While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. ETS may be an academic conference, but the participants generally are committed followers of Christ. As such, you’d want to check out these three books, even if they aren’t technically featured titles at a conference like ETS.


Last week, Tim Keller’s latest book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in The Psalms showed up in the mail. In some ways, it is like a sequel to Prayer, since Keller highlighted the importance of praying the Psalms in that book (see my review). This devotional basically models that approach.

The basic structure of the book is a breakdown of the entire Psalter. January 1st starts with Psalm. December 31st ends with Psalm 150. Obviously for that to work out, you don’t read an entire Psalm each day. Instead, it ends up being around 5-7 verses (give or take) per day with a short commentary and then a prayer. It’s one page per day and this is one of Keller’s small books, if you know what I mean.

There is a brief introduction (4 pgs) that helps orient us to the importance of the Psalms, and inadvertently mixes up David and Gordon Wenham (the latter of whom wrote an excellent study of the Psalms). As far as a plan for getting through the book, Keller says,

We structured this daily devotional so it can be used in three different ways. The simplest way is to read the psalm and the meditation slowly, and then use the prayer to begin praying the psalm yourself…

The second way to use the devotional is to take the time to lookup the additional scriptural references that are embedded in the meditation and sometimes in the prayer…

The third way to use the devotional is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then as three questions and write out your answers:

  • Adore – What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
  • Admit – What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
  • Aspire – What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once you have answered these three questions, you have your own meditation on the psalm.

This meditation becomes the basis for your prayer and Keller says “this will take you into the deep level of wisdom and insight the psalms can provide.” I think I’d like to start this latter path at the beginning of the year and I bet you’d benefit from doing the same.


Thanks to Banner of Truth, I was able to get a copy of Mark Jones’ Knowing Christ. In some sense, it is kind of sequel to J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. From what I understand, Jones sent Packer a manuscript for one of his infamous blurbs. Instead, Packer decided to write a foreword and send that back. While Packer blurbs a plethora of books, I doubt there are many that he spontaneously decides to write a forward to.

As for the book itself, the tone is meditative and devotional, yet it is still theologically rich. The chapters are on the shorter side and are supplemented by a study guide in the back with 2-5 questions per chapter. That would make this an ideal book club choice, or better yet, a book to take your discipleship group through. It is a concise Christology that is accessible to the average reader. In terms of theological depth and devotional richness, I’m not sure there is a better option as an introduction to think deeply about the person and work of Christ. There are certainly some classics that cover the same ground, but Jones’ here is fairly comprehensive in his subjects. Other authors might go deeper into certain aspects, but this book covers all the necessary basic ground.

Given the Christmas season coming quickly upon us, this is a book you might want to set aside time to read through during Advent season. Given that there are 27 chapters, you could start the weekend after Thanksgiving and read right up until Christmas. I’ve already given it a general read-thru, but I’m thinking about already giving it a more focused re-read as we move toward Christmas.


Lastly, thanks to Crossway, I was able to read Paul Tripp’s latest, Awe: Why It Matters For Everything We Think, Say, & Do. Like many if not all books Tripp writes, he notes early (second sentence of the book) that he is primarily writing for himself. He is biblical and conversational in explaining why and how we have an “awe” problem and what we can do about it. Notes to other sources are minimal as Tripp is able to draw on a depth of pastoral insights that come from his own ministry as well as personal struggles.

In the opening chapter, Tripp makes several key points about awe which more or less shape the expositional that follows. They are (17-21):

  • Awe is everyone’s lifelong pursuit
  • God created an awesome world
  • God created you with an awe capacity
  • Where you look for awe will shape the direction of your life
  • Awe stimulates the greatest joys and deepest sorrows in us all
  • Misplaced awe keeps us perennially dissatisfied
  • Every created awe is meant to point you to the creator
  • Awesome stuff never satisfies

In the remaining chapters, Tripp explains how this leads to a war for our awe (chapter 2), and also shows how these ideas apply to church, parenting, work, and ministry (chapters 11-13, and 3). He also shows how it underlies materialism (chapter 8) as well as how most conflicts are awe conflicts. I found this book to helpful, and probably worthy of further thought and digestion. In some ways, it is a very basic idea that might not require reading the entire book to grasp. On the other hand, if you have an awe problem, you might want Tripp’s writing to help awaken you from aweless slumber.

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, yesterday was theology and today is biblical studies.


