Read This, Not That

I’m excited to launch a new series called “Read This, Not That”– the purpose of which is to help people with finite time and money decide which books would be best for them.

From my teenage years through my late 20’s, I subscribed to Men’s Health magazine. One of its more popular regular features was called “Eat This, Not That,” which compared the same meal from two different places and told you which one you should eat, and which one you should not. The column featured everything from a burger and fries to a variety of salads.

Now, Men’s Health used actual, measurable metrics such as total calories, fat and protein content to support why one meal was good while another was bad. That’s not quite what I will be getting at – however, if a book is bad and I think you should avoid it, I will say so. In fact, both books I compare might actually be good, but not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to read multiple books on one topic (and have a life). I guess that’s what I’m here for.

While I will attempt some metrics (cost, number of pages, and a made-up scale of readability), for the most part, my choice will be purely subjective. Whereas the “not that” in the Men’s Health series often meant you should avoid it, that will in no way be what it means in my series.

Hopefully, you will find it helpful in selecting from all the books out there, even if my analysis makes you think you should actually go with the ‘not that’ book. I’ll kick off next week with a post on discipline.


Book Review: The Blue Zones

The Blue Zones – Dan Buettner

*Please ignore the Dr. Oz endorsement on the cover. The book is a really interesting look at lifestyle and does not offer magic pills or tonics to purchase.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy read, medium length, but reads quickly

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 people live the longest. Not only do they live longer, but live better as centenarians (100 year olds) then many people much younger do in other parts of the world.

The book takes us through the four blue zones, and shares interviews, history, diets and other fact about the life of the people who live there. The four blue zones are – Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda (California) and Costa Rica. They have since discovered another one in Greece.

The final chapter gives the tips they found in common in all the blue zones so that you can create your own ‘blue zone.’

  • Move Naturally – Everyone studied for the book was extremely active. They walked miles a day, gardened, etc. His point is no one has to run marathons or become powerlifter, you just need to move often.
  • Hara Hachi Bu – A phrase said by the Okinawans before every meal reminding them to eat until they feel 80% full. Calorie restriction has been shown to be very important in longevity.
  • Plant Slant – With the exception of the Adventist in Loma Linda, no one was a vegetarian. However, they all ate meet rarely, anything from once a week to only a few times a year.
  • Grapes of Life – Wine. It plays a big role for the Sardinians and the Okinawans drink Sake, but the others consumed no alcohol. Either way, studies have shown a drink or two a day, especially of wine is beneficial to your health.
  • Purpose Now – Having a sense of purpose, or a reason to get up in the morning, something that drives you.
  • Down Shift – taking time to relax, meditate or slow down and enjoy life.
  • Belong –To a community, but a part of something bigger than yourself. Religious communities, regardless of which one, have been shown to help people live longer.
  • Loved Ones First – Relatedly, take time to cultivate relationships and spend time with friends and family. Prioritizing social life is something we really fail at in America.
  • Right Tribe – People who share common goals and healthy lifestyle. Many studies have shown that who you hang out with has a huge impact on your lifestyle. Have an obese friend increases your chances of becoming overweight. Seek people who have the same above traits in mind.

My Thoughts
Things like this are utterly fascinating to me. Both of my granddads are currently 91 years old and show only a few signs of stopping. Much of their life has included most of the traits. Modern America has us moving further and further away from these things. We eat lots of cheap, processed food. We don’t spend much time with friends or family. We do not rest often. We don’t move.

I’m currently writing this at my desk, I spend far too many hours a day sitting at a desk and wondering how I can move. Adopting as much of the Blue Zone lifestyle will not only help you to live longer, but the time you do spend will be better and healthier.

August Biblical Studies Carnival

When Phil first contacted me about hosting a Biblical Studies Carnival, I expected him to ask for a credit card number or tell me about his friend, a Nigerian prince. I hadn’t come across a Carnival yet, though I had seen (and even followed) most of the blogs/posts that were featured in the series. After checking it out, I became excited to host.I still have no idea what I'm doing.

While most hosts are professors or PhD students, I’m more of a pretend theologian. I’m also someone who’s closer to a book reviewer than a BiblioBlogger. And so this Carnival might be a bit different than what you’re used to reading.

If you are interested in hosting, almost all of 2017 is open, simply contact Phil. Check out last month’s carnival, and look for the upcoming hosts:


Biblical Studies
James offers some short thoughts on the problems with YEC.

