Being Terrible at Patriotism, Canada vs America, & Barnabas vs Avocado Toast

Fireworks, grilling, and spending time with friends. That’s what you do on Canada Day, which happens to be the day we’re releasing this episode. Oh, and Independence Day is this week, too, and all the Americans do that same stuff. Except bigger. And more explosive. Because that’s how we do it here in America. Thinking about this got us all kinds of patriotic in the studio, and you get to enjoy the benefits. Listen in as we discuss:

  • Which country has a better national anthem?
  • Nicknames for America and Canada
  • Dave reveals his midlife crisis by eating avocado toast
  • How Canada became a sort-of semi-independent country
  • How Canadians learn about America
  • America’s dubious history with dealing with issues
  • Books that help us learn about the histories of both nations
  • The problem The West Wing and comedic timing

As always, thanks to our friends at Lagares Coffee Roaster for partnering with us to make the Table of (mal)Contents blend. Order all the bags you can handle today.

A few of the books mentioned on this episode:

Bonus content: Will Ferrell’s “Get Off the Shed” sketch.

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11 resources you should read about the Reformation

Luther Statue

As you no doubt are aware, it’s Reformation season! Every year, this time of year is like Christmas for theological nerds, but this time it’s really special because, 500 years ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, and accidentally changed the world.

If you’re like me, the chances are pretty good you’ve been looking to do some reading about the Reformation, some of its more notable figures, and their theological writings. Today, I want to share with you a selection of resources I would highly encourage engaging with as you seek to better understand this movement that changed the course of history:

  1. Echoes of the Reformation by Brandon D. Smith. This is a group study produced in partnership between LifeWay Christian Resources and The Gospel Coalition that explores the Five Solas of the Reformation. Regardless of the time of year, this is a study that is worth engaging in your small group.
  2. A Simple Way to Pray by Martin Luther. This book contains some of the most helpful advice I’ve ever read on prayer: using the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed to focus and guide our prayers.
  3. Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. Admittedly, I’m biased since I wrote it. But this is a very accessible introduction to the man who kickstarted the Reformation in earnest. (There’s also a nifty book version available here, too).
  4. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton. This biography is essential reading for those wanting to dig into the background of the German Reformer.
  5. Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Carl Trueman. Based on a series of lectures, Trueman addresses why the Reformation continues to captivate and frustrate so many even to this day, and why its theology endures. This is a super-accessible book, one that I’d highly recommend for anyone interested in this era but not sure where to start.
  6. Institutes of the Christian Religion by the Theologian Who Shall Not Be Named™. Regardless of your opinions of said unnamed theologian’s views, The Institutes is one you should read to gain a better sense of the theology that shaped much of the west.
  7. Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This is one of the two books I’d encourage reading to give you greater context on why the Reformation happened at all. The fires were burning long before Luther came on the scene
  8. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham. For a more extensive—but readable—treatment of church history, this is a great series to invest in.
  9. The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves. This is another book that offers a solid introduction to the major players and ideas of the Reformation. (Stephen Nichols’ The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World is another great primer in the same vein.)
  10. Martin Luther’s Table Talk. If you’ve ever wondered what a dinner conversation with Luther would have been like, this is the book for you. Covering a plethora of theological and social issues of the day, this is one of the places where we see Luther at his most pastoral.
  11. Luther’s 95 Theses by Martin Luther. You can find them online and in different volumes, but regardless, you’ll do yourself a disservice if you don’t read the document that actually set the world on fire.

What I read in July

What I read in July 2017

I am always consuming books, whether they’re physical, digital or audio. Every month, I like to share a breakdown of everything I read, including the books I abandoned. I do this because it gives me an opportunity to introduce you to books you might not have had an opportunity to read while practicing the art of writing concise book reviews.

In July, I read 8 books to completion and started a couple of others that have yet to complete. Here’s what I read:

  1. Teen Titans Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best by Benjamin Pearcey
  2. Doom Patrol, Vol. 1: Brick by Brick by Gerard Way
  3. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  4. Justice League vs. Suicide Squad by Joshua Williamson
  5. Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David P. Murray
  6. God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker
  7. Subscription Marketing: Strategies for Nurturing Customers in a World of Churn by Anne H. Janzer
  8. The Content Trap by Bharat Anand

Thoughts in other places

I reviewed Reset a couple weeks back, describing it as one of the most personally convicting book I’ve read in ages. So if you want more thoughts on that, do check out the review. I also shared a few thoughts related to The Warmth of Other Suns the other day, so I’m not sure there’s more I can say about it right now. (Incidentally, this book is one of the reasons there are so few books on the list this time around—it’s very long, but very compelling.) I’m also gearing up for a more thorough review of God and the Transgender Debate, so I don’t want to give too much away on that, except to say this book is as close as it gets to required reading for those serious about ministering to individuals in the LGBT community, especially those identifying as transgender.

