Thinking Out Loud

May 9, 2014

Curriculum Review: AHA by Kyle Idleman

AHA Church Kit - Kyle Idleman - City on a Hill ProductionsAfter veering off into a more documentary style with the small group curriculum for Kyle Idleman‘s Gods at War, City on a Hill Productions returns to the cinematic type of production it does best: an integrating of multiple dramatic story lines with direct teaching. AHA: Awakening.Honesty.Action takes a modern look at the story of The Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel and has the courage to suggest that not every wayward son who has a moment of clarity while feeding the pigs actually makes it back home.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching all six episodes. The video clips run about a half hour each. The acting is superb to the point where I wondered, with all the Christian movies releasing lately, if City on a Hill ought to be reaching for an even wider audience.

There are various applications to this curriculum. So far, Idleman, the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has released three books and three videos, plus the H20 video series (see the review linked below) which landed him on our radar. So that leaves you with several choices, and these are just my suggestions:

  • If I were working with new Christians or even seekers for whom the story of The Lost Son in Luke is foreign, I would probably use the video.
  • If I were working with people who have been Christians for awhile, I might do the book study.
  • If I were working with people who have been in small groups for a fair amount of time, and like to think and like to discuss, I would do the video.

The video really provoked some thought when we watched it as a family in ways that the book didn’t. And like the parable, not everybody lives happily ever after. But the book is excellent by itself as I stated earlier this year.  And the curriculum possibilities get even more complex:

  • The church kit comes with a leader’s guide and a journal. You could simply watch the videos, have a weekly discussion, and a small homework assignment for the following week.
  • You can also get a journal for each group member, for which a sample is included. It provides a day-by-day writing assignment between group meetings, so the teaching content remains fresh when the group reconvenes and there is opportunity for personal transformation.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might argue there’s nothing new here. In many respects, Idleman’s Gods at War covered material also found in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods or Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and AHA is reminiscent of Keller’s Prodigal God which Idleman quotes at one stage in both the book and the video.

But Jesus’ parable in Luke offers limitless applications; it’s the story that keeps on giving.

[Note: This is a review of the Small Group Kit; AHA is also available for a teaching series in your local church in a Pastor’s Kit, which is an entirely different product containing only short video clips at a much lower price.]

At the end of the last episode, we watched a couple of the features which clearly reveal the hearts of the director and cast. They are truly committed to excellence. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where City on a Hill Productions goes next. I leave you with their corporate tagline:

Story is the language of our Hearts
Media is the language of our times
We use both to share Jesus with the world

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.

January 12, 2014

Single Story Reaches Two Diverse Audiences

I want us to think today about the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. I’m assuming the story is somewhat familiar to you. If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…  (emphasis added)

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982. (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives. If you ever find yourself facing two spiritually different audiences simultaneously, teach the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.” (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200, emphasis added)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

February 15, 2012

Wednesday Link List

First, two strongly related links:

  • Author Mike Breen guests at Verge Network with Obituary for the American Church.  He notes three factors responsible for killing the church, celebrity, consumerism and competition.
  • Rachel Held Evans guests at Relevant Magazine with a particular focus on the celebrity mindset in the church, check out When Jesus Meets TMZ.

Other links this week:

February 26, 2010

Peter Rollins Makes His Point Well, Despite My Earlier Misgivings

As you might remember, back in the summer I abandoned my reading of Peter Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic. It was just too “out there” for me.  Or so I thought.  But last night I decided to read the final six or seven short essays and while I’m not sure if it was me or Peter Rollins, something changed in those final pages to the point where, while I’m still not 100% comfortable with a full endorsement, I have to give the author some measure of credit for really thinking through some popular Bible narratives.

I thought I’d look at this one, the story we call “The Prodigal Son” only because it reminds me of the Rob Bell Peter Walking on Water Controversy which is still getting comments.   This should drive some of the same people equally nuts.  But I don’t believe for a minute that there is a singular interpretation to everything that Jesus taught, nor do I believe that there are not some additional, deeper nuggets of truth lurking under the surface, awaiting discovery.

Rollins begins by re-telling the story, albeit somewhat abridged.   The younger son has claimed his share of the estate, left home and hit bottom.

