The4thDave Reviews: “Competing Spectacles” by Tony Reinke

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In a culture wholly driven by the moving image, we feed on spectacle every moment of the day. We are awash in the blue glow of screens almost from the moment our eyes open in the morning, until we collapse into sleep at night. While a library of books has been written about the good and bad (mostly bad) of a digital or image-driven culture, there have been considerably fewer authors in the last half-century who have focused on the deeper spiritual ramifications of constant spectacle.

In recent months, I have enjoyed (and discussed) books by Andy Crouch, Cal Newport, and Senator Ben Sasse, regarding the need for distance and perspective when it comes to digital media, but these arguments have been overwhelmingly pragmatic and relational. As I noted in my review of Digital Minimalism, I was keenly aware of Newport’s lack of spiritual perspective; that is, he had a good sense of the effect of digital obsession on the mind but no sense of how it bends the soul.

This is why I am thrilled to recommend Tony Reinke’s latest work to you: Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.

In Competing Spectacles, Reinke fills in that missing piece in the important discussion of screen addiction and digital distraction by focusing on the cumulative effect such diversions can have on our spiritual life and growth.

In this follow-up to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Reinke examines the prevalence of “spectacles” in our culture, and how spectacle saturation affects the spiritual appetites. The good news is, he doesn’t simply take the anti-tech position of “screens bad, stay away!” Rather, in the first section of the book, Reinke examines the nature of spectacle in several facets of cultural life, the power that spectacles have on us, and the way our appetites for such entertainment are developed.

In the second section of the book, Reinke considers what Christianity has to say about spectacles–particularly, which spectacles can and should capture our eyes and minds. This section really sings, as he applies the transforming truth of the Gospel gently but directly to our tendency toward amusement and distraction.

Near the end of Part 2, Reinke provides “Summations and Applications” that help the reader think through how we can put these truths to work in our hearts and daily lives. He concludes with a beautiful vision of what happens when our gaze is rightly fixed on a Spectacle worth observing.

Throughout the book, I was struck by by Reinke’s eloquence, recalling the proverb about words fitly spoken being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” Had I been reading a paper copy, there would be several sections with entire pages highlighted, underlined, and starred. Once in a while, I had to just stop for a moment to appreciate a perfectly crafted sentence. Reinke outdid himself in the mechanics and construction of his prose in this book.

Final Recommendation

In the very first chapter, Reinke calls Competing Spectacles “a theology of visual culture,” and the description is apt. This isn’t just a book about screen time and self-control, social media addiction and the degradation of societal decorum. This book is inherently and blessedly theological in scope, and as such, it fills a glaring gap in this important discussion.

I heartily recommend Competing Spectacles to all my readers, and particularly those who (like me) have been wrestling with the effect of digital media and entertainment on their hearts. This book should be part of every Christian’s library, where it can be revisited from time to time for reconsideration and reflection.

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Note: I have been provided an advance copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are entirely my own.

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/13/2019)

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Happy Wednesday, friends! What can I say, I can’t bear to stay away too long. 

I don’t have anything specific prepared for today, so I figured I’d provide a little “This is Where I Am Right Now (TIWIARN)”-style update.  Brace yourself for the hail of bullets!

  • My current season of work is uniquely challenging. There have been times when the vibe around the office has been pretty light, pretty loose. The current atmosphere is…decidedly not that. Nevertheless, we persevere. I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and have had opportunity to put their personal discipline and leadership principles into practice (thinks like “taking ownership,” “prioritize-and-execute,” and “simplify”). And if that sounds like cubicle-jargon…well, whatever, man. It’s useful to me. All this to say, work has been a beast, and my lunchbreaks have become times to shut off my brain for a bit (usually watching Youtube or reading fiction). The downstream effect of that is that I’m not writing as many posts during that mid-day break. Sorry.
  • Man, I am LOVING this #52Stories project. I’ve got notes on 5 or 6 stories that I’m going to turn into posts soonish, but just the actual reading has been a joy. Plus, as I had hoped, it’s getting my brain clicking on some short-form ideas of my own. At some point (the procrastinator said), I’ll share the fruit of that brainstorming with you. But for now, just know: this project was a great idea. (Though not an *original* idea; check out Jay’s yearly “Deal Me In” Challenge! Dude has been killing it for YEARS!)
  • Interesting and providential confluence of events: the Houston Chronicle’s heartbreaking series on sexual abuse and cover-up inside Southern Baptist churches, coming just one month after I become an elder in my Southern Baptist church. Needless to say, I see addressing this issue as a serious and urgent responsibility. While I’m not aware of any concerns in our church, I’m also not naive enough to think something awful *couldn’t* happen. We have plans and policies in place to vet our children and youth workers, but we can always do more. If you know of any good resources for churches who want to do more to prevent abuse, drop it in the comments or shoot me a message in one of my other feeds. I’m happy to read and learn so I can serve my church family well.
  • Married life is great. We’re coming up on five years in June, which itself is amazing to me–it seems so much shorter, and yet longer (in a really good way). It’s becoming harder and harder to remember daily life before marrying H. She’s so much a part of my day to day, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She has my heart.
  • Not only that, but our little baby isn’t so little anymore. She’s 18 months old, talkative, fearless (climbs on EVERYTHING!), and a sweet kid. She’s also getting a head start into the “terrible twos.” We need prayer, y’all. Kidding aside, this little girl–ugh. She’s my delight.
  • I will try to post something on Friday, but realistically, my next post may be Monday. Lots going on. Thanks for hanging with me.

