2019 Reading Challenge

As I recently posted, I beat my goal for 2018 in terms of number, but didn’t really read all the books I wanted to read. So much so, that I am going to straight up cute and past a good bit from last year’s goal. Once again this year, I plan to lower the number of books I plan to read, this is partly so I can make sure I get to the books I really want, and because some are fairly long, but also, and I may post about this a bit later, but I plan to interact more with each book. With that taken into account, my goal this year is 20 books this year.

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I currently have 14 of them on the mantel in my living room to remind me to focus on actually getting these books done. You can check out my Goodreads 2019 Challenge page if you like list form, it actually shows 16, because I added three commentaries, but I may not read word for word, two of them, and am only counting one towards the challenge. After these 14, I have three other books (stretch goals I guess) that I’d like to get to, time permitting and somewhat depending on what review books seem incredibly interesting and what the library has available that I have requested, more on those below. The books are as follows:

Non-fictionGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, at 822 pages, this is the second biggest book on my list for this year and one of my top five life goal, big book, non-fiction books to pick up. As Sprout just turned four, I’ve added Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

Biography/autobiographyA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety was on my list the last two years, but I didn’t make it to it, so I’ll stick it back on this list.

Fiction – After reading The Fall of Hyperion and Endymion (Hyperion), the sequels to one of my favorite books from 2017, Hyperion, I plan to end the series this year with the final book in the Cantos, The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion) At 864 pages, Anna Karenina, will be my biggest book this year and the third longest single volume fiction book I’ve ever read. Rounding out the fiction section will be a collection of stories from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, Just After Sunset: Stories.

Christian-y type books – Only four books are planned in this category this year, though this categories tends to be the largest due to ARC books and loans from friends. Knowing God is a classic at this point, but I haven’t yet read it.

Commentaries, Theology, and Language – Because two 800 page books won’t take me long enough, I’m also picking up two more 600+ page books. First, I want to get back into finishing Bavnick so I have Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, on the list with the ridiculous hope that I will actually make it to the even longer (912 pages) Volume Four. Second, my church is a doing a 40+ week study on Mark, so I’ve picked up The Gospel of Mark (The New International Greek Testament Commentary, and will likely skim the Tyndale and Bible Speaks today commentaries as well, but I don’t think I will count them towards the challenge.

Finally, for something different in this new category I just made up, I’m attempting to gain an understanding of Biblical Greek. For that I’ve chosen Greek for the Rest of Us: Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Languages.

None of the books in this category will be read all at once, but studied or read-through, throughout the year. I’ll use the commentary as we move through the sermons and go in and out of Reformed Dogmatics, probably after each major subject. I’m not entirely sure yet how to study the Greek, but likely either a few days a week for the year, or every day for a few weeks/months. Maybe there will be some guidance in the book itself.

Devotional – I’ve typically read a whole year devotional, such as My Utmost for His Highest (my review), but this year I’m going back to the whole Bible with the M’Cheyne reading plan, which I’ve written about before. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It  looks like another great and challenging book from Peter Enns. Both Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Resources for Changing Lives and Speaking Truth In Love are pretty well known in Christian Counseling circles, so I’d like to check them off the list.

Stretch Goals – So, I have 14 books on the list, which leaves six others unplanned. These will most likely come from review request, a book someone lends me, or if one of the books on my long library list becomes available. However, if that doesn’t come through, and I finish the previous 13, I have a few other plans. One is to read another book on church history. I’m torn on what I’ve heard is the best in Christian history – Church History in Plain Language or I may start another 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power Vol. 1: The Age of the Early Church Fathers (Grace Publications), which is the first in a four volume series (I’d love to hear from anyone who has read either or has a suggestion as to which would be better).

I’ve also had Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy on my list from 2017 and 2018, but also didn’t get to it. This book and the history one are obviously somewhat long, and can be dense, so another book I think I want to get to is The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which is a book I bought for Mrs. MMT a few years ago on the advice of MxPx front man Mike Herrera. Finally, as a pair, I was given a book that reviews a Christmas Carol from a Christian perspective, and as that is one of my favorite all time stories, I’ll read the story then the review together and then respond to both.

That’s it. Hopefully I’ll tighten down and actually get to the ones I wanted this year. Feel free to share goals or insights on any of the books in the comments.

