My 2013 Highlights

The last day of 2013 has arrived. As I think back over this year, many highlights stand out. And many of them are school-related because, well, school consumed a lot of time this year!

January: Stacie was in her third trimester, and lots of baby-prep was underway–doctor appointments, baby showers, stuff like that. In some spare time, I wrote an article called “God’s Judgment on His Blessing” for the spring edition of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

February: On the 8th, I left my 20’s behind with the 3-0 milemarker. But the big news this month was the birth of Boy #3, Owen Warren Chase, on February 12. My parents flew in for the birth and stayed more than a week for our sanity’s sake. When they left, they took our oldest, Jensen, back with them for a couple weeks. That helped our adjustment a lot!

March: Preparation time for Comprehensive Exams finally came to an end. At Southern Seminary, I took three major exams which were the final doorway to go through before dissertation writing formally began (which means I had some pages written already, just informally). In the final weeks of study, the cries of a newborn often served as background music. On the morning of the final test, which was the third and hardest one, I was late because of rainy weather.

April: At the beginning of the month, I turned in my prospectus for my dissertation to the faculty for approval. Writing was now in full swing. With a detailed outline and a mountain of research under me, I knew what I wanted to say and needed to set aside the time to say it. On April 18, I marked fourteen years of preaching God’s Word. What a privilege and joy to study and herald it.

May: We started the month with a family trip to Texas, which was the first time Stacie and I flew on a plane with three kids (all under five years old, one a nursing infant). After that nightmare flight, the stay with family was great, and I got to officiate my sister’s wedding. I preached at my home church, always an honor. The day after we returned to Louisville, Jensen broke his right arm by falling off monkey bars in our backyard, so off to the emergency room we went. Our niece Sadie came to see us, and she’s the coolest college girl we know.

June: Writing, writing, and more writing. Stephen Dempster agreed to serve as the External Reader for my dissertation. Little Logan, the middle boy, turned 2, and something promptly instructed his personality to act accordingly. At the end of the month was Vacation Bible School, so it was good to spend the final week of June telling kids the Good News about Jesus.

July: The first week of July was spent in Oklahoma visiting family. What a relief to have some vacation time! Later that month, my sister flew to visit us for a few days, and at the end of the month Stacie and I celebrated 8 years of marriage. In important church news, my friend Tim Scott became our Associate Pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, where he serves faithfully and zealously and wears multiple hats.

August: On the 2nd, our family marked three years since we arrived in Louisville pulling a U-Haul from Texas. Lots of chapter revisions this month. I completed the near-final draft of the dissertation. I officiated the funeral of a beloved man in our church named Sid.

September: School started for Jensen, a wonderful program called Classical Conversations. We love it, and he loves it. My parents visited for a week, as I studiously worked to finish the Defense Draft of the dissertation. I realized I had a glaring spelling error in my title on the first page, of all places! I fixed that and turned in copies for my Doctoral Committee at 4 pm on Friday September 20. At home that evening, the family exhaled a huge sigh of relief with me.

October: We scheduled meals with friends. Toward the end of the month, our church had the annual men’s retreat, and Matt Damico did an outstanding job serving as our speaker. Halloween was fun as the kids dressed up and (after they went to sleep) we rummaged through their candy.

November: My dissertation defense was scheduled for Monday, the 3rd, at 3 pm. I made final changes to the manuscript and turned in the final (and I do mean final) version on November 18. Later that week I flew to Baltimore to attend the annual Institute for Biblical Research conference, where I had the opportunity to present a paper titled “The Genesis of Resurrection Hope.” Jensen turned 5 years old on the 22nd. Thanksgiving was a blast, and there was a ton to be thankful for. We spent it in Louisville with family and friends.

December: Graduation at Southern Seminary was held on Friday the 13th. No superstition though! Just amazing grace and gracious providence. My parents flew in for a two-night stint, just to see the graduation live. Then they came again two weeks later for Christmas in Louisville, staying more than a week and a half. Totaling up their days, they spent half of December with us in Louisville! (They must love those grandkids.) This month I worked on winding down and relaxing a lot, even reading some fiction. Owen took his first steps.

2013 was full of challenges, especially regarding parenting and schooling. 2013 also had its important transitions, which will make our 2014 look very different from this year.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

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My 2013 List of 10 Favorite Books

End-of-year lists are as expected as holiday leftovers, so I’m entering the fray with one too. Below are books in my Top 10 this year, though they weren’t necessarily published in 2013, nor are they in a particular order. If you click on the book’s title, you’ll be taken to its Amazon page.

