#30ThankYous Day 9: Frank Peretti

Dear Frank,

The first book of yours I ever read was a Cooper Kids adventure (maybe The Tombs of Anak?) when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I was not yet allowed to watch the Indiana Jones movies, but I had somehow already become fascinated with archaeology and ancient civilizations, so the adventures of a brother and sister digging around in ancient dungeons and tombs was a blast for me.

A few years later, I started reading your more grown-up fiction, and the book of yours that really grabbed me was The Oath. I had never encountered an outspoken Christian author use horror or fantasy elements to tell a story like that. (Aside from Lewis’ Narnia books, which were more fairy tale than fantasy.) The mental image of a dragon or monster chasing down his marked victims was captivating. I read it over a very long week in high school when I was sick at home with pneumonia, and your book made the time fly. (The feverishness only added to the experience, I think.)

I had played around with writing since middle school. I used my vocabulary homework as an excuse to create serialized chapters of adventure stories to entertain my teachers. (No doubt, there was some Cooper influence there as well; I think the first year I did this, it was about scientists exploring an Egyptian tomb.) I’ve read most of your bibliography (though I’m delighted to find I missed a few of your recent ones, and will be looking for those at the library!). But reading The Oath opened my eyes to the idea that genre fiction can be used to tell spiritual stories beyond historical fiction or Biblical epics. I started aping your style a bit, as I tried to write short stories that were more or less morality tales. (I almost typed “moralizing tales,” which may have been closer to the truth.) I was shooting for a mix of Frank Peretti, Rod Serling, and Ray Bradbury, my 3 favorite story tellers–but I’m pretty sure I fell far, far short of that lofty goal. I don’t think those stories will ever see the light of day in their original form. (But who knows, maybe I can go back and mine for story ideas…)

Nevertheless, from that point on, I was hooked–I wanted to be a writer. I got an English degree from my undergrad studies, I’ve been blogging on an off for 16 years, and I have maybe a half-dozen unfinished novels in notebooks and hard drives all over the house. While life circumstances always seem to get in the way of finishing these projects, the dream doesn’t die. I still want to be a novelist. And if I were to trace that crazy dream back to its roots, your books would be there at the inception.

So thank you, Frank. Your love of telling stories and sharing truth have been inspiring readers for decades now, and I’m one of many fans who remember fondly how your books have blessed my life.

Here’s to more years and more words!

–Dave

#30ThankYous Day 5: Andrew Peterson

Andrew,

I had heard your name a few times but never really dug into your work until the last few years. (Ironically, I’m pretty sure I heard you perform almost 20 years ago at an outdoor music festival in Kansas City. Your name’s on the back of my souvenir t-shirt, at least!)

A few years back, some friends from church gave my wife and I tickets to Behold the Lamb of God, and we were blown away. What a powerful show that was! We were so moved and so blessed by it that we have made the concert a Christmas-season tradition ever since (and I’m pretty sure that both the studio and live performance CDs of the show now permanently live in our van’s CD changer). Since then, I’ve picked up and enjoyed several of your albums. Resurrection Letters, Volume 1 is my current favorite.

On top of that, this year we have discovered the absolute joy that is The Wingfeather Saga. I can say with no exaggeration that your books have supplanted The Chronicles of Narnia as my favorite children’s series of all time–no small feat, considering I read the Narnia books three or four times through in my grade school years, and once or twice as an adult.

Your lyrical and prose writing is eloquent, playful, soul-stirring, and sincere. Your songs are honest, true, and moving. “Is He Worthy” makes me cry every single doggone time.

Thank you for sharing your stories and your songs, and for reminding us that art can be worshipful, and that even children’s fairy tales can be True in the best sense of the word. I look forward to reading the Wingfeather books to my daughter (currently one year old and not much for sitting still) and all the brothers and sisters who may come after her.

God bless you,

Dave

 

The4thDave Reads: “What Is Reformed Theology?” by Dr. R.C. Sproul

I’m not sure exactly when I started exploring Reformed doctrine. It happened sometime in the late 2000’s, likely due to my crossing paths with the ministries of John Piper, Mark Driscoll (before he drove Mars Hill into a ditch), and Matt Chandler. Sometime between 2007 and 2010, I began really considering the doctrines of election and predestination, and it made me see parts of the New Testament with new eyes.

