Thinking Out Loud

February 28, 2014

Kyle Idleman Returns with AHA

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

AHA Kyle IdlemanAs I’ve confessed elsewhere on this blog, since the inception of the H20 video discipleship course, I’ve been a huge fan of the preacher from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kyle Idleman. The book Not a Fan stayed on bestseller lists over much of both 2012 and 2013, but then the sophomore book project, Gods at War didn’t seem to resonate with audiences as much.

So I’m happy to say that Kyle Idleman is back on top with AHA: Awakening Honesty Action, with a new publisher, David C. Cook. AHA covers a wide swath of Bible narrative, but at its core, it’s about the young man we know as The Prodigal Son. This in itself raises the question, is Kyle tracking Timothy Keller’s book subjects — AHA vs. The Prodigal God and Gods at War vs. Counterfeit Gods — or is this just a coincidence?

Either way, AHA firmly establishes Kyle’s firm-but-gentle style of Bible exposition that includes humorous and intimate moments.

As I’ve already blogged about the book a few weeks ago, I simply wanted to post something as the book’s official release approaches, as I think this is going to be one of the major releases of the first half of 2014. To me, AHA epitomizes what a Christian living title is all about, and whether you read it devotionally over the course of two weeks (as I did) or read it in one day, you will certainly benefit from its insights and will be aware of our common need to move from spiritual self-discovery to taking action steps.

April 23, 2012

Here’s Your Problem: You’re Not Devious Enough

Among other reading, over the weekend I read the rather lengthy — 25 pages — introduction to a forthcoming title by author and Group Magazine editor Rick Lawrence.  Because the book, Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus isn’t releasing until August, I’ll return to it closer to the publication date, partly in deference to my brothers and sisters who have brick and mortar bookstores and therefore lack the luxury of locking customers in ahead of time. (Rather shrewd of me, don’t ya think?)

Shrewd is all about the Parable of the Shrewd Manager recorded in Luke 16: 1-9 — a parable not commonly taught in many churches — and about living in the tension between being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove, a reference to Matthew 10:16.

I know of a few Evangelical fundraisers who don’t particularly need to hear this message — we’ve proved that Evangelicalism can be a prime breeding and hatching ground for all manner of financial schemes and ripoffs — but I’ll give author Rick Lawrence the benefit of the doubt on this one.  In general, sometimes Christian people can be very naive and very gullible and very trusting.

If you don’t believe me, look at the email forwards you’ve received from Christian friends. We are very quick to swallow just about any story that is on the circuit. Did you know Rick Warren is a Muslim? (He’s not, but now I can’t wait to see all the search engine hits I get for having that phrase here.) We don’t do due diligence.

But we also easily lapse into Christianese to explain away our lack of ingenuity. I’ve already written about how I fell into the trap of waiting for God’s leading in a particular season of life, instead of being proactive and making things happen. In the name of not striving, that’s a particular weakness I still wrestle with; and not having read past the intro, I suspect many of Lawrence’s examples will concern career and business decisions.

His definition centers on applying the right force, at the right time, in the right place.  Though the book is scheduled to be tagged: “religion, Christian life;” I think it’s also a definite book for political and business leaders, not to mention church leadership.

So what do you think? Are Christians too laid back or laissez faire when it comes to the things of this world? Do we need some lessons in shrewdness?

Or maybe it’s just that not enough of us play chess.

March 19, 2012

Campus Alpha Now in 7-Week Format

Two weeks ago I was given a copy of an updated edition of the campus version of the Alpha Course, the popular evangelism and discipleship course which originated with Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, a district west of the London city centre.

Most people associate the course with Nicky Gumbel, although he didn’t start the course, but greatly popularized it after arriving on staff at the church in 1990. Since then, Alpha has been spun off in a variety of revisions, translated into a variety of languages, and customized to suit a variety of denominations. There is a prison version of Alpha, and it’s one of the few Christian resources for which study guides are available in Braille.

