The Sense Of Humor by Max Elliot Anderson

The Sense Of HumorThe Sense Of Humor: Let Humor Fast Track You to Healthier, Happier Living

by Max Elliot Anderson

Paperback, 330 pg.
Elk Lake Publishing, 2016

Read: February 15 – 22, 2017


E. B. White famously said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” And I’ve found no exceptions to this in the couple of decades I’ve looked. Nevertheless, when Anderson asked if I’d read the book, I said yes. Sadly, White’s quip contains more meat than Anderson’s 330 pages.

The central thesis of the book is that humor and laughter are good mentally, physically socially and spiritually. I’m pretty sure most people know that (at least with most of these things) without Anderson’s help. That doesn’t stop him from saying it over and over again — almost every time, it’s like he hasn’t said it before. As it’s such a benefit, he argues, we need to increase our use of it in our family, relationships, professional life, etc. A time or two, he adds a vaguely Christian-ish gloss to this to add some weight to his argument, but those attempts are pretty weak and best ignored for the author’s sake.

His use of sources is laughable — there are no footnotes/endnotes, many of his citations come in the form of “one entertainer said, . . . “, his history is easily demonstrably wrong. In short, the writing is shoddy and in dire need of a capable editing — which would make the whole thing a lot shorter.

The humor used to tell his point? Well, it’s mildly amusing at best. His chapter “Humor that is No Laughing Matter” is basically a narrow-minded nag-fest about sticking to types of humor that Anderson has arbitrarily decided is appropriate and avoiding humor that he doesn’t like. Everything else is just dull. Overall, the tone and content of the book don’t match up to the subject matte.

This would have made a fairly benign and marginally interesting magazine article, or TL;DR blog post — but as a book? Nope, it just doesn’t work — it ends up spreading what material there is too thin to be any good. It’s too filled with what everyone already knows (and repeats it) and shoddy writing to waste your time with.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts, I think it’s pretty clear that such didn’t bias me toward the book.

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2 Stars

No Little Women by Aimee Byrd

No Little WomenNo Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God

by Aimee Byrd
Paperback, 278 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2016

Read: February 12, 2017

This book is — by and large — an examination and critique of contemporary Women’s Ministries, and the materials marketed towards women in a Christian context. Byrd doesn’t call for an abolition of Women’s Ministries — but does want to encourage women and the churches that they’re members of to evaluate these with a greater level of discernment, for churches to work at cultivating and equipping female members the same way they seek to for the males in the congregation.

Byrd examines the warnings Paul gives about those seeking to deceive and lead away women — and the impact that would have on the churches of the First Century (and today!) when they succeeded in drawing away women from the truth. Why does Paul focus on women in this context? Should pastors today do the same? Which leads to a discussion of the proper means and motives for educating the females in a congregation, and the roles that women (and laymen) should have in the ministry of the Church.

Byrd discusses (and critiques) the contemporary concept “ministries” of the Church in contrast to The Ministry of Word and Sacrament. And in that light, examines the role of “Women’s Ministries” (even if she finds the term problematic, it’s what everyone uses, so her discussion needs to use the term) in the Church today. So much goes on in even conservative, confessional churches under the umbrella of Women’s Ministry that diverges from — even flat-out contradicts — the teachings from the pulpits. How did we get to this point, and how does the Church respond to this in ways that will lead us all to maturity without causing harm and disunity in a local congregation?

Byrd doesn’t claim to have all the answers here, but she has some good places to start. One of the biggest ways is to improve the level of involvement from Church Leadership in the Women’s Ministries/Initiatives. Another is to improve discernment in women when it comes to dealing with books/teachings marketed toward them. Byrd devotes a chapter to citing problematic (and worse!) passages in popular books targeted to the Christian Woman Non-Fiction audience, with questions that discerning (or would-be discerning) readers should be asking. She even includes questions that people should be asking about No Little Women!

It should be noted — and stressed — that nowhere does Byrd argue for a change in the Church’s teaching on male/female relationships and roles, female ordination, or anything along those lines — she does argue that we might not be the best at applying those teachings right now.