I grew up in the SBC, so if “Calvinism” was ever mentioned (which wasn’t often, in my circles), it was generally distrusted. In fact, thinking back to my early days of teaching college Sunday School classes, I shudder to remember the outright Arminianism that I taught for a few years. Suffice it to say, the tone and tenor of my teaching greatly changed.

Depending on whom you talk to, I’m not technically “reformed” in  my theology as much as “Calvinistic” in my soteriology — meaning, I hold to what’s called the “Doctrines of Grace” but I’m not confessional in my theology. (I’m still looking into it, y’all, chill out.) But no matter what label I would use for my own position, I have become convinced that the “reformed” doctrine of salvation is the best way to interpret the Scriptures.

Why bring all this up? Just putting my cards on the table, so that when I say I found Dr. Sproul’s classic book on the “basics” of Reformed theology compelling and instructive, I’m clear about my starting point and that I was already inclined to agree with it. What I found in this helpful volume only confirmed my resolve on these issues.

What Is Reformed Theology? provides an outstanding primer on the basics of (you guessed it) Reformed theology, as well as chapter-long explications of the 5 “petals” of the TULIP acrostic (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints), while addressing the misconceptions of and arguments against each concept. Dr. Sproul doesn’t make assumptions about his reader, but carefully works through the core concepts, in order to demonstrate the soundness of a Reformed reading of Scripture.

What Worked

I found this volume to be approachable though not simple. This isn’t a light and breezy read, but it’s also not tied down by opaque theological jargon. Dr. Sproul is a natural teacher, so his argumentation builds from simple to complex. If you’re looking to learn these concepts, this is a great resource.  Dr. Sproul touches on different points in church history that address the doctrinal discussions involved, and provides a Biblical justification for the arguments used.

The examination of free will and “compatibilism” in the chapter on total depravity was particularly helpful in clarifying my understanding on the idea of how our volition co-exists with God’s sovereignty. I had been introduced to this idea before, but Dr. Sproul’s explanation helped me to settle the ideas in my mind so that I could explain it more easily in my own teaching and writing.

I also appreciated how Dr. Sproul took time to address misconceptions and misapplications of the TULIP acrostic, including a helpful explanation about how some of the terminology used in the name of each doctrine may actually confuse the issue. For example, he argued that “P” may be better explained as the Preservation of the Saints, because it is the work of God that holds us, and not simply that we hold on to Him. This helped me consider how the way we say things should be carefully considered when we discuss theological truths.

Minor Quibbles

I do have two small critiques of this volume.

First, the chapter on covenant theology felt a bit thin. Granted, the nature of the volume did not allow for anything but the basics to be explained, but as someone who did not grow up in that mindset, I was hoping for a bit more meat on the bone when it came to the difference between covenant theology and other approaches like dispensationalism. I suppose the onus is on me to seek a deeper discussion on my own.

Secondly, the book just ends after the chapter on perseverance/preservation of the saints, the “P” of TULIP. I think a summary or concluding chapter that tied the ideas together again at the end would have been appropriate, rather than just running abruptly into the end-notes.

Also: End notes? Really? Hm.

My Recommendation

What is Reformed Theology? is an incredibly helpful volume for people who are unfamiliar with Reformed thinking (or grew up hearing that Calvinists are missions-hating boogeymen) or those who want to solidify their understanding of the Doctrines of Grace. Clocking in at 250 pages, this is a speedy and effective way to get your feet set as you begin to explore this theological system.

 

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Please Note: The publisher, Baker Books, provided my a paperback copy of the book in exchange for a honest review.

(I’m sorry it took me so long to write this, Baker! #OverdueBookReview )

#FridayFive: 10/19/2018

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Happy Friday, folks! Here are five reading-themed links for your perusal as you prepare for your weekend!

