Saturday, December 31, 2011


HumilitasHumilitas by John Dickson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not an Andrew Murray type book on humility. This is a book on leadership, business leadership. However, it’s not a Stephen Covey type leadership book either. The author comes to the topic as a historian. Dickson’s basis thesis is that “the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility” (19) and that if you want success, humility is a virtue to be cultivated. The book’s aim, therefore, is to convince the reader of the logic, beauty, and benefits of humility (29).

Dickson anticipates that many of us do not instinctively associate humility with leadership, and so he shows us some of the “strange places” it shows up in. Jim Collins, in his hunt for the components of great leadership, determined them to be “steely determination and an attitude of humility” (20).

Then there’s this quote from General Stanley McChrystal:

I have found in my experience that the best answers and approaches may be counter-intuitive. The opposite of what it seems you ought to do is what ought to be done. So, when I’m asked the question, What approach should we take in Afghanistan? I say, humility. (21)

The author defines humility as

the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others. (24)

Humility presupposes dignity, is willing, and is social (for the sake of others, unlike modesty, which is more a private condition of mind) (24-5).

Next follows a chapter on leadership, which Dickson discusses in such a way that we can immediately see the contribution humility can make to it. Because leadership is fundamentally relational—it’s all about leading and influencing others, after all—the leader’s most central tools are persuasion and example (43). By example, Dickson means the leader’s character. In order to be respected and followed, leaders must display honourable character, of which humility is key. Character is also a vital factor in a leader’s persuasiveness: “The perceived character of the persuader is central to his powers of persuasion” (140).

Humility’s other benefits are its abilities to inspire others (chapter 9), outdo “tolerance” at promoting harmony (chp 10), and promote growth in abilities (chp 7). Dickson provides a great example of the latter when he talks about humility’s contribution to science (118-20). Professor Raymond Tallis tells the story of the invention of the clinical trial and of how an 18th century ship physician named James Lind found that a diet of citrus fruits was effective in warding off scurvy. Tallis concludes:

So, let’s hear it for James Lind. The humility built into the very idea of the clinical trial: I don’t know whether this treatment based on anecdotal observation and consistent with my theories really works is the opposite of the argument from authority. (119-120)

In this case humility fostered knowledge.

Also, following Chesterton, Dickson writes: “Humility, by contrast, [Chesterton] said, reminds us that we are small and incomplete and so urges us on toward the heights of artistic, scientific and societal endeavour:

Even the haughty visions, the tall cities, and the toppling pinnacles are the creations of humility…For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we. All this gigantesque imagination, which is, perhaps, the mightiest of the pleasures of man, is at bottom entirely humble. It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything. (120)

In chapter 3, the author shows that it makes sense for us to be humble quite apart from any discussion of humility’s benefits. When we look out horizontally at each other, and vertically at the universe (and its Origin), humility becomes us.

In chapters 5 and 6, the historian in Dickson kicks in especially. Humility hasn’t always been a virtue. The ancient world was an honour and shame culture, and thus humility didn’t rank very high. You would be humble before a god or emperor because they could kill you, “but humility before an equal or a lesser was morally suspect. It upset the assumed equation: merit demanded honour, thus honour was the proof of merit. Avoiding honour implied a diminishment of merit. It was shameful” (89).

He persuasively shows the starkness of change from the ancient world to the modern one by a section on boasting (90-95). The only thing that can account for so vast a change is a “humility revolution” (95).

Which leads to chapter 6 (“Cruciform: How a Jew from Nazareth Redefined Greatness”). Even more than Jesus’ revolutionary teachings, it was his execution that put humility on the map. So much so that humility, and the accompanying virtue love, become the central virtues that the Apostle Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi to adopt 20 plus years later, and he bases his appeal in Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent exaltation.

The final chapter discusses steps that we can take to grow in our humility.

This is a great little book. The author is a Christian writing about a subject that historically revolves around Jesus of Nazareth. But Dickson’s audience is a business one, not a Christian one, and he takes many precautions to keep his secular audience from being turned away. Too many precautions, would be my only complaint.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 30, 2011

Now, discover your strengths

Now, Discover Your StrengthsNow, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book builds on the previously written, First, Break All the Rules. Its main assertion is that a “strengths revolution” is required in order for businesses to achieve excellence. Organizations must switch their focus from fixing weaknesses to maximizing strengths (3-4). It is not true that each person can become good at anything. It is not true that the greatest potential for personal growth is the areas we are weak in. The greatest potential for growth is in the areas of our greatest strength (7-8).