If you like Young Earth, there’s great fun for you at Noah’s Ark.jesus-dinosaur1

Related, Peter Enns on getting the Noah Story correct.

Craig asks why Genesis 36 is about Esau.

Bob explains his thoughts on reviewing the ‘raw data’ of the Old Testament. He also shot me one just under the wire look at Isaiah 38.

Cluade Mariottini writes that Judges 19 might be one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible.

Interesting article about the Chinese church and interpreting the Old Testament. Beware, this is a wall of text.

Phil gives us an intro into 4 Ezra, look also for his write-ups on the seven visions of Ezra.

Jeff thinks that maybe Jesus was a rude dinner guest.

Reasons why 1 Timothy is not so simple to translate.

Ethics in Mathew, James, 1 Peter.

R. Scott Clark provides commentary on 1 Peter 5:1-5.

Peter Gurry with some thoughts on the textual variances in Revelation 2:13.

The Bible is not a book of promises.

RJS say literal reading, please, depending on what you mean by literal.

Will Brown has some info on the Apocalypse of Adam, which I didn’t even know was a thing.

Church History/Historical Theology/Theology
St. Patrick had mixed manuscripts based on his use of the Great Commission.

Reflections by Ken offers short bios, with sweet infographics, on Luther, Calvin, and Irenaeus.
How Hell Started
Beck has a few thoughts on the origins of Hell.

Matt Emerson notes an issue with the Vincentian Rule and Christ descending into Hell.


Book Reviews
Phil reviews Engaging the Septuagint.

Jennifer reviews the Cultural Background Study Bible, concluding that it is a great resource for people lacking in historical/ANE Worldview knowledge.

Scott McKnight reviews The Charity: A place for the Poor in the Biblical Traditions.

Michael C. Thompson reviews Pax Romona: War, Peace, and Conquest in the Roman World.

Chris Stump interviews the author/reviews Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home. (Yep, that’s a textbook. I’ve added a review of a middle school textbook to the Carnival.)

Pete Enns reviews The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel.

Lindsay reviews Progressive Covenantalism.

Jill Firth reviews the Book of Genesis from the Bible in Medieval Tradition series.

John reviews Finding God in the Waves: How I lost My Faith and Found it Again Through Science. Great quote from the article-

But this book will not appeal to most orthodox believers. It is not a simplistic de-conversion/conversion story—the spiritual equivalence of boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. It’s a lot messier than that—more like boy gets girl back…but discovers he’s also got an STD.

Not quite a book review, more of a preview of an upcoming book on Augustine.

Also not quite a book review, but the author guest-posting about his book Q in Matthew.

I guess I can shamelessly plug my review of the second edition of Four Views on Hell.

Calvin reviews a book by Servetus.

Karl Barth was not a fan of the Olympics, or sports in general, it seems.

American JesusMcKnight on what Grudem should have said.

Some new research out from LifeWay has some surprising results.

A new card game, The Cannon, is coming soon, in case you need to have fewer friends.

Finally, a fellow Atlien reminds us of the importance of a well-worn Bible.


Alright, that concludes the August 2016 Biblical Studies Carnival. Casual Friday KevinHopefully, I didn’t veer too far off track or ruin anything (as occasionally happens when I get involved). It was certainly an interesting task to host one of these. I found many really cool articles (sorry, I couldn’t post them all) and discovered great sites that I had never come across. Sorry if I misspelled your name or misrepresented your articles. All errors are those of my editor. Thank you so much to those who sent me articles to post. Thanks for playing along.

Reminder if you’d like to host anytime in 2017, contact Phil (twitter or email – It is an interesting challenge. Do it. I know there are more BiblioBloggers out there. 

Book Review: Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe Of Heaven – –  Ursula K. Le Guin

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Moderate read, short

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 he reveals that he is afraid to dream. He hesitates but eventually admits his fear is due to the fact that his dreams change waking life. Not only does it change real life, but it changes all reality. If he goes to sleep and there are seven billion people in the world and dreams there are now only one billion, for everyone left, there will only have been a billion people for some time.

He essentially creates a parallel reality and new timeline that even changes the people’s past. The twist comes when the doctor becomes aware of the change, due to be present during the dreaming. The man suspects the doctor is using his dreams to change the world and seeks the help of an attorney. The rest of the story is his struggle in the changing world while dealing with the doctor. I’ll leave it there so as not to spoil any of the story.

