Reading and Readers is officially one year old!
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Just not today. Today is a special episode where we celebrate the baby steps of this podcast.
On the 19th of April 2021, I launched Reading and Readers and for this anniversary and every anniversary afterwards, I plan to look not at the books but in the mirror. This is a behind the scenes episode. And hopefully this is the beginning of, again hopefully, a long tradition.
List of Things to Improve On
I was thinking to do a postmortem review kind of thing, where I describe three things that could be improved and three things I was happy with.
Examples of things that could improve include better proofreading. I wince at the English mistakes that get into both the recorded audio and the written post. The podcast can be improved with better editing. I would like to remove the fillers, ah, um, er, and pauses. And the most critical area of improvement, that would cover all the other improvements, would be that I record earlier and not, say, 2 hours before the deadline.
I have more in my list but I look at my list and it’s boring. Boring because I’m going to say the same things next year and every year after that because this podcast is not my full time job. I have responsibilities and commitments that have only increased, not decreased, in this past one year.
Also, this podcast doesn’t allow me to prepare a backlog of episodes. I review one, if not two, free books of the month. The premise of Reading and Readers is to encourage readers to get books before deals end. I get access to those free books the same time as everybody else does, which is part of the fun and part of the stress.
The quality will get better as I get more practise but honestly I’m aiming for consistency over everything else here. Just trying to knock out one episode every two weeks and sometimes if I can, I’ll push one extra episode because I want to share this book I just finished.
So if going through my list of areas to improve on is boring, what should I do for this episode? Is there a different way to make a meaningful reflection on the past year?
It just so happens that I am in the middle of preparing a study on 2 Thessalonians for my church’s bible study. John Stott in his comments on 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, asks: “What should our attitude be to Christians who are doing well in some aspect of their discipleship?” He then poses the dilemma: if we congratulate them, we risk puffing them up and robbing God of his glory; If we say nothing, we discourage them in their Christian walk. Stott asks us to follow Paul’s example, I quote:
Instead, we can affirm and encourage people in the most Christian of all ways: ‘I thank God for you, brother or sister. I thank him for the gifts he has given you, for his grace in your life, for what I see in you of the love and gentleness of Christ’. This way affirms without flattering, and encourages without puffing up.
When I look through my list in drafting out this episode, I ask “Where is God here?” It feels like a human endeavour absent God’s providence. I could tack on “I thank God for this”, “I thank God for that” but to me, the attitude that I have now, it feels like I’m doing it because I have to, it lacks depth or insight, there is nothing that leads me towards that utterance of thanksgiving. Is there a way for me to work towards seeing God in this podcast?
Then I asked myself, “Do any of the books I reviewed recently help in this?”
Two books immediately came to mind: “God, Technology and the Christian Life” by Tony Reinke and “Redeeming Our Thinking About History” by Vern S. Poythress. Reinke’s book can help me think about podcasting. Poythress’ book is on history and a one year anniversary is history. Poythress’ proposed three aspects to history: People, Events and Meaning and provocatively suggested that we can and we should seek to tease out God’s purposes in history. Can I apply what I have read in these two books to reflect on the past one year of this podcast’s history?
Let’s find out!
The first aspect is People. I asked myself, “Who made Reading and Readers possible?”
The first person that came to mind was my wife. Before I asked my friends what they thought, I asked my wife and she encouraged me. She helpfully listened as I brainstormed all sort of ideas and she helped pick the podcast cover. I preferred another version and was slightly annoyed she didn’t choose my preference but looking back, she was right.
And as I reflect, I saw that I should not just look at her active and direct contribution to this podcast but also her passive and indirect contribution. She looks after the home and children so well such that I can squeeze the time to read, write and record the podcasts. God, you are so good to bless me with such a wife.
When I mention my spouse, naturally my children come to mind. And although the children have occasionally interrupted my flow of thoughts which I never regained and sometimes when I was in the middle of recording, they would burst through the room chasing each other, laughing or crying, I thank God I managed to hold back my momentary annoyance because at the end of the time, I thank God for my children.
My children have directly contributed to the podcast. Because of them I bought, read and reviewed the Green Ember series by S.D. Smith and the Wingfeather series by Andrew Peterson. (If you have children you really should get both series.) Also, I foresee that this podcast will be my legacy to my children. One day I’ll be gone and perhaps they might want to hear their father’s voice and thoughts, about books and the Christian life. So that thought keeps this podcast going too.
I thank God for another important group of people, the church. In my church, some are readers, most are not. But I don’t want to approach this as a shared interest sort of thing: I like football, they like football, and I thank God that we all like football.
It is within the church that I can live out what I read. I talk to people and as we talk I sometimes share a nugget from something I read. A quote on cheap grace from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a story on forgiveness from Corrie ten Boom or a comment on thanksgiving from John Stott. I share from the life and work of wonderful saints to encourage the saints around me.