In the youth edition of Alpha, talks are always given live, no DVDs are used. But in the student/young adult/campus version the talks I saw feature a younger presenter, Jamie Haith.

Haith presents the course standing next to a video monitor in a manner not unfamiliar to fans of Andy Stanley. There are also some animated sections which are rather brilliantly synced with the live commentary.

But like its parent curriculum, Campus Alpha is again a lecture format. A university or college student who is open to investigating the Christian faith — the stated purpose of Alpha after all — is going to listen attentively to these lectures as do the students in the live audience.

Is that the best way to communicate with postmoderns? I’ve already expressed in this blog a bias toward an alternative, the mini-movie format H20 course, referring to it as “Alpha meets NOOMA.” While that course’s distribution has been passed like a hot potato from Standard Publishing to Thomas Nelson, it’s best days may be yet ahead, as the new Not a Fan DVD curriculum has greatly enhanced the profile of host Kyle Idleman. It’s so hard for so many of us to break away from the sermon paradigm; to move beyond propositional preaching.

But with Alpha, many times it’s the already-converted who take the course — sometimes several times — to deepen their understanding of basic core doctrines. So many times Campus Alpha is delivering to an audience already on side.

While some will argue that college and career ministry is neither middle school nor high school ministry, I keep thinking that in dealing with the broader spectrum of “youth,” some of the references (i.e.:to owning, or wanting to own a wristwatch), or quoting classical theologians maxims in Latin are just not the best strategies in connecting; again, especially with a postmodern environment. The audience listens politely, but doesn’t necessarily react to the attempts at humor.

Still, if Haith is simply following Nicky Gumbel’s script, he does it perfectly. His apparent passion for the subject matter makes him more than just what the Brits would call a ‘presenter.’

This is material that we all need to review from time to time. In the U.S., acceptance of the Alpha Course has been geographically spotty. If you haven’t heard of it, suggest to your church leadership they consider hosting either an adult version of Alpha or, if you live in a ‘college town,’ the revised 7-week Campus Alpha.

This is absolutely solid material, but don’t expect a lecture format to connect with every university or college student.


NOTE:  The 7-week course is in fact now being used in non-campus settings because of its length being shorter than the 10-week version hosted by Nicky Gumbel; however when referring to the length of both, it’s important to mention the retreat weekend courses comprise additional lectures, in this case three more, bringing the total to ten.

Also, in the revised format I was given to review, I’m told that more revisions took place with the support materials than in what is seen on-screen.

Finally, the entire package is being distributed pre-loaded on a flash drive, not with physical DVD discs.

July 7, 2011

Matt Redman’s Mirror Ball

On Tuesday I actually read two books in one day.  Both were from David C. Cook Publishing, both contained appendices or study sections, and in both cases I wished the books were much longer. (The other one was Erasing Hell by Francis Chan.)

Matt Redman is the composer of over 200 worship songs.  If you went to church on Sunday and your worship set began with the song that goes, “Water You turned into wine / Opened the eyes of the blind / There’s no one like you…”  you know what it is to sing pieces written or co-written by Matt.  Or “Once again I look upon the cross where You died / I’m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside.”  Or “Blessed be your name / in the land that is plentiful / where the streams of abundance flow…”  Or “I will offer up my life in spirit and truth / pouring out the oil of love as my worship to You.” 

Books by worship leaders and worship composers don’t necessary sell well.  Matt has a couple of previous titles that are done up in a hardcover gift book format that publishers  seem to like to use every time Michael W. Smith or Don Moen has something to say.  But this title, Mirror Ball: Living Boldly and Shining Brightly For the Glory of God is much more accessible in paperback.  Since the younger generation has gravitated to modern worship, I want to suggest that this is an excellent book to give to that aspiring musician in your family, or that younger member of your church worship team.

