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Monday, September 12, 2016

An Apologetic for Christian Theology

Here I am on a Monday night and my internet is not working. With five classes going on at the same time, that means trouble. So what do I do? Write a post about something that’s been on my mind.
I think we’ve all been in conversations that go like this: “This is my position and here is the evidence for it.” “Yea well, I don’t like your position or your arguments.” The ad hominem isn’t there; this is more about the weakness of not liking the evidence but showing nothing in return.

This is particularly prevalent in Christian circles and about theology. Like it or not, we are all, in some ways, a product of our environment. If you grew up attending a Presbyterian Church, for example, you would probably have definitive positions on infant baptism and predestination, although you might not know exactly why you hold to those things. Transversely, if you grew up in going to a Pentecostal Church, you might hold the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit in high regard. I have my own positions on these issues and more.

Where we run into trouble is holding dogmatically to such positions without a good reason. What seems to be the case in Christian circles today is the ability to engage in an argument/discussion without significant evidence to counter the opinion at hand.

Some people believe that I am ardently inflexible when it comes to matters of theology. This, however, is not accurate. I hold to certain positions because I believe the evidence found in the Bible holds sway over other interpretations. If you can provide an argument that is convincing, I may join your side.

Let us work through this logically: if there is a god, then we would only know he was there if he revealed himself to us. As Christians, we believe not only that there is a God, but He has revealed Himself to us in two ways: first, through the created things (Rom 1:18-20) and second through His revelation in scripture. This is how we know God.

From God’s revelation, we can then examine what God wants us to know about the created world. For example, you don’t have to travel far in the Bible to know what it says about sin (see Genesis chapter 3). If we wanted to see what the entire Bible said about sin and synthesize it, we would be practicing systematic theology.

My argument is that many Christians in the world are oblivious to how doctrines are formed and how they relate to the entire Bible. Part of this rests on interpretation. Opponents of a certain doctrine will find one verse and decry it as the death knell for the doctrine you are purporting. Well, it is more complicated than this because biblical interpretation is not an easy task. The advantages of systematic theology is that it takes into consideration what the entire Bible says about a particular doctrine. This is useful in determining which doctrine is correct. You are not simply holding fast to one verse in the Bible to support your argument; rather, you are viewing the Bible in its entirety to determine which doctrine is supported throughout it.

We can run into more problems with this. One might ask, “What about verses that seem to contradict?” This question is probably asked more because of a misunderstanding of what a particular verse says than a contradiction. But even still, we have to remember that God is outside of conventional human wisdom. We should study these things with a loose grip on our own position to approach it objectively as possible. When we let our biases take control, then we read into the inspired word more then is there and we run into significant problems.

Which is really the purpose of me writing this: we need to approach the Bible, and theology in general, with the intention of finding the truth, not what we want the truth to be. Too many times I’ve engaged in discussions with people who say things like “I don’t think that’s right” but have nothing to offer in rebuttal. This goes back to our conditioning as Christians: we live life in a particular Church and subconsciously (or consciously) absorb their particular brand of Christianity. That is the antithesis of objectivity.

Dr. David Wells has argued in his book, “No Place For Truth” and “The Courage to be Protestant” that the biggest thread missing from American Christianity today is the absence of a strong theological foundation. Throughout Church history, one can look and see the legacy left by men like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. These men were committed to the study of the word of God and held fast to their convictions not because they were ignorant of the truth, but because they studied the word day and night. They were grounded in on a foundation of theology.

We, too, need to recapture this tradition. 

As American Christians, we live in a society that praises spirituality but looks down upon academic religiosity. We are so inclined to believe in doctrines that make us feel good and less inclined to be studious as the Bereans were to do our research, questioning if this is truly from God. We shy away from contentious debate as if our cry for unity is more important than the truth. If our position holds little weight biblically, it should be rejected. If it stands the test of the systematic study of the Bible, we can be fairly sure that it is within the scope of the revelation of God as proper and true.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In Defense of the National Anthem

I've read probably a dozen articles justifying Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit during the National Anthem. In each one, the authors demonstrate that the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key, was a racist and wrote racially charged lyrics into the song. For example, the third stanza reads:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Among these articles, people are making bold statements such as 1) Kaepernick did what was right because of these racist lyrics; 2) the anthem is racist; 3) Francis Scott Key was racist. 

