Christopher Chelpka


What follows is a record of some of the books and substantial essays that I finish reading each month. I usually start them in the same month I finish them, but not always.

January 2020

Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out by John Calipari and Michael Sokolove

I think this might be the first sports book I’ve ever read! It was great. Lots of good ideas for anyone who’s leading and mentoring others, especially young people. And I learned a ton about college sports along the way.

The Power of a Positive Team by John Gordon

Teams that cultivate a positive team culture not only accomplish more, they also find the work more rewarding. With a variety of examples, Gordon’s book explains what realistic, helpful optimism looks like and how teams can cultivate it. “Great things happen when a team makes culture their top priority.” Lots of practical ideas.

The Achaean Federal Cult Part I: Pseudo-Julian, Letters 198 by Anthony J. S. Spawforth

Spawforth’s research shows that after Paul finished his church planting work in the Roman colony of Corinth, a religious Imperial Cult was established ca. 54 A.D. This significant development in the city of Corinth is likely behind some of the challenges Paul address in 1 Corinthians.

A bunch of introductory things on 1 Corinthians

Guy Prentiss Water’s chapter in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized. “Paul’s Second Missionary Journey” in Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Bible Atlas. “Corinth” in Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity. The intoduction in Anthony C. Thiselton’s commentary and from the volume in the Ancienty Christian Commentary Series.

My second time reading this. It’s a well-written introduction and helpful. Missing some of the important background available on 1 Corinthians.

December 2019

Ultralearning by Scott H. Young

It’s a great book for anyone wanting to improve their ability to learn. He explains nine essential principles that make a big difference for learning. I learned something from every chapter.

Reforming God? by Carl Trueman

A wide-ranging lecture on the nature of doctrinal development. The place of tradition in Reformed theology is one important point.

Should Elders be Ordained for Life? by Mike Brown

Great answer.

How Communal Singing Disappeared from American Life by Karen Loew

The Form of Prayers and Songs in the Church: Letter to the Reader by John Calvin

Commentary on the Psalms: Author’s Preface by John Calvin

(Leader Decisions part 1), (part 2), and (part 3) by Theo Dawson

Read this first in July 2019. Dawson’s resarch shows that today’s leaders lack the decision-making skills neceesary in an increasingly VUCA environment (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). This is evidence that our system is not sufficiently preparing leaders to lead. She identifies and describes four missing ingredients: (1) a truer understanding of decision-making processes, (2) the use reflective in-the-moment learning, which she call a “virtuous cycle of learning”, or VCoL, (3) using VCoLs to learn the necessary skills for decision-making in a VUCA environment such as collaborative learning or perspective coordination, and (4) environments that support VCoLing.

Communion and Otherness by John Zizioulas

Utilizing Natural Family Systems Theory to Foster Health in Congregations: Murray Bowen as Teacher of Congregations by Norm Thomasma

November 2019

Micah in Obadiah, Jonah and Micah: An Introduction and Commentary by Bruce K. Waltke (Accordance Link)

Music, Singing, and Emotions: Exploring the Connections by Rob Smith

Exactly what the title says. I loved this essay. It even inspired me to write one of my own.

October 2019

?? I must have read something in October.

September 2019

The Whole Systems Approach: Involving Everyone in the Company to Transform and Run Your Business by Bill Adams and Cindy Adams

Organizations made of people have a lot of moving and interrelated parts. This book encourages you to see those parts as pieces of larger systems. It’s aimed at business organizations, but thoughtful people will be able to modulate the ideas into other contexts like family or church. I feel much more equipped to serve in various contexts after reading this book.

Measure What Matters: OKRs - The Simple Idea That Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr

A fantastic guide to setting objectives.

August 2019

Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge by Henry Cloud

Kind of disappointing because it didn’t focus as much on boundaries as I had thought it would.

5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram

This represents a more better way model for achieving what we want when we talk about work-life balance, without using the not-so-helpful categories of work, life, and balance. Very practical. Easy to teach to others. Loved it.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

Wow. While I don’t share the same point of view on everything Paker says, this book is a goldmine and much needed in our society. It takes the learn-how-to-have-a-meeting-book to a whole new level. It’s a matersclass, or rather a whole mastercourse, from a world-class gatherer and verteran teacher. I’ve known people who are expert gatherers in various contexts and have pumped them for tips and information. This book has all that and more.

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

This book is about how to put discipleship of people at the core of what the church does. It gives lots of practical suggestions and helps overcome common objections. Highly recommend this.

