Saturday, January 30, 2016

What Counts as Reading?

I recently saw a post by Tim Challies where he listed all of the books that he had read this month. Out of curiosity, I looked up the page counts of the eleven books that were listed (excluding back matter and such) and the total came out to a little over 3,000 pages. Sheesh.

Challies is doing a reading challenge wherein he aims to read 104 books in 2016. And that’s nothing compared with Don Carson, who claims to read 500 books a year. I’m also reminded of a professor of mine who once casually remarked that he had “worked through” the 900-page first volume of Keener’s commentary on Acts in a single evening.

Now I have no intention of insinuating that these people are dishonest, but whenever I see or hear claims of this nature, I always wonder to myself what that person counts as reading. Are they reading these books word-for-word? I suppose my professor’s use of the words “worked through” could imply something other than word-for-word reading.

In any case, another professor of mine had a practice of his own that he referred to as “thick-skimming,” which is basically reading parts of every page, but not every word. Tai Lopez, a secular motivational speaker, claims that he reads “one book a day,” but whenever he explains elsewhere what he means by that, you find out that he actually does nothing more than “thick-skim” one book a day. Is this the kind of “reading” that people like Challies and Carson do? It may not be. But if it is what they do, then that seems like something that should be communicated.

Of course, I’ve heard of speed reading, and I don’t doubt that there are some people who have the ability to do that. But I do share the suspicions of Daniel Streett, who calls himself “a bit of a speed reading skeptic.” Streett writes,

“I’ve done speed reading courses and found some helpful techniques, but those primarily had to do with speed-scanning or -skimming a page, not what I would call reading. Further, from my (limited) research, scientists who have run tests on speed readers are generally unimpressed by the results. In fact, there is good reason to think that the eye itself limits the speed at which we can read, as it’s unable to focus on more than a little text at a time. . . . Note that speed reading tests always use very simple writing, like the kind you’d find in Reader’s Digest; so anyone who claims they’re speed reading Barth is really full of it.”

The notion of having “read” a book carries a pretty specific meaning in the minds of common people. Most would typically (and reasonably) assume this means that you’ve “looked at and comprehended the meaning of” all of the book’s contents. So personally, I wouldn’t tell somebody that I had read a book if I had only skimmed it. I would simply tell them that I had read parts of it. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with skimming a book, or only reading key parts of a book. But my question is, should you skim a book and tell people that you’ve read it? Is that misleading? Does it make you seem more widely read than you really are?

By the way, I do envy people like Challies and Carson, as I know they read much more than I do; but that’s not what’s driving me to write these things. I’m simply raising questions about what sort of thing should qualify as “reading.”

Postscript: I just found Denny Burk’s post from years ago, which explains that Don Carson does skim at least some of those 500 books. But this isn’t always communicated whenever the claim is made. Consider this article by Andy Naselli, which states that Carson “reads about five hundred books each year” without any sort of clarification.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Systematic Theology: Class Resources

Course Resources

Course Syllabus: (updated Jan. 30)
Raiford Road Church Library Catalog:

Supplementary Readings

Required Readings

R. C. Sproul, “What Is Theology?”
Kevin DeYoung, “The Doctrine of the Trinity: No Christianity Without It”
Ronald Nash, “The Case Against Open Theism”
Douglas Kelley, “Creation: Foundational Doctrine of Scripture”
Bruce Ware, “Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions”
Matt Perman, “How Can Jesus Be God and Man?”
Leon Morris, “Theories of the Atonement”

Recommended Readings

Theopedia, “List of God’s Known Attributes”

Kevin DeYoung, “Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies: Why the Gospel of Christ’s Suffering is More Glorious Because God Does Not Suffer” 

John Piper, “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory”


Danny Akin, “Should every Christian study theology?”

Wayne Grudem, on systematic theology

Kevin DeYoung, “The Clarity of Scripture”
This is a one-hour talk on the clarity of Scripture. DeYoung is a great communicator: clear, convictional, helpful, and funny.

Don Carson, “The Aseity of God”

Lecture Audio

2/1 – The Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture
2/8 – The Clarity, Necessity, and Sufficiency of Scripture
2/22 – The Existence and Incommunicable Attributes of God
2/29 – The Communicable Attributes of God, Open Theism, Free Will
3/7 – The Trinity
3/14 – Creation

Friday, January 22, 2016

School Paper: The Parishioners’ Black Veils (Spring 2012)

I have to be honest: I like this paper. And I really like the story it examines. While my efforts here didn’t earn any serious accolades from the professor (who was easily one of my favorites in college), I sometimes found it hard to discern what he really even wanted in a paper. So I suppose I just decided to write the kind of paper I wanted.

The Parishioners’ Black Veils
English Composition II | March 2, 2012

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” is a short story about the universal human tendency to hide sin from God and the world. In the story, Mr. Hooper, the parson of Milford meeting-house, troubles his congregation by perpetually wearing a black veil that covers most of his face. The veil is clearly emblematic, as Mr. Hooper states later in the story: “This veil is a type and a symbol, and I am bound to wear it ever.”1 Many readers are tempted to assume that Mr. Hooper’s black veil is merely a symbol of some specific secret sin he himself has committed, and this assumption fuels an attempt to discern from the details of the narrative what that sin actually is. However, such an endeavor misses the larger significance of the veil within the story. The veil is not primarily a statement about Mr. Hooper himself, but it is rather an indictment against the members of his congregation, and more broadly, allwho vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator – loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin.”2

The veiled appearance of Mr. Hooper immediately causes a stir among the parishioners of Milford meeting-house. When he ascends into the pulpit he stands “face to face with his congregation, except for the black veil.”3 The veil completely hides Mr. Hooper’s countenance from the people in his congregation, which denies them the ability to read their pastor on an emotional level. He has shaded the windows of his soul, so to speak, and this effect of the veil is clearly articulated later in the story when the elders of the congregation approach Mr. Hooper to inquire about the meaning of the veil. It “seemed to hang down before his heart, the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them.”4 Whose is the secret, Hawthorne cleverly leaves ambiguous.

