May 12, 2021

Review: Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer

Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our StrengthWeakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength by J.I. Packer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not what I anticipated; I was anticipating a more extended meditation upon the topic of weakness, whereas this book is actually a meditation upon Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, with particular application to weakness. Which is probably what I needed.

Packer is always lucid, incisive, and to the point, and this book is no different.

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May 10, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "There is no such thing as love or worship that is merely private."

Anthony Esolen, Life Under Compulsion, pg 212

May 05, 2021

Review: The Pilgrim's Progress by Bunyan

The Pilgrim's ProgressThe Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had started to read this several years ago and put it down. I always had in my mind the idea that this was a simple, perhaps over-simple, book. As I listened to the audio book over the past couple of days and was struck both by Bunyan's quite complex and nuanced view of the Christian life-or pilgrimage, as it were-and by the beauty of his language. Highly recommended.

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May 03, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 So next time you hear someone say, "The church is a people, not a place," you might respond: "Sort of. The people become a people by regularly assembling in a place. You can't call the team a team if they never play together."

Jonathan Leeman, One Assembly, pg 64

April 28, 2021

Review: Jack by Marilynne Robinson


JackJack by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robinson's prose is worth 5 stars. This book does take a while to get going, as it opens with a long conversation...I'm not sure if I was helped by having previous familiarity with Jack as a character, or if coming in cold would have benefited me.

Jack is the character in Robinson's novels whom I find most troubling. I have people in my life who have held to a similar trajectory of self-destruction, wrecking or at least hurting others in their wake. And the easy thing to do is mentally dehumanize them, categorize them as irredeemable screw ups, and move on. But Jack is so deeply human. He troubles me, because if a character in a novel can be this complex, how much more the people in my real life? I needed to read this book, and it makes me want to revisit Home. In more ways than one.

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April 21, 2021

Review: The Heidelberg Catechism


The Heidelberg CatechismThe Heidelberg Catechism by Zacharias Ursinus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful little catechism. Scriptural, devotional. Much warmer than other catechisms I’ve read. I’m not Reformed with the capital R, so I have some quibbles on the definition of the church and one of the questions on baptism, but I would heartily recommend this for devotional reading and study.

The Puritan paperback edition by Banner of Truth is very nicely put together, and easily slipped in and out of my cargo pocket while I was sitting in a tree stand.

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April 14, 2021

Review: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan


The Pilgrim's ProgressThe Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had started to read this several years ago and put it down. I always had in my mind the idea that this was a simple, perhaps over-simple, book. As I listened to the audio book over the past couple of days and was struck both by Bunyan's quite complex and nuanced view of the Christian life-or pilgrimage, as it were-and by the beauty of his language. Highly recommended.

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April 12, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "If a preacher will not--or cannot--think himself clear so that he says what he means, he has no business in the pulpit."

Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, pg 39

April 07, 2021

Review: Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer


Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our StrengthWeakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength by J.I. Packer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not what I anticipated; I was anticipating a more extended meditation upon the topic of weakness, whereas this book is actually a meditation upon Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, with particular application to weakness. Which is probably what I needed.

Packer is always lucid, incisive, and to the point, and this book is no different.

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April 05, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "Change a church's structure and you change the moral shape of the church."

Jonathan Leeman, One Assembly, pg 21

March 31, 2021

Review: Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice by Scott David Allen


Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social CrisisWhy Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis by Scott David Allen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Read this book on the recommendation of a friend. I was severely underwhelmed.

Let me begin by saying that I have a lot of sympathy with his basic premise that social justice ideology as a totalizing worldview is incoherent, dangerous, and not what we want governing our society. As Christians we should want justice, and want it defined on God's terms, not the world's.

Having said that, this book doesn't have a lot to recommend it. The explanation of Biblical justice is very thin, and basically came to a classical liberal idea of negative rights without addressing the biblical concepts of corporate responsibility and the positive responsibility of the who have to those who don't. On the flip side, I don't think he did a great job of articulating the very Social Justice mindset he was seeking to critique. I wouldn't feel comfortable handing this book to someone and suggesting that they would understand this worldview-far better to just hand them to the link to and tell them to read a half dozen articles. They'll have a better grip on what's going on.