What they will find, and what I found, was the tremendous theological depth of Redman and his understanding as to where today’s modern worship fits into the bigger picture of church history.  Okay, he doesn’t actually say that last bit, but I guess what I found in his writing was what I wish to term spiritual confidence.  Or just confidence in God. 

My only regret is that the book is so short.  Chapter one begins on page 21 and the last chapter ends on page 105.  (I guess it was writing all those little hardcover gift books!)  The balance is a discussion guide which also contains sample lyrics from Redman songs.  The title is an allusion to a story about Louis Giglio, but it was the story about a snowfall that I chose to use as a book excerpt yesterday over at Christianity 201.

Again, some people think that Christian songwriters are theological lightweights, but I have found over and over again that this is not the case with Christian writers and musicians from the UK.  Pick up a copy of Mirror Ball  and find out for yourself.

If we live our lives with low expectations in God, we will rob ourselves of a fulfilled life and massively dilute the honor that is due to Him…

It’s never too late to live a big life.  If you have ruled yourself out, then rule yourself back in.

~Matt Redman, Mirror Ball p. 55

Thanks to David C. Cook Canada for a copy of the book.

Here’s Our God, the song that is extremely popular right now.

Here’s the original of Once Again

May 24, 2011

Francis Chan on Erasing Hell

The hot topic of the spring of 2011 will forever be recorded as “Heaven, Hell and the Hereafter,” but probably the response of Francis Chan will be noted as one of the more heavyweight contributions, given the huge ongoing popularity of his first book Crazy Love.   The ten minute video clip below initiates that response and also serves to promote the July 5 release of Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David C. Cook.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let me pause and point out a serious liability of the whole video upload thing.  Unlike a blog, where I have control of whose comments are posted, it would appear that YouTube selects “featured comments,” in this case choosing one for which I’m sure the uploader would not approve.  So let me encourage you to watch the video here, and to link your friends back here, not because I need the stats, but just to avoid a lot of nonsense.

I think what’s going to happen with this book is that a lot of people who are down on Rob Bell are going to say, “Finally, here’s a book to stop Love Wins in its tracks.”

And in case you miss it, I think what Francis Chan is saying is that we’re fighting over doctrine and missing the point that this is about the souls of real people some of whom we interact with on a daily basis; and saying basically, how dare you trivialize this or reduce this to a doctrinal debate.

