Thinking Out Loud

October 11, 2021

Review: Searching for Enough by Tyler Staton

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Thomas didn’t really show up until page 149.

Despite being tipped off on page 10 as to the overall direction of the book Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith, I was expecting him earlier because the apostle Thomas is the centerpiece of Tyler Staton’s signature sermon.

I’ve heard him preach it all the way through twice, and almost three times to different audiences, and I’ve continued to be captivated by his teaching style. I was introduced to him though Bridgetown, on a Sunday that John Mark Comer was away, and tracked down some sermons to Oaks Church Brooklyn in the heart of New York.

If you preach at Bridgetown it means you’ve done your homework. The teaching part of the service runs the better part of an hour, and during that time you’d better have something to say, including the necessary research and an equal balance of references to things academic and scholarly, and the stuff of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, Tyler Staton formally took the teaching reins at Bridgetown, moving his family from one side of the country to another, as John Mark Comer moves on to some new projects.

At the time the book was completed New York City was very much in his blood. That city is a mix of all types of people, each carrying all manner of stories and so is Tyler. He has no problem finding connection points with his audience through references to the basic challenges of life; the challenges we face in our search for enough.

John Mark wrote the foreword to Searching for Enough, including the advice to read slowly. At this point I’m thankful to have finished the book — and the review — in the same year the book was written. There’s a lot of rich content here, and as I considered some brief words here, I found myself back at the beginning and drawn into the story all over again.

This is very much a look at the life of Jesus, and especially the final week — what we call the passion week — when “all four accounts slow way down;” and merge, falling into “perfect harmony with one another, suddenly documenting each precise detail when they had been a sweeping survey up to that point.”

And then, post-resurrection, Thomas, aka Didymus (the twin) comes into view. The book dares us to see Thomas as our twin, and recognize that his doubts are not that far from removed from where we often find ourselves; along with anecdotes from the lives of people similar to us, and those who walk a very different road.

Searching for Enough passes my personal litmus test for what a book on the Christian life should be. It’s one I would recommend reading, but is especially good when paired with some background familiarity with Tyler’s teaching style as found on video at YouTube, Oaks Church and Bridgetown.

Available in paperback from Zondervan wherever you buy quality books. Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Products.

 

October 1, 2021

Open Letter to Authors Following the Amazon Collapse

This is one of those “if you’re reading this I must be dead” type of letters. As you can see by the posting date, I wrote this a little bit ahead of the collapse of Amazon, but if a search engine brought you here, then the day of reckoning has come for authors and small publishers.

First, I want you to know you have my sympathy. After years of a predictable revenue stream, be it large, medium or small, you have to start thinking about next month’s rent, and next month’s groceries. I’m sure the survival instinct has already kicked in.

Second, I realize some of you are scrambling at this very moment to recover text files or galley files, along with cover art and a host of other assets related to your books.

Third, I appreciate that in addition to Amazon, you had arrangements with third parties for which Amazon was simply the fulfillment partner, and now you are wondering how to replace the infrastructure that developed.

You’re probably desperate to preserve the status quo, but very few other companies had the ability to handle such a volume of independent sources. That’s why, as you try to find alternatives, their phone lines are constantly busy and your emails are going unanswered.

But you know all this. What I want you do right now is pause, take a deep breath, and be thankful.

Thankful? Yes, thankful. In surfing terms, you got to ride the biggest, longest and best wave that writers have ever known. Not since the invention of the printing press itself had so many others been able to visualize so many great opportunities. It’s just unfortunate that so many of those opportunities were concentrated on a single source.

Technology brought this to you. We were all living in a time of accelerated social change thanks to personal computers and the internet. Twenty years of social change took place in just ten years. Or less. So the world was already moving faster, and the exchange of ideas — or simply words if you prefer — created a ripe market for your ideas and your stories.

Sure, there was a counter-movement. The anti-words platforms like Tumblr and Instagram and TikTok. But people who knew how to write words at a reasonable level of proficiency could amass a healthy group of followers, and even as spell-check and texting-abbreviations threatened the English language, enough people remained committed to writing material that could at least be understood by the majority of readers.

The real blessing the technology brought you was print-on-demand technology. Digital printing devices such as the Espresso Book Machine would print, match the cover stock, bind and trim finished book products at a rate that would have left Gutenberg shaking his head in amazement.