What makes this book poignant is Byrd’s repeated call — maybe pleading would be a better way of putting it — for Church Officers (Pastors, Elders) to pay attention to the theological and spiritual development and education of the women in their congregations (and the never stated, but obvious, indictment of the all-too-frequent abandonment of their call in this regard). Yes, when it comes to the official and regular Ministry of Word and Sacrament, these officers are doing their duty — but when it comes to the books (and other materials) marketed towards them, the studies they use, the “Women’s Ministries,” etc. — all too often, it’s ignored. Byrd asks for Shepherds and Leaders to step up and help the women in their congregations — and even gives some tips for how they can effectively relate to these oft-neglected parishioners. Do I think most of the men she’s addressing here think they’re ignoring any part their flocks? No (and I doubt Byrd does either), but they sure appear to be.

A quick digression: At one point, Byrd cites statistics saying that Women buy 72% of the Christian Fiction sold and 59% of the Christian Non-Fiction, and another survey stating that Women read twice as much Christian Non-Fiction as men. Seriously? This is rather disheartening. What do Christian men read? Are we (on the whole) an illiterate group? This blog isn’t the proper setting for this question — and I’m sure not the one to answer it, but I hope someone takes this up (Sinclair Ferguson helps to remedy the problem in this small [and 15-year-old] booklet).

Byrd writes in her typical straight-forward manner, in a prose that’s smooth and easy to read. Despite challenging her readers, she never comes across and condemnatory or anything but encouraging. There’s a call to action (sometimes implicit, frequently explicit), but consistently done in a positive manner. Byrd’s seeking to improve how the Church — women, pastors/elders, and laymen — carries out Her mission, not to tear down.

Ultimately, I’m not one of the main target audiences — women and Church Officers — so I had a hard(er) time really getting into sections of this book than I’d like. But as a husband, father of a daughter, and layman concerned with the theological education of his fellow laity — a lot of this book was alarming, yet encouraging. Someone’s taking this seriously — and hopefully she’s raising enough awareness that others will follow suit. You don’t have to be a feminist or ecclesiological revolutionary to be concerned with the state of theological training of Christian women (and everything she says about Women goes for our teens and children) — it’s a matter for all laity to take up. This is as close to a must-read as I can think of.

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4 Stars

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017


I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.

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3 Stars

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture by Matthew Barrett

God's Word AloneGod’s Word Alone—The Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Matthew Barrett
Series: The 5 Solas Series

Paperback, 374 pg.
Zondervan, 2016
Read: January 8 – 22, 2016

For this installment in The 5 Solas Series focuses on the material principle of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura. Despite being almost 200 pages longer than VanDrunen’s entry in this series (the benefit of being the series editor is that you get more space?), this book is too short for what it tries to accomplish. Which is really the long way around for me to say that this book tries to do too much — and ends up giving shallow presentations to things that deserve more.

Part 1 is an exploration of the understanding of — and challenges to — Biblical Authority around the time of the Reformation and through history since then. While Barrett gives a strong and competent explanation of these themes, I couldn’t help feeling that I’ve read them before — frequently — by other authors.

Part 2, an exploration of the doctrine of Scripture/The Word of God throughout Redemptive History, I thought was very promising. This could be the backbone of a very compelling study, and I hope someone takes Barrett’s work here and builds on, expands and deepens it (if someone has already written this book — please tell me!). It’s probably here most of all, that I noticed how much space forced Barrett to stick to the surface of this subject rather than exploring it in the depth it asks for.

Part 3 was a more polemical/apologetic focus — discussing challenges to the Authority of God’s Word. This was probably the strongest part of the book — in particular, I thought his chapter on Innerrancy was pure gold. Nothing new or particularly insightful was offered in this section, but there seemed to be a bit more passion, a bit more energy to this Part.

This is the second in The 5 Solas Series that I’ve read, and the second that I was underwhelmed by. It’s good, but does little to commend it above many other titles on the subject. Barrett knows the subject, explains it well, but doesn’t inspire the reader to anything. I don’t mean to suggest by my frequent notes that “there was nothing new” that I need novelty — I prefer a lack of novelty to my theology. But I do want something about a book to stand out in the way it discusses things before I can really get excited about/impressed with a book.