March 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

  • We begin this week with a Sherman’s Lagoon panel from the weekend, and dedicate it to Pete Wilson and the spate of other Christian authors who released a book in 2010 with Plan A or Plan B in the title.
  • And now the link list. But links to what? Was there anything else in the Christian blogosphere this week besides Rob Bell? And to think, most of these were from people who haven’t seen the book. The number keeps growing. Just go to Google Blog Search. Type “Rob Bell” in quotation marks. From the margin on the left side, select the tab that says “past week.”  I’m guessing by the time you read this you’re looking at over 6,000 choices, right?  If you missed this blog yesterday, it’s got quotations from the actual book.
  • And speaking of hell, I had this link as a footnote to yesterday’s post here, but don’t miss John Shore’s video which — posted just a few days before all hell broke loose (couldn’t resist) in the Christian blogosphere — really defines the present controversy.
  • And speaking of books guaranteed to shake things up: Canadian Evangelicals have long embraced radio and television broadcaster Michael Coren as one of their own, though closer observation reveals he has been, for the past few years, a practicisng Roman Catholic. That all goes much more public on April 12 with the release of Why Catholics Are Right.
  • Andrew Jones is on location in Christchurch, New Zealand and gives us the skinny (couldn’t resist) on conditions following the earthquake.  Sample: “Thousands of people went to church on Sunday, many of them gathering at outdoor locations because their own buildings were either down, condemned, unsafe, or just because people felt safe meeting outdoors.”
  • The third short film in the video series BASICS with Francis Chan is releasing this month; the publisher, David C. Cook has posted a 90-second preview at GodTube.
  • Recognize this acronym: OSAS? Maybe you know it better as Once Saved Always Saved. Here’s an Arminian who suggests that the doctrine of eternal security isn’t helpful if it causes people to “abide in sin.”
  • Forget the Boomers. Numerically speaking, the Millennials now rule. Father and son team Thom and Jess Rainer deal with the impact of this on a larger society in a new book from Broadman & Holman. Here’s the book trailer.
  • Are you an aspiring writer? Frank Viola pours out his heart to unpublished authors in a lengthy piece giving 25 specific areas of advice.
  • It’s really not a new story. Another group of worshipers has parted company with their denomination, The Anglican Church of Canada, which of course claims ownership of the land and buildings. But what is the value of all this property to a denomination that is slowly dying?
  • Music clip of the week: Here’s an artist you may have missed out on previously, Jason Gray, who combines great music with insightful lyrics, found this week at the blog I Refuse To Play Church.
  • From there, we move to a musical selection a little less profound. I’m probably the last person in the world to watch this — it’s really old — but if you need a smile today, here’s Ray Stevens’ The Mississippi Squirrel Revival.
  • Here’s a bonus John Shore XtraNormal video, this time featuring Adam and Eve, after “God’s slight overreaction.”  “…I would wring the neck of that stupid snake if only it had one.”  I think John’s found a whole new medium, though purists will argue that his take is a little XtraBiblical.
  • Here’s the link to USAToday and MediaBase which publishes a weekly list of which Christian music songs are getting the most airplay in the U.S. Bookmark it for frequent reference.
  • I suppose if you kick off with Sherman’s Lagoon, you might as well end with Marmaduke and another picture familiar to many of you which was so similar that I wonder who inspired who.  Hint: This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Marm saying his prayers, so it could go either way.

September 16, 2010

Efrem Smith on Making Your Faith Jump

In a largely autobiographical story, Efrem Smith encourages his readers to stretch their faith and, in the words of the cover title, Jump Into A Life of Further and Higher.

Smith is a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and is an African American.   While I’d never heard of the denomination, I also realized while reading this how little I’ve read by non-white authors.   Most of the authors in that demographic I am aware of tend to be either very conservative or very Charismatic/Pentecostal.

So while I wasn’t sure that Smith’s faith message was particularly unique — there are, after all, hundreds of Christian living titles published annually — I was rather impressed by his perspective on the often-segregated Evangelical Church in the U.S.A., and by his use of quotations from the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, he states, often spoke using the term “beloved.”  Smith sees our goal as a series of multiple ‘jumps’ which will lead us into (a) beloved self, (b) beloved church, and (c) beloved world.

An interesting observation about King’s crusade is made in a quotation from King himself:

From the beginning a basic philosophy guided the movement.  This guiding principle has since been referred to as non-violent resistance, noncooperation or passive resistance.  But in the early days of the protest none of these expressions were mentioned, the phrase most often heard was “Christian love.”   …It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.

- from A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Smith knows what it’s like to attend an all-black church (and school) and what it’s like to be a distinct minority in a church (or school).   In a chapter that should be considered by people in youth ministry, he explores hip-hop culture as it has been approached both in worship services in his church and in outreach.

My only regret is that the book seemed rather short.   Perhaps some of this some of this shortage is made up for by a sample of the introduction and first chapter of You Are God’s Plan A by Dwight Robertson.

I wish Efrem Smith had written more.   Right now his own life is in transition, moving from a pastorate in the midwest to the Pacific district office of his denomination.   On the basis of Jump, I would certainly look forward to reading his next book.

Watch a one-minute book trailer for this book.  (Unless you’re bothered by a fear of heights.  Then skip this one.)

July 20, 2010

Francis Chan Meets NOOMA in Basic: Fear God

The production team that introduced Rob Bell to a new audience in NOOMA, Flannel, is teamed up with Cornerstone Church (Simi Valley, CA) pastor Francis Chan for a minimum of seven DVDs under the series name, BASIC.

