Thinking Out Loud

October 18, 2014

Catch a Falling Star

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I started immersing myself in the Christian blogosphere at least a year before beginning to write my own, so I’m guessing it’s been at least nine years now. During that time I have unfortunately been made aware of the different tribes that exist among my fellow believers, and the degree to which tribal convictions isolate us from each other. While I enjoy the exchange of ideas that can pleasantly take place among those of divergent views, I have also seen firsthand the dismissive attitude that plagues attempts at conversation between people of differing doctrinal positions.

Despite this, there has been another feature of my personal ‘Christian internet story arc’ that involves people of all stripes, and that is the world of Christian publishing. Regardless of rapture views, Bible translation preferences, opinions on predestination, or positions on a variety of gender issues, popularity online usually precedes a book deal.

I have the luxury now of sometimes receiving books unsolicited, but most of the review books I get are things I have specifically requested. For that reason, my library is filled with authors who, at the time, I had enjoyed reading online and wanted to be in a position to promote their published works to others. Always, the books fulfilled expectations since the writing in question was already a known commodity.

Often it is the case that an author’s first book is the best. It says all the things they have most wanted to say. It is often birthed in the heart of the writer before any deal has been signed and there is any sense of deadline. At minimum, the author is offered a two-book deal, and while some authors just keep getting better and better with each new release, with others, the second book now imposes a commitment that must be met, a homework assignment that must be completed.

At the same time, the author is now devoting more of their attention to the book writing and dealing with the enhanced profile that has come with having a title in print. So the blog writing, the thing that brought them to the attention of publishers, often begins to suffer.

In other cases, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, their fifteen months of fame run out, and the attention has turned to newer voices. If they are pastors, their church growth possibly plateaus, if they are musicians, their new album doesn’t generate the same sales.

As a teenager I had one particular nerdy hobby: I would compose my own music charts. Working from the charts of other radio stations with a bias toward the music my friends and I liked, I sat the keyboard weekly and compiled my own Top 40 that was seen by a very select few each week and stored in a number of 3-ring binders. There was no direct benefit to me or anyone else, though I must say that I was faithful to it, just as I try to be faithful here on the blog on a daily basis.

I quickly learned the dynamics of charts. As the “last week” position was typed next to the “this week” ranking, it was obvious that some songs were still gaining traction while others were starting to wane. This of course, was in the days before SoundScan where titles now enter the chart at #1 and then begin a slow descent.

Today, I don’t bother trying to track book sales with the same diligence, though I do compile a chart for the Christian retail store I am involved with at least twice a year. But it is clear that there are always rising stars and falling stars both in micro terms of individual titles and the macro career of certain authors.

As I type this, we’ve watched another development take place in the plummeting of a particular pastor’s influence and credibility. While it saddens many as it should, there are others waiting in the wings to take his place.  Whether you get 15 months of attention, or only Warhol’s 15 minutes, the celebrity hunger in all of us keeps us scanning the horizon for the next big thing.

In Psalm 75 we’re told it is God who doles out promotion, honor, exaltation, lifting up. I don’t know why certain church plants go from zero to ten thousand in two years while others never receive the attention that results from significant metrics. I don’t know why great books languish on the shelves and end up in the remainder bins while others seem to crack the bestseller lists effortlessly.

I also know that within me is a desire to jump on the bandwagon only because sometimes that seems consistent with the idea of coming alongside where the Holy Spirit is moving. But is that always the case, or does human effort dictate what becomes Christian celebrity?

In show business there is saying that “The people you meet on the way up are the people you meet on the way down.” (The original suggests kindness to those people you meet, because of the eventual re-acquaintance.) It’s exciting to watch stars rise, it is sometimes painful to watch them fall. Both are taking place all the time, and sometimes there is a comeback or a second career.

The current chart status of a Christian celebrity is in no way a measure of their spiritual life, but their changing relative influence is part of watching an endlessly shifting landscape.