How I Read & Remember What I Read — The Internet is full of articles and blog posts about how to read more, but Shay Howe gives us some handy tips about how to read so that we recall more. This is a punchy and practical 3-minute read.

How to Retain More of Every Book You Read — James Clear shares his ideas about how to benefit more from reading, and his suggestions dovetail with Shay’s pretty nicely as well. It may be worth it to try combining ideas from both pieces!

A Simple Plan to Read More — I’m going to steal Shane Parrish’s term “anti-library” (mainly because it makes my shelves of unread books sound so much cooler that “utterly unconquerable To-Be-Read shelf” or “Tsundoku to the extreme”). And when it comes to reading more, the simplest solutions really are the most elegant.

Party Where We Read Things — This is the GREATEST IDEA EVER, y’all. I love this. Someday I’m gonna do this. Now I’m trying to think of what my selected piece(s) would be.

Why Reading 100 Books A Year Won’t Make You Successful — Aytekin Tank provides a (balanced? contrarian?) perspective on why reading more isn’t necessarily better, why speed reading boosts your page count without necessarily boosting your knowledge, and why some books need to be savored slowly. This definitely makes me feel slightly better about my 25 or so books completed this year. Slightly.

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There you go. Five articles about reading well, reading deeply, and reading with others. I hope you enjoyed these links and are feeling inspired to crack open a book or two this weekend!

In fact, if you did find this content useful and/or interesting, do me a quick  favor and click *Like* on this post, so I know that these kinds of links are helpful to you!

YOUR TURN: Comment below and share what you’re reading lately!  Here are a few of the titles on my shelf at the moment:

  • What is Reformed Theology, by Dr. R.C. Sproul
  • Wingfeather Tales, edited by Andrew Peterson
  • The Exemplary Husband, by Dr. Stuart Scott

What about you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be back next week!

The4thDave Reads: “After the Fire” by Will Hill

AfterTheFire

I vaguely remember when the 1993 Waco siege happened, though I didn’t pay much attention at the time. I would chuckle when classmates joked that “Waco” stands for “We Ain’t Comin’ Out,” without thinking about the tragic implications of such gallows humor.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, there was a religious cult called the Branch-Davidians, led by a charismatic sociopath named David Koresh, who lived in a fenced-in compound outside of Waco, Texas. Koresh and his followers had been stock-piling weapons and readying themselves for “the final battle,” until ATF and FBI agents laid siege to their compound for almost two months. The stand-off ended in a horrific fire and gunfight that left 76 cult members dead.

The Story

Author Will Hill used the events in Waco as inspiration for his new YA novel, After the Fire. The narrator of the story is a 17-year-old girl named Moonbeam, whose parents joined “The Lord’s Legion,” a separatist religious group in West Texas, when she was a baby. After a government raid on their compound destroys her home and kills almost everyone she knows, Moonbeam is asked by a therapist and an FBI agent to reconstruct an account of her life before and of the events leading up to the fire that destroyed her world. Even as Moonbeam tries to process the horrific events that have happened to her, she struggles to overcome the training and programming she received from “Father John” and the other adults in her life.

Using the fire as the hinge event of the narrative, the story is told in a series of “Before” and “After” chapters, as Moonbeam cautiously reveals more and more of her experience to the two men asking her questions every day–two men who, as Outsiders, she was raised never to trust.

Faith and Fear

From the beginning, I was intrigued by the premise, but I was a little cautious about the execution. After all, this is a mainstream novel exploring religious themes. The use of a “fringe Christian cult” as the backdrop of the story can go a few different ways, and I was bracing for the author to pull out his broadest brushes with which to paint people of faith. While there ultimately aren’t any examples of true Christian teaching or faith present in the novel, the author makes clear that he is not applying the Legion’s activities to Christendom at large. (In fact, I really appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book, in which he explicitly stated that his goal was not to stereotype religion in general or Christianity specifically.)