Take for instance what Shaun King says:
Like Kaepernick, I've had enough of injustice in America and I've had enough of anthems written by bigots. Colin Kaepernick has provided a spark."The Star-Spangled Banner" should've never been made into our national anthem. That President Woodrow Wilson, widely thought to be one of the most bigoted presidents ever elected, chose it as our national anthem, is painfully telling as well.
 Several things are wrong with this analysis and, as an introduction, I want to demonstrate how ridiculous this mistaken fervor over the anthem has perpetuated these absolutely crazy theories from a historical perspective. First, King gets wrong that Woodrow Wilson "chose it as our national anthem." Even a cursory look over wikipedia will reveal that while Wilson did have the anthem played at military ceremonies, it wasn't actually initiated as the national anthem until Herbert Hoover signed it into law in 1931. Which is interesting because King says, "First off, the song, which was originally written as a poem, didn't become our national anthem until 1931," which was well after Wilson got out of office. So here is my first point:

This is a controversial issue that is being argued for by historical inaccuracy.

The writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, as many know, was during the War of 1812. One article I read about this issue is by Jon Swartz where he says of the war:

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don’t ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.
This is an oversimplification that isn't even close to being correct. To suggest that a whole war was fought because the budding country was attempting to exercise imperialistic domination over the British is absurd and dishonest. Very briefly, and more accurately, the war was fought over two primary issues (and there are more, but for time's sake...): 1) the British were sponsoring Native American raids from Canada into what is today Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. By initiating skirmishes around the Canadian-American border, the United States attempted to usurp some territory from the British to be used as a bargaining chip. 2) During the Napoleonic Wars, the British found their recruitment stretched. For this reason, they started capturing American Merchant Marines and forcing them into service for the British. This was called impressment.

So no, it was not "an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire." The real reasons were much more complicated than Swartz makes them out to be.

When the British attacked Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key was present and penned the famous poem that became the national anthem. The controversial third stanza speaks of "hireling and slave" that "no refuge could save." These progressives have interpreted this as a racially charged statement claiming that Key and the anthem is racist and represents bigotry (to support their argument that Colin Kaepernick was justified to sit during the anthem). But the truth of these claims are suspect.

The British utilized escaped slaves from the United States and incorporated them into the "Colonial Marines." They were a Corps of slaves who made up this new unit. This gave the British a tactical advantage: the slaves knew the geography better and were brave warriors. It is well known that the British throughout their Imperialistic history have used colonies to fight their wars (take for example the Indian Regiments in World War I who fought for the British), but it is interesting to see almost universal praise for the British in this undertaking. King says, "These black men were called the Corps of Colonial Marines and they served valiantly for the British military. Key despised them." Swartz says, "The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, 'The Star-Spangled Banner' glorifies America’s 'triumph' over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters."

It is interesting to see this kind of backwards logic. It is ok for the British to subjugate former slaves to military service (and that isn't racist?) but for Key to support the defeat of this Corps is racist? But that doesn't make for a good story: what is hot right now is Kaepernick not standing for the anthem. It is with the support of their fabricated historical metanarrative that they can make such claims while leaving issues such as this out of the picture. Not to mention that the British were still fighting with Napoleon in Europe, so utilizing former slaves provided them with bodies who would take bullets and not have a huge effect on the mainstays of the British forces when they returned, intact, to Britain to continue the fight.

