Thinking Out Loud

December 1, 2016

Devotional Details and The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Christianity 201 - newAt least once a month, I try to let readers here know what’s going on at this blog’s sister site, Christianity 201. This time around I thought I’d get into more details.

C201’s tag line is “Digging a Little Deeper.” What I mean by this is something deeper than those little devotional booklets that offer a key verse, a paragraph with a cute story, three more paragraphs, a poem and a prayer. I know many people who use these, and I support the ministries which print them, but often they’re over and done with in 60 seconds. Even with the devotional website I read each morning, it’s easy to be in a hurry and read the key verse, skim the rest, and then move on to other computer activity.

I started C201 at a time when Thinking Out Loud was mired deep in some investigative stuff about the latest Evangelical scandals. I needed balance personally. I started with some short quotations and brief Bible expositions that had a huge faith-focus and then C201 found its identity with pieces which went a bit longer. There are no points for length, but I felt there was too much online that was just too short. Eventually I got into the rhythm of scanning the internet for people who were writing deeper devotional and Bible study content. Some days go deeper than others.

Presently we have two regular writers; Clarke Dixon is midweek (usually Thursdays) and Russell Young is Sundays. I try to do one a week. Most of our writers are people who have appeared previously on the blog. There is a very broad range of doctrinal perspectives. We’ve only had two take-down orders in 2,435 posts and both of them were Calvinists. Just sayin’. (I am looking for one more writer if you are familiar with C201 and feel qualified to contribute.)

On a personal level, I need this. I need the personal discipline that comes from coordinating this project. I need the input of the material that is used. Because Thinking Out Loud posts in the mornings (usually) Christianity 201 posts between 5:31 and 5:34 PM EST. Again, it’s a personal discipline, and with great humility I say, even on my worst days spiritually, I am always in awe of how the daily devotional Bible studies come together.

…So a longer set-up this time around. Here’s what we’ve been up to lately, and as we say regularly at C201, click the title below to read this at source.


The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Last Sunday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father, did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

September 1, 2016

People Who Consistently Crank Out Great Writing

Top Christian blogs

We did this back in March of 2014 with an article title Substance Consistently and I’ve been wanting to update that for some time.

  • Ed Cyzewski – If the about page leads off with the author’s identity as a freelance writer, you know the writing is going to be above par. The blog is subtitled Contemplative and it will make you think.
  • Stephen AltroggeThe Blazing Center is home to Steven, Mark Altrogge and Barnabas Piper. Although we aren’t from the same theological tribe, I really enjoy the variety of articles here; they tackle subjects I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
  • Scott McCown – We’ve gone back seven times for material at Scott’s blog, The Morning Drive, to use at our own C201 blog. He’s a Church of Christ pastor in Alabama. (The state, not the band.)
  • Jackson Ferrell – Another C201 connection, this one is recent. At Chocolate Book a Bible passage is paired with a chocolate flavor of the day. It’s a win-win! Jackson is a graphic artist who writes with straight-shooting honesty and transparency.
  • Micael Grenholm – This Swedish writer’s blog, Holy Spirit Activism, brings both a charismatic/pentecostal perspective and a European perspective to matters of faith. 
  • Lorne Anderson –  A longtime friend, Lorne had just started up Random Thoughts when we did our 2014 list, but dived into blogging with abandon and posts every day. Some items are more Canadian in substance, and not everything is faith-centered, but this has become a must-read for me, and when I miss, I play catch-up.
  • name withheld – The author of Wintery Knight has a fairly good apologetic for keeping his blog anonymous owing to some high level position he holds. (The blog’s subtitle indicates the theme is faith in the public square.) The intrigue just keeps it all the more interesting.
  • Aaron Wilkinson – Yes, he’s my son, but he’s writing some interesting stuff at this, his second blog, Voice of One Whispering, aka Voxus Surrantis which reflect his varied interests and unique perspective.
  • Clarke Dixon – Clarke is my source for Wednesday articles at C201. His Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon is a posting of his sermon notes from his Baptist church in Ontario, Canada. I always learn something new.
  • Scot McKnight – When Jesus Creed got left off the original list, I added it a few hours later, but it’s one from that list I still check regularly and wish I had time to read it all, as there are often several daily items to chose from.
  • Greg Boyd – Also one of two here from the original list, I am a rabid fan of Re-Knew. You don’t have to convert to open theology or pacifism to be a reader, either.