(1) Jesus On Every Page by David Murray. We should read the Old Testament in light of the Person and Work of Jesus, and Murray is a helpful guide in this task. He unpacks ten ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament. I loved this book and reviewed it here.

(2) What Is Biblical Theology? by James M. Hamilton. This is an introduction to a crucial subject, and Hamilton compellingly and clearly provides the answer to the title. Bible-readers should aim to understand (and, yes, imitate) the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. I reviewed his book here.

(3) Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer. If I taught a class on preaching, this would be required reading. It is packed full of biblical insight, and in half of the book Meyer traces the stewardship of the word through the Old and New Testaments in a riveting way. Pastors, in particular, should get it for their 2014 reading.

(4) Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler. When I read this book back in January, I knew immediately it would be on my end-of-year list. Concise, powerful, and memorable, Mohler’s book on leadership is my number one recommendation on the subject. I reviewed it here.

(5) Father Hunger by Doug Wilson. As a dad, I find books on fatherhood to be a helpful and necessary addition to an annual reading regimen. Because of what I’ve read before from Wilson, I had high expectations for this book and was not disappointed. His substance and style is tremendous, refreshing, and a word for our times. Fathers, take up and read.

(6) Kingdom Come by Samuel Storms. For many years now I’ve loved reading books on eschatology, and I looked forward to the release of this one. As with any book on end-times issues, I don’t agree with every conclusion therein, but I enjoyed the journey through the subjects he evokes.

(7) The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson. In this important book for pastors, Jared Wilson (a pastor himself) talks about ministry in light of the Gospel. In a meaningful and carefully crafted exposition of 1 Peter 5 and the Five Solas of the Reformation, Wilson shows that the Good News is for ministers.

(8) Death By Living by N. D. Wilson. Like others who enjoyed Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, I wondered if I’d enjoy Wilson’s newest non-fiction book even more. And I did. His writing is a delight to read. It’s the kind of prose you swim in and climb out revived.

(9) When Shall These Things Be? edited by Keith Mathison. This book is a critique of an eschatological view called Hyper-Preterism. The line-up of authors consists of Doug Wilson, Ken Gentry, Keith Mathison, Charles Hill, Richard Pratt, Simon Kistemaker, and Robert Strimple. Again, I don’t affirm every sentence they write, but the book is a thoughtful and fascinating read (and, I hasten to add, a devastating and successful critique) of a very problematic eschatological perspective.

(10) Finally Free by Heath Lambert. Jesus promised that the pure in heart shall see God, and Lambert is honest with his readers that purity is warfare. Many snares await disciples, hoping to seize them and enslave them with images and habits that deaden their love for God and neighbor. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, and it’s the only power that can set the captive free. Lambert’s book is full of Gospel-saturated wisdom and strength.

Observations about this list: There are (1) two books on reading the Bible, (2) three books by guys with the last name Wilson, (3) two books on end-times stuff, (4) three authors associated with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, (5) two books especially helpful to pastors, and (6) two books whose titles ask a question.

Have you read any of these books? Would they make your end-of-year list?

Twas Mercy, All of It

In 2010 our family moved to Louisville so that I could enter the PhD program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As a bastion of sound doctrine and academic excellence, and with a faculty second to none, Southern Seminary was already appealing for doctoral work. But when I was living in Houston in 2005, God used a man named Jim Hamilton to impact my life, and I wanted even then to pursue a PhD under his supervision. When he eventually joined the SBTS faculty, the time seemed right for me to apply. He agreed to supervise me, and so things were in motion.

We left Texas to move to a city where we had no friends or family. We arrived in Louisville on August 2, 2010. The journey began, and it was not easy. The rigor of the program, the pursuit of job and income stability, and the multiplication of children all made for a fascinating and sanctifying combination of life challenges. We came to Louisville with one kid, Jensen, who wasn’t even two yet. He’s now five, and yesterday on graduation day, he said with a smile, “Daddy, I’m proud of you graduating.” Two other boys entered the fray as well along the way. Stacie was pregnant with Logan during my first year in the program, and she was pregnant with Owen during my last year in it. We didn’t frame it that way on purpose, but God did.

