The New Copernicans- a review


“You know somethings happening but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones” – Bob Dylan “Ballad of a Thin Man”

Though Bob Dylan penned those lyrics in the 1960s, it is a sentiment that has proven true for many an author/ pastor/ business guru et al. that has sought to explain millenialism. Though the perspectives and reasons for trying to understand millenials have varied, there has typically been one trait common in these “Mr (and Mrs/Ms.) Jones; they aren’t millenials nor do they seem to know millenials. Continue reading


The Nazarene Pastor’s Record Player

monk record player

This post is a review of the recently released The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966 by Robert Hudson. I feel the need to give a shout out to the Borgers and their excellent blog/ book store who first brought my attention to this work. They can be found here . It appears that they have sales pretty regularly, and they do well to blog about books that you mightwant to check out! Lastly they let you pay by check after they send the books! Who does that?!

Continue reading

You’ll never believe the outrageous thing Rob Bell says in Chapter 7!!


A few weeks back I had a post of mine “go viral” so to speak. I had preordered a book and upon receiving it in the mail, I took a picture of the book and said simply “I am excited to read this Rob Bell book.” 80 comments later I was surprised to learn so many had an opinion of what I do or do not read, especially since most of the book reviews  on this blog average around 5 readers a post (props to my mom and my wife). Continue reading

Theology in Outline: Can these Bones Live


A few years back, I met with a good friend over coffee to talk theology and just catch up on life. He was reading Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology at the time and had just finished Mclendon’s Systematic, shortly before that. He threw in some philosophy and Jonathan Edwards to the mix, and I felt ill prepared for this conversation. All I had read as far as Systematic Theology up until that point was Robert W. Jenson’s 2 part Systematic, a work that I loved and was rereading again at the time of our meet up. Continue reading

Dietrich Bonhoeffer A Biography

A few weeks back I had a routine Doctor appointment. I mentioned in passing a slight discomfort in my lower right abdomen. The doc pressed into said sore spot and feared the worst; appendicitis (read in same tone as the old gingivitis commercials for added affect). I went to the hospital and after many more nurses, doctors and even my own mother made it a point to poke the area of pain, it was confirmed that I did indeed have appendicitis. Pro tip to any of you that may one day in the future have appendicitis: I recommend you make a shirt or a sign that states , “Yes it hurts when you do that, so don’t!” if it prevents one unneeded prod, it’s done its job.

An appendectomy followed, and I found myself with ample free time during the healing. I decided with this free time to tackle a book that I have long hoped to read but have been intimidated by, Dietrich Bonhoeffer a Biography. Now it wasn’t the subject of said book that had me intimidated but rather the length of the book. Coming in just under 1,000 pages, it is a mammoth work,, but with ample healing time on my hands I decided now was as good a time as any.

The book was fascinating. Written by one of Bonhoeffer’s former students and closest friends it opens up the world of Germany in the turn of the century and up through World War II. Bethge seeks to tell the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian from a well to do family who took a stand against Hitler during the rise of National Socialism. Bonhoeffer resisted Hitler on two fronts, first as a leader of the Confessing Church; a church that was formed after the State church adopted the Aryan clause and failed to stand against the mistreatment of Jews. Bonhoeffer spoke at conferences, wrote drafts against the church, and eventually taught a group of confessing church pastors at Finkenwalde, a preaching seminary. Along with being a leading voice in the confessing church Bonhoeffer also became part of a conspiracy to remove Hitler from power. Working with his brother in law, Dohanyi, Bonhoeffer used his role in the Abwher to pass along information regarding the conspiracy to leaders in London and Switzerland hoping that after Hitler was removed peace could be found. The plan took many forms. The conspirators gathered evidence of Hitler’s cruelty to prisoners of war and even had Karl Bonhoeffer (Dietrich’s father) draft a letter questioning the sanity of the fuhrer, hoping that a legal case could be brought against the leader disposing him from power in that way. As those plans fell through a plan was eventually formed to assassinate Hitler. First they attempted to kill him by planting a bomb on his plane; the bomb failed to detonate. Next they brought bomb into a meeting with Hitler; this bomb did detonate. It, however, did nothing more than blow his pants off and make him feel immortal.

It drives me crazy that I am 500 words in to this post and have barely started to say what I hope to. I suppose that’s why Bethge’s book is nearly 1000 pages. I have confessed before my fascination with Bonhoeffer. Reading this book only reinforced and deepened that fascination. Bethge made it a point throughout the text to not just share details of Bonhoeffer’s life but to also explore Bonhoeffer’s writings and expound on his thoughts and theology. This excited me, and in turn caused my reading list to grow.

