The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Restoration Movement (page 1 of 2)

Preparing for Ministry in Small Churches

Several days ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a class of ministry students at Harding University who are near the completion of their degrees. While my primary task was to speak to them about youth ministry, I was also supposed to give them some practical tips for doing ministry in a congregational setting.

I offered several tips, some of which were likely more helpful than others, but some of my advice was focused on the reality that Churches of Christ represent a fellowship of small churches.

Consider some of the following information from the 2015 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States, compiled by Carl H. Royster. Of 12,303 congregations of Churches of Christ in the United States:

  • 1,932, or 15.7%, are congregations of 0-24 people
  • 3,351, or 27.2%, are congregations of 25-49 people
  • 3,556, or 28.9%, are congregations of 50-99 people
  • 2,159, or 17.5%, are congregations of 100-199 people
  • Combined, this means that roughly 89% of congregations are less than 200 people in size

The congregation where I currently serve doesn’t seem overly large to me, but at 230, it is in the top ten percent of congregations in our fellowship by size.

Again, Churches of Christ represent a fellowship of small churches. With this reality in mind, I offered a couple of suggestions to the Harding students I talked to who were about to graduate and head into ministry roles in Churches of Christ.

First, it is important to develop a diversified skill set. If you want to work in a church of Christ, and what you really, really want to do is be an adult education minister and do only that, there just aren’t that many jobs like that out there. The reality is that in smaller churches (i.e., the vast majority of churches of Christ), you have to wear a lot of hats, and you need to have a diversified skill set to be able to do that.

In my current position (and remember, we are over 200 in size, so we are larger than 9/10 churches in our fellowship), in a given week I might find myself planning a youth retreat, writing adult Bible class lessons, designing our church website, preaching, and negotiating a new contract with our copier company—and that’s not an unusual week!

Out of necessity, you have to wear a lot of different hats. You might have a specialized skill or skills that you are really good at, and that’s great, but you need to develop general skills as well.

Second, it is important to develop humility about your role. I was speaking that day to Christian college-trained ministry students, which means that in many ways, they are the upper echelon, the elite. They have spent lots of money and countless hours receiving training in biblical languages, intensive Bible study, ministerial skills, etc. Simply put, there are things that they have been trained to do that a lot of people in the congregations where they serve won’t be able to do, and it’s important that they prioritize and do those things.

But at the same time, that doesn’t mean they are too good to do less glamorous, more menial things. I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have spent straightening up chairs, taking out the trash, or putting things away in storage closets while at work. I didn’t need an M.Div to do that work, but it was still a vital part of my job. A couple of years ago, we had a major problem with the sewage line at our church building. Toilets backed up, and foul water flooded the hallway. And our preaching minister got out the mop and went to work. Ultimately, ministers are servants, and they step up to serve where it is needed; they are not too good to do the “small” things.

I am sure there are many more ideas that could be added, and again, this is coming from a guy who isn’t really at a small church. But if these lessons are true for me, how much more they must apply to even smaller congregational contexts. There are some real blessings that come with working with small churches, but it requires a certain type of minister as well.

Judging by demographic realities, many of the ministry students I spoke to will find themselves (at least at some point) working in smaller congregations. I hope what I shared with them will prove to be helpful.

Jeroboam and the Lure of Political Power

The Story of Jeroboam

Jeroboam is one of the Bible’s incredibly tragic characters. He was a man who God granted an amazing opportunity, and he squandered it away. 

Jeroboam’s story begins with King Solomon, who himself was a tragic character: a man who was given wisdom, power, and great wealth by God, but who turned away from God and began to worship other gods (1 Kings 11.1-8). Because of this, God ultimately determines to divide the kingdom of Israel in the days of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Rehoboam remains king over two tribes in the south (creating the Southern Kingdom of Judah), while Jeroboam is established as king over the remaining ten tribes (creating the Northern Kingdom of Israel).

The story is absolutely clear that God, in His grace, has offered a covenant agreement to Jeroboam: God will bless him, make him king over Israel, and give Him all that he desires if he will listen to God’s commands and walk in His ways like David did. And moreover, God promises to build Jeroboam a house or a dynasty like He did for David. 

