Thinking Out Loud

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.

August 9, 2014

“Oh, are you any relation to John Piper?”

I would not want to grow up in the shadow of a famous person, let alone a celebrity in the present Evangelical/Christian milieu, so after listening to several episodes of The Happy Rant Podcast, of which Barnabas Piper is one of three hosts — I decided it was time to see how iconic Calvinist John Piper fared in his son’s book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.

The Pastor's Kid - Barnabas PiperDespite a rather intense introduction from the elder Piper, no family secrets were revealed, in fact there is such a universality to this story that perhaps it should be titled, The Church Leader’s Kid, or The Board Member’s Kid, or The Sunday School Teacher’s Kid, or even The Usher’s Kid. (Note: This list was not presented in descending order; I am not implying that ushers are any less important than board members.) The point is that all of us who grew up in church sometimes feel undeniable pressure to be good.

The book itself is rather light reading, though this is not a light subject. The younger Piper comes at this from various perspectives and with absolute transparency. The ministry life is an individual calling, but as I know from my own household, spouses and offspring get dragged into that life whether they want it or not.

The immersion into ministry life for a child is not simply a matter of meshing a church schedule to a school and sports schedule. The expectations are gigantic.

In some sense the “Bible expert” identity is one that PKs can’t help. It takes very intention effort not to learn biblical facts and references when it is your parents’ full-time job and home life both. We absorb biblical knowledge passively whether we care to or not. And the higher expectation naturally follows.

When you combine this ever-present reality with the fact we are the progeny of clergy, a further challenge arises — PKs are often expected to be theologians (sometimes by our parents, usually by the church). This is distinctly different than being a “Bible expert,” someone who knows the facts of Scripture. Being a theologian is a discipline, a cause, a passion. People expect that one of our great passions will be the systematized exploration and explanation of God. And while it is good for everyone to give careful thought to the things of God, the expectation of “theologian” placed on PKs is much more than that.  (pp. 52-53)

The book also is strong in its examination of the relationship of the PK to the pastor/parent.

American church culture has created a double standard for pastors. They are expected to be dynamic leaders, teachers, counselors and organizational heads. And one of the job qualifications is that they be dynamic family men. These two demands would not necessary be at odds except that both far surpass reality. Pastors are expected to be superior in both roles, even when they are at odds with each other.   (p.  119)

If the church wins the battle for the man’s time, the family (i.e. especially the kids) lose. “What we get are the leftovers. When that happens, while he may be seen as great pastor, he is a flop as a parent.”

Barnabas Piper and John PiperThere is more than a direct hint from Barnabas that his famous father really isn’t drawn to any particular hobbies.  In a rare candid paragraph he laments that “…to this day, I still yearn to have a shared hobby with my father, something as simple as golf or hiking. Such little things have big meanings.” While I am not a pastor myself, I saw myself in this section of the book, especially the notation that, “…what he loved was studying, theology, writing and preaching — not exactly the hobbies to share with a twelve-year old.”

That’s possibly why I said the book really has a more general application, especially for Christian men. I know men aren’t big consumers of Christian books, but the 137 pages of core content here includes 21 essentially blank pages (something publisher David C. Cook is frequently guilty of) so at least the guys will feel they are making progress as they read.

As universal as are the parenting issues this book speaks to, the very designation “PK” shows that the issues are unique.

You can tell we have a reputation because we get our own abbreviation. You don’t see a teacher’s kid getting called a “TK” or a salesman’s kid getting called an “SK.”  (p. 23)

There are two things that are absent from The Pastor’s Kid which I feel are worth noting.

First, Barnabas is the son of both a famous preacher and a famous preacher’s wife. (Some churches even refer to the Pastor’s wife as the church’s “First Lady,” in the same sense as the wife of the U.S. President.) Perhaps he is saving this for a sequel, establishing a brand. (The Pastor’s Wife followed by The Pastor’s Cat and Dog.) It’s also possible that Noël Piper wisely suggested something like, ‘Leave me out of it.’ Either way, there is only a passing reference to his mother.

Second, and more importantly, while the subject frequently arises, there isn’t nearly enough direct treatment of what Barna Research refers to as Prodigal Pastors’ Kids. Perhaps their circumstances make them overly visible, but we all know PKs who have gone off the deep end, either theologically or behaviorally. (See infographic below.)

Those two things said, this is still an important book and one that every elder, board member needs to read, as well as passing it down the line to kidmin and ymin workers who deal with the PKs in Sunday School, midweek club, or youth group.


