Overdue Book Reviews: “Unparalleled” by Jared C. Wilson

[A few years ago, I started doing book reviews for different publishers who would send me free copies of books to review. Well, my eyes got a little too big for my reading list, so to speak, and I ended up with more books than time. I kept getting distracted by shiny paper objects until I found myself well outside of the requested 1-2 month range for these reviews to be completed. Some of these reviews are *gulp* over a year past due. However, I want to rectify this, so here is the first of a series of past-due reviews. Hope you enjoy.]

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“Aren’t all religions basically the same?”

This statement is practically part of the secular catechism. It’s taken as a matter of fact when there are broad ecumenical discussions of faith in the public square. It’s assumed that the best of all the world’s religions agree on key tenets of kindness, peace, and human flourishing.

But is it really true? If you’re a Christian, the answer should be a gentle but firm “no.”

In Jared Wilson’s 2016 book, Unparalleled, he takes on the task of explaining clearly and simply why Christianity stands out from all other world religions in some very important and fundamental ways. He works his way through the basics of systematic theology, answering the big questions (such as the nature of God, the state of humanity, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of salvation, and the end of the world).

What Works
Wilson’s style is winsome, approachable, and clear. He generally stays away from theological jargon, although when it is necessary, he usually defines terms well. He compares the key points of Christian doctrine to other belief systems, but his goal is more to reveal how Christianity is distinct and true, rather than to poke holes in other faiths. This isn’t to say that Wilson soft-pedals other religions, but rather, his goal is clearly to focus on what is true rather than what is untrue. I really appreciate his ability in this book to lay out plainly what the Bible teaches about the Christian faith, in a way that both the unschooled and the highly-educated can grasp.

Minor Issues
I am an unapologetic fan of Jared Wilson’s writing, and this recent addition to his bibliography didn’t disappoint. I have only a few minor critiques. I can recall a few places where his explanations got a bit murky and potentially theologically confused. While in no way approaching heresy, it would have been good to clear up a few of these points. (It should say something that, at the moment, I’m failing to recall specifics.) None of these issues are cause for concern, in my mind. Wilson’s writings speak to his orthodoxy, so the most likely point of error may have been in the mind of a distracted reader.

The other critique I have is the bigger issue: the question of audience. Wilson seems to write this book both for non-believers who are interested in learning about Christianity, as well as for believers who want to learn how to explain Christianity. To that end, I think the book is valuable for both audiences; however, it causes the book to feel a bit inconsistent in voice. In some sections, Wilson is clearly addressing believers, while in others he is making an appeal to outsiders. Both aims are profitable and worthwhile; I’m just not sure it’s wise to do both at the same time.

(It’s funny: so often in my book reviews, I seem to spend the bulk of the post on what doesn’t quite work, even when reviewing books I greatly enjoy. It appears this holds true now. The reason for this, as best as I can tell, is that I don’t want to belabor praise, but I feel the need to justify critique.)

The Bottom Line:
Despite some minor editorial issues, Unparalleled is an approachable, clear, useful book that can be shared and discussed with people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, as well as used to train believers how to discuss the big ideas of the faith.

I gladly recommend this book, and I’m thankful for another great volume by Jared Wilson. His writing continues to be a blessing to the Church.

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Please note: I received a physical copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a unbiased review. The views and opinions expressed above are my own.

Hey friend…ya got $2?

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working with a great team of creative folks to put together a new web series called “Presto Fairy Tales: The Web Series! (The Musical!)”

Think Shelley Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theater…but weirder, and a little more punk rock, and a little more DIY. The writing is hilarious, the actors are great, and the show has so much heart.  The first season of the series will include 5 great stories that you probably have never heard before!

PLUS! There will be original music, including several songs with lyrics written by yours truly.

ALSO! I’m the villain on one of the stories! So you get to see me playing a BAD GUY. Cool, yes?

Here’s the deal, gang: We need funding. We have a shoestring budget, but shooting locations, props, sets, costumes, music recording, and all that costs more than a shoestring.