The Missing Link: Although it’s easy to find, I chose not to link to the 2014 article. My tastes have changed considerably. These are some people on the top of my computer bookmarks I wanted to share today. 

The Many Missing Links: I know what you’re thinking, Where are the Women? I tried to address this before the list first appeared, but decided I didn’t want to simply include some token female writers, but want to take more time to develop a list because I do, in fact, read several women writers. We dealt with this challenge four years ago with this link-packed article.

By the way, although he’s busy doing eBooks and podcasts right now and didn’t meet our 30-day litmus test, Skye Jethani is one of my favorite thinkers and is possibly one of Evangelicalism’s best kept secrets. Here’s one from earlier in the summer which never made the link list: Are Christian Tattoos The New Circumcision? Sample: “Because the absence of a foreskin carried so much meaning in the ancient world, in a real way it was the prototype religious/consumer brand—an external mark of one’s identity; a visible symbol that provoked feelings of national and religious pride in the imaginations of God’s people.” Branding. I never thought of it that way.

August 26, 2016

Blogroll Update # 5

It’s been a full year since we last ran an update of some of the Christian blogs I’ve bookmarked in my computer. The blogroll that appears daily here is only a small part of the sites I have visited or used in the compilation of the weekly link list and includes some well-known writers and some obscure ones.

close-to-home-on-blogging1Here’s the link to part one. (The really big one from almost two years ago.)

Here’s the link to part two. (Sixteen months ago.)

Here’s the link to part three. (14 months ago, includes my news sources.)

And here is the link to part four. (One year ago, includes blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