The resistance to Hitler makes for a story that compels most, but in fact I am equally impressed by Bonhoeffer’s theology and works (The two should be understood together). We ought be challenged by his ideas of “Cheap Grace” ( see Discipleship), community (Life Together) and his fascinating exegesis of Genesis 1-3 in Creation and the Fall. I can’t hope to come close to covering all that deserves to be said about what Bethge covers in this Biography but I will close this post discussing a few of my highlights.

Bonhoeffer spent some of his early formative years in New York, and he was struck by the racism towards the African American community. One of his fellow classmates invited him to an inner-city black Harlem church, and he spent his time there teaching Sunday school. It was there that he learned to love the Negro spirituals that he would later teach his students at Finkenwalde. The racism so unsettled Bonhoeffer that he wrote his brother Karl-Friedrich who had preceded him in visiting America by a few years about the issue. His brother agreed, citing the racism as the cause for turning down an offer to teach at Harvard, he wanted to be sure that neither he nor his children would be associated with such a societal shortcoming. Karl Friedrich went on to say about Germany in 1931

“In any case our Jewish question is a joke by comparison; there won’t be many people who claim they are oppressed here. At any rate not in Frankfurt…” (Bethge, 151)

I don’t know what Frankfurt (my birth town coincidentally) looked like in 1931, but I do know that they were just a few years removed from atrocious acts against the Jew.

I wonder why it is that we are better equipped to analyze the faults of other countries while missing the issues in our own. In our own day I think of how the immigrant has become fodder for politicians to score points on; they are an easy scapegoat for the economy and crime issues. Meanwhile, as the church, I think we would do well to remember that “we were once strangers in a strange land,” and throughout Scripture there is a clear mandate to care for the poor, the widow and the sojourner (immigrant). I think too about the unborn, who are killed for the sake of convenience and medical research. Recently I heard a priest say that “it is impossible to do a vice virtuously”. I couldn’t agree more and pray daily for the unborn.

Bonhoeffer spent time before his teaching assignment at Finkenwalde visiting different seminaries and church communities taking notes and shaping his own ideas of community formation. In one of those communities they recited Psalm 119 daily, a practice that he would continue for years. This struck me because for one Psalm 119 is looooong, but also because I have for the past few years been drawn to the Psalms, amazed by their ability to shape and speak to me. Bonhoeffer has a book titled Prayerbook of the Bible. It reflects on the Psalms, and I intend to read it soon.

In Germany the state and church were intimately linked. They were so close, that as the National Socialist party came into power they had the ability to appoint bishops and affect church policy. This led to the Aryan clause being adopted and the church in essence becoming a propaganda tool for the state. As a result, there were many who thought to be a good Christian was to be a good German, to support the Fuhrer, to turn their eyes from the awful things happening, and worse to participate in such atrocities. This is unsettling and Bethge proposed that Bonhoeffer avoided this trap because;

“Within this vocation he eventually achieved a very personal relationship to the church of Christ. This led him away from nationalistic tendencies and brought him into the ecumenical realm” (Bethge,xv)

It is my hope that we as the church might be so captivated by an image of God’s Kingdom that we can distinguish between the state’s vision and God’s vision. We must be vigilant to not become a propaganda arm of the government as we care for the widow, the orphan, and sojourner as ambassador’s of God’s kingdom come.

In closing I hope to share briefly the character and impressiveness of Bonhoeffer. One prisoner who met Bonhoeffer in the lowest point of his life said this of the great man of God

“He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom his God was real and ever close to him.” – Payne Best (Bethge, 920

In the end I think that is how Bonhoeffer ought be remembered as a man close to God who through his leadership and convictions stood tall during one of history’s darkest times.

I said earlier that Bethge’s book is loooooong, crazy long; and I don’t imagine many of you have the time to work through 1,000 pages on him. However in conversation with Theologian W. Travis McMaken (an author I happened to have reviewed previously in my blog) he did me the favor of recommending this biography Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel by Renate Wind. It comes in under 200 pages, and if McMaken recommends it than I feel comfortable doing so as well.

I hope to soon teach a class at the church on Bonhoeffer or one of his works. Keep tuned to the blog for an upcoming review of The Work of Theology by Stanley Hauerwas.

until next time –

The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth – W. Travis McMaken

Let it be know up front, if you have come to this blog hoping to discover what the “W” in W. Travis McMaken’s name is, you have come to the wrong place. For whereas this book proved to be informative and challenging in many ways, it left the reader to wonder “what about that W?!”.  I can only imagine I have lost half of my readers at this point, the mystery remains, but for those of you left I would like to write a quick review of this book; which, spoiler alert- was very good.

