New Direction

As many of you probably know, I have been considering seminary for quite some time. My issue was always, what would I do with a degree, especially the MDiv? People who know me personally know that I would make a pretty poor pastor, and I would be quite bad at preaching. That generally led me to look at some of the other master’s programs, especially from RTS. Well, over the past couple months, I’ve actually been looking into counseling. At first, I was looking locally, at places like Richmont and Mercer, but also found some good programs online, such as the counseling degrees offered by Southern, Midwestern, and Westminster. I was especially keen on Westminster, as I thought it offered one of the best mixes of theology and Bible studies, with counseling coursework. Also, they were launching a new online program that starts this fall.

So, I applied. I didn’t get in for the fall, though I guess I’m technically waitlisted, but I am in for the next time the start matriculation, which will be, at latest, fall of ’18; I’ll know for sure in July. One thing I can do right now is take courses at CCEF that will transfer in when I start the full program. So, I did that, too. As of Jan 18, I will be taking two courses, Dynamics of Biblical Change (basically the intro to Biblical Counseling), and Marriage Counseling.

I am not entirely sure what I am doing with this. A few months ago, I was fully planning on making a career change. However, I’ve recently started a new job. As that plays out, I will see if what I needed was a job change, and not a career change. That would mean this would be more for just some sort of ministry, though I don’t know what form that will take.

Anyway, so that is an update of where I am and what you can expect from this blog over the next few months. I will continue to do book review and to be pretend theologian, but there will also likely be heavy doses of counseling related writings.

Review of My 2016 Reading Challenge

I had never heard of the reading challenge until about February of 2016. I set out a goal of 30 books, which I thought was pretty ambitious. I basically had the idea that I would be able to do 2.5 book a year. Well, that really got me going, and back in the reading heavily, as by the end of the year I had read 51 books, and about 850 pages of War and Peace. That is 15,607 pages, but who’s counting?

The biggest book I attempted was obviously War and Peace, but the biggest I completed was The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, with a meaty 886 page count. The smallest was Meditations , at 99 pages long. I read everything from novels, to history, personal writings/thoughts, daily devotionals to heavy theological tomes. I’d say the challenge plays an interesting aspect in it all. On the one hand, you are, in fact, challenging yourself. This can push you towards things that are a little tougher, like Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2, or long, long books, like War and Peace (Vintage Classics).

On the other hand, there is a bit of a feeling like you are just powering through. Yes, powering through can make you finish a book you started that you might otherwise have discarded, but it can almost give you the feeling of reading for school. You are reading to finish the book, not because you are necessarily interested in it. It effects some of your choice, too. The three largest books I completed had page counts of 685, 704, and 886; plus War and Peace has over 1,300. This makes shorter books seem more appealing, simply because it will help add to your book count. Though, in my defense, my average book was 289 pages.

Anyway, it can be a fun way to challenge yourself, but this year I will put less on the Challenge. Probably the biggest difference going forward will be to lay out a number of books first. So, not just say 24 books, but say this book, that book, and then 10 more, or something to that affect. I won’t know completely what will be on the list, as I hope to receive more review copies. This year, I received 13 review copies, so that is kind of cool. I also already have about five or six that I need to review. More on that later. See below for my challenge list and check out my book review page for all the books for which I have written reviews.

J.K.’s bookshelf: 2016-challenge

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
liked it

My Rating –Put it on the ListLevel – Not very readable, seems longer than it is

Summary
The book is exactly what you think it is based on the title. He jumps straight in with the first chapter explaining what he thinks (based on scrip…

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2016-challenge
The Millionaire Next Door
it was ok
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Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
really liked it
It is really difficult to write a summary that doesn’t just rip off the table of contents. Basically, he explains the system that works for him. This includes a mission statement (he calls this a productivity catechism), then finding thi…
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2016-challenge
A History of the World in 6 Glasses
really liked it
First of all, it isn’t a history of each individual beverage, though there is plenty of that, but a history of the world (as the title indicates) viewed through the lens of what (and why) people were drinking at the time. The drinks and …
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2016-challenge
Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will
it was amazing
Many people search for God’s will, but American Evangelicals, especially Millennials, have made it an art form. He claims that doing this ‘leads us to no where’ and calls us ‘directionally challenged’ (these are names of the chapters in …
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2016-challenge
How to Read Genesis
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Easy, short

Summary
This book is exactly what the title says it is a guidebook to understanding and reading Genesis. Longman explains what the book (Genesis) is, who wrote it, whom it was written to as wel…

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2016-challenge
Four Views on the Historical Adam
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on Your ListLevel – Somewhat technical, requires a higher level knowledge of Genesis and some theology, somewhat short, but at times reads longer than it is.