Then we have Francis Scott Key himself, a controversial figure (or that's how he is portrayed at least). He was a lawyer and spent time defending slaves in court. In Marc Leepson's "Francis Scott Key, A Life," he says, "Soon after he set up legal shop in Georgetown, Francis Scott Key began representing slaves and freed African Americans in legal disputes, including civil actions in which slaves petitioned for their freedom" (Leepson, 25). Leepson goes on to say, "... Francis Scott Key had a deserved reputation as someone who spoke out against the evils of slavery and offered his legal services gratis to slaves and former slaves" (Leepson, 26). You would never know such things from King's article, where he says, "Key, as District Attorney of Washington, fought for slavery and against abolitionists every chance he got."In an article by Jason Johnson entitled "Star Spangled Bigotry: The Hidden Racist History of the National Anthem," Johnson states, "[Key] was, like most enlightened men at the time, not against slavery; he just thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness." Which is interesting: the historian would suggest that Key was someone who "spoke out against the evils of slavery" and yet the two journalists would suggest that Key was a racist.

To further the claim that Key was a racist, several commentators have pointed to his involvement in the "American Colonization Society." The organization believed that if all the slaves could be transported back to Africa, the slavery issue would be settled. Key helped organize the first meeting of the society in 1817. Johnson states, "[Key] supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and, with a few exceptions, was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at the time." This however, isn't exactly true. Let me introduce you to a well-known fellow in American history: Abraham Lincoln. Steven Woodworth says,

Lincoln sought by means of suggesting programs of gradual, compensated emancipation, along with the deportation of the freed slaves to Africa or Central America, to persuade border-state Unionists to give up slavery voluntarily, starting a process he hoped would spread to the rebellious states as well (Woodworth, 58).

All of this evidence presents me with my second point:

History is much more complicated than you think, and utilizing history for the purpose of defending a thesis that is built upon fragile ground is dishonest.

King has the audacity, at the end of his article, to state, "I will never stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" another day in my damn life." But let's be honest: if the poor history he used to support his position is any indication of what he believes, is this even necessary? I fully agree that there are injustices in this country and we need to work towards fixing this. But what is frustrating is these progressives are using history to support their strange ideologies. History requires one to, as the old adage says, "walk a mile in someone else's shoes." Yes, slavery IS and WAS wrong. But if you lived in this time period, would you have thought so? Attempting to look at these issues from a 21st century moralistic perspective is asking for bad history. History is a series of facts that are interpreted to create a story. We all have biases, and these biases impact our interpretation of history. So the true aim of the historian is not to look at history and say "what can I use to support my worldview?" but rather "what happened and how can I synthesize that information to create a coherent story?"

I don't particularly care about Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the national anthem. I do take offense that the journalists who wrote about the anthem refused to get history correct and used to it further a political agenda. And what is further, they got so many facts wrong that they should be ashamed for trying to purport a legitimate history from their shoddy research.

Which leads me to my final point:

If you can find a country without a dark past, you should live there.

Every country has some semblance of a past or a present that is littered with tragedy. Every country has made mistakes in its infancy or even in the present. If we were to proverbially "sit down" during a national anthem for whatever country we lived in because of injustice, we would be standing for literally no anthem. Herbert Butterfield said,
"It has been said that the historian is the avenger, and that standing as a judge between the parties and rivalries and causes of bygone generations he can lift up the fallen and beat down the proud, and by his exposures and his verdicts, his satire and his moral indignation, can punish unrighteousness, avenge the injured or reward the innocent."
Our purpose for utilizing history should not be to justify political agendas; as demonstrated, this inevitably leads us to error. If we were to place a 21st century moral expectation on early America, we would have to condemn George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and most of the founders and signers of the Constitution. I love what John Fea says in his book, "Why Study History": "People in the past cannot defend themselves. They are at the mercy of the historian." Yes this country has made mistakes, but are we to condemn them? This may sound cliche, but if the answer is yes, you should probably understand the art of historical knowledge better.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Christian Historian

Francis Schaeffer says in his book, "How Should We Then Live,"

 People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at his life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People's presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions (Schaeffer, 1)
This is possibly one of the most concise and important statements on worldview this writer has ever read. Reading into the world the truth of "what exists" is one of the most profound exercises we as humans can dwell on. This affects every part of our being, whether we realize it or not. Our own particular worldview touches every facet of our lives, shapes us as individuals and people, and impacts those things in which we chose to pursue, whether it be in law, science, or history.

