Thinking Out Loud

January 20, 2014

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

For several months, the book’s working title was Tomorrowland.

Eventually, it was ruled that ‘The Mouse’ would never stand for that, and so the title of Skye Jethani’s third book became Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow, and while another Disney property, EPCOT, is mentioned, the major motif in Futureville is the great promise that was held out for mankind in general, and America in particular in the 1939 World’s Fair.

Futureville - Skye JethaniWhile Jethani is not entirely a household name in the Christian community, his voice is as unique as his ability to weave a subject — in The Divine Commodity it was the art and life of Vincent Van Gogh — into his writing as an ongoing talking point. The middle book of the current three takes a different approach; elsewhere I described his book With as The Preposition Proposition.  His audience is widening through friend Phil Vischer’s podcast, but he is probably best known for his work on Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, and its highly ranked blog, Out of Ur, relaunched this past weekend as PARSE.  As I’ve said elsewhere — and in reference to other authors — I think his books are best enjoyed after you’ve had exposure to some visual media; some clips are currently available at his blog Skyebox.

The premise of Futureville is that “our vision of the future is what determines how we understand the present. In a very real sense today is defined by tomorrow… what lies ahead.” The book looks at the wide arc of Biblical history through a lens that is both somewhat philosophical and agnostic-friendly. This is a title that meets the giveaway criteria.

He also offers some fresh insights for insiders. Example: We tend to think of the Biblical narrative beginning in a garden and ending in a return to a garden (which owes more to Crosby, Stills and Nash) while in fact the story ends in a city. If you live in Philadelphia or Detroit or Gary, Indiana, the idea of city may suggest that perhaps God could do better. But Jethani uncovers the rationale behind the imagery.

Social activism, environmentalism, politics, etc. all come under the microscope as does the effect current affairs have on shaping theology. Yes, the Bible can be thought of as somewhat clear on matters, but theological thought trends in ways not unlike celebrity fixations on Twitter. We may know what the text says, but the book points out the ways in which the capital ‘C’ Church will spin it differently and slowly drift from its mission.

Much of the book’s purpose is to help refocus us by freshly acquainting ourselves with the key images of scripture and of worship, and to re-purpose us to realigning our priorities. In many respects, Futureville is prescriptive, it gives the Church a mandate for 2014 not unlike Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock did for a broader society in 1970. While parts of Futureville may leave you disturbed, overall, the book offers assurance that God has orchestrated things to lead toward a conclusion of his choosing, and one that, to borrow from Jeremiah, offers us a future and a hope.

November 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Link List - Out of Ur

I’ve checked this week and nobody in the Pentecostal community is organizing a Strange Ice Conference. So far.

The last link listed here this week is to an interview that Chrsitianity Today did with me about a month ago that I didn’t think would ever appear. Speaking of which, you can catch this week’s list at Out of Ur; the individual links will take you there now as well.

Wednesday Link List Sign
Yes, blogrolls are now uncool, but if you scroll down the right margin at Thinking Out Loud, for a limited time, there’s a list of a small selection of the places Paul Wilkinson hunts each week for buried treasure.

July 13, 2013

Insights into Jesus Parables and Prayers

Filed under: books, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

What I’m doing here is considered most uncool. Book reviews are supposed to focus on the latest releases, not past titles. Obviously, I disagree. In the rush to be first to offer an opinion on the latest manuscript, there may be some treasure buried on the bookstore and library shelves which shouldn’t be ignored.

Eighteen months ago, referencing the translator of The Message Bible, I wrote this:

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party.  I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Well, that was then. But more recently I picked up a copy of Tell it Slant. I love the titles he chooses. Others in this series include Practice Resurrection and Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and Eat This Book. The full title — which begins with a borrowing from Emily Dickinson — is Tell it Slant: a Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Eerdman’s, 2008).

Tell It SlantThere are two parts to the book. The longer section deals with what he calls Luke’s travel narrative, the teachings of Jesus ‘on the road again’ that fall between the end of Luke 9 and the end of Luke 19. The prayers are selected from a wider variety of texts.

Why, for example, read another book about the parables? The thing I like about the book is that Peterson doesn’t attempt to teach everything you need to know about the parables and prayers in question. He’s offering his insights, and is, I believe, assuming you’ve heard other teaching on these sections before. He recognizes the multifaceted nature of scripture and is willing to tilt the scripture toward the light and allow us to catch some fresh reflections and refractions.

The beauty of scripture is most evident when someone points out something that was there all along, but you had never considered it before.

Now, having read two of the five books in the Conversations series, I find myself wanting to complete the set. I might even do the uncool thing and review them here.

