I’m using Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language for the second time, and it’s the kind of book you appreciate all over again. (Ryan Reeves was right to recommend this book to me.) There aren’t many introduction to church history books that are as well paced; most are either too simple, with lots of tables and boxes, or too complex (the dreaded Justo Gonzalez volumes, that I and other grad students struggled with). In contrast, Shelley reveals his thoughtful teaching experience in his choices and style. He makes smart assumptions, such as people are more interesting than complicated movements and causes. “Without ignoring ideas, I have tried to wrap thoughts in personalities, because I assume most readers are interested in meeting other people” (p. xii). His writing is crisp and has momentum: “From years of teaching I have also concluded that clarity is the first law of learning” (p. xii). Chapter 1 opens with, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God” (p. 3), which is a clear and interesting sentence – who wouldn’t want to read on?

This is not to say the book is without imperfections. He neglects the American civil rights movement completely, which seems odd given the important role churches played in those pivotal decades. His Protestant, evangelical bias also strongly pops up rom time to time, as when he states that the monastic lifestyle is unnatural and flawed (p. 132), or that Scholastic theology reached too far (p. 213). He has little sympathy for medieval or modern Catholicism, and thinks of Christian faith as an inward, spiritual status of grace versus law. I don’t blame him for having a voice and a bias, but a bit more generosity and awareness would be nice. Part of the issue is the success of the book; he has a Protestant, evangelical audience in mind, but it has found a wider readership. Despite these frustrations (which can be thoughtfully addressed as part of the classroom), it remains the best book for introducing church history.

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AuthorKevin Taylor

Recent decades have shown an interest among Biblical scholars in exploring the influence of Greek tragedy on the New Testament and the early church. The influence of Greco-Roman culture, including the idea and power of tragic literature, was pervasive at this time. Although there are no direct quotations of Greek tragedy in the New Testament, nor a direct linkage, that does not mean that tragic motifs and influence are not present. Just as the Greek language and words influence and shape the Bible, it is quite plausible that Greek literature and style would influence the Biblical narrative and its interpretation.

Jeff Jay,’s The Tragic in Mark: A Literary-Historical Interpretation explores tragedy as a “mode” (versus an explicit use of the tragic genre), and argues that “early Jewish narratives that are tragic in mode are actually quite extensive and, furthermore, belong within a broader Jewish effort to compose and accommodate Greek tragedy” (p. 110). There are “fundamental affinities that the story of Jesus shared with tragedy” (p. 17), and Jay builds on Gilbert G. Bilezikian’s The Liberated Gospel: A Comparison of the Gospel of Mark and Greek Tragedy.

Other scholars exploring tragedy and the New Testament are Jo-Ann A. Brant and Courtney Friesen. Brant argues for the presence of Greek tragedy in John’s Gospel (Dialogue and Drama: Elements of Greek Tragedy in the Fourth Gospel). Friesen’s Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Cultural Contestations of Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Christians argues for the reception of Euripides’ Bacchae in the ancient world, including the Acts of the Apostles and church fathers. Michael Cover is publishing an upcoming article on Philippians 2:6-11 and Euripides’ Bacchae.

This interest in the Bible and tragedy develops an ongoing relationship between tragedy and Christianity, but from a historical and Biblical perspective, and separate from the influence of Hegel, Balthasar, and Donald MacKinnon.

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AuthorKevin Taylor

The Apple Watch (or some other activity tracker) has changed my attitude towards home maintenance and chores. I’ve always disliked mowing the grass, but knowing I’ll burn 300 calories while doing it has transformed my attitude – hey, here’s something I can do to hit my daily goal!

I’ve been surprised how many steps and calories I hit while simply cleaning the house or cooking dinner. (Being active, surprisingly, makes one active.) Moving around the house and picking things up will get you to 10,000 steps faster than you think, as does moving around the kitchen. Again, what’s interesting to me is my mental shift; instead of thinking, ugh, I should clean up this room, I’m aware that cleaning up the room will get me closer to burning 500 calories.

Chores, while always annoying, become less annoying with the reward of the Apple Watch.

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AuthorKevin Taylor

Things 3 is tremendous, and I must confess that I’ve fully switched to it.

A bit of background: I had used Things 1 as my first high-powered to-do list (after first experimenting with Remember The Milk). But it languished, especially in terms of sync, and it didn’t have time-based deadlines. So I switched to OmniFocus. OmniFocus is best in class, really powerful and thoughtful. But some of OmniFocus’ recent power user implementations have felt odd to me – I don’t need TaskPaper support every time I copy and paste, for example. OmniFocus was oddly between a task manager and a project manager.

Although OmniFocus is thoroughly Mac-like, powerful, and intuitive, I missed the clear, lovely Things in its earlier versions. With Things 3, the stark beauty is only enhanced, with inviting fonts, titles, and clarity. (It feels very inspired by iOS 10’s Music app, with large, clear titles and sections.) I like the Today view, and I like the ease of seeing everything. Lists and items pop onscreen and offscreen in a really pleasing way that clearly communicates what is happening. Things has had a powerful sync for some years, but I hadn’t really experimented with it until Things 3.

I do sometimes miss the Review tab of OmniFocus, but it’s really not necessary. If you want to review, then review, or set an appointment or recurring event and go through everything. Things forces you to keep it simple, which is always a challenge for a kind of software that naturally invites complexity.

Use whatever works for you – Apple’s Reminders is great, and OmniFocus is awesome. But Things pops in a way that feels very contemporary, leaving OmniFocus feeling a bit stale.

Cheers to Things 3!

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AuthorKevin Taylor

I just finished a delightful summer read: A Gentleman in Moscow. Amor Towles evokes a culture in change, as a Russian aristocrat sees his world change as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Count is hilarious and poignant with his quirks, sense of humor, and careful manners, and the book itself is amusing with its occasional footnotes and author's self-conscious foreshadowings. The plot finds clever ways to move forward, despite Count Rostov's limited mobility (he must stay in the Hotel Metropol under house arrest, due to his being an aristocrat). The book's terrific characters and setting play off the backdrop of thirty years of pivotal Russian history, and it raises questions of circumstance and cultural change. A New York Times review is here, and my Amazon Associates link is below.

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel
$16.17
By Amor Towles
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AuthorKevin Taylor