Jeroboam’s rise to power was the work of God’s providential hand, and Jeroboam knew this. And yet, as soon as he sits down on the throne, Jeroboam’s thinking seems to shift from providential to pragmatic: the question Jeroboam asks himself is, “What do I need to do to stay in power?” 

Ironically, Jeroboam already had the answer—God had told him he simply needed to listen to God’s commands and walk in His ways as David did, but Jeroboam ignores that answer and pursues his own plans instead.

After some initial efforts to fortify some of his cities, Jeroboam makes his big mistake. He reasons that if the citizens of the Northern Kingdom return to the Jerusalem Temple (in the Southern Kingdom) to offer sacrifices as they are supposed to, it will draw their hearts back to Rehoboam king of Judah, and then they won’t want to follow Jeroboam anymore, and will overthrow him and return to Rehoboam and Judah. So Jeroboam gets what he thinks is a brilliant idea, and he makes two golden calves; he sets one up in Dan and another in Bethel, representing the northern and southern borders of the territory of the Northern Kingdom.

Scholars debate whether Jeroboam is trying to get the Israelites to worship another god by doing this, or, rather, if he is simply introducing an innovation in the way in which they worship Jehovah/Yahweh. I tend to think it is the latter, but calves are so closely related with Canaanite pagan religion that it is hard to be sure.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Even if Jeroboam was not setting up worship of a new god (and thus not violating the first commandment),  he was still guilty of creating an image to serve as a symbol of God (which violates the second commandment). So at the very least, he perverted the worship of the true God. Jeroboam’s disregard for the religious statues that God had set up did not stop there, as he also created alternate worship sites on high places at Dan and Bethel, put in place non-Levitical priests, and instituted his own feast day. These actions broke God’s commandments, and also revealed Jeroboam’s feelings that civil matters were more important than religious conviction.

Jeroboam has not been on the throne for long, but already he has dramatically departed from God’s instruction to walk in all His ways as David did. Instead, Jeroboam seems to have forgotten Who placed him on the throne in the first place, and rather than obey the real Power behind the throne, takes matters into his own hands to secure his position by his own power.

In 1 Kings 13, a prophet comes from God and condemns what Jeroboam has done, also predicting that judgment will come upon him because of it:

O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: “Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.” And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’”

(1 Kings 13.2-3)

Not surprisingly, Jeroboam isn’t a big fan of this message and stretches out his hand: “Seize him!” But as soon as this happens, his hand “dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself” (1 Kings 13.4). Ironically, in this very act, Jeroboam actually gives credibility to the prophecy—clearly, there is some power behind it because Jeroboam’s hand shrivels up, and furthermore, the altar was torn down as the prophecy said. Jeroboam asks the prophet to entreat God for him that his hand might be restored, and the prophet does so, and Jeroboam is healed.

Jeroboam is probably grateful to the man of God for his healing, and invites him to dine with him, but the prophet refuses because God had commanded him to return directly after his mission was completed. It is possible that dining with the king would have made the prophet appear to approve of the religious apostasy that Jeroboam was promoting.

Here, the narrative takes leave of Jeroboam and follows the young prophet and his strange interaction with an old prophet from Bethel. Since our focus is on Jeroboam we won’t dwell on this, but it is a tragic story of the young prophet from Judah being deceived by the older prophet from Israel, disobeying God, and dying as a result. This may seem like strange information to include in an extended narrative on the reign of Jeroboam, but it reinforces the idea that God expects to be obeyed, and severe consequences fall upon those who refuse to do so.

Regardless of this cautionary tale, 1 Kings 13 ends by saying:

After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.

(1 Kings 13.33-34)

So this story also shows us that Jeroboam remains unrepentant—he is determined to continue his disobedience to God. 

The rest of Jeroboam’s reign isn’t very happy. His son grows sick, and when he enquires of a prophet of God to determine if his sone will recover, he learns that not only will his son die, but because Jeroboam had incited the wrath of heaven by leading the Northern Kingdom into idolatry instead of being faithful to the covenant God had offered him, judgment had been pronounced not just on Jeroboam, but on every male from his house—the line of Jeroboam will be wiped out.