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2018 Reading Challenge Review

I met my goal of 30 books this year. Actually, I surpassed it with 37 (that is 11,167 pages according to Goodreads, if you like that kind of thing). That being said, reading over what I wrote I wanted to read, I feel like I’ve failed. I had 13 book specifically listed, but only read six of them. I guess I’ll try to carry on those attempts next year. You can see my Goodreads 2018 Challenge page here, if you want them in list form.

I said I was going to do less review books in 2018, but instead ended up doing 16, 13 of which were Baker, one was Crossway, and there were two new publishers I that had never sent me books before. That is probably the main reason I didn’t get to the actual books I wanted. It is interesting to ‘challenge’ yourself, when really it was supposed to be a list of books I wanted to read. Instead, it turned into a goal of reading X number of books. Also, I enjoy getting free books, but the more I requested, the less I enjoyed. I’ll have my 2019 Challenge up in a bit, but this year I want to focus on specific books, and will likely due far fewer review books, especially from Baker.

My longest book, and an unexpected addition was The Stand. I added it because of the PBS Great American Novel contest. I also started taking Sprout the library every other Saturday, so I grabbed a few random books that I didn’t have on my shelf, all of which were non-fiction. I only read a few other novels and was short on fiction this year. I read three devotionals, where were all decent, but I really didn’t read any theologically intense books, something I plan to change in 2019. I also had a few commentaries on the list, which is something I’m unsure should count towards the challenge.

Overall, the 2018 Challenge was a mixed-bag, I met my goal as far as numbers go, but didn’t really hit all the books I wanted. Oh well, as always, I’ll try to do better next time.

2018 Reading Challenge

I sightly exceeded my goal of 25 books last year, by reading 29 books. Now, the prior year, I had a goal of 30, but pretty well passed that, reading 52. I lowered my goal last year as I took some Counseling courses, but as I am not doing that this year, I am raising the goal back to 30. I’d love to set the goal at 48 or 52, to match my 2016, but Sprout doesn’t sleep as much as she used to (bedtime moved back and naps went from 3/4 to zero), so I don’t think that is reasonable, but in the back of my mind, I am kind of hopeful.

So, what am I reading? I have 13 books specifically planned (check out my Goodreads 2018 Shelf for a quick list). I’ll probably tack on another 12 (or less, mostly likely, as I ratchet down the number of review books I request) and then leave myself a little room for randomness in the other five. Of those five, two or three will probably be novels, and at least one will be another counseling book. The 13 I have set out already include:

Devotional – I’ve typically read a whole year devotional, such as My Utmost for His Highest (my review), but this year I’m doing something a little different. I have one, Shalom in Psalms, that goes through, well, the Psalms. This won’t take a whole year, so I have a Lenten one, From the Grave, and an Advent one, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy“, lined up. That should finish out the year, but I may have to find a 30-40 day one in addition and toss it in there. So, kind of sneaky with the numbers, typically the devotional gets me one book, this year it might net me three or four.

Biography/autobiographyA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety was on my list last year, but I didn’t make it to it, so I’ll stick it back on this list.

Non-fictionGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, at 822 pages, this is the second biggest book on my list for this year and one of my top five life goal, big book, non-fiction books to pick up. Unless this takes me all year, I’ll probably have another, shorter, non-fiction in this list.

FictionThe Fall of Hyperion, the sequel to one of my favorite books last year, Hyperion, and the only book I’ve already started reading. At 864 pages, Anna Karenina, will be my biggest book this year and the second longest single volume fiction book I’ve ever read. If that wasn’t enough Russian Literature, I’d also like to work through the two stories (which come packaged in one book, so I’m counting it as one) Notes from the Underground and The Grand Inquisitor. Hopefully, I’ll get to a few more in this category.

Christian-y type books – because two 800 page books won’t take me long enough, I’m also picking up two more 500+ page books. First, I want to get back into finishing Bavnick so I have Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, on the list with the ridiculous hope that I will actually make it to the even longer (912 pages) Volume Four. Second is what I’ve heard is the best in Christian history – Church History in Plain Language. Outside of the big ones, I had Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy on my list from 2017, but also didn’t get to it, so I’ve move it to this year; Work and Our Labor in the Lord, which is also technically a review book; and finally, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. This general category will be the biggest, as I fill it out with review books and commentaries.