We’ve watched the Lord provide throughout these years, and we are amazed. Almost two years ago, he brought Kosmosdale Baptist Church into our path, and we are blessed to serve that church. God’s will is perfect, his timing is wise, and his care is unfailing.

Stacie and I praise the faithfulness of God who has brought us to the end of a long journey, and I do mean us. Doctoral work is not easy on a family. Many long days, long nights, long papers, and a long dissertation! I have a loving and supportive wife who is a gift from God to me. During our eight years of marriage, I have been in school somewhere writing papers for someone, and now a wonderful and refreshing change of pace has arrived.

But it was good to do a hard thing. A goal can be worth the blood, sweat, and tears. During my PhD work, Dr Hamilton once said, “When you’re standing on that stage on graduation day, you want to be able to say, ‘I’m standing here because of the mercy of God!'” Yesterday, December 13,2013,  was graduation day, and as I walked onto the stage when my name was called, I felt the truth of those words. It was by mercy, all of it. In hindsight we can see blessings that we failed to acknowledge along the way. Things that looked like obstacles turned out to be opportunities. God meant it all for good, ordering our steps at every point.

Learning is a joy and privilege, and I’m so grateful for years of study at Southern Seminary. God rained mercy on these years, and we’re still drenched. May the fruit of this academic labor bring him glory and serve the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Semester #6 at SBTS

This Fall of 2013, my journey as a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under Jim Hamilton’s doctoral supervision, has come to an end.

My dissertation was “Resurrection Hope in Daniel 12:2: An Exercise in Biblical Theology,” and I submitted my Defense draft copies on September 20 for my doctoral committee to read. This committee consisted of Jim Hamilton, Peter Gentry, and Robert Plummer, and my External Reader was Stephen Dempster–a team I affectionately dubbed the Academic Avengers. The Avengers assembled and began reading the dissertation. At 3 pm on Monday, November 4, I successfully defended the dissertation. After completing any final edits and adjustments to the project, I uploaded my last draft on November 18. That day was “the end” for that project.

Friday December 13, 2013 was graduation day, my last official day as a student at Southern Seminary. I walked across the stage in Alumni Chapel and received the degree for a PhD in Biblical Studies. Journey complete. Praise the Lord!

12 Practices For Writing My Dissertation

A few days ago I defended my dissertation and received the glorious green light for graduation. Here are 12 practices I employed while writing it. They may not work for everyone, but I benefited from them.

(1) Keep organized notes as you research. Have an ongoing set of Word documents, or have a file in Dropbox ready and waiting, or use some other method, but be as organized as possible from the get-go. Work within categories that make sense to you and that you can navigate when it’s time to relocate that important sentence or source. 

(2) Develop a thorough but flexible outline. Thorough, to me, means having not only the chapters in mind but also their divisions–at least with main headings. The rule of thumb is: know where you’re headed! If you have an outline, you can stay the course. For my prospectus, I only had the chapters named and listed. But when it came time to write each dissertation chapter, I developed as detailed an outline as I could. I put all the headings (main and sub and sub-sub) in the document and then filled them in as I wrote. Be flexible with your outline, though, and reorganize or purge as necessary.

(3) When possible, write chapter drafts (or at least chapter chunks) before incorporating secondary sources. Ability to do this may vary with topic and focus. Some parts of my dissertation (such as the survey of research) had to engage with other sources constantly, so citing while writing was required. But I really wanted to develop the arguments of my chapters as much as I could using my independent voice. Most sections of almost every chapter, therefore, came together before footnoting secondary sources. 

(4) Find a writing routine and strive to maintain it. At the beginning of the writing process I pulled out my calendar and determined how many pages/words I should pursue each week. This set my pace. I knew I wouldn’t be able to write every day, but most days I managed to get something done. I seemed to work best early in the morning and late at night. During the day proved a challenging time to write, for various reasons. So some days I was up early at 5 am, and other days I was writing late until 2 am. You have to do what works best for you, of course, but disciplining yourself for a routine is the way to keep your writing pace. 

(5) Seize unexpected opportunities for more writing or editing. Sometimes an afternoon, or even a whole day, may open up for you to write, so don’t squander unexpected opportunities. Press on and press through! Some paragraphs of my dissertation were written in a moving van (while I was in the passenger seat), and some were written out of state. When I knew I’d have opportunities to sit somewhere and read, I’d bring printed copies of sections to read, edit, and think more about. Make the most of your time! Don’t drive yourself crazy though. Sometimes when time opens up, you need to go with your spouse to the store, build a lego tower with your kid, watch a movie, or read a Harry Potter book. 