I am not a neutral spectator on the issue of infant baptism, I myself was baptized as an infant into the Catholic church, and both of my daughters have been baptized as infants into the Nazarene church, infant baptism is a practice I support and encourage. That being said, I am also a fan of Karl Barth, I am slowly working my way through his Church Dogmatics, and have read scores of authors influenced by Barth or directly responding to Barth (Some of those texts I have read recently include Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Reoccupation by D. Stephen Long, and The Witness of God by John G. Flett, both challenging and illuminating texts that have increased my desire to dive into Barth further).

My support for infant baptism and my appreciation of Barth has had its issues. To my dismay Karl Barth takes a rather intense stand against infant baptism going as far as to say

To all concerned: to theologians, for unfortunately even theology has not yet realised by a long way that infant baptism is an ancient ecclesiastical error; to Christian congregations and their pastors; to Church leaders, presbyterial, synodal or episcopal; to all individual Christians , however simple, let it be said that they should see to it whether they can and will continue to bear responsibility for what has become the dominant baptismal practice, whether they might not and must not dare to face up to the wound from which the Church suffers at this genuinely vital point with its many-sided implications…

Long, D. Stephen (2014-02-01). Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Preoccupation (Kindle Locations 5776-5784). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

Long is quoting Karl Barth from Church Dogmatics 4.4.

An ancient ecclesiastical error?! That stance seemed so Ant-Barthian to me, what of this man of Revelation, so powerfully speaking God’s role into our lives?!

Insert W. Travis McMaken’s work, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth. This book had me hooked by title alone; it appeared to be a text that would support my frustration with Barth and give me scholarly clout to back it up. I had all kinds of ideas for what I wanted this book to be. To my surprise and delight, it turned out to be none of these things.

Rather than summarily dismissing Barth’s stance on infant baptism as I was hoping McMaken would do, he decided to take seriously Barth’s stance and theological objections to the practice. McMaken explores Barth’s “No” to sacramental infant baptism, and Barth’s “No” to covenantal infant baptism, placing them in context and showing their consistency with Barth’s Soteriology and views on covenant. Where I hoped Barth’s stance was nothing more than an odd opinion, he held at the end of his life; that hope was quickly dismissed by McMaken as he quoted Eberhard Jungel’s insight on the matter:

“The doctrine of baptism is . . . not an appendix to the Church Dogmatics, but rather . . . a test -case.” Consequently, anyone who “wants infant baptism should not seek nourishment for the pulpit from Barth’s doctrine of election. . . . It is one or the other— one must decide for oneself.” [149]

McMaken, W. Travis (2013-08-01). The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth (Emerging Scholars) (Kindle Locations 919-922). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

I wanted Jungel to be wrong, and in fact I contacted McMaken on twitter after reading that quote early in his book hoping he would laugh it off as a fault of Jungel’s. Instead, that insight seemed to help shape the book as McMaken explores Barth’s stance as just that, a test-case.

Included in McMaken’s work are a few excursuses (I looked up the plural of excursus on Google, Word Hippo may have led me astray) that engage Scriptural texts and Barth’s interpretation of them. These excursuses are fascinating and challenging as they started to make clear to me my desire to outright dismiss Barth’s stance may indeed be foolheaded. I found myself explicitly convicted of this when I read the following quote towards the end of McMaken’s second excursus.

But those who dismiss Barth’s position on the assumption that his exegesis is less than convincing have not yet grasped this nettle. Their cavalier dismissal of Barth on this point says more about their own theological presuppositions , which they bring to the biblical passages in question, than it does about the quality of Barth’s exegesis or the exegetical support for his doctrine.

McMaken, W. Travis (2013-08-01). The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth (Emerging Scholars) (Kindle Locations 2050-2052). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

Now a fascinating testimony to the quality of this work is that whereas this book was nowhere near what I expected it to be; I could hardly put it down. The book was great. McMaken has a familiarity with Barth that I can’t help but envy. His research and in depth scholarship shine throughout the text, and ultimately he prods the reader on with a well written book that pushes beyond Barth’s conclusions only after faithfully placing the reader into the context in which Barth formed his stance.

If this book was what I hoped it would be; a dismissal of Barth’s stance on infant baptism and an apologetic for the practice, than the church wouldn’t benefit from the very sound critiques that Barth brings to our practice of baptism. McMaken allows the critiques of Barth to shape a more robust and more faithful theology of infant baptism that places it into “a lifetime of catechesis about which the church must be intentional” (Ibid, 268).

