Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2014

Thomas Nelson: The Macro Perspective

One thing I like about a new month is that I give myself permission to go back one year and look at old articles as candidates for possible re-blogging. But today, I want to go back only a few days, partly to add some things, and party because I think this story got missed.

Jesus Calling 10th AnniversaryIn a story posted late Monday night, we noted the claim from heresy watcher Warren B. Smith about the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young:

…[I]f you are more interested in protecting your product rather than in protecting the truth, you do everything in your power to make these problems disappear. One thing is for sure. Sarah Young and Thomas Nelson have made some of their problems suddenly disappear in recent editions of Jesus Calling—most especially in a special 10th anniversary edition of Jesus Calling released on September 30, 2014.

Perhaps taking their cue from the missing eighteen-and-a-half minutes from Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes, Sarah Young and Thomas Nelson have been systematically deleting controversial material from Jesus Calling. Adding, subtracting, cutting, pasting, and completely eliminating problematic words, sentences, and even whole paragraphs, Young and her editors do not hesitate to put words in the mouth of their “Jesus,” even as they take others away. But like the Watergate tapes, the missing evidence and their in-your-face tactics are doing more to expose their problems than cover them up.

We then went on to note:

It’s hard to find articles online critical of the book, since everyone is on the sales bandwagon, especially in some markets where the book has been #1 for much of the past few years. So I don’t have other corroboration of Smith’s claims.

Still, the book’s theological liabilities have not escaped notice. I’ve been following the discussion thread at Ryan Dueck’s blog for over four years now, and not surprisingly, the book did not fare well with Canadian blogger Tim Challies, who called it “a very dangerous book.” We covered those links here before, also noting two years ago that the genre in which it is written is not entirely new; and also linking to that rare occasion where author Sarah Young did an interview with Christianity Today.

On a personal note, I should say that at the bookstore where I hang out, a good 80% of the sales on this book over the past 18 months have been to the local Spiritualist Church. Until recently the store did not acknowledge sales of the book on its Top books chart, and also, prior to 2012, a book closely associated with it, God Calling was available there only by special order, even though the book is published by, among others, Baker Books.

For it’s part, Thomas Nelson is marketing the anniversary release as an “Expanded Edition.” Nowhere on the company website are words like “revised,” “edited,” or even “updated” used.

What you didn’t see that day however was a comment that I added myself on the original version of the story at Christian Book Shop Talk, an affiliate blog of this one:

BennyHinnI didn’t want to go to hard on Thomas Nelson, but this isn’t the first time they’ve found themselves in a pickle like this, is it? Charismatic faith healer Benny Hinn was reported to have some wacky doctrine that each part of the Godhead was also triune — that’s nine parts if you’re counting — that needed to be excised from one of his bestsellers. (The belief is called Tritheism.) It was also alleged that after the book went through an editorial process, Hinn reiterated the belief in yet another volume.

Check out this link and do a keyword ‘find’ for “Benny Hinn” and “Tritheism.” It’s also in  this piece.

Now that Thomas Nelson is owned by HarperCollins, Jesus Calling would probably be a better fit on its HarperOne imprint, not the more Evangelical imprints like Zondervan or Nelson.

Mark Driscoll 2But then I got to thinking about how this connects with the whole Mark Driscoll story, since the Seattle pastor’s Real Marriage was also caught in the plagiarism controversy.

And that got me thinking about the stable of authors the company has published in the last forty years. From ultra-conservatives who didn’t like the NKJV, to the concerns that Robert Schuller’s message was simply about positive-thinking platitudes with little resemblance to the gospel, all the way forward to doctrinal concerns in Heaven is For Real

It’s no wonder that doctrinal purists reject anything the company issues, or why for example, the New Calvinist community feels the need to create its own sales channels, where they can filter what is marketed and distributed.

When you look at the entire history of Thomas Nelson, Jesus Calling is nothing new for these battle-scarred warriors; it’s more of a minor skirmish.

 

December 2, 2014

Book Review: Compassion Without Compromise

Compassion Without CompromiseIn many ways, the most epic achievement a book can offer is living up to the rather grand premise of a challenging title. Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Baker Books) takes on this challenge and provides a thorough examination of the present climate in the Church and the broader culture with very different approaches in each of the ten chapters.