We need your help. Even if it’s just a few bucks, we can definitely use it.

Here’s the link to our GoFundMe page. Check it out, get the details, watch the video, and then go…fund us… Please? Pretty please?

Thanks!

 

 

Like. Follow. Subscribe. …Or create.

It’s a curious thing how I self-sabotage my attempts to detach from media (social or otherwise).

I started using Medium and Feedly as news aggregators with the intention of divesting my energies from Facebook and reducing the temptation to scroll or blog-hop for hours. In the end, I find myself now hoarding (ahem, collecting) bookmarked articles on both platforms, which I am hopelessly behind on reading, and I’m still using Facebook (though decidedly less-so).

I’ve culled my FB friend list to people I have had meaningful (or at least intentional, word-based) interactions with in the last 2 years. I have “unfollowed” and “unliked” a host of websites and entertainment pages on FB, though Zuckerberg still thinks I’m not getting enough advertising in my diet. (“Your friend Joe likes the ‘Peruvian Llama Juggling’ page!” Well… good for Joe?)

I infrequently trim down my Twitter follow list, but then I’ll take on new Twitter activities like anonymous accounts (let’s call that “fun-work”). I’ll turn off Twitter notifications on my phone, but keep the app and check it frequently.

I’ll delete podcasts from my devices, and then subscribe to new ones. Same with my streaming movie service. I have several authors to whom I owe book reviews, and yet I’m still adding books to my hold-list at the library. Why? Because I’m a jerk blogger/reviewer. (I owe apologies along with those reviews.)

[I pause to add the following clarifying statement: I’m not complaining. I’m not asking for assistance. I’m just talkin’ here, folks.]

The truth is, I still like using social media. I know the dangers. I’ve read the news articles about its negative effects. I’ve seen scores of blog posts about how people quit FB and Twitter, and their lives are JUST. SO. AMAZING. NOW. (See: previously-mentioned bookmarked Medium articles.) And I know that’s all true.

But I also know that I enjoy interacting with my “Twitter friends.” I still use FB groups and messaging to stay in touch with people, groups, and projects.  I’m aware of the sneaky dangers of FOMO and my tendency toward oversharing, and I’m working on both. I think I can stop worrying and learn to love the blog.

However, there is one side effect of continued social media interaction that I need to start taking more seriously: Social media engagement proves that “I don’t have time to write” is a lie.

I’ve got the basic outline, a few solid chapters, and a handful of scattered scenes written for the first book in a trilogy of crime stories that I’d really like to finish. I care about the main character, I’m intrigued by the themes that these books involve, and the questions that the overarching story raises set it apart from other books in the genre. I think it would be a really cool thing to bring these stories into the world and share them with you.

For the years–YEARS–that I have weakly gestured at writing, I have convinced myself that I don’t have the time to commit to it. My time spent on social media proves otherwise.

I want to write more. I have the ability and time to write more. And I don’t have any good excuses for not pursuing it.

So, well, uh, there it is.

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What, you were expecting more of a rousing call to action?

Do we really need one?

Would it really work?

“Some hoard to remember, some hoard to forget…”

We’re in “de-cluttering” mode in the 4thDaveHousehold. The upcoming new addition, plus an impending move, is motivating us to reduce our Stuff footprint. This usually happens right before a big move. Staying in one place creates a strange magnetism that draws Stuff from the surrounding environment and sticks it to us, in attics and closets and garages.

I struggle with clutter. That doesn’t mean I’m a hoarder–I know how to throw away garbage (or recycle plastics and paper–something new I’ve learned in almost 3 years of marriage). I’m not saving old paper cups or coffee filters. But I do collect mementos and I struggle to let them go.

I’ve grown stronger in resisting Stuff over time–I threw out a LOT of Stuff when I got married, boxes and boxes of hand-me-downs and souvenirs, all at once (the Band-aid Rip Method).  But it’s still challenging.