 

October 9, 2014

Lacey Sturm Story

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:39 am

“I became addicted to sadness”

~ Lacey Sturm

Sometimes you don’t have to be paying attention to a TV or computer screen to know something special is taking place. That’s how I felt while watching the live feed from the Franklin Graham Festival of Hope in Toronto as a musician was speaking between songs, only to get interrupted by a phone call. So I determined to watch the same concert again two weeks later from Erie, Pennsylvania’s Rock The Lakes event, but returning home after a busy day I got distracted and forgot to catch that feed. (A request to the Billy Graham Association in Canada, which sponsored the Toronto live feed, was never answered.)

So I was pleased to find this 19-minute clip of an interview that singer Lacey Sturm did with Kirk Cameron on the Praise the Lord program.

(Okay, we need to stop there for a minute. For those of you who have been out of the Christian television loop for awhile, yes that is the same Praise the Lord program that Paul Crouch founded, and yes, that is the same Kirk Cameron. See what happens when you miss a few memos?)

The Reason - Lacey SturmLacey was a founding member of the group Flyleaf, but she’s out promoting not an album but her book, The Reason: Revelations of a Rock Princess (Baker Books) an autobiography of conversion.

The day Lacey Sturm planned to kill herself was the day her old life ended. As an atheist who hated Christians, she thought church was a place for hypocrites, fakers, and simpletons. After a screaming match with her grandmother, she ended up in the back of a sanctuary, hating everyone in the room. But what happened in that room is The Reason she is alive today.

(Click the book image at right to learn more.)

If you like your music really, really loud, here’s the complete concert at Rock the Lakes. (Testimony starts at 9:53, and continues at 22:10.) Otherwise, here’s Lacey, her husband Josh, with Kirk Cameron:

October 6, 2014

Left Behind as Object of Mockery

Filed under: books, theology — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

Cats Watching the Rapture - from Rapture Pet Care

Somewhere over the weekend, a series of eschatological fiction books became an object of ridicule online. In a way, the op-ed sentiment was always there: Stories based on a premise that took hold with the American Christian populace in the 1940s and ’50s, but a premise that serious Bible scholars never embraced. “Rapture? What rapture?”

But then the movie remake scored only 2% on the movie review analysis site Rotten Tomatoes.  Suddenly the book and movie franchise became fair game both for those within and outside the camp. Ed Stetzer tweeted:

Headed to with a bag of clothes. While the movie is playing, Kaitlyn and I plan to spread them out on seats.

Apparently that sentiment caught on because by Sunday the anonymous owner of twitter account Chet Churchpain tweeted,

Played a rapture prank by leaving clothes in my pew and leaving during prayer, but forgot spare clothes.

Hid in closet until everyone left.

with a follow up:

Still missing my wallet and my good crocs.

Greg Boyd joined in the frivolity on Sunday:

I believe in “Left Behind”! If someone strikes you “on the RIGHT cheek,” turn “the OTHER cheek,” which would of course be your LEFT behind.

In a much longer than 140-character post at CT a reviewer wrote:

I was ready to be upset about this movie, is what I’m saying—upset at a movie based on books that I felt totally mischaracterized my faith, books whose central characters were trumpeted as the saints of the new world but who constantly failed to live out anything marginally resembling real Christianity.

I was ready to be upset because the Left Behind books were not Christian.

They talked about Christianity, sometimes. But, at their core, they were political thrillers, featuring characters directly transposed from better Tom Clancy narratives—still violent, hostile, and un-reflecting, they just prayed a little more and took communion sometimes. (This may be unfair to Clancy.)

I was ready to be upset at this new movie because certainly it would have all those same faults. But it doesn’t. It has many, many faults, and almost no positives, but purporting to be Christian while not actually being Christian is not one of them.

I will bold this next point so that readers now searching desperately for the vanished comments section can take note: Left Behind is not a Christian Movie, whatever Christian Moviecould even possibly mean.

adding parenthetically at the end:

We tried to give the film zero stars, but our tech system won’t allow it.