I tried to read this book imagining its impact on people with whom I have conversations on this topic, people who find themselves immersed in this issue because of relationships with sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers, or fellow-students; as well as a few people who are either gay themselves (both out, outed or closeted) or dealing with curiosity or confusion.

Probably some of them would say the book leans more on the side of conviction and less on the side of compassion. I’m not sure that is avoidable, given the context of the larger Christian publishing environment. What I do see however is that the heart of the authors’ intent comes through at various points and there is a solid attempt at trying to be compassionate without discounting what they see as Biblical absolutes.

Still, there are people for whom I would recommend this, even as they find they find themselves in the middle of a situation where they, or someone they know is dealing with either overt homosexuality or quiet same sex attraction. Adam Barr and Ron Citlau approach this book in their role as pastors who have counseled many people on this subject, and Ron brings the added empathy of someone who, by his own admission, was much involved in the gay sex scene before his life changed 17 years ago.

There were a couple of sections toward the end of the book I felt the authors handled very well. One was a dismissal of the argument that many of the laws in Leviticus no longer apply today, so why should we hang on to one single aspect of sexuality, when we are quick to ignore prohibitions against, for example, wearing clothing of mixed fibers? The authors point out four specific Old Testament commandments concerning sex that are repeated in the New Testament. That chapter is must reading, especially if you have a friend who keeps raising this particular objection.

The other section I liked, though it will frustrate some readers, was a Q & Q chapter — I’ve named it that because there were no answers, hence not Q & A — listing all of the various scenarios currently encountered as a result of the rapidly changing culture. (Though about ten common sample questions are dealt with.) I found this catalog of thorny issues and hot potatoes, most of which are not so hypothetical, to be useful in understanding the challenges Christians now face. But I also wished that chapter had appeared at the beginning of the book, and had in fact been the basis of what followed. To get that far in and realize how many practical situations need to be wrestled with was to feel that in its short 140 or so pages, the book had only begun to deal with the larger topic.

Yes, we can have compassion without compromising convictions, but doing so involves a softening our attitude and also earning the right to be heard, while maintaining respect for God’s best.


Read an excerpt from Compassion Without Compromise at Christianity 201


Compassion Without Compromise was provided to Thinking Out Loud by the blog review program of Baker Books.

 

December 1, 2014

Jesus Calling Critic Says New Edition is Greatly Edited

Jesus Calling 10th AnniversaryHeresy hunter Warren B. Smith begins:

What if you are a major publisher like Thomas Nelson and you suddenly discover that your mega best-selling book Jesus Calling was inspired by a channeled New Age book? And what if you find out that some of the “messages” your author “received” from her “Jesus” weren’t really from Jesus because they contradict what the real Jesus Christ says in the Bible? And what if your best-selling author has introduced a host of other problems in her book that your usually sharp editors had somehow overlooked? What do you do given these issues are already in the pages of ten million previously published books? If you want to be fair to your readers, you deal honestly with these problems as they are brought to your attention. However, if you are more interested in protecting your product rather than in protecting the truth, you do everything in your power to make these problems disappear. One thing is for sure. Sarah Young and Thomas Nelson have made some of their problems suddenly disappear in recent editions of Jesus Calling—most especially in a special 10th anniversary edition of Jesus Calling released on September 30, 2014.

Perhaps taking their cue from the missing eighteen-and-a-half minutes from Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes, Sarah Young and Thomas Nelson have been systematically deleting controversial material from Jesus Calling. Adding, subtracting, cutting, pasting, and completely eliminating problematic words, sentences, and even whole paragraphs, Young and her editors do not hesitate to put words in the mouth of their “Jesus,” even as they take others away. But like the Watergate tapes, the missing evidence and their in-your-face tactics are doing more to expose their problems than cover them up.

He then reiterates his objections to the original book in the rest of the piece. You can read the entire article at the Stand Up For The Truth website.

It’s hard to find articles online critical of the book, since everyone is on the sales bandwagon, especially in some markets where the book has been #1 for much of the past few years. So I don’t have other corroboration of Smith’s claims.