Blogs
Home | Ratio Christi
Christ Hold Fast
john pavlovitz | Stuff That Needs To Be Said
Bethany House Fiction | Connecting you with your favorite authors.
Stumbling Zombie | Insights of a zombie stumbling towards the Light.
A better country
Vic the Vicar!
James Edward Sharp | … musical take on the world.
Disciple All Nations | Great Commission for the 21st Century
Redeeming God | Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church…
Her View From Home
Pilgrim’s Rock – Worldview Apologetics Online Courses Books
Uniting Grace
Janet Mefferd | A Christ-centered look at life
The Christward Collective
Acculturated
Slowing Down and Speeding Up Time | Shalem Mental Health Network
Welcome to the BreakPoint Blog
Justin Petrick
ChurchPOP | Make holy all the things!
Brain Pickings | An inventory of the meaningful life.
GoodOleWoody’s Blog and Website
Purple Theology | The Blog of Austin Fischer
Art of the Christian Ninja
Enrichment Journal
Unsettled Christianity
Junia Project Home | The Junia Project
Gender Equality Blog | The Junia Project
The Evangelical Calvinist
Technology, Christianity, Culture | Second Nature
East Coast Veritas | … church planting in Atlantic Canada
Devotions — Proverbs 31 Ministries Devotions
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Jeff K. Clarke – Jesus (RE)Centered
Life in the Kingdom
Teaching Nonviolent Atonement | …Building Cultures of Peace
Theology in the Raw
The Mordecai Blog
CaroleMcDonnell
Liturgy of Life | Sacramentally Cultivating a Household
Christianity in College | Rejoice always, pray continually…
Alan Rudnick | Pastor, Author, and Speaker
Uncommon God, Common Good
Christ Almighty!
Blog – What’s Best Next
A Life Overseas | — the Missions Conversation
Sheep To The Right
Daily Devotions
Randy Bohlender | Family – Faith – Adoption
Mark Buchanan
Christian Funny Pictures – A time to laugh
MOS – Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Jessica Hammer
Samuel D. James | Assorted thoughts on life, faith, and culture
Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice
Read. Engage. Apply.
Circling The Story – Life: mundane and glorious
Ponder Anew on Patheos
Nail to the Door | A call to a new Reformation
Words of Faith, Hope and Love
The Recovering Legalist
That Mom — real encouragement for real homeschool moms
Cerulean Sanctum | …1st century Church in 21st century America
Johnblackmon’s Blog | swimming in the inkwells of indelible grace
Home – Simply Jesus
Blessed Earth | Inspiring Faithful Stewardship of all Creation
The Abuse Expose’ with Secret Angel
The Wardrobe Door
Adventures in Faith & Art | MANUEL LUZ
DyerThoughts – Home
Standing on my Head
JarridWilson.com
firstthreequarters | Christian Old Testament interpretation
Sinner and Saint
Life’s Great Dare
WINTERY KNIGHT
Tin Roof Sky | Listening for God’s voice in the everyday
Amber Cantorna | Beyond
Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely aka Mennoknight
dispatchesfrombrian
The End Time
Reachout Trust | Reachout Trust
Scattered and Small
Faith, Fiction, Friends
Abandoned to Christ
Watch Keep
Heart Language
Quadratos
Ched Spellman
hisgracemygrowth | … life as a Christian wife and mother…
aaron niequist
Facts and Trends
Matthew David Brough – author of the Del Ryder Series
Families First Magazine
EveryStudent.com – Exploring Important Questions about Life and God
Disciples of hope | Living the hope that comes from Christ
spiritual maturity | What does a mature Christian look like?
Tish Harrison Warren
Thimblerig’s Ark | One writer’s journey through faith, art, and life.
Pete Enns | the Bible for normal people
Building Old School Churches
Conventional Futures – On the future of the SBC — J.D. Greear
Survey of Christianity | A personal exploration through my beliefs
A Church for Starving Artists | Where the passionate are fed
Bible Study Magazine
From frightened to father
Carlos Whittaker » BLOG
Scripture Paths
Magazine – Shattered Magazine
The Free Slaves Devotion | A quest to know who I am in Christ
Bryan Hodge | Applying New Testament Christianity to life today.
Encourage Me
The King’s English
You Have Heard it Said
The Iridescence of Grace
MarkHowellLive.com
Blog | Mark Buchanan
The Apologetics Minion – Following Jesus With All My Mind
Produced by The High Calling – The High Calling – Theology of Work
The Christian Reviewer
MOS – Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Apostles Creed – Reformed Orthodox Confessional
Sets ‘n’ Service
Bloggin’ The Word
Society of Evangelical Arminians
Exceptional Christian | Christian living – a lifelong learning process, striving to become more like Jesus Christ every day.
Gene S. Whitehead • Faith, Family and Life
Seeds for the Soul | Planting Biblical Truth Every Day of the Year
Redeeming God | Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church from the Shackles of Religion
Faithful Thinkers
Hot Off the Press | Living On Tilt
Blog — Jonathan Martin
Welcome to WFM – Worship Facilities Magazine
Blessed Beyond Words
Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur
Missio Nexus – Connecting the Great Commission Community
First 15 devotional – Denison Forum on Truth and Culture – Home
Chocolate Book
The Road | Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice

Feel free to use the comments to make suggestions for others I should consider, but check the other lists — use your computer’s ‘find’ feature — to make sure they haven’t already appeared here. 

Note: If you find something here where nothing has been posted for six months, let me know and I’ll delete it. Also, if you find a link which points to a specific article rather than a homepage, let us know that, too.

July 4, 2016

Thinking Out Loud on Top 100 Christian Blogs List

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:04 am

Top 100 Christian blogsThe thing I appreciated about this list — besides the fact we ranked #69 — was that it is by all appearances a very realistic reflection of what people are reading right now.