Summary
This book is exactly what the title says, though …

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2016-challenge
Pirate Latitudes
really liked it

My Rating –If You are Looking for SomethingLevel – Easy & quick, medium length

Summary
It’s about pirates. If you are like me, what more do you need? Actually, it’s technically not about pirates, it’s about privateers and they are ver…

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2016-challenge
The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
it was ok

My Rating –If You are Looking for Something – about Baptist view of church, Probably Not Worth Your Time – if you are already familiar with Baptist viewsLevel – short, easy read

Summary
This book could basically be a few sections in…

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2016-challenge
Meditations
did not like it

My Rating – PassLevel – Short, writing can be long and choppy, knowledge of history and philosophy would be helpful

Summary
Basically random thoughts from a guy who thought he was going to die. Most ideas are a reflection of the tim…

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2016-challenge
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox
liked it

My Rating – If You are Looking for SomethingLevel – Short, easy

Summary
It’s difficult to write a summary of a biography. The book itself is a biography of the life of John Knox. To hit some high points: Knox was friends with John Cal…

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2016-challenge
How Would Jesus Vote?: Politics, the Bible, and Loving Your Neighbor
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Fairly Easy, moderate in length

Summary
The book seeks to look at broad topics in American politics and see what we can determine about them from the Bible. Bock does this mostly by listing verses and how …

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2016-challenge
Crime and Punishment
really liked it

My Rating –Put it on the ListLevel – Tough, dense, fairly long

Summary
Rodion (Rody) Románovich Raskolnikov is a poor college student in St. Petersburg who decides to murder an old pawnbroker with an ax so that he can rob her. Things …

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The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on the listLevel – Easy, Medium length

Summary
The first chapter is a short biographical stretch of the man many consider to be the greatest American Theologian of all time. The rest of the chapters are devoted to E…

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2016-challenge
The Lathe of Heaven
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Moderate read, short

Summary
Sometime in the future a man is caught using someone else’s pharmacy card for access to sleeping pills. He is evaluated and sent to a psychologist and sleep specialist to whom …

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2016-challenge
The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Easy read, medium length, but reads quickly

Summary
Blue zones, so named because while researching the first one, a blue circle was drawn around they area under discussion, are areas in the world where peo…

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2016-challenge
The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Easy, fast read; medium length

Summary
The story, broadly, is about the CIA field office in Moscow and its operations. Under different CIA directors and even field office directors, their focuses change or…

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2016-challenge
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Easy, quick read

Summary
The book is broken up into two main parts, C.V. and What Writing is, Toolbox, and On Writing, plus a longish post-script chapter, which is followed by two more short post-post-scri…

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2016-challenge
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
liked it

My Rating – If You Are Looking for SomethingLevel – Quick, easy read

Summary
Arthur Dent is trying to stop bulldozers from demolishing his house when his friend Ford Perfect stops by and convinces him to go to the pub instead. Perfect…

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2016-challenge
Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on your listLevel – short, easy. A quick read, but I’m also going to add compelling, especially as you read the personal stories.

My Thoughts/Summary Mix
This is an important and timely book. I think two overarching…

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2016-challenge
Thinking, Fast and Slow
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on your listLevel – moderate to difficult read, it is well written but some of the concept are tough, fairly long, but ready a little quicker then the 400+ pages

Summary
Broadly speaking, this book is about thinking…

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2016-challenge
Mile Marker Zero
really liked it
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The Year without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting
liked it

My Rating – Put it on the List – if you struggle with spending/consumerism, Probably Not Worth Your Time – if you don’tLevel – Short, easy.

Summary
Title pretty much sums it up. Dannemiller comes to a realization that he and his wife…

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2016-challenge
Trout Bum
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on the list (if you are a fishermen; if not, pass)Level – Short, easy, requires some familiarity with fly fishing.

Summary
It is hard to summarize this book. Basically it’s just a guy writing a few short essays/stor…

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2016-challenge and to-read
What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles' Creed
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Medium length, fairly easy and does not require more than a basic knowledge of the Bible or Theology.