Still, the book’s theological liabilities have not escaped notice. I’ve been following the discussion thread at Ryan Dueck’s blog for over four years now, and not surprisingly, the book did not fare well with Canadian blogger Tim Challies, who called it “a very dangerous book.” We covered those links here before, also noting two years ago that the genre in which it is written is not entirely new; and also linking to that rare occasion where author Sarah Young did an interview with Christianity Today.

On a personal note, I should say that at the bookstore where I hang out, a good 80% of the sales on this book over the past two years have been to the local Spiritualist Church. Until recently the store did not acknowledge sales of the book on its Top books chart, and also, prior to 2012, a book closely associated with it, God Calling was available there only by special order, even though the book is published by, among others, Baker Books.

For it’s part, Thomas Nelson is marketing the anniversary release as an “Expanded Edition.” Nowhere on the company website are words like “revised,” “edited,” or even “updated” used.

So, if anyone can send us third party verification of what Warren B. Smith has written, we’ll add the link here.

Jesus Calling Collection

 

Co-published with Christian Book Shop Talk blog.

November 7, 2014

Media Musing: Who Owns Christian Publishers, Deline of Music Sales

Filed under: books, media, music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Two stories today that have a common link

Christian Publishing: Who owns what?

First, Christianity Today ran this chart a few days ago which helps put the various Christian publishers that are part of huge multi-nationals in perspective. Each stream begins with the corporate name of the parent company, and then you see divisions and individual book imprints (if it were music, we’d call them labels) color-coded as to the type of audience they primarily target.

Christian Publishing Imprints of Major CompaniesClick the image to read the article. A similar analysis can be found at this link.


Putting music sales in perspective

Each one of the following statements can be supported by a quick online search, but I chose not to clutter this with the links. Basically, the point is that country-turned-pop singer Taylor Swift had great success in the past week with the album 1989 which left everything else that’s happened lately in the dust…

  • In just 7 days, Taylor Swift sold more copies of 1989 than the combined sales of albums at # 2 to # 107 on Billboard.
  • 22% of all albums sold in the U.S. last week were Taylor Swift.
  • Just 3 weeks ago people were saying “2014 is expected to become the first year in modern history where no artist has sold more than 1m albums in the US.” *
  • With only about seven weeks left in the year, she is the first platinum album for 2014, and possibly the last platinum album ever.
  • In a broader perspective, the new album is the fastest selling record in the past twelve years.

*studio albums, since the Frozen soundtrack achieved this

November 6, 2014

Philip Yancey on the Twilight of Grace

Changing societyIn my single digit years, I collected a box filled with low-tech, low-cost “magic” tricks, one of which consisted of two large die-cut pieces of cardboard in the shape of the letter ‘C.” One was red and one was blue, and as you held them side-by-side, if the red one was on the right it always appeared to be larger; but when you switched them, the blue one then appeared to be larger. The cutout pieces are identical in size, but the mind views the second one as larger when contrasted to the inside curve of the one before.

I always have this picture in my mind whenever I read something that purports to state that society is categorically getting worse. Haven’t people said that in past centuries also? Is the trajectory of society really in what pilots call a “graveyard spiral” or is redemption possible? Or perhaps do things simply go in cycles?

Philip Yancey’s book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? (Zondervan) is in many ways a state-of-the-union address on the moral, ethical and spiritual condition of our world in general and the Church of Jesus Christ in particular. Ever the journalist, Yancey tracks down every lead while at the same time maintaining a subjectivity common to most of his other writings. So it’s our world and his pilgrimage; one man’s effort to document where the human race is heading and how it impacts on one writer in the Colorado mountains.

Vanishing GraceYou could easily read Vanishing Grace and conclude that these are the rantings of a writer who has finally reached his curmudgeon years. ‘Back in my day…’ you expect to hear him say; but Yancey is on to you and instead each section is scented with the slight aroma of the hope that no matter how dark, there are still lights and there is still The Light.

The subjectivity means that the book is rooted in an American perspective, but Yancey’s travels have made him very much a citizen of the world, and so the book is one part personal reflection, one part ripped from the pages of the newspaper and its online equivalent, and one part history lesson, borrowing from the best of both actual events and what has been expressed by poets, playwrights and novelists.

Some will find the book a little disjointed. In the introduction he states that he set out to write a book, but really wrote four books. In the afterword, he acknowledges that parts of the book previously appeared in print and online in a variety of forums. This is not a problem, as Vanishing Grace is intended for the thinking Christian who ought to be able to navigate the manner in which the material has been arranged.