I don’t want to spoil the text and flesh out all of the suggestions McMaken posits, but I do want to highly recommend this book as a helpful and challenging resource on the very important topic of infant baptism.

Tolkien- How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century: A Review

Let it be said up front – if you think this text is a biography of Tolkien you’re likely to leave disappointed. However, if you read this text for what it is, the tale of how Tolkien came to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, then you will find a great read, full of interesting tidbits and striking biographical connections between the life of Tolkien and the world he created.

Tolkien was my first encounter with the author Devin Brown though a quick Google search showed me this was not the author’s first foray into Tolkien, having already written a book titled The Christian World of the Hobbit. Further, it appears that he also teaches a class on Tolkien and CS Lewis at Asbury. His comfort in the world of Tolkien shines through this book as he makes connections that might otherwise be missed and speaks at times of Tolkien as if he knew him. I appreciated the knowledge and perceived comfort that Brown brought to this topic. It made the text very readable and easy to recommend to a wide audience.

I received a review copy of Tolkien, had it read, and reviewed it within a day. The book is under 200 pages and is a very quick read. For some this will be a point of frustration as certain aspects of Tolkien’s life that are covered in this book have the reader wanting to know more; Brown however stays on point using the skeletal biography given to serve as a means of better understanding of how the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings came to be. Reading this work left me wanting to know more about Tolkien, and for that I credit Brown.

After reading this book, I was left with a hope to read a biography about Tolkien and hope that Brown has one in the works. What I can say is that Brown did well to write a book that in topic alone could have easily been bogged down and esoteric and instead wrote an approachable text that this reader enjoyed immensely.

I struggle as a reviewer to know what tidbits to include from the text. The brevity of the work tempts me to tell the reader of this review to just purchase the text and read it themselves. There are fascinating peeks into each phase of Tolkien’s life from the tragedies of his childhood and the loving care of Father Francis, to his struggles as a student more interested in teaching himself ancient Finnish and other explorations of philology than studying for upcoming exams. Though the text is short, there is a lot to be gained from reading it. I find myself, though I read the works of Tolkien not long before, wanting to reopen them and take a journey through Middle Earth.

If you have read and loved Tolkien’s works like myself and so many others, than I recommend this text. It is well written and a great peek into the mind of a great author.

Sabbath as RESisTance

27 Then he said,“The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.- Mark 2:27 CEB

I think the above Scripture reference is one of the more familiar texts of the Bible. Unfortunately it’s familiarity doesn’t equate to an understanding of this saying of Jesus. Often it’s quoted by a would be Biblical scholar as a defense or justification for his or her upcoming Sabbath plans. The ambitious Bible quoter often fails to appreciate the context in which Christ made this quote and further seems to think that this passage ought be the starting point for a discussion of Sabbath rather than seeing it as a qualifier that it is. Now this is not to say those who quote this passage are completely off, and in fact there is value to considering Christ’s words on the matter, for they do serve to avoid legalism that can too easily befall this particular commandment. The fact is that many (myself included) could use a reeducation on Sabbath.

In comes Walter Breuggemann with his recent text Sabbath as Resistance.

Now before I  jump into a full review of this work, I want to say a quick word about the author. I first encountered Breuggemann in a class called Pentateuchal Narratives. His commentary on Genesis from the Interpretation Commentary Series was assigned reading. Now I had never read a commentary front to back up until that point and honestly hadn’t put it on my bucket list; this work proved to be an exception. The Interpretation Series was intended to be an accessible commentary for preachers, and indeed that proved to be the case in the Genesis Commentary along with accessibility it contained profound insight from Breuggemann and great engagement with the Old Testament as a whole.  In fact, in Breuggemann I found a scholar very comfortable in the world of Old Testament narrative. His comfort was contagious and sparked in me a new passion for the Old Testament.

I later read An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Old Testament, Word Militant: Preaching a De-Centering Word, and Prophetic Imagination. Each reading experience further endeared me to Brueggemann, for his works challenged and stretched me to find home in ideas like covenant, resistance to empire, and remembering the God that delivers.

When given the opportunity to read and review Sabbath as Resistance, I was eager and happy to oblige. The text was short and sweet, ringing in just short of 100 pages. It was an easy read and a great introduction to this scholar and his great mind. The book is six chapters long: the length of the week leading up to the Sabbath and also coincidentally the perfect length for a Small group series. I decided to pattern my reading after the week starting chapter one on a Monday and finishing chapter six on Saturday ( the original Sabbath); I then allowed Sunday to be my Sabbath. This proved to be a great week of reading and reflection. I would encourage it to any that may decide to read this work.