This book contributes three tools to the furthering of the strengths revolution. First, it brings clarity to what a strength is and what it’s composed of. A strength is composed of knowledge, skill, and talent, and the greatest of these is talent. A talent is something innate, whereas skill and knowledge are things that can be picked up. This means that one’s potential strengths are limited by one’s makeup. Endless effort to develop skill and gain knowledge will not a strength make unless one possesses the needed talent integral to that strength.

Thus, the key to building a bona fide strength is to identify your dominant talents and then refine them with knowledge and skills (30).

The second tool, following from the first, is a system for identifying one’s dominant talents. Here the book offers two forms of help. To assist in self-identifying them, we are instructed to monitor our spontaneous reactions to situations, our yearnings, the things in which we learn rapidly, and our satisfactions.

The main tool that is provided for discovering your talents, however, is the StrengthsFinder Profile, which is explained in the book, and conducted online.

The third revolutionary tool they provide is a common language describing the main kinds of talents. Chapter 4 labels and describes 34 themes or talents.

Beyond these three tools, the authors also include a chapter on managing the various strengths. One page is devoted to each of the 34 themes, and helpful advice is given if you are managing an employee who strong in analysis, for instance.

The final chapter lays out the big picture of how to build a strengths-based organization.


I found the book, and the StrengthsFinder Profile in particular, to be a great help. The five talents the StrengthsFinder identified in me were accurate in identifying my major talents, although I might quibble with the way there were ranked.


How this book intersects with a Christian worldview

One thing to consider is how a focus on one’s innate talents rubs shoulders with the Christian concept of one’s calling (pp. 144-7 are very interesting in this regard). For instance, if we should focus our energy and time on what we’re innately good at, does that mean that a Christian can explore his or her talents, and see in them God’s calling on their life?

The logic would be like this:

If God has a calling for our lives

then he would shape us for that calling by gifting us with the necessary talents

Therefore, an important process in discerning one’s calling in life is to explore what he has fitted us for. A Christian considering becoming a nurse because the pay is attractive might realize this is not God’s calling for her when she discovers that she is not naturally blessed with the talent of empathy.

I think this is a legitimate approach to choosing a station in life. It is submissive to God’s authority. However, some caveats need to be mentioned. First, when God calls us to do something, he does equip us for it, but not always by supplying one individual the needed talent in every case. I’m thinking of Moses here. Buckingham would call that “managing around your weakness” (148-59). Secondly, the authors make an important distinction between your field and your role within that field (160). To return to our nursing example, the gal lacking in empathy may still be called to the field of nursing, but perhaps she would serve better in a research role, particularly if one of her talents is intellection.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are we neo-monastic?

Gene Veith quotes John Pless in an article entitled Our Calling and God's Glory:

Medieval Roman Catholicism presupposed a dichotomy between life in the religious orders and life in ordinary callings. It was assumed that the monastic life guided by the evangelical counsels (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount) provided a more certain path to salvation than secular life regulated by the decalog. American Evangelicalism has spawned what may be referred to as "neo-monasticism." Like its medieval counterpart, neo-monasticism gives the impression that religious work is more God-pleasing than other tasks and duties associated with life in the world. According to this mindset, the believer who makes an evangelism call, serves on a congregational committee, or reads a lesson in the church service is performing more spiritually significant work than the Christian mother who tends to her children or the Christian who works with integrity in a factory. For the believer, all work is holy because he or she is holy and righteous through faith in Christ.

What do you think? Does God view all legitimate callings as equal? Or does he hold "spiritual" callings such as that of the evangelist in higher significance?


Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am of Fee

Gordon Fee on 1 Corinthians 3:

The Corinthian error is an easy one to repeat. Not only do we all have normal tendencies to turn natural preferences into exclusive ones, but in our fallenness we also tend to consider ourselves “wise” enough to inform God through whom he may minister to his people. Our slogans take the form of “I am of the Presbyterians,” or “of the Pentecostals,” or “of the Roman Catholics.” Or they might take ideological forms: “I am of the liberals,” or “of the evangelicals,” or “of the fundamentalists.” And these are also used as weapons: “Oh, he’s a fundamentalist, you know.” Which means that we no longer need to listen to him, since his ideology has determined his overall value as a spokesman for God. It is hardly possible in a day like ours that one will not have denominational, theological, or ideological preferences. The difficulty lies in allowing that it might really be true that “all things are ours,” including those whom we think God would do better to be without. But God is full of surprises; and he may choose to minister to us from the “strangest” of sources, if we were but more truly “in Christ” and therefore free in him to learn and to love.

This does not mean that one should not be discriminating; after all, Paul has no patience for that teaching in Corinth which had abandoned the pure gospel of Christ. But to be “of Christ” is also to be free from the tyrannies of one’s own narrowness, free to learn even from those with whom one may disagree.

Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (155–156). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Discernment in church

Hokey dinah it's been a long time since I blogged.

Anyways, Alan Knox writes:

But, let’s be honest. For the majority of Christians who gather together (at least in the Western world), discernment is not and cannot be part of their gatherings. Usually, only one person speaks. If someone else speaks, that person must first be given permission to speak. Then, if someone has a question about what is said, or if someone disagrees, there are few avenues of asking questions, much less discernment. (Yes, I understand that some “preachers” or teachers allow for questions and disagreements. But, for most Christians in America and the west, this is not allowed or encouraged.)

I agree with Alan. How can this be remedied? Should someone teaching invite comments and questions during or after he teaches?

Read the rest of Alan's post.

Monday, May 30, 2011


The B-Greek forum has now moved to a much more suitable venue!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book review: The Veil is Torn

The Veil Is Torn: AD 30 to 70 Pentecost to the Destruction of Jerusalem (The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, #1)The Veil Is Torn: AD 30 to 70 Pentecost to the Destruction of Jerusalem by Ted Byfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My knowledge of church history (and all history, for that matter), is embarrassingly sketchy, so I’ve been devoting my Sunday afternoons to remedying the situation. The Veil is Torn is the first volume of the Christian History Project’s series, The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. Series editor Ted Byfield introduces the series in his Foreword, in which, following Chesterton, he writes that “the most dangerous people…are those who have been cut off from their cultural roots” (vii). Byfield believes that the whole western world is in that dangerous situation. In our world Christianity is unfashionable, and yet “our founding educational institutions, our medical system, our commitment to the care of the aged and infirm, our concept of individual rights and responsibilities, all came to us through Christianity.”

So this series is all about getting us back to our foundations, and this first volume starts where it all begins: with Jesus, his crucifixion, resurrection, and creation of the Church in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. From there it progresses to other historical happenings that are familiar to readers of the Bible. We follow Peter in and out of the Temple (and prison!). The majority of the rest of the book is then devoted to Paul. The title of chapter 4 is far from an overstatement when it describes Paul’s conversion to Christ as “the conversion that changed history.” Here we encounter a man whose zeal against Christ is transformed into zeal for Christ. The attractiveness and reality of Jesus were so great to Paul that he was willing to endure anything for the sake of his Lord. Sometimes the opposition to him was such that only the Lord was left standing with him:

With Barnabas now, for the moment at least, aligned with the Jerusalem faction, Paul found himself almost alone and surrounded by opponents: by hard-line Temple Jews who saw him as a danger; by the Christian legalists, both Gentiles and Jews, ostensibly backed by the Church authorities in Jerusalem, who considered him reckless and misguided; by pagans, who regarded him as an unpleasant rival and annoying threat; by Greek intellectuals, who viewed him as unbalanced, if not deranged; and, increasingly, by Roman authorities, who viewed him as a disruptive nuisance. (116)

And like his Lord, people have been opposed to him ever since (184-185). Yet he accomplished so much! The Taurus Mountains were a formidable wall discouraging travel from Tarsus to the north east. One single crack, the Cilician Gates, allowed admittance. Through these gates Alexander the Great led his army onward to conquer the world. “Now, through the same pass, the greatest conquest Europe would ever know was about to begin, and the force that would accomplish it was an army of two—Paul and, beside him, his companion Silas” (118).