The “mommy blogs” get a lot of traffic that is never recorded, so it seems appropriate that Women of Faith should be #1 on this list. It was also good to see veteran bloggers like David Hawyard and pastor Pete Wilson continue to make top traffic lists.

But there were also several new ones here that I need to check out. This is a great list, and I can’t recommend using it as a resource when you’re surfing online for some stimulating thought.

Click here to see all 100.

 

May 27, 2016

What You Blog When No One’s Looking*

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

*with apologies to John Ortberg’s Who You Are When No One’s Looking

img 052716

With a 74% U.S. readership, the idea of writing something in-depth on the day most of my readers are packing up for a Memorial Day Weekend activity makes me think it would be a good time to just post something simple — a cartoon, for example — and let it go.

That said, on this site’s worst day it draws more readers than those belonging to the many people who faithfully post their thoughts without consideration of numbers. These are like the original “web log-ers” (from which we got the word blog in the first place). They write for the sake of writing and don’t frequent their stats page. For those who post daily, it’s about faithfulness and consistency.

I am reminded of the original goal of Christianity 201. I decided to something that was just for me and whoever else wanted to tag along for the ride. I was managing eight different blogs back then, and it took a year for C201 to arrive at an established format or concept. I would just post something I thought was more spiritual than the topical issue of the day on Thinking Out Loud. I needed balance. I needed to do it regardless of who was looking.

As I pulled all these thoughts together, I was reminded of a trip Ruth and I took to the northeastern states a few years ago. I’ll let her tell it:

Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city, American history machine aside. Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity…

In the end, it’s not always about the audience, or the feedback, or the recognition. Sometimes you just do what you do.


 

 

April 2, 2016

Being Needy While Wanting to Help Others in Need

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am
Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Because of the particular path our lives have taken, there have been times when we have accepted financial help from friends and acquaintances. In the process, we’ve often said that the people who are least able to help are usually the ones who give. I’m not positing this as a universal truth, I’m just saying that it’s been the case in our situation.

In Wednesday’s link list, I felt moved to post a story about a family who faced unusual financial hardship during Lent because of their daughter’s illness and are asking for help. You can read that link here. 48 hours earlier, my wife showed me a crowd funding page that was set up by students (or former students) in a local high school for a guy who part of our church plant ten years ago and has had a medical diagnosis that will result in unexpected costs. You can read that one here.

I’m reading these through the lens of our own situation.

My wife came to me a few weeks ago — she’s our family and business bookkeeper — and said, “We have enough in the savings account to last us one more month, and then we’re done.” By ‘done’ she means we don’t have a back-up plan, unless we cash in one more savings fund — which is currently locked — and take a huge penalty for so doing.

I announced in Monday’s column here:

We’ve never monetized Thinking Out Loud, but this labor of love — along with our Christian bookstore — have totally depleted our savings. Still, how does one do effective fundraising in the face of other families and individuals with seemingly far more urgent needs? After our US/Canada 800-number, toll-free, call-in-a-pledge appeal failed last year, we’re looking for something that will actually help us keep going. We hope to have an answer late this week. 

But as the week went by I keep fighting taking this particular approach. Surely the two stories listed above are far more worthy of my readers’ support, right? Still, I know there are longtime readers both here and at Christianity 201 who might give if we created the right vehicle for processing donations.

Within the Christian realm, there are bloggers like Tim Challies who is able to blog full time because of referral income and sponsored posts. Author Skye Jethani is not currently on staff at a church (or at CT) and is supporting his writing and podcast ministry (and his family) through the sale of monthly devotional subscriptions, and eBooks. (Check out, How Churches Became Cruise Ships.)

Because of my involvement in a brick-and-mortar Christian bookstore (which loses money almost every day the doors are open) I still can’t bring myself to be a referrer to A-zon or even CBD, both of which have contributed greatly to the closing of such Christian shops all over North America. So I’ve never monetized the blog in that manner.

And there is the pride issue. As a twenty-something, I was told that I have difficulty accepting hospitality in all its forms. Plus there is the fear of putting it out there only to find the donations embarrassingly meager. Add to that wanting to be hero; wanting to be the one helping others, not the one asking.