My Thoughts
This book is crazy, and is probably the only fiction book I’ve ever read that had be flipping back and rereading parts. I found this book so entertaining that I put off catching up on Game of Thrones and stayed up late one night to finish it. As always, there are some unintentionally humorous moments that come from a book written decades ago that takes place in the ‘future’ that is in our current past. There is major fear that in 2002 there would be over seven billion people on earth. This would lead to overcrowding, food shortages, and environmental disaster. There were only three billion people at the time, and almost 40 year prior, it had been two billion, so the idea that we’d more than double in the next 40 was probably inconceivable. Here is an interesting article to get a context on the time in which the book was written –

Anyone looking for some good fiction to read this summer must get this book. If you are interested in things like dreams or alternate time realities, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

Book Review: The Year Without a Purchase

The Year without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting – Scott Dannemiller

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

Level Short, easy.

Title pretty much sums it up.
Dannemiller comes to a realization that he and his wife and children have too much junk. They think back to their missionary days in Guatemala and how happy they were with very little. They decide to not spend any money other than what they had to, with a few exceptions, over the upcoming year. They allowed for essentials, groceries and bills, but then no more things. For gifts, they decided they would have to be homemade or an ‘experience.’

Chronicling the year, he writes humorously about the ups and downs of their challenge – from kids birthday parties, major holidays, and even learning how to sew and repair (darn?) socks. In the end, he realizes he doesn’t even miss the money, and in fact, didn’t believe his wife when she showed him how much they had saved. Shockingly, his children never even new of the challenge. They made a decision not to tell them what was happening, and in the end, with gifts of experience instead of junk or the next new toy, they were just as happy (or happier) as before.

My Thoughts
As Erasmus wrote (technically, this has be mistranslated to English): When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. Except I’d replace clothes with fishing gear/tackle. My point being, me and Mrs. MMT don’t really buy a whole lot. There were certainly times we wanted to, but we either didn’t have the money, were paying off debt, saving for a house, or saving for a baby. Now, it is just kind of the way we are. She has always been big on experiences and travels over material things. In fact, we’ve never even given each other anniversary gifts, choosing instead to take a four or five day getaway.

That being said, the book is a good reminder of the perils of consumerism. Dannemiller does a good job with his research in pointing out the amount the average American spends and wastes in a year. Now, if you are on the hedonic treadmill of buy, and buy, and buy, this book is for you. It is almost a how-to in it’s insightfulness. The author is quite funny, though his shtick can get a bit old or too frequent.

This book is published by a Christian publishing company, and he does speak broadly of his reasons being based on his faith. However, it isn’t exclusively for Christians, and I don’t mean that in the Christiany way of universal truth or whatever. With the exception of the epigraphs being verses from the Bible, there isn’t much religiousosity to it. That’s not a criticism of him. My point is a review a good bit of Christian living and Theology books, and this is not that. It really is about a guy trying not to buy things, and is a good example for anyone who struggles with budgeting.


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

Book Review: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My Rating –Put it on the List

Level – Tough, dense, fairly long

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 go awry when someone else is there and he has to kill them both. Though he believes he had the right to kill her, comparing himself to Napoleon, claiming that murder is alright if it serves a higher purpose, he becomes obsessed with his actions.  He goes into a near psychotic state, becoming not entirely sure of what is real and what isn’t.

His friend Razumikhin tries to help him, giving him work to do and visiting him, as well as calling on a doctor to see him. Meanwhile, me is suspected and interviewed about the murder. Additionally, his mother and sister are moving to the area for his sister to marry a wealthy man, all for him. The man will be able to help with pay for school as well as help him get set up with a job. During one of his frantic bouts, he sees a man get run over in the street and follows the crowd as the bring the body home, offering to pay for the funeral. He ends up meeting the man’s daughter, whom he falls in love with.

My Thoughts
Two things made this hard to read for me. For one, as always, I was using the Dover Thrift edition, which might not always be the best translation. Secondly, the Russian naming convention of calling them by first and last name but then alternately calling them by just one name, but a different one from the other two. It took me awhile to figure out Razumikhin and Dmitry Prokofyich Vrazumikhin was just one person.

