The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

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2019 Blog Review

Today is the last day of 2019, which means it is a time for reflection, and I generally (at least, when I remember to) like to reflect on my year of blogging here at The Doc File.

This was, I believe, my least voluminous year of blogging since I started writing in this space, way back in 2006. I lamented last year that I had only blogged 20 times in 2018, but that number decreased even further in 2019, to just 17 posts. This is disappointing to me, but also, in many ways, not surprising. In February, I announced that we were moving to a new city where I would begin a new job, and the reality is that the transition process has been very busy and this was reflected in my blogging output: 7 of this past year’s 17 posts were written within the first two months of the year before I got caught up in the transition process. In addition to that, I had a lot of technical issues with moving the blog between different hosting services, and so much of the time I did devote to The Doc File this past year was to ensure its continued functionality rather than produce content.

With that in mind, I am hopeful to do better in 2020. There are so many things that I want to write about; the key element will be carving time out in my schedule to do it (blogging falls under the important category but not the urgent one, and so sometimes, gets pushed aside for other things).

By traffic totals, here are my most-read posts during 2019:

  1. Moral Evil and Natural Evil, February 24, 2015
  2. The Role and Character of Elihu in the Book of Job, December 3, 2010
  3. Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation, April 25, 2017
  4. One Piece of Advice from a Youth Minister, August 21, 2019
  5. Lessons from David: Sin Has Consequences, March 17, 2014

Four of my top posts this year were not written this year, and three of the five (Evil, Elihu, Creation/New Creation) were in last year’s top posts as well. I am not sure why these remain so popular, but I am glad they are being discovered and hope they are useful to people.

The most popular posts from this year:

  1. One Piece of Advice from a Youth Minister, August 21, 2019
  2. A New Chapter, February 25, 2019
  3. The Full Tomb, April 19, 2019
  4. Reading in 2018, January 4, 2019
  5. The Story of the Bible, February 15, 2019

I am glad that the “One Piece of Advice” post got a good deal of traction, because it was something that was near and dear to me as a youth minister. Similarly, “The Full Tomb” was a piece I was proud of because I thought it contained an important message that is sometimes lost in the triumphalism of the Easter season. “A New Chapter” was a personal announcement about my family’s job transition, so it wasn’t surprising to me that a lot of people clicked on that. Every year I share about books that I read the previous year, and people tend to be interested in that sort of thing, and rounding out the top five was an announcement of a free resource that we had produced at Farmington that I made available on the blog (people like free stuff!).

As I hinted out above, there are a lot of topics that I would like to write about in 2020, and I am looking forward to seeing what the new year brings. I want to conclude by thanking everyone who reads, and especially to those who give me feedback, whether online or in person. May God bless each of you in the coming year.

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.

2018 Blog Review

When I remember to, I like to do year-end reviews here on The Doc File, and so before we move on to the new year, here are some brief reflections on what occurred in this space in 2018.

I only blogged 20 times this year, down from 26 in 2015, 27 in 2016, and 28 in 2017. Only blogging 20 times throughout the course of the year is disappointing to me, and I have plans to do better in 2019. At the same time, I have been doing this long enough to know that of all of my resolutions for the new year, my blogging resolutions seem to be the hardest for me to keep. ?

By traffic totals, here are my most-read posts during 2018:

  1. Moral Evil and Natural Evil, February 24, 2015
  2. The Emergence of Ancient Israel in the Land of Canaan, December 10, 2015
  3. The Role And Character Of Elihu In The Book Of Job, December 3, 2010
  4. Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation, April 25, 2017
  5. It Is Not The Lord’s Supper That You Eat: The Socio-Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, April 4, 2016

Something that you may notice about each of these posts: I didn’t actually write any of them this year! Perhaps that says something about the quality of what I wrote this year, but I prefer to think of it as some of these older posts having continued relevance and staying power. Also, three of the five posts are actually versions of research papers, so I like that people are reading and engaging with posts that are not fluff (I try not to write much of that anyway!).

As far as posts that I actually wrote in 2018, here are the most popular:

  1. Two Graduations: What My Special Needs Daughter Taught Me About Following Jesus, June 7, 2018
  2. Reading in 2017, January 5, 2018
  3. Scripture As Story, September 4, 2018
  4. Scripture As Story: A Literary Masterpiece, September 17, 2018
  5. Harding University Lectureship Recap, October 5, 2018

The “Two Graduations” post was a reflective piece I wrote about finishing grad school and my daughter Kinsley, and was probably my favorite post from this year. I also enjoyed writing the Scripture As Story series, and two of those posts made the top five. Every year I share about books that I read the previous year, and that post tends to get some traction, and rounding out the top five were my reflections on the Harding University Lectureship, which was more popular than I expected.

I have some plans for what I want to do here at The Doc File in 2019, but I will save those for a separate post. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who reads my scribblings here. This has been an invaluable space for me to process my own thoughts on various topics, and from the gracious feedback I continue to get from readers, it is of some benefit to others as well. This is humbling and encouraging to me. Thanks for reading in 2018, and I look forward to continuing the discussion next year!

2016 Blog Review

Not every year, but often, I do year-end reviews here on The Doc File, so I thought I would do that briefly today, before moving on to other topics and posts.

Frankly, I did not blog as much in 2016 as I’d hoped, because life got in the way in a multitude of ways. For a few reasons, I do have good reason to hope that that will change in 2017, but we will see.

