#30ThankYous Day 2: Will Ledesma

Dear Will,

Okay, I admit, this feels a bit weird since I can (and should) just text you or call you. But I want to take the time to let you know how much your friendship means to me, and I think more people should know about what a legitimately good guy you are.

You started at OBU as a freshman when I was a senior, and thanks to our both being part of the Theatre Department, we were thrown together quite a bit during that year. You always seemed like a pretty cool guy, and I enjoyed getting to know you, but we didn’t really get close until later. I had come back to Shawnee during that first year after graduation, mainly to pick at some old emotional wounds, and over the course of the weekend, I got a bit more than I bargained for. I was frustrated, sad, feeling lonely, when you did something incredibly kind: you said, “Hey, have you ever seen Homestar Runner?” And we proceeded to watch internet videos for what I recall being a couple of hours. It was exactly what I needed at the moment.

When you and your wife moved down here and started your family, it was really a blessing to me. Getting to be your friend and hang out with you, even if only a few times a year, was and is a great joy in my life. Your friendship has been a source of encouragement to me, and inspiration. You are funny, patient, and kind. You love your family dearly and are willing to do whatever it takes to take care of them; that’s inspiring to me. You also love creating art and telling stories, and you have the utter courage to “ship” what you make instead of just talking about it, like I do. (I still think you should publish that novel.) And when you are able to bring your brilliant ideas into the world, you invite your friends to come play along with you, whether on stage or screen.

Over the last two years, you have poured your sweat and tears and money and time and sleepless nights into Presto! Fairy Tales and by sheer force of will (pun fully intended), you have created a family of characters and actors, not to mention a slowly-but-steadily-growing fan community. You did this, man. And it’s not because 50+ local actors are all that super-jazzed about obscure fairy tales. It’s because we believe in YOU, in your passion and your commitment and your love of story. You made us believe in this project, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.

I’m proud to be part of the Presto! family, and I’m even prouder, immensely prouder, to call you my friend. Thanks for being there for me when I needed it. I hope to be half as much of an encouragement to you as you are to me. God bless you, my brother.

–Dave

 

[Side-note to readers: If you haven’t checked out Presto! Fairy Tales, do us a favor and click the Youtube link above. Like, share, subscribe, and support an amazing project by a really quality group of actors.]

#30ThankYous Day 1: Dr. R.C. Sproul

Dr. Sproul,

There are theologians and pastors whose impact is appreciated but vastly underestimated in their own generation. I think that, in succeeding generations of Christians, you (along with your great friend, Dr. MacArthur) will be considered one of these luminaries.

For the record, I am a Baptist from birth (irony intended), so you’ll have to forgive my not having encountered your work until adulthood, but I am only now (after your passing) beginning to understand how much your ministry has affected not only my own Christian life but also other pastors and teachers who have consequently impacted my life. It is only now, by going back through the written and recorded archive of your work that I’m beginning to appreciate the mind and passion God gave to the Protestant church in you.

The thing that most strikes me about your life and public ministry, Dr. Sproul, is how clearly and palpably you regarded the holiness of God. Not long ago, I watched a sermon of yours from years back, in which you exposited Isaiah 6. The best word to describe the experience is “weighty.” You spoke of the glory and holiness of God as one who understood it intimately, and through your passion and gravity, I was confronted by it anew. It actually reminded me of Jonathan Edwards–how his devotion and sincere faith fell like thunder on his hearers, despite his reportedly mild delivery.

This is part of your legacy, Dr. Sproul. In your teaching and preaching, your hearers are reminded that the God who redeems His elect is a holy and transcendent sovereign King, and that His people must never take that lightly.

Even now, you are able to look with unveiled face into the glory you so long proclaimed, without fear or shame. I cannot imagine your joy.

I hope one bright and everlasting day, on the other side of the river, I can meet you and thank you for your faithful work. In the interim, I praise God for your example.

Your brother in Christ,

Dave

#30ThankYous

I’ve thought a lot about gratitude over the last few months.

Over the summer, I had a really surprising and moving interaction with an old friend of mine. I haven’t seen him in years, but I regularly listen to his podcast, and it was through the podcast that I learned he would soon be ending his show and moving on to a new phase of life.

It occurred to me one day that I really enjoyed his work but never stopped to tell him so. I sent him a quick email note of appreciation and wished him well on his upcoming marriage.

I was a bit shocked when he read my message “on air” on the next podcast episode and shared a bit about how we knew each other. He said some really kind things about me during those comments, and he indicated that my message came at an opportune time for him and gave him a boost.

I had no way of knowing how much a simple email would mean to him, though as I think about it now, I can understand it. I’ve been on the receiving end of unexpected kindnesses and have been moved deeply by simple gestures of gratitude.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how rarely gratitude is practiced these days, especially online. There are so many people who contribute little bits of light and truth and laughter to our lives, people whom we may or may not have met yet whose words and work and art mean so much to us, and we never let them know. We never take a moment to say thanks.

Well, I think it’s about time we change that, don’t you?

I hereby declare November 1st the start of “30 Days of Thanks.” (And yes, there is a hashtag: #30ThankYous.)