I have the Dover Thrift (of course) which is the Constance Garnett translation. From what I’ve read, the best is Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, though it seem a bit harder to find. Many others enjoy this version, newly released Crime and Punishment: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (this is also the version you’ll see if you follow Rodion on Twitter)

(Edit – I came across the naming custom in an article about War & Peace, which is had seen it prior to reading. You can read the whole article, but below are the main highlights)

The common rules are the further:

  • the full three-name form (for instance, Иван Иванович Петров, Ivan Ivanovich Petrov) is used in official documents only. Everyone in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus is supposed to have three names.
  • the form “first name + patronymic” (for instance, Иван Иванович, Ivan Ivanovich):
    • is the feature of official communication (for instance, students in schools and universities call their teachers in the form of “first name + patronymic” only);
    • may convey the speaker’s respect for the recipient. Historically patronymic was the feature of the royal dynasty only (Рюриковичи, Ruerikovichi)
  • the surname only (Петров, Petrov) is used in formal communications, but much more rare. One instance where it is used commonly is by school teachers towards their students. There’s some trend in informal Russian to call a recipient with his/her surname expressing the irony as well.
  • for informal communication two names are usually omitted and only the first name is used (for instance, Иван, Ivan). In the more informal registers, a diminutive(of which several can be formed from one name) is often used. In rural areas the patronymic name only (for instance, Петрович, Petrovich, Ивановна, Ivanovna) is used by aged people for informal communication between themselves, sometimes young people use such form expressing the irony.

The book started off slow, so if you are willing to power through the first 45 pages and cruise on past 70 pages, you’ll be good to go. Probably he most interesting and entertaining sections are his conversations with inspector Porfiry Petrovich. The whole book has many story lines, however almost all revolve around Rodion, so it is not too hard to follow. Towards the end of the book, you can see what is happening, but are still left wondering somewhat, about how everything will tie back together. It is a masterfully written story.

One of the most compelling parts of the book is Rodion’s inner turmoil. In this aspect, the story of his mind is written as almost a psychological thriller. Dostoyevsky also plums the depths of the broken and guilt ridden mind. Rodion is near manic in his despair and belief in himself. It is almost disturbing to read.

Anyone looking to break into Russian Literature, this is definitely a good place to start and a book to put on your list. At around 500 pages it is the shortest of the Russian heavy weights. I certainly plan to continue you on with more, though I’m torn between sticking with Dostoyevsky or moving on to Tolstoy. Either way, check back for a review in the future.

Book Review: What Christians ought to Believe

What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed – Micheal F. Bird


My RatingMust Read

Level Medium length, fairly easy and does not require more than a basic knowledge of the Bible or Theology.

The book is essentially an exposition of The Apostles’ Creed. That is, he goes line by line and explains why we believe it and where the proofs are in Scripture. The first chapter is spent on explaining what exactly a ‘creed’ is – which is incredibly important, especially for us Americans and non-liturgical Protestants, who don’t use them. The second chapter is an argument as to why we need creeds. Among the brief history of the cannon and the early church, I also learned that the ‘Peanut Butter & Jelly’ of Australia is ‘Vegemite & Avocado’. So, there’s that.

The remainder of the book breaks down as follows, with a chapter of exposition on each:

  • I believe – a chapter about faith
  • …in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord – split into two chapters, one on the dual nature (fully human and fully God) and the second on the meaning of Messiah and Lord.
  • He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
  • He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried – this line is also split into two chapters, one on the offense and the other on the victory of the cross.
  • He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
  • He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  • I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  • …the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
  • the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

My Thoughts
I remember the first time I went to a ‘liturgical church’ – call and response, where the congregation also recites things – which was a word I didn’t even know. It was my freshmen year in college and this was also the first time I’d ever heard the Apostles’ Creed. This is part of the problem with American Protestantism and the ‘no creed but the Bible’ mentality. So few people know what they believe or why – mostly, I think, because we never articulate exactly what it is we believe, giving us the opportunity to teach specifically, and dive into the reason/scriptural proofs for these beliefs. I was likely in my mid-20’s before I even knew what catechisms or confessions were. It was a loss to me, although they are documents that have been used by educated believers for hundreds of years. Even more dramatically, the Apostles’ Creed has been recited by believers for nearly two thousand years.

This book is a depth of riches. It is a must-read for every Christian, whether new or lifelong believer, pastor or laity. It should be given, by the church, to every new church member or professing believer, as well as the basis of a Bible study, Sunday School class, or even sermon series (or at least a reference). Additionally, you should buy a copy for any questioning/curious unbeliever that you may know. It will become more and more important that believers are grounded in the historic faith of the church, and this is an important first step.