A paradigm developed which allowed you to cut out so much of the in-between process historically necessary to get your words from your home office to finished copies. No more waiting for an acquisitions manager to discover you. No more years and years of trying to build platform. And mostly, no more going back and forth with a team of editors. (You know, the kind of people who frown at the extended use of capital letters, underlining, changing type sizes, and especially at gratuitous use of bold face.)

This allowed you to be current. Something trending on Facebook or Twitter? A recent news event, perhaps? You could have a rush-to-press title on offer in just days. What’s more, if subsequent reporting revealed changes in the narrative as it was originally broadcast, you could, for a small fee, upload corrections to pages 153 to 168 where you had reflected the earlier, out-of-date version of how things had unfolded.

Which brings us Amazon.

Take the books from the supplier, and put them on the shelves, and then from the shelves put them in boxes to ship to consumers. That’s all, right? It isn’t rocket science. It’s a simple business model: Buy low, sell high.

What Amazon brought to the table was a tremendous turnaround on the process. Just-in-time purchasing. Repeated restocking on fast-moving SKUs (stock keeping units) and a ranking system which readily identified which items those were.

But still not rocket science.

They needed an edge and they found it with cutthroat competition. The plan all along was to be a category killer, and the category of books was chosen because, by their admission, it was ripe for picking. It was an easy category to invade and take down all the competition; competition consisting of (mostly) independent bookstores, some of which represented third and fourth generations of family income.

One by one, those small businesses were picked off. No, that’s not right, it was hundred by hundred. All done ruthlessly, even if it meant that temporarily (for individual titles or the business as a whole) the paradigm was: Buy low, sell even lower, catch up later.

But again, this wasn’t rocket science.

The true rocket science was found in one word, algorithm. This was new. Telling the customer that if they liked ‘A,’ they might like ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ as well; and having that marketing backed up by statistical data on the purchasing of books heretofore unimagined, and previously unavailable data on the purchasing habits and online searches of the individual customers themselves.

That only left one piece of the puzzle. How do authors get their books to be the ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’ on offer? Again a complex system of presentation optimization which perhaps you shunned, or perhaps you participated in, or perhaps sometimes you just got lucky and your books got to rest in the top ten of their category for a week or two.

In the end, apparently it all wasn’t sustainable; which is what brought you to this blog post. My point here is to say, don’t despair, but rather be grateful that you got to participate in one of the most spectacular moments in the history of publishing.

Writing is a creative gift, and I know that you and the community of authors to which you belong will find ways to disseminate your compositions. Better yet, if you produced good art, your following will find you.

 

September 30, 2021

The Jesus Music: A Look at The Way We Were

Watching a movie about an aspect of 20th Century Christian history with which you were intimately involved is a daunting task. You never know how it’s going to impact you.

As I sat watching The Jesus Music (opening in theaters Friday) my first concern was that they would get the history right. Being involved in the early days of what is now called Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) often means hearing people getting the details wrong.

But such was not the case, in fact, they did their homework well, as they also did when it came to finding film clips, stills, and archived interviews. This is, overall, a high quality documentary.

My next takeaway was seeing people who were friends back in the day, people who, even now, might recognize me by name if I walked into a room. People with whom I corresponded.

To that end, I wasn’t prepared for the lump in my throat and the tears starting to form, especially during the first half hour of the film. Those early Jesus Music days were telling my story, and opening up associations from deep in the recesses of my memory.

Because of that, I wished they had spent more time on the period starting in the late ’60s and most of the 1970s. That was the true Jesus Music era and the rest of the film was more focused on the earlier days of CCM as it came to be.

It also helps if you know who is speaking onscreen. There were names in the bottom corner — often for too short a time — but no voice-over announcer to describe their relationship to the story. This is a nostalgia documentary for people like me. It’s also a story of the growth of Jesus Music in America; references to what was taking place in the UK — which were significant — were quite sparse.

While other reviewers will focus on the artists, for me it was the narratives from some of the behind-the-scenes people, such as John Styll from CCM Magazine, author John Thompson, or pastor Greg Laurie who had front row seats on the birth of Jesus Music. Those people, along with pioneers Tommy Coomes, Chuck Girard, and Glenn Kaiser made the movie for me, as did the very candid revelations from Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and the guys from DC Talk.

The filmmakers also highlighted the influence that Explo ’72 in Dallas had on the explosive proliferation of the music, and in particular, the wholehearted endorsement of Rev. Billy Graham; an endorsement given even as other evangelists, such as Jimmy Swaggart, were condemning the very notion of Christian rock.

In addition to following the trail from Jesus Music to CCM, the movie touched briefly on the path from CCM to Modern Worship.

