Book Review: Poor Richard’s Retirement

Aaron Clarey, Poor Richard’s Retirement: Retirement for Everyday Americans

Aaron Clarey is a consultant and independent economist who writes books that are meant to help young men and women make wiser financial choices. His approach is no nonsense, gruff, and often cynical. But despite seeming like a complete jerk, his advice which is free on his blog or youtube channel clearly comes from a big heart (for sensitive users or those who may listen w/children around, he does curse a lot). This is evident when he, for instance, criticizes parents who don’t spend a great deal of time with their children (this is a common thread in his books and podcasts and I only listen to them a couple of times a year).

I disagree with a great deal of his material, but it’s because he’s not religious and I’m a Christian. But his grasp of markets, how they work, and what personal steps are necessary for success are second to none.

That being said, if you’re a millennial, especially one who graduated college between 2007-2010, you’ve probably wondered how in the heck you could ever retire. If so, Clarey’s book has everything you need. It contains a helpful explanation of steps one can take in order to get ready for retirement, but does something a great many similar books don’t do. He reframes what it means to live a life of meaning with a personal sense of significance. The book amounts to a sort of secular explanation of Jesus’ saying that we should “…take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

I think the argument he makes, though it veers toward cynicism is worth reading in full because of its rhetorical effect. So I won’t explain it.

The practical tips he gives are excellent. His solution to the problem of retirement is ultimately satisfying (more on that below). And he does run some of the numbers comparing costs in previous generations of those of ye olde current year in a way that is helpful and potentially guilt inducing.

Worthwhile quotes:

  1. Understand this and understand this clearly. Most two-income families are: Outsourcing the upbringing of their own children To complete strangers Passing up on seeing their children grow up So BOTH parents can work jobs they don’t like While suffering commutes that keep them from their families AND stressing themselves out in the process. (47)
  2. We engage in the rat race, pursuing pointless educations, for taxing careers, life-wasting commutes, just to buy stuff, pointless material things, while abandoning anything and anybody that really matters in life.  It’s the cause of the majority of divorces in the country, the majority of unvisited parents in nursing homes, and is ultimately responsible for all the country’s financial problems.  And to throw the burden of saving for retirement on top of Americans’ inability to just keep it together, only makes an already-miserable situation impossible to bear. (48-49)
  3. It is a full – time job to go and seek out new and interesting people who are going to make your life worth living. (134)


Ultimately, Clarey’s essay on retirement is an admirable little book in that it accomplishes three things:

  1. Instructs you not to retire.
  2. Tells you how to retire.
  3. Subverts the present day value system.

With respect to number three, I’ll wax philosophical. One of the reasons that a capitalist style economy can work is if Adam Smith’s moral sentiments are assumed. Capitalism helps provide a wide degree of freedom to people who pursue a sort of Aristotelian/Christian/Stoic vision of the good life wherein virtue is paramount, social trust is assumed, and while the particulars of an individual’s pursuit of wealth and greatness may vary, they typically revolve around family, invention, adventure, and philanthropy. Such a system of values simply is not broadly assumed in Western Civilization, and so capital itself is perceived as the highest and total good for man.

Clarey, an irreligious capitalist, sees this problem as a source of poverty and unhappiness and attempts to solve it by reorienting the value system of his audience. For this the book is worth ten times the price. Buy it for graduating seniors, read it if you’re in college, use it to get out of debt. It’s a good book.

Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness

Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness: Rediscover Your Faith Through Spiritual Practices and Positive Psychology by Christopher Kaczor


I found out about this book from twitter, when James K.A. Smith mentioned anticipating it’s release. I had never heard of the author before, but he’s an ethics professor with his PhD from Notre Dame.

The aim of the book is stated on page 18:

In this book, I highlight the many ways in which positive psychology and Christian practice overlap. I point out empirical findings in positive psychology that point to the wisdom of many Christian practices and teachings. I also provide practical suggestions on how to become happier in everyday life and how to deepen Christian practice based on contemporary psychological insights. All of this points us toward deeper fulfillment in this life, and in the life to come. This is why I titled this book The Gospel of Happiness – because this is good news, very good news indeed (18).