…In a world where recent Bible translations have involved upwards of 130 people, some will ask where Eugene Peterson gets the authority to write his own Bible.  I think if someone questions The Message, instead of dismissing Peterson, they need to read some of his other writings like this one. To me, it’s clear that his depth of understanding of the text most certainly gives him the clout to complete his own translation.

June 3, 2013

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Jesus

Jesus A TheographyThere are two things that are immediately striking about the book Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012). The first is the sheer scope of the work. While some books clearly are the product of a two week writing break, others earn to be called a “labor of love,” or earn the phrase, “represents the culmination of a lifetime of ministry.” This book fits into the latter camp and is the product of two authors who have spent untold hours in deep study of God’s word.

As a reviewer who prizes “rich text;” this is one of the richest books I have ever read, and any critical remarks I might make should be seen in the light of what is generally my highest recommendation. Truth be told, I have read about two thirds of this book out loud with my oldest son. While it slowed the reading time, it allowed me to process the material more fully, at the rate of half-a-chapter per night.  It also enhanced my appreciation of the final chapters which I read normally.  Jesus is definitely a book that delivers your money’s worth. You can’t read this book and not have a clearer picture of the Bible’s grand narrative.

The second thing that is immediately striking is the word theography in the title. The idea is that in trying to present the over-arching story of the Bible, most things printed are biography moving, as the authors say, “from womb to tomb.” The idea here is to look at Christ before and after the incarnation. This is an ambitious goal, and the two chapters most representative of this ambition were the only ones that disappointed, though I am continually interested in accessing books which deal with Christ before the manger — the pre-incarnate Christ — and deal with what the second person of the Trinity was doing before that Bethlehem morning. Ditto Christ’s present activity seated at the right hand of God.

This is a small matter however in a book where each page is full of illuminations, and in particular comparison passages where one aspect of what the writers call The First Testament is unmistakably linked to another in The Second Testament. Sometimes the insights simply involve a different way of expressing a familiar dichotomy; thus Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial is referenced as “Judas’ kiss and Peter’s kiss-off.”

There is also a trade off between the benefit of having two people craft the book who are already established and respected authors, and the tendency of the book to repeat itself in many places. Perhaps readers like me simply need to have some truths drilled in a little deeper.

The sixteen chapters of Jesus: A Theography break down the Christ story into chronological sections emphasizing the spiritual significance of every aspect of His life and ministry. This is truly a book like no other. I’ve seen some dissent online concerning the use of selective Bible translations to make a certain point fit, but we followed up in various texts from the various footnotes — there are 1,835 of them — and don’t feel that any verses were overly stretched to make a point. The authors have also gone out of their way to make dogmatic statements on any theological point which is contentious, making this a book for all Christian readers.

…To someone who mostly reads Christian fiction, I suspect that all doctrinal books look alike, but Jesus: A Theography is a volume like no other. This definitely fits in my top ten list of books I would want to be stranded on an island with. While not every reader will agree with every point this is definitely a book worth owning, underlining and filling with bookmarks. 

An excerpt from the book appears here at Christianity 201.


Jesus: A Theography is a book I truly wanted to read. When no review copy was forthcoming by the publisher after several requests, I purchased this copy with real money. TNI, you owe me one!

April 5, 2013

Ken Wytsma: Evangelist for Justice

Sometimes books just show up unsolicited. When a copy of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (with D. Jacobsen) arrived, my plan was to read about 50 pages and then thank the publisher (Thomas Nelson) with a passing reference in a “currently reading” blog post.

Pursuing Justice - Ken WytsmaInstead, this was literally a “can’t stop” book until, more than 300 pages later, I ran out of book. First time author Wytsma is president of Kilns College, an innovative school in Bend, Oregon which began with four night classes in 2008 and now offers 36 classes with a focus on missions and social justice. The website defines the purpose, “We didn’t want to simply provide a vocational Christian education. ”   He is also the founder of The Justice Conference, a two day annual event in Los Angeles which began in 2010 and will have its fourth event in Feburary, 2014.  He’s also a pastor at Antioch Church in Bend,  and writes at (K) blog.

Pursuing Justice is on the surface an easy to read primer on all the issues which social justice raises. Wytsma teaches philosophy, and approaches the topic from the vantage point of one wanting to know the heart of God in issues such as slavery, disease,  poverty, inequity, etc., but with a view to the “cluster concept” of the justice God desires that is rooted in the concepts of righteousness, ethics, integrity, truth, love, etc.  On closer examination, this title goes much deeper.

