Author Archive | Stephen Barkley

Natural Born Heroes | Christopher McDougall

The cover of McDougalls Natural Born HeroesNatural Born Heroes is three books in one. The first book tells the story of how the daring resistance movement on Crete kidnapped a German General and then disappeared. The second book is a study of the hero in Greek mythology, suggesting links between the Greek heroes and modern Cretans. The third book is an autobiographical glimpse into McDougall’s studies in endurance diets and fitness training.

I picked up Natural Born Heroes on the strength of McDougall’s first book, Born to Run. While Born to Run was an inspiring book that actually made me want to run more, his sophomore effort lost me. The World War II story was exciting, but in order to fit the other material in he had to draw it out to an unnatural length. His fascial fitness ideas were exciting, but ended up sounded like fringe science.

While the idea was interesting, the execution left me wishing I could have just read a complete history of the Cretan resistance or a scientific study of endurance training. Both subjects are well worth their own treatment!


McDougall, Christopher. Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Which Narrative | William H. Willimon

William H. WillimonThe modern world said, That’s only a story. The postmodern world has realized, There’s only story. So the question is not, Shall our lives be narratively constructed? But, Which narrative shall form our lives?

— Willimon, Calling and Character, 110.

The Erstwhile | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The ErstwhileThe Ersthile are the abandoned. Having failed their responsibility to protect of the primeval tree, they were abandoned by their creator to seek meager shelter as they faded away under fallen leaves and soil. That is, until they begin to awake.

With this theme in mind, Catling returned to the surreal world he created in The Vohr, picking up right where he left off. Like the first novel, Catling develops his fiction with a dash of history. In lieu of Muybridge, we are introduced to William Blake. Unlike the first novel, this story is tighter—the plot threads are more tightly intertwined.

The final scene sets up the third novel, The Cloven, to be released next year. I can hardly wait.


Catling, B. The Erstwhile. New York: Vintage Books, 2017.

A Tale of Three Kings | Gene Edwards

The cover of Edwards' A Tale of Three KingsA Tale of Three Kings is dedicated

To the brokenhearted Christians
coming out of authoritarian groups, seeking solace,
healing, and hope. May you somehow recover
and go on with him who is liberty.

And to all brokenhearted Christians:
May you be so utterly healed that you can still answer
the call of him who asks for all because he is all.

The book’s theme is simple. God used David’s suffering under King Saul to form his character. When David’s son tried to usurp the throne, David refused to become Saul-like. I can understand how appealing this sounds to those who have suffered under abusive leadership. The fact that this book is so popular is a sad testimony to the state of leadership in the church!

While there is deep value in suffering and God uses everything in our lives to develop our character, this book offers but one answer to the problem of Saulide leadership: “What, then, can you do? Very little. Perhaps nothing” (44). To the abused, this is a counsel of despair.

Edwards’ story presupposes an authoritarian type of leadership in which the leader, for good or for ill, is anointed of God and in place to call the shots. There’s nothing for the Davids of this world to do but to endure. While rebellion is never a good solution to poor leadership, mute endurance only enables the abuser.

Jesus has demonstrated and calls for a different type of leadership—servant leadership. Perhaps the model of King and servant isn’t the best metaphor for church leadership in light of the one who washed our feet.


Edwards, Gene. A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.

Blame the Spirit | Craig S. Keener

Craig KeenerThe Spirit gets blamed for too much of our indiscipline with study, sometimes substituting imagination for hearing God instead of submitting our imagination to God (Jer 23:16; Ezek 13:2, 17).

—Keener, Spirit Hermeneutics, 109.

Lives Entrusted | Barbara J. Blodgett

The cover of Blodgett's Lives Entrusted

The ability to trust other people is fundamental to the human experience. Trust is “the very basis for acting in the world—our sense of security, our relationships, and our ability to navigate through problems. Without it, life becomes despairing” (8). In Lives Entrusted, Barbara J. Blodgett develops a philosophy of trust which she uses to explore four “relational practices” (31) of ministry: confidentiality, misconduct, gossip, and bullshit. Blodgett is concerned with how trust operates as a verb. Trust is something we do. More specifically, “[t]rust is a transaction that establishes a relationship” (2).

A Philosophy of Trust

Blodgett approaches trust with a philosopher’s eye. She examines the phenomenon from a variety of angles in order to precisely describe the structural features of trust. This process is evident in chapter one when Blodgett rejects three impostors of trust. First, trust resembles familiarity since we often trust those whom we are familiar with. However, there are times when we trust strangers and withhold trust from people who are familiar to us (17). Second, trust also resembles reliance since we rely on people whom we trust. Blodgett considers motivation here. Some people are reliable simply because they follow a set of instructions which indicates something less than a trust relationship (18). Third, trust resembles consistency, since we trust people who behave in a consistent fashion. Sometimes, however, relationships require rule-breaking or inconsistency in order to be trusting (18). Continue Reading →

Western Theology | Steven M. Studebaker

Steven M. StudebakerJohn 3:8 instructs: “The wind blows wherever it pleases, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” Therefore theologians should not ensconce themselves in a sycophantic echo chamber of traditional Western theology.

— Studebaker, From Pentecost to the Triune God, 170.

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