There was no life for the young man so he thought to himself, I have had a good time in the last few years, but perhaps I should now return to my Father’s home.  For there it is warm, and while he will be angry, he may take pity on me and let me work as a hired hand. And so he began his return journey.

Rollins then narrates the son’s return, the father’s joy, the reinstatement of the son, the celebration.  And then,

Later that night, after the party, while he was alone, the younger son wept with sorrow and repented for the life he had led.

As with all 33 stories in the book, he then moves into a commentary section. And then…

…The question we must ask concerns how much of what he baptize with the name forgiveness is really worthy of that name.

…In politics…forgiveness is strategic and comes with conditions…

…In the world of work…forgiveness can be a great strategy for helpign to ensure return business and a good reputation…

…When it comes to religion…as John Caputo notes in What Would Jesus Deconstruct? forgiveness all too often comes after a set of criteria have been met, namely an expression of sorrow, a turning away from the act, a promise not to return to the act, and a willingness to do penance.  Forgiveness thus follows repentance and so cannot take place until repentance has occurred.

…But what if Jesus had an infinitely more radical message than this?  What if Jesus taught an impossible forgiveness, a forgiveness without conditions, a forgiveness that would forgive before some conditions were met?

…Is it not true that the conditional gift of forgiveness, without the need of repentance, houses within it the power to evoke repentance?  …It is impossible to change until we meet someone who says to us, “You don’t have to change, I love you just the way you are.”

What if a forgiveness that has conditions, that is wrapped up in economy, is not really forgiveness at all, but rather is nothing more than a prudent bet?

Rollins then quotes verses 17-20 of Luke 15:

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father…

Rollins continues,

It would initially seem that the repentance in the story came before the forgiveness.  Yet is the younger son really repentant here?  The text says he came to his “senses,” that is, he started to make a sensible calculation.  One would expect the narrative to claim something like, “in repentance he returned to his father’s home,,” but the story describes the son’s internal monologue as a strategic decision rather than a change of heart.

But even if his repentance were genuine…the father’s response shows no economy is at work in the kingdom.   After all, we read these powerful words, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion…”

The father has no interest in whether or not his son is repentant.  All he cares about is the son’s return.

…The radical idea of forgiveness…is already embedded in the original story.   It adds a conclusion that imagines how such unconditional love may have actually provided the power needed to precipitate a change of heart in the son, rather than his experience of eating with the pigs.

There is a depth to this insight.   Perhaps I would have done better to simply leave the author unnamed, given the polarization that’s out there.   Maybe we all need to see on what personal level we need to take the story to heart.

November 29, 2008

Further Considering the Prodigal Son (and the Prodigal God)

Filed under: bible, Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:45 pm

greg-boyd1prodigal-god-tim-keller1

Like many others, I have been quite taken with Timothy Keller’s new book The Prodigal God, which I considered briefly here a few weeks ago.   I am ever impressed at the ability of this story to challenge us in so many different ways.

So it was only fitting that we downloaded two of Greg Boyd’s sermons from Woodland Hills preached earlier in November which deal with the same topic.   As Greg points out, if the father in the story had simply pursued justice, no one would remember this story today.   (I would have added that no gospel writer would have included it then either.)

One thing I like about Greg’s preaching is that he doesn’t tell you all he knows.   This is a guy with such intellectual depth that I recently gave up trying to follow a particular discussion at his Christus Victor Ministries blog.   To adapt a term from television production, he leaves enough “intellectual headroom” that you know he’s done his homework, but doesn’t lose the common touch.   (The second part of the series includes a hilarious summer job story from Greg’s student days that is such a perfect fit to the parable under discussion.)

Anyway, all this to say, read Timothy’s book, and listen to Greg’s sermon.  To do the latter go to the Woodland Hills download page, and select the sermons for November 9 and November 16, 2008.  You can either listen to on streaming audio (allow 40 minutes of uninterrupted listening per sermon) or copy it to a disc as we did for those long car trips. You’re bound to read or hear things about this so-familiar Bible passage that you haven’t heard or read before.

Pictures: left: Greg Boyd; right: Timothy Keller book

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