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Last month, I read a book by Eve Schaub called “Year of No Clutter.” It’s not a guide for how to de-clutter as much as it is a memoir and confessional of a Stuff-addict. In one chapter, she confesses that the motivation for much of her keeping falls into two categories: nostalgia and potential.

She talks about how objects connect to memories for her, and because she finds herself forgetting stories from the past, she tends to hang on to random items that mean something to her. That’s the nostalgia piece. Even if it is just a scrap of paper with writing on it, she keeps it, because it reminds her of an event or place or person.

She also talked about how potential usefulness kept her from throwing away items, “just in case…” Even items that she could easily re-acquire would be kept for possible future use.

I relate so much to these two ideas.

Like Schaub, my memory is awful, and for years, I saved the fragments of experiences in physical form so I could go back to them later. That’s not true: it was more that I was afraid that the memories of those events or people or places would be lost forever. Losing memories felt like losing pieces of myself.

And like Schaub, I sometimes have a hard time letting go of things that might be useful to me later: for example, I held on to the tape-adapter I used to connect my iPod to my old truck, even when I got a newer truck and didn’t need it anymore. Later, when that truck was replaced by an old van and I actually “needed” the tape adapter again, I realized it was tossed during the great pre-wedding purge. What a terrible loss! (Turns out, I just asked around, and someone had another that they gave me. Crazy, huh?)

What motivates this?

Part of my tendency to hang on to Stuff may simply be habit. During the decade-plus between college and marriage, I have to admit that I spent a LOT of time looking backward, thinking how much better the old days were. In the first decade post-college, the memory of my college experience was utterly drenched in nostalgia. And all those single years, when I battled feeling frustrated and lonely, I looked backward at a time of my life that I really began to miss.

These days, I realize that I’m looking forward a lot more. My life right now is exciting and challenging and full of love. There’s more anticipation. More potential. I really have no idea what life will look like in 5 years, and that’s exciting (and really scary, but still exciting!).

What about the “potential usefulness” question? Schaub fights against this fear of losing something useful by trying to have more confidence in herself. As a Christian, I can do something better than that: I can have confidence that God is sovereign, that God is good, that God will provide everything I need, that He is trustworthy, that He declares the end from the beginning. Rather than try to hold on to Stuff as a hedge against the future, I can learn to let go of some things and trust that I have what I need, because my Father is good to me.

And to be clear, I’m not saying I don’t plan or save for the future; on the contrary, I am trying to be wise and prepared for whatever comes. But those of us who follow Jesus are warned not to put our faith in the “uncertainty of riches,” because even our best savings plan is not enough to protect us from every calamity.

I’ve still got room to grow, when it comes to my relationship with Stuff. Lately, God has been working on me through I Timothy 6–“Godliness with contentment is great gain… If we have food and clothing, we will be content.” Honestly, I couldn’t say that was the case, even now. My prayer is that this will grow truer and truer in my life.

If nothing else, that would make moving a lot simpler.

*Pops head back in the door*

“Anybody here?”

Just wanted to pop back in and say:

  • I’m still alive.
  • Life is good, but it feels very hectic and heavy at the moment. Lots of good things going on, but also lots of busyness, and that is crowding out good-but-not-vital things like blogging.
  • That said, I miss writing to y’all. My hope is to find a few moments to jot some thoughts down about what’s been going on, in the near future. No promises, though. You know how it is. But someday in the coming few weeks, I’ll try to give ya an honest-to-goodness TIWIARN post.
  • In the meantime, some things you can pray for me:
    • Strength to make good choices for my health and not give into bad habits and old patterns.
    • Protection and blessing for my wife and unborn baby.
    • Spiritual growth, particularly in the area of joy, patience, and a controlled temper.
    • That I would keep my priorities straight, so that I can focus on what’s important and not be tossed about by every wind of “URGENT” item that enters my field of vision.

I think that’s about it.

In advance of the weekend, here’s a link to an old post about Good Friday.  Hope it blesses you.

