The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible.
Don’t get hung up on the pronouns. The wisdom here is for both men and women. While I might not recommend the Puritans, you could certainly do worse. And while light literature may have its place, we are only given so much time, and there are so many books.
I’m the kind of guy who usually prefers a quiet night with a fire in the hearth and my family under my roof, good music coming through the speakers and a good book nearby. But the following argument for the full dinner party (as opposed to a cocktail party) by Robert Farrar Capon, outlined in The Supper of the Lamb [affiliate link], is one I want to remember.
1. The Session: Creating a Company
The dinner party, Capon writes:
[I]s an honest attempt to create a company, not a crowd. Persons matter at the table. We sit in real and estimable places marked with the most precious and intimate device we have: our names. Harry sits next to Martha not because he wandered to her side out of whim or loneliness but because, in his host’s loving regard, he is Harry and she is Martha, and that is where they belong. Place cards may be pretentious (they are, in any case, a dispensable formality); but assignment to place by name is the host’s announcement that he cares. I always take it as a compliment when a good man tells me where he wants me to sit.
He has, you see, been willing to take me on as God takes me–as a risk. He pays me the supreme tribute of putting himself in my power. The giver of a cocktail party is a man who hedges his bets and cops out of the dangers of entertaining. He requires nothing of his guests but their physical presence. If they turn out to be untempered duds or ill-tempered boors, it is no skin off his nose: They can simply find their own corner of outer darkness and fall apart any way they like. But when he sits me down at his table, he declares himself willing to let me into his life. He puts me into my place; but he also puts me in a position to make or break his party as I will. It is no small boldness; if you have such friends, treasure them.
2. Better Food, Service, and a Place to Sit
Capon calls the dinner party “merciful where the cocktail party is not.” He writes:
It provides us with better food, more attractive service, and, beneath it all, a seat to sit on. But it provides more than that. Early in the book I defied place as a Session, a meeting, a confrontation–of real beings. The old descriptions of heaven as the celestial banquet, the supper of eternal life, the endless convivium, hit close to the truth. Nowhere more than in good and formal company do we catch the praegustatum, the foretaste of what is in store for us.
3. A Proclamation of the Abundance of Being
A great meal is a chance to celebrate the goodness and glory of creation. Capon says:
Last, the dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being–a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. The unnecessary is the taproot of our being and the last key to the door of delight. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls, the formal dinner for six, eight, or ten chosen guests, the true convivium–the long Session that brings us nearly home.
I reviewed Clare Carlisle’s Philosopher of the Heart, a “Kierkegaardian biography,” telling his tale through the lens of his own philosophical style. The review has now posted to The Englewood Review of Books, and you can read it here.
There are a million Bibles out there. For many years, I’ve been a strong advocate of choosing a scholarly, reliable translation of the Scriptures with simple cross-referencing tools, a few detailed maps, and a helpful index. For study, I’ve been partial to the NIV, NRSV, and NASB translations. Alongside of a reputable Bible, I’ve recommended obtaining a one-volume commentary, an atlas, and a Bible dictionary. I think those are cornerstones in any home library. With all the choices that are out there, it has been my preference to keep things streamlined and simple.
In my experience leading others, however, I’ve come to see how a study Bible can be helpful for a person with limited resources, a deepening interest in biblical study, and a limit on shelf space. It’s nice to be able to pull one book off the shelf that you can read in a coffee shop or carry with you to a worship service, open it on your lap, listen to what you’re hearing, and then use the available tools (commentary notes, book introductions, etc.) to inform and apply the Scriptures to personal circumstances.
Holman Bible Publishers has done something innovative, taking the idea of a study Bible another step forward. They’ve released the Life Essentials Study Bible, which not only features brief commentary on Scripture, but is designed to be read with a tablet or smartphone in hand. Each text note features a QR code, which can be scanned with a tablet or phone camera. LifeWay has paired the Bible with an application that uses the QR codes to gain access to the teaching of Dr. Gene Getz, who comments on the corresponding Scripture text and offers principles that can be directly applied to the life of the learner, not only in the text notes that you’ll find in the Bible, but with video (Need links? I’ve got you: Apple’s App Store or Google Play). Here’s an example of what you’d find as you study the text:
This is a portion from the book of Nehemiah. First, in the image above you’ll see the Scripture text. Several years ago, Holman published the Christian Standard Bible. That’s the translation. You can read about their translation philosophy here. After this Bible translation released, I bought a copy for devotional reading, and used the CSB in my daily meditations on Scripture in 2018. It’s readable, and the translators were committed to maintaining a close correspondence to original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew texts.
Second, you’ll note the portion highlighted in blue. This indicates to the reader a portion upon which they will find a principle and corresponding commentary.
Thirdly, the dark grey heading indicates a principle topic (principles in each book are numbered), and the text in blue below the heading is the principle itself. Then there is commentary, which features cross-referencing.
Fourthly, you’ll notice a reflection and response question, which is designed to help the reader move toward application not only in a general sense, but in the reader’s specific life circumstance.
Finally, you’ll see a QR code, which, if scanned in the app, will lead you to a video teaching from Dr. Getz.
