Thinking Out Loud

April 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pet Blessing Service

I’m writing this assuming everyone survived the prophetic implications of the blood moon, but maybe the April 15 income tax deadline is a form of judgment. 

As we do each Wednesday, clicking anything below will take you to PARSE where the links are live.

Paul Wilkinson writes the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, and edits the daily devotional Christianity 201 page.

Lettuce Pray from _ChristianHumor Twitter

March 25, 2014

Be Wary of Surveys, Studies, Statistics

cartoonkjv

Last week a number of Christian websites, blogs and media outlets ran with a story about a research study at the — deep breath — the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; with the primary takeaway that the King James Version of the Bible is the most-read in the United States and therefore most-popular English Bible translation.

My reaction when I read this, summarized at Christianity Today, was “What have these people been smoking?” Alas, the study was based in Indianapolis, not Colorado or Washington.

As someone who has devoted a lifetime to various aspects of Christian publishing, these results are so completely counter-intuitive. I guess all those Gideon Bibles in the drawer underneath the motel telephone are getting used after all. Maybe now the King James Only movement can stop campaigning and say, “We rest our case.”

But the study has to do with what version the survey group claimed to be reading. In a library, the book most-read might be the dictionary. Among our aforementioned motel guests, it might be a telephone directory. If they survey dentists’ offices, it might be nondescript magazines from 2007. None of these things turn up on the bestseller lists because nobody is interested in what people use for reference, people want to know what items in print are of significant interest that they cause people to part with their money to obtain them.

Personally, I think time spent follows money spent. I think the sales data, which in most parts of the English-speaking world still supports the New International Version as the top English translation, is of greater interest. I also have a hard time believing that the majority of searches at BibleGateway.com have KJV set as their default.

Has the KJV greatly influenced English and North American culture? Absolutely. We celebrated that in 2011, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the translation that has outlasted most others in the past two millennia. It’s often quoted and my own online searches often revert to KJV because that’s how I memorized the verses as a child.

But it’s time to move on. Studies like this one — all 44 pages of it — only confuse the central issues.

Furthermore, the study is biased in several places. On the topic of where respondents find help and clarification in their Bible understanding, choices are clergy, commentaries, study groups, electronic media and the internet. I’m sorry, but my go-to resource if a passage is muddy is to use other translations. As one person taught me a long time ago, “Let the translators do the work for you.” That’s also the point behind parallel Bible editions and sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub, Biblios, etc.

I also know from decades of anecdotal experiences with teaching people about Bible translations that many people simply don’t know the names of any of them, and if asked, will answer “King James” or worse, “Saint James” because that’s the only answer they can give. Furthermore, the study has been widely criticized for not allowing the New King James Version (NKJV) as an option. The surveyors also showed a rather glaring ignorance for their subject matter by referring to The Living Bible (sic) instead of the New Living Translation (NLT), the version that is currently number one in the bookstore market where I reside.

…But then, here’s the thing. Just days after publishing a news story on the study, the same website, Christianity Today, released Three Ways to Recognize Bad Stats. Ed Stetzer suggested:

1. Be Wary of Statistics in Promotions
2. Be Wary of Stats that Cannot be Verified
3. Be Wary of Stats that do not Line up with Reality

It is the third category in which I place the Bible reading study. I would also like to propose a couple of friendly amendments to Stetzer’s article:

4. Be Wary of Stats Backed by an Agenda

Too many studies, surveys and statistical compilations are presented by people or groups who have predetermined the outcome they wish to see.

5. Be Wary of Stats Designed to Invoke Fear

There are two reasons why people do this. Some rally the troops by suggesting there is a common enemy we face in order to galvanize support for a particular ministry that can stem the tide and reverse the situation. Sadly, some Christian research firms do this in order to sell survey data. If it bleeds it leads. This is best seen in the tension between Barna Research’s David Kinnaman and sociologist Bradley Wright, the latter titling one of his books, The Sky is Not Falling.

I should also say that I don’t fault Christianity Today for the confusion, especially since they write me a weekly paycheck for the Wednesday Link Lists. In the former case, they are simply reporting the study, and writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra possibly plays her hand by saying, in the 4th paragraph, “The numbers are surprising;” and then links to a 2011 CT story by — wait for it — Ed Stetzer reporting on the NIV’s dominance. In the latter case, Stetzer is simply being pastoral, warning the CT-readership flock that they can’t believe everything they read.

 

Note to KJV-Only trolls: This is not the blog you’re looking for. Comments will be deleted.

 

March 18, 2014

Your Critics are Your Friends

celebrity-jeopardy Driscoll Noble Furtick

The above picture is taken from an article by Matthew Marino at the blog, The Gospel Side, titled Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastors Edition. In it he said one thing that for me really nailed it:

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

I encourage you to read all of it.