He is risen, gang. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

(Un)Happy Warriors.

Hey, Christian friends–can we talk just a minute about social media?

*sound of stampeding feet*  GUYS, GUYS, WAIT, COME BACK!!!

Look, y’all–I enjoy using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, just like most of you do. I’ve developed many great interactions and (I think) some genuine friendships with people around the country through this medium. But it would serve us well to take a step back and think once again about how we’re using these gifts.

Maybe it’s the intensified political climate, maybe it’s because the issues of race relations and abortion are always topics of discussion in January, but as I’ve pulled up Twitter and Facebook over the last few weeks, I’m constantly seeing my online friends–solid, grounded, fruit-bearing believers–engaged in social-media slapfights with either believers of other tribes or with non-believers. Argumentation bleeds over into insult. Blocks and bans are celebrated with high-fives.

Here’s the danger, y’all: We can’t let gamesmanship get in the way of the Gospel. “Jerks for Jesus” are still just jerks. 

I’m not saying that you can’t engage and debate online in a healthy way. I’ve seen some of my friends do that also, and do it well, in recent weeks. I want to learn from those examples.

But some of us?  We just enjoy pickin’ fights.

bh-fight

In my experience, we Reformed (or Reformed-ish) folk seem to fall into this trap regularly, as we take our stand as warriors of orthodoxy and defenders against heresy.

I’ll be the first to affirm that doctrine matters, and truth is worth fighting for. However, we must be ever so careful that our love of truth is not overwhelmed by our love for the scrum and skirmish of ideological battle. We happy theological warriors can quickly become hardened and bitter. We turn our blades on each other. I’ve seen it happen.

My brothers, this should not be.

Confession: I do it, too. (I am Captain Buzzkill, after all.) As I grow more and more aware of this tendency in myself, I am trying to dial that down, to recognize when I’m growing pugilistic in my interactions. Because it’s not becoming of a follower of Jesus to sling snark on a constant basis.

And frankly, gang? It makes Twitter less fun, because it turns Twitter into a perpetual outrage party.  No thanks.

Maybe you think I’m off base. Maybe you think I’ve gone soft. You know what, brother, sister? I can handle that.

But, if you would indulge me, please take a few moments and think over these reminders of how we ought to engage other people (who despite their sin are still made in the image of God) on social media. Then, let’s go and do likewise:

Colossians 4:5-6  “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

I Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respecthaving a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Titus 3:1-8  “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all peopleFor we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

[All translations are ESV; all emphases mine.]

The Insufficiency of Implicit Dignity.

[This is a long one, but I hope it’s useful to you. Thanks for reading. –d.]

On Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching the morning sermon at my church. It was “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” but rather than speaking just on abortion (per usual for that day), I sought to expand our focus. So we looked at what the Bible says about the dignity and value of human life as a whole, asking the question, “Why is human life sacred? What sets us apart from the rest of creation?”

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I won’t reprint my full manuscript here, but I’ll give you a summarized version:

Mankind was created especially by God. The language of Genesis 1 and 2 speak to a particular attention and direct interaction by God with the man and woman He made. He gave them the place of honor and responsibility over all creation (“a little lower than the angels,” as David would write in Psalm 8). They would represent Him throughout the earth and rule over it. But our first parents rebelled against their King, committing cosmic treason by breaking His commands and sinning against Him, as they sought to be His equals.

However, despite the entrance of sin and death into the world, God still affirmed the value of human life in Genesis 9, and the distinction of value between man and animals, because even as fallen creatures we are made in the image and likeness of God.  Human beings have dignity and value, not because of our abilities or capacities, but because of what God has done in choosing to have a special relationship with us.

I spoke about how there isn’t a clear teaching in Scripture about what constitutes being made “in the image of God,” but working off the idea of being created to glorify God all over the earth, I talked about how human beings have the singular ability of echoing (ever so faintly) some of the communicable characteristics of God. We can demonstrate love, mercy, justice, faithfulness, and other attributes of God, but in a diminished and creaturely way. However, the entrance of sin into the world corrupts even our best intentions and actions, so that we as a sinful creatures are only able to demonstrate these attributes, on our best day, in broken and distorted ways. We do not love God and each other as we ought, and our poor attempts at “righteousness” or “goodness” are mixed with self-interest.