Thanks to a request I made two years ago before they stopped doing hard copies, Fortress Press sent along N. T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Because of the gap since Paul and The Faithfulness of God came out, it’s a little more up to date, but nothing you wouldn’t really expect from Wright. Part I of the book gets into questions related to the New Perspective on Paul, offering a history of the movement’s development and current status. Part II is a survey of interpreters that have focused on the apocalyptic in Paul and culminates with a pretty savage review chapter of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. Part III then moves into interpreters focused on Paul’s social context and names like Wayne Meeks, David Horrell, and Giorgio Agamben take the forefront.

If you’re a NT guy, and especially someone interested in Pauline studies, you pretty much have to give this a look. It’s not much over 300 pages, so if you made it through PFG, this will be a breeze. It is probably more worth your time than the collection of essays Pauline Perspectives, since those are all published elsewhere (minus Wright’s explanatory notes before each article) and he himself suggests only seven of them are necessary to really grasp his thought on Paul. All that to say, I’d look into picking this up to supplement PFG and see what Wright really thinks about some recent trends in Pauline studies.


While we’re on the subject of Paul, you might want to grab Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to read a copy earlier this fall. Each of the 20 chapters takes a section of Romans and then shows connections with it and literature from second temple Judaism. They are all relatively brief and each focuses on either a single author from the period (Philo or Josephus) or a single piece of literature. Because of that, the further reading sections at the end of each chapter also provide a guide to the best editions of those works.

This book is a useful introduction to how Paul’s writings are part of a larger context and what that context actually is. It also provides interesting background to Romans, which even people familiar with the theology of the book might not be aware of. While it is not offering exhaustive or detailed exegesis of the sections of Romans, it is slightly technical. However, key terms are bolded and defined at the end, which suggests this is intended to be put to use in an undergrad classroom setting. It’s a good way to get your feet wet in the secondary literature of the New Testament period without worrying about drowning. Not that anyone would actually drown, but you get what I mean.


Shifting to Old Testament, John Goldingay recently released An Introduction to The Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches & Issues. Thanks to IVP Academic, I was able to get a copy last month. So far, I like it. However, it’s not a typical introduction to the Old Testament. As Goldingay explains,

In this introduction to Old Testament study my aim is to help you study Scripture for yourself. I spend little time telling you what the OT says or what scholars say. I focus more on giving you background material, noting approaches to interpretation, raising questions and suggesting approaches to questions. My goal is to provide you with a workbook, based on the material I use with my students and on my discovery of what works with them (7).

The book is then divided into five parts. The first is introductory to the Old Testament as a whole and then the next three follow the structure of the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, Writings) before a final concluding section that summarizes and looks ahead to the New Testament.

Each section (there aren’t chapters) within each part takes up two pages that lay side by side. Because the material is so concise, it’s not necessarily a book you’d sit and read so much as use as a workbook like Goldingay says you should. Further highlighting the interactive nature of the book is the additional material is available on Goldingay’s website, which is continuously updated (for the most part). When I get a little more into it, I’ll be able to comment further on its use as a textbook, but so far it looks very promising. It is probably useful for high school students, but since I do Old Testament in 9th grade it might be a bit too much. It could however be a good book for an adult Sunday School class, or an introductory undergrad section. I really like the idea and if nothing else, it’s worth checking out to see how Goldingay puts it all together.


Lastly, I was again thanks to Zondervan able to get the most recent volume in the Biblical Theology of The New Testament series, A Theology of Mark: Good News About Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Like volumes in this series I’ve previously reviewed (John’s Gospel and Letters, Luke-Acts, James, Jude, and Peter) this is a great resource for anyone who wants to dig deeper into New Testament and biblical theology. Also like previous volumes, it has an introductory chapter orienting us to current studies in Mark. Then, it has an extended literary theological reading of the book. The remaining part of the book is 12 thematic chapters covering subjects like Christological titles, secrecy motifs, kingdom of God, discipleship, and eschatology, to name a few.

Proportionally, this is the most detailed volume since it is almost 600 pages devoted to the 16 chapters of Mark. David Garland has written commentaries on many New Testament books, including Mark. I’ve particularly profited from his Corinthians volume in the BECNT series and look forward to profiting further from his in-depth study here on the Gospel of Mark. The major focal points appear to be Christology and discipleship and that overlaps nicely with much of my reading focus the past few weeks. If you haven’t checked out any of the volumes in this series, this might be a place to start, especially if you can grab a deal on it at ETS!