From the beginning, it’s clear that this religious cult borrows heavily from Biblical language, though any fair-minded reader can clearly see that what they practice is a man-centered, blood-thirsty corruption of Christianity. The group’s leader, Father John, sets himself up as the sole mouthpiece of God, and twists the Scriptures and Scriptural language to manipulate his followers and use their fear to keep them under his control. For all the use of Biblical language, the name of Jesus is barely if ever spoken, and the grace and mercy of God is out-right contradicted by Father John. So it’s plain to all but the most jaded reader that this isn’t Gospel Christianity in this story.

In fact, there are several discussions in which the issue of faith is addressed, and the question is almost always about faith in people–in parents, in friends, in religious leaders. Over and over, the story demonstrates that faith put in people is ultimately shaken because people are sinful, self-interested, and fearful creatures. One would hope that such concepts would lead the reader to look for something stronger and truer in which to believe.

Not As Dark as Expected–But Dark Enough

Given the topic, you would expect that the novel’s content drifts into some pretty dark places–and it does, to be sure. Thankfully, the author remembers that he’s writing a YA (“young adult”–think teenage audience) novel, so the content is not as graphic as many mainstream novels might take it.

That said, there is strong language throughout, clear implications of sinful (and criminal) behavior, and one uncomfortable scene involving an interrupted sexual crime. None of this sinful behavior is glorified, but the descriptions may be uncomfortable or disturbing, especially for those who have been victims of abuse.

There is a question to be considered at this point, which I can’t answer for anyone but myself: “How much darkness can I tolerate being depicted/described before it stops being worth reading or watching?” As a Christian, I must apply the Philippians 4:8 filter to my entertainment and decide if a piece of art is too dark to justify taking in for entertainment.

In the case of this novel, I feel like it’s really a close call. Getting to step inside the shoes of someone who grew up in a closed religious cult was intriguing; however, the darkness of the some plot elements made me start to question if it was worth finishing the story.

My Recommendation

After the Fire is an effective and engrossing tale about a young woman finding the strength to face the darkness of her past and the courage to move forward into an uncertain future. The author explores the effects of conditioning and control on people seeking to escape from religious cults, and the power of using fear to keep people imprisoned.

Given the subject matter and content concerns, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this book broadly. However, if the reader will keep those caveats in mind and use discernment in their reading, they may find this book to be an fascinating novel about surviving trauma and overcoming fear.

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Please Note: I was sent an e-book copy of this novel (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

The4thDave Reads: “From Death to Life” by Pastor Allen S. Nelson IV

FDTLWhen it comes to books about Christian theology, there seems to be a handful of approaches: they can be written toward an academic or seminary audience with an advanced-level, specialized focus; they can be written primarily for lay readers, with minimal theological concepts and jargon and a heavy emphasis on illustrations and application ideas; and then there is a third category that lands in the sweet-spot of deep-but-not-dense, accessible-but-not-shallow. Nelson’s slim volume on the process and implications of salvation falls into this group.

In From Death to Life (subtitled: “How Salvation Works”), Pastor Nelson seeks to lead the reader through the complete doctrine of salvation: our state outside of Christ, the way we are drawn to Christ, what is needed to be born again, and what being born again means to us. In ten chapters and several appendices, Nelson seeks to give the full scope of what is needed to become a Christian, and what being a Christian demands of us, in just 200 pages.

What Works

From Death to Life is a worthwhile study for a few key reasons:

It’s Biblical. I love it when a book on Christian living is steeped in Scripture. It may seem axiomatic, but a trip to your local Christian bookstore would clear up any question of how much purportedly “Christian” writing actually relies on the Christian Scriptures. Pastor Nelson does not shy away from building his arguments first and foremost on the Word of God.

It’s approachable. What I appreciate so much about this book is that Nelson isn’t trying to impress the intelligentsia or appeal to the academic–but this is not to say the writing is simplistic. He writes with a pastor’s heart, desiring to bring out the new treasures as well as the old for his flock to appreciate. As such, the book addresses important spiritual ideas in a way that even new believers can understand.

It’s comprehensive. While the book doesn’t give an exhaustive teaching on salvation (and doesn’t seek to, for that matter), it does provide a fully-orbed examination. Nelson seeks to ensure that the reader gets the full picture of why we must be saved, how we can be saved, and what being saved produces in us. He makes sure that the reader understands the Bad News, so that we can then more fully grasp the Good News. In an age full to the teeth with half-gospel presentations, this full treatment of the Gospel is refreshing.

