Looking Back At Favorite Blog Posts and Series

tumblr_l5c6ejsIbD1qzxzwwo1_500I’ve been blogging for just over 6 years now. Its been a far more enriching experience than I had expected. My primary purpose in blogging has always been my own learning: I find that I learn best in a dialogical, two-stage process of both (1) reading and (2) writing. Stage 1 typically involves carefully reading a book with my pen in hand, making notes on the pages and inside the back cover as I struggle with how to place and understand the book. (Sometimes, of course, it could also be an article, movie, etc.) The key in this stage is really submitting to a sympathetic understanding of the author’s perspective—really giving him/her a chance. As when Atticus Finch says in To Kill A Mockingbird, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I don’t think much true learning can take place without this kind of disciplined listening: the kind that pulls you out of yourself and enables you to see the world through another person’s eyes (even if at the end of the day you disagree with them).

Stage 2 involves my own personal reaction to whatever it is I’m reading or thinking about. At this stage, I’m no longer concerned with submitting to the author’s viewpoint, I’m synthesizing it within my larger worldview and evaluating it. What I find is that, almost inevitably, stage 2 involves the completion of my interpretation, not just the expression of it. In other words, its not as though I understand a book by reading it, and then subsequently share my understanding by writing about it. Rather, the writing is itself part of the understanding, and I generally don’t really know how I feel about it until I’m well into stage 2. In fact, writing typically forces me to discipline, compress, and organize my thoughts in such a way that stage 1 has very little profit without it.

This strategy for learning is kind of like a conversation, in which stage 1 resembles listening and stage 2 resembles talking. Conversations, and learning, both begin with listening, and if this stage is skipped nothing else can really happen. But at the same time, no genuine conversation can occur if all that happens is listening. Any genuine conversation is a back-and-forth dialogue which enables the conversation to transcend what is possible with only person. In fact, as a general rule, you usually don’t understand someone as fully unless you are talking as well as listening. So also, I think, in learning and study.

My blog is stage 2. Its me talking. Sometimes a particular post represents my wondering out loud or asking questions, but more often its my talking back at a book after a long period of silent, sympathetic listening: its the crystallization of many hours of reading, thinking, and struggling down into a few evaluative sentences or paragraphs. I find it very satisfying to look back and see what I’ve written. I’m able to remember more than I could simply from having read a book, I have trustworthy soundbites that I can draw from in further discussion, and I have a fossilized trace of how my thinking has developed on a given topic. There is also the sheer nostalgia value. When I read back through old posts, I think, “this is me.” Its like reading back through old journals, or staring at a painting you’ve been working at for years.

I here list my five favorite posts, and 10 favorite series/topics, with a few runners up for both. “Favorite” does not here mean “best,” and I do not intend this as any kind of evaluation of the posts I list, but simply as a noting of personally significant ones. Think of it as a “remembering of significant conversations.”

10-dos-and-donts-for-personal-bloggers

FAVORITE POSTS:

  1. Thoughts on the Extra-Calvinisticum. I wrote this after reading Timothy George’s summary of Calvin’s theology in summer 2009, and ever since I’ve wanted to return to this fascinating doctrine and explore it further, especially in relation to my category of story. I’m hoping to take my final course at Fuller as a directed reading on story as a theologically fruitful metaphor for the Creator/creation distinction, using Calvin’s extra, Boethius’ view of divine foreknowledge, and Torrance’s doctrine of the ascension as test cases. It would pull directly out of the issues I’m working through in this post.
  2. The Trinity and Arbitrariness. This was a brief post, but it articulated a solution to a problem that I had always struggled with, and never really seen anyone address. I still think think the answer I arrived on basically neutralizes the problem. The Incarnation and Particularity almost feels like a complementary post to this one to me, in that it applies a different doctrine to a related problem.
  3. Thanks be the God for Covenant Seminary. It was a joy to express my gratitude to Covenant Seminary for the excellent education I received there, and it was fun to try to summarize the main themes of my M.Div. education. That was a truly rich time of learning and theological formation for me. The best part was it happened in a community that also valued the implications of theology for church and life, and actually embodied its theology in its corporate ethos.
  4. 20 Qualities of Good Listeners. This was an early post that I still sometimes think back on. Having been in ministry for a few years, I’ve grown even more convinced of the importance of being a good listener.
  5. Repentance Versus Defensiveness. This was one of a number of devotional posts that came directly out of my ministry experiences. Other favorites are Helpful Prayers, Our Helper, and Repentance and Doubt.

RUNNERS UP:

  1. My review of The Grey. I never really write film reviews, but this was a fun one to engage with because the movie brings up some deep and interesting philosophical issues.
  2. My assessment of Is the Reformation Over?, mainly because I’ve never really learned a lot about Roman Catholic theology, so this was helpful to catch up a little bit. When I’m trying to think through the basic issues of contemporary Protestant-RCC relations, I go back to this post as a good reminder and starting point.
  3. William Cowper’s Letters. I’ll never forget reading Cowper’s letters during a trip to my brother-in-law’s funeral back in fall 2011. It was a very gripping experience. I’m not sure my post resolved any of the difficulties involved in interpreting a life like Cowper’s, but it was helpful for me to articulate them a little bit.