Of particular concern is the role of worldview in the life of the historian. The worldview of the historian that is Christian is not simply an over spiritualization of events to demonstrate that God works behind and beneath all events in human history. It isn't simply pointing the finger saying "God did this"; that perhaps is self-explanatory. Rather it is, as Schaeffer says, "a grid for all they bring forth into the external world." Worldview itself tells us that there are biases that every person brings to the table in interpretation. What exactly those biases are are largely determined by your particular worldview.

The Christian historian gains the unique perspective of seeing the world through the lens of scripture. It is the presuppositions of an infinite God outside of time and space who not only created the universe, but intimately knows and loves His creation that gives the Christian historian the "grid" for how the world functions. From this, we can understand that God is the author a creator of history and that the Bible is the authentic and historically accurate word of God. Through it, we can not only know who God is, but we can learn how to be righteous in His eyes.

And this perspective vastly influences the interpretation a historian utilizes. It helps us recognize that God is sovereign without over spiritualizing events; it helps us understand that God is the author of history; it demonstrates that man is sinful and prone to wrong doings; and it shows how fallible and small man is and how awesome, great, and infinite God is.

History is a great teacher. It can guide us and teach us about ourselves. From the Christian worldview, history is also redemptive in that it calls attention to great events. And there is no greater event in the history of the world that the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for sin on the cross so that we can become justified in the sight of God.


Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live? the Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Some Thoughts On Writing in Books

Ever since I became a bibliophile a couple of years ago, I have heard the same advice about book reading over and over: you need to write in your books. But the question I always asked was: how? What do you do? I would attempt to take out a pen and underline a bunch of stuff and felt like I wasn't doing anything. That is, until a couple of months ago. I read a book last year that gave them same advice and finally fed up, I took to the internet. I learned some things and with a combination of my own prowess and the things I learned, I came up with a really helpful system that has changed the way I read books. I thought I would present some of what I do in this post to help those out there who were like me and don't really know where to start when it comes to writing in books.

A warning before we begin: I read mostly non-fiction so the pointers you find in here will be only helpful in that realm. Also, don't feel constricted by this method. Feel free to take and leave whatever will help you most. This will be something that helps you get started and then you can refine the way you do it to be most helpful to yourself.

So let's begin:

What you'll need: a book, a pen (I prefer black ink), and a highlighter.

1) Underlining

Underlining is the bread and butter of my system. I do it frequently and without remorse. Remember that a paragraph structure consists of a topic sentence and then additional sentences to qualify that first sentence. In this way, I do a lot of underlining on key first sentences of a paragraph. I also underline whenever there is a list: I will underline each word in the list with it's own line (so a broken straight line) to emphasize the different components of a list. Simply: underline anything that you want. If you like a sentence, underline it. There is a lot of room for your own creativity in underlining but a word of caution: you do not want to be so excessive that when you re-read your book, you won't be able to read anything. In addition, this really needs to be done on a table or in your lap so your lines are not super sloppy. I've tried to do it on buses and it just doesn't work.

2) Highlighting

Highlighting is more reserved for things that are really important or things that you want to remember. Whenever I highlight something, it is something I want to remember or something that I could see myself referencing in the future. It could be a really awesome quote or a statistic. Whatever it is, just make sure it is worthy enough to highlight. Highlight paragraphs or sentences should be reserved for those things that you will eventually reference back to (more on this in a moment). In addition, I find myself highlighting numbers. So if an author says something like "There are three reasons for this.. First.. Second.. Third..." I will highlight the "three" and then "first, second and third". I will also underline the qualifying reason that usually appears close to "first" etc.