(6) Write down good thoughts instead of thinking you will remember them later. Sometimes you’ll think of just the way you want to say something, but you’re nowhere near your computer. Prepare for such moments by keeping a piece of paper and pen with you. “I’ll remember that idea later,” you may think, but you may not. Do you have a Smart Phone? Then use a voice recorder for impromptu thoughts, trails to pursue, or other details you won’t want to rack your brain for later. 

(7) Keep an up-to-date bibliography. If you use a program that automatically inserts your citations into a Bibliography, then great. Otherwise, you need to keep track somehow of your citations. They are a mountain that grows, and you need to climb it as it does, not wait until the end when you have to wade through your footnotes. I kept a separate document with my developing sources. When I cited something new, I updated the Bibliography. This may be an outdated way of updating a Bibliography, but I didn’t take the time to learn any new tricks (which I probably should have!).

(8) Format major style stuff along the way. I know people may disagree with this and encourage post-writing style adjustments. But notice I said “major style stuff.” What I hate is having to correct something that I did wrong on many pages or even throughout many chapters! So from the beginning I paid special attention to margins, footnotes, proper citation form, and the way headings were formatted. For those things I would rather get them right the first time and thus get them right every time. The more attention you give to style and formatting issues, the less time you will spend reformatting and correcting after the Defense is over. I consider this a good investment!

(9) Read books on writing while you’re writing. Does this seem like a strange suggestion? I benefited from thinking about the craft of writing during the dissertation process. I read Stephen King’s On Writing and Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence. These writers primed the pump. Don’t think of a dissertation as a box you want to check at the end of a program. Give care to its design and flow. You want to be clear and compelling, and reading about writing can help along the way.

(10) Dialogue with others about your topic. We can have goofy thoughts and draw silly conclusions about things, and the sooner someone points that out to us, the better. If you imagine the dissertation process as a conversation, then include trusted dialogue partners. Send them an argument or an excerpt, and be open to feedback. Perhaps no one is better suited for this role than your doctoral supervisor! My supervisor provided timely and thorough feedback on each chapter. For the writing process, no man should be an island.

(11) Read your work aloud. What makes most sense in your head may make less sense in your document. When you’re writing, trust your ear. Don’t just be satisfied with how a chapter reads; be satisfied with how it sounds. Sometimes I’d type something and later ask my wife, “How does this sentence sound to you? What do you hear me saying?”

(12) Allow a time gap between edits of a draft. If you give yourself a time-gap between edits of a chapter, your editing will be more effective. When you finish a draft, let it sit a while (a few days? a week?) and then return to it. Between edits, occupy yourself with other work and writing. This is your brain’s best chance to process your previous writing with a “fresh” read. 

Any other writing practices you’d recommend for a dissertation?

Semester #5 at SBTS

The fall of 2012 was a pause in doctoral studies at Southern Seminary, a break known as an “interrupted status.” But in 2013 things were back in full swing. Here’s the breakdown on Semester #5.

I completed my 4 goals for the Spring 2013:

  1. Take and pass Comprehensive Exams, which consists of 3 major tests administered at a certain time for all doctoral students who are at that stage in their program. Different professors prepare exams relevant to the student’s areas of study. In my case, Dr Plummer gave me a Greek exam, Dr Hamilton gave me an Old Testament theology exam, and Dr Schreiner gave me a New Testament theology exam. I took (and passed!) these exams in March, and I studied for many, many weeks in advance to prepare for them. What a relief to have them behind me now!
  2. Secure my Dissertation Committee. This is a group of 3 people (one of whom is my supervisor) who will read my final dissertation draft. Before my graduation I must defend my dissertation before this committee of faculty members. I am very blessed to have Jim Hamilton, Rob Plummer, and Peter Gentry as the members of this Committee. A team of academic Avengers has assembled!
  3. Write, submit, and receive formal approval for my Prospectus. The Prospectus is the research proposal, an explanation and justification for the dissertation idea one has. Quite a bit of research goes into forming a Prospectus, so the hope is that it will be approved and thus the prior research be vindicated! My dissertation interest centers around Daniel 12:2, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” I aim to show that Daniel’s words of resurrection hope are rooted in prior Old Testament texts and concepts extended as far back as Genesis,  and I want to show how Daniel’s words were influential in shaping the resurrection language of the New Testament authors. The title of the dissertation will be “Resurrection Hope in Daniel 12:2: An Exercise in Biblical Theology.” I turned in my Prospectus just under the wire, and it was accepted!
  4. Take a 4-day seminar called “Teaching Principles and Methods.” In the PhD program there are three mini-seminars required, one on Graduate Research, one on Higher Education, and one on Teaching Principles and Methods. This was my last of the mini seminars. It was enjoyable being back in the classroom again, because I’ve been officially done with semester-long coursework for a year now, but equally delightful is the fact that I’ve now completed every degree requirement except the dissertation. That status is affectionately abbreviated ABD.