Like Matthew, I got comments — by email, Twitter and on the blog — that my emphasis on this topic and of Driscoll in particular was skewing too negative. But I think that there’s a time and a place to raise awareness of issues and thereby hold leaders accountable.

And if Warren Throckmorton’s blog post yesterday is accurate, maybe now is the time to back off:

…As it turns out, the publisher, Harper Collins Christian, has now corrected the section in question by quoting and footnoting the section of Ryken’s book I identified. Nearly all of the problems I identified have been addressed…

More to the point, there’s been an indication of true repentance as posted at Christianity Today yesterday in an article titled Mark Driscoll Retracts Bestseller Status, Resets Life.

…In the lengthy letter via Mars Hill’s online network, The City, Driscoll reflects on what he has gotten right and wrong over the past 17 years, which have seen the church he founded grow beyond his expectations to an estimated 13,000 people worshiping weekly in 15 locations in five states. Many praised the statement on Twitter for its humility, while many others said it still left their concerns unresolved…

[The full letter was leaked on Reddit.]

In Proverbs 27 we read,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.  (ESV)

If I am critical of the prominent writers and pastors who have been the subject of recent brought-on-by-themselves controversies, I am doing so as an insider, as someone who wants to see the scandals off the front page of the Christian websites and blogs. So we bring things into the open hopefully for a short season in order to see a turnaround and as a preventative that things don’t get worse.

Several years ago I wrote a paraphrase of II Tim 3:16, the verse that talks about scripture being useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. While I am NOT drawing a parallel between a blog and God’s holy word, in the paraphrase I noted that scripture:

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Now mapping that back to the verse in Proverbs; this is the kind of thing I hope that we would do for and with one another. “As iron sharpens iron…”  The goal should be that we would raise the standard of integrity, point out when and where we leave that path, find the way to get back on track, and put safeguards in to place that stop us from wandering.

Furthermore, I would want someone to do that for me.

March 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Prophecy Class

Yes, it’s true; Target does have people who visit Wal-Mart and link list creators do drop in on other link lists to see what’s making the rounds. If you find yourself craving more of this sort of thing by Saturday, two of my weekend favorites are the Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk and the Saturday Links at DashHouse. I only borrowed one from iMonk, but linked three stories from church planter Darryl Dash, so this week’s lengthy intro was mostly guilt-induced. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the Link List Overlords; then click the stories you want to read there.

The Wednesday Link List is a production of Paul Wilkinson with proofreading assistance from Mrs. W. who is actually the better writer in the family.

T on the Wall

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

January 31, 2014

Thomas Nelson Accused of Spiritual Deception

WND Faith

A conservative writer at WND (World Net Daily) held nothing back yesterday in an full-blown attack levied at Thomas Nelson, an imprint now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. In an article titled Beware the Bookseller Pretending To Be Christian — more about that headline later — Jim Fletcher writes:

Back in the day, with its marketing angle that touted the company’s roots (the company began in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1798), one got the feeling that its books were trustworthy.

Guess not.

He continues,

Thomas Nelson has seemingly not cared about being too rigidly biblical in its offerings for some time, and the current list of authors/books is disturbing to anyone who would identify as a conservative Christian…

He then systematically works his way through attacks — some detailed and others off-the-cuff — at Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, Brad Lomenick, Richard Stearns, Ron Sider, Donald Miller, Judah Smith, Leonard Sweet, and Bob Roberts, Jr. It’s hard to imagine that there was anyone left on the author roster that Fletcher hadn’t lined up in his sights.

As the article builds to a crescendo he concludes:

…They remind me of those thoroughbred running backs in college and the NFL, the ones who feint this way and that, stopping defensive backs in their tracks.

But feinting can also mean one who intentionally deceives.

Deception.

Read the full article here.

It should be noted that whether you agree or disagree with the doctrinal state of Christian publishers in general, or Thomas Nelson in particular, WND editors committed a major blunder in creating the article’s headline. (Generally, writers do not choose their header.) The article is about the actions of a publisher, but the headline implies that booksellers — brick and mortar, or online — are complicit in spiritual deception, when perhaps they have simply trusted the Nelson brand over the years. Yes, local retailers try to practice discernment, but even in these scaled-back publishing times, they can’t be expected to read every book by every author.  

So what does an article like this accomplish, exactly? It’s certainly meant to be insightful and helpful, but it comes off like a rant. I don’t agree with every word that Rachel Held Evans or Donald Miller writes, but I do find sections of their books redemptive. To a younger generation, they represent a trend where key voices in the Christian blogosphere have graduated to print. And just as there are at least three major streams in the creation/origins debate, the fact remains that Christians hold different views on Israel/Palestine.

Instead, the rant reminds me so much of, “We’ll get Mikey to try it, he hates everything.” 

Or in this case, Jim.

