Thinking Out Loud

March 6, 2014

John Ortberg’s Congregation Votes to Exit US Presbyterian Denom

John OrtbergZondervan author and former Willow Creek teaching pastor John Ortberg is about to lead his congregation, Menlo Park Presbyterian, out of the Presbyterian Church USA, but the church will have to buy its way out of the affiliation. Religion News Service reports,

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving…

…The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

[...continue reading at Religion News Service...]

But the Presbyterian name will stay with the congregation as it affiliates with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, making it the second 4,000-member sized church to do so.  A five page Rationale for Change gives reasons for both exiting the PCUSA and joining the ECO. The document does not directly address issues of sexuality and thereby makes clear that this is not the central issue. Menlo Park also operates satellite campuses using a video feed, a rarity in PCUSA churches. (A Canadian two-campus church, Connexus, is a former Presbyterian church now part of the North Point ministry family.) 

Prior to the vote, Ortberg led his congregation through a message titled “Immeasurably More” based on Ephesians 3: 20-21

Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ortberg’s bio on Wikipedia notes:

Ortberg has published many books including the 2008 ECPA Christian Book Award winner When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, and the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award winner If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Another of his publications, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, has sold more than 500,000 copies as of 2008…

…Ortberg earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

His latest book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You releases April 22nd with Zondervan.

Menlo Park Presbyterian

Update: Christianity Today reported on this one day later with some helpful background links.

February 26, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Chocolate Pope - NBC News Photo

The link list knows no borders, so you won’t find any gloating about Canada’s Olympic hockey wins here. Click anything below and you’ll be redirected to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a ministry of Christianity Today; then click each link there.

If you’re not busy this week snapping up Son of God movie tickets, you can check out Paul Wilkinson’s other writing at Thinking Out Loud.

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

February 25, 2014

Mark Hall: We Were Made to Thrive – Book Review

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]


Like the book The Well by Mark Hall which we reviewed here in August, 2011, Thrive is both the title of a book and a compact disc. I’ve been privileged to hear the CD several times and read several sections of the book twice. While some authors may appear to write from a theoretical standpoint, Mark Hall is in the trenches, doing youth ministry first and foremost, and then what he views as a second role, as a musician with the band Casting Crowns.

Thrive - Mark HallThe book’s full title is Thrive: Digging Deep, Reaching Out and the subtitle and the cover telegraph the book’s outline and content. Using examples from his years in student ministry, as well as a few road stories from Casting Crowns, Mark delivers something fresh in each of the book’s 30 chapters. I’m struck by how he is both forthright and yet transparent and vulnerable at the same time.

The primary audience for Thrive will be people who are familiar with the band’s music, but really, this is a contemporary Christian living title that earns a place next to popular writers such as Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, or even Max Lucado. Almost every chapter brings new life to familiar scriptures.

I remember once hearing, “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see,’ part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.’” That’s really the focus of this book. It is suitable for both new believers and those who are spiritual veterans. It is equal parts teaching, anecdotal and autobiographical.

I read parts of Thrive out loud this past week at our family devotions. I can only say that this was the right book for us and it arrived at just the right time.

Thrive is published by Zondervan in paperback at $15.99 US. Thanks to Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Toronto for a review copy. With both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson titles, you guys have the best books!

February 17, 2014

A New Standard Theology Textbook?

While I keep a number of Biblical and theological reference books on my shelves, I recognize that the average reader here does not. Still, there are people who want to go deeper in their understanding of Christian theology as well as people who have taken, are taking, or plan to take some formal courses from a Bible College or seminary. For them, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has always been the standard text. You can read more about it at this page.

But this morning, a little hyperbole on Twitter got my attention. Filling out past the 140-character limit, someone wrote:

The world would be a better place if Grudem’s work was composted and replaced with Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird.

Composted? That’s a bit harsh. I decided to investigate the title. You can read more about it at this page, or continue below:

Evangelical TheologyEvangelical Theology is a systematic theology written from the perspective of a biblical scholar. Michael F. Bird contends that the center, unity, and boundary of the evangelical faith is the evangel (= gospel), as opposed to things like justification by faith or inerrancy. The evangel is the unifying thread in evangelical theology and the theological hermeneutic through which the various loci of theology need to be understood.

Using the gospel as a theological leitmotif — an approach to Christian doctrine that begins with the gospel and sees each loci through the lens of the gospel — this text presents an authentically evangelical theology, as opposed to an ordinary systematic theology written by an evangelical theologian. According to the author, theology is the drama of gospelizing — performing and living out the gospel in the theatre of Christian life. The text features tables, sidebars, and questions for discussion. The end of every part includes a “What to Take Home” section that gives students a run-down on what they need to know. And since reading theology can often be dry and cerebral, the author applies his unique sense of humor in occasional “Comic Belief” sections so that students may enjoy their learning experience through some theological humor added for good measure.

