liberal democracy. The opening chapter gives a taxonomy of the branches of study within politics. All of this takes place in about 130 or so pages. While this makes it seems like a primer on the topics addressed (and it is), Beckwith offers sophisticated analysis of the issues he discusses and I found it particularly thought provoking. This is especially so for the final chapter on natural rights and moral law and whether one can ground either of those in God’s absence (short answer is no).

I think this book should be a if not the starting point for Christians who want to think more deeply about politics. Other books may be more comprehensive, but this one is more foundational (especially the opening chapter charting the lay of the land) and sets better groundwork (especially if you value philosophy). As there is a need for Christians to be more political savvy (not just more involved), this book is the place to start.

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The next place to stop off might be Zondervan’s Five Views on The Church and Politics. I’ve mentioned my fondness for multi-view books many times before. This one is no exception, although I felt that the contributors could have duked it out a bit more in the responses (especially for a book on politics). Whereas Beckwith’s book is more about thinking through the nature of political science and a Christian’s place in relationship to it, this book is focused more on the church’s relationship to political life. In other words, it is one thing for Christians to have certain expectations for private political involvement. It is another to try to dictate what the church at large should be doing in regards to political life.

Taking cues from Niebuhr’s typology in Christ and Culture, the contributors here are plotted along a similar spectrum:

  • Anabaptist (Separationist): Thomas Heilke
  • Lutheran (Paradoxical): Robert Benne
  • Black Church (Prophetic): Bruce Fields
  • Reformed (Transformationist): James K. A. Smith
  • Catholic (Synthetic): J. Brian Benestad

Each author was responsible to trace the historical development of their position. Then they were to consider their tradition’s view on the role of government, as well as also addressing the extent to which an individual Christians and churches should be involved. The goal is to lay out the theory underlying each tradition’s view, which is then applied to the practical situation of policy debates about domestic poverty (17). The authors for the most part complete their task well and in concise fashion. I found myself agreeing in part with each in one way or another, but found the most agreement with Smith’s Kuyperian vision.

What tends to emerge as you read is that each tradition is variegated such that each author is part of a spectrum within their own label. I think Smith is the most self-aware of this, but other authors either comment on themselves or others in the response sections. Speaking of the response sections, they tended to be a little more agreeable than most books like this that I’ve read. I think this might further illustrate politics can be messy. In other words, while the authors could be agreeable in their responses, they can’t all be fully on the same page regarding how involved the church should be in political life or even which kind of policies flow from “the” Christian position. For reasons why this is, one would need to jump back up and read Beckwith’s book.

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Finally, for a book that is not on politics per se, but definitely details some of the influences in American political life, you should read John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion. In a nutshell, here’s the argument of the book:

Exceptionalism is an aspect of American civil religion. Closed American exceptionalism entails the five theological commitments I listed above [chosen nation, divine commission, innocence, sacred land, glory], each conflicting with the Christian gospel and potentially leading to idolatry, so it must be discarded. But open American exceptionalism – while it remains a part of civil religion – serves as a benefit to the nation, to religion and to the world by fostering a civic engagement informed by freedom, equality, and justice. (20)

The first two chapters of the book explain the historical roots of American exceptionalism. It is kind of like the new patriotism and entails a web of beliefs and moods about the status of the nation (“we’re different”), it’s mission (global peacekeeper, model for others, etc), and its character (“we’re better and everyone should be like us”). Wilsey makes a distinction between open and closed exceptionalism, which is important to keep in mind:

Closed exceptionalism is unrealistic and unchristian because it locates life’s ultimate purpose and meaning in America itself as the millennial fulfillment of human experience. But open exceptionalism find its expression in the American creed of individual freedom, natural rights, justice and equality (32).

Exceptionalism is not the problem per se, but rather how it is construed in relationship to the American story can be problematic. Thinking of America as a chosen nation that has a right to the land it inhabits and is on a divine mission to save the world is closed American exceptionalism. This plays itself out when one views immigrants (who make up the nation to begin with) are problematic because they intrude and wants to build higher and higher walls to keep them out. On the other hand, one could have a view American as exceptional, but see this land as a beacon of hope to the oppressed and offering unique opportunities for the advancement of human flourishing. The question is whether your view of exceptionalism leads to a wagon circling mentality or to offer a helping hand knowing you come from a place of privilege.

With this in mind, the rest of the chapters tackle the theological commitments that go with closed exceptionalism. The roots and development of each receive their own chapter length treatment. The final chapter reiterates the point that the closed version of American exceptionalism is not compatible with Christian faith, either theologically or practically. On the other hand, a model of open exceptionalism is good for civic engagement and human flourishing.

This is an important read for anyone who has believed or was taught that America is (or was) a Christian nation. Certain strains of that teaching are highly problematic (and Wilsey examines several that appear in homeschool curricula in the final chapter) and do more harm than good when comes to our perception of our nation. To help correct our view of our nation, while still maintaining a high view of it, I’d recommend working through Wilsey’s book this political season.

In terms of modern theology, it is hard to name a more influential theologian than John Webster. I tend to find theologians named John both helpful and formative, so I’ve been trying to dip into John Webster’s catalog of writings. That had been difficult until just recently. While I could get my hands on Holiness and Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, other titles were on the pricey side and the cheaper collection of essays in the bunch were out of print. Now they’ve been reissued by Bloomsbury T&T Clark as part of the Cornerstones series. For under $30 you can now get both Word and Church and Confessing God.