I don’t just thank my brothers and sisters in Christ for being an attentive audience but more importantly, I have matured through the church, through the good, the bad and the ugly. The books make sense because of the experiences I went through and I can, by putting these together, help others.
For example, the book “The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict” by Alfred Poirier, is so good. I’ve gone to it for advice and what he has written has encouraged me to stay the peacemaking course. We cannot make copies of the man, I can’t invite him to sit in for every conflict my church has, but I can buy copies of his book. It boggles the mind that a church may have solutions to their problems, but nobody knows that it’s sitting on their shelves, covered in dust.
I don’t want to over-promise what reading books can achieve. I’m merely pointing out that there are people who spend a lifetime, 50 years or more, making peace, studying the Bible, preaching, discipling and shining for Christ in the mission field. We are not to copy them blindly but we can learn from them. So I am thankful to God for the church, a people from whom I can draw counsel and joy and also contribute to, via this podcast and other means.
The second aspect of history as defined by Poythress is Events. “What events made Reading and Readers possible?”
We have the Covid-19 event. Because of Covid, I bought a good microphone because I can justify the cost. I can use it for work, church and also for this podcast. Because of Covid, others picked up cooking or gardening, I picked up podcasting. Because of Covid, people who would previously do something else, listened to this podcast. One listener even kindly said that Reading and Readers was one of the best things that came out of this Covid.
While Covid-19 triggered Reading and Readers, what really made Reading and Readers possible is the technology behind podcasting. This is where Tony Reinke’s book, “God, Technology and the Christian life” comes in.
To you and I, listening to a podcast is a simple case of downloading one app from the many apps in the store into a smartphone which holds many other apps. You press play and you hear the podcaster’s voice. It’s as simple as that. We don’t think about the technology or events that makes everything I said possible.
I can spend an entire podcast episode just exhaustively detailing every technological advancement, but let’s just do a quick sample.
Mics used to be crazy expensive. You could not plug a mic into a computer. Then you have the Internet which connects you and I together. I watched many hours of online tutorials, many many how to podcast videos, because this is all new to me. I used social media: Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to reach listeners from 33 countries. Big, big names like Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, carry my tiny little podcast. And they carry them for free! And I haven’t mentioned the smartphone from which most of you are listening podcasts with.
And I’ve only just mentioned the individual components of the system. I have not mentioned the systems of systems that make innovation and mass distribution possible.
Let me quote from Tony Reinke’s book, “God, Technology and the Christian Life”:
Exploring all the implications of the Christ-centered basis of technology would require another book. Here I can simply state the glorious fact. Apart from Christ there is no art, no science, no technology, no agriculture, no microprocessor, and no medical innovation. Apart from Christ, we would have no iPhones. Nothing that now exists, visible or invisible, can exist if it first didn’t exist in the mind of the Creator.
So for this episode, as I think about all the events that make Reading and Readers possible, I can only sing, “O Lord My God, How Great Thou Art”.
Now we come to the last aspect in Poythress’ three point list. After People, Events, it is Meaning. Can we determine God’s purpose in history? Go read Poythress’ book for a full answer on that question.
With this podcast only being one year old, a baby among podcasts, I am going to attempt the question, “What is God’s purpose for Reading and Readers?”
Let us consider this. Can we say that, humanly speaking, divine purpose can only be derived from what we see and experience. When I accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, I testify that everything that happened to bring me to that point was for God’s purpose. I confidently say this because it is only God who saves!
When God heals a person from cancer, we say it is God’s purpose to heal. When God does not heal, we say we don’t yet know his purpose. His purpose is hidden. But if we find out some years later that the doctors and nurses who tended to him became Christians because of his life and testimony, we say that maybe he had cancer in order to bring about the salvation of many.
So two points to explore here. One, humanly speaking, outside of the Holy Scripture, divine purpose is teased out from what we observe. Two, human speaking, outside of the holy scripture, God’s purpose is hidden and will only be revealed in His time.
Thus to ponder God’s purpose for this podcast seems foolish, arrogant, presumptous, hubris to do so. But to not make the attempt seems to ignore that God is at work in history. God did not finish the Bible, went for a holiday and will come back to work on the Last Days. God is ever present. His hand moves history. So though we not yet know the whys of history, we are told to constantly be mindful of God who is behind history.
This is no easy thing.
Consider the story of Mars Hill. If you have not listened to the podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill”, you should. It is like a murder mystery but instead of a dead man, you have a dead church. How did the church die? What killed it? Great question, listen til the end.