I also was frustrated by his distortion of historical events, for example, portraying the American and English revolutions as somehow unrelated to the French revolution. The tone through the middle/latter parts of the book was pop-level apology for America/the West rather than a Biblical interaction with the prevailing cultural ideology of our day.

In all, I just don't see enough substance here to warrant your time reading it.

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March 29, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "God wonderfully delivers his church from death by death."

John Calvin, Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, pg 22

March 24, 2021

Review: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Goggin and Strobel


The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned ItThe Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a 5 star concept with 2.8-3 stars worth of execution. The essential premise is this: we can either embrace power from below (the way of the dragon), or we can embrace the power from Above (the way of the Lamb). Goggin and Strobel write from the conviction that not only has our culture embraced the way from below (which we should expect), but that the church has as well. We have swallowed the lies of the world concerning the true nature of power and promoted a form of leadership that has little resemblance to the Jesus who emptied himself and took the form of a servant.

And the way they go about exploring this idea, interacting with Scripture and by interviewing older believers whose lives exemplify this way from above, is super useful. The concept of simply sitting with and listening to wiser older believers is something so lost on many young Christians (including those of us in positions of leadership!) that sitting through a whole book where that is what the authors are doing is a useful corrective. So I wholeheartedly endorse the message of this book. I was challenged by it, and profoundly helped. I foresee drawing on it in he future.

My critiques lie mainly in the editing process. The constant cutting back and forth between "I (Kyle)" and "I (Jamin)" was distracting. I assume it was to make the book feel more personal but it made for a clunky reading experience. Some of the practical "how do we expose ourselves to God's formation?" advice toward the end was good-insofar as it went. It could have been developed more. As it was, I don't think the book would have lost much by simply cutting 20 pages or so. The practical help was so thin as to not really advance the usefulness of the book beyond the thought-provoking questions and challenges that had already been raised. I'd rather have no help and just be left with questions. But that could be a personal issue more than a reflection on the book itself-every book review is as much a review of the reviewer, I suppose.

All in all, I'll probably give this as a gift to a few of my friends in ministry. The issues raised by this book are incredibly important.

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March 22, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "To make hearers into doers, we need to appeal not only to the intellect but also to the imagination."

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Hearers & Doers, pg 70

March 17, 2021

Review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger


Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I could give it 3.5, or 3.75. The prose is 4, sometimes five. The story is a solid four, though the plot becomes pretty predictable and I saw the end coming with 12 chapters still to go. There were portions that I found wholly unnecessary. But there were enough interesting subplots to keep me interested.

Probably the most gripping thing about this book was the way he circled around this idea of the awful grace of God. It only receives brief mentions directly, but the concept pervades the feel of the book, and I found it...I'm struggling for how to explain the way I felt about it. Helpful isn't the right word, but neither is enjoyable. Moving conjures the wrong image. It'll stick with me.

A grace we can't understand. A grace beyond comprehension. A grace that penetrates the ordinary.

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March 15, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "A preacher must learn to listen to God before he speaks for Him."

Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, pg 26

March 10, 2021

Review: The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant


The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (Volumes I and II)The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grant is a fascinating individual, and a good writer. I listened on an audiobook, which made it at times difficult to follow everything he was describing, given that I was unfamiliar with the geography. I assume a good printed edition with battle maps would have alleviated that frustration.

Again, because of the audio form, the amount of detail was at times tedious. But Grant's attention to detail is amazing, and it was informative to hear his evaluation of other generals, North and South, as well as his assessments of political leaders. Whetted my appetite for more Civil War history.

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March 08, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "The society that promotes chastity promotes true wedded love. The land of marriage, despite all the troubles that sinful human beings bring upon themselves, is a paradise by comparison with the land of easy fornication and childlessness by choice."