There’s no denying that the Christian music industry is huge. The film suggested that the commercial influences that plagued CCM at its peak weren’t present so much in modern worship. Not sure I agree with that one; it’s just that today the dark side of the industry has less to do with unit sales of product and more with who holds copyrights.

In one scene concerning the profit-driven nature of the industry, it seemed that as the genre being profiled got more commercial, the movie itself got more commercial. In one 15-second moment, a series of album covers and audio bites of songs played in succession, and all that was missing was the 800-number to call and order the album from Time-Life.

The producers were not afraid to delve into controversy, but chose to leave on a high note, suggesting that the conditions are presently ideal for another Jesus People revolution. In many respects, I hope that is true, especially if it gets back to the basics outlined in the film’s first 30 minutes or so.

There was also an acknowledgement of the fact that, Andrae Crouch notwithstanding, the history of CCM up to the present moment is still somewhat racially segregated.

Co-produced by K-LOVE, there is an underlying radio focus. Speculation as to whether Larry Norman’s often gritty lyrics could get played on today’s family-friendly Christian stations becomes moot when you consider that in a world of indie-artists, Christian radio is no longer the primary means by which many Christian musicians reach an audience.

Again, this movie was well done. I am thankful for the opportunity to preview it, and they were indeed telling my story and telling it well.

I am also very grateful for the role that Jesus Music played in my life and where I am today is a direct product of the seeds planted by those artists all those years ago. 

Watch the trailer for The Jesus Music

September 8, 2021

The Misuse of Scripture in Political Discourse

This article was jointly published by Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201. The article is contextually rooted in one Canadian province, but similar discussions have happened all over North America. The particular focus here is on the use of certain scripture texts to support the main argument, and whether those are being used correctly.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Now that vaccine passports have been officially announced for the province of Ontario, coming into effect Sept. 22, the rhetoric is intensifying. We all have one more thing about which to feel strongly, and on which to fiercely hold opinions. Which is understandable, considering the human rights implications and the endemic emotional fatigue.

Aside from our own gut reactions, we are looking for leadership, information, and (hopefully) wisdom on which to base our decisions about vaccination and its documentation in our lives. Many will simply never be convinced that it’s in their best interests, and will hold the line on remaining un-shot. As I write this, 16% of eligible Ontarians are still holding out.

Based on some conversations I’ve had, it seems (anecdotally) that people who identify as Christians make up a larger portion of that percentage than other faith groups. They give a few different reasons that I won’t recount here, because this article isn’t actually about vaccination, or about passports.

In fact, it’s about those leaders and information sources who have so much influence on believers. It’s about pastors, bloggers, vloggers. Like the people who are responsible for this document that is making the rounds:

https://www.libertycoalitioncanada.com/religious-freedom-from-vaccination-coercion

It must be good, right? It’s “confessionally orthodox.” It’s got scripture verses. It’s signed by people who call themselves Reverend Doctor, and Pastor. Heck, it’s even got Joe Boot, a name that means something to many.

Problem is, however well-intentioned, this document is a really awful piece of Scriptural application. However you feel about the principles the Declaration espouses (some of which are, IMHO, sound), the way the authors have used isolated Scripture passages to try to support their arguments is, just (pauses for a minute to find a diplomatic word… can’t) inept. If I had turned in this piece to my hermeneutics professor at seminary, his head would have imploded. As I said above, I think some of the authors’ theses have merit. But their scriptural arguments have not.

I’ve chosen two of the whereases (is that a word?) as examples of how we need to do our own homework when reading something like this, and ask ourselves whether Scripture is being appropriately exegeted, or whether it’s being proof-texted in order to lend the writers authority that they haven’t earned.

____________________________

AND WHEREAS Christians are commanded to live in light of God’s moral commands, including expressing love for one’s neighbour by resisting oppression and injustice, whether it be as a result of individual conduct or the actions of any State, agency or bureaucracy – including any immoral or unethical development such as coercive vaccination programs (Isa. 1:17; Matt. 22:39; Jam. 5:14)

Must be true, look at all those verses! Well, let’s take them one at a time:

Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:17

In this passage God is speaking to Israel, who have been taken into exile as a consequence of their covenant breaking behaviour and hearts. Cut and pasted, as I’ve done here, it certainly says what the Declaration authors want it to. But the context of this one verse, in the middle of a longer passage, is a call for Israel to return to her place, to rediscover God’s will. To wash the blood from her hands, to stop being an adulteress. This has nothing to do with opposing government. It has nothing to do with standing up for one’s rights. It does have to do with taking personal and national responsibility for crimes and sins. If one agrees that vaccine passports are ethically wrong, this passage might be applicable to the government and administrators who made the rules. It simply doesn’t speak to you and me today.