That is the plan for 2018, a few less books than I think I could probably handle, but a few of them probably to large. Feel free to share your goals in the comments.

2017 Reading Challenge Update

For 2017 I challenged myself to read 24 books, with 19 books called out specifically. I was successful in the number of book, with 29, but didn’t hit many of my specific books. I think this is mostly due to having less time to read, so I didn’t hit the big books (like Capital in the 21st Century) and because I ended up reading mostly review books that were sent to me by Baker Books.

This year I will likely read less review books. Originally, I would request every book they offered, because at first I wouldn’t receive many, if any, of them. Then as I did more and more reviews, they started sending every single one I requested. I had planned to read five or six, and ended up reviewing 12.

I ended up knocking out two of the three novels I had planned, reading Brave New World  (my review) and Hyperion, but not Lolita.

I read all of the required books for school, but haven’t reviewed a single one. I think I also over estimated the amount of time I’d have left to read after finishing schoolwork as well as the impact of a new job that tripled/quadrupled my commute. Throw in Sprout sleeping even less and somehow becoming even more rambunctious, I ended up with far less time than I anticipated. Just in writing this post and reviewing my reading from 2017, I’ve already downgraded my goal for 2018 from 36 to 30 books, realizing that I likely will not have time.

I’ll have that goal up in a post sometime next week. Hopefully, I’ll finish reviewing a few more books from last year and have a rundown on the ESV M’Chenney Reading Bible.

Book Review: The Christian Life

The Christian LIfe: A Doctrinal Introduction

Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
The subtitle of this book is really illustrative of what this book is about. It is an introduction to doctrine for Christians, more specifically reformed theology. This is probably the best intro book I’ve ever read. You won’t get the full intro that you’d need to tackle Systematic Theology, there is no doctrine of church, sacrament, eschatology, etc., but his chapters on man, sin, grace, election/adoption, justification, and christian living are possibly unmatched in their accessibility to the average Christian.

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking to understand more about doctrine, to go above a Sunday School level, and it may even work as a gateway book into deeper study of theology. Ferguson was a theologian and professor, but this book is written by a pastor first and foremost and can easily be read by any Christian at any level of education and knowledge.

My Thoughts
If I’ve somehow been unclear, I’m really high on this book. Clocking in under 200 pages but with 18 chapters, anyone can hope in and out of the different doctrinal chapters with ease. As I mentioned above, this is a great intro for anyone looking to expand their knowledge. It is also a great reminder to pastor and theologians of the basics of doctrine. A way to bring those who greater knowledge back down to a simpler level, a more concise study of what others need to know.

This is written almost as a series of sermons and could be a great book for a Bible study or community group looking for something to read. For pastors and elders in the church, this should be the go to suggested reading for anyone inquiring about doctrine. Overall, it is a must read for every Christian.

Book Review: Generation Z

Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World

Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Pretty easy ready, goes quickly, about 200 pages.

Summary
The book is exactly what it sounds like, and introduction to Generation Z, who he defines as those born between 1993 and 2012, how they will be different form previous generations and what the churches needs to do about it.

The book is broken into two parts, plus a pretty extensive appendices. The first part is focused on the Zs and the second on the difference and the churches new approach. The focus is mostly on the changing demographic of Zs, they are less white, more multiethnic, more liberal (economically and socially), and less Christian. White does a good job explaining the way technology is changing their lives, especially as it relates to early sexualization and porn.

My Thoughts
I think White does a good job of not being alarmist. It is a fact of history that the next generation will be our undoing, people have been saying it for thousands of years. So, it was good to read him taking a measured approach. There is a lot of media hype over the ‘nones’, and he explores how it is possible that a middle group who could go either way on the church is now siding with the no-religion group because it is the more socially advantageous position as it is more of the culture norm (the same way the opposite was true 50 years ago and through most of American history). I’ll add two reason I think the ‘nones’ are overblown, one it is cool now to be ‘independent’, we see it with political parties. I see it in church going people who are very devout, they like to say that they don’t like names or denominations. This is already a bit of a tangent, but second, I’ve worked with detailed surveys throughout my career. People are bad at them. You can look at the polling data and see that 9% of self-identified Atheist are certain there is a god when asked. I think it is something like 14% when the question is asked of self-identified Agnostics. Likewise, there are a number of self-identified Christians who say it is impossible to know if God exist. Due to this, I do think church attendance will continue dropping with the Zs and whatever comes next, but the core of the devout won’t change too much.