This video is a helpful introduction and overview of the Life Essential Interactive Study Bible:
If you’ve never heard of Gene Getz, he is a pastor, writer, church planter, and college and seminary professor. He’s a Christian educator who hosts a syndicated radio program called “Renewal.” You’ll find that one of the first things listed in his bio is that he is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. I know Dr. Getz from my time at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he served as adjunct faculty. Though I never had him as an instructor, I knew of him. During my DTS years, several of my friends attended Fellowship Bible Church North, where Dr. Getz still serves as pastor.¹
I know one of the biggest challenges many people face in reading the Bible comes in answering these three questions: “What does it say?”, “What does it mean?”, and “How, then, do I live?” In the Life Essentials Study Bible, these three questions are consistently answered. Dr. Getz helps the reader understand the text, interpret it, and apply it to daily life. Dr. Getz also addresses a fourth question: “How does it fit within the overall Bible?” His answer is simple, straightforward, and life changing. Dr. Getz consistently directs the reader to the ways each text points us to Jesus Christ.²
The Life Essentials Study Bible features a concordance, footnotes, and full color maps. Each book introduction offers a summation of the key principles found therein as well as an outline of the book as a whole. But the main feature that makes this Bible unique is the ease at which reading is paired with access to video teaching. As a bonus, the app has a tab featuring a daily Bible principle, a topical index that one can use to search for specific principles, and the ability to favorite video teachings for later reference.
Two more things to disclose. First, I received a copy of this Bible from the publisher as part of a promotion effort. I was glad to write about it, and very glad to review it. I think Holman is doing good things, and I particularly respect Dr. Trevin Wax.
Second, I did not have time to read every piece of commentary or view all three hundred hours of available video. It is fairly easy for me to say that I wouldn’t agree with Dr. Getz on every point. But we share in the essentials.
Nevertheless, I did find this Bible to be one that I would recommend for those who desire to diligently study the Scriptures, apply the Word to their daily lives, and who are looking for a one-stop, interactive, and unique resource by which to do so.
I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary from 2002 to 2005 in the Masters in Christian Education program (MACE).
Granted, biblical interpretation is a challenging task, and there is more than one informed, scholarly perspective concerning the best understanding of the most difficult texts of the Bible. Dr. Getz offers principles and perspectives that are shaped by his training, experiences, and study of Scripture. Other Christians differ with Dr. Getz.
All links are affiliate links, which means that clicks and purchases via my website support my work. The Call was an important book for my journey, I loved Life Without Lack, Berry is a phenomenal poet, but among all the books on this list, I think I’d recommend The Once and Future King above them all.
I’ve been logging my books since 2010. Yep! The list can be found here. Scroll down far enough and you’ll see that in 2010, the first year I began keeping a list, I read The Hunger Gamestrilogy, After Virtue, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and more. Since I began keeping track I’ve read over 800 books. Public and university library systems have helped me along the way, as have used bookstores. Leaders are readers.
Please note: all links to Amazon are affiliate links. Clicks and purchases kickback to me. Support the blog and my reading habit. It is Christmas. You are freshly flush with Amazon credits. If a book in this post interests you and you plan to make a purchase, follow the hyperlink from this page.
How Many Books Did I Read This Year?
My goal this year was to read 65 books. That is exactly how many I read, finishing my 65th book, Holly Beer’s A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman just last night. This doesn’t count comics. I followed along with Detective Comics: Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers, and a couple of short-run Wolverine series.
Here is the link to the list of books I read this year once again.
One of our kids really loves graphic novels, and both enjoy reading the comics on Sunday mornings. Molly and I had a conversation about this, particularly when one of our children highly preferred the graphic novel to chapter books. We concluded that reading is reading, and that so long as our children were enjoying the exercise, we’d encourage their interests, cheer them on, and then challenge them when we had opportunity. Graphic novels do tell stories, not only with words but with pictures, and as I’ve come to love art more and more, I want my kids to love it, too. Exposing them to the work of good illustrators is a step in the right direction.
I also kept up my habit of reading the local paper and logging the movies and television series I’ve watched. I read a portion of the Bible almost everyday. Among the movies I enjoyed: Once Upon a Time in the West, Get Shorty, True Grit (2010, and one of my all-time faves), and the AC/DC: Live at Donington special. The movie I hated most: The House with a Clock in Its Walls starring Eli Roth, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. Horrible.
What Were My Favorite Books This Year?
The most important book, I read this year was Madison, Jay, and Hamilton’s The Federalist Papers, which I began reading in 2018 and finished early this spring. Following the 2016 election I wanted to read the ideas that went into the American founding for myself, not only so that I could have a better understanding of the American experiment, but so that I could measure how we were doing as a country. While I think that there are challenges before us, I think we are doing well–better than we’re led to believe. We need stronger leadership in the Congress, we need to cease viewing the Chief Executive as a messiah (Obama and Trump have both been lauded as saviors), and we need a stronger moral vision if we wish to preserve American ideals of liberty and freedom. But we’re not coming apart. Sensationalism sells papers, gets clicks, holds eyeballs. There are problems. But there is a whole heap of good here.
Not really. The book I least enjoyed, but endured until the end, was Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future. Kelly’s vision for where we’re going, and how we’ll interface with technology, is not exciting to me. Not remotely.
I have a lot of books stacked near my desk, and I’ll probably have a few more new books to read after tomorrow. Among those I’m reading now, Harrigan’s tale of Texas has captured my heart most. I’m a Texan, and I love this place.
What Did I Learn from My Experience Reading This Year?
A few of the books I read this year were for courses, so I was reading alongside others, discussing what I found, and interrogating the material differently than I have when reading books alone in years past. In other words, being part of a reading community makes a difference.
I also learned that I continue to wish I had more time to spend with my books. I could’ve have done this in 2019 by watching fewer movies, I guess.
What are you reading, and what should I add to my list?
I’ve been home tonight watching the Dallas Mavericks, who destroyed the Golden State Warriors, and now I’m tuned into volleyball. The Baylor Lady Bears are squaring off against the Texas Longhorns. I’ve been pulling together Kindle book deals.
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