Of course, there are passage in which Jesus models for us, and the writers of the epistles teach that we should be looking out for the vulnerable, providing for those in need. This isn’t one of them, and it’s not relevant to the topic.

____

The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. – Matthew 22:39

Here Jesus is affirming the Jewish scripture’s teaching (Leviticus 19:18) (Look, now I’m doing it :-)). But again, the original passage discussed here is in a context of personal and corporate behaviour. How am I to treat the vulnerable around me? There is nothing here to support picket lines, civil disobedience, or making the hostess at Pizza Hut cry.

In my view, the most loving thing I can do is to make myself less of a threat to others by wearing a mask. And to make myself more useful by getting vaccinated in order to stay healthy. Loving my neighbour, in the teachings of Jesus, is a direct and personal duty.

____

Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14

What possible connection this verse has to “resisting oppression and injustice” I don’t have the foggiest idea. So I’m just going to move on.

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AND WHEREAS God created human beings and all the earth’s resources and called them to work and enjoy the fruit of their labour as a pre-political duty and right (prior to the existence of the state) and further clarifies this requirement by commanding people to work six days and rest on each sabbath in order to develop culture in obedience to God and provide for their families, thus freedom to work is an inalienable right that no person should be unjustly denied (Ex. 20:9; 1 Tim.5:8)

First of all, take a moment to look in the Bible for anything that looks like an “inalienable right.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It’s not there. God never grants anyone an inalienable right. God grants us covenant. Grace. Partnership. Hope. Not rights. The basic premise of this thesis is unscriptural.

But, still, let’s look at these passages and see what they have to say about creation and work.

____

You are to labour six days and do all your work… – Exodus 20:9

As a click-bait reference, it accomplishes what the authors want it to.

In context, not so much. This is one phrase in one sentence taken from a paragraph:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11

What is this paragraph about? What is the core focus of this commandment?

Sabbath. Not work. The one day. Not the six.

If, as believers in the New Covenant, we opt to live according to some cherry-picked bits of the Old, our mandate here is to “remember the Sabbath.” Its importance to Israel is underscored in Exodus 35:1-2:

Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days work is to be done, but on the seventh day you are to have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on it must be executed…”

Nobody’s being executed for not working. Whether or not I agree with an employer’s right to demand proof of vaccination, this scripture passage doesn’t apply. There is no “right” granted here.

Neither is there in our final passage:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8

Again, this is completely off topic if read in context. Timothy was giving leadership to a faith community who were figuring out how to support those among them who were in need, or vulnerable (ie “widows”). The passage is about how we should live in community, how anyone who can support themselves ought to, and how we are commanded to care for those in our biological and faith families.

When held in parallel with passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, it creates a framework of responsibility within which believers do what is necessary in order to live lives of accomplishment, altruism, and decency, thereby earning the respect of the broader community and avoiding bringing disrepute on the name of Christ, and on the gospel.

These passages about work are built on a foundation of covenant—we are part of the Body of Christ. As such it falls to us to do what we must in order to live up to the ethic that is presented here. If we refuse to make a personal sacrifice for the good of others, then that is “denying the faith” and “worse than an unbeliever.”

The Timothy passage has nothing to say about “inalienable rights.”

_____________________________

As Christians, living out our faith in a world that is decreasingly friendly to who they think we are, blindly accepting such spurious teaching as this makes us look foolish. We must each think through our stand on these significant issues. Do our research. Use our discernment. Question our teachers.

I repeat that I think some (not all) of the points raised by this document are valid. But I was appalled by the low quality of the ‘scholarship’ used as an excuse to present it as a “Christian Declaration.” The exegesis of Scripture and its application to how we live our everyday lives is not brain surgery, but it ought to be done wisely and with skill. That is clearly not the case here.

Brothers and sisters, please take the time to understand what Christ has actually called us to before making decisions that increase our loss of credibility in the world and in our communities.

August 16, 2021

8 Things Calvinists Stole from Evangelicals

A few of our favorite things seem to be in the process of becoming private property. This is a look at eight of them.

First of all, the title is deliberately provocative. When I say “stole” I mean something closer to “co-opted.” For example, I would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints co-opted the idea of doing door-to-door visitation in pairs. When Suburban Sam is getting ready to cut the grass on Saturday morning, and two people carrying literature walk toward his door, he doesn’t think. ‘Oh, look! It’s the Baptists’ annual visitation drive;’ even though that might possibly be true. He thinks, ‘Oh, it’s either JWs or Mormons.’