3) The Key

This is one of the most important parts of my system. Like I mentioned, highlighting is to be done only in cases that are REALLY important. Doing this however, is only good if you remember the page number that it's on. So I came up with a "key" to help me remember where those important moments are. The key is listed often times in the front cover of the book I am reading. I number as I go and I include 3 elements: the number referencing how many references there are, the page number, the kind of quote it is, and a brief description of what it was I highlighted. Take a look at two different keys:

Under the "kind of quote" I denote a single letter for the kind. A Q is a quote that I liked. An S is a statistic. I also have stars based on things that I think are even more worthy that just highlighting. The more stars, the more important or interesting it is. An example of an entry would be this:

23) Q - 127 - Jesus' death on the cross

This is a neat way of doing it because you can open up your book and quickly find important things that normally would take you minutes searching for. And you can come up with your own system of denoting what kind of symbols you want to use.

If this is how the key looks, here is an example of how it looks on the page it was from:

Notice a couple of things: the highlighted parts are what's really important, but you may notice underlines as well. I will often times finish an entire paragraph of underlining before I go back and highlight. The underline helps to emphasize what is important even in a large body of highlight. When I want to star something, I will usually bracket it to show where exactly I think the star should go. In this case, I thought pretty much the whole page was gold. One or two stars would denote much importance, but for me, three stars is pretty much as important as it gets. I must have thought this entire page was awesome!

One more note on the key: obviously this slows down reading a little bit because you have to highlight and turn all the way to the front of the book to write down your notes. Don't be dismayed however: it goes much faster with practice. I also don't necessarily go to the front after each time I've highlighted. I will wait until I finish a page. If the description could cover both pages, I will note that in my entry in the key. Take this for example:

45) Q - 167-8 - Substitutionary atonement

4) Paragraphs

As I said, often times paragraphs contain themes. You could either figure out themes, or you could write them out in the margins. I find this particularly helpful in lists. Take for consideration the following example:


Notice I bracket the paragraph in question and then write it's purpose. This is helpful when you're trying to find one particular thing on a page or two and need a quick reference.

Here is another example:

5) Notes in the margin

Writing out notes in the margin in always helpful, but only in cases where you are trying to emphasize something or disagree with a point. Take this for example:

Notice I'm agreeing with him here and I am merely just re-emphasizing the point in a different way. There is a lot of creativity and freedom in whatever you write. I try not to do too much unless I really disagree with what is being said.

6) End chapter notes

Sometimes I like to summarize the contents of the chapter at the end of the chapter. Granted, there has to be some space for this, but sometimes I find that it is helpful to summarize the entire chapter's important points at the end. Look at this example:

The chapter was about the decline of Christianity. The author cites 5 reasons to as why this is. I summarize the 5 reasons at the end of the chapter. Take another example:

7) Question and answers

Sometimes authors ask questions that may or may not be rhetorical in the text. Then they flesh out the answer to that question later in the chapter. This is extremely prevalent in John Stott's "The Cross of Christ" so I found it helpful to write a "Q" to the questions and an "A" in the answers. If the answers are later in the book, I'll write the page number the answer is on. Check out this example:

So there you have it. I hope this was helpful!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of the Year Review: 2015 Edition

2015 was a good year. My goal for 2014 was to read 52 books. My goal for 2015 was to read 60 books. I’m happy to say I accomplished my goal and read 65 books this year. I’ve been tracking the number of pages I read as well, which totals to somewhere around 22,000 on the year (just a little more than last year which was around 20,000). Here is the list of books read this year (in no particular order):

