Thinking Out Loud

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on this list, so I will say what the online product detail didn’t: Peter is the author of at least seven books and an unpublished PhD thesis that “offers a survey of religious thinking in the aftermath of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche.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

 

February 14, 2014

Pastrix: A Book for a Select Audience

The very first word in Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber is an expletive that cannot be printed here, and it is, I warn you, but the first of many.

PastrixThat said, Pastrix earns my highest recommendation, provided of course we’ve made clear the question, ‘recommended to who?’

Such is the nature of the contradictions in the book, and in many ways such is the nature of the contradictions that define (or undefine) the tall, tattooed, female Lutheran pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints, aka HFASS.  And yes, you’re allowed to — and they do — pronounce it half-ass.

The book is a random collection of biographic memories in a loose chronological sequence that sometimes act merely as springboards for some sermon extracts. You get the feeling that Nadia would have been more comfortable producing a book filled with some of her unique sermon insights, but the publisher no doubt felt some back-story was necessary, at least the first time around.

I have two takeaways from reading the book.

First, Nadia is a very wise person who unfortunately made some very unwise decisions early in life, but decisions that are redeemed in the unique voice her past gives to her present. Was writing this particular book using a very edgy, street vocabulary wise? A future Nadia might rethink it, but it does create a product unlike anything else that has crossed my desk before. She creates a meeting place in print where seekers and skeptics can join the sexually ambiguous in their quest for truth. She is, like other Christian writers, paving a road to the cross, but it’s a back route that few travel.

Second, it’s evident that Nadia has now, and always had, a pastor’s heart. Her calling to ministry is evident at different stages of her life — even in her darkest moments — and is perhaps more evident than dozens of other pastors I know who, granted, don’t drop the f-bomb as often. Her flock aren’t the type of sheep that would make it into an award-winning photograph, but they’re her sheep, and she is doing her best to shepherd them and truly grieves if one falls by the wayside.

Pastrix will appeal to people who match, demographic for demographic, the people who attend HFASS, or potential converts. People on drugs. People who sleep around. People who commit crimes. People who Jesus loves. People who Jesus died for. Future brothers and sisters you might find yourself sharing eternity with.

I do need to declare a conflict of interest here: My wife and I are fans. I featured her here a few years ago as her reputation started to go national. I download each new sermon as it appears on her blog, and track the printed text as we both listen to the audio. We’re not doing some ministry watchdog thing, waiting for her to trip up doctrinally, but with each sermon we’re always in awe of how theologically orthodox she is.

I begged the people at Jericho books for a pre-release copy of this book and had just about given up when I discovered a book had been delivered wedged between two 20-inch square pieces of cardboard. That never happened before. It seemed fitting, somehow. It’s a book that will certainly occupy a place on my bookshelf, but it will have to be a spot where my conservative friends won’t see it. Then again…


Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint is published in hardcover by Jericho Books an imprint of Hachette Book Group. Both Send the Light, one of the largest wholesale Christian book distributors in the U.S., and CBD, an online consumer book vendor consider this title too hot to handle.

October 28, 2013

Book Non-Review: Selling Water by the River

I’m really grateful that the exposure of this blog — while nothing compared to some of the über-bloggers — has allowed me to be so bold as to ask publishers for review copies and get a favorable response. It’s sure an improvement from the pre-blog days when I would simply buy the books and then review them on the newsletter from which Thinking Out Loud emerged.

Selling-Water-by-the-RiverJericho Books is a division of Hachette Book Group, a large publishing concern which has been making increasing inroads into the Christian publishing market, including signing some pretty big names to their Faithwords imprint.  Hachette, or HBC, is a big deal. They probably get a lot of requests for review copies, so they simply ignored me — several times over — when I asked to preview Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

So I was several chapters into a copy of last year’s Selling Water By The River by Shane Hipps — a copy which fell off a truck, so to speak — that I realized this was also a Jericho title that I couldn’t really give a full review to under the circumstances.  So I’ll be brief, and let some others do the heavy lifting.

Shane Hipps first appeared on my radar with a book called Flickering Pixels that he wrote for Zondervan. Then, he was named associate pastor at Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI, but didn’t let his name stand for the lead pastor job after Bell headed west.

I’ve never been totally sure where Hipps fits in on a liberal-conservative theological continuum that proves challenging when mentioning him or people such as Bell and Peter Rollins or even Brian McLaren. My tendency is to want to put people into a box, and Hipps has confounded me a few times. Reading Selling Water By The River, I see some amazing insights into the message of the gospel, not to mention some absolutely great apologetics in the form of analogies and stories that help define the Christian message.