It’s encouraging. I was blessed and encouraged as I read this book. In particular, the chapters on sanctification and evangelism were helpful and challenging. Again, Nelson writes pastorally, so even when he steps on your toes, he does so with grace and truth.

Technical Nitpicks

While the book is certainly worth reading, it is not without problems. However, all of these concerns involve style rather than content.

This is (as I understand it) Pastor Nelson’s first book (hopefully first of several!), and it shows a bit in how it’s formatted. There are an abundance of footnotes that often may have been better kept in-line without taking away the flow of his argumentation. There were typographical errors in several places that should have been caught during the editing/proofreading process.

There were also some places where the sections felt too casual and read more like a blog post instead of a book chapter. In a few places, the argument seemed to wander and then double-back. I think such sections could have used a bit more formality without losing Pastor Nelson’s voice or approach.

Finally (and this is really a nitpick), some chapters would have been better served to include section headings in order to help the reader find his or her way through the argument. There were times when I had to put the book down and come back to it later, and it took me a minute to remember what the argument was at that point.

All in all, any critique I have of the book is that it may benefit from a bit more polishing up–but that is only to help the gem sparkle more brightly.

My Recommendation

From Death to Life by Pastor Allen S. Nelson IV is a blessing to the church and will be useful and edifying for Christians in any walk of life. It’s as profitable for the person in the pew as it is for the pastor in the pulpit. Despite some minor technical issues, I would heartily commend it to you.

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Please Note: I was given a physical copy of the book to review, in exchange for my honest and unbiased thoughts.

3 Gifts That Convert Readers into Fans.

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I’ve almost become immune to being “pitched.”

It’s practically a given these days that when you’re consuming online content, there’s a hook–an e-book for sale, an online seminar registration, some sort of monthlycoaching or one-on-one training.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, at some point, I may be asking you, dear reader, to purchase a novel or two from me (assuming, of course, I actually get around to finishing them).

I’m not mad about it when an article on how to tighten up my blog posts or punch up my Medium headlines ends with a link to the author’s premium content. You know what? You go get your money, baby. (Although, I’ve shared elsewhere how likely I am to pay for premium online content.)

Premium-content pitches have become the highway billboards of blogging: ubiquitous and usually benign, but with the most flamboyant and obnoxious offenders turning away more people than they attract.

That’s why I was stunned and pleasantly surprised when a writer/blogger who’s making a living with his words took a few moments to give me something for free.

I can’t recall how I found out about Jim Woods’ “Finish Your Book” Summit, but I signed up for his mailing list anyway. I figured if nothing else, I’d receive some useful tips and encouragement. I had interacted a little with Jim on a Publishous Twitter chat (shout-out to #PubChat!), and he seemed like a good dude.

But I noticed something unexpected when I received a “welcome” email from his mailing list: Jim asked a question, invited the reader to reply, and promised a personal response.

Confession: I didn’t quite buy it. I figured, if anything, it would probably be a canned response that he had stored in his drafts folder to fire off, depending on the question. But, what the heck: okay, Jim, I’ll bite.

I wrote back with a question about the struggle with balancing family, work, and creative life. To my delight, Jim responded with an actual email. He provided some advice that was pertinent to my situation, and encouraged me to keep at it. And that was it. He dropped a link to his blog at the end, but didn’t try to up-sell me on anything.

In an industry and medium where writers and coaches must self-promote to survive, Jim Woods stood out by giving me 3 things:

  • He gave me his time. Sure, it was just a minute or two, but he made the decision to spend his time helping out a reader. I don’t know how many emails he gets, but I know that even with my minimal inbox traffic, it still takes me forever to respond to people, even my friends. (Also: Sorry, Mike. You should receive a reply by the time this posts.)
  • He gave me his word. It was right there in the email: if you email, I’ll respond. And when I tested him on it, he followed through. I’m reminded of all the times that I’ve told you, dear reader, that I’d post something at this or that time, only to show up, hat-and-excuse-in-hand, much later than promised. I appreciated that Jim said he would respond, and then did.
  • He gave me encouragement. He listened to my question, replied, and encouraged me to follow-through. On his website, he offers coaching for writers who want to finish their books, and I got a taste of that coaching in his correspondence, as he urged me to keep looking for inspiration to write.