In his first veiled sermon, Mr. Hooper’s subject “had reference to secret sin and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest.”5 The sermon itself is not characterized by any style or diction uncommon to Mr. Hooper, but the mere presence of the veil makes his delivery unusually powerful. His words are not confrontational, but the veil itself is. It causes every member of the congregation to feel “as if the preacher had crept upon them behind his awful veil and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought.”6 After the sermon, Mr. Hooper mingles with his congregation, giving special attention to each demographic, for “such was always his custom on the Sabbath-day.”7 The parishioners, on the other hand, are so spellbound by the minister’s veil that his greetings are met with only strange and confused looks. “None, as on former occasions, aspired to the honor of walking by their pastor’s side,”8 and even Old Squire Saunders, who consistently opened his home to the parson every Sunday afternoon, “neglected to invite Mr. Hooper to his table.”9 We see in this entire scenario a focus on the effect the veil evokes in the members of the congregation. Even though Mr. Hooper is the one whose visible appearance has changed, his behavior remains normal, and this radically contrasts him with his parishioners, who retain their customary Sabbath attire and yet behave in a very uncomfortable and unusual way. The veil is Mr. Hooper’s comfort, but the congregation’s dread.

The story culminates at the deathbed of “Father Hooper,” as he comes to be known, and it is here that we most clearly see the meaning of the veil. Reverend Clark, the minister at parson Hooper’s bedside, insists that the dying man remove the veil that has for years hidden his face. But Mr. Hooper is unwavering in his commitment to wearing the veil, and the ensuing argument concludes with these words from the dying parson: “Why do you tremble at me alone?” “Tremble also at each other. Have men avoided me and women shown no pity and children screamed and fled only for my black veil?”10 With these rhetorical questions, Mr. Hooper clearly pinpoints the real power behind his veil. The people are not troubled by Mr. Hooper’s veil merely for its appearance, but for its phenomenal ability to reveal their own veils. The “simple piece of crape”11 that hides Mr. Hooper’s face from the world is a perpetually delivered sermon, a constant indictment against the folly of pretending, even before God, that you are not too bad a person. Mr. Hooper says, “When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend, the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin,—then deem me a monster for the symbol beneath which I have lived and die.”12 He compares his own veil with the insistence of depraved men to hide their secret sin from God and the world. As Mr. Hooper goes about his daily life with his countenance hidden, he is openly doing what everyone else is pretending not to do. His dying words capture the essence of what the veil is meant to communicate: “I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a black veil!”13

It is important for readers of “The Minister’s Black Veil” to understand that while Mr. Hooper’s veil does, in some sense, represent his own secret sins, its purpose is much wider than that alone. We as readers find ourselves identifying with the parishioners in the story, and asking the same questions they ask: What does this veil mean? Why do we find it disturbing? When we recognize that the veil is primarily a statement about the secret sins that the members of the congregation hide deep within their own hearts, we will understand why the story itself haunts us as readers. Those who are familiar with the New Testament are immediately reminded of texts like Hebrews 4:13: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” We all have sin that we intend to keep hidden, and Hawthorne’s story, much like parson Hooper’s veil, is an uncomfortable reminder of that fact. In the way of Mr. Hooper with his parishioners, Hawthorne creeps up on his readers, making them feel as if he has “discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought,” and this is what makes the story powerful.


1. Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” In Twice-told Tales: Vol. 1 (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1900), 42.

2. Ibid., 49.

3. Ibid., 34.

4. Ibid., 41.

5. Ibid., 35.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., 36.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., 49.

11. Ibid., 34.

12. Ibid., 49.

13. Ibid.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Not the Monster

1. The chair is blue.
2. The chair is not blue.

That seems like a textbook contradiction, does it not? But does a contradiction occur simply because a positive statement has been stated negatively, or vice versa? Not necessarily. Consider the following example:

1. Frankenstein is not the monster.
2. Frankenstein is the monster.

The first statement is true because anyone who is even a little bit familiar with Mary Shelley’s novel knows that Frankenstein was not the name of the monster, but the name of the doctor who created the monster. But the second statement is also true because it’s utilizing the word “monster” in an alternative and poetic sense. Dr. Frankenstein is the one who is actually responsible for the evils and sorrows that occur throughout the story. And in that sense, Frankenstein is the monster.

So in different ways, Frankenstein is both monster and not-monster without any contradiction. This is why the law of non-contradiction says that a thing cannot be A and not-A in the same way.

And this principle is also relevant to certain so-called “contradictions” in Scripture, like Proverbs 26:4–5:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

I’ve written more about these verses here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Announcement: Plowman’s Course in Systematic Theology

I’m gearing up to teach a Systematic Theology course at the Plowman’s Institute for the spring semester. The dates for the course are January 25–May 9. The Plowman’s Institute is a school of Raiford Road Church that offers college-style courses in biblical and theological studies. You can sign up at the Raiford Road Church offices (or on the church bulletin board). These courses are for anyone and everyone who has any interest at all, and you’re invited to participate with any level of commitment. I think you’ll get the most out of the course if you do the assignments, but you’re more than welcome to simply attend class sessions. You can find out more information in my syllabus, which can be viewed at the following link:

Syllabus: Systematic Theology

Let me know if I can answer any of your questions!