The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Reading and Walking in 2020

 

In April 2013, I started walking laps around the church auditorium while studying or reading. I found this helped me to focus better, and also it was a good way to be a little less sedentary while at work.

Each lap around the auditorium was approximately 74 yards:

This past year was strange due to COVID-19. Back in the spring when we suddenly became concerned about the pandemic, I began working from home, and did so for about 12 weeks. During that time, I walked and ran around my neighborhood a lot, and listened to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts while doing so, but quite naturally, fewer days in the office meant less opportunities for walking laps. Once I returned to the office, however, I was still not going to the gym, which meant that I was coming in early some days and getting a lot of reading done those days.

Without further ado, here are my totals for the year:

Total Laps in 2020: 6,836 (approximately 118 yards per lap)

Total Distance in 2019: 458.3 miles

Total Distance to date: 3419.4 miles

In 2020, my totals were the equivalent of walking from Erie, Pensylvania down to Cleveland, Ohio, through Columbus and Cincinnati, and finally stopping in Louisville, Kentucky.

I was surprised but pleased that my totals increased from last year. I have certainly spent enough time walking around the Cloverdale auditorium over the last 18 months that people have become aware of this unusual practice and now joke with me about it.

It has been a couple of years (2018) since I hit 500 miles for the year; that is my goal for 2021.

Reading in 2020

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year. As we all know, 2020 was a strange and challenging year, and I was reminded of what a blessing books are! Reading brought a lot of peace to my life in a hectic time.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2020:

  1. North Boulevard Church of Christ 2020 Vision: Final Reflections, by David Young
  2. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
  3. Swallowed Up, by J.L. Gerhardt
  4. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. Under Occupation, by Alan Furst
  6. Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change In The Church, by Thom Ranier
  7. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
  8. The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family, by Kara Powell
  9. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  10. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
  11. The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss
  12. A Third Testament, by Malcolm Muggeridge
  13. Silence, by Shūsaku Endō
  14. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell
  15. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, by Gary M. Burge
  16. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
  17. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proved Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
  18. Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
  19. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis
  20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  21. The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
  22. Images of America: Searcy, by Carolyn Boyles and Patsy Pipkin
  23. T.R.I.A.L.S. A Journey from Anxiety to Peace, by Chase Turner
  24. Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary, by Martha Brockenbrough
  25. The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis
  26. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
  27. The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis
  28. Star Wars Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig
  29. The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
  30. Star Wars: Bloodline, by Claudia Gray
  31. Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt, by Chuck Wendig
  32. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News, by Brian Zahnd
  33. Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End, by Chuck Wendig
  34. The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
  35. Jackaby, by William Ritter
  36. A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  37. So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  38. Lament For A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
  39. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, by Mark A. Yarhouse
  40. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein
  41. The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby
  42. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton
  43. Beyond The Verse: What I Discovered Reading the Bible One Book at a Time, by Wes McAdams
  44. Star Wars: Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
  45. The End of Youth Ministry?, by Andrew Root
  46. Thrawn: Alliances, by Timothy Zahn
  47. Thrawn: Treason, by Timothy Zahn
  48. Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans
  49. God And The Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, by N.T. Wright
  50. Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Figure, by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray
  51. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt
  52. Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith, edited by Chap Clark
  53. The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell
  54. How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, by Alan Jacobs
  55. Race & Justice, by Tim Keller
  56. Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era, by Jerry Mitchell
  57. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland
  58. The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker
  59. Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
  60. Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  61. King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience-Based Discipleship, by David Young
  62. The Risen Spear, by Scott Biddle
  63. Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, by Ariel Sabar
  64. McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel
  65. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K. A. Smith

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2019 to 65 in 2020. My 2020 total represents a personal record for books read in a year. This is largely related to the life rhythms brought about by COVID-19: especially during the early days of lockdown (but extending beyond), I did a lot of walking around my neighborhood, and frequently listened to audiobooks while doing that. My reading decreased somewhat as the year went on.
  • I read a lot of fiction this year. This is partially because there were more fiction audiobooks available at my local library than, say, theology books, and partially because 2020 was a year where I was seeking distraction from circumstances and looking to “travel” through reading.
  • In addition to reading more this year, I read so many really good books. It was a great year of reading.
  • I fully expect my reading totals to decrease significantly next year. In addition to circumstances related to COVID hopefully improving over time, I am planning to start working through some long and dense books on theology and biblical studies (I am really excited about this, in case you were curious about how much of a nerd I am).