Quick round-up of my “currently’s”:

  • Currently watching: Life Below Zero on Netflix — a BBC docuseries about people who live near or above the Arctic circle in Alaska. FASCINATING program about what it takes to live in such an unforgiving environment. The language is often harsh, and the footage itself can be unflinching when it comes to hunting/trapping for subsistence and survival. My wife discovered this one, and I started watching it with her pretty early on. This is the only TV show I’m watching these days. I lost interest in what’s currently on network TV–which is probably for the best, to be honest.
  • Currently Listening: My favorite Pandora channel lately is “Coffee Shop Covers” because I am a SUCKER for good covers. My favorite track on there right now is “Wish You Were Here” by the Milk Carton Kids. At work, if I’m not listening to podcasts, I’ll listen to video game soundtracks as background music–today’s selection was Assassin’s Creed, I think, but SimCity is my usual go-to.
  • Currently Reading: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin; The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; and a bunch of short stories!
  • “Currently” Playing: When I have a little bit of extra time once in a while, I fire up my SNES Classic. I’m about halfway through Super Metroid and a few hours into The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (my favorite video game of all time, I think). “Extra time,” however, is becoming more and more scarce.
  • Currently Thinking: Oh yeah! I have coffee brewed. See y’all later!

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What’s going on with you? Anything cool happening that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below!

 

#FridayFive: Five Books I Finished in January (2/8/2019)

Happy Friday, y’all! I’m back with five books that I finished reading (or listening to) in January. Hope you find something you might want to check out soon!

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Somewhere A Band is Playing, by Ray Bradbury

I’ve already written about this a bit. Technically, this was one of 2 novellas by Bradbury, published under the title Now and Forever (along with “Leviathan ’99,” a futuristic take on Moby Dick). After finishing Band, I wasn’t eager to keep reading Bradbury’s later work, so I stopped with the first novella. That said, if you like light science fiction, Somewhere a Band is Playing is a pleasant-enough diversion (though you could do better, especially with Bradbury).

The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch

This short hardcover volume by Andy Crouch is a must-buy if you have any concerns about how you and your family engage with technology. Crouch details ten commitments that he and his family seek to follow, so that they can learn to be more in control of their relationship with technology and social media. I appreciate that the author is also honest about how successful he and his family are at keeping those commitments. Using a large amount of research from the Barna Group, Crouch describes the typical family’s use of technology and helps the reader think through the potential dangers of its “easy, everywhere” promises. This is a book that I’m still thinking about, weeks after finishing it, and I encouraged my wife to read it as well, so that we can discuss how it may influence our household.

Them, by Senator Ben Sasse

In some ways, Senator Sasse’s book Them reminded me of Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage–a warning that life is more than politics and that we need connection and community to help address cultural issues as individual citizens. While Sasse is a professing Christian, what he proposes is not a theological solution as much as an ideological one: make the decision to see people who disagree with you politically as neighbors and fellow citizens, and work for their good as well. (Could you make the argument that you can’t do that well or effectively or for long without Christianity? I think so, but that’s not what he’s getting at in this book.) Sasse makes some pretty pointed observations about how our national conversation has become fragmented and fractured, and make suggestions about what we can do to try to shift course. I listened to the audiobook (read by the senator) and enjoyed it immensely. He gave me lots to think about and discuss with others. His chapter on political media and the monetization of outrage is stellar. He also suggests pulling back from overuse of technology by not only referencing Tony Reinke’s excellent book 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You but also talking through Andy Crouch’s commitments from Tech-Wise Family. In other words, my favorite senator and I have a similar reading list. I wonder if he likes short stories…

All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson

This short-but-deep volume by Puritan pastor Thomas Watson is a 125-page meditation on one of the most misapplied verses in the Bible, Romans 8:28. However, in All Things for Good, Watson slowly considers each phrase (almost each word) and encourages the reader to meditate at length on God’s sovereignty and kindness. This was a rich and rewarding read, that I consumed a few paragraphs at a time before bed over several weeks. Just a page or so gave me enough to think about in the few minutes before I drifted off to sleep. As someone who struggles with nighttime anxiety, I can’t think of a better cordial (other than the Scriptures themselves) for soothing my worried heart.