Anthony Esolen, Life Under Compulsion, pg 123

March 05, 2021

An Important Linguistic Point


In an article that is very worth your time, Jared Wilson talks about the fact that pastors are paid to sit and stare out the window-or, in other words, to think, pray, and meditate on Scripture. This seems counterintuitive to many parishioners, and to many pastors as well. One of the reasons, Wilson argues, is because we have mislabeled the "pastor's study" as the "pastor's office." He then gives the following quote from Eugene Peterson to that effect:

“A misnaming replaces ‘pastor’s study’ with ‘office,’ thereby further secularizing perceptions of pastoral work. How many pastors no longer come to their desks as places for learning but as operation centers for organizing projects? The change of vocabulary is not harmless. Words have ways of shaping us. If we walk into a room labeled ‘office’ often enough we end up doing office work. First we change the word, then the word changes us.”

The whole article from Wilson is worth your time. What are you expecting from your pastor? Business-like production, or faithful reflection and labor in prayer and word ministry? 

March 03, 2021

Review: The Last of the Mountain Men by Harold Peterson


The Last of the Mountain Men: the True Story of an Idaho SolitaryThe Last of the Mountain Men: the True Story of an Idaho Solitary by Harold Peterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sylvan Hart was a fascinating man. I'd love to read a biography of him. This book is less biography, and more magazine style profile, interjected with the author's own nostalgia for a bygone era, some fascinating bits of Idaho (and other western) history, and a little travel log thrown in. Peterson pulled it off for the most part, though it would have been better if he had done a little more reporter stuff and a little less ametuer philosopher stuff.

Definitely worth a read if you want an interesting story, or are interested in Idaho history.

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March 01, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "Modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts about God."

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pg 83

February 24, 2021

Review: Doubtless by Shelby Abbott


Doubtless: Because Faith Is HardDoubtless: Because Faith Is Hard by Shelby Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Helpful little book. It's aimed at students, but that only comes through explicitly at a few points, and I would feel comfortable handing it to someone of any age struggling with doubts over the truth of Christianity.

The main point he makes it that doubt, in and of itself, is not the enemy. Lingering over those doubts in a morbid way, being a lazy doubter who won't bother to actually seek answers, or we might say being the wrong kind of doubter, is the issue. Doubts used as motivation to lean into our search for truth, doubts used to push us further into the arms of the loving Father, these can actually become His tools for our joy.

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February 22, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "We do not rise up to God; he descends to us."

Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pg 31

February 17, 2021

Review: Poirot and Me by David Suchet


Poirot and MePoirot and Me by David Suchet
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. But I don't think I'll go passing it around to random people. As someone who grew up watching the Poirot movies, hearing Suchet go through almost every single episode brought back all kinds of memories for me and provided a fascinating glimpse inside the life of a character and stage actor. That said, it made for a rather tedious pace, and if you didn't come already interested in hearing all of this stuff, it wasn't necessarily written in a way that would pull you in. Honestly, I would probably give this book two stars, except I listened to the audio book, which is read by Suchet, and if phone books still exited it would be worth listening to him read one. One of the best voices in the business.

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February 15, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "The final purpose of God's communicative action is to form a people for his treasured possession: not simply a group of holy individuals but a 'holy nation' (1 Peter 2:9)."

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Hearers & Doers, pg 138

February 10, 2021

Review: The Gospel According to John by D.A. Carson

I previously posted some interaction with a particular part of this commentary here. 

The Gospel According to JohnThe Gospel According to John by D.A. Carson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DA Carson has been my go-to for the past two years of studying John's gospel. The combination of wise and scholarly interaction with commentators both contemporary and historical, the rich exegetical insights, and the commitment to applying the text as the word of God to the people of God set this commentary apart from the others that I used.

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February 08, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for obedience."