Here were the top 5 most popular posts of 2016, by traffic:

  1. Hypocrisy’s Tribute and Donald Trump, February 25, 2016
  2. After the Election: A Plea for Christians, November 7, 2016
  3. Myths about Homosexuality, America, and the Kingdom of God, October 2, 2014
  4. The Emergence of Ancient Israel in the Land of Canaan, December 10, 2015
  5. What’s Wrong with Youth Ministers? Some Common (and often Legitimate) Criticisms, September 7, 2016

I am actually not a very political person, so it is perhaps interesting that my top two posts were both political in nature. However, that was the reality of 2016: the Presidential Election dominated everything. The first post voiced a prophetic opposition to the character of Donald Trump.  Many ministers and Christian leaders joined me in that opposition; some did not. The second was a plea for Christians to do more to impact the world in the ways they care about than simply casting a vote (which really doesn’t do much), and to not let politics divide believers. I felt (and still feel) good about both writings.

The “Myths” post is by far the most popular post I have ever written, and it continues to generate traffic despite my not having shared it this year. The research paper on theories regarding the Emergence of Ancient Israel in Canaan was a pleasant surprise for me, and the youth ministry post reflected something I thought was important, and I was glad that others thought so as well.

Last year at this time, I was disappointed that I only wrote 26 posts in 2015, and I hoped to do better in 2016. And I did! I wrote 27 times. 🙂

I did not do particularly well in following through on the plans I had made in 2016, with the exception that I did manage to write more about youth ministry. My goals for 2017 are similar to last year’s: I would like to write more often, an on a variety of topics that interest me greatly, including (but not limited to) youth ministry, Bible study, the practice of living as salt and light in a dark world, and the American Restoration (or Stone-Campbell) Movement.

I want to close by thanking everyone who reads The Doc File for doing so. It is always amazing to me and very humbling when I travel somewhere and meet someone who tells me that they enjoy reading my blog. My blog serves as a space for me to work out my thoughts on given issues, but I share it publicly so others can benefit from it. Thanks so much to those who read and are a constant source of encouragement to me.

2015 Blog Review, and Looking Ahead to 2016

As one year ends and the next begins, it is a natural time for reflection. I am a believer in New Year’s Resolutions in all areas of my life, and that includes the writing I do here on my blog. So today I offer a brief recap of 2015 on The Doc File, as well as some tentative plans and goals for 2016.

Although blog traffic is not the most important thing in the world, I do share my writings in hope that they will be beneficial to others, so I do keep some track of how many people are stopping by. I actually had quite a few visitors in 2015, despite the fact that I did a very poor job of posting regularly. That traffic largely stemmed from one post, which I actually wrote back in 2014 but went viral this summer. Here were the top 5 most popular posts in 2015:

  1. Myths about Homosexuality, America, and the Kingdom of God, October 2, 2014
  2. Bruce Jenner and the Multi-Faceted Transgender Discussion, June 4, 2015
  3. Grace, Law, and Salvation: What “Legalism” Does Not Mean, August 6, 2015
  4. The Perfect Church, March 31, 2014
  5. Suffering and God’s Knowledge of the Future, February 9, 2015

A couple of observations from this lists of top post: first, it is not particularly surprising to me that the top two most-read posts in 2015 were directly related to hot-button cultural issues. I do not like writing posts in reaction to current events, but clearly, people like to read that sort of thing. It is nice to see that people also like to read about theology and doctrine, however (see posts 3 and 5), because I enjoy writing about that more. I’m sure that there will continue to be a mix of that moving forward.

Second, it is interesting that two of the top five posts were actually written last year. That goes to show that things don’t have to be written recently to resonate with people, and in the future, I will try to do a better job of sharing some of my relatively older posts that people might have missed previously but would still enjoy reading.

Also looking back, I was disappointed by how little blogging I did in 2015. Going back to when this blog began the summer of 2006, my post totals by year are as follows:

  • 2006:15
  • 2007: 102
  • 2008: 100
  • 2009: 67
  • 2010: 34
  • 2011: 35
  • 2012: 103
  • 2013: 74
  • 2014: 69
  • 2015: 26

If one thing is clear, it is that I have been a very inconsistent blogger over the years! I can chart some of the ebb and flow of my post frequency with developments in my life over the last decade (starting grad school, determining to use my blog as a ministry outlet, starting an additional blog at a different location, etc.) Obviously, I have lacked discipline from year to year in making regular blogging a priority. To be completely honest, trying to balance regular blogging with ministry and grad school requirements has been very challenging for me, and I simply haven’t figured out how to do it on a consistent basis. I take some solace in the fact that I don’t know of many other people who I think do a good job of consistently blogging well while also tackling grad school and doing good ministry work, but I am still determined to do better in 2016.

Moving forward, here are some things to expect in the new year:

  • I want to do a better job sharing quotations from books that I find to be especially significant. I do quite a bit of reading and research, and this is one simple way for others to benefit somewhat from that (it will also help with more consistent blogging).
  • Brief reviews from books that I read, especially those that I think are worth recommending to others.
  • I am interested in the history of the American Restoration Movement as a hobby, and intend to blog about Restoration history and theology more. I don’t expect these to be particularly popular posts, but hey, it’s my blog! 😉
  • I’ll continue to write some periodic posts in the A Theological View of Suffering series. It is an important topic, and I’ve got more to say.
  • Considering that I am a youth minister, I don’t write all that much about youth ministry. I plan to do that more often this year.

I want to close by thanking everyone who reads The Doc File for doing so. It is always amazing to me and very humbling when I travel somewhere and meet someone who tells me that they enjoy reading my blog. My blog serves as a space for me to work out my thoughts on given issues, but I share it publicly so others can benefit from it. Thanks so much to those who read and are a constant source of encouragement to me.

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