I normally share my Top 10 books for the year, but I was having a hard time narrowing it down to just 10 this year. This was stressing me out until I remembered that I make the rules around here, so I just decided to do a Top 15 list instead. Before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 15, but I still wanted to comment on.

  • Two great books that didn’t make my Top 15 because they had previously been Top 10 choices from previous years were The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family, by Kara Powell (2017) and 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson (2019).
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt: This is a good book that is a really important read for our times, I believe. It is not one of my top books of the year because it delves heavily into evolutionary biology and moral psychology, which are not areas of great interest for me, and I frequently got bogged down in those parts. But I found some really good ideas to take away from this book.
  • The Risen Spear, by Scott Biddle: Scott is one of my youth group dads, and I was delighted to learn that he has authored a series of fantasy books for children. The Risen Spear was a short read with a compact, exciting story, and vaguely reminded me of the Narnia books in some ways (which is high praise from me!). I look forward to reading the next books in the series.

I want to take a moment to highlight Race & Justice by Tim Keller. Technically, this is a series of articles rather than a book, but they are so long that combined they essentially represent a book-length treatment on the subject. I read and listened to a lot about race in 2020 (books, articles, podcasts, etc.), and this is, without question, the best biblical theology I have read related to race, racism, and justice.

I decided that Keller’s Race & Justice series was bookish enough to include in my list above, but since it wasn’t technically a book, I left it out of my Top 15. But that is in no way to diminish how good the material is (I bet it comes out as a book sometime in the future).


Regarding my Top 15 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-15):

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseveranceby Angela Duckworth: I read this book back in February, which now seems about eight years ago, so I confess that I don’t remember it as well as I’d like to. Duckworth shares a lot of research and examples to flesh out her thesis, which is basically given by the title of the book. In short, the characteristic that best predicts success is not intelligence or personality or a host of other things, but grit, which Duckworth defines as a combination of passion and perseverance. In other words, a major part of being successful in life is finding something you really care about and sticking with it, regardless of setbacks or obstacles. I read this as an audiobook, but it is one that I will probably pick up at some point so I can keep coming back to it.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis: I read Lewis’s classic a dozen years ago, but I have never featured it as one of my top books of the year, so it makes its appearance on this list after I re-read it this year. I appreciated it even more this time; Lewis is such a penetrating thinker, and has an excellent way of getting at the heart of what Christianity is about.

Silence, by Shūsaku Endō: This novel is the poignant tale of Jesuit missionaries suffering persecution in 17th-century Japan. The story itself is gripping, but also raises important questions about the nature of cross-cultural missions, the place of martyrdom in Christian faith, and the plight of the believer when God is silent.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, by Gary M. Burge: This is the second book I’ve read from the “Week in the Life” series, and I continue to be a big fan. Basically, these are short historical novels set in the first century that seek to inform the reader about the world of the New Testament by plausibly expanding the stories of minor New Testament characters. Burge’s volume focuses on a Roman centurion whose life was changed by a meeting with King Jesus. The story is compelling, and the historical background is helpful for readers of the New Testament who are interested in a better understanding of the world of Jesus and the apostles.

The Chronicles of Narniaby C.S. Lewis: Okay, so I am cheating here by listing a series of books as one book, and this certainly wasn’t my first time to read the Narnia books, but collectively, this was definitely one of my favorite reads of 2020. Because I also blogged about the series at length, Lewis’s classic series was on my mind a lot this year. It was perfect pandemic reading for me.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear: This was another entry in the category of books that I “read” as an audiobook but enjoyed so much that I was tempted to go back and purchase a physical copy so I would have it for reference. I reviewed this book after I read it, so you can get a fuller overview there, but I will repeat my basic summary: Atoms are very small things. They are the building blocks of the world around us, but they are invisible to the naked eye. They are also very powerful—the power of the atom can provide electricity to an entire region in the form of a power plant, or untold devastation in the form of a nuclear bomb. This is the premise of Atomic Habits: habits are little, sometimes nearly invisible things that can bring about powerful change—for good or ill—in our lives.