However, also true is that when I say ‘stole’ there is a sense in which I mean, ‘and we would like to have these things back.’ In most cases, anyway.

Finally, I need to say that this is reflective of the modern, internet-driven, modern Neo-Reformed or YRR (Young Restless & Reformed) movement of the past 20 years. This does not apply to members of more classical Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or Reformed Church of America (RCA), etc.

The Word “Gospel”

This one is a no-brainer. Think “The Gospel Coalition” or the “Together for the Gospel (T4G)” conferences. It is also increasingly used as an adjective. If you are part of the movement it is de rigueur that the term occur at least once per paragraph in your blog posts and if you get a book deal, it needs to be somewhere in the subtitle.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It only stands to reason that people in the movement are going to latch on to the compatible writing of some classic authors who are no longer with us. But the situation with Spurgeon is somewhat unique in that, like the word “gospel,” familiarity with Spurgeon’s writing is necessary for the modern Reformed equivalent of cocktail party conversation. If you’re doing a podcast with video, the 5-volume set of Spurgeon’s Sermons should be visible on your bookshelf, or better yet, a hand-bronzed seven-inch (18 cm) bust of the man available from the website missionware.com.

The ESV

When the ESV was released in 2001, most of us knew Crossway Publishing of Wheaton, Illinois as the foremost producer of evangelistic tracts, sold in packs of 25; or as the go-to source for Max Lucado’s children’s book about wemmicks, the popular You Are Special. But they had strong Reformed roots, publishing works by Martin Lloyd Jones and the ever-prolific John MacArthur. When the ESV emerged, with endorsements from John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R. C. Sproul and Kevin DeYoung, it was clear that this tribe had their Bible, and if you were quoting a scripture passage in your blog, or getting a book deal, this was the version to use. Of course, the signature product is the ESV Study Bible and in the notes, you do see the doctrinal bias. I noticed it especially in the Olivet Discourse in John, and I’m willing to concede that the ESV was never ours to begin with, and was always intended as a denominational translation for the modern Reformed movement.

The SBC

Many articles have appeared over the past decade either celebrating or lamenting the fact that in many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the modern Reformed doctrine has become the default doctrine. With some churches, this is nothing new, and we have a number of Baptist groups (going back to the 17th Century) who felt the need to designate themselves as Free Will Baptists, in contrast to the idea of divine election or predestination. If a person is going to conflate SBC churches with modern Reformed doctrine and also conflate SBC churches with the current conservative political movement, then one might jump to conclusions which, even in an article like this one, might be a bit over-the-top. I’ll leave that one to Barna Research.

The Word “Grace”

In a meeting of The Inklings, C. S. Lewis is said to have arrived late, and asked what was being discussed. Told it was, “what separates Christianity from other religions,” he supposedly answered, without taking a breath, “Oh that’s easy, it’s grace.” Grace was already a popular name for some CRC churches, and it is a central Christian concept, but like the word “gospel” it’s been highly subscribed to by the modern Reformers and the phrase “doctrines of grace” is used in reference to 5-point Calvinism, as outlined in the acronym TULIP. Asking someone if a church teaches “the doctrines of grace,” is the equivalent to the Pentecostal question as to whether a church is a “full gospel church.” (If people in this movement could register both “gospel’ and ‘grace’ as trademarks, I’m sure they would.)

“In Christ Alone”

Most of us who grew up in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement were, if we had a knowledge of what was going on in the UK, aware of Stuart Townend who, like Graham Kendrick, was a major force there in what became modern worship, and particular what we now call “the modern hymns movement.” Stuart teamed up with Keith and Kristyn Getty to write what is undoubted the signature song in the genre, “In Christ Alone.” Most churches embraced the song on its initial release, with some quickly skating past the line, “the wrath of God was satisified;” even as in 2013 the PCUSA requested a lyric change (to “the love of God was magnified”) for its hymnal. The request was denied and the song doesn’t appear. Eventually, the Getty’s position in the movement was clarified by other writing and speaking and elsewhere the song is now bypassed in creating set lists for weekend services.