Sam Allberry, Why bother with church?, pg 51

February 03, 2021

Review: John, Moody Gospel Commentary by J. Carl Laney

John- Moody Gospel CommentaryJohn- Moody Gospel Commentary by J. Carl L. Laney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Useful cultural and background data; exegesis was pretty thin. Homiletical helps at the end of each chapter were of varying helpfulness. I didn't dislike it, but I probably wouldn't pass it around to friends looking to preach from John's gospel.

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February 01, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 The use of images in worship "begin to corrupt the devotion they trigger."

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pg 51

January 28, 2021

The Next Right Thing

One of the most important tasks given to every one of us is very simple : do what's in front of you to do. 

How much of my life had been spent wondering who I'm supposed to be? How many hours spent pondering what's next? How many days wasted pondering hypothetical futures? All the while, neglecting what's right in front of me. Have you ever found yourself in a similar position?

I'm thinking about this in light of 1 Samuel 17:11. This chapter is famous for the one on one battle between David and Goliath, in which the boyish underdog marches out to meet the seasoned warrior of imposing resume and incredible size. Any first time reader expects the young idealist to be slaughtered, but instead he is delivered. God gives him the victory, and the legendary career of Israel's greatest king begins.

But if you're paying attention earlier in the narrative, it shouldn't ever come to David being a hero. His heroism, born of his firm confidence in the ability of God to save him out of any circumstance, is preceded by his dismay that the people of the living God are cowering in fear (v26). 

This responsibility lies upon the whole people, who ought to have the same faith David is displaying. But particularly responsible is Saul. This is the king who stands head and shoulders above all of his subjects (9:2), and who was selected for the very purpose of fighting Israel's battles for her (8:20). Now an enemy had come and defied the people of God. The role of the king, the role of the champion and military leader, is to defend the honor of the people and meet the challenge. And instead he cowers in fear. Just like everyone else.

What does this have to do with you and me, in 21st century America? I wonder how much of my time daydreaming or scheming about the future is just so much time spent ignoring what's right before me to do. I can spend time online researching my next career instead of pouring myself out where I'm at, and then investing in my family when I'm home. I can spend time hoping for tomorrow, and in the meantime I'm cowering from today. "Planning" becomes simple escapism of that old giant: real life. The life God has graciously given.

It's not a direct application of the text. It may not ring home for you. But it's got me thinking.

January 27, 2021

Review: The Reason For Sports by Ted Kluck

The Reason For Sports: A Christian FanifestoThe Reason For Sports: A Christian Fanifesto by Ted Kluck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this up while walking through a Christian book store (back when those existed). The timing in my life could not have been more critical. I was just coming to the point in life where my relationship with God started to seem really central and I was diving hard into "discipleship." Which was good. But as in most good things, excess was near at hand.

I was questioning whether Christians who were "serious" about their faith should waste time on make believe. Fiction books and sports being the two most pertinent examples in my own life. Ted took my hand and walked me off the ledge, by skillfully showing

1) fun is actually a God-given gift. The enjoyment of athletics is a gift from above. Or to borrow from Dr. Suess, sports are fun and fun is good.

2) More importantly, through his portraits of people, especially Tyson and Williams, Kluck helped me to see what my own sports experience should have: sports are about people. And God values people. So insofar as sports are an avenue to connecting with other human beings and learning about them, sports have a value even beyond the fun.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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January 25, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "These days we have no true childhood, only a diseased precocity, introducing children to things that any decent man of Whittier's day, or of Armstrong's, would have considered unutterably vile. Therefore we have no true adulthood either, only a prolonged infantility, a curdled adolescence followed by old age and death."

Anthony Esolen, Life Under Compulsion, pg 70 

January 20, 2021

Review: 9 Mark of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

Nine Marks of a Healthy ChurchNine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dever's book is helpful. I've listened to a lot of 9 Marks interviews and sermons/lectures and read extensively from their website, so not a lot of the content here was new to me. But because they were originally sermons, it was helpful to watch a skilled expositor teach topically. Homiletically helpful, one might say.

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January 18, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "Lacking a church is not equivalent to lacking a decent supermarket or movie theatre; it is like lacking a hospital or a source of water. It is an utter necessity."