So where did Left Behind get left behind with some Christians?

A popular version has it that the rapture idea began with a young girl who stood up and gave a word of prophecy at a revival meeting in the UK in the 19th century, perhaps either the 1860s or 1870s. The idea represents a mash-up of Jesus words in Matthew (“one will be taken and one left behind”) and Paul’s words to the Thessalonians (“…will be caught up to meet Him in the air.”)

In various places in scripture however we see that being the one “taken” is not always a good thing, and the parable of the bridesmaids shows us that when the guests go out to meet the bridegroom, it is them, not the groom, who does the 180-degree turn.  (See this article at CT.) his idea of rapture, or more specifically non-rapture, is tied closely to teachings about ‘New Earth,’ which for many stands in contrast to an ‘up there’ view of heaven

It’s also important to note that the rapture doctrine did not travel well across the pond. Christians in the United States did not accept the idea well until the aforementioned post-war period.

Furthermore Skye Jethani articulates this issue well in his book Futureville, explaining that this is really an example of letting the culture dictate theology; that the doctrine is born out of philosophy of escapism, a post-WWII desire to exit the planet and all its evils. He shares this also around the 26-minute mark of the Phil Vischer Podcast episode 15.

Of course some people are willing to loyally defend the brand and attack those who don’t:

  My fellow Christians, you can disregard any reviews of the by the pro-homosexual or pro-Palestinian

Nothing keeps the water muddy on any particular issue like parachuting another issue (or two in this case) into the discussion.

My wife thinks that what we’re seeing is simply the outpouring of criticism that takes place whenever something is successful. Big churches are targets. Top authors are targets. But in this case, the movie’s poor critical showing has intersected with the place where rapture doctrine is slowly falling out of favor among even strident Evangelicals.

So this weekend everybody gets to join in the fun.

Rapture? No we were just kidding, that isn’t gonna happen.

September 30, 2014

Currently Reading: N. T. Wright on The Psalms

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

The Case For The PsalmsOkay, I admit it.  I currently have four books on the go, and one should probably finish one before starting another.

N. T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential should not be confused with Lee Strobel’s The Case for… series. I don’t think of this as apologetic, though in a way, it is a defense of the Psalter at a time when people’s reading habits probably direct them more to the gospels, the epistles or the history narratives.

Or more likely, they’re not reading at all.

He brilliantly notes themes and motifs that run throughout the collection and with the proliferation of Wright vids on YouTube, you can hear him speaking of the beauty of the various psalms as you read and his lament over what we are losing in the modern church, or have already lost.

“The enormously popular ‘worship songs,’ some of which use phrases from the Psalms here and there but most of which do not, have largely displaced, for thousands of regular and enthusiastic worshipers, the steady rhythm and deep soul searching of the Psalms themselves. This, I believe, is a great impoverishment. By all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church’s original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy” (p. 5).

Still, I am 120 pages into what is about a 200 page, digest-sized hardcover, and I feel I can’t truly address the book without noting what others might consider superficial; namely that much of the book’s content is simply copious reiteration of the Biblical texts from the New Revised Standard Version. That, and the book’s cost $22.99 US/$25.99 CA has me questioning the value to the reader. The Case doesn’t purport to be an academic title, which would explain the shorter length in light of the higher price.

As a book-lover and someone with great respect for Wright, I like the book; but as someone who spends part of his week as a book-seller, I guess I just can’t make the case for The Case for the Psalms.


I admit this review may frustrate some especially fans of Wright, so I offer you another reviewer’s work as an alternative, Tim Peck at the blog Sojourner who goes into the book in great detail and with great admiration.

September 29, 2014

Currently Reading: Apologetics Beyond Reason

James W. Sire is the author of the landmark apologetics book The Universe Next Door (1976) and the more recent A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics (2006) and has been an editor at InterVarsity Press (IVP) for several decades. In the first chapter of Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really is Believing he explains that it might be time to chart a different direction.