Paul not only took criticism; he could also give it. Nero’s shenanigans were revolting to many of the Romans themselves; “they were un-Roman!” (218). But the Roman who most stridently denounced Imperial Rome was Paul himself in his letter to the Christian church at Rome. His letter “disclosed a distinct irony. For the Christians, who would be despised and persecuted by Roman officialdom for most of the next three hundred years, in fact stood for nearly all the virtues and principles which Rome had once enshrined” (219).

The last chapter, chapter 9, covers the fall of Jerusalem. It is a horrific tale. The citizens of that city had as much reason to be afraid of their own people as of the Roman army outside the city’s walls. Josephus says they ran out of both wood and room for crosses. Evil reached its lowest when an odour of fresh meat cooking came from the home of a woman named Mary. When a band of rebels demanded that she show her hidden store of food, she produced her roasted, half-eaten baby. The incident was so repulsive that “some Romans simply refused to believe such a thing could happen” (265)

I plan to continue reading through the rest of the volumes in this series. From what I have seen, each volume is well-written, interspersed with many attractive side bars, excurses, and pictures. I would highly encourage families to invest in this series. If Byfield is right, it will be an investment not only in history, but also in the future.

For more information see

View all my reviews

Monday, May 23, 2011

Romance novels and pornography

See this article by Russell Moore.

An excerpt:
Both are based on an illusion. Pornography is based on the illusion of a perfectly willing, always aroused partner without the “work” of relational intimacy. Often romance novels or their film equivalents do the same thing for the emotional needs of women that pornography offers for the erotic urges of men.

And in both cases, what the “market” wants is sameness. Men want the illusion of women who look just like women but are, in terms of sexual response, just like men. Women want the illusion of men who are “real” men, but, in terms of a concept of romance, are just like women. In both artificial eros and artificial romance, there is the love of the self, not the mystery of the other.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bible-sanctioned bad manners for Christians

Provoke one love and good works (Hebrews 10.24, see KJV)
Outdo one showing honor (Romans 12.10)

Leave a comment if you can think of some others. Please!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A dandy article on preaching the gospels and Acts


An excerpt or two:

Pharisees were not sanctimonious prigs but progressive reformers who sought to dedicate every aspect of life to God’s glory. They were the devout, seriously religious people who now attend Christian Sunday schools and InterVarsity Bible studies. Likewise, “the elders and chief priests and scribes,” so threatened by Jesus that they collude in his destruction, live on in today’s seminarians, tall-steeple pastors, and biblical scholars.

Blessed are you whom the Spirit keeps open to mystery. Like the Gospels themselves, theology and preaching are attempts to articulate God’s intervention in the created world. Because such incursions are inherently enigmatic, they may be interpreted but cannot be solved. Few things from the pulpit are drearier than rationalizations of the extraordinary in the Gospels, apologies for biblical embarrassments, dressed in the lingo of scholastic evangelicalism or liberalized Protestantism. A hundred “proofs” of the virginal conception will never replace a single whisper of holy wonder on Christmas Eve. Shrinking the Five Thousand Fed into an advertisement for UNICEF will leave most Christians famished when they approach the Lord’s Table for nourishment this world cannot provide (John 4:31-34). Learning to preach a comprehensible word without trivializing it spells the difference between a sermon borne on the Spirit’s wings and one that flops to the floor like a dead duck.

In this respect the Gospels and Acts are our best guides. Notice how consistently the literalists miss Jesus’ point (Mark 7:1-23; 8:11-21; John 6:25-71), how rarely—then delicately, in terms of divine grace and human trust—the Evangelists interpret Jesus’ riddles (the parables) or enacted parables (his mighty works). A miracle “explained” is good news gutted: to shift metaphors, a skittish preacher’s attempt to squeeze Awe into a box that cannot contain it (Matt 9:16-17). God does not need our excuses. Can you trust your listeners as much as Mark trusted his—to conclude a Gospel at 16:7-8, announcing that the risen Christ awaits disciples who, for all their devotion, flee in terrified silence?

Read the whole thing.