Sam Allberry, Why bother with church?, pg 19

January 14, 2021

My Top 16 Books of 2020

Longtime readers of this blog-and virtually anyone who has any idea that this blog even exists-are most likely aware of my habit of posting a top 10 list of my favorite reads from the previous year. Anyone who knows me in real life also knows that I can be somewhat indecisive, and narrowing this year's list down to 10 seemed like more decisions than I wanted to deal with. So I'm pleading a special case for a special year, and giving a top 16 list. 

Other differences from previous lists include my inclusion of re-reads (because I was hit so deeply by my re-reading of Till We Have Faces), allowing multiples from the same author (the Carson books deserve it), and how I've written (I normally stack these books up in front of myself, but I'm in the process of moving, and so they're pretty well all packed up).

1. Till We Have Faces- CS Lewis

I cannot communicate forcefully enough the impact of re-reading this book. I think the first
time I read Till We Have Faces was 4 or 5 years ago, and I remember spending a good portion of the time just trying to keep track of the story. I also remember being completely captivated by one phrase: the stench of holiness. 

This read through, my attention was drawn to what I think Lewis was trying to get at: our deep and subtle ability to deceive ourselves. 

2. Educated- Tara Westover

Tara Westover has a harrowing personal story. I deeply resonated with parts of it, and am deeply grateful that I couldn't relate to more. She writes beautifully, and her deepest question is one that many of us struggle with: how can I see and name something as wrong and still love the people involved?

3. Enjoying God- Tim Chester

Perhaps the most spiritually beneficial book I read the first half of the year. Chester draws on the work of John Owen in Communion with God, but this isn't just the re-hash of someone else's work. He spends chapter after chapter demonstrating how we can experience intimacy with God in our everyday moments in life. Not in a mystical, detached, or ethereal way, but in a manner that is God-centered, Bible saturated, and theologically informed. 

4. And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer- Fredrick Backman

I've heard rave reviews of Backman and decided to listen to this little book at work. Imagine my shame as the mailman is walking around town alternately laughing and crying. In a very brief story he grapples with death, love, friendship, and family in a way that puts most philosophers to shame. 

5. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor- DA Carson

Wasn't sure which of the Carson books to put first, but this gets the nod. Carson takes a series of letters and journal entries from his father, and weaves them together with a mini biography of his dad and a history of Evangelicalism in mid 20th century Quebec. It's masterfully done, but more important than the accomplishment is the life being focused on: Tom Carson was indeed an ordinary pastor, a church planter and pastor who saw very little fruit during most of his ministry. And yet in spite of the difficulties and discouragements, he remained faithful. Which is all Jesus ultimately requires of his stewards. Thoroughly encouraging.

6. John- DA Carson

While the previous Carson book inspired me in ministry, this one helped me in the more normal sense. I both taught and preached through John (in different settings) from late 2017 through mid 2020. I don't think I picked up Carson's commentary until sometime in 2018, but from that point it has been a near and dear companion. Obviously it wasn't the only one on my desk (or Logos software) but it was the only one I made sure to read every week. Helpful on language and historical data, but shines when it comes to theology and practical implications of the doctrine for the believer's life. And if you want to dig deeper on anything, Carson's footnotes are a great place to start.

7. The Killer Angels- Michael Shaara

I grew up watching the movie Gettysburg which is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It's cliché to say, but the book is so much better it is not even funny. I felt like I was in the shoes of Longstreet and Chamberlain (the other depictions are good, but you get the feeling that Shaara has more sympathy with these characters than the others). This book reinvigorated my appetite for history in general, and military history in particular.

8. Heidelberg Catechism

I'm not Reformed with a capital R, so there a few quibbles I'd have...but overall, this is a beautiful summation of Christian truth in a Question and Answer format. 

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?          