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Word and Church is divided into three sections of essays. They are Scripture, Christ and the Church, and Ethics. Of interest in the first section is Webster’s thoughts on reading Scripture, using the example of Barth and Bonhoeffer, and his exploration of how hermeneutics function in modern theology. The lead essay in the second section is on the Incarnation, while he introduces the final section with a discussion of God and conscience. Given the flow of thought, these essays follow the contours of a mini-systematic.

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Confessing God is similar in having a tri-fold structure, but here the overall focus is more on the nature of theology. The sections are Theology, Dogmatics, and Church and Christian Life. Included in this collection is Webster’s essay Theological Theology, which is the title of the recently published festschrift in his honor. Also included are essays on the clarity of Scripture, confessions, holiness, and hope, to name a few topics.

I would say given the scope of Webster’s writings, these collections might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his thought. I’d probably recommend the second collection, since it covers themes that can be explored in more detail through the monographs I mentioned above. Bloomsbury T&T Clark was kind enough to send me PDF’s of both sets and while I would have loved physical copies, I was still able to browse enough to say these are worth picking up. While Webster is an academic theologian, he has a clarity of writing and thought that is worth paying close attention to. It might take a bit of effort to enter into the realm of the discussion, but once you’re there, you should be able to follow him further up and further in.

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I know I said I don’t post about this often, but I was thinking of writing this long before I received Preston Sprinkle’s book to review. If you’re lost, “this” is a reference to the topic of homosexuality. Along these lines, I’d recommend reading Alan Chambers’ recently released memoir My Exodus: From Fear to Grace. Alan was formerly the president of Exodus International, and ex-gay ministry that he shut down in 2013. He is co-writing with his wife Leslie who gives her perspective through three chapters on how they met, fell in love, and were married.

While Alan is internationally known, he’s also someone I’ve had coffee with and whose kids go to my school. Not only that, but I know Leslie because she works at the school. She oversees P.E. and so we end up watching the gym every now and then during lunch to make sure the high school boys don’t inadvertently (or advertently) nail each other in the head while sportsing too hard. In other words, Alan and Leslie may be widely known, but to me they are members of my everyday community. They are real people that I know outside of their wider acclaim.

With that in mind, I’m not necessarily saying “go read My Exodus because everything Alan Chambers says is gospel.” There is certainly gospel in there, but I do not completely agree with the way grace is explained and presented in the book. It is similar to the disagreements I might have with Tullian Tchividjian, but we still need to have a follow up lunch to hammer that out. To see more where I’m coming from, maybe you should pick up and read Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ (but to explain why is another post entirely).

That’s probably enough ground clearing. Now for some background.

I grew up in East Tennessee in the late 90’s. I was homeschooled. I went from that to working at Lowe’s to a super conservative (and small) Bible college for two years. Then I started working at Starbucks, at which point I actually met and interacted with gay people for extended periods of time. I was pretty sure I knew what the Bible said about that lifestyle. But that’s different than knowing flesh and blood people who live it. And that’s different than knowing people who also claim to be Christians and seem serious about being part of their church with their lesbian partner.

Did I mention my aunt is a lesbian? Like an aggressive type and has been that way since the 60’s? I grew up thinking she was kind of manly, and even innocently commented as much at one point. Years later I found out she was gay and it was something the entire family knew but wouldn’t particularly acknowledge. Pretty typical don’t ask and don’t tell.

More recently, I’ve had a close friend from college lose his wife and become a single dad because the love of his life decided she wanted to pursue the desires for other women she’s had since she can’t remember. The dad of one of my best friends growing up left his mom for another man. One of my best friends told me last spring that he struggles with same sex attraction and we’ve been walking through ever since.

I say all this because I think it’s important for those of us that hold a traditional view of biblical sexual ethics to be aware of the complexities of real life stories. Not so we’ll change our mind, but so we’ll know that what we say about what Scripture says affects real people with real struggles.

This is the reason I think many people ought to read Alan’s memoir. There is a level of detail and vulnerability that allows you to see inside what a struggle with same sex attraction looks like (and Alan paints it as a struggle, not a celebration). Because I naturally struggle with empathy, I need stories like this to let me see and experience what someone else has gone through to get where they are. It’s not because reading about the struggle should change your mind one way or another. Rather, it’s because, to borrow Preston Sprinkle’s book title, gay people are people to be loved by the church. There’s a way to do that without affirming the lifestyle, but it requires actually knowing people to be loved. Those who hold the traditional view can often come across as not having ever had a close friend or family confide in them that they’re gay. Having someone come out to you doesn’t so much change your perspective as nuance it in a way that can’t be entirely predicted.

Alan represents an example of someone who is, in one sense gay, but in another sense straight. He is married. He is a father. He is also predominantly attracted to other men. He’s a sinner saved by grace, who lives by grace day in and day out. He is seeking to live a faithful Christian life, and is calling others to a live of purity. By reading his story, you are able to feel the weight of the pain and suffering that brought him to the place he is today. His story offers an opportunity to grow in empathy and so better participate in the conversation about how the church should relate to the gay community. It’s not designed to change your mind about what you think Scripture teaches about the topic. But it lets you inside someone’s life that is more radically affected by the biblical teaching than one who is straight.

I realize that his choice to shut down Exodus was controversial and that he can be appear to affirm same sex relationships and/or behavior in a way that those holding the traditional view cannot condone. However, I think his story is worth reading and listening to closely. And I’m not just saying that because I know him, but because it was eye-opening for me to read it and made me appreciate even more how God can work in mysterious ways.