Now, what if a one year old Mars Hill ventured to divine God’s purpose for itself, based on where it was, its direction and early fruits then? It would be way off target. Even now, after the fall of Mars Hill, it’s still too early to know what was or is God’s purpose for Mars Hill.
And it will always be too early. Do we know God’s purpose for the British monarchy or American Independence or ancient Chinese civilisation? It’s still too early to say. We can only truly know after the curtain closes, when this age ends and even then, with all of history before us, our minds will not be able to grasp God’s purposes for every strand of people and events. Only God can reveal His purposes.
So until then, this life is like a mystery novel, with us reading it and in it.
In reading a mystery novel, the point of the genre is to try to figure out who is the murderer. We have suspects with their motives. We have clues. Some of us may even be so diligent as to sketch out a timeline of where everybody was at what time just so that we can pinpoint who the murderer is. I never figured out who the murderer was but that doesn’t stop me from reading mystery novels and trying to because that’s where the fun is. And the mystery novelist welcomes us in this. The novelist is not saying, “Drat! Isn’t it obvious who the murderer was? What a damn fool the reader is.”
So, as I venture to the next part, I want you to know that when I speak of God’s divine purpose, I speak in human terms, I speak, not the Lord. What you hear next is my bumbling guess, one year into Reading and Readers on what is the divine purpose of this podcast.
For listeners, perhaps, there are books that God wanted you to read. And this podcast gave you that extra push to read them, to delight in them, benefit and share these capsules of another person’s mind. You must tell me if this happened. I’ll print and stick your email on my wall.
Or Maybe you agree with me on what I think of the book and you needed to hear some affirmation. Or it could be the other way around, you disagree with me and God wanted you to consider alternate views.
Maybe you see what I’m doing here and feel emboldened to launch your own project, a podcast, maybe your own Christian Book Review podcast. If yes, please let me know.
Those are some guesses I have for God’s purposes for you, the listener. For myself, I know that if not for this podcast, there are books that I wouldn’t have chosen to read. If not for this podcast, having opened them I wouldn’t have finished; And having finished them, I would have kept silent.
Maybe God’s purpose is not in the reading but in the skills? Maybe I’m developing skills here for a future purpose that I do not know yet.
Maybe there is a book in the horizon that will just transform my life and launch me to a place I never knew I would go but having reached there, I could trace my unexpected journey to this humble podcast.
Maybe through this podcast, I’ll get to know people that I otherwise wouldn’t know: fellow readers, podcasters or authors. Unlikely friendships are a blessing from God.
So which one is God’s purpose? Maybe all of them.
This next bit is fun. I’m sure you know of God’s attributes. God is omnipotent. God is omniscient. God is omnipresent. Have you heard this one: God is omnirational.
I got this from an article written by Daniel M. Johnson. The title of the article is “Omnirationality and Divine Providence”.
God doesn’t just act for some of the good reasons there are to do what he does. He acts for all of them. Baylor University philosophy professor Alexander R. Pruss calls this divine attribute omnirationality. Since rationality is the property of acting for reasons, omnirationality is a good name for the fact that God always acts for all the reasons there are to do what he does.
This means all the possible reasons for this Reading and Readers podcast, for you the listener and for me the reviewer, all those reasons or purposes could be all true. Imagine a snooker game where a single shot causes all 21 balls to be pocketed. That would be the greatest game of all time. It would stop the mouths of everybody who watches the video of that game.
When the curtain closes for this age, we will see God’s omnirationality displayed. And in that God will have all the glory.
As I end, let me quote the conclusion to Johnson’s article on God’s omnirationality.
Since I’ve begun making a practice of looking relentlessly for the silver linings of everything that happens, I have found myself regularly rejoicing in the goodness and wisdom of God which I can now more easily perceive in the course of the world. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the fact that I am discerning his mind, and that what I can see of his mind is beautiful, its goodness demonstrated by everything good that occurs. Such a practice is bound to move us to spontaneous praise and thanksgiving; it enables us to obey the command to “be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Similarly, we should always be aware of the fact that God has always more reasons than we can see for what he has ordained. We should live in anticipation of new reasons being revealed to us in the course of events, reasons we couldn’t have imagined while we were in the midst of the difficult circumstances that puzzle us. God’s mind is inexhaustible, so that its depths remain always unplumbed.
Or in short, Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.”
This is a Reading and Reader’s … reflection on its first year. 40 episodes and counting. If you like Christian books, subscribe to the Reading and Readers podcast and tell a friend. For who knows, maybe you have been placed in this position for this purpose. Have a great day, thank you for listening.
- “The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict” by Alfred Poirier. Amazon.
- “God, Technology and the Christian Life” by Tony Reinke. Review.
- “Redeeming Our Thinking About History” by Vern. S. Poythress. Review.
- “Omnirationality and Divine Providence” by Daniel M. Johnson. Article.