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

9. A Big Gospel in Small Places- Stephen Whitmer

Witmer takes on an issue of pressing importance for me personally: given the bigness of the Gospel need in this world, should Christians bother with small places? His answer: depends on on the Christian. Some are called to the global cities, the culturally strategic places, the places of worldly influence. And some of us are called to Nazareth. The Gospel is for all kinds of people in all kinds of places-or perhaps more accurately, every person in every place. Important or insignificant. Big or small.

10. American Buffalo- Steven Rinella

I'll admit to being a bit of a MeatEater fanboy, and so I thought a family road trip would be a perfect time to listen to Rinella's book on an American Icon, the bison or buffalo. Well, the book is really good, but unless you want to explain his analogies explaining Bison bison sexual organs to your children, pass on the audiobook for the car ride. 

11. Zeal Without Burnout- Christopher Ash

This is a brief book. It's not groundbreaking in it's suggestions. But Ash is firm in reminding his readers that they are not God, and God does not expect them to be. So much of ministry burnout is based on our own idolatries of self, productivity, and pleasing people. But this book will call you back to simple obedience within the creaturely constraints which God himself has placed upon us. 

12. Jack- Marylinne Robinson

I love all of Marylinne Robinson's novels. To be honest, I think Jack is weaker than the previous body of work, but that says more about the quality of Robinson's previous work than this particular novel. The only quibble is how lost I imagined I'd be if I didn't already have Gilead and Home in my mental furniture. Not sure how the opening 50 pages (probably less than that in a normal copy, our librarian ordered it in large print) of dialog would have landed otherwise.

13. ConservatismRoger Scruton

In a time when the label conservative can carry an awful lot of baggage, much of which seems quite the opposite of conservative, it was refreshing to read an intellectual history and explanation of that term many hold so dear. A reminder that conservatives seek to conserve, not tear down or burn things. Timely. 

14. One Assembly- Jonathan Leeman

An argument that when the New Testament authors (and the Holy Spirit under whose inspiration they wrote) used the word ekklesia, "assembly", to describe the church, they actually meant for assembling to be a constitutive part of the definition of the church. While the church is more than a gathering of people, it cannot, in fact, be less. I found his argument persuasive.

15. No Quick Fix- Andy Naselli

A helpful look at the how sanctification actually takes place in the life of a believer, countering the "let go and let God" ideas which were/are articulated in Keswick theology, and carry popularly into much of modern evangelicalism.

16. Tess of the Deurbervilles- Thomas Hardy

I'd never read any Thomas Hardy...and while this is definitely not my "kind" of book, I did enjoy it. Thoroughly. Enough to give it some space in the top 16. Like all good fiction, it made me think.

Books I Enjoyed, But Not As Much as the Top Tier...roughly in order of enjoyment

Hank the Cowdog, John Erickson; If you have kids and aren't reading Hank the Cowdog to them, what are you doing with your life?

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

Weakness is the Way, JI Packer

The Gospel of John, James Boice; Brilliant collection of sermons!

The Last of the Mountain Men, Harold Peterson

Mom Enough, Ed. Tony Reinke

The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan

Visit the Sick, Brian Croft

Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger

Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Ulysses S. Grant

Forgotten Church, Glenn Daman

Right Color, Wrong Culture, Bryan Loritts

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, Ernest Hemingway

Church Elders, Jeramie Rinne

Comfort the Grieving, Paul Tautges

John, Carl Laney

The Trumpet of the Swan, EB White

Servant of All, Richard Enlow

Doubtless, Shelby Abbott

Poirot and Me, David Suchet

Many Colors, Soong-Chan Rah

The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien

What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp

Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper

Spirits in Bondage, CS Lewis

Charlotte's Webb, EB White

Alexander Hamilton, Charles Conant

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Books I also read:

The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Take My Heart and Make it Break, Steve Shanks

Hokahey!, Richard Hardoff

Why Social Justice is not Biblical Justice, Scott David Allen

On my desk

 Currently reading:

I'm also listening to "We Were Soldiers Once: And Young", which is excellent and I will be purchasing a copy.