Lament For A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff: This is a series of short essays written after the author’s 25 year-old son was tragically killed in a climbing accident; I was so moved by this book that I wrote a series of posts on it. As a Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Wolterstorff certainly writes from a theological perspective, but overwhelmingly, he is writing as a grief-stricken dad. It is possibly the best book on suffering that I have read, and I think that, perhaps, is because Wolterstorff’s disjointed essays are the perfect way to reflect on grief and suffering. Well-organized books on theodicy that seek to explain the problem of evil and suffering have their place, but those are the sorts of books you need to read when the sun is shining and the world makes sense. On the other hand, when grief has come unexpectedly rushing into your life with the force of a tsunami, Lament For A Son—with its chaos and raw emotion and grasping faith—is the sort of book you need.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein: in many ways, I felt this was The New Jim Crow applied to the housing industry in the United States. It talks about all sorts of creative ways in which government officials—at the federal, state, and local levels—orchestrated the largely-segregated society that still exists today in our country (zoning ordinances, neighborhood covenants, blockbusting, white flight, the establishment of ghettos, construction of interstates, and more). The Color of Law shares tons of data and statistics, but is written in a narrative style that is easy to follow and understand.

The Color of Compromise: the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby: this book specifically addresses the American Church, and confronts the reader with the uncomfortable reality that throughout American history, white Christians have largely (though not entirely) turned a blind eye toward racism, and many times have actively supported and furthered racist agendas. Tisby does not shy away from hard truths, but he writes with clear affection for the church, and offers helpful suggestions moving forward.

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debateby John H. Walton: Genesis 1 is a famously controversial text, and takes a prominent position in discussions about the seeming tension between faith and science. Walton, a conservative Old Testament scholar, removes some of the fuel from the fires of controversy by suggesting that we should receive Genesis 1 the way that ancient Israelites would have received it: as ancient cosmology, it is function oriented rather than being concerned about material origins. If you are someone who has ever been bothered by Genesis 1 and how that fits with scientific claims (and especially if this has been a barrier to faith for you), The Lost World of Genesis One is an excellent read.

Beyond The Verse: What I Discovered Reading the Bible One Book at a Timeby Wes McAdams: Wes is one of my favorite bloggers and I think he is such a helpful voice in the church right now. A couple of  years ago, he completed reading through the entire Bible, but rather than doing it by reading a few chapters each day, he read entire books of the Bible in one sitting each day. This enabled him to get a much clearer picture of the broad story the Bible tells, and it is a story that we are often guilty of distorting significantly. I absolutely loved this book. I recommended it to several people after I read it, and I intend to incorporate it into my ministry moving forward.

Star Wars: Thrawnby Timothy Zahn: In many ways, 2020 was the year that I rediscovered Star Wars novels. I used to read Star Wars novels a lot, but back when Disney took over the franchise, they decanonized all the books I had read and I lost interest. Out of the loop, I discovered that a bunch of new Star Wars novels had been authorized by Disney and written in recent years, and I read several in 2020. Some of them were hot garbage, but Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy was good: my favorite Star Wars author reintroducing one of my favorite decanonized characters back into the canon. Thrawn is the first book in the trilogy, and was, in my opinion, the best.

Cry, the Beloved Countryby Alan Paton: I read this book back in 2009 and loved it, but had not read it since then, and it was even better than I remembered. This book touches on so many heavy themes—racism, theology, politics, the breakdown of the native village, crime, poverty, environmental concerns, and more—and tells the story of the shared tragedy of two older men in 1940s South Africa: a poor, black Anglican priest, and a wealthy, white farmer. This is such a beautiful book, and it was even more poignant to me reading it in 2020, a year of significant racial tension in my own country. Simply put, this is among the best books I have ever read.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wifeby Ariel Sabar: The subtitle of this book summarizes the plot well. In 2012, Harvard Divinity School professor Dr. Karen King published the discovery of a papyrus fragment from a supposed early Christian text that she sensationally dubbed, “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” that would later turn out to be a forgery. This book is an impressive chronicle of investigative journalism, and also serves as a warning of the problems of confirmation bias and the murky places to which extreme forms of postmodern thinking can deliver us.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, by James K. A. Smith: Saint Augustine of Hippo is likely the single most influential Christian thinker since the Apostle Paul, and as Smith points out in this superb book, his story is quite likely very much like your own. Based significantly on Augustine’s Confessions, Smith looks at the journey of his life and the issues and questions that drove it—issues and questions that continue to drive our lives today. This makes Augustine a wonderful travel companion as we journey through life: someone who has already made a similar journey, asked similar questions, and, if we have ears to hear, has helpful directions for the road. Bonus: the cover design for this book is outstanding. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case…

That was my reading for 2020. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

2020 Blog Review

 

The end of the year is a good time for reflection, and one of the things I like to look back on is my yearly blogging here at The Doc File.