With the fifth semester at SBTS now behind me, and with only the dissertation in front of me, I should be writing during every free moment I can get my hands on! In the months ahead, I can’t afford to have extraneous written words unrelated to my topic–which means I need to find a way to fit this blog post into a footnote.

My Review of Albert Mohler’s Book “The Conviction to Lead”

Starting the new year off with a great read is the right way to begin. First up this year was Albert Mohler’s latest, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Bethany House, 2012).

I’m a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where Mohler serves as president, so I was especially interested in what our leader would say about leadership.

I opened the book with high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

The Format

The book is organized into 25 chapters that convey the same number of leadership principles. The chapters are designed to be 7 or 8 pages long, and each one is focused to unpack, illustrate, and apply the principle in view.

Momentum builds throughout the book as it opens with the importance of conviction and ends with the aim to leave a legacy. Can a leadership book be a page-turner? Mohler has proven it can!

Importance of Conviction

It’s no secret that leadership books are a dime a dozen, but Mohler’s aim isn’t to add to the noise. He warns you in the first chapter “my goal is to change the way you think about leadership” (p. 15), and I deem his goal achieved.

The central theme of the book is summarized in a number of places, but this sentence is as clear as any: “The leadership that really matters is all about conviction” (p. 24).

Mohler’s approach to convictional leadership is flavored with personal anecdotes that enliven the material even more. He is a president of a large institution, yes, but he’s a husband, a father, and most importantly a disciple of Christ.

From the Christian worldview, he makes his case that convictional leadership is what lasts and is what followers must embrace for the organization to continue.

What Is Addressed

Helpful subjects that Mohler tackles include the importance of thinking, the “story” that frames the organization, the art of communication, the task of reading, the moral virtues of leadership, and even the inescapable minefield of media relations.

A common denominator appears early in the book and underlies the overall tone and argument: stewardship. Mohler wants leaders to steward their position well because they will answer to God. Leadership is a temporary stewardship and is exercised in light of the final judgment.

The chapters are concise, substantive, helpful, and well-written.  The book is also populated with autobiographical elements that show what so many already know about Mohler: he is an astute leader with relentless energy and remarkable intellect, a man driven by conviction and the pursuit of truth. More than that, he is a man who loves the Lord and gleans his convictions from Holy Writ.

Who Will This Book Help?

First, this book is for leaders in any capacity. Good leadership sense matters both in the secular world and in Christian organizations, and leaders will be helped by what they find herein. Do you lead five people or five hundred? Do you preside over a denominational agency or a school? Do you teach a class or mentor a group? Then get this book.

Second, this book is for pastors. Every pastor should get this book and learn. Have a pen ready to take notes. You will pastor your church with greater clarity and conviction after reading it. Mohler unashamedly argues his points from his biblical worldview, and thus his words can strengthen your hand in the ministry as you lead those in your charge.

Third, this book is for people who aren’t sure whether they’re leaders. Mohler doesn’t mince words and is honest about the cost leaders often pay. He tells you what a leader must have and what to avoid. He sobers the delusional and speaks frankly about how people risk shipwrecking their stewardship of responsibility. Do you wonder if you’re a leader? Let Mohler’s book be a mirror. Let it inspire you and compel you to lead better, with greater faithfulness and, yes, with greater conviction.

A Final Commendation

I loved this book and plan to visit it again. Mohler says his friends C. J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and others all pushed him to write it (p. 13), and I’m so glad they did. The Conviction to Lead is the best book on leadership I’ve read, and its breadth of topics will surely prove helpful to just about anyone.

Christian leadership in the 21st century calls for courageous conviction, and I’m thankful to God for men like Al Mohler who help equip us to meet the challenge.