Lincoln’s Great Depression by Joshua Wolf Schek

A portrait of the president’s lifelong melancholy as a way to rethink how we think about mental health and suffering. Not a very accurate picture of Calvinism is included, but, in fact, this article makes Lincoln sound like a lot of Orthodox Presbyterians I know.

Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church by J. Todd Billings

An excellent book that introduces the theme of union with Christ and helps the reader understand its implications. Here’s a quote from page 14:

As ones united to Christ, we participate in the Spirit’s ongoing work of bearing witness to Christ and creating a new humanity in which the dividing walls between cultures are overcome in Christ. The good news of union with Christ is that Christians do not have the burden of being redeemers; instead, they belong to the Redeemer and bear witness to the living Christ.

People Fuel: Fill Your Tank for Life, Love, and Leadership by John Townsend

Basic ideas. Relationships are important. I was helped by Towsend’s categories and descriptions for certain kinds of relationships. He includes some practical advice for obtaining and maintaining them. Although, it’s important to recognize that people are not easily categorized and life tends to shift a lot. A category for family members seems to be missing.

Intoduction to Theses or Axioms on the Trinity of the Persons and Unity of the Essence by Theodore Beza

Beza writes a fervent letter to a Polish prince about the Trinity and against those who were leading people astray. A solid, orthodox explanation. Good two kingdoms distinction, though he shouldn’t be telling the prince to use the sword against the heretics. I want to speak as freely and clearly about the triune nature of God as Beza does in this letter. Hope to read the whole book some day.

“God as Father” and “The Work of the Father and the Trinity” in God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology by Gerald Bray

An interesting question Bray asks: I see many books on the Son and the Spirit, why not the Father?

God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ by Stephen J. Wellum

Excellent. Read about half of this modern, orthodox, orderly, and thorough introduction to the doctrine of Christ.

The Peter Principle of Church Leadership by Douglas Felch

Felch reminds us that when we embrace our incompetence and humbly serve others, that’s when Christian leadership really shines. I completely agree, however, I’ve never read a secular leadership book that argues for ignoring one’s faults and pridefully railroading people. While we do need to be servants, and Christians ought to be marked by it (Luke 22:24-27), the essentail distinguishing principle of Christian leadership is going to be deeper than this.

July 2019

Mindfulness is Loaded with (Troubling) Metaphysical Assumptions by Sahanika Ratnayake

Spot on. Ed Clowney wouldn’t disagree, and he goes further by explaining how the metaphysical support for the (good) assumptions Ratnayake makes is found in Christian theology.

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done by Richard and Emily Axelrod

Wow, this is a great book! Very easy to learn model and tools. Very helpful. It doesn’t address every type of gathering, but most of the ones you’d call “a meeting” are covered.

The Antidicson and A Handbook on Memory and the Most Reliable Method of Accurate Recall by William Perkins

These two works by the “Father of the Puritans” expound on what Perkins believes to be a foolish method for memorizing and another that is more reliable. His arguments are both moral and philosophical. He’s also suprisingly sacracstic sometimes. Includes lists of foods to eat or avoid.

The Toilet Paper Entrepeneur: The Tell-it-Like-It-Is Guide to Cleaning Up in Business, Even if You Are at the End of Your Roll by Mike Michalowicz.

A business book for beginners who like a crass and ridiculous tone. It gets one eyeroll from me, and my appreciation for a couple helpful points.

Nine Horses by Billy Collins

Litany is in the book as are many other gems.

Thomas Boston: His Life and Times by Andrew Thomson

Not an exciting read, but a good reminder of what a faithful man looks like. Boston was zealous in man-fishing, intimate with God, loving toward family and flock, persevering in learning, and patient in trials. Few have influenced my life and ministry as much as Boston, and I’ve still a lot to learn.

(Leader Decisions part 1), (part 2), and (part 3) by Theo Dawson

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Mastering Leadership by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams

June 2019

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

An amazing story about a family and their community trying to make it through the constant blizzards of a seven-month winter. Lots about perseverance, gratitude, and trust. So good.

Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order by James Monroe Barnett

Lots of good footnotes to other sources.

Diakonia Studies: Critical Issues in Ministry by John N. Collins

Typed up my initial impressions.

An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office by James M. Garreston

A biography of one of the great American ministers, plainly written and well-researched, Garreston’s book takes the reader through the various phases of Miller’s life focusing most on Miller’s own activity, habits, and thinking. He includes many carefully chosen quotes—long and short—so that the reader frequently hears directly from Miller. If a minister is looking for a model to follow for his own ministry, this portrait of Samuel Miller would be an excellent choice.

Scripture Doctrine of a Call to the Work of the Gospel Ministry by William S. Plumer

Lots of practical, godly advice on the subject. See my blog post for a brief review.