We also know that he was a man of war, and that he warred constantly with Rehoboam, and also fought against Rehoboam’s son, Abijam/Abijah and was defeated by him (2 Chronicles 13) and never recovered the level of power he had previously had. 

And that is basically what we know about Jeroboam.

Sacrificing Principle for Political Gain

Jeroboam is one of the truly tragic characters of Scripture. His legacy is that he is the man who “made Israel to sin”—this lamentable epitaph is mentioned over 20 times in Scripture, and his sinfulness really summarizes the entire period of the Divided Kingdom. I think there are a lot of things we can learn from the sad story of Jeroboam, but I want to focus on just one that I believe is particularly relevant for a lot of people today.

Jeroboam’s blessing, security, and power rested in his obedience to God. Instead of trusting in God, however, he chose to do the pragmatic thing. He made religious changes for political reasons, thinking that this would ensure his longevity as king. Instead, it led to the downfall of his kingdom. Jeroboam’s power and position rested on his faithfulness, not his politics. 

If there is a lesson that I think American Christians need to hear in 2019—a time of rampant political division and rabid political devotion—it might be this one: political power is not the means by which Christians are called to change the world. 

As most of my readers know, I am a part of Churches of Christ, which find historical roots in the American Restoration Movement. Our heritage has an interesting and diverse relationship with politics. Some Restorationist voices were highly involved in politics: Alexander Campbell, one of the key early leaders in the movement, served as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829-30. James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States, was a Restoration Movement preacher. 

Others had a much different view of politics. David Lipscomb, the longtime Gospel Advocate editor and a major leader in Churches of Christ in the decades following the Civil War, was avowedly apolitical. He was a pacifist who didn’t think Christians should serve in the military or even vote. J.N. Armstrong, the first President of Harding College, was strongly influenced by Lipscomb and had similar views.

 

I take this brief historical detour as a way of saying that I think that, in the spirit of Romans 14, the Christian’s relationship to politics is one of those areas where we are to do our best to follow the teachings and ethics of Jesus and be careful not to judge the scruples of others. 

Having said that, when it comes to politics, let us never sacrifice principle for political expediency.

In the crisis of the moment, it might seem like a good thing to do, but as Jeroboam learned, it never pays off. I think Jeroboam’s disobedience was largely motivated by fear—he was afraid of what would happen if he let the people go to Judah to worship, so out of his fear, he made a politically expedient decision. 

We live in an environment where political fervor always seems to be at a fever pitch. If we aren’t focused on a current or coming election, we are enamored with the latest political scandal or partisan feud.

In the last Presidential election, I heard a lot of fear from Christians (regardless of their political views) about what was going to happen. Speaking for myself (again, in the spirit of Romans 14, I am not placing judgment on those who disagree), I found myself unable to vote for either major party candidate. Both candidates had been in the public eye for a long time, and I knew plenty about the kind of people they were and the sort of character they had, and I didn’t feel like I could vote for either one. What really bothered me, though, was how often I was told or read from other Christians who supported one candidate or the other (because I got this from both sides of the aisle), that I basically needed to ignore my principles and vote for the “lesser of two evils” (whoever that may have been depending on the person I was talking to at the time), with the implication being that if I didn’t, our next President would likely bring about the end of the world.

You know, I don’t care who you vote for, but it does bother me:

  • When Christians encourage others to choose the lesser evil…because we aren’t supposed to choose evil in greater or lesser varieties!
  • When Christians encourage others to ignore their principles…because we aren’t supposed to ignore our principles!
  • When Christians suggest that the future hinges upon some human ruler…because God is the one who is in charge! When Pharaoh ruled the world, God freed His people from Egypt! When Nebuchadnezzar ruled the world, God saved three Hebrew teenagers from a fiery death! When Nero ruled the world, God orchestrated the greatest growth in the history of the church!

It is up to you to choose what your relationship with politics will be, and in my personal opinion, our political voice is an opportunity that we have to glorify God. However, let us never make the mistake of thinking that political power is the means by which Christians are called to change the world, or that it is acceptable for us to sacrifice our principles for the sake of political expediency.

