Stuck in the Present


Bruce Brander, riffing on the assessment of the great Henry Adams:

“…the miracles of modern technology were only mistaken for progress. They amounted to humanity’s drawing unprecedented sums of energy from sources outside itself, which testified to rapid exhaustion of people’s inner energies and personal resources and their growing dependence upon nature’s reserves to sustain and enhance their lives. Technology merely masked decline, then served to speed it along.” (emphasis mine)

Brander’s book which has not nearly received the attention it deserves, is here:



Last year, I read Gibson’s terrific Living Life Backward. Ecclesiastes has a fond place in my heart.

I received a copy of this book from a friend who discipled me 47 years ago. I am now 66.

There are many, wonderful things I could offer about The Lord of Psalm 23, but I have one concern, but an important one in my estimation. It relates to what Gibson wrote on page 70 and 71 about the “steady advance of a soul unafraid to die…”

Like the author, I have been privileged to be with some as they are nearing death. I have seen the same thing that Gibson wrote of in these pages, but I also know believers who experienced terror at the end of life.

I Cor. 15:26 speaks of death being an enemy. We also have John Bunyan’s account of Christian’s dread as he makes his final trek to the Celestial City. And then there is John Donne and others I could add who were not always at peace with God.

[As mentioned in the subject line, the author responded favorably to my concern. It’s wonderful to see this kind of humility in action!]

Gibson wrote a beautiful and penetrating book full of important insights.

I am better for having read it!


Allen Guelzo is one of my favorite historians. I recently reread his Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. It brilliantly captures the sights and sounds of The Civil War.

If you want to know how Professor Guelzo writes and does his research, you can find it in my interview with him:

A productive scholar, Professor Guelzo has a new book. Our Ancient Faith: Lincoln, Democracy, and the American Experiment is only 171 pages long, but I made over 150 marginal notes.

When I started reviewing and interviewing authors I came up with “Moore’s Law of Worthwhile Reading.” It goes like this: Take the total number of pages in a book and divide by two. If my marginal notes exceed that number, then it was a worthwhile read. You can see by that calculus that Professor Guelzo’s more than made that cut.

If you were to ask whether I find Professor Guelzo’s writing optimistic or pessimistic, I would answer, “Neither.”

In Our Ancient Faith he certainly offers sober reflections on the fragility of the democratic experiment. His characteristically judicious treatment of Lincoln has all kinds of inherent warnings for us today.

However, I find Professor Guelzo, after reading four of his books, both realistic and genuinely hopeful. His hope is certainly a tough earned one. It is tethered to his Christian convictions, but not in the irresponsible way where the past is ransacked for talking points that fit one’s preconceived bias.

The flow of history also informs Professor Guelzo’s hope. He doesn’t sugarcoat the bad actors, nor does he gloss over the weaknesses and error of those like Lincoln whom he clearly respects. In a word, Professor Guelzo does not traffic in either hagiography or cynicism. Again, you get “thick realism with hope.” (HT: Will Willimon)

If you are looking for wise and beautiful reflections to make better sense of our own tumultuous time, I highly recommend Our Ancient Faith. And if you are not looking to make better sense of the present, then read Our Ancient Faith to see why you should!



I have benefitted from listening to John Mark’s sermons and interviews. He has much good to offer the church.

My expectations for this latest book were high, but I was disappointed.

It is not easy to convince others that a popular book may be lacking in some critical areas because the sheer success in sales makes most wonder what the heck you are yapping about.

Since I am sure John Mark would want me to register these thoughts as he seems to have a genuine desire to honor God, I plow ahead with this review.

There are certainly some wonderful insights and turns of phrase that we have come to expect from the author, but the punchy and provocative style failed to deliver this time. Here are some of my concerns:

On page 140 he approvingly cites John Wimber’s longing to do miracles. Like John Mark and Wimber, I believe miracles happen today. However, quickly citing Wimber’s famous question about being antsy to see miracles was careless. Wimber’s “When do we get to do the stuff?” meaning his eagerness to see miracles, needs more warning about the abuses inherent in such desires.

Comer says that he does not care much about whether you attend a megachurch or house church. He doesn’t think forms matter much. As he says, “…they each have pros and cons.” What matters is whether formation (or apprenticeship to Jesus to use his language) is taking place.

Here there needs to be an honest conversation that perhaps some forms stymie formation from taking place. I’m increasingly convinced that form is not neutral. Forms matter. For example, if your church is so big that it is impossible for the elders to be known by the body (I Pet. 5:1-3), then the form is keeping you from fulfilling the clear teaching of Scripture.

John Mark says that “Love is the metric of spiritual maturity, not discipline.” Again, I wish John Mark had written more. I wish he had brought Gal. 5:22,23 into this discussion where both love and discipline are fruit (not fruits) of the Holy Spirit. He leaves the reader assuming a false dilemma.

One final example comes from the short discussion on prayer (pp. 183-85). In an effort to encourage us to start praying, John Mark writes, “There is no bad way to pray and there is no one starting point for prayer.” I know John Mark believes the warning Jesus gives about “bad praying” in Matt. 6:5-15 is very much applicable today. Jesus makes it clear that there are in fact “bad ways” to pray.