So the announcement I was going to make this week is postponed for now. I leave you the comments section — if you wish — for two purposes today.

  1. If you can recommend a crowd funding type of website that isn’t time-limited and would allow people the opportunity to support Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201, I’d love to hear it. Bear in mind that I’m in Canada, but nearly 80% of my readers are in the U.S., so it has to be American-based, but able to pay us up here.
  2. If it’s got a Christian connection, feel free to mention any fundraising page you’re aware of that’s running now. Honest! I don’t mind. (I might delete the comment after any relevant expiry dates.) Today is one day you can use the comments to promote a cause.

 

 

 

 

 

March 24, 2016

How the Internet Accelerated Change in the Church

close-to-home-on-blogging1This is part two of a two-part article.

In the setup in part one, we indicated that the influence of rock music in general and The Beatles in particular caused some sweeping changes, particularly in the U.S., in terms of fashion, drugs, war resistance and the sexual liberation. Some of this may have been inevitable, and there were certainly other influences at play, but the 1960s were essentially two decades worth of change sandwiched into one.

So what about another media (for lack of a better word) which influenced the Church?

The effect of the internet on Christianity or Evangelicalism varies depending on which aspect of the technology you’re discussing.

Email simply replaced snail-mail. Communications happened instantly, and at a fraction of the cost, but it’s hard to argue that this changed anything within church culture.

Church websites simply replaced the marquee at the front of the church building, allowing churches to opt instead for larger changeable letters adorned with pithy sayings. No need to post the pastor’s name or the service times, since all that was now on the website.

Video on demand or live-streaming of weekend services simply replaced buying time on local TV outlets, or for the blessed few, on a network of stations.

No, none of these things changed anything in and of themselves.

The real change happened on social media. Online bulletin boards, chat rooms, etc. made it possible for dialog to happen and made it easy for people to enter the conversation regardless of where they lived or their level of education.

But the biggest change occurred with the type of thing you’re reading now: Weblogs, or as they are better known, blogs.

While I can’t cite specific years as I did in part one of the article, here are some effects that I would say took place from about 2003 to 2009.

Blog ChildBlogs and BooksIt wasn’t Christian publishers who came up with using social media to promote new releases, rather the conversations simply started happening over the latest title or the newest author. For reasons I’ll get back to in the final point, the period was a golden age for non-fiction books and publishers were tripping over themselves to place new voices under contract.

I specify non-fiction because the publisher relationship with social media today tends to be more focused on mommy bloggers critiquing and giving away spoilers in the latest Amish or romantic or historical fiction title. Some of these make it through three books a week and publishers are quite willing to supply even relatively small blogs with freebies.

But that wasn’t always the way. The original discussions were all about doctrinal, or Christian Living titles. Maybe a devotional. Eventually, the one Christian children’s book that ever got serious blog review, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The Growth of Calvinism – This really isn’t anything new, neither should it come as a surprise. Any advance of media technology, or any general cultural shift in communications has been seized on by the Reformed community. Just look at one of the first megachurches (Crystal Cathedral, Reformed Church in America), one of the first TV ministries (Day of Discovery, Christian Reformed), the organizations which dominate our present publishing community (Zondervan, Baker, Eerdman’s, etc., all Reformed); look at these and you see that Reformers have always been there in any available media. (My running joke: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers? Because while everybody else is writing about it, the Salvation Army is out on the streets doing it.)

But while the internet promoted Calvinism, in some ways the form of the doctrine that was promoted was also changed by it. There exists a type of militant Calvinism today that has polarized the broad Christian community. Reformed parents couldn’t give their children the comic book The Action Bible until the publisher provided a sanctified edition with text from the English Standard Version, the Reformed community’s new Bible of choice.

blogThe Internet Celebrity – The blog Stuff Christians Like launched Jon Acuff overnight. The blog with the weird name, Without Wax, introduced the world to Nashville pastor Pete Wilson. The Naked Pastor developed a cult following, especially when some of the characters in the illustrations turned out to be actually naked. John Shore, Bill Kinnon, Tim Challies, Skye Jethani, Zach Nielson, and others like them were must reading for their constituencies. The Pyromaniacs aka Team Pyro proved that graphics matter, with their first-rate images appearing throughout their articles and attracting new followers.