The article’s tag line describes Fletcher as a book industry insider. With more than thirty years in the same business, I’d like to suggest that booksellers do indeed practice discernment. If you don’t like Thomas Nelson’s offerings, shop elsewhere, perhaps focusing on classic authors from past centuries. But I’ll bet the rent that there were books back then that were considered sketchy, a few of which are still around, but also bet that there are books today that just possibly could endure as long, and I think we’d all be surprised to see what’s still being read 50 or 100 years from now.

January 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Bible is like a software license
A lot of people are critical of short-term missions, but right now, a plane ticket to somewhere warm would look really appealing. In the meantime, here are some links to keep you warm, clicking anything that follows will take you to PARSE at Christianity Today and then you can click through from there.

We leave you today with “the thrill that’ll gitcha when ya get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.”  In this case, Pope Francis in the current issue; click the image to read the story.

Pope Francis Rolling Stone Cover

Paul Wilkinson is based in Canada — “You liked the first Polar Vortex so much we’re sending you another one” — and blogs at Thinking Out Loud and Christian Book Shop Talk

December 30, 2013

Latest from the Church Curmudgeon

On the one hand, he has 63,300 followers on Twitter. On the other hand, not everybody is on Twitter and this deserves a wider readership, not to mention preservation since Twitter offers little in terms of accessible archives.  Welcome back to more from my favorite presence in the Twitterverse,  Church Curmudgeon:

Church Curmudgeon

  • Our drummer hasn’t seen many dangers or toils, but he’s sure gone through a lot of snares.
  • Who among you, if his son asked for a donut, would give him a scone?
  • Worship leader found the old choir music closet. I told him they’re Greek manuscripts. Doesn’t know the difference.
  • When Noah realized how long he was going to be on the ark with those animals, he felt like he’d been hit with a 2 by 2.
  • A guy got caught stealing an idol from our local museum in hopes of auctioning it off. Baal has been set at $50,000.
  • The church cut the Senior’s group budget to 20 bucks per event. So tonight we’re going to party like it’s $19.99.
  • Please pray for the children’s director, who fell off a ladder and suffered injuries to her head and shoulders, knees & toes, knees & toes.
  • I tried to cancel my meeting with Hank from the King-James-Only church, but he didn’t receptus my textus.
  • Headed over to the seminary barbecue this afternoon. Otherwise known as casting a pig into a herd of D. Mins
  • They kicked the guitarist off the worship team, and won’t let him come back until he finds Gsus.
  • It would be easier for the congregation to lip-sync if they’d put the right words up.
  • It’s one thing to be at a loss for words in worship. It’s another to write a song called “Jesus, I’m All, Like, Dude”.
  • When my pastor’s discouraged, I’ve always found that a note reminding him how to do his job helps me feel better.
  • If you leave your Bible at church, we highlight all the really weird passages to make your children wonder about you when you die.
  • Blowout deals on hymns at How Great Thou Mart.
  • You can’t debunk someone who had nowhere to bunk in the first place.
  • Today, in an effort to be more accurate, the tech team is just going to type in what they think we’re singing as we go.
  • Changing our vision statement from “Excellence in All Things” to “Somebody Has to Be Below Average”.
  • Joel Holstein – Your Best Life Cow
  • People don’t care about how much you grumble unless you grumble about how much they care.
  • I love how people who mock the Bible for having food laws change their whole diet on the basis of a Facebook link.
  • Pastor’s “attending” a webinar today. I’m assuming this will lead to a degree from a webinary.
  • If our creepy puppet ministry saves one creepy kid, it will be worth it all.
  • What’s the SleepNumber® on your pew?
  • In a better world, there would also be a theologian named OT Wong.
  • If you don’t think God is patient, forgiving, and long-suffering, consider that He has read ALL of Twitter.

Well that covers about a 90-day window, but is just a small part of the 4,600+ Tweets on the curmudgeon’s feed.

So is it just me, or is Church Curmudgeon a Christian publishing deal waiting to happen?

Church Curmudgeon eschatology

December 18, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Church Stage Design Ideas - Harvest Chapel Christian Fellowship

One week to the big day, here is a mix of both seasonal and regular links. It’s exciting to think how many people get saved each week just reading these story teasers.Click anything below to read the list at Out of Ur, a blog of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal

Upper Photo: From the blog Church Stage Design Ideas, a picture of Harvest Chapel Christian Fellowship in Bradenton, Florida. Click here for more.

Lower Photo: Unnamed church at a related website, VisualWorshiper.com uses a technique called Environmental Projection. Click here for more.

Environmental Projection from VisualWorshiper dot com

December 11, 2013

Wednesday Link List

antisocial

Once again, it’s time to hit the links: You can catch this week’s list at its home at Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Today magazine.  Click anything below:

 Story of Jesus SUV

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