The lure of political power is strong, and it can easily deceive us into thinking that the ends justify the means. But as Jeroboam learned, they do not. 

Reading in 2018

It’s that time of year again, when people talk about their reading from the previous year and the best books they read. As someone who (a) tries to thoughtfully reflect on things and (b) obsessively keeps lists of things, I always enjoy reading lists from other people and sharing my own.

Here is my own list from 2018:

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  2. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
  3. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, by N.T. Wright
  4. Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, edited by John Dillenberger*
  5. The Marburg Colloquy, edited by Hermann Sasse
  6. The Knowledge of God the Creator (from Institutes of the Christian Religion), by John Calvin
  7. The Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin
  8. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, translated by Anthony Mottola*
  9. The Racovian Catechism*
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  11. The Reasonableness of Christianity, by John Locke
  12. A Discourse of Miracles, by John Locke
  13. Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church in Pia Desideria, by Philip Jacob Spener
  14. Decision Points, by George W. Bush
  15. Divorce, by John R.W. Stott
  16. Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, edited by Milton C. Sernett*
  17. Woman in the Pulpit, by Frances Willard*
  18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  19. Jesus: A Study of the Life of Christ, by Shane Robinson
  20. The Five Books of Moses & The Former Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  21. The Making of George Washington, by William H. Wilbur
  22. Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong, by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell
  23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  24. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser
  25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  26. The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day, by Justo L. Gonzalez
  27. The Faith of the Presidents, by Anne Schraff
  28. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  29. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, by Tim Tzouliadis
  30. The Latter Prophets, by Bibliotheca
  31. Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, by Michael Wear
  32. Havana Bay, by Martin Cruz Smith
  33. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  34. Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
  35. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, by J. Richard Middleton
  36. The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace: God’s Antidotes for Division within the Churches of Christ, by Jay Guin
  37. Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?, by Eleanor Updale
  38. The Perilous Road, by William O. Steele
  39. History and Background of the Institutional Controversy, by Steve Wolfgang
  40. Crispin: the Cross of Lead, by Avi
  41. The Ghost Hollow Mystery, by Page Carter
  42. Letters To The Church, by Francis Chan
  43. The Writings, by Bibliotheca
  44. Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox
  45. Alexander Campbell, Apostle of Truth, by William Blake
  46. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch
  47. The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
  48. How To Be A Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide To Flawless Spiritual Living, by The Babylon Bee
  49. Priceless, by Jeremy Myers
  50. The Apocrypha, by Bibliotheca
  51. The New Testament, by Bibliotheca
  52. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard
  53. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, by C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes
  54. Traces of the Kingdom, by Keith Sisman

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

  • My reading total increased from 52 books in 2017 to 54 books in 2017. And this included a couple of very large volumes of 650-800 pages. I see other people who read 100 books or more a year, but at this stage of my life, it seems that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 is my limit.
  • I enjoyed my reading in 2018 more than in 2017.
  • There were two big disappointments in my reading this past year. The first was the Bibliotheca series, which I used to do my daily Bible reading in 2018. There was a lot of fanfare about this translation when it came out, and indeed, it has many admirable qualities: an elegant typeface, beautiful binding, and a page layout that should lend itself to readability. However, the translation itself was wooden and awkward, and I simply did not enjoy it at all. Also, Traces of the Kingdom was a book that I had looked forward to for a few years, but I really struggled with it. Although the author puts you in touch with some extraordinarily rare primary sources that are hundreds of years old, the writing is poor, and much of the logic and argumentation is stretched. It was a disappointment.