HT: Michael Bird

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book notes: Love & Respect

Love and RespectLove and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main contribution of this book is to recognize that the Bible doesn’t only have Ephesians 5.25; it also has Eph. 5.33 and 1 Peter 3.1-2. The ideal marriage is one in which all these verses are known and practiced. Men need respect; women need love. When a man enjoys the respect of his wife, she will enjoy the love of her husband. And vice versa. I believe that much of the happiness of our marriage is due to my wife reading and putting into practice the truths in this book early in our marriage; as I read through it, I was checking off all the things she is doing right!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book notes: Understanding Variation

Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos (2nd Edition)Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos by Donald J. Wheeler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I never thought a book on statistics would be exciting, but this one was! It helps that it’s full of stories, stories of the misuse of statistics in management, highlighting the “numerical naiveté” surrounding us (vi). Businesses are managed today off the typical monthly management report; Wheeler shows the irrelevance of such reports for making sound managerial decisions. Graphing the data in control charts present much more meaningful information, and allow one to distinguish between the variation inherent within the process and data that legitimately signal that the process has changed.

The author’s principles are simple and his examples from real life are convincing. He shares more than one horror story of managers being rewarded for the changes they implemented when sound data analysis later revealed that their “improvements” were nothing of the sort.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book notes: What is Lean Six Sigma?

What is Lean Six SigmaWhat is Lean Six Sigma by Michael L. George

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a simple introduction to Lean Six Sigma, an improvement method or engine for eliminating waste in business processes and improving quality (iv).

Lean Six Sigma starts with focusing on the customer and delighting them via speed and quality. The way to achieve this is by improving processes, the environment for doing it in is one of teamwork, and the foundation for it all is data and fact based (as opposed to experience and opinion). 

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Book notes: A Place of Healing

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's SovereigntyA Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joni wrote this book out of excruciating pain. It will be especially valuable to those who are also suffering. I won't say more except to mention an wonderful illustration (pp. 96-8) of God’s sovereignty, and wondrous grace in times of trouble.

A while ago Joni and hubby Ken observed 38th anniversary of the day she broke her neck in diving accident. They had crab cakes, because, were it not for  a “feisty Chesapeake Bay blue crab” that bit Joni’s sister’s toe, her sister Kathy would not have found Joni lying helpless face-down in water, praying that Kathy would see her and rescue her.

God gave Joni a gift after that anniversary dinner. They were reading from John 5.2-6 when she discovered that Jesus thought that 38 years of paralysis was a long time! She especially appreciated that in light of the fact that 1 Peter 5.10 makes it sound like a “little while.”

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memorizing Scripture

Two posts recently from DesiringGod:

Memorizing Scripture: Why and How

Memorizing Scripture for Praying Scripture

I have found the approach that Piper links to very effective.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Free book from Logos

Logos and Desiring God are offering Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne for free! I remember reading this book when I was a boy, and I think it's time for me to read it again.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 Denver Journal

Denver Seminary has their online journal up for 2011, including their updated bibliographies for NT exegesis and OT exegesis.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: The future of justification

The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. WrightThe Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book a long time ago (early summer maybe?) and I won’t be taking time to review it. Except to say that John Piper has gone to great pains to hear Wright out and understand him. This book is a model for how to disagree with someone.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: Counterfeit Gods

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That MattersCounterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters by Timothy Keller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual, Keller has read both the trendy and the traditional on the subject, and makes the best use of both. Idols are usually good things that have become ultimate things. Because our hearts are idol factories, we can turn anything into an idol. We can identify the idols in our lives by looking at our daydreams, our nightmares (what do we fear the most?), and our emotions.

Keller takes up several biblical narratives in the book to swing our hearts away from our false gods and back to the real God. In each narrative he brings out God’s grace in Jesus, and everything is done in a way that makes this book highly suitable for both Christians and non-Christians.

As a personal example of how our hearts can make an idol out of anything, I realized as I was holding this book in my hands, that this is my idol. How ironic that reading and learning are my idols and then I read a book about it! But the answer is not to throw away all my books. No, it is to throw myself at my Lord Jesus, and to do whatever little learning I am capable of in loving devotion to him and to his people.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bible reading plans

Head over to this post by Justin Taylor for an array of options.