Because God is just and holy, He must rightly punish sin and destroy evil, and thus we would be doomed. But God (who is rich in mercy) sent His son, Jesus the Christ, whom the Scriptures repeatedly call “the image of God” (Col. 1:15) and “the radiance of His Glory, the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). In short, Jesus the God-man is the perfect template of what mankind was supposed to be but could not be, because of sin.

Jesus lived a human life of perfect righteousness, died in the place of sinners, taking our guilt and the just penalty of divine wrath upon Himself, and then was raised again, giving us the guarantee of our own resurrection for all who turn from their sins and trust in His saving work as our sacrificial substitute. Those who trust in Jesus are “made new” and then begin to be remade, reshaped, into the image of Jesus (sanctification). Several passages in the New Testament affirm that we who have been born again are being remolded to look like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:9-10), and when we are finally resurrected, we will be finally and fully restored (II Cor. 3:18).

Thus, my appeal to believers in Jesus (in light of these truths) is to recognize that all human life has dignity and deserves respect, regardless of that person’s actions or circumstances, because God has made them in His image. We are thus commanded to see all people through the eyes of the Spirit and not through the eyes of the flesh–and we are compelled to make our appeals to all to be reconciled to God (II Cor. 5:14-21).

In the sermon, I mentioned several classes of people who deserve dignity and respect but are sometimes passed over in our culture: the unborn, the orphan, unwed mothers in crisis, the sick and dying, the disabled, the poor. Since I feared the sermon was running long, I mentioned also a mixed-bag category of “people who are different than us”–including people who look different, speak a different language, were born in a different country, or even worship a different god. All these, I argued, have dignity and should be shown love and respect because all these are made in the image of God and need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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I finished the sermon and actually felt pretty okay about it. After the service ended, I was approached by a few of the brothers, including an African-American brother in our church family who’s a friend of mine. He hugged me and thanked me for the sermon, but then he said, “You know, at the end, I was expecting you to talk about race a little more. But that’s okay.”

For a moment, I was struck.  It seems so obvious.  On a day when I’m affirming the value of all human life–on MLK weekend, of all things–I missed a chance to make an explicit reference to one of the most divisive issues in our culture.

It’s not that I didn’t think of it at all. It was implicit in my comments throughout the sermon. I said more than once, “all people, no matter who they are, have dignity as being made in God’s image.”  But I missed the chance to say it more clearly.

All I could do was apologize. I told him it was there in the subtext, but I confessed that I could have and should have taken an extra moment to underline it.  My friend graciously shrugged and shook my hand again, “I’m not offended, man. I know what you meant.”

Even so, the more I considered it, the more I was a bit bothered by it. What should have been underlined in my outline became a footnote.  If you had asked me directly, I would have affirmed unequivocally that all people of all races are made in the image of God and are deserving of respect and dignity. But I’m not forced to think about race that often. I don’t have to rub up against that issue every day. It can slip into the background for me. Maybe that’s a privilege I’ve been afforded.

“But Dave, your job as the preacher was to herald the Gospel, not push a social message.”  Yes and amen, and I pray I did that clearly. But: there is nothing unbiblical or inappropriate about speaking prophetically from Scripture to a specific issue facing our community, especially when it is practically set up on a tee for me to take a swing at it. We were talking about human dignity and value and the way we as Christians should affirm the value of all human life. I don’t need to promote or support any specific political interest group in order to say what the Bible says–that all people are made in God’s image, that God is no respecter of persons, and that we as the Church are called to proclaim reconciliation to ALL people, including those who are of a different race, background, or class than we are.

And maybe I shouldn’t have to single out race and ethnicity as one of those issues, but we live in a country that seems to be growing more divided around race.