Apologetics Beyond Reason - James SireFor those in our culture who put their trust in human reason, these apologetic approaches have worked well. Many Christians today read and benefit from them. Without the, thoughtful Christians would have too few resources to analyze the clever arguments and glossy lifestyles presented by our culture’s media, its pundits, its fraudulent experts and its passionate prophets of health and wealth.

But many in our postmodern world have come willy-nilly to distrust reason, and the arguments of the modern Christian rationalists now seem irrelevant, doubtful, lifeless. The approaches of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesteron avoided this fate by clever and imaginative grasps of the paradoxes of the human condition. The value of human reason for them was to permit a conclusion to be wrested from within a framework of paradoxes. It took account of the human desire for simplicity, tied the reader in knots and then showed how Christian faith both accounted for the knots and then untangled them. Their work has attracted readers from across the intellectual spectrum from the simple to the sophisticated.

But highly sophisticated rational apologetics itself is limited to those who can understand it…

…There is another limitation in many arguments Christians use to prove the rationality of belief in God. The God who is “proved” is only a transcendent, impersonal God, maybe a Creator, but not necessarily personal. Only a God whose existence is important to human understanding or human flourishing is worth troubling about. The arguments may support deism as a worldview but be silent about the existence of a fully Biblical God. Of course, such arguments can be stepping stones to a fuller argument for the God of the Bible. And that’s no small matter…

Apologetics Beyond Reason pp. 16-17

He then continues along this line mixing the writings of classical literature and philosophy with his own story.  I’m only part of the way in, but it’s a type of subjective apologetics, or intellectual testimony. My words, not his; or at least not so far.

September 19, 2014

Book Review: The Grave Robber

“Everyone wants a miracle. But here’s the catch: no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one! Of course, you can’t have one without the other.” (The Grave Robber by Mark Batterson, p. 14)

Grave Robber - Mark BattersonHe just keeps getting better.

I honestly can’t wait until Mark Batterson’s next book; I think he’s now firmly in my Top Five Authors circle, but for different reasons than the other four. He doesn’t go deep deep, but he does manage to get me thinking. If someone had simply never read a Christian book, then this is would be a good introduction, and hey, December 25th is approaching.

The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible is Mark Batterson’s tenth book as well has his first for Baker Publishing Group. It’s an exposition of the seven miracles recorded in John’s gospel; plus an eighth for those who are paying attention. Each miraculous event is given three chapters wherein Mark shares some context, lots of application, and some faith-building stories from his own life emerging from the discussion of each miracle. There are also some details in Grave Robber‘s retelling of these familiar stories that I had not heard or considered in a lifetime of going to church.

There’s a DVD Curriculum available as well, but a competent small group leader would have no problem generating seven weeks (or more) of discussion just by having people read the book. You could also read the book for study on John’s gospel, or devotionally.

Again, the book is very transparent; very personal. Mark is very realistic in his approach to increasing your faith. As an asthmatic who has longed for a healing, he knows what is like to pray and be prayed for and still not see the answer, yet this does not diminish his belief in God’s supernatural power in the least. This is therefore an excellent choice for someone who finds themselves in the middle of a season where perhaps hope seems lost, or God seems distant.

Jesus is pictured in the book’s pages as the Wine-Maker, Rule-Breaker, Water-Walker and Grave-Robber. You cannot escape encountering him as you read.

Coming this Spring: Regular Batterson readers are familiar with his son Parker, who is collaborating on a student edition of the book, releasing in March, 2015.

September 13, 2014

Forthcoming: The Rise of ISIS by Jay Sekulow

Filed under: books, current events — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 am

Rise of ISISJay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has written a 128-page book that answers many of the questions you may have about what’s going on in the Mid-East. The book is being published by Howard Publishing on October 14th in both print and eBook. Here’s the publisher blurb:

Jay Sekulow, one of America’s most influential attorneys, closely examines the rise of the terrorist groups ISIS and Hamas, explains their objectives and capabilities and how, if left undefeated, their existence could unleash a genocide of historic proportions.