These are all small things, to be sure, but meaningful and appreciated.

At the end of last month, I linked to Tim Denning’s Medium piece on building a following through giving. This is just another example of how that works. By just being a cool guy and taking a few minutes to write out a personal reply, Jim gained himself a new member of his digital tribe. Turns out, being a nice person pays off.

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Question: What is one way that a blogger/writer went the extra mile to earn your attention? Post that in the comments below!

 

#FridayFive — 08/24/2018

Five Medium stories to check out as you cruise into your weekend!

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I photographed the Charlotte protests. — Going through my old Medium bookmarks, I came across this series of photos from Sean Rayford, taken back in September 2016. The powerful and provocative images here, even this far outside their original context, serve to remind us that media narratives may be simple but reality is not.

The “Burner List” — In a day when everybody has a complex system for improving productivity, Jake Knapp simplifies things in a way that’s really helpful. You just need a piece of paper, a pen, and a basic knowledge of how kitchens work.

Stuck? Switch to Play Mode. — Another quick piece by Jake Knapp. This time, he suggests that the best way to break through mental blocks is to do something…fun? That’s crazy!

This 100-year-old Theater is Now a Bookstore — Here’s a little eye-candy for you bibliophiles. Places like this make my heart skip a beat, I’m not gonna lie.

She Was One of the First Black Women to Host a Television Show — Finally, here’s a fascinating slice of history from Ashawnta Jackson about the career of (unknown to me) 1950’s TV star, Hazel Scott.

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Your Turn!

Have you read any interesting stories online that you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!

#The4thDaveReads: Summer Round-up!

Hey y’all! I apologize for the radio silence over the last week or so. Between looking for freelance opportunities and helping take my baby sister back to college for the fall, I’ve been a bit overbooked! Suffice it to say, I’m happy to be back behind the keyboard.

Today, I’m back with some reviews of books I finished reading over the last 4-5 weeks. You ready? Let’s do this thing!

The Keto Reset Diet, by Mark Sisson — I’ve had more than a few conversations over the last 3 months about the weight-loss progress I’ve made. At first, I would simply say that I was following a ketogenic diet, but this resulted in more than a few blank stares. Sometimes, the person would respond, “So, like the Caveman Diet? Eating nothing but meat? Isn’t that unhealthy?” This would result in a much longer conversation than I’m sure my friend was really ready for, in which I would clarify what ketogenic eating means (low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein) and how it has been beneficial to me, even beyond the scale. At the end, I usually trail off when I start feeling like one of those obnoxious fitness-cult people, droning on too long about an obscure dietary approach.

More recently, my response to keto questions has involved my bringing up Mark Sisson’s excellent book. I usually recommend The Keto Reset Diet for 3 reasons: 1) Sisson begins by laying out the scientific ideas behind this style of eating; 2) the book describes a 3-week carb-reduction process that is really “pre-keto” so that people avoid diving into the deep end too quickly and burning out; 3) there are dozens of helpful starter recipes for those who want to start eating this way. If you’re interested in checking out the keto eating style, Sisson’s book may be a great introduction for you.

The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan — Bunyan’s allegory of the Christian life, written from the confinement of an English prison cell, is one of the top-selling English-language books of all time, and for good reason. This narrative of a sinner’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City is part adventure story, part catechism, part Scriptural exegesis, and part soul-care textbook. Generations of Christians have found Bunyan’s tale encouraging and challenging.

What many modern readers miss is that the story is actually written in two parts: the popular first part that follows Christian’s journey to glory, and the less-well-known second part, in which Christian’s wife (aptly named Christiana) and their four children follow in his footsteps and make the trek to Zion, facing a few familiar faces and dangers, as well as some new ones.