While I might not be at ETS this year, if you are, I thought I’d share some books you should check out. Obviously, even if you’re not at ETS, you can still check these out. You’ll just miss out on whatever deals publishers are offering at their booths. And you’ll miss out on meeting people and all that jazz, but you knew that. Following somewhat in the footsteps of Zondervan, who offered two lists, this is my first on theology and tomorrow I’ll offer one on biblical studies.


Ultimately thanks to SPCK, but currently thanks to my own Amazon purchase, I’ve been reading through Anthony Thiselton’s Systematic Theology. So far it has been interesting, as in, I’m still trying to decide what I think about it. As far as the layout goes, it is 15 chapters of roughly equal length that are each split into 5 sections. Because of that, it is ideal for use in a semester long class on systematic theology. As far as content goes, Thiselton makes some interesting moves, though many are predictable if you know his background and publication track record. The opening chapter, Method and Truth, gets very philosophical (speech act theory, etc.). The chapters on God (2 and 3) cover a wide variety of topics, but no traditional treatment of the divine attributes (they aren’t untreated, to be clear though). This is followed by a chapter on the challenge of atheism, which though helpful as a rundown of post-Enlightenment thought, seemed out of place in a systematic.

I found Thiselton’s chapter on nonhuman creation particularly interesting, especially since he spends a section on animals interacting with the recent work of David Clough. Likewise, his chapter on sin is a “hermeneutical comparison of historical thinkers” tracing the way it has been understood through history. He does a similar historical take on theologies of the atonement. Two separate chapters are devoted to Jesus, though not divided along typical person and work sections. Instead, the first is on his role as mediator and the second is a “concise Christology” that is mostly historical in focus. Similarly, the chapters on the Holy Spirit are split between biblical insights and historical insights.The final three chapters cover ecclesiology and eschatology.

All in all, it is useful reference volume, but I don’t think it could serve well as a go-to textbook for systematics because of brevity and diversity. For the latter, Thiselton is very well read, and so has a plethora of sources to draw on. Sometimes, those moves don’t seem to be best for giving a representative exposition of the doctrine. Because of that, it is a systematic that belongs on the shelf in dialogue with other systematics, but maybe that’s simply the case with all of them.


Thanks to Baker Academic, last week I was able to read through Reading Barth With Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Unlike another book by George Hunsinger related to Barth, this isn’t a collection of previously published essays. Rather, it is Hunsinger’s extended plea to the revisionist school to practice a hermeneutic of charity in their reading of Barth. As such, this book drops into an on-going conversation related to Barth studies. If you’re not familiar with Barth, then this book probably isn’t for you. Through a series of chapters that spar with other top Barth scholars like Bruce McCormack, Hunsinger uses these criteria to to assses the revisionist position (xiii-xiv):

  • Does it seek to understand Barth’s theology in its strongest form before subjecting it to fundamental criticism?
  • Has it truly sought to understand Barth before picking out supposed difficulties or contradictions?
  • If apparent contradictions are discerned (as they are), has an active attempt been made to resolve them in Barth’s favor?
  • If no such attempt has been made (as it has not), does not a certain presumption exist against this interpretation?
  • Finally, do the revisionists honor the principle of humanity, or do they seem to adopt an attitude of condescension towards the writer whose views they are considering?
  • In short, are the revisionists entitled to their key claim that Barth’s views on election and the Trinity, when taken as a whole, are “inconsistent”?

This last question gives you an idea of the substance of the book’s focus on Barth. Hunsinger says no, they are not entitled to their revisionist claims about this aspect of Barth’s thought and it’s because they haven’t read him charitably. If you’d like to know how Hunsinger comes to this assessment, then you’ll need to read the book.


While we’re talking about Barth, you might want to check out Christopher R. J. Holmes’ The Holy Spirit in Zondervan Academic’s new series New Studies in Dogmatics. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, this series is a kind of update to the classics from G. C. Berkouwer. Holmes singles out Barth, along with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as his main historical interlocutors (you can read excerpts here, here, and here). After these three parts, he closes with a section on regeneration, ecclesiology, and spiritual illumination. I’m excited to see where this series goes, and this first volume is a promising step.


Also in the realm of modern theology, specifically of the evangelical variety, there is the festschrift for John S. Feinberg. Thanks to Crossway I was able to get a copy of Building on The Foundations of Evangelical Theology to check out. The book has three parts, each using architectural metaphors. The first is like prolegomena in a sense, focusing “designing the architecture.” Here there are essays by Vanhoozer giving an evangelical account of the development of doctrine; Walt Kaiser’s take on trends in evangelical hermeneutics; and an intriguing account of evidence in apologetics by Thomas Provenzola to name three.