Here’s what I’m getting at: I don’t think it was enough simply to imply that people of other races have equal dignity with mine. This is worth speaking directly to, even at the risk of possibly over-emphasizing it. The Gospel is the answer to racism, and the Church needs to repeat that over and over until the world gets tired of hearing us saying it!

I’m frustrated that I missed the easy opportunity to do just that. By God’s grace, I hope my listeners heard what I didn’t say explicitly but should have. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is the one who applies the Word to our hearts. And I pray that my church family hears His voice today.

My 2016 Reading List and Top-Five Reads of the Year!

It’s an annual tradition for me to provide my reading list and recommendations, and I’m happy to oblige again this year.

Reading List

January
>>Wayward — Blake Crouch (started 12/31)
>>The Last Town — Blake Crouch
>>Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Search — Gene Luen Yang (3 vols.)
>>Written in Fire — Marcus Sakey
>>Red Harvest — Dashiell Hammett

February 
>>Do More Better — Tim Challies
>>A Wrinkle in Time — Madeleine L’Engle
>>Slave — John Macarthur
>>The Pastor Theologian — Hiestand and Wilson

March
>>Animal Farm – George Orwell
>>Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
>>The Silence of Our Friends — Mark Long
>>Captain America: Civil War — Brubaker/Perkins/Weeks
>>Jelly Roll — Kevin Young
>>Captain America: America First — Knauf/Chaykin/Breitweiser/Higgins/Siegel/Padilla
>>Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America — Loeb etc.

April
>>Essentialism – Greg McKeown
>>Captain America, Reborn – Brubaker etc.
>>The Trial of Captain America – Brubaker  etc.
>>Dad is Fat – Jim Gaffigan (audio)
>>Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, the Man Who Led the Band of Brothers – Larry Alexander
>>Inheritance of Tears – Jessalyn Hutto
>>Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman

May
>>The Hole in Our Holiness – Kevin DeYoung
>>Too Dumb to Fail – Matt Lewis
>>Smarter, Faster, Better – Charles Duhigg
>>It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis
>>Hawkeye, vol. 2 – Fraction/Aja

June

>>From Eden to the New Jerusalem – T. Desmond Alexander
>>Kill Devil – Mike Dellosso

July
>>Getting the Message – Daniel Doriani

>>40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible – Robert Plummer
>>No Hero – Mark Owen (audio)
>>A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

 