I’ve written about this second part of the story elsewhere, but suffice it to say, I really love this book. Nevertheless, I can understand how hard it may be to get through sometimes; there are sections that are plainly didactic, as the narrative grinds to a halt to allow the characters engage in theological discourse. However, I would encourage readers to push through, because (unlike another much-beloved Christian children’s allegory) the theology is sound all the way through and rewards thoughtful consideration. In some cases, it may not be a bad idea to pick up a modern-language update, if it’s your first time through the story. On the other hand, if you can understand the King James Bible, you shouldn’t have any trouble with Bunyan’s original text.

Pops, by Michael Chabon — There are certain writers that I’ve read and enjoyed in the past but can’t really connect with in the present. I think Michael Chabon has become one of those writers. I remember enjoying Wonder Boys and adoring Kavalier and Clay, despite moments where the author’s worldview clearly conflicts with my own. There’s no question that Chabon is a talented novelist, so I hoped I would enjoy his non-fiction work just as much.

Pops is a collection of personal essays that Chabon wrote for various publications over the last few years. Given that the volume’s underlying subject matter is fatherhood, I assumed I would enjoy this peek into Chabon’s thoughts about being both a son and a father. In the end, I really just stopped caring about either.

Throughout each piece, it felt like Chabon wasn’t so much writing about his experience of fatherhood, as signalling to the reader that he was being the right kind of father, raising the right kind of children. His attempts at self-deprecation felt forced, as if he knew he was supposed to play the “slightly-out-of-touch-but-still-hip dad” role but couldn’t quite sell it. The whole exercise just felt forced. Maybe I’m not in the right frame of mind or time of life to appreciate it, but I don’t care enough to revisit it later. Although it’s a short collection (barely over 100 pages), I had to push to finish reading it and was relieved to hit that back cover.

Side Hustle, by Chris Gillebeau — As I’m sure I’ve written before, self-help/productivity/motivational books are only as good as what you actually do with that information. Or, as Gillebeau says at the end of every episode of his Side-Hustle School podcast (highly recommended, for the puns if nothing else!), “Inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is so much better!”

This is extremely true with his fantastic book, Side Hustle. If you have an idea for a new business, or want to try to create some extra income during your free time, this book is a must-read. I’ve realized over the last week that some of the roadblocks and frustration I’ve been experiencing with my attempts to build freelance work is because I haven’t been applying what I read in the book!

In Side-Hustle, Gillebeau takes you through a 5-week plan for brainstorming, planning, and executing a side-hustle business. There are step-by-step instructions about process, questions to consider, and mistakes to avoid. Along the way, he demonstrates these steps with story after story of hustlers who found success by making smart choices and working hard. It’s an inspiring read, even if (like me) you’ve never considered creating a business for yourself. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you’ve got the itch to build something of your own.

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As you can see, my reading this summer has been quite varied. As for the next few months of #The4thDaveReads, I’m working on a few interesting titles:

  • The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott
  • Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley
  • The Thing Is, by Tony Payne
  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Prophets

I’m looking forward to discussing all of these with you in September!

Have a great Wednesday, and I’ll see you on Friday with another #FridayFive!

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Your Turn: What’s your favorite read from this summer (or any summers past)?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

The4thDaveReads: The AccelerateBooks Platform!

Unsuprising confession: I own a lot of theology books. In fact, I own a lot of theology books I haven’t read yet. Okay, possibly hundreds. I own possibly hundreds of physical and digital theology books that I haven’t read yet. (I say “possibly” because I haven’t bothered trying to count them.)

It’s my fault, of course. I’m easily distracted by the new and shiny, and my trusty, old To-Be-Read shelf waits patiently for my attentions.

Maybe you’re like me and you want to read ALL THE THINGS, all the time. You flit from book to book like a hummingbird, which is great for beach reads but not really useful for the weightier matters of theology. You think you can bop around with Calvin or John Owen? Get outta here with that noise.