In the second section “setting the foundations,” there are essays on the doctrine of God by Bruce Ware and Keith Yandell; an essay on the modern rejection of biblical authority by John Morrison; and an interaction with Feinberg’s account of moral evil by Thomas McCall. The seven essays here somewhat follow the pattern of a traditional systematic with one essay per loci.

The final section, “erecting the superstructure,” deals with practical and ethical issues related to Feinberg’s thought. Graham Cole has an essay on the interface of the Trinity, imitation, and the Christian life; Harold Netland’s focuses on apologetics in a global, religiously diverse modern world; and John Kilner gets into bioethics.

While I was drawn more to the first two sections, each section gives a good sampling of the kinds of topics Feinberg has written and interacted with extensively. Within the essays, there are many worth digging into deeper in their own right, especially if you are interested in analytic and philosophical theology. I’m glad I have this as a resource and if there’s a sweet ETS discount, you might want to grab it as well!


I have a long history of trying to go to the Evangelical Theological Society’s national conference. My first attempt was in 2010 when it was the much hyped showdown between N. T. Wright and John Piper in Atlanta. I was in my last year in Dallas and it was just too close to Thanksgiving to drive to Atlanta, and then have Ali get a plane ticket to meet there before we went to Tennessee for Thanksgiving. I guess it worked out since Piper ended up taking a sabbatical for most of the year so Tom Schreiner pinch hit. The resulting articles on justification in JETS the following spring were very helpful and I’ve shown how they can be harmonized here.

The next year, the meeting was in San Francisco and we had just moved to Florida so funds were pretty tight. I actually had to back out of playing in a friend’s wedding in Vermont, which I still regret. The following year, I had a paper accepted, but once again, couldn’t really afford to make the trip to Milwaukee to present. It was unfortunate on many levels, one of which I just noticed, namely, that John Warwick Montgomery was presenting after me. The following year, the meeting was in Baltimore but I was both burned out on scholarly pursuits and so not interested in making the trip even though I could have stayed with extended family in Maryland most likely (and did so back in the summer).

Ironically, it was not long after this that I ended up applying and getting accepted to the Ph.D program at SBTS and so made the trip to the regional ETS in Birmingham in March and presented a paper. While I had hoped to also go to the national conference, it moved back to the West Coast (San Diego, specifically) and lacking a network and school that would pay some of the expenses, it just wasn’t worth it to make the trip. I did though mention what I would have done had I been there.

This time around, I had been planning to go all fall. While I could have actually afforded it this year, I ultimately decided not to go and here’s why.

Financials are always an issue if all of your expenses are out of pocket. Even with the conference within driving distance and gas prices being reasonable, it still means time off work and potentially hotel accommodations. I actually had a potential place to stay, but it was north of Atlanta, so extra driving would have been required, plus probably parking, and meals, and well, you get the idea. This is coupled with the event being the week before Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season which is already a higher time of spending. It just didn’t seem wise to spend the money, and at the end of the day, I decided I didn’t want to anyway.

At the end of the day, I had to decide if I wanted to go and why. On the one hand, I do want to go, but it is primarily to meet people. In that sense, while it is an academic conference, I’d primarily be going for networking reasons. Since I didn’t submit a paper proposal in time, I’m not presenting a paper. While there are no doubt papers I’d like to hear, I could probably contact the authors and ask for a PDF. For the most part then, this would be a social trip, and since I didn’t do my homework and setup any meetups, it was going to be very hit or miss whether or not I found the time there fruitful.

On the other hand, I’ve been establishing some pretty good routines this fall and am starting to form a plan for Ph.D preparation. While taking a few days to go to Atlanta might not seem like a big deal, it required finding subs for two full days of classes (that’s 13 periods, for 5 different classes). For many of those, it is more work on my end to arrange for a sub to be there than there is for me to just teach the class. It would also mean giving up a week of teaching private music lessons, which is an additional income loss. Also, all of my students are off next week for Thanksgiving, so that’d be back to back weeks off. My parents are coming in town Friday and so my routine is off anyway for next week and going to ETS would have made two weeks.

I think because I hadn’t planned ahead well financially or socially, it just didn’t make sense to make the effort to get to Atlanta this year. In some ways, I think I might regret not going more than going, but that’s really hard to estimate. I regret not going when I had an actual paper to present, but I also don’t know what that would have done to our financial situation at that time since I really wasn’t earning enough money to warrant an expense like that.