Books with pictures: short, snarky, and kind of trippy

This month’s books with pictures were an interesting mix. Teen Titans was one of the books that suffered the worst in DC’s “New 52” era. The first volume of the Rebirth era is definitely off to a good start with kinetic art, a costume that resembles actual clothing for Starfire, and just enough of Damian Wayne’s (Robin) jerkstore-iness, that comes together in a story I’m comfortable having my eldest daughter read. Which she has. Multiple times. In a week.

Justice League vs. Suicide Squad was the first major event book of Rebirth, building off events in the Batman books. The story is fast paced, and the art works well, with Jay Fabok’s being the highlight for me. Sadly, this one isn’t one I can share with my daughter anytime soon as it’s way too intense, but it’s still a fun read.

And then there’s Doom Patrol, which is part of Gerard Way’s Young Animal line at DC. As strange as it sounds, it reads like a satisfying pop song—it’s catchy, creative, and fun. I really don’t want to share too much lest I give it away, but if you were a fan of Grant Morrison’s run on the series back in the 1990s, you’ll be thrilled with this one.

Marketing and marketers

My work-reading pile is growing, largely because I want to keep getting better at my job. Subscription Marketing is a fast-paced and practical read, with a number of helpful tactics for organizations that use some kind of recurring revenue model (think Netflix, your magazine subscription, and even your Compassion sponsorship). The major emphasis in the book is reminding marketers who the experience is really about: the customer. (This is not a new revelation, but it is always a helpful reminder).

The Content Trap, on the other hand, is a necessary corrective for all of us who are prone to latch onto whatever the next big idea is (think all the people trying to make a viral video happen). The author reminds his readers that, fundamentally, marketing doesn’t really change that much, regardless of the latest innovations. Our job is to know the customers and offer up a solution that meets their needs, and that wild success, virality, or whatever isn’t about figuring out a secret formula, but about understanding the network connections within your audience. (Note: this book is crazy long. Before deciding if you really want to read it, check out the Ted Talk.)

That’s it for this month’s round-up. Do you find these posts helpful? Do you have a suggestion for a book for me or someone else to read or want to share what you’ve read? Connect with me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know!

Here’s a look at what I read in:

What I read in May

May 2017 reading

I am always consuming books, whether they’re physical, digital or audio. Every month, I like to share a breakdown of everything I read, including the books I abandoned. I do this because it gives me an opportunity to introduce you to books you might not have had an opportunity to read while practicing the art of writing concise book reviews.

In May 2017, I read 13 books to completion and started a couple of others that have yet to complete. Here’s what I read:

  1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
  2. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson
  3. The New Teen Titans, Vol. 5 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
  4. The Door Before by N.D. Wilson
  5. The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson
  6. Hal Jordan & the Green Lantern Corps, Vol 1: Sinestro’s Law by Robert Venditti et al.
  7. ESV Reader’s Bible Volume II: Historical Books
  8. Detective Comics Vol 1: Rise of the Batmen by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows and others
  9. Detective Comics Vol 2: The Victim Syndicate by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows and others
  10. Church History in Plain Language (4th Edition) by Bruce L. Shelley
  11. Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson
  12. Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Vol 1: Who Is Oracle? by Julie and Shawna Benson, and Claire Roe
  13. Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

There’s no discernible pattern in my reading this month for the most part, aside from I had fun reading different kinds of stories. Here are a few thoughts on the whole pile.

Imperfect Christians, Christian history, and family legacies

I don’t want to say too much about it because at some point in the near future I’m going to review it, but The Imperfect Disciple is probably the best book of Jared Wilson’s I’ve ever read, and definitely the best one intended for Christians I’ve read all year. So encouraging and helpful. This was my first go around with the fourth edition of Church History in Plain Language (I’ve read the third edition previously). This one-volume edition is a must-read for anyone who wants to explore how the past has shaped our present.

