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The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Theology (page 1 of 40)

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 for 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.

Asleep In The Storm

There are a couple of different instances recorded in the gospels where Jesus and His disciples are caught up in a storm while on the Sea of Galilee. Both of these are fascinating stories, and they have a way of captivating the imagination.

Matthew 14 recounts the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s stumbling efforts to walk towards Him. He succeeds for a moment, but then, overwhelmed by the waves and the wind around him, takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. Jesus rescues him, rebukes his faith, gets into the boat, and the storm ceases. It is a fascinating event from the life of Jesus, and one from which we can undoubtedly learn much, but it is actually the other “storm” story I want to focus on.

This one drawn from Luke 8/Matthew 8/Mark 4 is likely familiar to you as well. Jesus and His disciples are out on the sea when a storm arises. The disciples are alarmed, and seemingly with good reason—the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was filling (Mark 4.37), swamped (Matthew 8.24), and they were in danger (Luke 8.23).

But Jesus was unconcerned, even unaware (or so it seemed) of their plight—He was asleep on a cushion in the boat. Asleep in the storm.

In such circumstances, the apostles do what seems sensible to them in the moment. They awaken Jesus, and in the face of His seeming lack of concern, ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In light of the life, teachings, service, and, ultimately, the sacrifice of Jesus, it seems like a ludicrous question, but imprisoned in the circumstances of the moment, it seemed like a fair question to the disciples. Jesus was asleep; He didn’t seem to care. He seemed absent from their sufferingOf course, we know the truth: He was there all along.

•  •  •

If I am honest, I can identify with the apostles here more than I might like to admit. As I have written recently, this has been a tough year for my daughter. She has experienced seizures for most of her life, but this year they have gotten worse, and we have struggled to control them. What’s worse, the frequency of the seizures and/or the many medications she is on to try to control them has led to a lessening of her energy, a muting of her (delightful) personality, and even some regressions in the abilities she has worked so hard to develop over the last few years.

Some days are better, with fewer seizures, more energy, and more personality, but other days are really hard. The emotional roller coaster is exhausting. This has been our situation for several months, despite the constant prayers of Caroline and myself and the faithful intercession on her behalf from countless friends and family (both physical and spiritual). You could say that we are experiencing our own “storm” right now, and have been for a while.

At times, it feels like we are drowning with grief, about to capsize, and the question the apostles asked Jesus seems like an appropriate one: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” It can seem that God is absent.

The other day, I read through Luke’s version of the story recorded above, and it struck me in a way I had never thought of before (which, by the way, is one of the remarkable things about Scripture—as you read it and reread it, new insights constantly avail themselves to us; it is a transformative book!). So often in life, when we are living through a storm, we ask God to take it away from us, and when He doesn’t, we are left to wonder whether He cares about us at all.

But I think Luke 8 offers us a different perspective—in the midst of the storm, Jesus is neither distant, nor uncaring. He is right there with us, in the boat, riding out the storm. His seeming absence obscures His glorious presence. And while He certainly has the power to take the storm away (and we earnestly pray that He does so!), He asks us for faith, faith that His presence will protect us from being overwhelmed by the storms of life.

The Christian Story, Free Will, and Love Potions

Really, the Christian Story is a fairly simple one. God created a world that was good—beautiful, well-suited for its purpose. Humanity, created in God’s image, was the pinnacle of creation, and was given the vocation of ruling over, tending, and cultivating what God had made.

But something went wrong. Rather than living according to the standard that God had set up, Adam and Eve determine to go their own way, and in choosing to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, grasp for moral autonomy. The results are disastrous as sin enters into the world, damaging the relationship between humanity and God, damaging the relationship between humans, damaging the way we view ourselves, and actively placing a curse on the good creation that God had made.

The rest of the Christian Story is basically the account of God working to redeem and undo the damage that was done in Eden (and continues to be done) when men and women seek moral autonomy for themselves. That redemption and undoing was definitely accomplished in the work of Jesus on the cross, but will ultimately come when death dies, God establishes the New Heavens and New Earth, and dwells with His people forever (1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21).

Not too long ago, I was summarizing this story to a group of teenagers at a weekend retreat that I was speaking at, and after I finished, a young man came up and asked me a great question: “If Adam and Eve’s sin caused so much damage, and God knew that they were going to do it, why did He create them with free will in the first place?”

This is a common enough question, but it’s a great question. It’s a thinking question, and I was proud of the young man for asking it (Incidentally, the question presumes that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. I am fine with that, but not all Christians agree with that presupposition. See these posts.).

How would you answer the question? The typical answer that is given is that God created out of love, wants His creation to love Him in return, and the only way for that to truly happen is if humans were created with the power to choose: love is only real if it is chosen, not forced. Typically, this is illustrated with the example of parents: parents want their kids to obey them, but they don’t want programmed robots; they want their children to lovingly obey them. And it is the same with God.