August

>>Star Wars:Bloodline – Claudia Gray
>>Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
>>Nobody Wants to Read Your S–t – Steven Pressfield
>>The Wright Brothers – David McCullough
September
>>Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs (audio)
>>Persuasion – Jane Austen (audio)
>>A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care – Russell Moore
>>The Winter’s Tale – Shakespeare
>>The Innocence of Father Brown – GK Chesterton
>>Orphan Justice – Johnny Carr
>>Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus – Nabeel Quereshi (audio)
>>The Joy Project – Tony Reinke
October
>>Reviving New England – Nate Pickowicz
>>Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls – Scott Snyder / Bryan Capullo
>>Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls – Snyder/Capullo
>>Hollow City – Ransom Riggs (audio)
November 
>>Batman: Dark Victory – Jeph Loeb; Tim Sale
>>Library of Souls – Ransom Riggs (audio)
>>On Bowie – Rob Sheffield
December
>>Armada – Ernest Cline (audio)
>>And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (audio)
>>Love Your Life, Not Theirs – Rachel Cruze
>>Fat2Fit2Fat – Drew Manning
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Final Tally: 57 books. I think that’s a new personal record.
The big takeaways from this year’s list? 1) Graphic novels, 2) audio books, and 3) the public library.
  • As a palate-cleanser (and, frankly, mental “recess”) from the serious reading I did this year, I read a lot of graphic novels (mostly Captain America and Batman). Some of them were quite good (and may even crack my top-five!). But a solid fifth (11) of my reads this year were graphic novels, which I argue can be just as challenging and moving as regular print books. (Admittedly, some of them weren’t; they were cotton candy for my over-taxed brain.)
  • I also started “reading” more audio books (9 this year), partly due to the realization that they are quite useful for roadtrips. My wife and I started a new practice of picking at least one audiobook to enjoy together. I look forward to continuing this tradition in the future.
  • I have become a major proponent of the public library. Where I live, there are 2 fantastic library systems, and I’ve been the beneficiary of these all year long. Of the 56 books I read this year, fewer than 20 were from my own shelves. The rest were courtesy of the public library. Gang, if you haven’t checked out your local library lately, you need to get on that. There’s some fantastic stuff available, whether it’s paper or e-books, audio materials, movies on disc or via digital download, and a whole lot more.
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The4thDave’s Top Five Reads of 2016 (in no particular order):
  • Do More, Better by Tim Challies: At the start of the year, I read this productivity book by one of the most famous bloggers in Evangelical Christianity today. I even incorporated his system and reported on it a month later (resulting in the most-read post in 4DB history, thanks to the “Challies bump”). Since then?  I’m afraid my compliance has been hit-or-miss, and my personal productivity has suffered. That said, this weekend, I’m going to dive back into a refresher on the system. It’s pretty simple to adopt, and when I’ve used it as prescribed, it has been very effective for me.
  • Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield: From a pure “fun” standpoint, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. Gates of Fire takes place during the years leading up to the Battle of Thermopylae and the final stand of the 300 Spartans, and it follows a handful of inter-connected characters through the story. Pressfield’s writing is crisp, his characterization is effective, and his dialogue pops on the page. However, there is a significant enough level of crude language and “barracks-talk” that I can’t recommend it widely. For those who aren’t offended by such things, this tale of warriors and honor is worth a look.
  • Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, by Jeph Loeb and a bunch of other folks: Yes, I’m including a graphic novel on my top-five for this year, because this particular collection is one of the most memorable comics compilations I’ve read in years. The writers use 5 stories, each focusing on a different superhero’s reaction to the death of Cap, as a means of exploring the five stages of grief. The book culminates in Tony Stark eulogizing Captain America both publically and privately, and I found it to be surprisingly moving. This short collection is really well-done.
  • Biggest Brother…, by Larry Alexander: If you are familiar with the hit HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (and if you’re not, you should be!), then you would remember the main character, Dick Winters, who rose to the rank of Major as he led those brave men through the battles of the European front of WWII. Alexander’s biography fills in the gaps, as he explores the man behind the story. Alexander spent time with Winters, getting his own perspective on events from his past. The reader also gets a glimpse of Winters’ civilian life and retirement years, including his perspective on the TV miniseries that made him “famous.” Biggest Brother was a fascinating and valuable look at the life of an American hero.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates: It wasn’t one of my favorite books of the year, but it was an important book for me to read. I disagreed with several parts of it, was sometimes (often) provoked by the author, but in the end, I needed this voice in my head for a little while, because I haven’t been exposed to many other voices like it. Reading Coates’ “open letter” to his young son forced me to see the world through his eyes for a while. I question some of his perceptions and assumptions; but I also was forced to reconsider some of my own. That’s a sign of a profitable reading experience.
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Your turn: What was your favorite book or books that you read this year? Let me know in the comments!

2016 Reading Challenge: December Update and End-of-Year Round-up!

Time for the final 2016 Reading Challenge update!

This month, I only read one more book from the list:

A Book About Money: Love Your Life, Not Theirs, by Rachel Cruze. This volume by the daughter of Dave Ramsey (and heir-apparent of his financial-counseling empire) is a lighter version of the core Dave Ramsey principles, with some extra material thrown in. In the book, Cruze lists 7 principles for finding contentment, which includes things like “avoid debt,” “save money,” and “use a budget.” Essentially, if you are familiar with Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Steps,” there’s nothing groundbreaking or useful here. The only addition Cruze makes is some discussion of the dangers of comparing yourself to others. However, the book mostly avoids the spiritual aspects of contentment and jealousy, so the reader is left with a bland, faith-lite exhortation toward gratitude and generosity as a solution for envy and discontentment. In the end, this book is fluff: watered-down, non-challenging, non-offensive. It seems like she’s trying to move away from the brusqueness associated with Dad, but it’s weak tea, so don’t bother.