Hillbilly Elegy is one of those books that everyone was reading last year that I finally got around to. Vance gave himself a challenge with this book: how to tell an honest story while honoring his family. Usually one loses out, and maybe someone closer to the author could say which wins in this book. For what it’s worth I found it a compelling read, one that digs into some of the cultural and historical background of his family’s dysfunction, but still puts his love of his grandparents in particular on full display.

Books with pictures, pop culture, and activism turns cliché

I borrowed Empire’s End from the library really just to see how Wendig wrapped up his story as I found the first two volumes in the series reasonably entertaining. This one was more or less of the same, but in hindsight the plot in the series as a whole is pretty thin (which might be strange to say given that it’s a media tie-in book). Really, the three books could have been one really tight and compelling novel. But there wasn’t enough to warrant three books.

New Teen Titans Vol. 5 was a lot of fun overall, and I’m continuing to really dig the whole feel of DC’s Rebirth initiative. Most of the books I’ve read have warranted at least reading a second volume, and so far there’s only been one series I’ve not introduced to Abigail at all due to the content being a bit too mature (Green Arrow). Of this month’s batch, Hal Jordan & the Green Lantern Corps, Batgirl & the Birds of Prey, and volume one of Detective Comics are the standouts. The stories have a good hook, and the art fits the tone of the stories.

Detective Comics Vol 2 and Empire’s End both remind me how tired I find social progressives’ activism on matters of gender and sexuality. One of Empire’s End‘s main characters is gay, and his heroic actions are motivated in part by his relationship with another male character. Detective Comics also introduces a transgender character, Dr. Victoria October, whose brief appearance is filled with references to the process of transitioning (“pupal stage,” “dead name,” and so forth), and caused some pop culture enthusiasts to celebrate Batman as a transgender ally. But honestly, I don’t see what the fuss is all about. Of course a transgender character will be in Batman, and a gay character will be in Star Wars. That’s the formula, in all it’s predictable glory. So why celebrate what you know is going to be there?

Binge-reading Wilson

This month I was able to read three of ND Wilson’s books, including his soon-to-be released prequel to 100 Cupboards, The Door Before. But first, I want to say a couple of things about the other two books. First, Leepike Ridge, which was Wilson’s first book for the youth fiction market. I think what I enjoyed most about this one wasn’t so much the story as seeing the evolution of Wilson as a storyteller. The dialogue isn’t quite as sharp. The peril is a touch milder (but only a touch). There’s just not quite the same level of confidence as in his more recent books.

Second, The Chestnut King, the third book of the 100 Cupboards series. I read this right after reading the prequel, and it was refreshing to see an author manage the continuity well. To my knowledge, I didn’t see any major inconsistencies, which is refreshing.

Finally, The Door Before. If you’re a fan of either Ashtown Burials or 100 Cupboards (or both), you’ll be overjoyed reading this book. Wilson did a terrific job of bringing these two worlds together in a very satisfying way, and managed to pull off writing a prequel that still manages to have a real sense of drama and danger. Consider it as close as you can get to essential summer-reading, gang.

That’s it for this month’s round-up. Do you find these posts helpful? Do you have a suggestion for a book for me or someone else to read or want to share what you’ve read? Connect with me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know!

Here’s a look at what I read in:

Know the Heretics

Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb

“Heretic” is one of those words we struggle to use well. Often times, you see it used in one of two ways—either liberally or ironically. One equates all disagreement with apostasy, the other pretends disagreement doesn’t matter at all.

Both rob the word of its power.

Justin Holcomb understands the seriousness of heresy and what it means to call someone a heretic—it is “a weighty charge that [is] not made lightly, nor [is] it used whenever there [is] theological inaccuracy or impression” (14).

So how do we learn to use this word wisely? By knowing what heresy really is. And so, we have Holcomb’s newly released Know the Heretics. This short book introduces readers to several heresies that have threatened the church throughout history, and how the controversies surrounding each—whether it be the requirement to obey the Law, the existence of original sin, or the Trinity itself—helped shape the church as it is today.

Learning from the past to understand the present

It’s tempting to pretend that ancient heresies don’t matter anymore because, well, they’re ancient. But this tendency is our chronological snobbery at work. We like to think we’re beyond the problems of the ancient world; that because we are so much more advanced, we couldn’t possibly fall prey to the same errors our spiritual forbearers did.