Recently, the world has been shaken by gruesome photos and videos that have introduced us to the now infamous terrorist group known as ISIS. A small but well-financed group, ISIS originated within Al Qaeda with the goal of creating an Islamic state across Iraq and Syria and unrelenting jihad on Christians. Separate from ISIS, the terrorist group Hamas has waged an equally brutal war against Israel. Both groups, if left undefeated, have the potential to unleash a catastrophic genocide.

Rise of ISIS gives a better understanding of the modern face of terror, and provides an overview of the laws of war and war crimes. These laws differentiate between the guilty and innocent, and explain why the US military and the Israeli Defense Forces are often limited in their defensive measures.

A must-have for anyone who wants to better understand the conflict that exists in the middle east, this well-researched and fully annotated volume is invaluable in revealing how this new brand of terrorism poses a very real threat to Americans and the world at large. It also serves as a guide to what we as individuals—and as a nation—can do to stop this escalating violence, prevent jihad, and protect Israel and America from this imminent threat.

August 26, 2014

This Book is Certainly not Overrated

I’ve been aware of Eugene Cho for several years though his blog and the charity he founded, One Day’s Wages.  As I opened the cover of his book Overrated, with the Superman-esque cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he had me right from the first chapter as his family embarked on a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is adventure in social concern.

As the video trailer above so clearly expresses, many of us are more enamored with the idea of changing the world than we are with actually doing anything. As you read this, it’s probably one of many blogs you will peruse today where writers like myself might present you with a variety of topics. But making the decision to indulge 2-3 minutes on a subject that challenges our generation to respond is not the same as actually getting our feet wet or even making a donation.

Overrated - Eugene ChoThe subtitle is long enough to deserve a paragraph of its own: Are We More in Love With The Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

The book’s premise is that by talking loud but doing nothing, we are completely overrated in terms of our response to social injustice. I find it interesting that the medium that seems to lend itself most to our schizophrenic response also contains the word social as in social media. Like other issues — the problems in the local church come to mind — we’re very good at articulating the problem of global poverty, very adept at critique.

Much awareness has created the illusion of progress on this front.

So the book begins with Eugene and his family evacuating their home so they can lease it out to a tourist in order to meet a goal they had set for themselves to give one year’s wages. This meant camping out at friends’ houses, a vision that is a little more difficult to explain to your children.

As the best books are, this is one part biographical and one part teaching. The biographical narratives include the perspective of an Asian American, as well as his adventures as a church planter. 

So as to best prod us into action, Eugene Cho leads by example, and he share stories where others are picking up the torch and running with it. His personal ethic is not to ask anyone to do anything that you’re not prepared or willing to do yourself.  

That’s advice that applies not only to our response to the needs of the world, but to other areas as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch a video preview of the book

August 25, 2014

Love Well Reads Well

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 am

A book is always a journey. My hope is that in the exchange of writing, reading and reflecting, we can journey together. My deep desire is that the tone of this book is not one of proving that I am right. My hope is that in my story and in my brokenness and redemption, Truth might be revealed.  ~Jamie George

As I mentioned a few days ago when I embedded a video clip with the author, I wasn’t going to review this book and then, having had the exposure through the interview, I knew I had to read this book.

Love Well - Jamie GeorgeLove Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck is part biography, part Christian living title.  Jamie George’s personal story is so much a part of what he teaches here that in many respects, the book belongs in a genre of its own. Though it doesn’t purport to be a marriage title, the story of the first twenty years in Jamie and Angie’s marriage is packed with anecdotes that will resonate with some couples. The writing style also mirrors Rob Bell, though with far more answers than questions.

A series of questions for self-examination ends each chapter, and the questions reiterate at the end of each chapter, with a new one added each time. The personal nature of this format lends itself more to personal development, but you could definitely use this in a group setting, especially with young married couples.

The book also contains several examples of the storytelling gift that Journey Church attendees say is the mark of Jamie George’s preaching; most evident in the retelling of scripture stories and parables, my favorite being his take on Joseph and his brothers.