The argument is fairly obvious from chapter to chapter. The chapter titles are:

  1. The Ways to Happiness
  2. The Way of Faith, Hope, and Love
  3. The Way of Prayer
  4. The Way of Gratitude
  5. The Way of Forgiveness
  6. The Way of Virtue
  7. The Way of Willpower

Dr. Kaczor looks at the relevant psychological research concerning each topic as well the Biblical and historical teachings of Christianity and shows their coherence and overlap. After he makes these comparisons he makes recommendations for personal practice.

The Bad
I really found very little objectionable in the book. Perhaps a more New Testament studies oriented definition of the word gospel would have been nice. The gospel is not merely, “good news” because it makes us happy. It is good news because it is an announcement about God’s kingdom. But this weakness is forgivable because the author isn’t a New Testament scholar. Also, it makes very little practical difference to the content of the rest of the book.

There are two formatting issues though: the book uses endnotes which are as annoying as having socks full of fire ants. Also, there is no index. An index would have been wonderful.

The Good
Where shall I begin? For starters, the book takes on Nietzsche’s notion that Christianity makes people weak, miserable, and stupid (183). Many Christians feel guilty about pursuing happiness, power, or success and I think that this comes from adopting a Nietzschean understanding of Christian ethics instead of Biblical one.

Another wonderful aspect of the book is the content of the endnotes. The amount of helpful literature cited is a great library builder.

More importantly though is the content of the book. As stated above the author means to show how positive psychology and Christian teaching over lap and offer practical advice for improving happiness. I’ll summarize the first chapter to show how the author does this so that you can see that he performs his objective admirably:

The Ways to Happiness
In this chapter, Kazcor uses Martin Seligman’s PERMA definition of happiness and shows how Christian teaching and practice, at its best, fulfills the requirements of each piece of the puzzle (21). It is important to recognize that Kaczor and Seligman define happiness as flourishing and well-being, not merely as positive emotion (as you’ll see). PERMA stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement (21). Here are summaries of Kaczor’s explanation of each.

  1. Positive Emotions
    Kaczor cites several lines of research that indicate that religious people generally have higher positive emotion than irreligious people (22-23). He does observe that Christians are “called to love God and neighbor regardless how they may be feeling at the moment” (24). He also observes that doing the right thing while experiencing negative emotions is harder. I would add that Kant would say that makes it even more moral. Essentially, Kazcor notes that since we know the our emotions impact others and how we make decisions, we are obligated to care about fostering positive emotions in ourselves in ways that are not contrary to the Christian life. In doing this, we are able to foster well-being and emotional happiness in others (26). What I wish he did observe here was that doing the right thing for our neighbor can lead to positive emotions (he does say this on pages 66-67).
  2. Engagement
    Engagement is our flow or activation of our strengths in order to accomplish some task. Kaczor reminds readers that in Genesis, man was made to “tend the garden.” With this in mind, he notes the importance of legitimate work as a way of experiencing unity with God (29). I’ve written about this  myself.
  3. Relationships
    Seligman’s taxonomy of happiness includes relationships as a “rock-bottom fundamental of human well-being” (30). Kaczor here writes about the obvious place of human relationships in the teachings of Jesus. His main focus here is Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:24). I would have added the importance of embedded personality in ancient thought is simply assumed in the Bible, so much so that while individuals are responsible for their actions, their identity is not merely related to achievements like in Proverbs, but it is linked integrally to their community associations (in Christ, the body of Christ, the church of God, etc).
  4. Meaning
    Kazcor notes that Seligman defines meaning as “belonging to and serving something you believe is better than the self” (32). Kaczor points to the subjective experience of Christian obedience in small things as a level of meaning added to people who aren’t famous for their contributions to the world (33). He also notes the objective question of whether or not anything actually has meaning and notes that Christianity claims to offer objective meaning to the life of the Christian and to explain the objective meaning of the cosmos and human existence in general. If Christianity is true, then meaning is provided for like Paul says, “your work in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
  5. Achievement
    Here Kaczor notes the importance of feeling successful for human happiness, but also notes the traps that Christian morality trains us to avoid: greed, vanity, and social comparison which are all things that positive psychology notes do not actually contribute to overall happiness (40). In my opinion, many Christians are so concerned to talk about God’s grace saving us from sin despite our failure to do good works that they fail to talk about the importance of tackling small and big tasks for God, neighbor, and self in order to be happy. But the Bible does say that with toil there is profit and with mere talk there is only poverty. Paul also approves of a certain measure of pleasure in spiritual growth (Gal 6:4).