Family Shepherds, by Voddie Baucham

I am reminded that there is no greater earthly role for me to take on than husband and father. Voddie Baucham’s excellent book Family Shepherds is a direct and bracing charge to men to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. In the book, Baucham looks at the man himself as a disciple, what it means to be a shepherd, the primacy of a man’s marriage in how he leads his home, how he should raise his children (with both formative and corrective discipline), and how he engages the world as a family shepherd. If you don’t know Voddie, I can’t recommend his preaching and speaking highly enough. Add this book to the list, especially if you are a Christian man who is or aspires to be a godly husband and father. In a culture that is currently debating the value and place of masculinity, it is imperative that Christian men seek to portray and exemplify Christlike leadership and care for their families, and so let their light shine.

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What have you read so far this year? Share your recommendations below in the comments!

#FridayFive: Five Book Series I Loved in Grade School (1/11/2019)

Happy Friday, friends!

As I’ve said repeatedly, I was blown away by the Wingfeather Saga series of books last year. (Have you read those yet? Seriously, what are you waiting for?!?) They are the kinds of books I would have loved as a young reader–funny, playfully-written, just a bit scary, and full of heart.

Speaking of which, here are 5 series of books I *did* get to enjoy in my younger years. (And I’m going to purposefully leave off the Chronicles of Narnia series, because that’s pretty much a gimme, right? Lewis’ masterwork was my all-time childhood favorite, so let’s leave it aside.)

While there may have been more books or series that I would call “favorites,” these are the books I look back upon with a deep and abiding fondness:

The Hank the Cowdog Series, by John R. Erickson

I can’t tell you how many of these books I ate up over the years. Erickson created two of the great children’s book characters in the eponymous Hank the Cowdog and his trusty (but cowardly) sidekick, Drover. These two ranch dogs are duty-bound to protect their master’s cattle ranch from such terrifying threats as mysterious noises, unusual smells, and the occasional vampire cat. There are DOZENS of these books, and I’ve probably logged most of them in my time, thanks in large part to my old church’s huge lending library. I had the double-joy of listening to the audiobook versions of these stories, and if you get the chance, you really REALLY need to do the same. Many of the stories include original songs (which are a HOOT), and if I were pressed, I could probably recall a few of those tunes, more than 25 years later. Just a delightful series of books.

The Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald Sobol

For kids who liked a good puzzle, Encyclopedia Brown was the jam. This pint-sized Sherlock Holmes would be face with a mystery of some sort, and would use the powers of deductive reasoning to solve the case and find the culprit or the missing whatever-it-was. The thing I loved about these books was that the story would reach a point where EB would be able to solve the case, and then you (the reader) would be asked by the narration if you figured it out, too. The solution would then be revealed at the back of the book on Page __ , where you could flip to see if you were right. (Confession: I was never right.) This series of fun short stories was perfect preparation for enjoying Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics later in my school-aged years.

The Cooper Kids Adventures, by Frank Peretti

I’ve talked about my love of Peretti’s writing before, but this series was how I became acquainted with his work. This brother and sister duo traveled with their archaeologist father around the world, discovering all sorts of mysteries and facing various middle-grade-appropriate perils. These books also fed my fascination with exploring ancient civilizations (fueled by a viewing of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” if I recall). I haven’t read these books since middle school, but I have a hunch I would still enjoy them.

The Spirit Flyer Series, by John Bibee

Obviously, as a fan of Narnia, I enjoyed some on-the-nose Christian allegory. This series (which I always thought of as the “Magic Bicycle” series, since that was the first book!) by John Bibee brings straightforward Christian allegory into a modern setting, with a group of heroic kids taking their stand against a diabolical corporation called Goliath Toys (diabolical in a “controlled by dark forces” way, not a “capitalism is bad” way). They face these spiritual foes with the help of some old magical bicycles that contain secret powers and abilities to help their owners overcome the darkness. The allegory is painfully obvious in some ways, but there was also something charming about it. Certain books in the series were quite thrilling and some of the imagery was striking. This series may be worth giving a spin if you’re into Christian middle-grade fiction.