1.          Cultural Shift – Albert Mohler
2.          The Apostle – John Pollock
3.          Martyn Llyod-Jones – Iain Murray
4.          Martin Luther: Here I Stand  - Ronald Bainton
5.          Jesus Christ Our Lord – John Walvoord
6.          Is Jesus the Only Way? – Ronald Nash
7.          Western Civilization Volume I – Marvin Perry
8.          The Glory of Heaven – John MacArthur
9.          From God to Us – Norman Geisler
10.       Confederacy of Dunces – John Toole
11.       Counter Culture – David Platt
12.       The Darkness and the Glory – Greg Harris
13.       Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford
14.       The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
15.       A Shepherd Looks at Pslam 23 – Phillip Keller
16.       The Bible (English Standard Version)
17.       The Cross of Christ – John Stott
18.       The Daring Mission of William Tyndall – Steve Lawson
19.       Miracle at Belleau Wood – Alan Axelrod
20.       Sith Lords – Paul Kemps
21.       The Road – Cormac McCarthy
22.       Proof – Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
23.       God in the Wasteland – David Wells
24.       No Place for Truth – David Wells
25.       The Wright Brothers – David McCullough
26.       Life By Design – Charles Detwiler
27.       Alexander Hamilton - Ron Chernow
28.       The Fall of the Ottomans – Eugene Rogan
29.       Losing our Virtue – David Wells
30.       The Greatest Knight – Thomas Abridge
31.       Above all earthly P'wrs – David Wells
32.       Dangerous Calling – Paul Tripp
33.       How Should We Then Live – Francis Schaeffer
34.       An American Soldier in WWI – George Browne
35.       Just Do Something – Kevin DeYoung
36.       Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis
37.       Gifted Hands – Ben Carson
38.       The Courage to be Protestant – David Wells
39.       Gulag – Anne Applebaum
40.       In the Kingdom of Ice – Hampton Sides
41.       Dead Wake – Erik Larson
42.       The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination – Loraine Boettner
43.       Unlikely Warrior – Michael Dingman
44.       Desiring God – John Piper
45.       The Unseen Realm – Michael Heiser
46.       In the Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson
47.       Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
48.       A Great and Holy War – Philip Jenkins
49.       The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
50.       Missoula – Jon Krakauer
51.       The Consequences of Ideas – R.C. Sproul
52.       Four views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism - Various
53.       This Momentary Marriage – John Piper
54.       Man (Dis)connected – Philip Zimbardo
55.       The Gagging of God – D.A. Carson
56.       The Attributes of God vol 2 – A.W. Tozer
57.       Radical – David Platt
58.       Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale Jr.
59.       Killers of the King – Charles Spencer
60.       Follow Me – David Platt
61.       Bad Religion – Ross Douthat
62.       Supernatural – Michael Heiser
63.       A Brief History of Indonesia – Tim Hannigan
64.       Finding Truth – Nancy Pearcey
65.       The Conviction to Lead – Albert Mohler

Some have encouraged me to speak about my most favorite books of the year, so the following are some highlights of the best books I’ve read in different genres:

Best Book of the Year: It would have to be “The UnseenRealm.” Michael Heiser’s ability to capture the imagination with solid biblical doctrine will change the way you see the Bible and the spiritual realm. I devoured this book in just under 4 days and I hope to read it again soon. Runner-Ups: In the Kingdom Of Ice; Above All Earthly P’wrs.

Best Non-Fiction: I thought Philip Zimbardo’s “Man(Dis)Connected” was one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. His ability, from a secular perspective, to engage in a conversation to encourage men to be men is an important topic for discussion and will continue to be in an ever-connected world. Runner-Ups: Missoula; How Should We ThenLive.

Best Fiction: Many of you know I’m not a huge fiction reader, but if I had to pick, “A Confederacy of Dunces” is an incredible book that engages the imagination but also has an underlying theological message. Runner-Ups: Ready Player One; Out of the Silent Planet.

Best Biography: If you’ve been following my blogs for awhile, you know that I am a huge Ron Chernow fan. His biography on Alexander Hamilton took me awhile to get through, but was one of the most thorough and interesting biographies I’ve read in a long while. Runner-Ups: MartynLlyod-Jones; Martin Luther: Here I Stand.

Best History Book: I know this falls under non-fiction, but Hampton Sides “In the Kingdom of Ice” is too good to not be on this list. His book is almost like a fictional account that at times, you don’t know if you’re reading something made up or something that actually happened. Runner-ups: In the Garden of Beasts; The Mongols and the Making of the Modern World; Fall ofthe Ottomans.