Yancey writes,

The church works best as a separate force, a conscience to society that keeps itself at arms length from the state. The closer it gets, the less effectively it can challenge the surrounding culture and the more perilously it risks losing its central message. Jesus left his followers the command to make disciples from all nations. We have no charge to “Christianize” the United States or any other country — an impossible goal in any case.  (p. 253)

Just a few pages later he adds,

Several years ago a Muslim man said to me, “I have read the entire Koran and find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.” He pointed out that Islam seeks to unify religion and law, culture and politics. The courts enforce religious (sharia) law, and in a nation like Iran the mullahs, not the politicians, hold the real power. (p. 258)

Both the first and second halves of that excerpt are packed with food for thought, typical of what one finds in the pages of this book.

Is Vanishing Grace truly a sequel to What’s So Amazing About Grace? written nearly two decades earlier? The new book certainly brings a maturity to the subject, but I would contend that the earlier title is well-suited to new believers and house study groups, while this 2014 is more profitable for pastors, leaders, mature Christ-followers or anyone interested in how one Christian views the state of our changing world. One thing that both share however — and this is common to much of Yancey’s writing — is their acceptability to giving to someone outside your faith circle.

An advance copy of the book was provided by the Canadian marketing department of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.


Here’s a longer book excerpt that ran at Christianity 201 a few days ago:

Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

(pp 27-29)


For an interview with the author, check out all six pages at this link to Leadership Journal

November 3, 2014

Buying Someone a Bible – Part 2 – Styles and Features

In Part One we looked at the Bible as one of the most significant gifts you can give someone, and why it’s important to get the selection right. Today we want to help simplify the process of choosing features they might appreciate and use. Normally we might ask the translation question first, but we thought we’d do things differently just this one time.

NIV Compact Giant Print 9780310435303Well over 95% of the Bibles sold today are complete editions consisting of the 66 books in the Protestant canon of the Old and New Testaments (or if you prefer First and Second Testaments, or Former and Current Testaments) or the 66 plus a varying number of additional books used in the Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books. In other words, if you’re looking for a New Testament only, beyond a handful of presentation Bibles for babies and children you’ll find a limited selection, and if you’re looking for an Old Testament only, well, good luck. 

By the way, not every Bible containing these extra books is a Catholic Bible because in order to be considered one, it would need a sort of kosher seal on the copyright page known as an imprimatur. You can also purchase those books separately — the original KJV contained them — unlike the case with trying to buy an Old Testament by itself.

You will find many Gospels of John however. This is rather strange because John is an argument for the divinity of Christ, but increasingly, that type of persuasion doesn’t work with postmoderns. You would expect more of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) to be produced now, but alas, we’re getting quite off-topic!

A Bible without any additional features is called a text Bible, and if there are some cross-references listing recommended related verses either in a center-column, at the bottom, or at the end of verses, then it’s a text reference or reference Bible. Free of bells and whistles, these are usually the best-priced and most popular. You can save even more by buying into the volume print runs of pew Bibles, now sometimes called church Bibles. These hardcover editions are quite durable. However, my advice would be to avoid what are called gift-and-award Bibles, because by using cheaper (and therefore thicker) paper, they are forced to use a very, very small type font. Generally, an award Bible is something churches give out to kids or visitors they’re not sure they’re ever going to see again. If they know the child, usually they go for something nicer.

Some of the most popular text Bibles often use the trade-style Thinline or Slimline. Introduced originally with more of the women’s market in mind, their style is also useful for pastors on hospital visits, youth workers at a campfire, and anyone else who doesn’t want to carry around a larger book. Also available are compact Bibles, but here you need to watch the print size, though Zondervan has a rather awesome NIV Compact Giant Print Bible that is a must-see if you’re shopping.

This is probably a good place to pause and mention print size. What Thomas Nelson calls Giant Print on their NKJV editions is really everybody else’s Large Print. This is another instance where you are better off buying in person rather than online. Also, just because a Bible advertises that it used 13-point type, that doesn’t tell you what the leading (spacing between lines of type) is, you need to see that for yourself. And if someone is looking for larger print, you should avoid comparing poetic and prophetic sections (which often use much more white space) to narrative sections which are more normally paragraphed.