The Archives of Anthropos series by John White

Okay, this is a really deep cut, but I discovered this rarely-discussed fantasy series when I was in fifth grade. I happened upon the first book in the school library and was blown away by the adventure it contained. While these stories are very similar to Lewis’ Narnia (apparently, this was the author’s intention, since his own children loved Narnia) and begin in an almost identical way (siblings discover an enchanted commonplace object that becomes their portal to another world), I remember them taking a decidedly different turn into a more classic fantasy plot. I’m surprised to discover (thanks to the power of The Internet!) that I may have never actually finished the series! I only remember four volumes, but it looks like there are 6 on Amazon! This may require a re-read, then. Hopefully, they still hold up! (They probably won’t, but one can hope, right?)

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There you have it: 5 children’s series that still hold a warm spot in my heart. If you haven’t read these, and are looking for something fun to enjoy and perhaps share with a younger reader in your house, these would be a great place to start.

Your turn: What books or series did you love as a child? Share your picks in the comments!

My 2018 Reading List and Top Five Favorite Reads of the Year!

Happy New Year’s Eve, friends!

The end of the calendar year means a look back at my 2018 reading, so I present for your consideration my 2018 reading list!
January

  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Pentateuch

March

  • A Little Book About the Christian Life – John Calvin
  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Historical Books
  • The World-Tilting Gospel – Dan Phillips
  • The Gospel According to Jesus – John MacArthur
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – Andrew Peterson (audio)

April

  • North! Or Be Eaten – Andrew Peterson
  • The Monster in the Hollows – Andrew Peterson

May

  • The Imperfect Disciple – Jared Wilson
  • The ESV Reader’s Bible: Poetry
  • S. – JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst
  • Sing! – Keith and Krysten Getty
  • The Warden and the Wolf King – Andrew Peterson

June

  • Real Artists Don’t Starve – Jeff Goins

July

  • Finish! — Jon Acuff
  • Smallville Season 11 Vols. 1 and 2 (Guardian and Detective) –Various
  • God at Work – Gene Veith
  • American Assassin – Vince Flynn
  • The Keto Reset Diet – Mark Sisson
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress — John Bunyan
  • Pops – Michael Chabon

August

  • Side Hustle – Chris Gillebeau
  • ESV Reader’s Bible: Prophets

September

  • Fantasy Life — Matthew Berry

October

  • From Death to Life — Allen Nelson
  • Day of War — Cliff Graham
  • After the Fire — Will Hill
  • ESV Reader’s Bible: Gospels and Acts
  • The Exemplary Husband — Dr. Stuart Scott
  • What is Reformed Theology? — RC Sproul

November

  • Wingfeather Tales – AP, ed.
  • Elevation – Stephen King
  • ESV Readers Bible: Epistles and Revelation

December

  • Illusion – Frank Peretti
  • Katharina and Martin Luther – Michelle Derusha
  • Why the Nations Rage – Jonathan Leeman

Totals: 37 volumes (6 volumes of Scripture, 14 fiction titles, 17 non-fiction titles)

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My Top Five Favorite Reads of 2018

(For the record, I’m not counting the Bible in this list, for obvious reasons. Just assume I enjoyed that greatly.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson — I don’t know if there’s anything else I can say that I haven’t said already. This fantasy series is an absolute delight to read and I commend it to you most heartily. (And to be fair to the other books, I’m counting all 5 in this first slot.)

Day of War, by Cliff Graham — I grew up reading historical/Biblical fiction, and Graham’s books should rank among the best of the genre. This first volume of Graham’s “Lion of War” series is a first-rate adventure, and his battle sequences are as thrilling as any in fiction.

What is Reformed Theology? by RC Sproul — This classic volume from the late and much-missed Dr. Sproul is a must-read for anyone who is studying Reformed theology or wants to understand the “Doctrines of Grace” better.

Side-Hustle, by Chris Gillebeau — I have to admit, part of the reason I am including this one is because the podcast that it inspired is a regular listen for me. Gillebeau provides practical direction for anyone wanting to start a side-business, and includes lots of interesting stories to inspire and challenge new entrepreneurs.

The Keto Reset Diet, by Mark Sisson — My final selection is this must-read volume for anyone looking into the ketogenic diet. I’m giving it a slot on this list particularly because I’m about to reread it, as I get back on track with my eating and exercise in the coming weeks. If it’s worth revisiting, it’s worth recommending.

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Okay, friends–your turn! What were some of your top reads of 2018?

Let us know in the comments below!

DNF: 4 Books I Gave Up on in 2018

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

In my younger years, I would NEVER give up on a book halfway-through. I can only think of 2 books I tried to read before I was 18 that I chose not to finish because I was offended by the content or language.

When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the misguided notion that it was somehow wrong or bad to quit reading a book if it didn’t interest me or I didn’t have time. It took me a few years, but I finally came to realize that life is too short to slog through books you don’t care about reading.