It was also worth considering that right now I’m somewhat on the periphery when it comes to evangelical scholarship. I think if I spent more time this coming year actively participating, working on potential journal articles and presenting a paper at the regional conference, going to the national conference next year makes more sense. As it stands, I’m kind of an outlier, something I also felt like at TGC earlier this year. For that conference, it was good to meet up with people, but I also had basically no expenses because it was local and I was already off classes because of testing week. Had it cost me $500 or more dollars, it would have felt like a rip-off. In that light, I probably won’t ever make it to TGC again since to me, it’s not worth travel expenses.

For now, I’m going to start making connections earlier, plan a little better financially, and start contributing to the exchange of ideas and hopefully I’ll see you all in San Antonio next year!

I’m sure if I had been asked who Karl Marx’s dissertation was on, I wouldn’t have guessed Epicurus, but now it kind of makes sense. Distributing happiness equally seems like a good idea, but the reality will never work out.


Every now and then a book comes along that blows your mind. I feel pretty comfortable saying that this is one of those books. I was somewhat prepared for the ideas that Michael Heiser unpacks in Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters but it was still a game changer. I’m tempted to say it is my favorite book of the year, but I think that award will go to the larger companion volume The Unseen Realm, which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

In short, this book is a popular level mini biblical theology of the storyline of Scripture. The twist, or better, what makes it unique, is Heiser’s specialization in the divine counsel. The key texts here are Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32. Heiser’s own mind was opened by reading Psalm 82 closely in Hebrew and noticing that there is a divine counsel of beings associated with Yahweh. These beings are divine, yet still creatures made by God. They dwelled with God and man in the Garden, but then things went downhill so to speak. In Deuteronomy 32, we see that God divided up rule of the nations among these divine beings and that he chose Israel as his special inheritance.

This is a sketch of the basic understanding that Heiser then traces through the biblical storyline. Along the way he makes sense of passages that seem “weird” or “problematic” by referring to the divine counsel of beings at work in the unseen realm. He goes from Eden to the New Jerusalem and explains why it matters along the way. His insights are most illuminating in the Old Testament, but he carries them into the New as well.

While this review is a bit cursory, it fits with the design of the book. In other words, this book is an abbreviated, popular level book that presents the essential ideas of The Unseen Realm which is kind of the main act. Even that though is not complete without the companion website, More Unseen Realm. There, readers can find even more content that goes into greater detail than even the full volume. It is also a work in progress, as is Heiser’s extensive divine counsel bibliography that I think is almost book length itself.

I’ll have more to say once I’ve read the main volume, but this book will immediately start affecting the way I teach my Bible classes since it addresses many of the questions my students come up with for Ask Anything Friday. Several of these questions have dealt with angels and demons and I didn’t find the traditional answers satisfactory even as I was giving them. But, everything makes much more sense in light of reading Supernatural. I was primed for it by taking the doctoral seminar in ancient Near East literature while I was at Dallas and this book has helped me recover my interest in Old Testament backgrounds as a means to understand difficult passages in cultural context. If you’d like to start your own journey toward being able to do the same, I’d start here and then read The Unseen Realm.

Michael S. Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, November 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.95.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Lexham Press for the review copy!

Why I Went To Seminary

November 11, 2015 — 4 Comments

There should be a compelling reason anyone would opt to spend more money on a graduate education when in many cases a good undergraduate degree can get you started off in a promising career. This is especially true for someone like myself, who managed to graduate college with zero debt by never taking out a student loan. However, eight years later, I now find myself laden with size-able, but not outrageous student loans to pay off.

In addition to the financial concerns tied to a graduate education, there should be an even more compelling reason to pursue the particular degree I pursued. Unlike a typical Master of the Arts degree (around 45-60 credit hours), the Master of Theology is 120 hours plus an internship and a thesis. In other words, it was four more years of school at an even harder level than undergraduate studies.

So, why did I go to seminary?

The short answer is I went to seminary because I knew I needed to pursue a specific call to develop my mind theologically and use that to build up the church once I left. In a certain sense, I didn’t go to seminary to get a degree to get a job, but went because it was the next step in my development as a disciple of Christ. Similarly, as I’m thinking of pursuing a Ph.D in the coming years, I’m also not necessarily doing so in order to get a better job but because it is the next step in my fulfilling my calling to develop my mind theologically and serve the church better.