Ironically, both are published by Zondervan, and both at $49.99 US. The Michael Bird work was published in November of last year and runs 912 pages. (Grudem’s released in 1995 and is 1,296.)

Traditionally, the first purchase anyone was encouraged to make when building a Bible reference library was a concordance, but Bible software has rendered them somewhat obsolete. A Bible handbook (overview) is still helpful to have as is a single-volume Bible commentary. Bible dictionaries have lost some market share to their online counterparts, but some people still like to have a Bible atlas, which is probably still the toughest content for your computer to present fully, hence the need for print. 

The next step, to show you’re really committed, would be to purchase a theology textbook of the type described here; one that deals with the individual doctrines, and shows how they all, like puzzle pieces, fit together to form a functional and logically consistent theology.

I looked up “leitmotif” for you and added to the publisher blurb, but you’re on your own with “gospelizing.” 

With files from Ingram Book Company

February 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Snake Handling Church Disclaimer

Here’s this week’s collection, with the hope that you’ll be my Valinktine.  Click anything below and you’ll find yourself at PARSE, the link list’s exclusive official owners and operators! (Or just click now, it’s easier to read there.)

After winning the silver medal in linking at the 2008 Bloglympics, Paul Wilkinson settled into a quiet life of writing at Thinking Out Loud.

Burning Church

If you watch all four parts of the documentary about Burning Man linked above, you discover that all photographs taken at the event become part of a commons that photographers agree to share. It’s part of an overall philosophy that guides the event and why there’s no photo credit here.

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 17, 2014

Philip Yancey Returns to the Question that Never Goes Away

Philip Yancey - The Question That Never Goes AwayOn Wednesday night we were part of the audience for Philip Yancey’s book tour for The Question That Never Goes Away. The event in Toronto was sponsored by HarperCollins Christian Publishing and considering the smaller size of the Canadian market, it was great that the tour happened here so close to the book’s release date. 

This isn’t a review of the book — I’ll get to that next week — but I was thrilled to be able to meet Philip and shake his hand and hear him speak. He is my favorite living Christian author and I now would have one thing to scratch off the bucket list, if I had a bucket list. 

Philip spoke about three specific places he has traveled to in recent months, Japan in the wake of the tsunami, Sarajevo in the wake of genocide, and Newtown, CT in the wake of the school shooting. Speaking eloquently and without much reference to notes, it was clear why he is one of Christian publishing’s finest authors.

Some of the material I have now heard four times inasmuch as I heard a radio interview he did on Saturday, read a preview chapter of the book on the website of an Australian bookstore chain on Monday, attended the presentation on Wednesday, and am now on page 44 of the book on Friday. The stories don’t get old, because they’re about situations people face which don’t go away. 

I also am learning to appreciate how Yancey doesn’t overstep his authority. He doesn’t present himself as a theologian or pastor; he is upfront about the fact that his life as a journalist and writer has taken him to some key places which have led to asking some key questions. But this role that some might see as more limited doesn’t reduce his appeal, rather it gives him a unique voice. He is one of the more significant writers in the Christian market, he invokes many scriptural themes and references, and thereby his words have touched people on all continents.

Philip Yancey Books

For more on the book visit Zondervan: http://zondervan.com/9780310339823

December 9, 2013

Currently Reading

I currently have four books on the go at once; one is already released, three are releasing in January.  I like to do full reviews only when I’ve completely finished each and only closer to the actual street date in stores. But I wanted to share some brief thoughts on each today.

Currently Reading 1

Futureville by Skye Jethani — Just as his first book, The Divine Conspiracy used the art of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif, this time around the Leadership Today editor looks at the anticipation for the future which American’s experienced at the outset of the 1939 World’s Fair, and shows that whatever we believe about the future is rooted in and shaped by the present. I’ll admit to some bias, but I believe Skye Jethani is one of the most important voices in the church today; a writer with a prophetic gift for telling it like it is. I’ve already read part of this book twice.

The Noticer Returns by Andy Andrews — This author has a gift for propelling the reader from chapter to chapter. The character known as Jones returns from the first book in the series, and Andy Andrews portrays himself in the story. So is this fiction or non-fiction? You decide. Either way, you’ll wish you had a ‘noticer’ speaking into your life. This title released in October.

How to Be Rich by Andy Stanley — This book summarizes material from different sermons the North Point Community Church pastor has used in introducing the church’s annual “Be Rich” campaign, which this year gave away over $4M U.S. to area service organizations. Unfortunately, the title is going to confuse some — it already has in my family — and lead to the impression this is a book on prosperity doctrine, when it fact it is all about being generous with the riches you’ve already been given.

