Review: Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church
Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael A.G. Haykin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is a wrong way to read this book, and that is to read it as a collection of biographical sketches. Instead, it should be read as a collection of lessons pertaining to specific points of orthodoxy as they were understood and taught by church fathers. This structure works well if you identify it before you read – which I did not. Accordingly, extra care should be taken to determine the thesis of each chapter ahead of reading. While the theses are clearly stated they are not necessarily conspicuous if you are not looking for them.

Haykin’s mastery of the subject-matter is clearly demonstrated in how he is able to teach church history while edifying the Christian at the same time. While this book is not a “page-turner,” it is exceedingly readable for someone who is “rediscovering” (or even discovering, as I was) the Church fathers. It works well as a true introduction to patristics.

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2 Blogs I Have Bookmarked

Bryan Garner on Words by Bryan Garner

Bryan Garner is an lexicographer and authority on English-language grammar and usage. He is the editor of Garner’s Modern English Usage which is in its fourth edition and is the author of a number of books including this one which he co-authored with the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His monthly article published by the ABA Journal is excellent and will benefit everyone, not just professional writers. Articles include , “The Question of Voice: How to bring a more conversational style to your writing and Parenthetical Habits: On the use and overuse of parentheses and brackets. Even if you only write emails, you should read Garner. He’s a great twitter follow as well.

Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok.

Marginal Revolution is an extremely popular economics blog co-authored by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, both of whom are professors of economics at George Mason University. Posts are mostly brief, usually containing an excerpt from an article or blog post published elsewhere with a brief comment from Cowen. It’s a economics focused blog but everyone will find something they like. Cowen’s “Assorted Links” posts contain a smattering of interesting links from the day like this one explaining why trees don’t want to touch each other and and this article on the National Valet Olympics. Also, the comments section isn’t completely useless.

3 Books To Read In 2018

I read my age  in books (32) in 2017 and I hope to at least match that in 2018 (here are three tips that helped me get there and here are three of the best books I read). I don’t have a full reading list for 2018 but I do have three books on my radar.

  1. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse

From the flap:

“We’re often told that the United States is, was, and always has been a Christian nation. But in One Nation Under God, historian Kevin M. Kruse reveals that the belief that America is fundamentally and formally Christian originated in the 1930s. . . .

Provocative and authoritative, One Nation Under God reveals how an unholy alliance of money, religion, and politics created a false origin story that continues to define and divide American politics to this day.”

  1. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt

I thumbed through this 980 page behemoth at Costco – where else? – and knew it was for me. It appears to explain the science behind many different cooking techniques in what appears to be fairly comprehensive way.

From the flap:

“Kenji shows that often, conventional methods don’t work that well, and home cooks can achieve far better results using new―but simple―techniques. In hundreds of easy-to-make recipes with over 1,000 full-color images, you will find out how to make foolproof Hollandaise sauce in just two minutes, how to transform one simple tomato sauce into a half dozen dishes, how to make the crispiest, creamiest potato casserole ever conceived, and much more.”

  1. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis by Michael Ward

This book may not be for everybody, it may not even be for me, but it intrigues me enough that I will give it a go. It comes highly recommended by people who like it.

From the flap:

“For over half a century, scholars have laboured to show that C. S. Lewis’s famed but apparently disorganised Chronicles of Narnia have an underlying symbolic coherence, pointing to such possible unifying themes as the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins, and the seven books of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. None of these explanations has won general acceptance and the structure of Narnia’s symbolism has remained a mystery.

Michael Ward has finally solved the enigma. In Planet Narnia he demonstrates that medieval cosmology, a subject which fascinated Lewis throughout his life, provides the imaginative key to the seven novels. Drawing on the whole range of Lewis’s writings (including previously unpublished drafts of the Chronicles), Ward reveals how the Narnia stories were designed to express the characteristics of the seven medieval planets – – Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn – – planets which Lewis described as “spiritual symbols of permanent value” and “especially worthwhile in our own generation”. Using these seven symbols, Lewis secretly constructed the Chronicles so that in each book the plot-line, the ornamental details, and, most important, the portrayal of the Christ-figure of Aslan, all serve to communicate the governing planetary personality.”

I need more books for my list so put some recommendations in the comments or @ me on twitter.

3 Tips For Reading More

I just stumbled upon this post by Joel Miller offering “10 Rules to Read More Books This Year.” It is a good list but, in my opinion, ten rules is overkill. Here, I will offer the three most important “Rules” I implemented last year to help me read my age (32).

1. Keep Track

I use goodreads to log all the books I read. It lets me record a starting and ending date and, thanks to a recent update, lets me log multiple reads for a single book. I can also rate the book on a 5-star scale and write a review. As Joel Miller states in the article linked above, “When my list of completed titles is short, I want to read more. When it’s long, I get a surge of pride and excitement and want make it longer.”

2. Incorporate Audiobooks

If you only do one thing to read more this year, make it this thing. The key here is listening without significant distractions. The format doesn’t work well if you constantly have to go back and re-listen to the previous paragraph. I listen primarily while I’m mowing my lawn (or doing other yard work) or while I am driving long distances. I also always listen to books at 1.75x- 2x speed. If you’ve never done this it will take 15-30 minutes to get used to but after that you won’d notice the speed.

If you have a library card, I highly recommend using Overdrive. It’s an app that allows you to rent and download audiobooks onto your phone for free. The selection is limited by what your library carries but it’s free. There’s also audible” which allows unlimited listening for a monthly fee.