Overview

Since I started writing here back in 2006 (wow, it is hard for me to believe it has been that long!), I have been very up-and-down in how much I write each year. Last year, I lamented that I had written less in 2019 than any other year since The Doc File began; in 2020, I blogged 50 times, which is the most since 2014. This increase in production was largely due to two factors, I believe:

  • First, the lockdown situation that arose from COVID-19 back in late winter/early spring. It is not so much that this left me with an abundance of free time, but rather that I was sensing the great anxiety that so many were feeling (and feeling some of it myself), and wanted to produce some content that might, perhaps, be encouraging.
  • I engaged in a few different ongoing series this year, which helped give me direction in what to write (more on that below).

The increased frequency of posts combined with the popularity of several posts (see below) meant that The Doc File had over 31,000+ hits in 2020—the second-highest total since I started writing.

Top Posts

By traffic totals, here are my most-read posts during 2020 (posts in bold represents those actually written in 2020):

  1. A Christian Response to COVID-19, March 12, 2020
  2. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity, April 9, 2020
  3. The Role and Character of Elihu in the Book of Job, December 3, 2010
  4. Lessons from David: Sin Has Consequences, March 17, 2014
  5. Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation, April 25, 2017
  6. Links Between Daniel and Esther, October 10, 2011
  7. Scattered Reflections on Race-Related Issues, June 9, 2020
  8. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity Part 2: Distractions, April 16, 2020
  9. Moral Evil and Natural Evil, February 24, 2015
  10. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity Part 3: “Problem” Texts: 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, April 23, 2020

Five of the top ten posts were not written this year, and four of those (Elihu, David, Creation/New Creation, Evil) were in my top posts from last year as well. Those posts must be particularly accessible to search engines based on their enduring popularity.

“A Christian Response to COVID-19” was my most popular post of the year, and went somewhat viral (pun intended). I wrote it in the early days of the pandemic, and it clearly struck a chord with a lot of people. Similarly, “Scattered Reflections on Race-Related Issues” was read a lot, and also reflected on current events that were dominating all forms of media. The three posts on “A New Heaven & A New Earth” were all part of a much longer series that a lot of people read and seemed to benefit from.

The Year of Blog Series

That last sentence helps me transition to one of the biggest changes in my blogging in 2020, which was the extent to which I wrote multi-post blog series. Over the years, I have written several series on The Doc File, but it is something I have struggled to do (often taking a really long time to complete series or even abandoning a series midstream). With that in mind, I was proud of my perseverance in completing a few series in 2020:

A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity: I had taught on this subject back in 2019, but blogging through all of this material enabled me to polish my notes and provide citations as well as refine my thoughts. This series summarized what has been a significant theological shift for me over the past decade, one which has provided a great sense of purpose, hope, and excitement. Additionally, I felt that it was a fitting topic for the extended season of fear and uncertainty that Spring/Summer 2020 turned out to be.

It was a significant project—12 posts and some 37,000 words—and had I realized how much work it would take, I’m not sure that I would have begun it. I am really glad I did, though—in addition to the satisfaction of bringing a project of this size to a state of semi-polished completion, it also led to a lot of good conversations and feedback, and three of my most-read posts from 2020 were from this series (with several more just outside the Top 10).

Ranking Narnia: Early in quarantine, I began reading through The Chronicles of Narnia, which I found to be very good reading for the craziness of 2020: it provided imaginative distraction from current reality, and also helped re-orient me from fear to trust.