FAVORITE SERIES/TOPICS:

  1. I did a series on some of favorite philosophers: Camus, Wittgenstein, Siddharta Gautama, and Descartes. I still like to go back and read through my posts on Siddharta and Camus. I think Buddhism and existentialism, in different ways, provide illuminating contrasts to the gospel, and these two posts represent brief statements of my conclusions regarding how Christianity interacts with those worldviews.
  2. I really enjoyed writing my post on Jim McPherson’s short 2009 biography Abraham Lincoln. I will never forget that snow day in St. Louis in February 2009 when I spent the afternoon at Borders reading McPherson’s book and drafting my response. It was really fun to try to summarize in a few bullet points what made Lincoln such an effective leader. Furthermore, McPherson’s book initiated an extended season of reading in the field of American political history, resulting in posts on the presidency of James Madison, Joseph Ellis’ amazing book Founding Brothers, the Gettysburg Address, George Washington’s presidency, and the American Revolution as a whole. My review of Paul Johnson’s Churchill biography was something of an extension from this genre.
  3. My series of posts on Marsden’s history of the early years of Fuller Seminary was interesting and fun (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). I think reading this book is a great entry point for learning about 20th century evangelicalism as a whole. When I wrote this, I never imagined I’d be at Fuller myself one day!
  4. I haven’t blogged a ton on science issues, but the few I’ve done I’ve worked really hard on. My favorite to re-read is my review of Isaacson’s biography of Einstein. My most significant attempts at engaging creation/evolution issues came with posts on humans and chimps and Adam and Eve. I also look back on my Why the Framework Interpretation of Genesis 1 from time to time, which I still find a helpful synthesis of my conclusions on the interpretation of Genesis 1.
  5. In terms of biblical studies, I’ve done four book series, on Habakkuk, Zechariah, Hebrews, Revelation. In these series, my introduction to partial-preterism is the primary post I still look back on; my favorite posts in the biblical studies department overall are probably Tensions in Job and Jude and Rhetoric.
  6. In terms of theology, the series of posts I would most like to go back and work into an article was written in late 2012 after my PhD seminar on the doctrine of atonement. I would like to explore the relation of satisfaction and recapitulation themes in atonement, drawing from Anselm, Irenaeus, and Athanasius, as well as the biblical account of Christ’s transfiguration. I’m still convinced of the value of comparing these different theologians’ views of atonement, and I think it brings up a fascinating and important issue of how to relate the centrality of Jesus’ death to the supplementary but still important other aspects of Jesus’ incarnate life. For instance, was the incarnation itself a saving act, or simply preparatory for Jesus’ saving acts? That question opens up the issue I want to explore here. I still like the metaphor of a novel or film, with the plot as Jesus’ entire birth to ascension, and the cross as the climactic “turning point” in the  novel.
  7. I have blogged about C.S. Lewis far more than any other writer. There is simply no substitute for C.S. Lewis for compact, articulate, delightful prose. And for being primarily a popularizer, I find him a remarkably unique and profound thinker. I have especially enjoyed tracing out themes Till We Have Faces, and weighing in on the Lewis-Anscombe debate. I’ve also posted a number of times on That Hideous Strength (too many to link)—I go back to that book again and again, and it never gets stale.
  8. Barth has been a consistent dialogue partner, often frustrating, sometimes illuminating, always intellectually stretching. Barth and Evangelicals is the most recent summation of my views, a bit more focused on the “often frustrating” aspect of reading him. My Becoming a Theologian is an earlier, more appreciative post, drawn from reading through large chunks of the study edition of Church Dogmatics 1.1 in early 2011. And my earlier posts, Why Study Barth? and Disagreements with Barth, provide a more comparative analysis of the value I see in Barth, as well as my disagreements with him.
  9. It was a lot of fun to design my own seminary curriculum and classes. In these posts I chart out how I’d plan the M.Div. if I were founding a seminary, and how I would structure my courses if I were teaching systematic theology at one.
  10. Two early posts on Kierkegaard had a lot of mental energy behind them: one on the two-fold nature of his authorship, and the other arguing that he was not an irrationalist. I devoured a lot of Kierkegaard’s corpus my senior year of college, and it left a permanent stamp on my thinking. On countless pages of countless of my books is scribbled in the margin “cf. SK” or “contra SK” as “as with SK.” The first chunk of Concluding Unscientific Postscript is one of the most interesting and significant things I’ve ever read. However, like seems to be for most people, Kierkegaard was a “stage” in my thinking, more than a permanent resource. Still, one thing I’ve always dreamed of doing is trying to update my “Was Kierkegaard an Irrationalist?” and submit it as a brief note in the Journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

RUNNERS UP:

  1. I greatly enjoyed reading The Lord of the Rings from May 2009 to July 2011 (yes, it took me that long!). I especially like to go back and read my second post, which drew out its themes on good and evil. I still think the good/evil contrast is one way to illumine the book’s meta-theme, which I interpret as: “good does not need to destroy evil; good needs only to resist evil, and when it does that, evil destroys itself.”
  2. My posts on Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, especially the final, summative post, were significant to me. I still think about that book all the time, especially when dealing with the problem of evil or issues of faith and doubt.
  3. It was fun to interact with Drew Trammel on baptism, following my post on the subject at The Gospel Coalition. I especially appreciated Drew’s thoughtfulness and graciousness in our interaction.

Looking ahead, I am really going to try to blog lightly this year so that I can give my all to my remaining PhD coursework (which, Lord willing, I will finish sometime this year). I think I’ll try to focus on devotional posts for my blog, with occasional PhD study updates. I’m simply too stretched thin to do much else. In fact, I really feel like I’ve got a mountain ahead of me in just faithfully executing my ministry and PhD responsibilities, while also being a father, husband, etc. I’m also trying to continue to be disciplined about taking Sabbath rest, and being open to ways of learning other than reading and writing. So this will likely be my last lengthy post for a while. But hopefully in future seasons where I have more margin in my life I can resume more substantive, regularly blogging.

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