That’s the short answer. Now, for the longer reflections.

When deciding whether or not to go to seminary, it is important to think through whether you’re going for personal development or job credentials. I primarily went for the former, but wanted the latter in order to teach, but not necessarily be a pastor. I learned on the other side of seminary though that on the job experience tends to trump degrees in the current church market, especially if we’re talking Acts 29. Networking plays a bigger part than I anticipated, and if I had it to do over, I would have tried to work in a local church the entire time I was in seminary.

Qualifications can actually be a double-edged sword. A couple of years ago I was exploring job options outside of the classroom and interviewed at a few churches. In both cases, being seminary trained worked against me. In one case, the head pastor wasn’t seminary trained and didn’t feel like he could work with someone like me (as in, someone who he felt knew more and might be divisive with that knowledge). In the other, I had the experience working with youth, and could clearly teach the Bible to them, but wasn’t “goofy” enough to be a youth pastor and there was a sense in which I’d be over-qualified for working with teenagers.

I say all this to point out the counterintuitive nature of many churches today where being seminary trained can almost be a liability rather than an asset. I think some of this might be a pendulum swing in reaction to prioritizing hiring pastors who had seminary credentials, but not necessarily 1 Timothy 3 credentials in character. My impression within our neck of the woods in Acts 29 is that existential 1 Timothy 3 credentials are more important than having a degree from seminary. That may very well be true, but it would be better to prioritize both instead of privileging one over the other.

Having said all this, I think the best practice would be to go to seminary for reasons like I did (it’s the next step in your discipleship) but have a plan for vocational issues on the other side. Going to seminary might not terminate in getting a job at a church, but if you feel that God is calling you to develop yourself in that way, it’s the right choice to make. You are preparing yourself better for full-time ministry one way or the other. By that I mean, as a Christian, you’re called to full-time ministry in the sense that you’re always a disciple on mission. However, you may not be doing that full-time ministry as a job. Some people will participate in full-time ministry as a means of supporting their family. Some people will support their family by other means, and in the process, continue to be a disciple on mission in their workplace and beyond.  Seminary could prepare you well for either path, but it’s not as essential for those working outside the church or parachurch.

The trick then, is trying to figure out on the front end whether you’re ultimately pursuing vocational (paid) or non-vocational ministry. If it’s the latter, I would count the cost much more seriously. Or at the very least, it could be something you do by distance while continuing to work your full-time job. That brings us into a different question, “should I go to seminary?” which I’ll answer in the next post. I think I laid out well why I ended up going. And full disclosure, I don’t work at a church, and while I do teach, I didn’t need the Th.M to do so. It helps tremendously, but I would have been qualified to teach with just the bachelors degree that I have. There are some perks that come with being somewhat overprepared, but I’ll save that for a later post. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to think through why you want to go to seminary, and see if it is more pragmatic (I need the degree to get the job I want) or existential (I need to do this because I want to grow theologically). They are both good reasons, but you should know which one is you as you count the cost.


A couple of weeks ago, we talked about why you’d want to review books. Once you have your “why” in place, it’s time to get started. If you already have a blog up and running, I’m assuming you’ll post there. If you don’t you could start by posting reviews of books you’ve bought from Amazon. If you don’t have a blog and you don’t buy books from Amazon, I’m not sure what to tell you. Why are you here?

I’m going to proceed assuming you’re a blogger, or at least aspiring blogger. If you want to make reviewing books something you do regularly, I’d want a website where they can be archived. While I could do a separate post on how to setup a blog, I’ll also assume you’re setup on something like WordPress and have been posting. You could be using a different platform, but since I’m not going to make it WordPress specific, it shouldn’t make a big difference.

I would recommend creating a draft within your blogging platform called “Book Review Template” that contains text that looks something like this:

Author, Title. Place: Publisher, Date.  pp. Paperback, Price

Buy it: Amazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to  for the review copy!




Save it in your drafts and when you start a review, open the draft, and copy and paste this into your new post.

You can tweak the above elements, but a good review will definitely have full bibliographic information, either at the top (like journals) or at the bottom (which seems better for blog posts). I used to do it at the bottom, then moved to the top, and have now moved it back to the bottom. As you can see, I like plans, changing plans, and regretting changed plans.