I like his definition of Z better than some of the others I’ve seen. Other have them starting in 2000 or even as late as 2005, and I think his focus works a little better. More importantly, there is a difference between them and the millennials, just as there was between X and boomers, and SIlent and Greatest before them. The first half of this book is good for anyone looking for a brief primer on the upcoming generation. The book as a whole is important for Christians to understand the changes that are coming, especially pastors and youth workers. Anyone in this latter group should make reading this book a priority.

*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. See more here.

2017 Reading Challenge

As I mentioned in my review of my 2016 challenge, I’m not planning on reading as many books this year. There are a few reasons for this, one, as of last week, I have started a new job that has roughly tripled my commute. Another reason is that I am starting some course work from CCEF, before entering completely into a new master’s program with Westminster. Taking classes means specific reading requirements, but also lots of writing, so I cannot devote as much time to reading. Finally, as I plowed through more and more books last year, I ended up writing less and less. So, with what little time I have between taking classes, a new job, and a toddler, I’d like to focus a little more writing.

Anyway, to the books. I’m laying out my challenge a little differently this year. Last year, I basically just say, hey, I’m going to read a bunch of books. This year I’m listing a number of specific books, and then some categories for the remaining few.

The first group are two books that I am reading daily, one is a devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, and the other is the Bible. I’ve mentioned the M’Cheyne plan before, so I’m putting it to the test this year.

Next group, novels. If I ever finish War and Peace, I’d like to check out three other novels – Hyperion, Lolita, and Brave New World. I also have read a few books through the Kindle First thing, so, call it maybe two more from that category.

The third group is my Christiany stuff, of which there are only three. I know, that’s not many for a blog with Theologian in the title, but bear with me, more Christian life/thought type books will come out in other categories. The specific three I’d like to hit are Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy (from the great Counterpoints series), Boice’s exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, and the classic, The Plan of Salvation.

Next up, non-fiction. Again, only four of these, though it does include one ‘big-book’, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (funny side note on this, Kindle can tell if you’ve finished a book or not and obviously if you’ve downloaded a book. So, the year this book came out, it was the most downloaded non-fiction, and the least read/finished, percentage-wise, of any book). Another good one I’ve I wanted to read for a while, Misbehaving (about Behavioral Economics). Sprout just turned two, so obviously it’s about time for me to obsess over her education, so I have Einstein Never Used Flash Cards on the list. Rounding out the non-fiction list is an autobiography from Jimmy Carter – A Full Life, Reflections at Ninety – which is just a cool title. I’ll also add a stretch goal here, if I’m doing well come, say, November, I’ll through in Gödel, Escher and Bach, another big book, so we will see.

Probably the biggest category, books I need to read for school. So far this include, Marriage Matters, Hold Me Tight, The Christian Life, and Systems Theory in Action. I’ve already read two others for these classes. This is the list for just two courses. Now, in the summer, I’ll take one or two more courses, but none in the fall, so this list will grow by probably three to seven.

Finally, my review copy books. So far, there are three on my list – The Christian Lover, Pillars of Grace, and The End of Protestantism. The first two are from Reformation Trust Publishing, which has been pretty easy to use. The last one is from Netgalley, which I’m not entirely sure that I like. I’ve reviewed a few from there, but I’ve also skipped a number of them, and they’ve been taken off my list or my ability to read them is gone. Not really their fault, since I didn’t review them. However, I think I just like working with the publishers directly. I’ve requested three more from Baker, and Crossway just emailed me the other day to say I need to go pick up another one. This will round out whatever is left in my goal of 24, and any that comes after that.

So there you go, I’ve specifically called out 19 of my 24 book goal (I guess 20 of my 25 stretch, if that works) with the final five being a mix of school and review copy books. Hopefully, it will go well and maybe I can move it up to 30 in the fall, however that will probably be my max, so I can focus on other things. Of course, this is likely to be a very crazy year, so it’s possible that I won’t even hit my goal.

You can stay updated at my Goodreads page, or wait for an update that will come probably sometime in the summer.