Ephesians by S. M. Baugh

In 2018, I carefully read of the main parts of this commenary and quickly read of the rest. I was instantly knock-my-socks-off impressed. Having now read it again all the way through as a help for my exegesis and preaching through Ephesians, which ends this month, I feel even more strongly about the quality of this commentary.

Galatians, Ephesians: Reformation Commentary on Scripture by Gerald Lewis Bray, Timothy F. George, and Scott M. Manetsch

I had previous read the Galatians portion of this book and loved it. Not as excited about the Ephesians part but still really excellent.

May 2019

The Christian Ministry with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency by Charles Bridges

See just below.

Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office by Thomas Murphy

Bridges and Murphy originally published thier books in 1830 and 1877 respectively. Every time I read these books, I’m frustrated about the lessons I still have learned but have been taught before. Still, I always find good advice and encouragement for the moment. These books are gems.

A Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient Practice by John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews, and Joseph D. Small

This book’s authors argue that pastors need some kind of guiding set of rules for their lives and ministries. It argues this, in part, by showing examples from the past and drawing lessons from them. Great book. After reading this I decided to re-read the two books above looking for similar lessons.

Catching Foxes: A Gospel-Guided Journey to Marriage by John Henderson

A good book to help couples prepare for marriage. He recommends you pair with an older couple to read the book. Uniquely, some of the chapters are to be completed before the marriage and some of the chapters are to be completed after. Added it to my recommending page.

The Saint’s Spiritual Delight and A Christian on the Mount by Thomas Watson

Two treatises on the Christian life based on Psalm 1:2. In the first, Watson teaches how Christians delight in the law of God, which may be understood narrowly, or more broadly as “the whole written word of God” under which the commandments of God are included. Watson considers his topic under the broader definition. In the second, Watson explains how Chrisitan ought to meditate on God’s word. I can’t overemphasize how encouraging and helpful these works are. I wrote a poem in response to what I read here.

Christian Meditation by Edmund P. Clowney

Clowney critiques the transcendental meditation movement and explains how Christian meditation is different and important.

A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized edited by Michael J. Kruger

A collection of well-written introductions to each New Testament book. Always helpful. I’m used this over the course of this last semester as one of my prep-resources for the NT Survey class I taught.

The Agile Church: Spirit-led Innovation in an Uncertain Age by Dwight J. Zscheile

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

April 2019

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t by James C. Collins,

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck : Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Colllins and Morten T. Hansen

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business by Patrick Lencioni

Makes great point about the need for different types of meetings. Kind of long otherwise.

Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation by Dan Schawbel

Full of excellent stats and studies to convince anyone of the importance of presence in leadership. It also includes suggestions on how to improve connection in a number of different domains. Reading it confirmed the value of a lot we are doing at Covenant and helped me generate some new ideas I’m excited to try.

“Problems in the Gospel of John” in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig L. Blomberg

This book has helped me through thorny probelms a number of times. In this chapter, Blomberg answers some difficult questions about the dates and times of the events just before the Jesus’ crucifiction. Among other thigns, he helpfully shows that the Passover was not a one-night/meal event. This expalins a lot.

“The Passover” in From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Penteteuch by T. Desmond Alexander

Clear and detailed exposition of the Passover celebration described in the Penteteuch. Connects it with New Testament and consecration rituals in the Old Testament.

“Jesus’ Last Supper Still Wasn’t a Passover Seder Meal” in Biblical Archaeology Society by Jonathan Klawans

More helpful background.

“Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?” in Bible Review by Jonathan Klawans

Lots of helpful background.

“Passover and the Lord’s Supper: Continuity or Discontinuity?” in Children and the Lord’s Supper by Bryan Estelle

Discontinuity. Among other arguments, Estelle shows why Joachim Jeremias’ thesis is incorrect. This is not to say that the Passover is not connected to the Lord’s Supper; it’s just not connected in the overly simplistic/direct way it is sometimes put: that the Lord’s Supper fulfills/replaces Passover. Passover is fulfilled by Christ, not the Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t celebrate Passover in a new way, it celebrates Christ who is the fulfillment of the Passover and every other Old Testament ceremony. Estelle proves this to show how certain arguments for paedocommunion are invalid. But there are other applications, including the Reforemd indifference regarding the kind of bread and wine, the preference for frequent communion, and the lack of necessity/value in observing a Seder in connection with the Supper.