John Calvin

If you separate out the five doctrines of TULIP, and type ‘Did John Calvin believe in ______’ into a search engine, you get articles which clarify that the beliefs held by the 16th Century French theologian were quite different that the Neo-Reformed movement we find in 2021. Not only are the nuances of each unique, but he faced great criticism on other matters, such as his attitude toward the Jews. Some have been bold to suggest that Calvin would not identify with the modern movement which bears his name. Still, in the aforementioned hypothetical podcast, you’d also want a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion visible on the shelf. Which brings us to…

The Word “Reformed”

In the introduction, I mentioned groups such as the CRC or RCA, and where I live, the CRC congregation has a female pastor, whereas one need only spend a few minutes looking at the writing of John Piper to know that people in this movement are fiercely complementarian. I am confident in saying that I expect people in classical reformed denominations cringe when they hear the word used in reference to doctrines which simply don’t apply to them. (This does not eliminate the possibility that some people within the modern Reformed movement cringe when they read Piper’s writing or social media output.) While I’m thankful for the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s courage, there is no doubt that today, the word ‘reformed’ has taken on entirely new meaning which limits its broader use. 

That’s my list. If you think of anything else I should have included, let me know, or better yet, if you have stories of trying to connect with someone who has already been influenced by the movement’s particular use of certain forms or terminology, feel free to share.

 

July 12, 2021

Spelling Counts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

Clarke Bunch at The Master’s Table posted this today. He found this plaque in the discount bin at Hobby Lobby, marked 70% off.

But should it be sold at all? And how many were produced?

During my two short stints helping the Canadian Bible Society get product out the door (because I had worked as warehouse manager at IVP) any Bible which had the least defect was placed in a room within the warehouse. These were occasionally taken home by staff and at least one staff member removed pages and mounted them as wall décor. You might argue that yes, Bibles should be in a different category.

But this one? At least it wasn’t someone’s tattoo.

It’s not the worst, though. That honor belongs to Abbey Press, for its “You have blessed the work of his hands” series of Father’s Day products, including a pair of work gloves we still have. The text is taken from Job 1:10

“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.”

Good verse for Dads? It’s actually the devil speaking. Christian bookstores all around North America selling products containing a verse the writer of Job says is unmistakably the words of Satan.

Abbey Press was contacted twice at the time, and did nothing to remove the product.

 

 

June 29, 2021

Bible Was Once Held by Man Who Perished in the Titanic Sinking

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:19 pm

We’re not setting any speed records in going through boxes of things once belonging to my parents. Every so often, when inspired, a new item surfaces. While the significance of this Bible was probably pointed out to me by my father a few days ago, my wife cracked open the cover and read the inscription and started considering all the ramifications involved in its journey.

The woman named Bertha in the inscription was my paternal grandmother. If that name brings some stereotypes to mind, she wasn’t your typical Bertha but was a rather petite, soft-spoken woman.

My youngest son Aaron, whose writing we’ve featured both here and at our sister blog Christianity 201 before, has the heart of a poet and looked at this differently. For me it was about seeing the thing, but for him it was about holding it in his hands. He wrote on Facebook:

This handsome metal-bound Bible was given to my great grandmother by one F Smith who was later a casualty of the Titanic. Doing a little digging, it seems my great grandmother’s friend served on the ship as a pantry assistant (the “Victualling crew”). Kinda strange holding an object that was once held by hands now at the bottom of the Atlantic. Rest in peace, Frederick. Your gift is is in good hands.

“…Once held by hands now at the bottom of the Atlantic.” I would never think of that way. Except now I do. It’s interesting that we were talking a day earlier about degrees of separation and because Aaron knew my dad, and my dad knew my grandmother (his great grandmother) and she knew the man who gave her this gift, I think that’s considered only three degrees of separation.

Information about people who perished in the Titanic’s sinking is widely documented online, so as mentioned above, Aaron was able to find a picture of the man.

So Frederick Vernon Hilton Reeves, or Frederick Smith? Which was it? That was the challenge Aaron faced at the outset. He explained it to me: “His mother remarried a Smith, so outside of official documentation, he went by his step-father’s last time.”

He was 20 years old. His body was never identified and the lists that Aaron found only included identified bodies, which also slowed the search for more information; a search which, I need to say for the record, I would never have taken the time to embark on. Smith may have been “Body #216.”

His hopes and dreams were never realized. Did my grandmother fit into those dreams? It looks like it would have been a fairly expensive gift for those times. Unfortunately my grandmother and my father aren’t exactly around to ask, and previously, I was caught up in my own exploits and wouldn’t have been as interested as I am today.

So thanks, Aaron, for taking a second look at the inscription and being wiling to go the extra kilometer to learn more.