Every day during the month of November, I’ll post a “thank-you note” to or about a different person who has made an impact on my life. (No, not like Jimmy Fallon’s “Thank You Notes.” Sincere thanks, no punch-lines.) The list is wide-ranging: theologians, writers, family members, musicians, personal friends–people whose life and work have made a difference in mine. The person can be living or dead, and if they are alive, I’ll try to tag them directly when I post the note.

The goal of this project is two-fold:

  • It’s good for us to say “thank you.” By saying “thank you,” we are reminded that we are not the source of all the good in our lives; rather, we receive beauty and truth and joy and laughter as gifts, from the God who gives all good things and from the people around us who share what they’ve been given.
  • I want to highlight these people for you. Hopefully, there will be names on this list that you don’t recognize. Perhaps, through this project, I’ll be able to introduce some of you to the thinkers and writers and artists who bring me joy, so that you can learn about and appreciate their work as well.

While there’s a part of me that cringes at doing this publicly, rather than simply reaching out to these people directly, I think the greater benefit of telling others about these folks outweighs those concerns.

However, I don’t want to do this by myself. So I’m issuing a challenge to go along with this series of posts!

I’m challenging you to take part in this with me. Starting TOMORROW, post some thank-yous on your website or your social media feeds. Perhaps, get really crazy and send some emails or write some letters by hand! Tell your social (media) circle about 30 people who have been a blessing to you, and let those people know how much you appreciate them!

Tag your posts with #30ThankYous, and share links below in the comments. Let’s get the gratitude going early this year with 30 days of thankfulness for all we’ve been given!

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, NaNoWriMo Edition: 10/26/2018

aged antique classic keys
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, gang! 

Well, there’s (finally) a cool tinge to the air down here in Texas, which means the arrival of fall, the ramping up of football season, the near-availability of cheap Halloween candy, and of course the kick-off for  National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo)!

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a worldwide challenge to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. You can find more info here.

While I’m not participating this year (next year? Possibly…), I do have a slew of links to help you brainstorm for your NaNo sprints next Thursday! 

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Don’t Waste Your Words: How to Write A First Draft that is Crappy but Usable — If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo before, you know that the trick is speed, not polish. In this post, Jeff Goins helps those of us who try to perfect every line to get over that habit. He also gives a great basic definition of “planners” versus “pantsers” and provides some useful questions to consider, no matter which approach you take to planning your novel.

Start Writing a Novel Without Having A Clue What to Do — Another Jeff Goins piece, this time providing some useful starting advice about story, genre, and plot. He also links to Shawn Coyne’s “Story Grid,” which is a great resource.

I Wrote A Novel Entirely On Evernote — This post from the Evernote blog by Forrest Dylan Bryant is obviously meant to entice you to use Evernote. But you know what? I love Evernote, and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful for blogging and capturing story ideas. I even have half of a short story on there right now that I’m hoping to finish and share with you later this year. So, if you haven’t used Evernote before, this may be a helpful introduction to the program for you.

How to Construct a 3-D Main Character — A novel lives or dies by how interesting or compelling its protagonist is. This immensely practical piece from ProWritingAid gives you prompts to help flesh out your main character. I’m definitely going to be revisiting this post soon.

Losing NaNoWriMo is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing — You know I love providing counterpoints at the end of these lists. You may want to save this post from Mitzi Flyte in your back pocket in case you need it at the end of November. Let’s face it–cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days is HARD. And if you only get part of the way there but can’t quite reach the finish line, this post is a good reminder that a half-finished NaNoWriMo attempt does have its merits.

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There you have it–5 posts about NaNoWriMo and the craft of writing a speedy story.

If you found these helpful, I’d very much appreciate it if you would “Like” this post and let me know to keep providing content like this.

And if you are participating in NaNoWriMo yourself, let us know in the comments, so we can cheer you on!

Otherwise, I’ll see y’all next week!

Go See “Gosnell” This Week.

Gonsell_Facebook_Banner_820x462One of the descriptors that is thrown around too often when describing a work of art is “Important” (with a capital “I”). But I saw a movie on Tuesday that I would argue deserves that capital-letter descriptor.

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer is an independent film based on the harrowing true story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion provider in Philadelphia who was responsible for the death of at least 1 pregnant woman, along with the brutal death of at least 8 babies born alive during abortion procedures. This is a sensational news story that you may have never heard about, because as these true events were discovered and prosecuted, national media outlets were very slow to cover the details of the story.

And let me quickly add here: this isn’t simply a movie “about abortion” or merely an “anti-abortion” story. This is a story about women’s health, about the dignity of patients in a time of crisis, and the callous indifference of bureaucratic inaction in order to avoid controversy.

The film production is top-notch, especially considering the size of their budget. Some of the CGI effects were a little unrealistic, and a few of the minor performances were wooden, but on the whole, the acting and production values were excellent. As writer/producer Ann McElhinney stated in a recent interview, this movie is meant to have the feel of a Law and Order episode, so that the viewer is caught up in the story. I can confirm this; even knowing how it ended, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

I have to admit, though: while it’s not as graphic as it could have been, not by a long-shot, it is a hard watch at times. So use your judgment, if you are sensitive to the subject matter or have concerns about PG-13 language. And this is probably not a good movie to take younger kids to, though teenagers should be fine.