January 13, 2021

Review: Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our MindsWomen of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My wife's bible study group is going through this book, so I thought I'd read it. It's very good. An excellent apology for and introduction to studying the scriptures which could easily be repackaged for a male audience.

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January 11, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "Church leader, are you as interested in promoting the kingdom of Christ as you are your own church's program?

Getting catholic and working with other churches means making sacrifices and losing control."

Jonathan Leeman, One Assembly, pg 107

January 09, 2021

The God You Need

 I'm working on a sermon for this coming Sunday out of 1 Samuel 15. I did an overview last week of chapters 13-15, focusing on what I take to be the main point: Saul's descent, highlighted by repeated failures to obey the voice of the Lord. So the thrust of the sermon, then, was that you and I are to take Saul as a warning, that failure to obey God altogether, or even to "obey" on our own terms, is a dangerous course to take. The end of that way is death.

Instead we are to see that obedience is better than sacrifice. To listen to God's voice is better than the fat of rams. There is no act of service or outward penitence or sacrifice which replaces the simple, humble, heart posture of obedient service. Listen, obey. Hear, do. 

But how can we be sure this will pay off in the long run? Why is it worth it to bear fruit in keeping with repentance? Can we actually trust God to reward those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11)?

God Unchanging

The emotional importance of this question for the believer is, in my estimate, hard to overstate. And it's the question I'm grappling with again in 1 Samuel 15, wherein we are told twice that God regretted making Saul king (v11, v35) but in between those two statements, we hear from Samuel, God's authorized spokesperson in the story, telling us that [God] the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret." Well. Which is it? Is the narrator wrong about God, or is Samuel? Or are we supposed to read both statements as true, and attempt to figure out how they complement one another?

Unless we take the Bible to be the work of some very incompetent and uninspired writers, I think option 3 is what we must work with. I once heard Kevin Deyoung say something to the effect of, "here is an important hermeneutical principal: the Biblical authors were not stupid." The author understands his perspective on God to be correct, yet there is nothing in the narrative which would cause us to question Samuel, either. The writer wants this tension to sit with us and force us to contemplate who God is, what he is like, and how that impacts our relationship to him.

I think the direct statement which Samuel gives us in 1 Samuel 15:29 (quoted above) is the normative position of Scripture. God is God, he is transcendent, qualitatively different from us, and unchanging in his character and will. This truth, God's unchangeableness, is known doctrinally as God's impassibility and his immutability. These doctrines state, respectively, that God is not overcome by any passion, nor does he change. And we can see the cash value in this as sinful creatures, right? The fact that God is not overcome by any emotion is why he does not simply pull a Zeus and start breaking things when he gets angry. And by breaking things, for us that would mean casting us into hell. God's impassibility is in a sense a conditional necessity for the kind of patience he displays, seen in 1 Samuel 15 in the order to wipe out the Amalekites for crimes they began committing hundreds of years beforehand. Talk about ample time for repentance! More to the point for believers, Romans 3 tells us that God passed over all the "former sins" committed during the sacrificial era, in anticipation of a sacrifice (Christ) which was actually effective in assuaging his wrath. 

But what, then, do we make of regret? Dale Ralph Davis notes in his commentary on 1 Samuel that, although nuances vary across the 29 times the Hebrew word for "regret" in reference to God in the OT, it never seems to lose some aspect of emotion. God's action in history seem to be making a turn. But has God changed? Hardly! We might note that in this chapter God gave Saul an instruction, which Saul failed to obey. The change, the fall, the shortcoming is on Saul's part, not God's. God's actions change toward Saul as a result of God's unchanging nature. 