My favorite books from 2018.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • Beneath a Scarlet Skyby Mark Sullivan: This is a novel, based on a true story, set in WWII Italy. It is a gripping tale of a teenage boy seeking to navigate the warring factions of Nazis, Mussolini’s Fascists, Allied forces, resistance fighters, partisans, and the Catholic church. It is a gripping tale and compelling read. Fans of All The Light We Cannot See will appreciate this book, which is better.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Senseby N.T. Wright: N.T. Wright is the preeminent living Christian thinker, and this is his basic presentation of the Christian faith (it has been called the Mere Christianity for modern times). In my opinion, nothing that Wright writes is truly “simple,” so, despite his intentions, I can’t say that this is the easiest read for the average Christian, but it is a great book.
  • The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bibleby Michael S. Heiser: Heiser makes the basic claim that modern believers do not read/hear the Bible in the way that ancient believers did, who believed in a robust array of spiritual beings who operate “unseen” and greatly influence the lives that we experience. This becomes the prevailing paradigm for how he interprets Scripture, and especially if you are not familiar with the biblical motif of the Divine Council, much of what he says will shock you. Ultimately, I think Heiser draws some conclusions that are not warranted, but on the whole, I think he makes a very compelling case. This book has been somewhat of a game-changer for me.
  • The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russiaby Tim Tzouliadis: During the Great Depression, thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans were lured to Stalinist Russia with the promise of work and prosperity available to all in the Communist Utopia. Within a few short years, they (along with millions of others) would be killed in the Stalinist purges and, adding to the tragedy, they were largely abandoned by the US government. Not to get too political in a brief book review, but in an era when I increasingly witness many people (especially those generally around my age or younger) pay lip service to the idea that socialism and even communism are benign or even preferable politico-economic systems, this was an important read for me. When it came to murdering people, Stalin made Hitler look like an amateur, and I don’t say that lightly.
  • A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatologyby J. Richard Middleton: Middleton argues that the Biblical text teaches that God will redeem and restore His creation and will dwell with His people for eternity on a New Heaven and New Earth. This is not some form of premillennialism, but neither is it the popular notion of the Christian hope being getting to escape from this earth and “go to heaven when we die.” This interpretation will be challenging for some, but I am convinced that this perspective is fundamentally correct, and Middleton’s treatment of it is excellent.
  • Letters To The Churchby Francis Chan: This was a convicting read for me. Chan is a Restorationist’s Restorationist, and this book basically encourages Christians to thoughtfully return to the model of the church as described in the pages of Scripture. Simply put, there are some basic ways of “doing church” that really need to be evaluated and, quite possibly, jettisoned. This book left me uneasy in a good way.
  • Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors, by Monte Cox: Dr. Cox was one of my favorite teachers at Harding, and this book is basically a written version of his “Living World Religions” class (one of my favorite classes). It is a helpful overview of various world religions, and would make an excellent resource for a Bible class.
  • The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Placeby Andy Crouch: Technolgy is increasingly present in our lives, and for all of its positive benefits, there are negative side effects as well. Crouch offers some helpful (and at times, extreme) perspective on how families should treat technology and strive to create home environments that cultivate wisdom and courage.
  • The Great Divorceby C.S. Lewis: I’m not sure that I have ever read something by Lewis that I didn’t like, but this is one of my favorites. Lewis’ allegorical take on hell is, in my opinion, both brilliant and helpful.
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard: I had really not read/heard much from Dr. King before, other than his “I Have a Dream” speech or snippets of quotations from other sources, and that was a mistake, because King’s speeches evidence not only beautiful eloquence, but also profound theological insight. I plan to do additional reading from (and on) Dr. King in the future.

That was my reading for 2018. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2019, and am already in the midst of two good ones right now.

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

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

Reading in 2017

I have enjoyed seeing several people post lists of the books that they read in 2017, or their top books from the past year. As someone who likes to read and keep track of what I read, it is fun to see what other people are reading as well.

Here is my list from 2017:

  1. Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Supetys
  2. Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy, by Kevin J. Youngblood
  3. Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire & Finding the Broken Way Home, by Amber C. Haines
  4. Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding, by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine
  5. City of Thieves, by David Benioff
  6. The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection, by Lee Strobel
  7. Digging Deeper Into the Word: The Relevance of Archaeology to Christian Apologetics, by Dale W. Manor
  8. Paul, by Edgar J. Goodspeed
  9. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, by Robert W. Creamer
  10. Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture, by Walter Brueggemann
  11. The Need For College Ministry: Awakening the Church to One of the Most Receptive Mission Fields in the World, by Neil Reynolds
  12. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
  13. The Rule of Faith: A Guide, by Everett Ferguson
  14. Hear Me Out, by Philip Jenkins, et. al
  15. All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  16. The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, by David Halberstam
  17. Radical Restoration: A Call for Pure and Simple Christianity, by F. LaGard Smith
  18. Murder at Fenway Park, by Troy Soos
  19. Little League Confidential, by Bill Geist
  20. The Big Four, by Agatha Christie
  21. The Sticky Faith Guide for your Family, by Kara Powell
  22. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, by Rob Bell
  23. A Biblical Pattern for Church Growth: A Study of Ephesians 4.1-16, by Earl Lavender
  24. With the Old Breed, by E. B. Sledge
  25. Ballplayer, by Chipper Jones with Carroll Rogers Walton
  26. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
  27. Lead Small: Five Big Ideas Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know, by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas
  28. The Didache
  29. First Apology, by Justin Martyr
  30. Against Heresies, by Irenaeus*
  31. Prescription Against Heretics, by Tertullian
  32. The Stone-Campbell Movement, by Leroy Garrett
  33. On First Principles, by Origen*
  34. Oration in Praise of the Emperor Constantine, by Eusebius
  35. Conference 1, by St. John Cassian
  36. The Rule of St. Benedict
  37. The Trinitarian Controversy, ed. by William G. Rusch*
  38. Ten Tips To Preaching To Students, by Frank Gil
  39. Confessions, by Augustine*
  40. The Distraction Slayer, by Michael Hyatt
  41. The Christological Controversy, ed. by Richard A. Norris, Jr.*
  42. I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, by Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler
  43. Proslogion, by Anselm of Canterbury
  44. Why God Became Man, by Anselm of Canterbury
  45. Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
  46. The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer
  47. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  48. Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World: A Hopeful Wake-Up Call, by Brock Morgan
  49. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, by Justo L. González
  50. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
  51. Advent: Seasonal Readings, by N.T. Wright
  52. Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields

A few major observations before I talk about a couple of specific books:

  • My reading total increased from 51 books in 2016 to 52 books in 2017. And this included a couple of very large volumes of 700-800 pages.
  • I really enjoyed my reading in 2016, and felt that 2017 was a little bit of a step down. My Top 10 books for the year are highlighted in bold above, but there are several in the list above that did not make that cut that I still enjoyed.
  • My reading was a little more varied this year, which probably reflects that I wasn’t in grad school until August, and thus had more free time to read what I wanted.