Thanks to Martin Smith of David C. Cook Canada for a chance to come late to the review party and still get a seat!  For another excerpt from the book, see the second half of this devotional at C201.

Barna Research - Prodigal Pastors' Kids - from infographic

August 2, 2014

A House is Known by the Company it Keeps

Our Big American God - Matthew Paul TurnerWith all the buzz on Twitter, I would love for this space to contain a review of Matthew Paul Turner’s Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever Growing Deity but alas, getting review books from Hachette Book Group is like pulling teeth and only once — with Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book which, by the way, is coming out in paperback in September — have I been successful. (I really wanted to review Rob Strong’s The Big Guy Upstairs so I could present my conspiracy theory that Strong is really Rob Bell; a theory I maintain despite the lack of physical resemblance…)

But I found it interesting who is on the list of review citations appearing at Ingram Book Company, the world’s largest book distributor.  It’s certainly A-list, but it’s also a list of progressive writers who would be unlikely to say anything negative. (Not that they would; from what I hear the book is a must-read.)

Here’s a sample:

  • Ed Cyzewski author, The Good News of Revelation and A Christian Survival Guide
  • Jon Acuff, New York Times bestselling author of Start
  • Micha Boyett, Author of Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer
  • Nish Weiseth, author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World
  • Frank Schaeffer, author, And God Said, Billy! 
  • Peter Rollins
  • A. J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically
  • Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist
  • Timothy Kurek, author of the bestselling book, The Cross in the Closet

Okay, so maybe I’m not quite in their league, but I’m not asking to be part of the print edition, I just want to review the book on the blog. Jericho Books, are you listening? Still, it’s interesting to see the omission of endorsements by Max Lucado, Jerry Jenkins or even Bill Gaither. (Does Bill read?)

Oh and by the way book marketing people, Peter Rollins looks really lame on this list, so I will say what the online product detail didn’t: Peter is the author of at least seven books and an unpublished PhD thesis that “offers a survey of religious thinking in the aftermath of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. It engages directly with Martin Heidegger’s critique of onto-theology and explores the religious significance of Jacques Derrida’s post-structural theory and Jean-Luc Marion’s saturated phenomenology…” (Wikipedia) Hence the doctorate in “Post-Structural Theory.” But onto-theology is out of my league also.

And that’s just a sample of what my research department would provide Matthew Paul Turner if Hachette/Faithwords/Jericho wants to ante up with a print copy, mailed to my lavish executive offices (see yesterday’s post) in the next 72 hours. 

#unreview

#ainttoproudtobeg

 

July 24, 2014

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

Filed under: books, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:57 am

I’m almost certain that if I lived in Hayward, Wisconsin, Mark O. Wilson would be my pastor. I thoroughly enjoyed his book Filled Up, Poured Out (reviewed here) and his newest, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus was a delight to read. Christian non-fiction (i.e. doctrinal) books are not expected to be this much fun.

Purple Fish - Mark O. WilsonHere’s the difference: Mark Wilson is not dealing in theoretical evangelism. He’s a practitioner, with anecdotal accounts of the principles he believes in bearing results. In fact, to be honest, this is more a book of very short (i.e. many are single paragraph) stories of life change taking place because ordinary people were willing to take risks.

Oh, no! How many opportunities might I have missed by not being more attuned to people all around me?

This is not an attempt to teach a rigid methodology. There aren’t 4 steps or 6 steps to memorize. If anything, results are often achieved by breaking the perceived rules of witnessing, the book is very anti-methodology. By arranging the book in a series of 33 very short chapters, readers can take hold of these ideas in bite-sized morsels.

It is said that in Evangelical circles, many people delay being baptized because they cringe at the idea of having to give a one minute testimony. And that’s just to their peers. How much more are some people terrified to share their faith with a stranger? This book provides the nudge they might need.

To repeat, this book is very accessible for the average churchgoer who is intimidated at the idea of making a public declaration of faith.

The title? Mark Wilson pastors in the Northwoods area of Wisconsin where fishing is ubiquitous. So fishing is a motif throughout the book, a metaphor (that Jesus used), and a means to make connection. And in a rapidly changing world, I much prefer the idea of evangelism as fishing than speaking of going on a crusade. (And yes, that makes this a good recommendation for men to read, even non-readers.)

But what about the purple fish? I won’t give away the spoiler; you’ll have to read the book! Suffice it to say that it reinforces the idea that lost souls really do matter to God.

Purple Fish is published in paperback at $14.99 US by Wesleyan Publishing House.  Read an excerpt here.

 

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