For the rest of us, don’t rush to donate books and Bibles to charity which belonged to parents and grandparents. Take an extra few moments to consider the inscriptions or dedications pages.

You never know what you’re holding in your hands.

Or who held it before.

 

June 28, 2021

The Christian Book of the Year for 2021

In 25+ years in and around Christian publishing, I’ve seen products come and go, but this is one time I think that a forthcoming retelling of the gospel story is going to be significant both in terms of sales and ministry significance.

The First Nations Version (InterVarsity Press) is just what the name implies. The term first nations is commonly used in Canada to describe the indigenous people and the term is catching on in the U.S. and other parts of the world. More than two dozen tribes had input into the production of this New Testament, which the authors claim is a dynamic equivalence translation containing additional words and phrases added for clarity as was found in The Voice Bible. However, I think of this as a contender for “Book of the Year,” and not “Bible of the Year” because it is simply so very different from other translations, particularly in its treatment of proper nouns (people and place names) that I expect that outside the communities for which it is intended, it will be studied more as an artifact of contextualization in sharing the Bible’s message. To that end, it belongs in a category with The Kiwi Bible or The Street Bible which we’ve covered here in years past.

Spearheading the project is Terry Wildman. As early as 2013, he published Birth of the Chosen One which was marketed for teens and described as,

A book for children of all ages. This is the story of the birth of Jesus retold for Native Americans and other English speaking First Nations peoples. The text is from the First Nations Version project…

In 2014, he released When God’s Spirit Walked Among Us, which was

A harmony of the Gospels combined into a single narrative. It retells the story of the Gospels using words and phrases that relate to the First Nations People, then also for English speaking indigenous peoples from all nations, and finally to all who want to hear the story in a fresh and unique way.

In 2017, he published Walking the Good Road: The Gospel and Acts with Ephesians. It was in delving into the annotation for this title that I found more information about the project:

The First Nations Version was first envisioned by the author Terry M. Wildman and with the help of OneBook.ca and Wycliffe Associates has expanded into a collaborative effort that includes First Nations/Native Americans from over 25 tribes. This book is the introductory publication of the First Nations Version of the New Testament. A translation in English by First Nations/Native Americans, for First Nations/Native Americans. This project was birthed out of a desire to provide an English Bible that connects, in a culturally sensitive way, the traditional heart languages of the over six million English-speaking First Nations people of North America. The First Nations Version Translation Council has been selected from a cross-section of Native North Americans-elders, pastors, young adults and men and women from differing tribes and diverse geographic locations. This council also represents a diversity of church and denominational traditions to minimize bias.

But who is Terry Wildman? It was only in the information provided for the forthcoming complete New Testament that I was able to learn more:

He serves as the director of spiritual growth and leadership development for Native InterVarsity. He is also the founder of Rain Ministries and has previously served as a pastor and worship leader.

The information above is on trade (book industry) pages I can’t link, but the website for Rain Ministries provided more details.

Rain Ministries is the home of RainSong Music and the First Nations Version translation.

Terry and Darlene currently live in Maricopa Arizona on the traditional land of the Tohono O’odham and the Pima. Terry’s time is divided between mentoring staff on Zoom for Native InterVarsity and working on the First Nations Version translation.

As RainSong Terry and Darlene travel North America and abroad, teaching, storytelling, sharing their music at First Nations gatherings, on Reservations, and also at Churches and Conferences…

Terry and Darlene founded Rain Ministries, a non-profit corporation based in Arizona in 2001, and have been actively involved in the lives of many First Nations people since 1998.

Their biography indicates they got their ministry start with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and given their current connection to Wycliffe Associates and OneBook (both arms lengths organizations of Wycliffe Bible Translators) and their involvement with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; I am led to believe that this is a well-anchored project theologically. Besides, I trust IVP to vet their books well.

Still there are going to be people who find things like the chapter titles (names given to the books of the Bible) and people names somewhat different. I would assume that, as with so many Christian endeavors, the people who might object the loudest are the people who are not the intended audience for this New Testament retelling.

I’d like to get into more stylistic details, but my exposure to the project is based on a sample booklet which only contained 19 pages of actual text, and was lacking the go-to chapters I look for in doing passage comparisons with new translations. I suspect that’s because so many people are asking for an advance look, they’ve decided to limit who gets what. Disappointing. I was also going to include an excerpt from the book at Christianity 201, but without a proper review copy, I decided not to discuss the actual content, and so you’re having to settle for this copy-and-paste presentation of information related to its publication so that you can keep your own eyes and ears open. Sorry I was unable to do more.