Fact is, as disciples of Jesus who are seeking to grow in the faith, we want to absorb as much edifying truth as we can, but many of us don’t have a lot of spare time to do it. That’s where the good folks at Top Christian Books have stepped in to address that need with their new subscription site, Accelerate Books

The stated goal of Accelerate Books is to provide “a digital tool for Christian leaders designed to accelerate your learning through book briefs.” It was launched primarily with pastors and seminary students in mind, but can be useful and beneficial to anyone from lay church leaders to homeschooling moms to new Christians wanting to learn the core ideas of the faith.

For a monthly subscription rate of $11.99, Accelerate Books provides new summaries of Christian non-fiction books (mostly from a Reformed theological perspective) that can be read and digested in under 15 minutes. Each book brief gives a general overview of the book’s main thesis, highlights two or three main ideas presented in the book, and then summarizes each chapter in a sentence or two, along with some pull quotes. Some of the book briefs may include infographics, animations, or MP3s (features that the TCB team is taking their time to roll out, in order to ensure quality).

There are currently 9 books available in the Accelerate library, by authors like Tim Keller, RC Sproul, John Piper, and others. More titles are scheduled for release in the coming months, along with improvements and additions to the current selections.

While the program is still in the “beta testing” phase, and not all the features are operational at this point, it’s plain to see that the layout and design of the homepage and book briefs are clean, clear, and easy to navigate. As time goes on, the TCB team is sure to add even more value to the platform.

The question remains: Is this service is right for you? Well, that depends.

Accelerate Books is great for:

  • Providing “executive summary” style briefs of books that I don’t have the time or great desire to read slowly: This includes books that may have useful information, but aren’t high up on my list for whatever reason.
  • Determining if a book is worth diving into later: After reading the book brief for Voddie Baucham’s Expository Apologetics, I immediately put the book on my Amazon wishlist. From what I understand, this is not uncommon for Accelerate users. This platform provides a means of previewing future book purchases.
  • Quick absorption of information: Because each brief distills the book down to its core outline, you can quickly absorb the basic arguments and ideas at a glance. This is great for business/productivity books, but I’m admittedly a little unsure on how this works for theology.
  • Research/reference for writing: If you’re writing a manuscript or academic paper, you can find out quickly if one of the books in the Accelerate library applies to your point of study. This can allow you to skim the book’s main points or follow up with the full version for more context.

In short, Accelerate Books can be a very useful tool!

However, the platform does have some limitations. It may not be helpful with:

  • Absorbing devotional material: While Accelerate Books may be excellent for information transfer, it will not leave room for you to meditate on truth the way that a more thorough, thoughtful reading does. Moving slowly, even paragraph by paragraph, through a challenging text gives the heart more time to grapple with its ideas. If you’re anything like me, your online reading habits have been trained by hundreds of ‘listicles’ to skim over bullet points without stopping to chew on them.
  • Developing a fuller understanding of a topic: The summaries are just too short for that. If you’re wanting to really dive into, say, Sinclair Ferguson’s examination of the “Marrow Controversy” in The Whole Christ, the book brief will give you the bones of the discussion, but there’s not enough meat for you to come away with a deep grasp of the issue.
  • Working through more complex argumentation: Due to the nature of the briefs, in particular the reduction of chapters to a sentence and a few short quotes, I’m not sure this approach would be helpful for working through Calvin’s Institutes or the works of Edwards or Owen. Some books should not be distilled that much. (However, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Your move, TCB.)

Essentially, this format is helpful for quick reviews and busy readers but may not be able to stimulate extended thoughtful consideration.

Would I recommend the Accelerate Books service?

Possibly, if you have the means and you understand the limitations of the platform. I was given a membership in exchange for the review, and I fully plan on using it because the opportunity to “preview” books is valuable to me. However, when it comes to deep study or even devotional reading, I will return to the full version of the books–even if it takes me forever to get around to reading them!

If Accelerate Books sounds like a useful tool to you, you should click here for more information and to take advantage of their 7-day free trial.

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Many thanks to Accelerate Books and the folks at Top Christian Books, who generously provided me with early access and a lifetime membership, in exchange for an honest review. (I hope they don’t regret that.) The opinions above are my unbiased review of the resource.