Here is a picture of our home library. There are more books downstairs, but this is the main library. 

As promised, I wanted to offer the various ways you can build a great library without spending too much. Here in no particular order are the things we’ve done:

Check out your local library sales. They happen on a regular basis. When we lived in Palo Alto, we got a 19th century hardback edition of Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest for fifty cents! It deeply impacted both of us. In between her discipleship meetings with students, I vividly remember my wife reading it (many times with tears in her eyes) in the student union at Stanford.

Used bookstores. You never know what you might find. I found a first edition of God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley for $5 in Annapolis. A few months back I found an old biography on H.L. Mencken for $1. While thumbing through to make sure it was clean, out fell two personal letters from Mencken. They got appraised for $250 and $150. I was already thrilled about just getting the book for $1!

Garage sales. Many people don’t know what they have. Yes, there is usually an abundance of pulp fiction, but I have found some incredible and valuable books.

Amazon has many partners who sell new and used books. I have ordered several and rarely had a problem. I typically look for used books which say there are no markings/like new. And I look at how many good votes they received as a carrier.

Write reviews. Publishers will send you free review copies if you have access to a solid platform. For example, if you want to write for a blog with decent readership, here is how to get started:

*Familiarize yourself with the blog by reading it on a regular basis.

*Don’t comment too often and don’t make your comments long. I am amazed how many people still violate these simple tips. When I see a long comment on a blog post, I always pass over them. The only exception is when someone comments who is an expert on the topic under discussion.

*Thank the blogger for their efforts with the blog. If you have been posting thoughtful and brief comments, they will probably have some vague idea of who you are. If you write them a personal note (again keep it brief!), you will definitely separate yourself from the masses! A younger pastor recently sent me a hand-written note of thanks for one of my articles. Putting pen to real paper makes a big difference.

*Pick books to review the blogger would appreciate.

*Approach them about the possibility of doing one.  

*If they say no, know that real authors don’t lost heart.  Persevere. Perhaps your writing is not as good as you think. Perhaps the blogger does not connect to your style.  Whatever the case, real writers keep writing. Real writers don’t write simply to get published. Real writers write because they must whether many or a few are listening.

*If the blogger says yes, work very hard to do a great job writing the review.  

So this is kind of a twofer: how to build a library and a few thoughts about getting your work noticed.

Finally, if a book makes a big impact on you, and if the author is still alive, write him or her a short note of thanks. Believe me, no matter how famous the author, it is a great encouragement. And yes, I’ve had authors send me books as a thank-you for my thank-you, but that of course should not be one’s motivation for writing.  




There is a good chance that your assumptions about philosophy are mostly wrong. There is even a better chance that you believe little to no “practical” benefits come from thinking philosophically.

Well, Ross Inman is here to gently correct you on both counts.

In short compass (173 pages) Inman packs a lot in. He writing is consistently clear, and he offers wonderful illustrations along the way to drive his points home.

Inman is an enthusiastic salesman for the glories of thinking and living with a philosophical bent.

This is a wonderful book and a delight to read. I will be recommending it with gusto.


When I first started reading this book, I thought it might be a good, but not great book. In the beginning I assumed it would be rather boiler plate theology and missions. Perhaps a good survey of the salient issues. It is that for sure, but it offers so much more!

In rather short compass at 171 pages Pardue covers a lot of terrain: how culture should be understood in doing Christian theology to how we Westerners can benefit greatly from brothers and sisters around the world.

After working through this marvelous book and taking north of 100 notes in the margins, I am not surprised that it won an annual book award from Christianity Today.

Highly recommended!




In 2016, I interviewed Professor Garrett Sheldon on his terrific book, The Philosophy of James Madison.

That interview can be found here: 

Staying Home on Election Day? What would James Madison Say?

Recently, Garrett asked about whether I would like to receive a copy of his memoir. Once it arrived, I immediately started to read.

Sometimes in lieu of a traditional book review, I will briefly list some of the things that I appreciated about a book. I am going to employ that approach here. I normally don’t alliterate, but it kind of came together this time:

Heart-breaking: The suicide of Garrett’s mom and the difficulties of dealing with his father.

Heart-warming: There are some wonderful people along the way that provide friendship and keep the author on a healthy trajectory.

Humorous: This book contains some funny anecdotes.

Heady opportunities: Garrett had the opportunity to brief a president of the United States, teach at some stellar schools around the world, and write books with top-notch publishers.

Humility: Even with the former reality, the author demonstrates a humility, even a healthy self-effacing attitude.

Holy-Spirit nimbleness: When Garrett found himself in some tough spots as a Christian, the Lord wonderfully provided him with the right words to say.

Whether you have interest in the life of an academic or not, you will be blessed by reading this story of God’s evident mercies and redemption.



I have read several books by John Piper. None were duds. Perhaps my favorites are When I Don’t Desire God and The Supremacy of God in Preaching.

This latest offering has all the things we have come to expect of a Piper book: God-centered, engaging style, and an earnestness that forces you to consider your own life in light of the Bible.

This is a terrific, and short book (only 171 pages) on what true, Christian learning looks like.

Highly recommended!