You know what they say about those who ignore the past, right?

That’s why we need a book like this one. “This book is a case study of fourteen major events when the church made the right call—not for political or status reasons… but because orthodox teaching preserved Jesus’ message in the best sense, and the new teaching distorted it,” Holcomb writes (12).

These case studies confront readers with our core problem: apathy. Take Sabellianism—a form of Modalism—for example. The reason this error gained ground so easily wasn’t because it was intellectually sound or vigorously defended. It gained ground simply because we have a tendency to be apathetic. The idea of the Trinity as best we understand it from Scripture—that there is one God who exists in three persons (Father, Son, Spirit)—is one of the chief areas in which our apathy reigns.

It’s not that we don’t care, though. It’s just that the idea of the Trinity is too hard for us to comprehend fully. “Compared with the idea that God is merely one, the orthodox answer might seem overly complex and philosophical, or an unnecessary later addition to the authentic Christian faith” (85).

So we wind up not thinking about it too much, and use really bad analogies to describe it—often ones that themselves find their roots in Sabellianism. But, as Holcomb notes, “Trinitarian theology…takes seriously the idea that God has revealed himself in Scripture and wants to be known, and that he has revealed himself in a certain way” (85). And so, the Bible forces us to answer the question of whether or not God is one or three.

Just as practically, having a sense of the Trinity better helps us respond to the claims of other religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who actually view biblical Christianity as Sabellian:

Since many of the errors that these groups ascribe to mainstream Christianity are actually Sabellian in nature, it is useful to know the middle road that orthodox doctrine strikes between unity and distinction. Being able to articulate concisely what the Trinity is, how it makes the best sense of Scripture and how it affects our salvation and the worship of God can be valuable in witnessing to others as well as developing our own relationship with God. (86)

The Trinity also helps us see the power of the gospel at work—in fact, it’s safe to argue that without the Trinity, there is no atonement. Only if Christ is God as well as man could He pay for the sins of the world. Without the three persons of the Godhead agreeing from before the foundations of the world to redeem and rescue sinners, we’re left with a deficient view of the gospel that sees it as some sort of back-up plan.

These are the truths we ignore at our peril.

Understanding God’s purposes in heresy

Reading Know the Heretics is equally disheartening and encouraging. It’s disheartening simply because it’s easy to see the heresies of the past still making the rounds in our day, in one form or another, as (mostly) sincere people ask sincere questions, but accept wrong answers. These lies continue to be propagated, and men and women continue to be lead astray, thinking they know God when they are in fact rejecting Him.

But it’s also encouraging because, in learning more about the heretics of the past, readers gain greater insights into God’s purposes in allowing these aberrant teachings to exist—to strengthen the Church’s understanding of the truth about—and love for—God. “In order to love God, one must know who God is… right belief about God—orthodoxy—matters quite a bit” (156).

  • Without the Marcionites, we may never have formally developed the canon of Scripture.
  • Without the many heresies surrounding the nature of God and Christ, we might never have had the doctrine of the Trinity clarified.
  • Without the Pelagian error, we might not have as significant an understanding of the grace of God in saving sinners.

In that sense—and in that sense alone—we should be thankful the events and teachings Holcomb describes, not because falsehood is praiseworthy, but because the truth about God is.

Particularly valuable for those taking their first steps into studying church history, Know the Heretics offers powerful insights into the past and practical relevance for today. Read it carefully, learn from the past, and be encouraged for the future.

Title: Know the Heretics
Author: Justin Holcomb
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Book Review: The Church History ABCs

The study of Church history is an incredibly rewarding—and daunting—experience. In the 2000 years since Christ founded His Church, we’ve seen slave-traders dramatically converted into hymn writers, men give up their lives so that people can read the Bible in their own language, church fathers martyred for defending the faith, a reformation that transformed the world and countless other events. If there’s one thing Church history is not, it’s dull.

So how on earth do you begin to introduce kids to the riches of Church history? How about alphabetically?