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

Book Review: Billion Dollar Spy

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal – David E. Hoffman

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy, fast read; medium length

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 ramp up with the escalation of the Cold War. More specifically, the book is about Adolf Tolkachev, a scientist at a research facility specializing in radar technology. He is disillusioned with the Soviet Union and has a cool backstory twist from his wife. This drives him to ‘inflict as much damage as possible.”

My Thoughts
I’ve been on a bit of a Russian kick recently, especially the spy stuff (Bridge of Spies, The Americans, and just finished Crime and Punishment), so this seemed to fit in nicely. This story is so wild when, as you are reading, you stop and remember that it is true. Aside from that, you will read this book as if it were written by Tom Clancy; it is that riveting and compelling. Of course, it is also funny to read about their special spy technology. I have a crappy five year old cellphone, and it has more capabilities in it than most of the stuff they use combined.

I’d highly recommend this book as a must read for anyone who is interested in either spy stories or the cold war. I’m not sure if they play to print it in paperback, but if they do, I’d probably hold off and get it next year and make it a beach read.

2016 Reading Challenge Mid-Year Update

I’m pretty pumped to report that the challenge is going well. With a set goal of 31 books to read this year, I have knocked out 28 at the halfway point. They are as follows:

A History of the World in 6 Glasses – My Review
A Walk in the Woods
Crime and Punishment
Do More Better – Review
Four Views of the Historical Adam – Review
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
How to Read Genesis – Review
How Would Jesus Vote – Review
Just Do Something – Review
Meditations – Review
Mile Marker Zero
The Billion Dollar Spy – Check back next Wednesday
The Blue Zones
The Church – Review
The Lathe of Heaven
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox – Review
The Millionaire Next Door
The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen
The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards – Review
The Year Without a Purchase
Tyndale Commentary on First Peter – Reviewish
On Writing – Review
Pirate Latitudes – Review
Sailor and Fiddler
Seeking Refuge – Review
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – Review
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Who Moved My Pulpit

Best Fiction – Lathe of Heaven
Best Non-fiction – Billion Dollar Spy, On Writing was a close, close second. I considered breaking these into two categories and call the former best narrative non-fiction.
Best Christiany book – How Would Jesus Vote

Currently, I am reading a few different books: Light In August, Pillar New Testament Commentary on James, Trout Bum, just started What Christians Ought to Believe (great so far), and still rolling through Morning by Morning. I had also put aside Presidents and the first volume of Reformed Dogmatics, so I need to pick those up again and get moving. If I can finish these up, I’ll have exceeded my goal, which is pretty exciting.

Here is a short list of what I’d like to hit next. Obviously, I won’t know them all out by the end of the year, but I should burn through a few. Having knocked out one good sized piece of Russian literature and closing in on my goal for books read this year, I think I am going to try and take down War and Peace. Hopefully, with six months left in the year, I can knock it out. In no particular order:


  • Just After Sunset
  • Hyperion
  • True Grit
  • Last Girl
  • Something free on lending library
  • Greatest Short Stories
  • Everything that Rises must Converge
  • It’s a Brave New World
  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace

Non Fiction

  • Reflections at 90
  • Better Angles of Our Nature
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach
  • Misbehaving

 Christian Life

  • The Call
  • Discipline for Christian Men
  • 4 Views of Hell
  • Plan of Salvation
  • Don’t Waste Your Life

Theology/Bible Study

  • Core Christianity
  • Second volume of Reformed Dogmatics
  • Church History in Plain Language

Book Review: Seeking Refuge

Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis – by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, Issam Dr. Smeir

This is my second review of an advanced copy, so that’s pretty cool. I received this about a month ago through NetGalley, but didn’t get a chance to read it until about two weeks ago.

This book comes out next Tuesday. Go buy it, or pre-order it today. Right now, Amazon has it for less than $9. With all the good info you get at that price, it made me almost upgrade my rating.

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – 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 themes of the refugee crisis often go overlooked. First, the authors make a great case (because they use the Bible) that we should accept refugees. If you are unaware, there are a great many verses related to refugees, strangers and foreigners. Most come from the OT, but, of course, the issue can be fairly easily summed up with – Love your neighbor. Second, the missionary opportunity. You have the opportunity to have people from all over the world, right in your neighborhood, or at least a short drive away. Even more inspiring, many of the refugees would like to go back home. There is no shortage of stories in this book about refugees who became Christians and then went back to spread the Gospel. Continue reading