Over all I find the book to be a wonderful clarification of the position of Christian theology and the Biblical witness on happiness, but it is not merely that. It also functions as a defense of Christianity because it shows that Christianity is actually good for you. Finally, the book is a great book for devotional reading or for pastors to read in order to help Christians in their pursuit of Christ and of earthly and eternal happiness. I highly recommend it.

Jesus Christ and Mythology by Rudolf Bultmann: A Review

Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology New York, NY: Scribners, 1958


Bultmann really needs no introduction. If you do not know much about him there are numerous articles available online. The main purpose here is simply to review this particular book which is a collection of Lectures he gave at Yale and Vanderbilt in 1951. The topic of the book is Bultmann’s radical method of New Testament interpretation: de-mythologizing. I’ve never heard anybody explain what Bultmann meant by this term on Bultmann’s terms. According to this little volume, de-mythologizing is the interpretation of the Bible’s mythological statements (statements which presuppose an ancient and, to the modern man, unbelievable worldview) in a way that makes them immediately relevant to the contemporary person. An example would be, “The understanding of God as creator is genuine only when I understand myself here and now as the creature of God. This existential understanding does not need to express itself in my consciousness as explicit knowledge. In any case the belief in the almighty God is not the conviction given in advance that there exists an almighty Being who is able to do all things. Belief in the almighty God is genuine only when it takes place in my very existence, as I surrender myself to the power of God who overwhelms me here and now” (Bultmann, 63). The rhetorical and theological purpose for Bultmann utilizing this interpretive method is that, “We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification only in spite of conscience…de-mythologizing is the radical application of the doctrine of justification by faith to the sphere of knowledge and thought” (84). In other words, he feels that we cannot expect people to accept the statements of the Bible as true, conceptually, for that would be works, not faith.

The Good

The book helps you to understand exactly what everybody in your conservative seminary classes is talking about with regard to Bultmann’s methods. The book seems to falsify certain prejudices against Bultmann’s work that are often held by people who have not read it. In this respect it could be useful. As an aside, people I know who were actually connected to the man found him to have a warm piety and one friend noted that he really wanted to visit a church in America and witness an evangelistic service. But apart from that aspect of reading the man himself, the book had pleasant moments:

  1. Bultmann insisted that we see God’s Word as consistently demanding response. If the Bible reader is only focused upon finding the historical meaning, then there is no possibility for response. As Bultmann notes, “It is beyond the competence of critical study that I should hear the word of the Bible as a word addressed personally to me and that I should believe in it. This personal understanding…is imparted by the Holy Spirit, who is not at my disposal” (54). I don’t find myself entirely in agreement with this because historically speaking people who have studied the Scripture critically have precisely come to repentance about various issues. Now, of course the Holy Spirit makes that possible and of course that repentance is not the results of the critical study for reportage in journals and text books, but that close study makes the meaning which God inspired in the Scripture available to the student and through preaching, discussion, and writing available to the church in the form of knowledge about the text. Bultmann, though making a good point about a necessary distinction has over-corrected. Nevertheless, the Scripture, if one is claiming to be a Christian, must be seen as demanding a response of faith.

  2. The importance of presuppositions to exegesis is repeated often, especially on pages 47-50. But the point is that the questions we ask and the worldview we hold will often tend to influence the answers we get. This is also true if we expect the text to teach this or that dogma, such a presupposition ends up using the conclusion as a first premise.

  3. Bultmann, though never defining the cognitive or moral content of faith, nevertheless gives a good description of its character, “Faith is the abandonment of man’s own security and the readiness to find security only in the unseen beyond, in God” (40). This notion of faith, though it does not take into account the aspect of loyalty, does capture the nature of trust or entrusting oneself to another that is so crucial to the New Testament usage in most places, especially the gospels, Romans, and Galatians.

  4. Bultmann sides against Barth’s notion that there is no natural knowledge of God, “Man does have in advance a relation to God which has found its classical expression in the words of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee” (52).

  5. Bultmann cares about whether or not the non-philosopher or non-historian who is thoroughly enmeshed in a modern worldview and finds miracles unbelievable can still believe the gospel. I think he’s wrong-headed in his solution, but he clearly cares about people having an experience of justifying faith in Christ (35-44). The problem with his approach is that it might be difficult for a believer who struggles to think miracles are possible to do things like pray.