But in a recent Happy Rant Podcast, Barnabas Piper and Ted Kluck noted that many of the Reformed blogging superstars have churches that are not as significantly large as their digital footprint might indicate. They enjoy a fame disproportionate to their church attendance. Furthermore some pastors, like Willow’s Bill Hybels, didn’t blog at all.

There’s also the few — of which this blog is one — that managed to attract a following without the author being a pastor or a published author. Voices that might not have been heard if this form of social media had not existed.

Homogenization – Despite the plethora of Christian blogs out there, there was a sense we were all reading from the same page. Re-blogging material was more common and more accepted in the early days, and the water cooler topics in church offices — especially among younger leaders — tended to mirror the topics being discussed on the blogs.

Emergent / Emerging – While the terms are now in disuse, there is much evidence that whatever the Christian blogosphere did for Calvinism, it did even more so for the various strains of the Emergent Church, including the Ancient/Future mini-movement that I feel was Emergent’s best byproduct; along with kick-starting the whole missional conversation.

I’m not sure if  it was Tony Jones or not, but recently a writer from that era wrote a piece saying that Emergent was, in effect, now past its sell-by date. I have to agree, which makes it more interesting when some watchdog blog starts slamming the now non-existent movement. Which brings us to…

bloggingdogs-thumbDiscernment / Watchdog Ministries – The blogosphere in general, if nothing else, is all about being offended, so the discernment bloggers, the watchdog bloggers, those champions for truth and right doctrine (as long as it’s their truth and right doctrine) are a natural fit for social media.

The problem is that the average Christian, doing a Google search, has no idea when he or she has come upon one of these, and may not catch the watchdog’s own biases. The blogosphere, like the entire internet, has few filters.

Furthermore, there are so many targets for these writers, so many ways to instill fear, so many common enemies, that it’s easy to go on the attack and forget that those attacked are real people with real lives and real families. I think it’s harder to hate a person after you’ve shaken his hand, but I may be wrong.

Did Christian internet bullies contribute to the suicide of a pastor’s teenage son? We asked that question here a few years ago. We’ll never know the answer, but some are willing to speculate.

Connections – I met British Columbia blogger Rick Apperson somewhere in the comments section of my short lived Religion blog at USAToday and we still keep in touch and occasionally I steal articles from him! Dare I say that I’ve made dozens and dozens of contacts through blogging, some of which I consider the most significant in my life, even though we’ve never met face to face.

I’ve also discovered an affinity toward people with whom I think alike and with whom I think quite differently. And I am so grateful for having spent nearly two years doing a column (albeit a news feed) for Christianity Today. I love those guys!

Eccesiology – One of the main benefits of the early years of Christian bloggers was the rapid increase in the number of people who started planting churches. Called “the extreme sport of ministry,” church plants turned up in various shapes and sizes, with lay people who had never had a previous interest in Ecclesiology — and who had certainly never been asked — were writing and turning out blog posts and print books on the subject of doing church and creating a different kind of church (a phrase that if Googled, probably results in millions of hits.)

Growth of BloggingI listed this last, even though it could have been first, because it sums up a lot of what was taking place in a very short time: There was an explosion of ideas. Conversations were flying fast and furious about church governance, leadership models and worship styles. That the average parishioner cared so much about what was taking place drove all us into a deeper consideration of what it means to be Christ’s church.

The discussions and ideas were reflected in books and especially in a parallel  explosion of conferences. People loved their church and loved the church. No idea wasn’t worth consideration. No speaker or writer wasn’t worth hearing.

It was the best of times.