So this year, while I have finished most of the books I began reading, there have been a handful of books that I started but decided not to finish for one reason or another:

  • The Loneliness of the Black Republican, by Leah Wright Rigueur — I may actually come back to this one at some point in the future. The premise intrigues me, since it challenges the unspoken assumption that all African-Americans do or should or must support the Democratic Party. However, the book is written at a pretty high academic level, and when I tried to read it back in February, I was not ready to keep up with Rigueur’s rigorous analysis. After struggling for about 30 pages to follow her initial arguments, I threw in the towel. She won’t catch me off-guard next time.
  • Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero — I figured this premise was a winner: A group of kids who became locally famous as a detective team (like the Scooby Doo gang) are haunted by something they discovered during their last case years ago. Now adults, the surviving members of the team (and the ghost of the non-surviving member) return to a haunted lake where a mysterious evil lurks–and it’s not just an old man wearing a monster-mask. And yet…it didn’t work for me. To be honest, it could have, but some of the narrative choices the author made bugged me, as well as the way he wrote some of the adult characters. I got about halfway through the book and realized I wasn’t having nearly as much fun as I had hoped, so I cashed in my chips and moved on.
  • The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, by Zachary Petit — This is a helpful field guide from the good folks at Writer’s Digest about the ins and outs of freelance writing, particularly in the world of print and online short-form content creation. The style of the book is funny and light, and the information looked really helpful, but I realized after about 70 pages that it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up this fall. I had been gathering information about how to juggle side-work while keeping my day job, but since I wasn’t doing content creation, it wasn’t a good fit. I think it would be a great resource for anyone who’s entering the freelance writing market, so it’s worth checking out if that’s what you need.
  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, by Jaron Lanier — You’re probably thinking that I didn’t finish this book because I am deep in the throes of social media addiction. Well, you’re… Look, you’re not wrong, necessarily, but that’s not the reason, okay? As it happens, right before I started this book, I was listening to an episode of the podcast “Table of (Mal)Contents.” The hosts were discussing books that “should have stayed a blog post or TED Talk”–popular (and sometimes best-selling) titles that are basically an inflated repackaging of earlier content, puffed up by repetition or illustration to reach “book” length. Well, I don’t know if Jaron Lanier gave a TED talk about deleting social media, but this 150-page book felt about 120 pages too long. It’s not that he had bad ideas, or that he was necessarily wrong. The book was just thin. After the first 2 or 3 chapters, I skimmed the rest of it. Other than some cheap shots at political parties and politicians he disagrees with, Lanier doesn’t provide anything groundbreaking here. (In fact, if you would actually like to watch a really good TED talk on the subject of quitting social media, this talk by Cal Newport is excellent.)

I think there have been a few more, but these are 4 books that I checked out on, this year. (Note: I didn’t include the handful of books that I’m still reading and just didn’t quite finish before entering 2019. I’ll add those to my 2019 reading list!)

What about you? Are there any books that you decided to quit reading this year? Or are you the type of reader who perseveres no matter what? Let me know in the comments!

Taking Suggestions…

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hey gang! Just popping in to ask for your help with something. 

I mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds yesterday that I have this crazy idea to read 100 short stories next year and write about them. I may do posts about some individually or write blog posts that respond to several in batches–I haven’t decided yet. But I want to expand my experience in the short fiction realm!

I’ve gotten a bunch of recommendations so far, but I wanted to widen my net and get recommendations from as many people as possible.

So here’s my question, faithful reader: What is your favorite short story ever, or one that you think every person should read–and why?

Put your recommendations in the comments below! Thanks!

Currently Reading: 12/19/2018

 

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

I don’t have any new book reviews to post this week–my reading progress has both  slowed down and scattered this month! So instead, I decided to update you on my “in-progress” reading list, with minimally-spoilery reviews of each book on my nightstand:

Illusion, by Frank Peretti — It has been years since I’ve read a novel by Frank Peretti, so when I looked up his recent work, I was intrigued by the premise of this 2012 release. In Illusion, Dane and Mandy are a married professional magician duo enjoying the twilight of a successful career together, when they get in a deadly car crash, killing Mandy and leaving Dane broken and struggling to move on. Meanwhile, a young woman who appears to be Mandy from 1970 (having all her same memories and thoughts) suddenly finds herself in present day, with no memory of how she got there. I’m around 100 pages into the story, and I’m quite enjoying it. Peretti is a great writer, and his pacing and characterization are keeping me engaged. There are some hints of a science fiction explanation for this mysterious scenario, but I have no idea where the story is going or how it will resolve. At any rate, I’m enjoying the ride.