For Breuggeman, the Sabbath is “the “crucial bridge” that connects the Ten Commandments together” (Brueggeman, Loc. 128-129, Kindle). Working along that premise, Breuggeman structures his book starting with Sabbath and the first commandment and finishing with Sabbath and the tenth commandment, with each chapter in-between dealing with the varying modes of resistance that accompany a proper keeping of Sabbath. This structure is agreeable and keeps the reader engaged. I’ll let the reader discover how Breuggeman connects Sabbath to resisting coercion; it is powerful.

This text is primarily concerned with resisting the culture of consumption which can never be satiated nor satisfied. For the Israelites, their burden was brick making that Pharoah might build more storage for grain he had in abundant supply. For us it is a pursuit of a dream. In both situations there remains an illusion of satisfaction. I remember as a child laughing at the cartoon horse that would endlessly chase the carrot on a string dangled out in front of it. What a silly horse. He’ll never be satisfied!

horse carrot

   Maybe a carrot wouldn’t tempt us but perhaps a $20 dollar bill?

I think that horse would have company with us as we endlessly chase more; more money, more stuff, more acceptance.

Brueggeman shows that the restless ways of our world lead to a need to over produce.The over production leads to over consumption (We made all this stuff come buy it!) The need to get more to make more to do more leads to anxiety and eventually the anxiety finds expression in violence.This is a rather dire situation but not one without hope.

Sabbath provides rest from restlessness, reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways (Thank God!), and gives us tangible resistance to an insatiable system that we are freed from.

Brueggeman provides clarity on an oft muddled commandment, a commandment that ought have a loud voice in our anxiety riddled society.

I encourage you all to check it out!

I read too much… an explanation

Wordsmiths, we are. If preachers are to be good talkers we must first be good listeners and voracious readers – William H. Willimon, “Pastor” p.147 


Those of you who know me know that you will rarely see me without my Kindle or a book in hand. For most of my life, it has been this way. I love to read. There was a time, however, where I lost this passion. As a theology major in college, reading wasn’t much of a choice, and the assigned reading at times seemed overwhelming. It wasn’t the subject matter nor the texts; my professors assigned good reads. I think it may have been the due dates and reflection papers that came with each text that began to turn me off to reading. In my own twisted logic, I figured if I didn’t finish the book then I wouldn’t have to write the reflection paper. It was genuinely a source of anxiety and stress. With pages of assigned reading, I couldn’t dare justify leisure reading, and so came an odd pause on reading in my life. Most instances I would cram read the assigned texts the day before they were due and turn in sub-par reflection papers (assuming they were turned in at all). I began to hate reading ( 12 hour cram session are hardly a way to fuel a passion). This was a crisis moment for me. A passion of mine was being squashed, and I wasn’t sure what to do. 

The answer came in the oddest of places. One of my professors shared a quote from Henri Nouwen, I don’t remember the quote or the text that it came from, but I remember it resonating with me deeply. I went out shortly thereafter and picked up the text Wounded Healer a short but powerful book Nouwen wrote in the 70’s. Mind you I was breaking my own rule doing this:  “No leisure reading until you finish your homework!”. In spite of my rule, I began to read The Wounded Healer and I loved it. Without the paper to write afterwards or the deadline looming, the book was a joy to read, and in fact it relieved me greatly to see that reading was still enjoyable. Reading could still be fun. Rediscovering this in turn eased my anxiety to assigned readings. I found that as long as they were complemented with readings of my choice, reading assignments were manageable and in fact enjoyable again. The solution to my “overbearing” reading load was to read more.  

That brings us then to the title of this post and in fact this blog. “I read too much.” Now I don’t really think that I read too much, but I do feel that I could benefit from some written reflections of my readings.

I don’t like to write. I was very sick in the 4th grade and I missed the lectures on sentence diagramming. As a result, my grammar is awful (some may find that to be a stretch but that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it). So I write this blog that I might reflect better on what I have read, but beyond that my goal is to share my passion of reading with those that might read this blog. 

I hope to review newer books that publishers give me the opportunity to read, and also in between those “assigned” texts I will write reviews of my greatest hits in theology, sharing my thoughts and reflections on the books that have shaped me most in my development as a pastor, husband and father. 


Up next is a review of Walter Brueggeman’s Sabbath as Resistance.  Check back to read my response to this great author’s work.