But this isn’t the metaphor I used with this young man, since I have found that parental metaphors are not particularly relatable to people who haven’t yet been parents. Instead, I said this: “Imagine there was a girl you really really liked. Everything about her was perfect. You are 100% convinced that this is the girl that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Now let’s also say that you had a magic love potion that you could give this girl that would make her love you forever. She would never know about it, but as soon as she took it, she would always love you faithfully. Would you give her the potion?”

Pretty quickly, the young man responded that he wouldn’t. When I asked him why not, he said, “Because it wouldn’t be real love.” And then, he got it.

Real love is at the heart of the Christian Story. Not coercive love. Not programmed love. Not love-potion love.

With all the freedom in the world, God chose to create us, and chose to redeem us through His Incarnate Son. And in response to the love that God has first shown us, He invites us to freely love Him in return.

Sacred Moments, Holy Ground

In Exodus 3 we encounter the famous story of God appearing to Moses for the purpose of recruiting him to liberate the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the way that God appears to Moses: in the form of a fiery bush that is not consumed by the flames that engulf it. As Moses draws near, God tells him to remove his sandals, because he is standing on holy ground. What made the ground holy? It was not that there was something inherently special about the bush. As a shepherd, Moses spent a lot of time leading his flock in the wilderness, and I think it’s possible that he had been by this same spot before, and had maybe even seen the same bush.

There was nothing particularly holy about it at those other times, but it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way.

We have had a rough time at our house for the last several weeks. Over the last several months, Kinsley’s seizures have gotten more difficult to control, which has led us to trying additional seizure medications and a special diet (you can read more about Kinsley’s story here and here). These efforts have not led to long-term improvement, and at the same time, Kinsley has been more withdrawn: she is often lethargic, sleeps a lot, and plays and interacts with us less. It is difficult to discern if this is caused by the many medications she is on, her seizures, some other factor, or some combination of all of the above.

Even more recently, Kinsley, who has always been a champ at taking her medicine, has become very stubborn about doing so: she will hold it in her mouth for a long time, sometimes eventually swallowing it, and at other times spitting it out. Obviously she does not get any benefit from seizure medicine that she refuses to take, so this aggravates the problem.

Last night as I was getting her ready for bed, I broke down. Kinsley again spit out one of her doses and I got incredibly frustrated and spoke to her in an exasperated tone. She just looked at me, with her beautiful, innocent, loving eyes. Immediately, my emotions changed, and I told her how truly and deeply sorry I was that she has to deal with all of the stuff and difficulties that she does, more than any little girl should ever have to.

And my nonverbal little princess, who has hardly communicated at all over the last several days, looked at me, put her hand on my chest, laid her head against me to snuggle, and reached out and held onto my arm.

What a powerful message she communicated! Even now, I can hardly write about it without becoming overwhelmed by emotion.

There we were, sitting on the floor by her bed, a place I have been countless times. But it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way: in His grace, God reached out to me and used my infirmed daughter as an instrument of healing.

P.S. We are going to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock tomorrow to consult with a neurosurgeon about a procedure that could potentially help with Kinsley’s seizures. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we continue to look for ways to help our little girl.

Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation

Introduction: The Bible as Literature

I recently preached a sermon in which I was discussing literary techniques that we see in Scripture. Sometimes people read the Bible in a flat, wooden sort of way, almost like they were reading a police report or something similar, where all you have is a list of facts and no sort of interpretation.

I think that is unfortunate, because the Bible is really a library of books all telling the same grand Story, and within that library, there are various types or genres of literature, and different genres of literature need to be read in certain ways if we are to understand and apply them faithfully. Much could be written both about different types of literature that we see in the Bible—wisdom literature, history, ancient biography, prophecy, poetry, apocalypse, epistles, etc.—and also different types of literary devices that biblical authors used to tell their stories in more powerful ways.*

Examining either of those in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but one literary technique that I do want to focus on here is what I call echoing, or the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.

Creation and New Creation

One powerful example of echoing can be seen in a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. I shared this particular example in the sermon that I mentioned above, and considering the feedback I got from people who had never noticed these strong connections before, I thought it would be worth sharing here.

Simply put, in the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth  Genesis 1-3:

  • In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
  • In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
  • In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
  • In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
  • Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
  • Genesis 2.12 tells us that God and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
  • God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
  • Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
  • As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
  • Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.

There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.

In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point: the creation that God created good but that was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!


*When I discuss Scripture as literature or as story, I am not suggesting that these characteristics somehow diminish its truth. I believe the Bible relates the truest Story of all, but it is still told as story, and employs a variety of literary techniques in the telling of it.

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