Beyond the bibliographic info, I’ve started providing a link to the publisher’s page for the book and also any excerpt that is available. If I’ve gotten a free review copy, I make sure to note it so the FTC doesn’t come looking for me. You could put the full blurb that is supposed to alert readers you’re complying with FTC guidelines, but I think overtly thanking the publisher makes it clear you didn’t pay for the book. If you do want to put the full blurb, it should look something like this:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

In addition to noting that, I also link to two consumer website: Amazon, and Westminster (if they have it). By doing this, I tend to earn on average a free book (under $20) a month on Amazon by people clicking my Amazon links and then making purchases. I get a small referral fee if they use my link even if they don’t buy the product I linked to. As an online book reviewer, you are contributing to the publicity and promotion process for a book and so in addition to getting a free book to review, it’s nice to get some side Amazon cash. Westminster’s program works a little differently. It takes longer to build up, but I’ve gotten several $50 gifts cards in the last few years of reviewing and linking. If you’re interested in getting that started, follow the links at the beginning of the paragraph.

The bottom three words, Overview, Evaluation, Conclusion, are formatted to be headings within the review, although I don’t necessarily always use them. At the very least, I use them as a mental outline. Generally speaking, your review should include some degree of overview that goes beyond the table of contents, but doesn’t comprise the bulk of the review (although it can). Likewise, it should offer your evaluation of the contents, both positively and negatively. Then, you should have some kind of concluding paragraph that ties everything together. This conclusion can be a good thing to post on Amazon and then note 1) you got the book from the publisher and 2) the full review is available on your blog.

As you’re just getting started, the best thing to do is pick a book that you’ve read recently and review it. I’d start with books that you’ve read that really grabbed your attention, either because you loved it or hated it. If you loved it, you’ll have not trouble summarizing and explaining why, but try to see if you can offer some criticism. Likewise, if you hated it, tell us why, but also commend what you can about it. The hardest books to review are ones that just seem kind of “blah.” By that I mean, books that are not interesting enough to get you excited and not horrible enough to make you mad. However, I tend to think that if you asked the publisher for a review copy, and they sent it, you ought to say something about it on the blog. We’ll talk about what to do here in a later post.

At this point, we’ve talked about why to review books and how to get setup to start doing it. In the next post, I’ll talk about good reading practices and how to apply those to your reviewing process.

Wanna Trade Starbucks Mugs?

November 9, 2015 — 3 Comments


Starbucks seems to be a hot topic right now, so let’s talk about collecting mugs. When Ali and I got married, we started collecting the city mugs available at the time. If you remember, and even if you don’t, these were in the Architecture series. Shortly after we started collecting these, the Icon series released, and we started getting friends to grab these for us as they traveled. We even picked up a few Relief series mugs along the way.

Most recently, we’ve been collecting the You Are Here series. And by “we” I mean “me,” although Ali is not totally opposed. Thanks to living in Orlando, and having Disney passes, we had 6 right off the bat (Orlando, Florida, and the four pictured above). Then thanks to some summer road trips, we picked up Miami, Atlanta, Tennessee, North Carolina, Charlotte, Virginia, and D. C. (birthday gift courtesy of the in-laws). Then our friends Todd and Megan hooked us up with Kentucky (which I still owe you for!) and I traded with Jared Wilson to get Kansas City. Ali’s assistant Valeria brought us Las Vegas and California, and our friend Sean came back from Hawaii with both mugs from there (state mug and Waikiki) as well as Canada and Banff. Our friend Danny snagged us the Utah mug and also one from Disneyland.

I realized there was a Facebook group for this kind of addiction, and because Disney mugs are obviously hard to get (if you don’t have a pass, they’re technically $115 each), I was able to trade for the entire set of mugs from Colorado (state, Denver, Aspen, Vail) and Texas (state, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio). After this frenzy of activity (just over the summer basically), we’ve (and I mean me again) settled down a bit. However, I’m still hoping to maybe do some trades and/or get some Christmas gifts. Since everyone seems so interested in cups from Starbucks right now, I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot so to speak.

At this point, here’s the ones I’m missing:

  • Alabama
  • Nashville
  • Memphis
  • New Orleans
  • Ohio
  • Illinois
  • Chicago
  • Indianapolis
  • Detroit
  • Michigan
  • Maryland
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis
  • Twin Cities
  • Wisconsin
  • Hamptons
  • Boston
  • Cambridge
  • Arizona
  • Phoenix
  • New Mexico
  • All Oregon or Washington ones
  • All Canadian ones (other than country one and Banff)
  • The rest of the southern California ones (we’re hoping to get northern ones on a trip)

Now, do I intend to get each and every one of these? Probably not, although it wouldn’t hurt my feelings. But I’ll still keep collecting and trading, and now you know what I’m up to in case you fell super generous or wanna build your own collection by capitalizing on my Disney passes.