Katharina and Martin Luther, by Michelle DeRusha — In the last few years (since getting married, I suppose), I’ve become curious about the married life of different figures in church history. There isn’t a marriage more famous (or infamous) in the Protestant church than that of this former monk and runaway nun. I was excited to dive into this story and find out more about the home life of the bombastic reformer and the hospitable homemaker. I’m about halfway through this book, and I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. There’s not a lot of substance here about the Luthers themselves. It’s not the author’s fault, either. There is almost no documentary evidence directly from Katie Luther or specifically about her. DeRusha spends several pages on general information about the conditions for women in the Reformation era, fills in some gaps about the Luthers from secondary sources, and generally assumes what Mrs. Luther might have been thinking or feeling. The general history aspect is interesting, but this book feels like a bait-and-switch. The information DeRusha provides may have been better served as part of a broader book on the home life of the Reformers, rather than an entire book that is too narrowly focused and awkwardly padded.

How the Nations Rage, by Jonathan Leeman — I’m not quite halfway through this book, which examines the intersection of Christian faith and public politics. While I have mixed feelings with some of Leeman’s points, I’m finding several points that are helpful in framing the discussion of if and how my Christian faith directs my function as a citizen of this republic. I thought his point about the falsely-presumed “neutrality” of a pluralistic society was particularly observant; specifically, Leeman suggests that a “secular” culture is inherently religious, but that the amorphous nature of secular “religion” prevents it from having to abide by the same restrictions that formalized religion faces in the public square. I look forward to engaging further with his ideas.

Gospel Eldership, by Robert Thune — I’m being considered for a lay-elder position at my church, so I’ve started working through this material with another one of the elders. I’m not very deep into it, but I appreciate the seriousness with which Thune addresses this topic, as well as the fact that this book is designed to be interactive. There are not only discussion questions but also practicum sections with blanks so you can write in your answers to the questions the author raises. I’m looking forward to benefiting more and more from this in the next few weeks!

Them, by Ben Sasse — You may love him or hate him, but right now, Senator Ben Sasse is the congressperson I most respect. I appreciate his remarks on the state of conservatism and partisanship, in a time when American politics are becoming more starkly tribal and fragmented. In this vein, Sasse wrote Them, a book about addressing the tribalism of American culture through a focus on community involvement, understanding, and mutual respect. I’m only a chapter or so into this one, but I’m interested to hear what Sasse has to say. However, I have noticed already that Sasse’s focus and approach is (predictably) horizontal and thus may fall short of fixing the root issue–a malady that needs a Great Physician. Perhaps reading this along with Leeman’s book can help me think through this subject in a more well-rounded way.

All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson — Every Christian should try to read the Puritans on a regular basis. This short but very dense tome is a meditation on Romans 8:28, and the truth that, for the follower of Jesus, all things (good, bad, or otherwise) work for their good because God is in control of all things and directs them for the ultimate good of His children. I have been reading this book a page at a time, right before I go to sleep. I do this for 2 reasons: first, it’s often difficult to digest more than a few paragraphs at a time, since there’s so much to unpack; and secondly, this gives me something true and good to meditate upon as I fall asleep. (If you don’t do this, I would recommend it highly, especially if, like me, you struggle with anxiety at bedtime.)

The Spurgeon Study Bible (CSB) — Last month, I finished reading through the hardcover ESV Reader’s Bible, so I decided to begin my next read-through of the Scriptures by using a study Bible. My sister and brother-in-law gave me this beautiful “Truth for Life” edition of the Spurgeon Study Bible for my birthday. I’ve never read the updated CSB translation, so this seemed like the perfect way to do so. I love the insight gleaned from Spurgeon’s notations on the text. I would recommend this resource for people who are considering a new Bible for personal reading and study. I’m still firmly in the camp of using the ESV for teaching/preaching since it’s a more literal translation, but I am enjoying the CSB’s smoothed-out wording and helpful notes in my personal study and meditation.

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I *think* that’s all the books I’m currently reading. It’s no wonder I haven’t finished any books recently–I keep starting new ones! Hopefully, I can carve out a bit of time to read over the next week or so, in order to add a few more titles to my “2018 Reading List” (which I will share on January 2nd!).

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re reading these days! Feel free to post your “Current Reads” in the com-box below! See you on Friday!

The4thDave Reads: My Fall Book List!

It’s been a while since I’ve done capsule reviews of the books I’ve read in recent months, so here’s a recap of the other books I read this past fall! Hope you enjoy it!