“The Lord’s Supper” in Reformed Dogmatics by Heppe, Heinrich

Heppe cites Bucan, Witsius, Braun, and Mastricht, all saying similar things. He summarizes the Reformed position this way: “It is a matter of complete indifference, whether the Supper is dispensed in leavened or in unleavened bread, if only in the choice of one or the other bread any sort of superstition is kept apart, which attributes to either a special religious value.” (Heppe doesn’t say it, but Calvin also agrees; see Institutes 4.17.43.)

“Christ Our Passover” in Children and the Lord’s Supper by Iain M. Duguid

Similar to Alexander (above).

March 2019

Paradigms in Polity edited by David W. Hall and Joseph H. Hall

A collection of primary source documents related to Presbyterian and Reformed church government. Includes an excellent bibliographic essay by David Hall, of which a diiferent version is online.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Christopher Voss with Tahl Raz

Perfect for hostage negotiators. Almost perfect for everyone else. Remember the difference between persuasion and manipulation as you read.

“Of Deacons” in The True Nature of a Gospel Church and Its Government by John Owen

Solid. Stately. Organized. Helpful. Owen sees the foundation of the deacon in the law of nature brought to bear on the church, the propogation of the gospel to the poor, love as an evangelical grace, and the freeing of ministers and elders unto their work. He discusses the nature of the authority of the deacon; the relationship between the office of deacon, the general office of the believer, and the office of elder; and the particular duties of the office, “an office of service”, which are summarized in providing for the poor and care for “all other affairs of the church of the same kind”, by which he means temporal needs. He gives specifics as to what is involved. He also covers the perpetual nature of the office and its qualifications. I particuarly liked the “adjucts of their ministration”, namely, mercy, cheerfulness, and diligence. Some interesting discussion also what it means to increase in gifts and grace. He covers a few practical questions too that come up in the life of the church.

The Naked Truth: Or, The True State of the Primitive Church by Herbert Croft

Croft is a bishop in the Church of England and seeks to reset various beliefs and practices according to Scripture. He’s full of spunk and is not afraid of making enemies. He lays the smackdown against all who oppose or practice something other than the plain preaching of Christ. Concerning deacons, Croft argues that it is not a spiritual office. He’s very clear on this. Deacons are are to be concerned only with the “ordering of the Alms for the Poor”, nothing else. All the other duties laid on deacons are not found in the Scriptures, but were slowly added to the work. He deals with both the question of Stephen and Philip, and what he believes to be a clear misinterpreation of part of a letter by Ignatius.

John: A 12-Week Study by Justin Buzzard

Divides the Gospel of John into 12 weeks, so this is introductory. Each chapter includes biblical and theological context, reflection questions on particular verses, and a reminder to pray.

Think Again: How to Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong,

An introductory book on the principles of good reasoning. But he teaches more than how to reason and argue, he also explains why. I share more about this here.

Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching by Peter Adam

A basic introduction in preaching.

A three-article dialogue between Abe Kuruvilla and Buist Fanning on preaching and interpretation.

“Time to Kill the Big Idea? A Fresh Look at Preaching.” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society by Abraham Kuruvilla

Kuruvilla is not pulling punches. He wants to take down one of the most widely held principles of preaching. Really fun to read an article on preaching that includes a large section on muisc theory (Schenkerian analysis)!

The Art of Prophesying and The Calling of the Ministry by William Perkins

This is my third time reading these books, but it’s been a while since the last time. Those who take the time to read this will find sage advice as well as surprises, including a longish section on how angels help God’s ministers. Intrigued?

February 2019

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

I [praised this book] quickly after I read it. Later, I wrote a longer review. I also suggest some things you can listen to.

“Geneva Meets Rome: The Development of the French Reformed Diaconate” in The Sixteenth Century Journal by Glenn S. Sunshine

Thesis: It was not until the late 1500s that French Reformed churches practiced a use of the diaconal office that was closer to Geneva than to Rome. And even then, certain “Roman” characteristics like the duty to catechize and engage the deacons in certian liturgical work remained. This article tells that story. Taken along with a short summary of Bucer’s view that’s also offered here, one can see evidence of variety in the Reformed office of the deacon in the 16th cent.

“Social Welfare in Calvin’s Geneva” in The American Historical Review by Robert M. Kingdon

Fascinating! Readable, tons of interaction with primary sources, and lots of contextualization. Humble writing too. Kingdon shows how Hospice Général, which is still helping people today, was both influenced and not influenced by John Calvin. This serves as a doorway to thinking about social welfare in Geneva more broadly.

“The Paradigm Challenged A New Analysis of the Origin of Diakonia” in Studia Theologica by Kari Latvus

A so-so summary the current scholarship which argues: the 19th century diaconia movement, and Luther and Calivin before it, misread and misapplied the ideas surrounding the diaconate found in the Bible and the early church.