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3 Stars

The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee by R. David Cox

The Religious Life of Robert E. LeeThe Religious Life of Robert E. Lee

by R. David Cox
Series: Library of Religious Biography

PDF (will be published as paperback), 259 pg.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017

Read: December 25, 2016 – January 1, 2017

I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world.

So wrote Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife while serving in Texas, and according to R. David Cox it summarizes his theology. If you have to sum up a man’s theology in 3 sentences, that’s a decent one to have.

Robert E. Lee was no theologian, he wasn’t a pastor or preacher or religious scholar of any kind. He was a churchman, however. Seemingly a faithful one who served as he could — and he was a believer in the middle of a tumultuous time for American Protestantism and American as a whole, as such what he thought about the tumult from his religious perspective is instructive and fascinating reading. Which is pretty much why anyone might want to read this (and probably why Cox wrote the thing).

By and large, the book is a chronological look at Lee’s life, what’s going on in the national and ecclesiastical culture, and how Lee (and his family members — particularly his wife) responded to it and how his faith grew throughout his life. It’s not exactly a biography, but it is biographical. There were a couple of chapters that stepped back from the chronological look, and examined Lee’s perspectives on specific topics (the above quotation about providence comes from one of those). I particularly enjoyed and appreciated those.

I was surprised how little space was devoted to the years of The War Between the States, honestly. It may be that there wasn’t that much material — Lee was probably too busy to write a lot of things in letters that he might normally have (like: thoughts about sermons heard, theology, ecclesiastical concerns, etc.), that’d certain be understandable. Cox might be the one historian who doesn’t like writing about that time period. It might just be that his pre- and post- War writings were better material for the book — there are any number of good reasons for it, I was just surprised that the one thing the man is best known for is so little represented in the book.

One of the drawbacks of this book is the author’s perspective on Lee himself (at least what came across to me as his perspective, I could have read him wrong, he could have written it in such a way as to be easily misinterpreted, etc.). I’m not saying that I want a hagiography, nor do I want Cox to be some sort of Lee fanboy. A critical eye is essential. There’s an element of Chronological Snobbery (to borrow Lewis’ phrase) here when reflecting on Lee’s racial and political views. I have no problem with Cox disagreeing with them (I disagree with many of them), but he came across as patronizing (at least on the border of it). To a lesser degree, I thought the same about some of Lee’s religious views. But this didn’t crop up often, and when it did, it was easy to gloss over or ignore. It’s a drawback to the book, but not a reason to avoid it. If anything, Cox came across as detached and neutral when it came to the subject and his religion (it was impossible to tell if Cox shared any aspect of belief with Lee) 98% of the time. It’s just that 2% or so . . .

This is a part of Eerdman’s Library of Religious Biography series — which I hadn’t heard of until now. I have one sitting at the top of my To Be Bought pile (talked about it last month in a Saturday Miscellany post), but I didn’t realize it was part of a series. The books in the series are intended to “link the lives of their subjects – not always thought of as ‘religious’ persons – to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them.” It’s a fascinating concept, and I’m glad this series exists. I hope to get more of them soon.

This was a fascinating read, if a bit dry and detached. Neither’s bad, and may be commendable under the right circumstances (which may include such a divisive figure as Lee), but it doesn’t make for the best read. That, plus my ambivalence towards some of Cox’s attitudes toward the subject, makes me rate this 3 Stars. That’s still a recommendation, and I’ll gladly tell anyone to read it — believer or nonbeliever — if they want to understand Lee better, but I’m not that enthusiastic about the book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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3 Stars

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody

by Anna Kendrick

Hardcover, 271 pg.
Touchstone, 2016

Read: December 22 – 26, 2016


Unlike some of the celebrity memoirs I’ve read this year (and yeah, there’s been a lot of them — I’m not sure why), this is a pretty straight-forward one. Roughly chronological, it covers Kendrick’s life and career from childhood to the last year or two. What separates this is Kendrick’s voice — it is so strong, so funny (I almost wish I’d gone for the audiobook version — narrated by the author — instead for her literal, not just authorial, voice), so brutal.