Fantasy Life, by Matthew Berry:  As I wrote in my thank-you note, Matthew Berry is one of my favorite sports writers, particularly when it comes to fantasy sports. Fantasy Life is a collected and expanded compilation of his reflections on his life as a fantasy sports analyst, the twists and turns that his career and personal life have taken and what he’s learned from that, and a whole slew of stories from his readers about the crazy up’s and down’s of the #FantasyLife. I enjoyed the book, for the most part; no surprise, given how much I enjoy Berry’s style. However, I was a little frustrated by how often he decided to go a bit off-color with the stories he shared. It doesn’t surprise me that fantasy sports fans do really foolish and even crass things when friends, money, and booze is involved, but I really don’t need to hear about it–frequently. So, with that said, if you are interested in reading more about fantasy sports, I say stick to Berry’s columns at ESPN.com (where the company standards rein in some of the inappropriate humor).

Day of War, by Cliff Graham: I grew up reading a lot of historical fiction, and particularly historical Christian fiction, but I don’t think I ever read a book like this one. This is the first book in Graham’s Day of War series that follows the exploits of King David and his “Mighty Men.” In this novel, Graham focuses on the events recounted in the last few chapters of I Samuel. The author acknowledges in an introductory note in the volume that writing Biblical fiction is a challenge, because the author must “flesh out” sections of the stories, including conversations and events that aren’t explicitly described in the Scriptural text. However, Graham assures the reader that he sought to stay faithful to what had been revealed, and I thought he did a good job of that. The battle scenes are detailed and exciting, and Graham doesn’t shy away from describing combat graphically and effectively (meaning, if you’re squeamish, you may want to skip a few pages here or there). This was a gripping story that I had a hard time putting down, and I look forward to continuing the series in the future.

The Exemplary Husband, by Dr. Stuart Scott: I’ve read a lot of marriage books and a good number of books regarding Biblical manhood. What struck me about Dr. Scott’s book is how deeply and unashamedly Scriptural it was. It seemed like almost every paragraph was followed up by a Bible text to support it. In this volume, Dr. Scott begins by focusing on the husband’s relationship with God, rightly arguing that a man who does not have a healthy relationship with God will have trouble loving and serving his wife as Christ loves the Church, giving Himself up for her. After spending a good deal of time focusing on the husband’s relationship with God, Dr. Scott turns his attention to the qualities of an exemplary husband, and builds this vision of a godly husband on the qualities of Jesus Himself. Finally, Dr. Scott examines the duties and responsibilities that a husband has to his wife and children. This book is probably the best book on marriage and “husbanding” that I’ve read in years, if not ever, and it’s definitely one I plan on revisiting. I read it very slowly the first time and still think I need to spend more time digesting the rich truths that were presented.

Elevation, by Stephen King: Confession time–Stephen King is one of my guilty-pleasure authors. For some reason, his style and rhythms just work for me, and I enjoy his bizarre storytelling, even if he consistently caricatures Christians as hucksters and hypocrites. It has been a few years since I’ve read any of his new stuff, so I grabbed this slim volume (practically a novella) based on the cover copy. Elevation is the story of a man who discovers that he’s becoming lighter–not that he’s losing weight, but that gravity is slowly losing its grip on him, along with anything he happens to be holding. While it’s a fun, light premise (no pun intended), what I didn’t realize until I started reading the book was that this lightness is quickly ruined by a heavy-handed message of tolerance and acceptance. Once again, those benighted Christians (and Republicans! gasp!) are at fault and have to be taught a lesson. And as much as I have enjoyed King’s books in the past, this one just became deadly dull. It’s like the last 15 years of American politics have sucked all the creativity out of him. I stuck it out to the end of the book because it was short and the plot featured a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot (I was reading it the day after I finished my own race). But if it had been 400 pages instead of 150, there’s no way I would have kept going. Life’s too short for preachy, holier-than-thou fiction, gang–no matter who’s writing it.

ESV Reader’s Bible: Gospels and Acts / Epistles and Revelation: I’m happy to announce that, for the first time in my life, I have read the entire Bible within a calendar year. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do this! What a blessing it is! As I’ve said before, I loved the format of the ESV Reader’s Bible, as well as the tactile pleasure of using it–the volumes felt wonderful to handle and read. The hardest part of reading the New Testament in a “reader’s Bible” format, sans chapter-and-verse designations, was that my mind kept trying to find its place and recognize where I was in each book. (“Okay, that’s the beginning of Chapter 5… There’s Chapter 6…”) I don’t think you can be too familiar with the New Testament, but that familiarity became a bit of a distraction from the reading itself. I’ll also admit that my excitement to finish sometimes caused me to read too quickly; more than once, I had to go back and pick up the thread because I realized I was just running my eyes over the lines and not really taking it in. Now that I have finished the Reader’s Bible read-through, I’ve started back at Genesis, using a Spurgeon Study Bible with the CSB translation. Suffice it to say, the experience is still great but VERY different, and I’m trying to go much more slowly and soak up all I can!