But then I’m never 100% sure what the subtext is; what he means by “Some Christians believe that…” Does that include Hipps himself? The book is bewildering in many ways. One reviewer said,

While I enjoyed this book it isn’t cohesive. It feels like (and I’m pretty sure it is) a collection of sermons or lessons that have been edited and assembled with a loose theme in a semi-logical order. There are a lot of individual moments of wisdom here, but no big kicker. As a result the book leaves a pleasant vague impression, but no lasting impact on me.

Still another reviewer correctly observed:

Hipps has a gift for disentangling the beautiful way of following Jesus from the centuries of cultural and institutional baggage that so often obscure that way.  Hipps contrasts Jesus (the “river”) with Christianity (which he likens to selling water by the river)–insisting that it is the former, not the later, to which we should give our devotion.

however, I grow concerned at the pejorative possibilities where the institutional church is linked to selling.

Yet one more reviewer notes this dichotomy in the book and is very precise in articulating the issue the book raises:

…Herein lies the hierarchy of Shane’s epistemology; experience is less fallible that logic, and is more trustworthy. I’m not sure I totally agree with this hierarchy, but that’s how he navigates this transition from rigid theological dogmatism to real and authentic spirituality (though he probably doesn’t want to use that word).  He says, “[Jesus] wants people to experience God’s love, rather than just think rightly about it.” This is profoundly true and vitally important, but I don’t think that we need to jettison belief into the realm of purely cognitive thought, I think that belief and even disciplined theological reflection can be though of as part of the experience of God, even if it means at times commanding our deeply felt experiential presuppositions into subordination to logical clarity.

I don’t think we need to think of religion and belief in such negative terms. Even if the establishment of the religious institution is not what Christianity is about, certainly our experiences with God in the contexts of community and solitude can be thought of as religious–of an authentically holistic kind of religion. It’s misleading and it might even be arrogant, in light of hundreds of years of church history, for us to come on the scene today and say, “religion, I have no need of you,” as though we somehow exist outside of religion…

(be sure to read the rest of this one!)

And then there was this essay by Karen Spears Zacharias, which I’ll let you read in full.

So… it’s complicated. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get a proper review copy of that one. (Nadia’s book, which they probably won’t send this late after release date, is no doubt equally complex.)  I’ll leave the last word to WIllow Creek’s Aaron Niequist:

As you can tell, this book is going to push some buttons.  Fundamentalists will scream as Shane pokes holes in Christianity’s claim to have a monopoly on the Truth, and post-modern, “spiritual but not religious” people will resist his high view and trust in Jesus Christ.  But I think that anyone who makes everyone uncomfortable might be on to something.

I’m not saying that I agree with every single word in “Selling Water By the River”, but here’s why I loved the book and am recommending it to you

(If anyone at Jericho Books wants to make a friend, you know where to find me!)

July 27, 2013

Wait a Minute, Isn’t That…

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:40 am

It’s Rob Bell time again!

Last week Rob posted a link on his tumblr blog to a new author, Rob Strong.  Here’s the post in its entirety:

Rob and I went to college together and have been friends for over twenty years. As far as preaching and communicating and storytelling goes, he’s a master. I’ve learned so much from him. He told me a while ago that he was thinking about writing a book. And then he did. It’s great, and it comes out tomorrow.

It’s called The Big Guy Upstairs: http://www.therobstrong.com/therobstrong.com/Welcome.html

The Big Guy Upstairs - Rob StrongThe book is coming out on the  Jericho Books imprint, which is a religious imprint of Hachette Book Group that is more hip than its FaithWords label.  That’s enough to get my interest, and it turns out that one of my favorite edgy preachers, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is also releasing a title with the same publisher a month later.

The full title is The Big Guy Upstairs: You, Him and How it All Works. That even sounds like a Rob Bell title.  Here’s the 411 from Jericho:

Rob Strong knows how to stop a conversation in its tracks. Being a pastor in Massachusetts–”the least churched state in the USA”–can certainly raise eyebrows and halt conversations, but Rob never lets his faith bar him from doing what matters most: building sincere relationships with people as, together, they question and explore the nature of The Big Guy Upstairs.

Here he shares how approachable, interactive, and, above all, relevant God can be our lives, without any of the trappings of religion or “Christianese” that make many of us suspicious. Filled with his inimitable brand of wit and humor, Strong offers a fresh take on:

  • The importance of understanding our humanity and our purpose in life
  • Disagreeing and still respecting the perspective of others
  • Diversity in life and how that means different things to different people
  • The role that God plays into all of these facets of our lives

From a “weed” that turned into a delicious peach tree to a miraculous pair of brown shoes, Strong will engage readers with stories and biblical commentary that reveal why their lives are significant-and how God is more intentional, active, and closer than they realize.