 

February 25, 2016

Thinking Out Loud: The 8th Anniversary

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

Blog Birthday 8

TOL square

So, Paul; it’s been eight years.

Yep!

…and…?

Yes?

What are your thoughts?

Sorry, I thought you were going to ask me questions.

I thought you were going to write out your own questions and then provide the answers.

Shhh!

So did you ever think you’d be doing this eight years later?

Yes and no. I was doing this and Christian Book Shop Talk and a local-interest blog where I lived and a consumer advocacy blog and using a blog platform for our business and doing a local-interest blog in the community and setting up a blog for a specialty daycare center where we live and writing a book on internet addiction which was using a blog format and then later adding Christianity 201.

At that point anyone could have said, ‘You’re going to burn out doing all these things at the same time;’ and they would have been correct, but fortunately I jettisoned a few of those projects. If you only post to your blog once a week, or if you don’t bother to fact-check things you’re referencing or quoting, then I suppose it’s easy to sustain that for the better of a decade. But to post fresh content to two blogs every single day and to do this for free for eight years is probably, for the average person, somewhat inadvisable.

TOL Welcome YellowWhat about the free thing? Why not monetize the blog?

I did ask for donations at one point. Our business has a toll-free number that works across Canada and the U.S., and I thought if people were enjoying what was happening here they could make a donation using their credit card and we set up a day for that, but the phones didn’t exactly ring off the wall.

First of all, I’m not going to be a referrer to Amazon or even CBD because I have too many friends and too many years invested in brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores. I believe in doing everything I can do to help these stay in the communities where they are doing ministry.

Second, I don’t think you can run advertising on WordPress.com; so that just isn’t an option.

To be really honest, there are a number of components of my life, not just my writing that I thought I would be able to monetize at some point and it’s never worked out. For whatever reason, God has kept us hovering around the poverty line for more than 20 years now, and while I don’t remember answering a call to be a missionary, I’m realizing now that I’ve become one by default. Maybe that’s why I relate to Randy Alcorn, who for different reasons, is in the same situation.

As a writer however, I’m thankful I was able for 22-months to create a synergy with a version of the Wednesday Link List created just for Leadership Journal at Christianity Today and the one that appeared on the blog. That income was not huge, but it helped buy some weekly groceries.

TOL sidebar Sept 2013Thinking Out Loud is very much faith-focused. Snippets of personal life are few or even personal spiritual life.

I try to write at least one of the Christianity 201 devotions each week. If there isn’t a name attached to it, then I wrote it. And obviously I’m not listed among the many Calvinist bloggers. But beyond that I realize I’m somewhat of an enigma to people who don’t read every day, and even those who do.

My beliefs are each rather hybrid in nature. On church government, I’m congregational but I believe in structure and accountability. On women in ministry, I am more sympathetic to the egalitarian position, but with a recognition of God-ordained differences between men and women. On eschatology, I believe “we see in part and we prophesy in part” and that many of the models currently taught are still somewhat insufficient. On worship, I prefer doctrinal substance over empty emotion, but at the same time think that we can be passionate about God, about Jesus and about theology in general. On supernatural spiritual gifts such as miracles and tongues, I calculate that if 50% of the people are faking it, that means that 50% are having some type of genuine experience.

Some doctrinal issues are above my pay grade. This is one of the few blogs that has risen to prominence that is written by someone who is not a pastor, not a seminary professor, not a local church pastor. I believe we can appreciate the complexity of a subject like substitutionary atonement or divine foreknowledge without having to dissect it, just as one can be a connoisseur of fine foods without necessarily being a great cook. If I can, in my lifetime, fully master just two things — incarnation and atonement — then I will have accomplished much.

For me, it’s about whether or not something resonates with me, in light of other teaching I’ve heard, other reading I’ve done, and the general apprehension I have of the ways of God. Is that subjective? You bet it is.

TOL sidebar March 2014Why not do the pastoring thing?