  6. Finally, Bultmann has a mystic’s eye for practicing God’s presence in the otherwise closed causal system of the modern world. His interpretation of Scripture, in this respect, is very similar to the allegorical method of old. Scripture is not just a series of dusty fables, no matter how dated certain passages seem, but it is the book through which God speaks to the church. Thus, the word heaven becomes a way of seeing God as transcendent of our world and circumstances (20). Any passage of Scripture is a call to love others in daily experience (43-44). God’s action is something that can be trusted even when we are in circumstances that clearly seem to betray our belief in God (64). It’s good stuff.

  7. Bultmann does note that he believes that the preaching of the church is true and rooted in an historical (and true) event. This event: Jesus Christ. Which for Bultmann is a summary for the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present reign of Christ (80).

  8. It’s also very short. I read it this afternoon.

The Bad

  1. Bultmann bases a great deal of his book on a now dated conception of Jesus’ eschatology (11-19) [Dated doesn’t mean wrong, though I do disagree with his point of view, but those looking for something academically advanced won’t find it].

  2. He leaves, largely, the content of Christian obedience (enemy love, fidelity to other Christians, care for the poor, etc) and the Christian gospel (resurrection, atonement, etc) out of his explanations. That may be because the audience would know those things, but it would be easy to mistake Bultmann’s theory of faith with existentialist “openness to existence” without concrete referents in Christianity.

  3. Bultmann is similarly open to charge number two because he wants to say that God’s actions in history cannot be historically known because they cannot be proven to be done by God. But they can be reasonably believed to have happened and thus reasonably believed to be done by God, if one thinks God to be real. The point being that he opened himself to the criticism that he taught that Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t matter because he makes it seem so unknowable. But he doesn’t leave it entirely unknowable. He essentially says, “Try it out” about the truth of the gospel. Which is pretty cool, I guess.

  4. The book is couched in existentialist language that would be mostly lost on readers today.

  5. Bultmann’s perspective is so truncated in these brief lectures that it is too easy to misunderstand.

  6. The average American is more of a supernaturalist than anybody in Germany would have been in Bultmann’s day, so the book is not entirely relevant to many preachers that I know.


The book would only really have value to pastors and teachers who read quickly or to scholars whose job is to study not only the New Testament but the history of its interpretation. A clever seminary professor could apply its best ideas in course lectures with footnotes to give Bultmann his due without requiring this particular book as a text.

Book Review: Mere Churchianity

Michael Spencer, Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality (Colorado Springs, Colo.: WaterBrook Press, 2010).

Several years ago, maybe when I was in high school, I came across the blog of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. One of Michael’s dreams was to help evangelical Christians find an identity that was simultaneously charitable, Biblical, and centered around the traditional practices of protestant piety in a way that put the spiritual focus of individual evangelicals on Jesus himself.

In hindsight, he was a very helpful guide despite not being an extremely good author. Something about his apparent character and earnestness attracted me to his writings. His last year or so of life was pretty rough because he ended up with brain cancer which lead to his death just before the release of his only book. I read the book as soon as it came out and meant to review it and just never got around to it.

Before I move on to specifics in the book, I’ll say that I think it would be helpful for group discussions more than for individual consumption. It’s one of those books that, while insightful, I think requires a group of people to discuss their personal “aha” moments that match the author’s own experience and the experiences of those present. Reading it on your own, if the book doesn’t match what you’ve seen or felt may only be helpful in brief snippets. Onto my typical review strategy:

The Good

The book has some good sections and good lines. The chapter, What Does Jesus-Shaped Spirituality mean brings up some good questions about people who are looking for spirituality over organized religion. For instance, he says, “I am convinced that people who say they are seeking spirituality and not the Christian religion are on the right path. (85)” Based on what most people mean by those two things, he’s probably right. But whether you think he is or isn’t, the point raises good questions about evangelism, faith, and what kind of life churches claim to offer people in the gospel they present. That same chapter ends with this, “I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, lives like, loves like, and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple. (85)” The wonderful thing about this point is that, hopefully, as we grow in understanding of Scripture and through the trial and error experience of following Christ with Christ’s people, we will come to understand Jesus anew and more fully. In other words, a spiritual experience oriented around Jesus simultaneously gives our spirituality an objective orientation (Jesus, crucified, raised, as he is presented in Scripture) and meets us where we’re at (our understanding of Jesus).