The hardcover edition of The Big Guy Upstairs will publish on July 16, 2013.

But wait a minute, isn’t that author name somewhat familiar? Here’s the paragraph from Wikipedia I’m remembering:

Stronger

ABC television has announced production of a new television drama, Stronger, co-written by Bell and Carlton Cuse, the Executive Producer of the television show, Lost.[21] The show, based loosely on Bell’s own life and an unpublished novel of Bell’s turned-pilot-script, would follow the life of Tom Stronger, a musician on a spiritual journey.[22] Ultimately, Bell and Cuse were unable to get approval to shoot a pilot for Stronger.

Rob Strong photographed in Lowell, MA on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Rob StrongThere were a few details about this TV show in the story on Rob that came out in November in The New Yorker magazine.

Strong – Stronger? Rather similar.

And the website for Grace Community Church seems eerily similar to the template of the Mars Hill Bible Church website. And the image of Rob Strong could easily be a retouched photo of the Michiganer turned Californian (again) who is increasing seen sans glasses.

Does anyone see where I’m heading with this?  Will Hachette Book Group send me a review copy of The Big Guy Upstairs? Stay tuned. The rumor mill is coming to life.

February 17, 2013

Jay Bakker Bares Past and Present Faith Doubts

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

PTL Club - Bakker FamilyIt’s hard to believe it’s been a dozen years since Jay Bakker —  once the little boy running around the set of Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker’s PTL Club — emerged as Jay Bakker the author of Son of a Preacher Man, and co-founder of Revolution Church, in New York City where he still preaches.

His second book, Fall to Grace, was issued by FaithWords, but has been rolled over into the edgier Jericho Books imprint, where it was joined last week by the new Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed: Walking with the Unknown God.

Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

The pastor of a church that meets in a bar, Bakker has a special place in his heart for the GLBTQ community and offers a spirited biblical defense for the acceptance of sexual difference. He expresses a faith that encourages questions and emphasizes relationships rather than rules. Bakker writes in a simple, down-to-earth style as he counters the focus on exceptionalism, exclusion, sin, and guilt that dominate some forms of evangelical Christianity. Like fellow evangelical Rob Bell, Bakker doesn’t believe in a God who would consign people to hell for all eternity. Love trumps justice; participating in community trumps official church membership; compassion trumps dogma.

Faith and Doubt - Jay BakkerThe publisher’s own blurb states:

Innovative pastor Jay Bakker thought he knew God: the God who rigorously patrolled every aspect of his life, the God who chose sides, the God who was always disappointed in him. But through the transformative power of grace, he discovered the God who loved and accepted unconditionally, freeing him to ask the hard questions and delve into one of Christianity’s greatest taboos: doubt.

In Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed, Jay voices the questions that Christians are thinking but won’t ask as he chronicles his doubt about God, the Bible, heaven and hell, church, society, relationships, grace, and love. In the process he encourages all of us to welcome “the other,” to read the Bible differently but better, to draw together in community, and to seek an unknown God of limitless grace.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Jay Bakker says,

I’m trying to get people to really grasp the idea of allowing themselves to doubt in faith. I’m trying to get to deconstruct faith and say faith isn’t about having it figured out. Faith isn’t belief. Doubt is built-in with faith. Faith is not a fact. Faith has more in common with hope than it would [with] fact. There’s always an unknowing when it comes to faith.

In the same interview, he adds,

 Yes, I am definitely questioning the atonement and trying to discover how we can see it in a different way. We’ve got this image of God who needs some sort of flesh, some sort of blood, that needs some sort of vengeance to pay for sin. My experience of a loving God who’s asked me to love my enemies – this isn’t a God that demands something before you are accepted. I think Jesus died because Jesus was inclusive. God is inclusive. I think that the idea of God somehow being separated from us was more man’s idea.

I talk about in the book how when Jesus died and the curtain ripped and there was nothing behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies. I think that our ideas of separation are our own. I think we’re always coming up with other ideas of how we are separate from God, or for some reason why we have to be separate from God. I think that imagery of the temple curtain ripping and nothing being behind there is kind of the [same thing] as [God] saying “I’ve always been with you.”

For a few readers here, that may be enough to spark interest in reading Faith and Doubt, while for others it probably raises doubts about Bakker’s faith.

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