The film is an adaptation of McElhinney’s bestselling non-fiction book of the same name, covering the discovery of Gosnell’s crimes and the details of the case. Some of the names are changed, and some of the scenes are dramatized, but the most chilling, unbelievable details of this story are all actually documented and verifiable. Kermit Gosnell is, by all accounts, a legitimate sociopath who practiced abortions in Philadelphia for decades. He violated dozens if not hundreds of health and safety regulations and risked the lives of his adult patients, all the while under the protection of a Pennsylvania statehouse and health department that refused to enforce its own regulations against the abortionist.

Other writers have noted how the movie has fared in terms of media coverage (not much better than the actual case, to be honest). NPR refused to run advertisements unless the filmmakers removed the word “abortionist” from the ad copy. Facebook has removed advertisements and blocked posts for “offensive” and “political” content. Some have documented theaters suddenly pulling the film or randomly cancelling screenings. Nevertheless, the film brought in $1.8 million in its first week, good enough for #11 in the box office (despite showing on fewer than 700 screens).

More movies are opening in theaters every weekend, so if Gosnell doesn’t do a brisk business, it will be gone from the theaters very soon. It’s ironic that a cineplex currently full of make-believe monsters and Hollywood hauntings is crowding out a true story of actual human horror that has been largely ignored.

So here’s my challenge for you, dear readers: Go see Gosnell this week–tonight, if possible. And take your friends.

If you don’t see it soon, you’ll probably have to wait until it reaches home video. If you think this story deserves to be heard, support it with your dollars and your feet by heading to your local theater over the next few days.

In a world full of noise and “fake news,” this story about the dignity of human life and the darkness of the human heart is truly Important.

You can check out the trailer here. You can buy tickets through Fandango (not-sponsored) here.

Addendum: If you went to see Gosnell after reading this post, please comment below and let me know what you thought! And if you’ve seen the film already, I’d love to get your take on it in the comments, as well!

#FridayFive: 10/19/2018

blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

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.

“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you…”

“Do you think about me still? Do ya? Do ya?”

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down and started typing a blog post. The last few months…I don’t know. When it comes to this blog, I think I started out trying too hard to do it “the right way”–not writing, but “creating content,” not communicating but “building an audience.” And then it started feeling fake, so I pretty much stopped. My words dried up. I want to keep writing, but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it this way, you know? (And it’s not like I’ve been posting that much content, generic or otherwise. We both know I haven’t posted much of anything lately. Every time I sit down to write, I start getting all knotted up over it. Not writer’s block as much as writer’s rebellion. I’m not sure what my problem is.)

While working on something for a friend, I started digging through my past blog posts–I mean the early, early days of my blogs. Have you ever read diary or journal entries you wrote more than 15 years ago? Cringe-y is the word.

And yet, while I’m embarrassed by my emotional immaturity on display in those best-forgotten days, I was struck as I read the posts by how much fun they were to read. (No, I’m not humble-bragging or post-facto-bragging or any such thing.) It was just so clear that I loved writing. I loved writing blog posts, stringing together turns of phrase and pop-culture references and song lyrics. I was much more open and unvarnished and emotive. I bled on the screen.

I think I miss doing that, a little.

Things are different now. Times have changed. I’m no longer a young man in my early 20’s with a keyboard and a broken heart. I’m now a middle-aged man in my late 30’s, with a wife and a daughter and responsibilities–not quite where I hoped I would be by now, but getting there. At this stage in the game, I don’t need to be giving full-vent to my spleen in this format. I’m an adult. I need to act like one. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to treating blogging like a public diary–that’s what Xanga is for. (Any of you kids remember Xanga? No? Just me? Okay.)

(No, I don’t actually have a Xanga. Actually, I think I did at one point years and years back, but the log-in has been long forgotten.)

[What was I on about? Oh yeah.]

I haven’t posted anything “from the heart” since mid-July, it looks like. And who knows, maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s what you readers want: that I should stick to book reviews, interesting-link aggregation, a bit of this and that about writing and freelancing, and some Bible study blogging. Maybe that’s why you’re here, really. Maybe that can be enough.

What I’m getting at is this: the blog is just starting to feel a bit shallow to me. I don’t want that to be the case, but I’m not sure if or how I should change that.

Maybe nothing ultimately changes. Maybe I just need to start writing more and trust that it will start feeling natural again. I don’t know.

I’ve been wanting to say something to y’all for a few weeks, but I kept waiting for some great idea to kick me back into gear. The idea never came.

Here’s the update from my side of the screen: I’m busy with work, with church, with life stuff. I’m still putting off creative work that I am a bit too afraid to really commit to finishing, but even more afraid of giving up thinking about. There are a dozen things right now that need attention in my life and I’m constantly having to assess and reassess which priorities are most important.

But I miss talking to you, gang. So I’m checking in to let you know I’ve been thinking ’bout you (ooh na-na-na). And I hope you think about me still.

Happy October.