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Final tally for the 2016 Reading Challenge: 33/52. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t do better, but honestly, it’s a good run, considering how many additional books I read this year. All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with the experience. As you can see by the list below, the challenge successfully broadened my typical reading, and took me out of my  comfort zone. While I don’t plan on tackling another reading list in 2017, I will certainly give it a go down the road.

Reading Challenge Categories completed:

A book about Christian living
A biography
A classic novel
A book more than 100 years old
A book for children
A mystery or detective novel
A book published in 2016
A book about a current issue
A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize
A book with at least 400 pages
A book with a great cover
A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
A graphic novel
A book of poetry
A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
A play by William Shakespeare
A humorous book
A book based on a true story
A book written by Jane Austen
A book with 100 pages or less
A book with a one-word title
A book about money or finance
A novel set in a country that is not your own
A book about music
A memoir
A book about joy or happiness
A book by a female author
A self-improvement book
A book by David McCullough
A book you own but have never read
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
Check back tomorrow for my full 2016 reading list, and my top-five favorite books of the year!

Wait a minute–I have a blog, don’t I?

[No posts for more than 3 weeks? Wowsa.]

A few words to update you on what’s been going on with me:

At the moment, I’m at the tail end of a pernicious head cold. So I’m a little foggy-headed today, but I wanted to post something new.

Honestly, things are pretty good. December was a good month for me. Some exciting things are happening in my offline life that I can’t quite talk about yet. Work is keeping me busy. A few weeks ago, I took a roadtrip with my wife up to my old college town to pick up my sister at the end of her first college semester. We enjoyed Christmas in-town with the family. It was a good end to a challenging year.

As for the radio silence: I honestly just haven’t had much to say, or at least much that was worth saying. I hit a point when I just didn’t care enough to write regular posts. Part of that blogging drought may be that I also haven’t been reading regularly this month (so as you will see soon, I only added one more “reading challenge” title to my final count).

The end of the year is always a time of introspection and reflection, and a reassessment of where I am and where I want to go. Maybe that’s a cliched approach, but there it is. The point is, I’m taking some time this week to take stock of my priorities and agenda, so that I’m spending my life on things that I care about most. (No, that doesn’t mean we’re breaking up–but I do want to consider how much time I’m ready to invest into this project.)

Here’s the deal, gang: My blogging mojo is in a bit of a trough, and I don’t just want to blather for the sake of posting new content. If you’re taking the time to read what I write, then what I write should be worth your time. I have had a few ideas in the past couple of weeks, but I wasn’t sure if I had enough new to say to justify 700 or so words about it.

What does that mean, moving forward into 2017? It means that when I have something new that’s worth saying, I’ll say it. I may adapt some of my Sunday School materials into short posts here, if I think it would be profitable. If I gather enough items for a Friday Five, I’ll post that here on Fridays.

The next Federalist post will go up on the “4thDavePapers” blog next Tuesday, and I hope to throw some new content up there once or twice a week, because the read-and-respond approach will keep me thinking and producing material.

But I’m not going to post just for posting’s sake, out of some sense of obligation to vomit up internet content. I’m not going to offer up half-baked hot takes on current events because everyone else is doing it. There’s enough of that going around.

The best way for you to keep up with my blogging in 2017 is to subscribe. You can subscribe by email at the bottom of the page, or follow my blog through WordPress, so that you get notifications when I have new content available. And I’ll do my best to make sure that any new content is worth your while.

Thanks for subscribing, thanks for reading, thanks for sticking around. My hope is that my 2017 writing, however inconsistent, will become more and more beneficial to you.

Happy New Year, friends!
–d.