I have enjoyed these books since college, and the idea of blogging about them had been in my mind since at least 2007 or so. What began as a plan to write a post or two ranking the various books in the Narnia series continued to grow and expand, ultimately resulting in an 8-part, 23,ooo word series. In a sense, these were book reviews. I have never particularly enjoyed reviewing books, and so I didn’t get a lot of pleasure from writing this series, but I was really proud of the result for a few reasons. First, these posts represented growth for me as a writer as these reviews reflect greater depth and thoughtfulness than what I have done in the past. Also, spending so much time thinking and writing about Narnia helped me to appreciate the series even more and yielded new theological insights. Finally, I pushed through and finished[1] this series of posts despite the fact that almost no one read them.[2] In other words, while this series was not as long as the “A New Heaven & A New Earth” series, I am more impressed with it in the sense that I didn’t get a dopamine hit from lots of likes and comments every time I would share a post, but I still finished the series regardless.

Lament For A Son: One of my favorite books in 2020 was Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A Son. It was a short book, but I thought Wolterstorff shared so many compelling thoughts on the topic of suffering that I decided to write a series of short reflections and basically grouped them as a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering (which dates back several years). Like Narnia, this was not a particularly popular series, but I thought Lament For A Son was an important book and worth writing about.

Politics From a Christian Perspective: One of the reasons I write The Doc File is because it helps me work out my thinking on certain topics, and that was certainly the case for this three-part series that I wrote in late October/early November in the midst of a rancorous election season. As a person of faith, I’m convinced that Scripture has a lot to tell us about the way we view politics, but I was dissatisfied with the political engagement I was witnessing from many professed Christians, and I wanted to wrestle with my own views against the background of biblical teaching.

I was under no illusion that my thoughts would change anyone’s mind (and in an election where an unprecedented number of people voted early, this series of posts came a little too late anyway), but this was a popular series that I got some good feedback on, and it was helpful for me to write about and work through my own beliefs.


So, that was The Doc File in 2020! I’m not sure what 2021 will look like, but it is my hope to continue to write about once a week (the rough pace of my blogging in 2020), and to continue with some multi-post series as well. Thanks to everyone who continues to read and follow, and especially to those who comment and join in the conversation. May God bless each of you in the coming year!


[1] As the length of these posts grew, they became more and more difficult to write and I was sorely tempted to revert to old habits and abandon the series. This can be seen in the release dates of the various posts: May 18, May 26, June 16, June 30, July 20, August 24, October 13, October 23. I went from eight days between the first two posts, to about two weeks between posts, two three wees, to a month, and then seven weeks. The concluding post was shorter and easier to write than the others, and came ten days after the last review.

[2] There were, of course, exceptions, as several people told me how much they enjoyed this series and a few actually reached out to me to see when (or if!) the next post would come out. But on the whole, these posts were amongst the least-read of what I wrote in 2020.

Incarnation & Human Involvement In God’s Transformative Work

Several weeks back, I finished my series on The Chronicles of Narnia, and now I am thoroughly enjoying reading through Paul Ford’s Companion To Narnia: Revised and ExpandedIt is basically a reference work that discusses the process of C.S. Lewis writing the Chronicles, analyzes how they relate to the rest of his works, and provides encyclopedic entries for everything imaginable in the world of Narnia. I am just now in the Es, so I have a long way to go, but it has been a lot of fun to read.

A while back I read through the entry for Aslan, which, as you might expect, is incredibly lengthy, with the Great Lion being the central character of the Narnia series and Lewis’s imagined Christ Figure in the world of Narnia. In that entry, Ford makes an insightful comment on Lewis’s effort to point his readers to the implications of the incarnation:

[Aslan’s] encouragement of the now-revived lion with the phrase “us-lions” and his employment of the giant to break down the castle walls and the sheepdog to organize the creatures into a force that will be helpful in what will later be called the First Battle of Beruna are all instances of Lewis’s profound belief that one of the consequences of the incarnation (God’s desire to identify with us by becoming one of us) is that he wants our help in the process of transforming the world.[1]

In the Incarnation, God identifies Himself with humanity through Jesus of Nazareth entering the world stage in the form of a baby. In so doing, God affirms the goodness of creation and also His intention to partner with humanity in bringing about His purposes for that creation.



This is, in large part, what it means to be created in God’s Image; we are God’s representatives, bearing His authority to carry out the task He has given us. This is the picture we have of Adam and Eve in the garden: God giving them the task to steward and cultivate His creation, partnering with Him, under His authority, to take care of it and develop it.

Tragically, Adam and Eve fail to live up to their vocation. In the bitterest of ironies, they clutch after the forbidden fruit hoping to become like God, failing to realize that they already were! And humans have similarly failed ever since then.