The differences are somewhat superficial, but there are a few of them:  Switching from sky blue to basic beige, modifying the packaging by including a color booklet, adding a second feature, and changing distribution from Zondervan to David C. Cook are some of the differences.

The similarities are the more striking, and they are but two:

First of all, the good news:  Chan’s message about fearing God merges well with the film production team at Flannel pulling out all the stops for an elaborate production that is visually very simple, but guaranteed to evoke one of the primary fears we all have, fear of water.   The musical score is also of the quality we came to expect from the Bell videos.    You almost wonder out loud how they did it, and you are rewarded with one new feature, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the video that is as visually engaging as the film itself.

Second, the not-so-good news:   The BASIC series will do for Francis Chan what NOOMA did for Rob Bell in terms of awareness and publicity, but for those of us who knew a pre-NOOMA Bell and know a pre-BASIC Chan, it’s easy to wish that instead of these short-form teachings, they simply packaged up some of Chan’s best sermons into quality teaching, long-form DVDs.  Where NOOMA doesn’t represent the “Best of Bell,” neither is BASIC necessarily going to give the world the “Best of Chan.”  Both are phenomenal communicators who can’t be contained in a 10-14 minute video.

In other words, just as a few of knew there was more to Rob Bell than we saw in Dust or Luggage or Rain; so is there so much more to Francis Chan than we get to see on Fear God. However, having said that, I think Chan has a better chance of allowing his teaching to transcend the short-form film medium.

There are some great discussion options available here to youth group leaders, who made up the core of the NOOMA market.   They should find BASIC equally useful in preparing youth and young adult meeting theme preparation, and like NOOMA, it will probably bleed over into an older demographic as well, and even the occasional Sunday morning service.

I’m looking forward to seeing this series develop.


June 9, 2010

Wednesday Link List

From my computer to yours, here’s just a few of the online adventures I had this week…

  • “The day after we here in the U.S. paused to remember the men and women who had died fighting for our country, the fight continued from beyond the grave. On Tuesday [June 1] in the town of Göttingen, Germany a World War 2 era bomb exploded killing three people and injuring six others.” So begins a short essay by Julie Clawson, “Violence from the Past.”
  • The Rev. Scott Schmieding didn’t let a physical impairment stop him from taking a pastor job — which includes preaching — even though he has no tongue.   This CT story will make you reconsider whether or not you’re letting circumstances stand in the way of calling.
  • Christian author Diana Gresh, aka ‘The Secret Keeper Girl,’ shares a concerned one-parent-to-another open letter to Billy Ray and Tish, mom and dad to superstar Miley Cyrus.
  • Remember that street-preacher in the UK who was arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin?  Here’s actual video of him being placed under arrest.
  • Rick Warren tells the people in his congregation that if they’re just faking Christianity, it’s time to find another church.
  • “Social networking does have its perils. This much is for sure. Loss of privacy, device obsession, check-in overdose … Bad. But this new wave of human communication opens doors that have previously remained slammed shut.”  Read more at BeDeviant.
  • American churches (and other buildings with large auditoriums) have only three days left to convert their wireless microphones over to a new operating frequency.  Many can’t afford to do so.   (First it was the digital television conversion; now this…)
  • A German family receives asylum in the U.S. under rather strange circumstances — they are home schooling refugees.
  • Here’s seven great over-arching principles for Children’s ministry from the blog by Will Mancini.   Pass this link on to your Christian Ed. person where you worship.
  • Flashback to February; the blog is called Sim’s Zone, the piece is short but poignant:  Lent Reflections.
  • Blog discovery of the week:  The Aristophrenium.    Four young men; three Australians and one in Canada; writing on Apologetics; often at a deeper, academic level; and often with with the common touch and bit of heart.
  • Rick Apperson launches a blogapalooza with guest writers all throughout June.  It was good to connect earlier this week with Dawn Fehr who blogs at Blown to Smithereens.
  • Two popular UK figures team up to have some fun writing a book together.
  • Christian news and information blog highlight of the week:  New Church Report.
  • New homes in new neighborhoods constructed with new building materials and  filled with new furniture… equals major indoor air quality issues.   It seems that rapid economic advancement is actually killing young people in China.
  • Have a worship moment (or many) interacting with God’s creation:  If you remember the BBC DVD series from a few years back, Planet Earth, you need to know about the new series, Life.  Here’s a trailer.
  • Internal link from this blog two days ago, in case you missed it, on the passing of CCM veterans Dana Key (DeGarmo & Key) and Kevin Thomson (Sweet Comfort Band).
  • Speaking of Christian music, for my Canadian readers who are into modern worship, CCM, southern gospel or even children’s music — and anyone else who wants to take a peek — check out the redesigned (as of yesterday!) YourMusicZone.com from the Music & Media division of David C. Cook Canada.
  • Our cartoon this week is from Sacred Sandwich:

April 10, 2010

Currently Reading: Reborn To Be Wild

It was 11:30 PM Thursday, I was getting into bed when I suddenly remembered that about twelve hours previously, I had received a delivery — a white cardboard box — which I had never got around to opening.   I knew it contained books from David C. Cook, but decided to walk back to the living room to open the package.

The book that caught my eye was Reborn to be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus. I had never heard of Ed Underwood.   Never heard of the book.

The back cover offered this question:

Why did the Jesus Movement stop moving?

I was hooked.  By midnight I was about 50 pages in, and I was up early on Friday morning to squeeze in another 50 pages before heading out of town.

Underwood was part of the Jesus People scene in California.   No not that Jesus People scene in 1972.   He was there for the earlier grassroots events that sparked the whole thing in the late ’60s, 1968 in particular.

He tells his story.  But he weaves lots of good scripture into his text. It’s a book that is autobiographical in nature.   It’s a book that has teaching as a primary goal.

And I’m hooked.  And this isn’t even the book review I’ve yet to do when I’ve covered the next 200 or so pages.    Here’s a sample:

Picturing Revival

One sentence inside the story of Paul’s work in Ephesus describes its impact in words I would use to tell people what happened in the Jesus Movement.  “And this continued for two years so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus.”  (Acts 19:10a)

Nowhere in the entire Bible is there another report of the love and knowledge of Christ growing so quickly and deeply into a culture.  In only two years everyone living in the Roman province of Asia — today’s Asia Minor — had heard the word of the Lord Jesus.   It’s amazing to me that most of the people who speak in order to help us understand God’s Word, try to explain it away.

In one of my “only for preachers and other smart religious people who know Greek” books about Acts 19:10, the author drones on about how the time reference is obviously hyperbole because it really isn’t possible for God to do something that big, that fast.  He concludes that Paul must have meant to say, “a lot of people” instead of “all.”  In bold red ink, I wrote in the margins, “That’s because you’ve never seen revival.”

I have and it moves just that fast and it penetrates just that deep.

The book releases in June in paperback from David C. Cook.   In the meantime, here’s their rundown:

A long-time pastor ponders why the Jesus Movement stopped moving…and challenges all generations of believers to the radical commitment that fuels revival. Long before becoming a pastor, Ed Underwood was a “Jesus Freak”–a young man transformed by the Jesus Movement in the 60s and 70s. He and his friends threw their hearts into a revival they thought would change the world. But somehow, the Jesus movement stopped moving. How did these radically committed young people morph into today’s tame, suburban evangelicals?

That’s the question that sparked this passionate, provocative book, which aims at nothing less than fanning the flames of enduring revival today. Underwood draws on his personal revival experience and his study of the New Testament to expose six seductive lies that can easily sidetrack a movement and affirms five life-changing truths that can keep it going.

Ed Underwood is a pastor and author whose life was transformed by the Jesus Movement and has never lost his passion for revival. He oversees the ministries of the historic Church of the Open Door in Southern California.

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