Since its inception, I’ve listened to Al Mohler’s daily news podcast The Briefing. Because of that, I felt like I heard much of the material before as I was reading his latest book We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right and wrong. Besides a long subtitle that pretty much tells you the focal points of the book, it is a well written defense of the classical Christian position on sex, marriage, and religious liberty in light of emerging trends in our culture. If you want to develop a basic understanding of what’s going on in various ethical revolutions in our culture, read this book. If you want to start developing a response, read it in tandem with Russell Moore’s Onward.

The opening chapter, like many opening chapters, is essentially an introduction that sets the stage for the narrative that follows. The narrative, in Mohler’s telling doesn’t start with same-sex marriage (chapter 2). Instead, he goes back to the roots of the homosexual movement (chapter 3). Then he brings us up into the present by way of the disintegration of traditional marriage values and understandings of sex (chapters 6 and 7) and the resulting transgender and same-sex marriage revolutions (chapters 4 and 5). Mohler takes a pit stop to discuss religious liberty (chapter 8) before pressing on to end with a chapter on how these revolutions challenge the church and a concluding chapter that answers 30 key questions related to the various topics.

Although I don’t often agree with Mohler’s take on everything, I have come to appreciate his voice in the midst of our shifting culture. Often, if I don’t particularly agree with Mohler on something, it has more to do with tone and his penchant for hyperbole. As one example, Mohler says:

Arguing that we should draw a clear distinction between who an individual wants to go to bed with and who an individual wants to go to bed as requires the dismantling of an entire thought structure and worldview (68-69).

While I can agree that this distinction is problematic given traditional understandings, I’m not sure it dismantles an entire worldview. At least if it does, it would need to be explained further than it is. This kind of overstatement, in my opinion, happens pretty regularly on The Briefing, and so in some sense, it is part of Mohler’s overall style of discourse. Since I’ve listened to him for so long (and met and talked with him at RTS not too long ago), I know that he is not speaking irrationally or like one of those talking head types trying to get attention. Instead, I think he is trying to wake up a culture of Christians who have fallen asleep at the wheel, and perhaps the hyperbole works rhetorically well to that end.

In one of the concluding chapters on how to respond, Mohler offers an apology that was both surprising and encouraging. In a larger section on how the church should respond to the sexual revolution, and within a smaller section on aberrant theology, he says,

We must also recognize that we have sinned against homosexuals by speaking carelessly about the true nature of their sin. I indict myself here. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, as a young theologian I was invited to speak at a conference of evangelical leaders and thinkers as the movement toward gay liberation was first taking organized shape. At that time, evangelicals were sure the element of choice was the central issue behind the sinfulness of homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle. Thus, we felt the moral and theological obligation to deny the notion of a homosexual “orientation” and to insist that homosexuality was, in every case, freely chosen without regard to any predisposition. For this, I must apologize to the homosexual community, including a host of Christians who have struggled to be biblically faithful even as they have struggled with same-sex orientation (140-141).

I was struck by Mohler’s willingness to admit he got something wrong. While you might not agree with where he is on an issue, that he would publish an apology like this implies that he is willing to reconsider his positions and is a careful thinker. And while I wouldn’t use this as hope that he’ll come around to agree with the progressives on any and everything, it does show a willingness to continual re-evaluate how he understands culture in light of Scripture. He models well how to be biblically faithful and culturally conversant.

Going off that, he offers some very sound insight in the closing answers to hard questions, and even admits not knowing for sure how to handle certain things (e.g. whether to counsel a fully transsexual person who becomes a Christian to undergo restorative sex reassignment surgery). But, he answers some pretty tough questions with candor and care and I think did a good job of picking questions we will all have to deal with in one way or another.

At the end of the day, I’d recommend picking up this book and digging in if you need a primer on what’s going in our sex-crazed culture. If you’ve listened to The Briefing as long as I have, you might not find much new material here, but it is nice to have it all in one place and in print. If you haven’t been keeping up with The Briefing, you probably ought to, and maybe this book is the place to start. The fact that it is getting positive coverage at The Atlantic shows that it is possible to be faithful to Scripture, yet nuanced in your approach to culture so that you can engage in further dialogue. I hope Mohler continues to be able to do so.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right and wrongNashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!