It’s now been two years since I last did pulpit supply in a church; though with our bookstore ministry, I get to preach several times a week; it’s just the crowd size is much smaller. Over the past year, my goal was simply to completely memorize a 35-minute sermon, and I think that’s ready to go now. Otherwise, there’s no way I would want to take what local church pastors take on, either in terms of time or the emotional energy that must be spent.

I would like to be ordained however. I know that sounds strange, but I’m looking for an Evangelical organization that offers some accountability beyond paying $50 a year for a clergy card so you can perform weddings. I don’t want to do funerals, weddings or pastor-for-hire events, but I would like to be able to sit at the same table as clergy and have a collegial relationship that I don’t have now despite the blog or the bookstore or time spent in itinerant ministry.

On the other hand, I’ll take an honorary degree from a recognized Evangelical institution. They can present it to me in ceremony, or just let me know if one falls off the back of a truck, Proverbs 25:27 notwithstanding.

Number One WidgetNext on the blog?

There’s always a breaking story or issue waiting to happen, and always someone in the widest sphere of Christianity about to have their fifteen minutes of fame. At a deeper level, there are always trends resulting from the continuing tension between Christianity and popular culture. Rather than just jump in on the story that’s the flavor of the week, I think we should carefully choose the issues that use our mental energy.

Anything else to add?

Tonight I’m speaking about the blog to a group of students at Canada Christian College; but I’m doing it pre-recorded, which means if you’d like to learn more, click this link. It runs about 18 minutes and it is audio-only with a few quickly-put-together slides. I’ll leave it up for a limited time.

 

Thinking Out Loud Banner for Christian Blog Topsites

 

February 23, 2016

Deconstructing is Easy; Building Takes Skill and Time

Filed under: blogging, issues — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Blog Birthday 8

This was actually the 4th item posted when I launched the blog eight years ago, not the first, but I think it reflects what online opinion writers should strive for, especially when it is so easy to write and post critique. The comments following the poem itself were on one of the websites where we located this version of it.


Builders and Wreckers

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.

 

January 5, 2016

2015 Was Not Worth Remembering

Filed under: blogging, family — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

I’m told I don’t “write myself” into enough of this blog. Trust me, it’s not worth reading. It would just depress you. In reviewing 2015, would I mention the robbery? Our car was broken into in May — the day before my birthday — resulting in the loss of many things my wife held near and dear that were in her purse at the time. Or the 7 weeks work she lost this summer after falling down the stairs and wrecking her ankle? Or my litany of medical specialist appointments in the first half of the year? Or that the Christian bookstore we apparently own lost money just about every day we unlocked the doors? Or the fact we never got a vacation this year? (Honestly, not one night spent in anything but our own bed.) Or that increasingly, none of our cars are very driveable?

And then there’s the dark cloud that kinda hung over Christmas as it looked like my mother was in her last days. (She’s seems to have recovered, again, for now.)

For my kids however, a much better memory. Our oldest did a 4-month missions excursion in the first third of the year that took him to Denver and then Calgary and then Haiti and then back to Calgary. He ended the year landing a really nice, permanent job.

Our youngest got the lead in the college’s annual play in January and went on from there to have two of his best semesters yet after some rocky residence experiences in his freshman and sophomore years. So for both boys, 2015 weren’t so bad. (Yes, I know it should be wasn’t. Heck, the youngest is an English major.)

But basically, we’ve never been the Christmas newsletter type of family. We have a number of friends who do this; some still by snail mail and some electronically. Often, it all looks so perfect. The Wilkinson Family Newsletter would seem more like a desperate cry for help.

I honestly thought of just making stuff up one year. I think an imaginary life would be rather funny. Or we could introduce fictional characters: ‘Merwin is finally out of rehab and Jocelyn has decided she’s going to keep the baby after all.’

But right now, I can’t see myself writing humor. You have to be in the mood, and when you’ve just spent two weeks in the middle of family crisis, you just can’t shake it off overnight. You need time to heal; like maybe all of 2016.

 

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