But you might then postulate that perhaps God's character remains the same, while his will changes. But in addition to that flying in the face of Scripture (eg, Eph 1:11...indeed, Michael Horton notes in his Pilgrim Theology that we have more evidence in Scripture affirming God's unchanging will than his unchanging character), it also is simply unnecessary. God's will has not changed, ever. But his relationship with human beings is always dynamic, and he does indeed respond to human action. Not as one who is passively receiving that action without the ability to change it (contra modern notions of free will), but as one who is allowing, as it suits his purposes, fallen creatures to make decisions and take action. God has the sovereign right, and providential power, to turn the heart of any man, including kings (Proverbs 21:1). Nonetheless, in his wisdom, he allows us as his creatures to make decisions for which there are real and often eternal consequences. We never act upon God, Saul's disobedience to God does not create some lack or deprivation in God because Saul failed to carry out an order. But we act in relation to him, and his instructions require obedience on our part.

And here, I think, is where the emotional piece comes in. God takes no pleasure in our disobedience, though he allows it. Further, though some would say he must allow it, we know this is not true (see Genesis 20:6). God can and often does prevent and restrain sin. Indeed, we know that for anyone to trust Christ and be saved God must sovereignly act upon them, sending his Holy Spirit to cause a New Birth giving new spiritual eyes and new hearts (John 3, Ezekiel 36, 2 Corinthians 4). So what we must have a category for is a God who allow things which cause him some emotional sense of regret. Saul has disobeyed God. This has not left God scratching his head, wondering what to do. He has known from before the foundation of the earth that Saul would do so, and even in Genesis we read that the King to come will be of Judah's line, not Benjamin's. But God cares about Saul, and God is not pleased when Saul blows this opportunity to obey. Ezekiel 33:11 reminds us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. While Saul has, in this chapter, entered upon a trajectory leading to his death by the end of the book, God isn't doing happy dances that now it's time for David. He regrets. 

It's not the same as our regret, for God it utterly unlike us. But it must have enough similarity that the Biblical author finds it the appropriate word. But is sad over sin. It's a sadness that ultimately leads to sending his Son to put things right.

January 06, 2021

The Evil of Anarchy

Hazarding any sort of guess about what people in the future will remember about our day is just that: a hazard. Memories are short, the news cycle rapid, and it seems plausible that nearly anything could be quickly forgotten. 

But the events of today feel different. Violent protestors stormed the Capitol building of the United States, disrupting the counting of electoral votes, and creating a situation in which one woman was shot dead. This is not the sort of event which is supposed to happen in our country. The peaceful transfer of power is central to our ongoing stability as a nation. And until now, such a transfer seemed a forgone conclusion. But today, we learned what we should have already known: words matter. The stoking of unfounded fears, anger, and conspiracy theories by the President of the United States, the fanning of those verbal flames by media personalities, and the willingness of many people to act on what was (at least tacitly) encouraged has led to a lawlessness that is shameful, and should be a cause of national mourning. 

I am heartbroken. And angry. But I am also grateful. Grateful that though I love this country and am praying that God in his mercy would give some return to normalcy and stability, my hope does not ultimately lie in that happening. Though the nations rage, God reigns on his throne. And we can rest in his good governance of all things. 

I want to keep writing, but so much of what I have to say has already been better said. I would strongly encourage you to follow this link and read Colin Hansen's piece over at The Gospel Coalition, The Day We Saw the Capitol Fall. 


I am proud to be an American, but I have no defense for curious and confused brothers and sisters around the world as they watch our U.S. Capitol under siege. I have no explanation. I don’t know how this happened. I don’t know how a nation with so many churches allowed this to happen. I don’t know why so many professing Christians wanted this to happen.

And I don’t know how it ends.

I think about the next generation watching the hangman’s gallows erected on the west side of the Capitol. I was born shortly after President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, and only one week after he was shot. I grew up thinking we were supposed to admire politicians.

I know better now. Politicians reflect us. They’re scared of us. And January 6, 2021, shows why.

Review: Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton

Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian DisciplesPilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples by Michael S. Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love reading Horton. I'm not reformed (at least not in the legitimate, Westminster/Dordt, fashion), so I often differ with him. But he writes with a clarity and beauty of expression that is often missing in modern theology.

View all my reviews

January 04, 2021

Commonplace Monday

 "Idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images."

Charles Hodge, quoted in J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pg 44

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (