Posts in Reading
Reading Outside Your Tribe

The Bible is inerrant. Because it is the inspired Word of God, it is incapable of communicating falsity. While being kept from error, the human authors of the Bible were moved by the Holy Spirit so that all they wrote (in their own words) fully encompassed all he desired for them to write. What happens, then, when we read about their misgivings and failures? Does God’s inerrancy suffer at the hands of his people’s errors? My issue is how easily some unintentionally apply this supernatural activity of the Spirit with respect to the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration beyond the text, and extend it to the authors themselves. 

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)

When these certain men came from James, the brother of Christ and leader of the Jerusalem church, Paul was forced to confront Peter (Cephas). Paul opposed Peter, the rock on whom Christ promised to build his church (Mt 16:18), for acting in a manner that was out of step with the gospel. It’s baffling that two of the “super-apostles” (cf. 2 Cor 11:5) are indicted in these four verses: the former for propagating (enforcing?) ethnic division in the church, the latter for sheepishly cowering to the forces of sinful peer-pressure. The moral of the story: everyone (even the Apostles!) is susceptible to theological blind spots. 

The crusades don't rebuff the wisdom of Aquinas. The burning of Servetus doesn't nullify Calvin's contributions. Whitefield's pension for slavery doesn't overturn his homiletical genius. Again, we are all susceptible to theological blind spots. One way we can remedy this is by reading outside of our tribes. While it would be incredibly convenient, Christendom does not neatly divide along the lines of theological good guys and theological bad guys. We must be Bereans. We are big boys and girls. If there are bones in the fish, pick them out and feast on the meat.  

Barth, Swiss Reformed, was an ostensible universalist; yet he taught me a great deal about Christian ethics and the highest good. Lewis, an Anglican, was an errantist; yet he tutored me in the school of Christian imagination and what it means to have an awakened mind. Mary Prokes, a Roman Catholic, was a Franciscan nun; yet her prose on human embodiment—specifically on the true purpose and meaning of sexuality—was outstandingly illuminating and edifying. R.C. Sproul Jr., a Presbyterian, believes that God created sin; yet he taught me much on trusting in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness in the midst of the storm.

Isaac Newton, arguably the most influential scientific figure of all time, once penned to a friend, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This was Newton’s way of acknowledging that his accomplishments were due in large part to those who went before him. This maxim has been adopted to comment on the invaluable contributions of the Christian tradition. We are recipients of a rich and diverse tradition of theological formulation. This gift is to be received with thanksgiving, as an extension of God's promise to be with us always and to build his church. My only problem with the co-option of this quote is the imagery. If we are standing on the shoulders of giants, then when they fall we all fall. As Protestants, we stand on the Bible. Because the Bible is inerrant, I don’t need Luther to be. And neither do you.

Top 10 Books of 2015

In his book An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis elucidates on the power literature has to broaden our horizons and form us into new people by offering us the perspective of another:

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books…. in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do. (emphasis added)

This is why I read. I am often asked, “How do you remember everything you read?” That’s just it: I don’t. Our minds are like a body of water. The person who does not read treats his or her mind like a stale, stagnant creek. Old ideas fester, mold and algae grow free, thereby unchecked by a current of fresh water, which book reading provides.

I ask that you will allow me to obfuscate my analogy a bit. Our minds are not empty shelves waiting for fresh information to be categorized and filed in our neat cubbies. Rather, now situated in a rushing stream of water, our minds are more like a stone being tossed, rounded, and smoothed by the steady current of new information. I do not read to remember (per se), I read to reform.

With that, I have provided a list of my ten favorite books read in 2015:[1]

  1. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead: A Novel (New York: Picador, 2006).
  2. Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (New York: Scribner, 2014).
  3. Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).
  4. Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014).
  5. Dale Allison, Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012).
  6. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).
  7. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch: A Novel(Back Bay Books, 2015). The content of this book is graphic. I would advise you to read my short review before picking up this novel.
  8. Tom Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Mentor, 2013).
  9. Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction(Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993).
  10. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014).

Tolle lege (Take up and read)!

  1. That is not to say these books were published in 2015; only that I read them this year.  ↩

Reading Like J. P. Moreland

In his book “Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul,” J. P. Moreland writes, “If possible, never read a serious book without something with which to write. Your goal in reading is to surface the structure of each chapter.”[1] I read this pointer more than five years ago and have not departed from this sagacious utterance. Moreland’s book was my first encounter with Christian Intellectualism. This now ubiquitous term, likely due to my circles of relation, had escaped me. In fact, my overal orientation toward Christianity was akin to a strict fideism–knowledge depends on faith. But this is neither an autobiography, nor a hagiography of the eminent Moreland. My intention in writing this post is to share some helpful tips on reading that I gleaned from Moreland in his book.

In the aforementioned chapter, Moreland offers a helpful yet uncomplicated system for annotating books. He first advises readers to do some preliminary perusing in order to familiarize themselves with the field/issue. “[Y]our goal is to obtain an initial set of categories that can help you be more informed in noticing things you may otherwise miss when you set out to analyze more carefully a detailed text in the area of investigation.” (p. 167) From there, Moreland offers readers a glimpse into his personal annotation system. His almost-monomaniacal aim is to identify the structure of the arguments.

  1. In the left-hand margin, about every two to three paragraphs, he composes a summary of the main arguments of the text in his own words. The goal is both noting structural flow while synthesizing the information. Here, Moreland offers a few example questions he asks himself in analyzing the flow: “Is the author continuing to develop the same point of discussion treated in the preceding paragraphs? Has the text shifted to making a new point parallel to the one just made or are we now reading criticisms and rebuttals of the main thesis?” (p. 167)
  2. Subsections serve as stop signs. Upon seeing a marked subsection, Moreland writes a two or three sentence summary of the main point in the subsection. He, then, goes through his snippet summaries and writes a brief summary of the entire chapter at the top of the first page of each chapter. He adds, “You want to mark up the book in such a way that if you return to it months later, you can look at your marginal notes and get a feel for the main flow of the chapter’s structure and its content.”(Ibid.)
  3. Moreland uses two notational devices to help him comprehend a chapter’s structure.
    1. Recognizing a thesis argument, he puts a “+1,” “+2,” and so forth in the margin where each specific argument begins. That way, even if the next arguments doesn’t appear for another five pages, he is still able to easily trek with the author. He also notes arguments against the author’s thesis with “–1,” “–2,” and so on. The obvious telos of this effort is to track the arguments and counterarguments that compose the structure of the debate in the text itself.
    2. For personal thoughts, Moreland puts his remarks in parentheses and begins it with “N.B.,” which is the abbreviation for the Latin term nota bene, which means “take note.” The reason for the parenthetical comments is to easily distinguish between summaries and reflection
  4. Inside the front cover of the book, Moreland constructs his own index. During the process of reading a book, he marks topics/terms with special interest to him, and writes these terms or phrases in the blank pages at the front of the book, followed by the corresponding page number(s) in the text.

He closes with this piece of advice:

Finally, when you undertake to read a book seriously, you cannot treat that book as a novel to be read for recreation. Compared to intellectual reading, recreational reading is fairly passive, can be done quickly, and does not require a great deal of work or engagement on the part of the reader. In intellectual reading, you simply must stay alert, use a pen, make notes regularly, and remember to look for three things: Structure! Structure! Structure! If you do not walk away from an occasion of reading with a better grasp of the flow of argument in what has been read, you have not practiced intellectual reading successfully . (pp. 168–9, emphasis added)

  1. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Kindle Edition (NavPress, 1997), 166.  ↩

Paul, His Cloak, And His Books

As one who spends the majority of his day pouring over books, I have long been encouraged by this homily from the Prince of Preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon, on an oft neglected verse (2 Tim. 4:13). When I find myself overwhelmed, with the words of Qoheleth ringing in my ear (Eccles. 12:12), I typically run here for balm. “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).

We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read…He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry…

Spurgeon believed the parchments to be the Holy Scriptures. He urged that Paul’s particular emphasis for the parchments (“especially” or “above all”) shows a level of commitment to the Word of God over all other forms of literature.

Persons read the views of their denominations as set forth in the periodicals; they read the views of their leader as set forth in his sermons or his works, but the Book, the good old Book, the divine fountain-head from which all revelation wells up—this is too often left. You may go to human puddles, until you forsake the clear crystal stream which flows from the throne of God. Read the books, by all manner of means, but especially the parchments. Search human literature, if you will, but especially stand fast by that Book which is infallible, the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

A selection from, Paul—his Cloak and his Books. Delivered on November 29th, 1863, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington (italic emphasis original, bold emphasis mine).

My Top 10 Books

I have been wanting to put together a list of books that have had the most impact on me through the years (outside of the Bible). In no particular order and without further adieu, here are my top ten:

1. 'The Knowledge of the Holy’ by A. W. Tozer

2. ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion' by John Calvin

3. ‘A Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Live’ by Richard Baxter

4. ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis

5. ‘Religious Affections’ by Jonathan Edwards

6. ‘Original Sin’ by Jonathan Edwards

7. ‘Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life’ by Donald Whitney

8. ‘Orthodoxy’ by G. K. Chesterton

9. ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S. Lewis

10. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

What books have had the greatest impact on you?