Red-letter Bibles are by far the most common, but this is not an exact science. Did Jesus say the verse we know as John 3:16 or was that John’s commentary? Some people are divided on this issue. Does it mean those verses are more important? Isn’t all scripture inspired?  Also appearing more frequently — perhaps sparked by The Message Bible — are editions stripped of verse numbers.

Bindings vary in quality and cost along a spectrum beginning with paperback, then hardcover, then vinyl, then imitation leather, then bonded leather, and then fine or genuine leathers (including Moroccan, calfskin, etc.) Technically, many of the two-tone or duo-tone Bibles popular now are only imitation leather, but the quality and artistry of those covers has advanced to where you might pay more for those than some bonded leathers.

Bibles which have been thumb indexed may be produced by the publisher and have a separate ISBN (i.e. stock number) or may be done by a bookstore or distributor as an after-market add-on. (Remember when Sears Automotive sold after-market air-conditioning for cars?) You can also decide later to add Bible tabs but this is a process akin to watch repair or untangling coat hangers and is best done by the very patient (i.e. wives, mothers and girlfriends.) While you’re buying your tabs, you might as well go nuts and buy some extra ribbon markers.

Complete Parallel New TestamentParallel Bibles are text editions containing more than one edition, usually side-by-side on the page. Full Bibles are usually 2-translation or 4-translation, but Hendrickson has a nice 8-translation New Testament in hardcover which I really like, but don’t own. (Yet. I’ll send them a copy of this!) There are some very interesting combinations available that blend different translation styles (see part three of this article). There are also a specialized form of parallels called interlinear which weave the original Greek and Hebrew language texts (and often other features) on the same lines as the English translation used as a base.

Devotional Bibles are really two books in one. They contain a year’s worth of devotionals usually for a target audience such as men, women, people in a recovery program, teens, etc.  You can expect at least 310 devos (often the weekend reading is combined) or 366, but you’ll pay less than if you bought the two items individually.

Study Bibles contain supplementary notes. Sometimes the same notes are made available in a variety of translations; so the Life Application Bible has NIV, NLT, NKJV editions. I sometimes tell people that the NIV Study Bible takes us back into Bible times where as the Life Application brings the Bible into our times. That’s a bit simplistic, but helps you see there are different approaches to what type of things get annotated, not to mention different uses of charts, diagrams, the inclusion of longer articles, and even what gets defined as a study edition to begin with. As with devotional editions, there are now a wide variety of study editions produced just for kids and teens.

Certain study Bibles are also tied into the teaching ministry of different pastors, TV preachers, authors and ministries. Sometimes these are sold in bookstores and sometimes they are only available through the ministry organization concerned. Presumably, the notes are derived from the individual’s other notes or study guides, but sometimes it just means that the person named on the cover merely vetted the creation of a special study edition. You never know for sure.

I am not a huge fan of the One Year Bible genre (a Tyndale Publishing trademark, if I’m not mistaken) as they can’t be taken to church or small group given the re-ordering of the material. The same is also true of chronological Bibles which often harmonize concurrent passages such as Kings and Chronicles or the gospels; you wouldn’t want these to be someone’s first (or second) Bible. As Yoda might say, ‘Mixed all everything up is.’ On the other hand, Tyndale keeps producing these at an alarming rate so maybe they know something I don’t. I think their appeal tends to be regional, and I don’t live in that region.

Confused? I hope this is more helpful than bewildering. Even as you read this, executives are sitting in board rooms dreaming up new Bible editions for 2015. There are no limits to the imagination. In The People’s Bible, Zondervan did a turnabout on the red-letter concept, and using data from BibleGateway.com, they put frequently sought-after verses in larger type, with a total of about six font sizes. With The Voice translation, you get a delightful dramatic reading of the entire Bible.

Speaking of drama, Bibles on CD usually come in dramatized readings (sometimes complete with a celebrity cast of readers, not to mention sound effects and often a musical score) and straight narrative readings. We end this discussion where we began, because while you can get New Testament-only audio Bibles, you’ll find getting an Old Testament fairly impossible; so make that initial purchase carefully. 

Part Three: Navigating the various translations.

 

 

 

October 18, 2014

Catch a Falling Star

image 1017

 

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.

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