Summary
The book is essentially an exposition of The Apostles’ Creed. That is, he goes line by line and…

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2016-challenge
The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life
liked it

My Rating – If you are looking for somethingLevel – Choppy read, short but reads longer than it is

Summary
First of all, if you’ve been recommend this book by a friend or pastor and they tell it is written by a guy named Guinness, no …

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The Letter of James
really liked it
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Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Plan for the World
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on your listLevel – Easy read, medium length

Summary
This is another book that is hard to summarize with just repeating the title or copy/pasting the table of contents. I guess the title isn’t super clear, it comes …

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Don't Waste Your Life
liked it
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Disciplines of a Godly Man
it was amazing

My Rating – Must ReadLevel – Fairly easy read, moderate length

Summary
As the title implies, this is a book about disciplines for men who are trying to live a ‘Godly’ life. After the introduction Hughes goes into the 17 disciplines he…

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2016-challenge
Four Views on Hell: Second Edition
really liked it

My Rating -Put it on the listLevel – Medium length, get’s mildly technical, but overall fairly easy.

Summary
As the title say, the book argues four thoughts on hell. Well, really it is three views of hell, and another who goes on a ta…

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2016-challenge
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
really liked it

My Rating – Put it on your listLevel – His style makes it moderate, but the book covers topics like biology, physics, philosophy, anthropology, economics, and of course, history. So, not everyone will be able to jump right into this bo…

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2016-challenge
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America
really liked it

My rating – Put it on your listLevel – easy, a little wordy, medium length but reads quickly

Summary
The title might be a bit of a misnomer. People expecting this book to be about whether or not America was founded as a Christian nati…

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2016-challenge
A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy That Comes from Sacrificial Love
really liked it

Rating – Put it on you listLevel – Easy, moderate in length

Summary
First of all, do not be thrown off by the cover/title. This is not a fluffy self-helpy type book. Instead Dr. Crabb challenges the readers to love like Jesus, but not…

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The Pursuit of God
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Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity
it was amazing

Rating – Must ReadLevel – Medium length, reads quickly and easily

Summary
The book, as the title indicates, is about homosexuality in the church and the world today. Dallas covers a large swath of the topic, from how to talk to people…

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2016-challenge
Light In August
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goodreads.com

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Book Review: Parenting

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family

My Rating –If You are Looking for Something

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
Well, it’s a book about parenting. Pretty good summary, right? This is an interesting book because the approach is very different that most parenting books. The main difference being that there is nothing ‘practical’ about this book. That can be incredibly frustrating and challenging as you read. You are not going to find anything about sleep training, how to deal with allowances, or curfews in here. I guess the best summary would be to say that it is solid reformed theology and how it relates to parenting.

Probably the most interesting part is a reminder of the most important roll for you is as parent. What would you say if asked? I know it’s not to make my kid happy. My answer is typically something about independence and teaching your kid to take care of herself. That is wrong though, as Tripp points out, your most important goal is to teach your child about God, who He is and what He has done for us. That is his starting point, and it only gets more challenging from there.

My Thoughts
This book is a mix of good reminders, frustrations, and challenges of parenting. If you are familiar with reformed theology, you’ll have a decent idea of what is coming in this. Your child has problems because she is sinful. You don’t model well and have problems being a good parent because you are sinful. That can get old, because at times you feel, what’s the point, then? It is incredibly useful however, like much in the Biblical Counseling movement that Tripp is a part of, the focus on someone’s sinful nature is a good place to start. It can be kind of funny, sometimes, honestly. I’ll catch myself in a moment with Sprout, when I’m angry and thinking, why in the hell did you do that? Then I kind of laugh and think, well, you are just a tiny fallen human.

Tripp also does a good job of shining a spotlight on parents as sinners. That’s also annoying, but again, it is useful to help check your own feelings and reactions. All that being said, I wanted to like this book more. If you are having problems parenting, or looking for a foundation, or just trying to read everything you can about parenting, then this is a good book. It is well written and incredibly strong on theological basis. I may be the only one, but it just didn’t sit right, I’m not sure why. Maybe because it is different. It really is a book about the heart of parenting and understanding the heart of a child.

I have a toddler, so I guess I was wanting something that spells things out a bit more. There are so many day to day things and broader parenting questions that this book doesn’t really address (or attempt to, to be fair). Should you spank, and how old is too old? What about screen time or games on the phone? You won’t find these answers, and maybe in the long run, they don’t really matter, but that is what you expect from typical books. Instead, what Tripp has done, is focus you first on the important task of teaching your child about the Lord, then basically just asking you challenging questions, instead of offering answers, then leave you to figure it out.