Best Theological Book: This is a hard one. I’ve already mentioned Unseen Realm but it could easily take the cake here. I think that Greg Harris’ book “The Darkness and the Glory” was one of the most impactful books I read this year. For that reason, I think it gets the go ahead here. Runner-ups: Above All Earthly P’wrs; Is Jesus the Only Way?; No Place forTruth.

Reflecting on this year, many people asked me how I read so much. So what I thought I’d do is give some suggestions as to how to be a better reader in 2016. These are some things that I have learned as I have become a more mature reader:

1)    Take a book wherever you go. To the doctor, to the grocery store, to a meeting, when seeing friends: I always carry a book with me (either on my person or in my car) so that if I ever have any down time, I can squeeze in a few pages. These will add up: a page standing in line here, a page or two while waiting for your coffee partner and soon your book will be finished.

2)    Do everything you can to FINISH your book. When I first started reading, I tended to get really bored 100 pages in and I’d shelve it. What I have learned is that reading takes time and it’s ok if a 250 page book loses your attention half way through. I would recommend pushing through that chapter that you seem to be stuck on because I bet that next chapter will re-engage your attention. Don’t get discouraged: take your time and don’t give up too soon.

3)    Maximize your time by listening to audiobooks. I do so much driving in Southern California (for example: church is just about an hour drive for me) that I decided to get an Audible account when I moved here. 2 hours round trip is about 1/8th of an audiobook. This way, I can maximize my time while I’m in the car. Some complain that they can’t focus while listening to an audiobook and I agree that sometimes I find my mind wandering. More often than not however, I think that’s a cleverly disguised excuse.

4)    Mix up what you read. I already said I don’t read much fiction, but sometimes it’s nice to break up the monotony of non-fiction to slip in a fun read every once and awhile. I also find topics that interest me and try to read those books. Not every book is worth reading, which leads me to number 5…

5)    If a book isn’t worth reading, shelve it. I know this kind of goes against my earlier advice to finish a book, but if you read 50 pages and hate the book, there’s no reason to finish it. Shelve it and move on. At any given time, I have probably 10-15 books that I’ve started but haven’t completed.  For some of these books, I’ll come back to it at a later time and find that I am refreshed and ready to give it another go. This helps keep things interesting and I don’t get so discouraged when I don’t finish one (also starting 100 pages in is a real psychological advantage).

6)    Set aside a time to read. I did this a lot my first year reading. Reading is like anything else where it takes time to grow into it. That first year, it took me forever to get through a 250 page book. But what I did was set aside an hour for reading every night before I went to bed. That sustained reading helped me mature in my reading to the point this year where I read some 3 and 400 page books in about 8 hours. After working on being a better reader, you will find that you are: faster, you can retain more, and you enjoy it more. If your attention span is short, try for a less ambitious goal: 15 minutes a day for a month and then slowly increase how long you spend reading. This combined with a good book will help you to sustain long periods of reading.

7)    Minimize distractions while you read. Sometimes I find that putting on soft classical music helps me read better. Anything with words will probably not be good however. Put your phone away and stay off the computer for the best results. You want to get into a flow of uninterrupted reading and text messages and facebook will just distract you.

8)    Books are meant to be written in! I just began practicing this this year. Find a system that is helpful to you and do it. Don’t just underline things arbitrarily. Think of it this way: if you were to read this book again or wanted to reference something in it, you want what you wrote in it to be helpful and not a hindrance. If you want some other tips for what I do, message me!

9)    Like anything, reading is a priority. If it’s important to you, you will do it!

Statistics show that Americans are reading less and less every year. If you are a high school graduate, studies show that you will finish somewhere around 5-8 books a year! College graduates are not much better with the number being somewhere around 10-15. Reading to me has become an important pastime and I hope to get even better at it next year. Here is my goal: 100 books in 2016! Looking at my output these past few months, I know it is possible. Here’s to 2015 and looking forward to 2016: if you are not a reader, start today!