Thankfully, she saves most of her mockery for herself, so she comes across as charmingly self-deprecatory and insecure.

I’m not sure what to say about this, without resorting to a very long list of quotations that will be too long, and yet not long enough.

I chuckled often, I enjoyed the look at her life and strange childhood; the behind-the-scenes anecdotes about some of her films and award-shows; the present-day social awkwardness. I may not have much to say, but it’s only because my brain isn’t firing right tonight (it seems), not because the book doesn’t deserve it.

If you’re a fan of Kendrick’s, you’ll enjoy this. If you wouldn’t call yourself a fan, but have enjoyed some of her work, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you don’t know anything about her, you still might like this (and get a list of movies to go look into).

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4 Stars

Sons in the Son by David B. Garner

Sons in the Son Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ

by David B. Garner

eARC, 400 pg.
P & R , 2017

Read: October 23 – December 11, 2016

At the heart of Pauline soteriology is the redemptive-historically charged concept of adoption (huiothesia). For Paul, the entirety of our redemption—from the mind of God before creation itself until its eschatological completion in our bodily resurrection—is expressed by filial reality, filial identity, and a filially framed union. As we will see in the following pages, this filial grace in Christ Jesus is expressly and implicitly, in Pauline theology, adoption.

I remember the first time I was really introduced to the doctrine of Adoption — sure, the idea had been mentioned throughout my Christian life, and using some material from an Ancient History class on Roman culture, I’d developed my understanding a bit, but it wasn’t until I’d been Reformed for a year or two that I heard someone seriously discuss the doctrine — the elder of the church I belonged to at the time walked us through the Westminster Confession’s teaching on it — the most robust development and explanation of the doctrine in Reformed Confessional history. I recall being struck by this teaching, how vital it was — and then hearing very little about it (on the whole) for the next couple of decades.

You see, despite being one of the three benefits the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that they who are effectually called partake of in this life (the other two being justification and sanctification, with several benefits that flow from or accompany these three), by and large, it’s been ignored in favor of the other two. Garner will describe it as a “deafening theological silence characterizing huiothesia [adoption] since the WCF.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

Garner wants to push this doctrine to the forefront, to the limelight that it deserves, has pursued this in various forms throughout the years, and now brings it all into focus through this outstanding book.

He begins by describing various approaches to the topic — historically, linguistically, and so on — and sets out how he will proceed and build upon the best (primarily: Calvin and Westminster). This is a daunting section, but does well setting forth the landscape. It was interesting and thorough, I don’t know that it wowed me at any point, but it certainly whet my appetite for that which lay ahead.

Part 2 is where the major Biblical heavy lifting takes place — Garner goes for in-depth exegetical looks at each text that touches on the topic, building both a case for each text individually, as well as a Biblical-Theological whole. I will be honest, a lot of this went over my head — at least the details. But Garner writes in a way to ensure that even untrained laity can follow the his train of thought.

In part 3, Garner brings Adoption into Systematic Theology, primarily discussing its relation to Justification and Sanctification. He brushes up against some of the recent Justification controversies here, and demonstrates how a better understanding of Adoption, can (and should) play a significant role in resolving them. He does similar work with some Sanctification controversies — but not as much, partially because Justification has been a larger issue of late, and because historically Adoption has been (incorrectly) considered as forensically as Justification. This section probably takes more work to understand than the Exegetical section, but that could be just because I don’t try to get too much of a handle on the Greek, and I don’t have that hang up with English. Takes more work, sure, but doable.

Garner isn’t writing for laity explicitly, but he doesn’t write in a way that’s only accessible by theologians and scholars. Yeah, you sometimes there’s a lot of technical jargon to wade through, but it can be done (if nothing else, you feel smarter — and probably learn a couple of things). It was a bit weightier than most of what I’ve been reading lately, and I took my time with it to make sure it didn’t overwhelm me (it easily could have).

It’s absolutely worth the effort — this book is full of pastoral application, it will help you understand and appreciate the Pauline texts — and will deepen your assurance. This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Read this one. I will re-read it — I’m even going to buy a hard copy when this is released, you should, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I meant it, I’m buying a hard copy as soon as I can.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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5 Stars