* I received a free copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: One Nation Under God

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America – Kevin M. Kruse

My rating – Put it on your list

Level – easy, a little wordy, medium length but reads quickly

Summary
The title might be a bit of a misnomer. People expecting this book to be about whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation should look elsewhere. There a many, many books with this title that more or less discuss that idea or whether we are currently. In many ways, it is a great and accurate title as the insertion of the phrase ‘under God’ is a critical juncture in his story line. For those unaware, it was added in the 50’s, the so-called ‘good ol’ days’.

What the book is about, is how a group of people decided to try and revise history, and shape the future, for their own personal financial gain. Conflating Christianity with the nation is the method they choose. This started maybe further back than people might have thought. If you are like me, you might assume much of the rhetoric started with Reagan. Instead, Kruse traces is back to the 30’s and business responses to New Deal regulation. In fact, he barely discussing Reagan.

The book is broken into three major parts – creation, consecration, and conflict. That is, the ideas and actions behind the national religion push (very conspiratorially written), the achievement of those goals, and the current situation of those goals clashing with modern America.

I guess I should also note that Kruse is a historian. I have no idea his religious preference, if any, and do not think he mentions it in the book. Point being, this is not written from the Christian prospective and though quite fair and accurate, he does seem suspicious of it. However, it certainly isn’t anti-Christian or an attack in any way.

My Thoughts
I hate to admit that I like this book because it confirmed my own beliefs, but it is true. If you are ever involved in anything politically liberal, you will likely hear that Christians have corrupted the Republican party. However, it is the other way around. I’ve always viewed the situation as Reagan’s attempt to tie Evangelicals to the Republican party as a response to and actual Evangelical Christian, and likely the most religious president in American history, Jimmy Carter. If I ever do get a change to pursue a PhD, I’d like to write my dissertation on this topic.

Interestingly, the attempt to put them together is much, much older and was well in place and already successful before Reagan. It was very interesting, yet disturbing, to read the entanglement of business interest, prosperity gospel preachers, and politics. Perhaps the most shocking thing to me was the placement of the 10 Commandments at courthouses. Many people may have though, well, they’ve been there all along, perhaps hundreds of years. No. Almost all of the monuments, the large, stone tablet looking representations were put up in the early 50’s. They were a marketing ploy. Like a Captain American action figure in a happy meal, they were used to promote the movie ‘The Ten Commandments’.

It all comes down to a basic fear felt by many of the Evangelical Left (that is, those who are political liberal, but deeply conservative in Christian belief) – that Christianity, God, and the Bible have all been used by business interest. Greed has lead to obfuscating history and the portrayal of the future as antagonistic to Believers. All so that certain people in companies could have less regulation and taxes.

This will be hard to swallow for many staunch conservatives. I know, because I used to be one. Then I started to become suspicious that we were being used. Now, I will say, if you are politically conservative, that’s fine, nothing wrong with that. Just don’t claim the Bible is the bases of your economic or tax policy. You’ve been used as a pawn, even voting against your own self interest by people who may not even view God as you do.

However, anyone will to sit, read, and review the facts about politics and religion, this book needs to be on your list. If you are a Christian and political liberal, who has always wondered how it got so off, this book is a must read for historical understanding. If you are a Christian, who maybe doesn’t even have strong political leanings, but were just always curious as to why, in America, the political right and Evangelicals are so intertwined, this book is also a must read. Any Christian with any interest in political at all, should add this to their list of books to read.

I want to wrap up with a quick note about Trump. I’m writing this 4 days before the election, but I don’t think it will be posted until a few weeks after. But, if you’ve looked around and wondered how in the Hell is Trump the supposed representative of the Evangelical vote, this book will help you understand. For one, Trump grew up in the church of one of the biggest, most popular/powerful prosperity gospel preachers. Sadly, this history presented in this book will also explain why so many ‘preachers’ or other ‘Evangelical’ public figures have support the thrice divorced, pro-choice, multi-millionaire. If you’ve read some of these guy’s condemnation of Bill Clinton from the 90’s, but their full throated support for Trump and though, that doesn’t make any sense, then read this book, and it will. We go from claiming that morality matters in the White House, to the weak and somewhat ridiculous claim that we are not electing a ‘pastor-in-chief’ (ridiculous, not because it is wrong, but that apparently only pastors shouldn’t grab random women by the pussy).

I will say, I do hope that the Trump candidacy will disentangle party politics with religion. As I write this, I have a sincere wish that Evangelicals will not vote (majority) for Trump; however, I am not hopeful.

Edit – He won 81% of the Evangelicals, more than Romney or even Bush.