The book is being published simultaneously in hardcover and paperback editions. Where First Nations communities are nearby, I expect the FNV to be a popular outreach tool and as stated at the outset, perhaps the most significant title to be released this year, at least in North America.

 

 

June 17, 2021

My Pessimistic Rant on the State of Humanity

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:21 am

Two weeks ago I went for a walk around the longer block where we live. It should have been stimulating and inspiring, but ten minutes and a few snapshots of people doing things outdoors later, I came back mourning the state of the world.

I wrote down three things on a piece of scrap paper next to the computer.

People are stupid

Not very nice, I realize, but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that people have no particular desire to better themselves or become better informed. Opinions rank higher than facts. Individual tribes outrank global consensus.

The circle of people with which I associate generally do not demonstrate this. I often meet people who are clearly committed to the idea of lifelong learning. But it does crop up. About twenty years ago I met a pastor who told me that in seminary he had read all the books he was ever going to read, and now he was done. Can’t remember my response, but today it would be, ‘That’s just so sad.’

People are selfish

There’s a similarity here to the first point, in that the individual (‘me’/’my’) takes precedence over the greater good. An awareness of what is taking place as the world turns boils down to one simple question, ‘How does this affect me?’

I’ve also said elsewhere that in all the places in the Bible where sin is mentioned, we could easily substitute selfishness and it would work in 90% of the sentences. Yes, sin involves those things which grieve the heart of God, but many of these involve failing to get the big picture. Six of the four Ten Commandments involve our relationship with other people and the inter-twining of our lives with those around us.

People are godless

One of my favorite definitions is from finedictionary.com, “Lacking the presence of God; removed from divine care or cognizance.” This isn’t exactly news.

The thing that amazes me is how people who have rejected God have also rejected the good things God has placed in the world. I’ve mentioned before my next door neighbor who hates trees. He has removed all of them from his property, and any branch on our side of the fence within his reach comes under the blade of his clipper. I’m not sure but I think his beef is with creation in general and maybe with God in particular.

So…

…I’m left as a somewhat intelligent, altruistic, God-focused person, living in a world that is often neither one of those three things. I long for conversation and fellowship with like minded people. Fortunately, the Church, consisting of people centered on Jesus, provides that opportunity, but sometimes there just aren’t enough of us, and very people I know in North America or Western Europe have the option of living in a Christian community.

The onus on me is to thereby learn how to interact with them. Scriptures teach I ought to love them. Dang, that’s difficult. But God places us situations that aren’t monastic communities separated from the world.

He places us in families, schools, workplaces and yes, neighborhoods.

I wish I was doing a better job.

June 13, 2021

I Have Become a Senior Ageist

I realized this morning that I have become an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms when it comes to which voices I look forward to hearing preach and teach each week.

For the record, an ageist is someone who is “Unfairly discriminatory against someone based on their age,” and while this usually is applied as working against the elderly, I suppose that reverse ageism is also popular.

Also for the record, I’ve reached an age where, when it comes to Bible teachers and authors I should be resonating more with the “men in suits” crowd. But I don’t. I gravitate toward younger communicators. John Mark Comer recently introduced me to Tyler Staton, and as an egalitarian, I will always tune in if Danielle Strickland or Tara Beth Leach is teaching.

I get what it’s like to be on the opposite side of this issue. A local church where we spent many years buys into the philosophy of, “Never put someone older 40 on the platform or picture older people on your website.” At least, they buy into it theoretically (and selectively) but both their own leadership and congregation is aging as well. Another local church member commented that he has a hard time picturing his church bringing back many of the younger families they had, because the Sunday morning services are planned and shaped by an older mindset.

And yet a third local church has now encountered a pastoral vacancy. In my heart, I keep hoping they can snag someone mid-to-late 30s. It would be a breath of fresh air. But then I ask myself why someone that age would want to move to the small town we’ve called home for the past several decades. True, we’re an hour from Toronto, but I know that many younger leaders want to stay close to the city and all the networking and potential it appears to offer.

So I am an anomaly; some type of reverse-ageist. But I’m not alone. I remember being a much younger person in churches in Toronto where the teens and twenty-somethings would grab all the front seats and the older individuals and couples would sit further back cheering them on. Okay, not literally cheering; maybe praying is more accurate. It was good to see. These churches had an enviable demographic for preachers.

If your church happens to have a younger teaching pastor, or lead pastor, you need to cheer them on.

I think the Bible’s word for that is encouragement.

 

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