In The Church History ABCs, author Stephen J. Nichols and illustrator Ned Bustard, introduce children to 26 heroes of the faith from Augustine to Zwingli. Nichols keeps his text lively and concise, avoiding getting bogged down in too many details about the people to whom he is introducing readers. I particularly enjoyed his write-up of Ulrich Zwingli:

I always come last because my name starts with “Z.” Zurich starts with a “Z” too. Go used me to teach the people of the city of Zurich about Jesus. From Zurich, the Reformation spread to other cities in Switzerland (there’s a “Z” in that word, too). I preached many sermons. One of them had a funny title, “On the Choice and Freedom of Foods.” . . . The Reformation came to Zurich. I wanted everyone to know that we should follow God’s Word and do what it says. The Bible tells us everything we need to know from A to Z.

Bustard’s clean illustration style is a lot of fun and very expressive. I’m impressed at his ability to communicate so much personality in such “simple” drawings (my wife is an illustrator, so I know how difficult a task this can be). It’s a style that serves the content and the audience well.

From a parent’s perspective, The Church History ABCs is a lot of fun—the basic premise is intriguing enough to  make you want to pick it up and take a look, the content is strong enough to give a firm foundation in the bigger picture of Church history, and it’s a neat handy tool for teaching your kids the alphabet. Get a copy for your kids today.

Title: The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith
Authors: Stephen J. Nichols, Ned Bustard
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Book Review: Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg

Title: Anne Bradstreet
Author: D. B. Kellogg
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

The colonization of America in the 17th century was a fascinating time period. The circumstances that drove men and women to travel for weeks to forge a new life for themselves in what would become the United States are beyond what most of us can fathom. And the story is often told as acts of relentless heroism and bravery in the face of uncertainty.

Except when it comes to the Puritans. The Salem witch trials and an inflexible attitude & work ethic are, sadly, what the bulk of us think of when we consider the Puritans who founded much of New England.

And because of this, it’s easy to overlook figures like Anne Bradstreet, a devoted Puritan, wife, mother and… poet. Published as part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series, Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg offers readers a taste of the life of this extremely unusual figure.

And unusual she was. Read More about Book Review: Anne Bradstreet by D. B. Kellogg

The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Kostenberger and Kruger


As postmodern ideas have taken root in our culture, exclusive truth claims have increasingly come under attack. Jesus is the only way. The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. Orthodoxy and heresy exist.

These are not popular ideas. And in academic circles, the desire to debunk these beliefs has been making the rounds for some time—most notably with the publication of German academic Walter Bauer’s work Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934). In this volume, Bauer puts forth the idea that, rather than Christianity being characterized from its earliest days as unified in the preaching of Jesus’ apostles, the earliest Christians were marked by radical diversity. Today, Bauer has found an impassioned advocate in scholar Bart Ehrman, whose books such as Misquoting Truth and Jesus Interrupted, have brought Bauer’s thesis to the popular level—to the point that today, the only heresy is orthodoxy.

That’s why Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger wrote The Heresy of Orthodoxy. In this book, the authors carefully examine the Bauer-Ehrman thesis and seek to show readers why we can trust the Bible and rest in the knowledge that the faith we have is what was taught by Jesus and His Apostles.

Unity or Pluralism: Which Came First?

Divided into three parts, The Heresy of Orthodoxy first deals with pluralism and the origins of the New Testament. How did the Bauer-Ehrman thesis come about? How diverse was early Christianity? And when did heresy first arise?

While the Bauer thesis asserts that different “Christianities” developed in geographical regions and that “the Church Fathers overstated their case that Christianity emerged from a single, doctrinally unified movement” (p. 40), the authors’ brief survey of the available data suggests otherwise. Starting as Bauer did with late first/early second century sources, they reveal a Christianity that is marked by remarkable consistency, particularly when dealing with the person of Jesus Christ. The authors write:

Although the late first and early second century gave birth to a variety of heretical movements, the set of (Christological) core beliefs known as orthodoxy was considerably earlier, more widespread, and more prevalent than Ehrman and other proponents of the Bauer-Ehrman thesis suggest. . . . [W]hen orthodoxy and heresy are compared in terms of genesis and chronology, it is evident that orthodoxy did not emerge from a heretical morass . . . heresy grew parasitically out of an already established orthodoxy. (pp 66-67)

But rather than relying on comparatively late extrabiblical sources as did Bauer, Kostenberger and Kruger investigate the earliest sources we have: The New Testament itself. Their study reveals that, contrary to Bauer and Ehrman, orthodoxy even at that stage was far more widespread and the prevalence of heresy was far too narrow to suggest that there was an even playing field. Read More about The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Kostenberger and Kruger