Another good aspect is the concept of churchianity. What Michael means by this is the multilayered conformity of Christianity to whatever the churches in the United States happen to be saying/doing at the time without reference Jesus himself. So churchianity includes obsession with certain traditions despite the contradiction between them and Christ, the disordered patriotism of certain factions of the political right, the focus on self-helpy positive thinking rather than Scripture, the mall-like megachurch movements that revolve around consumerism rather than the four gospels, and so-on.

The beginning of the book starts with Spencer’s recollection of his time as a youth pastor making messes at Dairy Queen with his students. I used to get frustrated as a youth group member at the incredible messes that would be made when I went places with the youth group. It was hard for me to imagine an adult allowing that to happen, but Mike explained how the experience of getting a sad note from an employee really affected him (1-7).

The Bad

Michael’s understanding of sanctification is mistaken (142-144). He claims that “the gradual process of becoming…experientially righteous in daily life” is not “true to the message of the gospel… (142.)” But the fact of the matter is that Jesus himself says that people will not only hear his teachings but “put them into practice” (Matthew 7:13-28).  I get what Mike was trying to say, and we should always and ever be skeptical of our alleged spiritual growth, but we also shouldn’t doubt what the Lord is capable of doing in us. I think the most important thing to remember is that the book’s earlier definition of Jesus shaped spirituality entails that those who are spiritual in such a way will come to be more and more the kind of person Jesus envisions his followers to be.

Now, one of the bad things about the concept of churchianity is that it may inadvertently minimize the centrality of church-life to the gospel. Church life includes moral accountability, wise council, public reading of Scripture, prayer, material assistance, spiritual examples, traditions that survived because those who followed them grew in their knowledge of Christ because of them, and so-on. If the gospel is the message of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is the reconstitution of God’s people around Jesus, then the gospel is the message about Jesus and his church. It can’t be less than that. So, in one sense churchianity is a good thing.

Sometimes the book feels a bit rant-like. Rants can be good, but looking back on it, it’s neither as fun nor winsome as Mere Christianity nor as argumentatively sound.


Over all, I think the book could be helpful for Christians in a small group context if they’re looking for some answers to the “I feel like something is missing, what is it?” question. Otherwise, there are books that more effectively diagnose the problems of American Protestantism like The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.


Review: The Curse of the High IQ

The Book
Clarey, Aaron. The Curse of the High Iq. , 2016.

This was an interesting book. I read it after a recommendation by Ed Latimore, who said that the author really helped him.

It was good, but I was frustrated by it for two reasons:

  1. It described a lot of my life experiences and so reminded me of them. This frustration was good.
  2. Sometimes it felt too nihilistic.

The Good

Ultimately, this book must be read by parents who suspect they have a gifted child.  All teachers ought to read it. Why? It so effectively describes the struggles had by those who are above average, that it could help mentors avoid wasting the time of their charges.

Gifted youngsters could benefit from the last two chapters on limiting greatness and solutions, they’re quite good.

Throughout the book, the author makes interesting observations about the broader economy (if more people were allowed to do computer jobs from home then the world would be a more efficient place in terms of fossil fuel use, employee happiness, and family stability).

The major negative to the book is the author’s anger at people he perceives to be stupider than himself, but he admits that he’s not religious. So if IQ, personal greatness, or economic impact are your heuristics for judging people, it makes sense to be frustrated at people you feel can’t keep up with you. Incidentally, the Bible teaches that one of the dangers of wisdom is being frustrated (Ecclesiastes 1:18 and Ecclesiastes 7:16)!

The book could encourage some cynicism. But many young people of high intelligence already feel trapped but they don’t think it’s because they’re being held back. They think it’s because they’re stupid or too easily bored or some other nonsense. This book can help them.

The Recommendation

The book does utilize foul language, watch out for that if that sort of thing offends you.

So I recommend it.


“The second tragic loss is the fact that school measures CONFORMANCE not INTELLIGENCE.”

“Nihilism is a dark philosophy in that it makes you realize you may not only be mortal, but you won’t be immortal in the afterlife.”

“It doesn’t matter if history remembers you fondly, or remembers you at all. Just as long as you get to exercise your intellect and achieve your own personal standard of greatness.”

“As a parent of a high IQ child you need to convey precisely what being abnormally intelligent means and mentor them so they make the most of it.”

“The biggest waste of time for abnormally intelligent people will be their educations.”