The book is a call to action on the part of the church, but that action has to be rightly considered. Don’t expect him to be a fan of your church’s next one-week mission trip unless the purpose of that trip is to build one-decade relationships. And I would add, don’t expect to grasp social justice through the reading of a book; Wytsma’s personal history in some world hotspots gives him both the credibility and the requisite passion on this subject; he has literally looked social justice in the eye.

And don’t think what happens a world away doesn’t matter, or that what we do in North America or Western Europe doesn’t impact the uttermost parts of the earth. In a visit to his daughter’s school — literally taking a friend from the Democratic Republic of The Congo for show-and-tell — a student asks if the visitor’s community has PlayStations. The African doesn’t get the question, and Wytsma actually tells the man to say no, but it’s really a lie of sorts because they do have the raw materials that make the PlayStations possible. It’s an awkward moment all round that underscores the complexity of life in a shrinking world.

As one who grew up at a time when Evangelicals neglected their social responsibilities, both locally and globally, Pursuing Justice is one of those books which, having read it, I need to start back at page one to fully absorb its  implicatons.  Each chapter is followed by an “interlude” and while the reason for that may have been artistic, it allowed some of us to catch our breath between topics in what is an incredibly complex topic.

Finally, while the book is certainly appropriate for a mass audience, its exhaustive examination of justice gives it a textbook quality. If you haven’t delved into this subject, or your reading is limited to one or two popular speakers, Pursuing Justice belongs on your bookshelf.

…Thanks to Wordle (and blogger Nicole) here’s another look at what the book is all about:

Pursuing Justice  - Top 25 Words

Watch a one-minute book trailer and read another excellent review at this blog.

March 28, 2013

Rob Bell Talks About God

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 am

Once you get past an extended section dealing with various disciplines of science, there are a couple of chapters in the middle of Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where he seems to be making a strong case for the centrality of God in every conversation, and when he says God, he’s clearly talking about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About GodBut if you’re expecting the evangelism to reach a crescendo in the final ten to twenty pages, Bell doesn’t exactly deliver. The ending is disappointingly soft. There’s certainly no organist playing “Just as I Am” behind the final paragraphs. So what are we left with?

We’re left with a book that I would be more than happy to have at least one atheist I know read. Yes, there are better books of Christian apologetics, but I don’t know if they would connect with those outside the inner circle as well as What We Talk About…  This book and all Bell’s book are now published under the HarperOne imprint, and  seem tailor-made for browsers in the religion section at Barnes and Noble in the US or Chapters in Canada. I have to say, he gets his audience.

We’re left with a book that — at least in the middle — contains sufficient allusions and direct quotes from scripture to place it safely within the Christian book genre. There were several pages I thought would fit in well at my devotional blog, were it not for the expected backlash.

We’re left with a book that generously acknowledges the range of religious belief in the marketplace, but chooses to deliberately focus on a faith rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Having said all that, this is not the book for the average Christian book reader. But if you want to think about faith from a different perspective, or you want to hone your own apologetics, I would suggest it’s far better to own a copy than to rely on those who criticize the book from the safe distance of never having skimmed a chapter.

If there’s someone in your household, your workplace, your neighborhood, your school or your extended family with whom you want to engage a deeper faith conversation, you should read this, and then pass on the copy to them to read. I guarantee it will get you both talking about what it is to talk about God.

January 8, 2013

Protect the Brand at all Costs

Some of my best friends are from the Reformed tradition. Well, maybe not best friends, but you get the idea. Heck, I’ve even preached the Sunday morning sermon in a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and I wasn’t reading it off a website transcript as some of their own people are required.

While I don’t agree with five-point Calvinism per se, I am really into total depravity. (Maybe I should re-phrase that?) I regularly include links here to some bloggers who I know represent the various aspects of the Reformed tradition. And I can disagree violently with someone on Tuesday and included a link to one of their stories on Wednesday. I think that’s what attracts people here. I am committed to the idea of the “holy catholic church” even though I wish the framers of the apostles creed had used a different word than “catholic,” which in this context means worldwide or universal.

What I have issues with is Calvinist bloggers who only read their own authors, only quote their own leaders, only attend their own conventions, basically now only use their own (ESV) Bible translation, and — this is actually happening — only sing their own songs.  I have written before how a previous generation longed to see a coming together of The Body of Christ in unity and now we are seeing increased fragmentation. And this fragmentation even extends to exclusivity, which is a mark of cult faith. And the printed and online output by Calvinists is so out of proportion to their actual numbers that they tend to dominate everyone’s lists of best books and best blogs.  Basically, a doctrinal preference has become a fortress wall.