“Lecture C” in Lectures on Theology Vol. 2 by John Dick

This is an exposition of the offices listed in Ephesians 4. Argues that deacons are not for serving the table of the Lord because the context makes it clear that it is care for the tables of the poor that was intended. He does see their work extended: “the care of all temporal matters in which the church is concerned, may be considered as belonging to the deacons; but they were specially appoitned solely for the poor.” Why? Because one reason for the office was to keep the Apostles focused on the ministry of the word. Interestingly, he is unaplogetic about the fact that some churches have no deacons because in those churches there are either no poor or the needs are so few that the elders may sufficiently care for them.

A Treatise of Ruling Elders and Deacons In Which These Things Which Belong to the Understanding of Their Office and Duty Are Clearly and Shortly Set Down by Anon.

It is as the title says, and footnoes the Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland. A little commentary perhaps? Attributed in database to James Guthrie but I see nothing in the text that indicates that, only: “by a Minister of the Church of Scotland”. Talks about deacons being those who see to needs the poor and sick of church (no mention of others outside the church) “so the poor may not be put to begging, to the grief of thei spirits, and the reproach of the Gospel.” The work is to be done in conjuction with elders, with the advice of assigning an elder and a deacon to various sections of the church. The duties are to remain distinct, however; “as if they were both one, either appoitning none for the office of Deacon but leaving that charge also upon the Elders, or else giving the Deacons the same power and imployment with the Elders.”

All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism by James E. Dolezal

It is sad to know that evangelicals, calvinisitc and otherwise, are challenging Trinitarian orthodoxy. But perhaps this book and others like it will help us remember why the old truths are still important. Highly recommended.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman and Nan Silver

My second time reading this. See notes under the marriage section on my recommending page.

The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships by John Gottman

My second time reading this. See notes under the marriage section on my recommending page.

January 2019

“Constructivist Pedagogy” in Teachers College Record by Virginia Richardson

Read in connection with an article promoting “active-learning”, a very helpful summary of active-learning teaching strategies, and a warning about this pedagogical catch-all term.

Read notes on John 1:34ff from Calvin, Cyril of Alexandria and the excellent modern commentator Frederick Dale Bruner; also sermons by Chrysostom and Augustine. Augustine has several interesting things to about Nathanael and his interaction with Jesus.

The Divine Right of Deacons by Thomas Foxcroft

The Rational Foundation of a Christian Church and the Terms of Christian Communion. To Which Are Added Three Discourses, Viz. Disc. I. A Patter for a Dissenting Preacher. Disc. II. The Office of Deacons. Disc. III. Invitations to Church-Fellowship by Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts impresses me. I explain why here and include the outline for this reading.

Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation edited by James T. Dennison Jr.

Useful again and again. This time I’ve combed through these volumes reading all I could find on the diaconate and almsgiving. Reading these confessions one after another reveals surprising insights.

Reasons Why the Hierarchy or Governement of the Chvrch by Arch-Bishops, Lord Bishops, Deanes, Arch-Deacons, Chancellor’s and their Officers, exercising Sole or Superior Authoritie in Ordination and Jursidations may and ought to be Removed by Anon

Gives three main reasons and answers various objections. At EEBO, subscription required.

The Deacon: An Inquiry into the Nature, Duties and Exercise of the Office of the Deacon, in the Christian Church by James M. Wilson

I posted some thoughts here.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road by Timothy J. Keller

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research by Michael Kibbe

Easy to read, to the point, and very helpful. This is my third time reading it; I’m pretty close to having it internalized.

“On Intellectual Craftsmanship” in In The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

This essay explains what it means to do good work as a sociologist, but it applies well to anyone engaged in “knowledge work,” as it is called today. It is brilliant and full of good advice. Older books on pastoral theology have sections that sound very similar to this essay. I came across it when learning about the zettelkasten method of note taking.

I’m slowly importing some of my pre-2019 data from Goodreads and posting it below.

December 2018

Enough by Patrick Rhone

Grounded in Heaven: Recentering Christian Hope and Life on God by Michael Allen

I learned several things and the book has inspired some new lines of thought and clarified some others. Allen strikes me as a careful theologian and I look forward to reading more of his work. I think his ideas play well with VanDrunen’s work on the covenants and the moral life. Love the title.

How Should We Pray at Prayer Meetings? by Ryan McGraw

How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together? by Ryan McGraw

I wrote a brief overview of these two mini-books by McGraw.

November 2017

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

Here is a brief review and some of my favorite quotes.