3. Read The Right Books at the Right Time

One of the main reasons to have multiple books of multiple genres going at the same time is so that you can match the appropriate book with the appropriate setting. I don’t read philosophy on the couch wile my kids are climbing all over me and I don’t read young adult fiction during the most productive reading time of my day (yes, I OCCASIONALLY read YA fiction). I read the heavy stuff when I’m alone and have large chunks of time and the light stuff when I have a few spare minutes amidst the chaos.

(bonus tip)

4. Don’t Take Notes

If your goal is simply to read more, don’t mess around with notes and underlining and recording all the best quotes. It will slow you down and you probably will never go back and read your notes. You’ll be surprised at how much you retain by simply reading.


3 Books I Read In 2017

I read 32 books in 2017 which are logged on my goodreads page. You can go there and see my ratings for each and my reviews of some. If you don’t use goodreads to log and review books I highly recommend it especially for those of you who have a resolution to read more in 2018. Here, I’d just like to highlight three of the better books I read in 2017 in no particular order.

  1. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

“If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

The Great Divorce is the story of a man who dies and finds himself on a journey into Heaven. Along the way he overhears many conversations between others on the same journey who are struggling to let go of their sinful pride and earthly desires in order that they may continue on the journey. The style of this book is very similar to The Screwtape Letters and will similarly convict and humble the reader. It has become one of my favorite C. S. Lewis books. I highly recommend the audiobook version produced by Blackstone audio.

  1. Still Life by Louise Penny

“Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back.”

Still Life is the first book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. The series follows Chief Inspector Armond Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec Provincial Police) as he solves crimes in the small village of Three Pines. The setting is cozy and idyllic and the handful of unique characters are developed well throughout the series. If you like mystery novels, you will love this series.

  1. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

“For safety purposes, both to protect him and any passersby, they decided to place a small velvet rope barrier around André, who was by now snoring loudly enough to shake the lobby walls.”

If you love The Princess Bride then you should read this book. It is written by Cary Elwes who played Wesley and it provides an extended behind the scenes narrative of the making of the movie – including Elwes’ account of extensive sword training and bar hopping with Andre the Giant. The audiobook is read by Cary Elwes and contains some guest readings by many of the actors along with director, Rob Reiner.

Review: Carry on, Jeeves

Carry on, Jeeves: (Jeeves & Wooster) by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m sure there’s nothing to say about Wodehouse that hasn’t already been said so I’ll just remark on the nature of this specific book. Each chapter is a stand alone sitcom starring Bertie and Jeeves. There are a few references to previous story lines which make for some really good character development.

If you are looking for a book to introduce you to Wodehouse, this is a good option.

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Review: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lit! is divided into two parts: “Part 1: A Theology of Books and Reading,” and “Part 2: Some Practical Advice on Book Reading.”

Part 1 contained a lot of solid content but seemed a bit disjointed and came across more like a series of Christian-worldview blog posts retrofitted to apply specifically to literature. It addressed a lot of questions to which I already had answers without providing much new to consider. I was looking forward to Part 2 and considered skipping the rest of Part 1 after about fifty pages (ironically, this is exactly the approach to book reading that the author recommends in Part 2).

Part 2 was closer to what I expected from the book. Chapter 7 was an especially helpful discussion on the importance of prioritizing what you read in light of the fact that there just isn’t time to read everything. Chapters 8, and 12 were also especially beneficial.

Overall, Lit! was shorter on practical advice than what I had anticipated. If you are a Christian who already shares the author’s worldview, as I am, you may find that your time is best spend only on Part 2.

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Review: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

D. A. Carson has this pesky habit of writing books that are impossible to breeze through. This is not because his books are “academic” and full of obfuscation but because every paragraph has something to contribute to the premise. Scandalous is no different.

Carson uses each of the book’s five chapters (sections?) to expound a separate passage from the Bible in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Each chapter contributes to the quality of whole. Chapter two (The Center of the Whole Bible: Romans 3:21-26) is worth the price of the book. Continue reading “Review: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus”

The Colonizers of Dreams

My version of The Hobbit was printed in 1977 and contains a forward by Peter S. Beagle that I thought was excellent. He concluded his forward with this:

For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams, and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers – thieves planting flags, murders carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.

Writing Simply

Writing simply is something I’ve been focusing on lately. And while I don’t claim to have mastered the art of writing simply I have gained some ability to recognize writing that is not simple. If you have the unfortunate opportunity to read old legal opinions you will find no shortage of writing that is not simple. Here is an example of a judge detailing a train accident:

On January 21, 1903, John Reed walked along and upon said tracks, and in so doing his foot became caught and held in said opening, negligently, as aforesaid, left open between said rails. That he never could or was able to extricate himself or his foot from said opening. That while he was so held and caught, the appellant learned and became aware of all the facts aforesaid, and, knowing the same, did negligently, at an unlawful high rate of speed, and without any warning or ringing any bell or sounding any whistle, ran a locomotive engine and a number of railroad cars and train along and on and over said tracks against, upon, and over said John Reed, then and there and thereby injuring him in such manner and extent that his death was thereby caused.

Pittsburg, C., C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Reed, 44 Ind. App. 635 (1909). You could not obscured and dehumanized an event more if you tried. Let’s simplify:

John Reed was walking along the train track when his foot became stuck in a gap between the rails. The train engineer should have seen John and stopped the train but he was driving the train faster than the law allowed and was therefore unable to stop. The train ran over John, killing him.

Nathaniel Hawthorn said “easy reading is damn hard writing,” I think he’s right. However, every once in a while you get the chance to write something simply that’s actually not that “damn hard” to write. Take those opportunities.