Kevin deYoung's BlogrollNearly five years ago on this blog, I observed that perhaps the issue is that while this brand of Christ-follower prefers to make a massive, prolific literary output, other brands of Christ-followers are out living their faith. (I should add that the Reformed bloggers are one of a number of groups disproportionately represented online.)

Enough lead-in. What sparked this today? Actually it was a post on The Wartburg Watch about Tim Challies’ glowing — dare we say sparklingreview of a new book by Mark Driscoll.  I’ll leave you to click through to see that TWW writers have identified the over-the-top superlatives used in this puff piece. Defend the brand at all costs! Power to the mutual admiration society! For the writers at TWW, something doesn’t ring true.

One of Tim‘s readers writes:

If anything Tim, you definitely know how to kick the hornets nest.. A fair review, but it builds up a man that has done much to divide the brethren.You’re blog traffic should explode now. The Driscolites are loving you.

and

No. A good review to a good book is acceptable. But there are plenty of good books on this subject, and it is a disservice to the church to fail to point out along with the good review that this man is unqualified for the ministry by his lack of dignity, poor character, weak doctrine, obsession with sex, misuse of Scripture and abusive leadership style.

and

I’m not sure how I feel about people continuing to speak of Driscoll and review his books favorably. It seems to me that he’s ventured into dangerous territory, both sexually and spiritually, and that other pastors would be wise to take a step back from endorsing him as a consequence.

and whatever comments Tim Challies chose not to share on the blog.

So what would I like to see? Let’s give Challies the benefit of the doubt and assume he enjoyed the book in question. But let’s also suggest that someone in the movement take a deep, deep breath, and take a big, big step back and look at where their movement is heading and say, “Do we really want to cut ourselves off from everyone else?”

‘Cause honestly guys, I think you’re better served with some of us than you are without us. And someday you may need us to defend you.

Use the TWW link to locate Tim’s review of the Driscoll book.

November 13, 2012

The Shack’s Paul Young Returns with Cross Roads

The original distribution target for The Shack was about 15 copies. So it’s not surprising that million-copy-selling author Paul Young refers to Cross Roads as the first novel he intentionally wrote.

While The Shack took Paul Young into some places that other Christian novels would never reach and started all manner of conversations, the fact remains that the response from some Evangelicals and the Reformed community in particular was less than enthusiastic. I would like to say that Cross Roads clears up all the misconceptions and establishes that Young is definitely not a heretic in their eyes, but much of the doctrinal language of The Shack continues in Cross Roads, though I phrase it that way because this is often a war of words, not theology.

The critics are waiting in the wings for enough information about the book to leak out so they might launch their attack without actually buying a copy, particulars I’m not going to oblige them with here. Frankly, I’m drawn to Young’s picture of a loving God — regardless of the size, shape, age or gender in which he prefers to clothe any member of The Trinity — and would have no problem approving him to teach Sunday School at my church, a proposition that no doubt causes his detractors to shudder.

At the end of the day Cross Roads is a work of fiction, with a very contrived premise or two, but no more extreme than James Rubart’s Soul’s Gate which we reviewed here a few days back. It is well-written, technically accurate, and resolves plot loose ends.  It’s a book about life, and how some people live it, and what is left when life suddenly ends. It contains various aspects of the gospel, and isn’t afraid to wade into doctrinal issues that concern us as ‘church people.’

Nonetheless, I would say about this book what I said about Shack, and that is its greatest value is in giving the book to spiritual outsiders for the purpose of starting conversations; it’s not the last word on systematic theology.

The medical element of the book does not weigh it down; in fact the book is very lighthearted in a couple of places, including one scene that can only be described as comedic. The lead character is delineated vividly in the opening chapters; you cannot help but have opinions about Anthony Spencer. The author isn’t afraid to introduce new subplots or complications in the last quarter. Some Biblical passages are alluded to, at other points you get chapter and verse. The work validates that Young is a good writer and certainly deserving of the success which changed his life so dramatically a few years ago.

If you’re one of the eighteen million people who purchased The Shack you don’t need to think twice about also getting a copy of Cross Roads.

Cross Roads is in release worldwide in hardcover ($24.99 US) on the FaithWords imprint of Hachette Book Group. A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud through Speakeasy, an awesome social media book promotion agency. The term “Sunday School” used above isn’t literal — we don’t have one — I’m referring to leading a Children’s ministry small group.

Learn more: The author discusses the book in this YouTube video.

October 31, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to another Wednesday Link List. We have no plans to mention the October 31st thing here.