Some of my favorite books from 2017.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys: This is a novel, set in the closing days of WWII, with the interesting narrative device of four different characters who alternate as narrators with different perspectives and individual stories that converge into the main plot of  he book. The characters are interesting, the story is compelling, and the short chapters made it a compelling read that was hard to put down.
  • Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding, by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine: Maybe this is cheating because this was actually a re-read for me, but Kingdom Come was still one of my favorite books of the year. As regular readers of this blog are aware, I am a bit of a Restoration Movement history buff, and this book does a great job of telling the stories of two second generation Restoration leaders, and suggesting ways in which embracing some of their ideas can be beneficial to Churches of Christ moving forward.
  • The Rule of Faith: A Guide, by Everett Ferguson: This is a short book, but somewhat dense, and it provides a series of excerpts from early church fathers in which they describe the “rule of faith”—the basic content of Christian belief that had been received from the apostles. This was not a formalized creed that would later be required for catechumens or accompany baptism, but was simply the basic contours of Christian orthodoxy that had been handed down from one generation to the next. This is a fascinating read especially for those who (like me) believe that Christian unity is important, that unity must be based on at least some certain common beliefs, and that those beliefs should be present in the early, historical manifestations of Christianity.
  • Radical Restoration: A Call for Pure and Simple Christianity, by F. LaGard Smith: Smith is always worth reading to me, because he is such a keen and original thinker. This book is especially intended for those who see the value in attempting to emulate the practices of the early church, and boldly confronts a lot of current practices that would be very foreign to the biblical worldview. I actually wrote about this book a bit earlier in the year, and described it as an “endearing combination of brilliant insights and prolonged axe-grinding,” which I still think is the best description I can give it.
  • The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, by Kara Powell: I have written about Sticky Faith (the “parent” of this book) many times over the years, and this is a worthy companion to the original volume. Based on the same research, it is slightly different in emphasis: if Sticky Faith is 2/3 theory and commentary and 1/3 practical ideas, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family is the reverse. Simply put, it is filled with ideas of practical steps you can take at home with your kid to build a faith that will “stick” with them throughout their lives.
  • With the Old Breed, by E. B. Sledge: This is a WWII memoir that focuses specifically on the Pacific Theatre. The battle accounts are a punch in the gut, but Sledge provides thoughtful reflection throughout as he wrestles with the horrors of war while maintaining the necessity of it, at times.
  • Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance: This book has been criticized in some quarters, and perhaps rightly so in that at times it paints with too broad a brush, and perhaps make claims that can’t truly be justified based on the anecdotal evidence of one family. At the same time, the story is remarkably poignant, and undoubtedly unveils important truths about certain swaths of American society. As the descendant of Ozark hillbillies, the story certainly resonated with me.
  • I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, by Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler: I tend to like baseball biographies and have read several over the years, but this was one of the better ones. From Aaron’s unflinching evaluations of his teammates, to his discussion of his transformation into a true home run hitter, to his singleminded focus on race, I found this to be a book filled with new and fascinating information. In particular, despite being a baseball history buff and a lifelong Braves fan, I had never realized the degree to which Aaron considered himself a race man, with the specific task of carrying on the legacy of Jackie Robinson.
  • The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, by Justo L. González:  I took a church history course as part of my grad school program this past fall, and this was one of the texts we used. You can probably find something to quibble with in any text that covers 1500 years, but on the whole I thought this provided an excellent overview and was an enjoyable read. I am a nerd, but I don’t generally sit around reading textbooks, but this one was so good that I even went back and read chapters that weren’t assigned. If you are looking for a thorough and solid overview of church history, I highly recommend this book.
  • Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields: This is a youth ministry classic, and shame on me for reading it after being a youth minister for a decade! I was still able to learn new things from it, but boy, I wish I would have read it back when I started. This is simply a must-read for any new youth minister (or foolish veteran like myself who missed it early on!).

So, that was my reading for 2017. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

I have already laid out the first 15 or so books that I am hoping to read in 2018, and after I (knock on wood) graduate in May, I should have more control over how I choose to spend my reading time. I am looking forward to that.

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

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

(Not) Praying in the Garden

On the night Jesus was arrested, the Gospels tell a familiar story (Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46). Jesus, in great distress about what He knows will soon happen to him, takes Peter, James, and John with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be in prayer and then withdraws to pray by Himself.

Jesus’ prayer is famously filled with agony and desperation: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He comes back to check on his friends, and finds them all asleep. He rebukes them, and withdraws again, praying the same prayer. Then He returns to find them asleep again, and the pattern repeats again a third time.

After the third time, a mob arrives and arrests Jesus, and as He predicted, His disciples flee in fear.

Conjecture: might it be that Jesus was strengthened by His night in prayer with the Father, and was thus now steeled to face the ordeal of mockery, torture, and death that loomed before Him? And as the same time, could it be that in their slumber, the disciples deprived themselves of the means to remain faithful to Jesus during the hour of trial?

As Christians, we pray to change circumstances and events around us, but we also pray (or maybe even, we primarily pray) to change us. Prayer helps to bring our wills in line with God’s will, to strengthen our resolve, and to quiet our fears. I have a hunch that if Peter, James, and John had heeded Jesus’s request to pray with Him on that fateful night, their behavior during the trying times that followed might have been very different.

James A. Harding once said, “[Prayer] is an enormous power, the mightiest that can be used by a mortal, that few of us use as we could and should.”[1] When we sleep (literally or metaphorically) instead of pray, what transformation do we miss out on? In what moments of trial do we desert our Lord because our resolve has not been strengthened in prayer as it could be?


[1] James A. Harding, “Does God Answer Prayer?” Christian Leader and the Way 19 (September 19, 1905), 8.

« Older posts

© 2019 The Doc File

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