In the Incarnation, Jesus comes to show us a different way. He perfectly reflects the divine image, obeying the Father’s will in all things. Rather than seeking after power or God-likeness, He willingly lays it down and lives as a servant, even to the point of dying on the cross.

Those of us who would follow Jesus are called to imitate His example. The vocation that God bestowed upon humanity in the garden has not changed: still, we are encouraged to take up our crosses and join in God’s mission. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the resurrected Aslan could have defeated all evil, established his reign and rule, and brought about the transformation of the world all on his own, but he chose not to. And this, as Ford points out, is no accident: Lewis was simply reflecting the biblical teaching that the all-powerful God chooses to bring about the redemption of all things in collaboration with human agents of new creation.

One of the great truths of the incarnation is that God wants our help in the process of transforming the world.


[1]  Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 60.

Textual Criticism and the Reliability of Scripture

I have written before about textual criticism, which refers (at least in biblical studies) to the study and comparison of biblical manuscripts in order to give us a more accurate picture of what the original documents said. A lot of Christians are largely unaware of this field of study, and only become aware of it when they see footnotes in their Bibles near certain passages that say something like, “many of the earliest and best manuscripts do not contain these verses.”

It can be alarming for some people when they read footnotes like these because it seems to throw doubt over whether or not we can trust our modern Bibles. Really though, the opposite is true: it is only because we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts that we are even aware of the discrepancies between different ones:

We don’t have the original editions of the Bible. Instead, what we have are thousands and thousands of handwritten copies called manuscripts. We have fragments that date back to the early second century, but the best comprehensive manuscripts we have that contain most or all of the New Testament date back to the fourth and fifth centuries.

Compared to other ancient works, this is incredible. There are some ancient works of famous philosophers or poets of which we may only have a handful of copies, but there are thousands and thousands of biblical manuscripts. There are a lot of differences between the different manuscripts because they were copied down by hand, but since there are so many copies, we can compare them and, with a very high degree of accuracy, determine what the original text said.

The vast majority of differences between manuscripts are differences in things like spelling (basically the modern equivalent of a typo) where it is still very obvious what is supposed to be said. There are only a handful of places in the New Testament where there is a whole verse or verses that we are not sure about, and even in those, there is no point of doctrine that is compromised either way. So the biblical text that we have is very reliable.[1]

John 7.53-8.11, the story of the woman caught in adultery, is perhaps the most famous textual problem in the New Testament, but another is Mark 16.9-20, sometimes called “The Long Ending of Mark.” It reads:

9 [[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

(Mark 16.9-20)

In most modern translations, these verses will either be included in brackets (as the ESV does, which I have tried to preserve above) or will be omitted from the main text and perhaps included in a footnote. This is not because some sinister forces are seeking to alter the content and meaning of Scripture from what was originally written; rather, it is a reflection of the text-critical belief that these verses were not originally part of Mark, based on the fact that many of the earliest and best manuscripts that we have of Mark’s Gospel do not contain them.

Ultimately, biblical scholars disagree about the authenticity of the long ending of Mark. Most hold that it is not original, but those scholars who believe it to not be original are also divided about whether or not there was a different original ending that has been lost, or if the original version of Mark’s gospel was intended to end after verse 8.

I am undecided myself: I tend to think that the long ending is not original and that Mark wrote his gospel to conclude at 16.8, but I could certainly be mistaken. Either way, here is the important idea (and, indeed, the important idea to keep in mind with all of the text-critical issues in the New Testament): there is no doctrine or practice discussed in Mark 16.9-20 that is not taught elsewhere in the New Testament. In other words, even if you throw out all of the passages with significant text-critical problems, it doesn’t change Christian faith and practice.

As one commentator states:

Our God has not seen fit to exempt the New Testament from the copying problems that existed in all books prior to the invention of the printing press. But by his grace those problems do not create significant variations in Christian beliefs and practices.[2]

If we only had one manuscript copy of the New Testament, we would have no variations. That sounds nice, but really, it would leave us with no way of knowing how accurate our Bibles are. Instead, the thousands of manuscripts with their many variations help us to determine with a high degree of accuracy what the original text said, and what it is that God wants us to know.

What a blessing—may God be praised for His faithfulness in the preservation of his revealed word!


[1] Excerpted from Pardon, Not Acquittal: Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery.

[2] Allen Black, Mark, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: 1995), 293 note 2.

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