But what is Live Well really about? Although he doesn’t use the term, the book is a type of 12-step program in dealing with hurt and brokenness. It’s about transparency and honesty to a degree that means the story doesn’t always reflect well of Jamie or his wife. The reference to being unstuck (and I wondered if this might have been the book’s original title) means that we can’t move on until we resolve certain issues.

Jamie George is the pastor of Journey Church south of Nashville, a church which attracts the people that Nashville itself attracts. Among his parishioners is author Karen Kingsbury who also wrote the foreword to the book.

Note: Because of the typeface and spacing, this 300-page book can be read in half the time you might imagine. For that reason, I give this a hearty recommendation for male readers!

We used a short excerpt from the book a few days ago at C201, it comprises the second half of this devotional.


A copy of Love Well was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Martin Smith at David C. Cook Canada. A series of messages based on the book is currently running at Journey Church; click here to listen or watch.

August 16, 2014

How Do We Know What We Know?

David Peck - SoChangeIn many ways David Peck has lived several different lifetimes.

I met him years ago through the Christian concert scene in Toronto. At that time he was an apprentice electrician. Oh yes, and a magician. Dave did a magic show at our wedding. One of our favorite wedding presents. But later on he jumped into academics, getting a masters degree in philosophy, something that I majored in as an undergraduate until my head exploded in third year and I had to change my degree in my final year.

In his first book, Real Change is Incremental he draws on his background as an electrician and as a magician to create analogies to philosophical models of who we come to know what we know. While the book is a series of essays collected from different life stages, its general theme is epistemology, and the largest essay, based on his university thesis, is about tacit knowledge, the things we know that we don’t even realize we know. In many respects the title doesn’t directly betray the book’s content, while in other respects it is a rallying cry.

Real Change is Incremental.gifThe book also draws on his extensive travel which is a byproduct of his current work as founder of SoChange, an organization based in greater Toronto that works mostly with non-profits, including some very recognizable charities, to help them meet their objectives; something that fits my personal adage that every major institution should employ at least one philosopher, because they see things that others miss.

Real Change therefore occupies a middle ground between story anthology and philosophy text.

Usually the books I review here are supplied by Christian publishers and authors, and there is a frame of reference that readers here can connect with. David Peck has frequently guest-hosted “Canada’s most-listened-to spiritual talk program,” The Drew Marshall Show, but other than a couple of passing references to the faith in which he was raised, the book makes no pretense to be a Christian, religious or even spiritual title. However, what you read within in no way conflicts with that perspective.

I tend to go through review books with a blank half-sheet serving both as bookmark and a place to record observations while I read. Knowing this would be a different journey, I simply allowed the book to play like an album of ideas, some of which reminded me of things I have considered at different junctures in my own life. So it’s no surprise with that album theme, that an analogy about music stuck with me:

Consider the creative opportunity found in a piano octave: twelve simple notes, but a vast musical landscape waiting to be discovered.  This is open structure.  There are sharps, flats, major chords and minor chords, harmonies and dissonances, this scale and that scale.  There is an array of starting points and intervals giving rise to an infinity of tonal sequences that constitute melodies.  The pianist travels through the scale, returns and resolves.  Musical tension is created.  There are any number of tempos – adagio, allegro, largo – and any number of rhythms, combined in different ways.  There are texture and dynamics, crescendo, decrescendo, pianissimo, dolce, con brio, cantabile.  The structure is restricted by a finite number of keys, but is open and presents limitless possibilities.

In many respects that’s how I feel about David. Limitless possibilities. Our contact over the years has been somewhat sporadic and each time there are surprises. When I spoke with my wife last night at midnight about this, we decided the term ‘Renaissance Man’ probably best suits him. In addition to electrician, magician, philosopher, and agent assisting so many organizations that pursue relief, development and social justice; to all that he can now add writer, and good writer at that.

From time to time, everyone needs a philosopher in their life.

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