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That should get us caught up to speed. Hope you found one or two books above that you want to check out yourself! I’ll keep you posted on any books I finish by the end of the year, as well as my complete 2018 reading list, in a future post!

Your Turn: Have you read any good books this fall? Share your recommendations/reviews in the comments!

I’m already starting to build my reading list for 2019, and would love to hear your suggestions!

The4thDave Reads: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson
North! Or Be Eaten, by Andrew Peterson
The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson
The Warden and the Wolf King, by Andrew Peterson
Wingfeather Tales, by various authors (edited by Andrew Peterson)

(You can find all these books here! And that’s not an affiliate link, either; I get nothing from it. I would just love for you to support these writers!)

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Friends, I’ve been waiting for months to tell you about this series of stories!

Here’s the Backstory: It’s become a family roadtrip tradition for my wife and I to check out a few audiobooks from the library before we travel. So, back in March, as we prepared to head east to visit my in-laws, I happened to see that the first book in the Wingfeather series (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness) was available on audio. I had heard that Peterson was a good writer, so I decided to take a chance on it.

Y’all, I was not disappointed. 

We finished the first book just before we arrived at our destination, and were eager to keep going, but the audio of North! Or Be Eaten wasn’t available for download. Thank the providence and generosity of God, we stumbled upon a used (and signed!) copy of Book 2 at a second-hand book shop there in town, for less than $2! By the time we had arrived home, we had begun asking friends from church if we could borrow the others, and eventually were each able to finish reading the series proper. A few months after that, I read Wingfeather Tales, a collection of short stories and novellas by multiple authors that take place “in-universe,” and was again surprised by how vivid and powerful these stories are. What a delight it is to visit the world of these books!

Enough Build-up! What’s The Series About, Dave?

I’ll try to give you just enough, because I’d hate to spoil any of it. So, here’s a bare-bones description:

The Land of Aerwear (sounds like “There we are!”) lies under the scourge of invasion and occupation, as the vile forces of Gnag the Nameless have crossed the Dark Sea of Darkness and now hold the people of Skree and surrounding lands under their scaly thumbs. It’s said that Gnag won’t rest until he finds the legendary Jewels of Anniera. Bands of sinister Fangs holds sway in the villages and lanes as an occupying force, and only the grown folks can remember a time before, when the true kings and queens reigned from the Shining Isle of Anniera. Meanwhile, a trio of siblings (Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby) are doing their best to stay out of trouble and avoid any tussles with the Fangs, so as not to worry their dear mama or Grandpa Podo.

But this is a fantasy-adventure story, so you can expect that trouble is about to find them, and turn their world upside down. Though they don’t realize it, theirs is a story of monsters and dragons, battles and intrigue, magic and mystery, prophecies and bloodlines, heartache and courage.

And that’s about all I can tell you safely.

So, You Liked It, Then?

I’ve said this a few times, and I think I still stand by it: in terms of world-building, storytelling, plot, and heart, I think The Wingfeather Saga surpasses even the sainted Narnia books. 

That’s right, I said it. Yell at me in the comments, if you want.

Peterson masterfully combines the rich world-building of Tolkien with the child-like accessibility of Lewis. While he may not have gone as far as to create entire languages for his story, he does develop a bizarre and playful assortment of flora and fauna to inhabit this world he has created. In some ways, it’s a bit similar to J.K. Rowling’s use of details and description to flesh out the world that her characters inhabit. The result is an immersive reading experience.

These are perfect books for families to read together. They are written in short, punchy chapters (perfect for bedtime stories, I would think). The dialogue is crisp, the characters are well-developed, and while there are some plot elements that can be predicted, others will absolutely surprise you. It may be a touch too scary for small kids, but perfect for grade school and up.

Another excellent quality of these books are the Christian allusions and subtext that is present but not preachy, artful rather than artificial. These are unquestionably Christian stories, but they are not evangelistic in nature–and that is in no way a back-handed compliment. The Wingfeather books aren’t allegories with 1:1 theological correlations; they’re fantasy books that are grounded on Deep Truths, which shine brightly if you have the eyes to see them.

My Recommendation

If you’ve never read these books, here’s my recommendation: Take the leap and buy the full set. Just trust me on this. Make it a Christmas present to yourself or someone you love.

If you have fond memories of Middle-Earth, Narnia, or Hogwarts, I think you will love sailing the Dark Sea of Darkness (watch out for dragons!), skulking around Digtown, or tromping through the Green Hollows. In fact, I suspect you’ll want to revisit this world again and again. (And once you have enjoyed the series, go back and read Wingfeather Tales, which acts as a sort of Silmarillion to the main story.)

I can’t say enough good things about these books. Go check ’em out.