Clout by Jennie Catron — The executive pastor of Cross Point Community Church was on the fast track to success in the Nashville music business until a merger and downsizing ended her dream. The book deals with seven things that can destroy ambition and dreams, and four things that can strengthen you as you reach toward personal objectives. Jennie Catron is a key writer on leadership issues for both women and men; there’s much similarity between her writing and that of Michael Hyatt. The book is published under the Nelson (business books) imprint.

October 10, 2013

Mark Batterson Goes All In on Newest Book

Of the three books I’ve read by Washington, DC pastor Mark Batterson, All In  is the best one so far. The call to wholehearted surrender to God is reminiscent of another Zondervan bestseller, Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan. The book re-introduces a term that was often the theme of sermons in a past era: Consecration, as in “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee.”

All In - Mark BattersonThough Batterson isn’t one to quote song lyrics, another fitting one here might be “I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.” It’s a book about buying a one-way ticket to wherever God would have you; of giving yourself to Christian service without an escape clause or a backup plan.

Mark Batterson’s writing style is more sermon-like than conversation-like inasmuch as his books show the evidence of carefully considered strategy as to which chapters ought to contain which elements of his research. To be more precise, All In is equal parts:

  • Stories and examples from history or quotations from historical figures; not all of which were necessarily believers.
  • Illustrative examples forming allegories from nature, or sports.
  • Contemporary stories of people who’ve made the news, or obscure people who have connected with Mark through National Capital Church.
  • Old Testament stories.
  • New Testament stories and teaching.

While not wanting to go off too far on a tangent here, this is a How To example of how to write a Christian book, keep it interesting, and give it applicable substance.

So how is my life different after reading this book? I think that some teaching we are exposed to through Christian books and podcasts can have an instantaneous effect, but that more often, certain truths ‘stick’ through the applying of layer upon layer of repetition. This is stuff I need to be reminded of; including examples I need to hear for the first time. The ideal of the Christian life is a life lived in abandon to God.

I think the highest recommendation I can give this book is one that will sound strange out of context: All In is a very disturbing book!  And that’s just what Mark Batterson intended.  

>>>Watch the book trailer at YouTube

A copy of All In was provided to Thinking Out Loud by HarperCollins Canada, the distributor for Zondervan in the frozen north.  Thanks, Mark H.  The book is also the basis for a small group DVD curriculum. For the trailer for that product, click here

For a previous review here of The Circle Maker click here.

September 10, 2013

Christianity: What Have I Got Myself Into?

Another lifetime ago, I could have recited the titles of all the appropriate follow-up materials for people who had ‘made a decision,’ ‘committed themselves to Christ,’ or ‘crossed the line of faith.’ There were booklets like Now, What? (not to be confused with What Now?) and The First 30 Days of Your Christian Life and a handful of great study booklets by The Navigators (which is not the name of a Christian rock band or gospel quartet, so far.)

Adventures in ChurchlandBut you could do a lot worse than simply handing someone a copy of Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion by Dan Kimball; in fact you could give someone this book before they decided, committed or crossed, especially if they present themselves as even the least counter-cultural. The book covers the waterfront of challenges anyone might face being a newbie at the whole Christ-following thing.

Which brings me to saying that now I finally understand Kimball’s pompadour-coiffed looks; it’s a tribute to his love of all things 1950s, especially the music described as rockabilly. It’s hard today to imagine a senior pastor telling him that this type of haircut was inappropriate for youth ministry, but it helps you to appreciate the culture shock he experienced entering Churchland (the world of both mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism) for the first time. His hilarious description of his first Anglican/Catholic-styled communion service is alone worth the price of admission (and the fact he shares the experience with a guy named Randy makes the whole episode sound like a scene in My Name Is Earl.)

Because I spent the summer defying the publishing establishment and simply reading books I wanted to instead of books currently being promoted (though Churchland is a 2012 title), I approached some of them differently and must confess that I read some of this one out of chapter sequence. This turned out to be a viable method, as the book is very much a series of essays and some of the biographical information is repeated, even in chapters that follow consecutively.

The book is really equal parts biography, basic doctrine, and apologetics. In a casual, offhand manner, he covers most of the essentials; and if all you knew of the belief system was what you read in newspapers, saw on television, or learned from blogs and websites; this would set you straight as far as confronting the things that tend to make headlines and tend to be an embarrassment to those of us on the inside.

Only weeks earlier, I had read Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not The Church. He is currently working on a book with an eerily similar title. When it comes to presenting Christianity to those without a church background, Kimball gets his audience.  He was once one of them.

…If you missed it two weeks ago, here is an excerpt.

(Note to Zondervan: That’s two blog posts on a book I bought. You guys owe me!)

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