  • The blog Sue’s Considered Trifles is a fun place for people who love words and love language. Most posts contain related phrases and sayings, usually ending with a short scriptural or faith-based thought. You can refer friends to individual posts, or copy and paste and send as emails.
  • “Because it’s only once in awhile that we get to hear Jesus talk about brutal self-mutilation as a sign of discipleship.” So begins a sermon on Mark 9: 42-48 by Nadia Bolz-Weber you can listen to or read at her blog.
  • A consultant for the U.S. State Department brings a rather sobering article on the long term prospects for Christians in the middle east.
  • Our Creative Writing Award for October — if we had one — would surely go to Hannah Anderson, for this piece about being a mother of three at church offering time.
  • Does liturgy work with the poor and uneducated. Consider: “The liturgy has been, at least initially, a barrier to our illiterate population. After one or two months, however, they have it memorized.” Learn more at this interview.
  • Pete Wilson cites Adam Stadtmiller who suggests that our present model of what we call “singles ministry” is quite unsustainable.
  • We frequently hear stories of the desires of the people who hold the movie rights to the Left Behind books to re-make the existing films. This version gives the starring role to Nicholas Cage.
  • For my Canadian readers: If you remember the story from a few years back about the Ponzi scheme that impacted people at 100 Huntley Street and Crossroads Christian Communications, here is an update.
  • If you don’t feel there are enough Bible translations currently available, then you’ll be happy to know the International Standard Version is getting closer to being available in print.
  • And speaking of Bible versions, if your 66-book collection of choice is the King James, and the King James Bible only, then you probably want to date court someone who feels the same. For that you need to put your profile on King James Bible Singles. (You don’t need to join to read all the profiles — in great detail — already posted.)
  • Rachel Held Evans answers all your questions about the book that is causing so much controversy.
  • On a similar theme, Bruxy Cavey equates the Old Testament’s Levitical purity laws as akin to Spiritual Cooties. This 2-minute clip may not be safe for work, or any other environment.
  • Meanwhile, Kathy Keller, wife of author and pastor Timothy Keller offers some criticisms of Rachel’s book in the form of an open letter. If you click, don’t miss the comments.
  • But then you wouldn’t want to miss this review, which suggests there are Rachel Held Evanses in every church.
  • In other book news, Kyle Idleman, author of the chart-topping Not a Fan is releasing a new book, Gods at War in January.

October 29, 2012

A Snapshot of Monastic Living 2012 Style

While we connected at concerts and music festivals, I never did get around to seeing Jesus People USA‘s operation in inner city Chicago. Long after Cornerstone — both the festival and the magazine — had faded from memory, my interest was piqued again listening to Shane Claiborne talk about The Simple Way in Philadelphia.

But nothing demonstrates the essence of living in Christian community like a read through Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s latest book, The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith (Zondervan, paperback).  Wilson-Hartgrove’s name be familiar to those of you who invested in Common Prayer, a sort of devotional on steroids which offers a complete liturgy for each day of the year.  He’s an associate minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, NC, but is probably best known as a leading spokesperson for a movement usually referred to as The New Monasticism, and his blog The Everyday Awakening.

The Awakening of Hope should not surprise anyone by being a type of apologetic for Christian community. Chapter subjects include:

1. Why We Eat Together
2. Why We Make Promises
3. Why It Matters Where We Live
4. Why We Live Together
5. Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
6. Why We Share Good News

which are also covered in a 6-part DVD. (The print version also includes a chapter on fasting.)

But there’s something here that has a much, much broader application to all of us. You don’t need to have lived in community, toured one, or even known anyone who chose to spend any amount of time in one in order to appreciate the implications of what he writes on those of us who call the suburbs (with 2.4 children and 2.0 vehicles) home.

This book will make you rethink your current expression of faith.

But as I read this book, I could not help notice an uncanny similarity to another Zondervan writer, Philip Yancey. As I wrote for a book trade review these similarities include:

  • written from experiences made possible by extensive world travel in that present-tense voice used by travel writers
  • honest and personal and engaging
  • rich text — any one paragraph could stand on its own for study and further consideration
  • relevant to the situation we find ourselves in, which probably isn’t a monastic community
  • healthy doses of scripture verses that are somewhat cross-indexed or juxtaposed

So we have (a) challenging subject matter that is foreign to the Christian experience of many of us, (b) a writer who knows this subject with great intimacy, (c) a writer who delivers a quality product.

In other words, this is a powerful book.

I’d especially recommend Awakening to anyone who read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, the aging rockers who well remember Chicago’s JPUSA, anyone who lived in community at YWAM or some similar training mission, anyone who spent the summer on staff at a Christian camp, anyone who spent time in a mission station overseas, and anyone who has ever wondered what it might mean to sell the house and the SUV and live out their Christian life in a new way.

For a very brief excerpt from the book, click here.

 

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