Thinking Out Loud

November 23, 2015

November 12, 2015

Reviewing Wicked Women of the Bible

In a publishing environment that has brought us Bad Girls of the Bible and Desperate Women of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible, it was only a matter of time until Wicked Women of the Bible. Zondervan author and editor Ann Spangler’s titles are usually a little bit more pedestrian, but as she explains it her publisher “suggested that it might be interesting to use the word wicked in both its literal and ironic sense;” or cover what the blurb calls “wicked and ‘wicked good.'” In all honesty, I see this book coming back in a year or two on my “formerly published as…” list with a new title.

Wicked Women of the Bible - Ann SpanglerMoving past that, I expected to find perhaps at most a dozen women covered, but this book takes on no less than twenty; and for each there is the story itself, followed by some background on the setting, followed by study questions. That “The Times” article follows the story is an interesting twist, that contained information that was well-researched, as were the stories themselves. (Each section’s title page also contains a related Biblical text.)

God chooses to reveal himself through narrative. The stories we grow up with — whether involving male or female protagonists — are actually telling us much about His character and dealings with His people. Some of the stories in this collection were quite familiar, and some involved women that are less frequently highlighted. The ones we learned as children are probably in the former category, yet I found both types of account to be written in a measured, informative manner.

Spangler’ present-tense storytelling style also involves bits and pieces of conjecture, but nothing too excessive. This is not what some call ‘Biblical Fiction,’ but falls more into the commentary category. Some of the best insights are in the footnotes; I never considered Jericho’s Rahab as an innkeeper. Or that Bathsheba wasn’t entirely an innocent victim of King David’s advances. Still, in one case David is singing to his wife Michal, and the sample text provided is recognizable from Song of Solomon. A footnote acknowledges this inter-generational stretch, but for some reason, this one concerned me.

Overall however, this is a great resource for small groups and an excellent catch-up for new Christ followers unfamiliar with these narratives. It also provides balance to those who feel the nature of the Bible literature is overly patriarchal.

October 30, 2015

Currently Reading: Gunning for God by John Lennox

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:46 am

I must be unintentionally driving my book promotion and publicity contacts a little crazy. Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing books that are (a) not new and (b) not from the usual gang of publisher suspects, but are in fact things friends have loaned to me.  Not having the same obligation to review by a certain day, or to have read the whole book, I’ve been posting things here when I’m about half-way through, only to realize afterwards that I want to finish the whole book before returning it.

Gunning For God - John LennoxSuch is the case for Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John Lennox (Lion Books, 2011). I’m not a science guy exactly, but I am finding this extremely easy to follow and the author’s style very engaging. Lennox will be 72 next week (he shares a birthday  with Billy Graham) and to the best of my knowledge is still a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (which gave us that other part-time Christian apologist you may have heard of, C. S. Lewis).

The book’s purpose is not to argue for the existence of God, or a particular model of creationism, but rather to point out the flaws in the arguments of the major proponents of what is termed The New Atheism, which Lennox points out isn’t new at all. And item by item, he does refute their arguments and even the right of scientists to delve into certain issues of philosophy or moralism that are beyond their purview.

But while there are areas where the author feels strongly that Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are somewhat lacking in scholarship (such as Biblical interpretation) or have wandered outside their boundaries of their respective fields (such as ethics) or have taken a leap of logic (such as imposing conditions on Christianity that would never be accepted if the shoe was on the other foot) he chooses to disarm them gracefully.

Christian apologetics doesn’t fascinate every Christ-follower, but I would argue that people need to include books like this once in awhile to have a balanced reading diet. This one hits all the high notes and is certainly one of the best resources to counter the arguments being made by those on the other side.


October 22, 2015

Making Your Comeback

Louie Giglio, pictured here with wife Shelley, isn't a household name among Evangelicals, unless you're under a certain age

Louie Giglio, pictured here with wife Shelley, isn’t a household name among Evangelicals, unless you’re under a certain age

Louie Giglio is probably a name better known to people who are under a certain age. The founder of the Passion Conferences is also the founder of Six Steps records and Passion City Church in Atlanta. In its various forms, his Laminin video has been viewed several million times on YouTube.

Louis Giglio - The ComebackThe Comeback: It’s Not Too Late and You’re Never Too Far (Thomas Nelson, 2015) is, at least my opinion, positioned to become Giglio’s bestselling book to date. The topic is certainly relevant to anyone who has ever been knocked down, beaten up, rejected, or alienated.

The book weaves autobiographical snapshots from the author’s life with contemporary stories and familiar Old and New Testament narratives. The writing style is very similar to other authors we frequently review here: Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, Mark Batterson, etc. and the genre probably owes a lot to Max Lucado.

This is a very well-crafted book with generous helpings of scripture stories for people needing encouragement for people celebrating a fresh start, people needing a comeback in their future, and people for whom the reality exists that a comeback is simply impossible.

But I want you to meet Louie Giglio, so I’ll let him tell you about the book himself…

Look for Comeback in the bright orange wrapper wherever you buy books!


October 19, 2015

The Bible as Literature

I remember cringing the first time I saw the course offered at my ‘secular’ university: The Bible as Literature. This was a book which had changed my life and which was so highly treasured among the people of my faith tribe, that to reduce it to simply ‘literature’ seemed disgraceful. Part of this was the context; after all, what could this godless college possibly have to offer that would affirm the tenets of my Evangelical upbringing?

In some ways, today I still see the Bible as so much more and yet I am also now a strong advocate for the one story type of approach to sacred scripture, impressing on any and all who will listen the idea of a single overarching story. I’m also increasingly convinced that the ways and purposes of God have been revealed through narrative. This is, after all, the way our children learn the first principles of our faith system, through Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter and Paul.

Texts of TerrorLast week a long-time acquaintance loaned me a copy of a 1984 book she had just purchased: Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative by Phyllis Trible (Fortress Press). The four stories are truly among the most horrific the Old Testament has to offer: Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and the unnamed mistress in what is probably the worst of them all, the story commencing in Judges 19.

Why are these stories even in the Bible? It’s a fair question, and it doesn’t diminish my respect if you feel like asking it.

I couldn’t help but thinking these four stories would make a great Halloween month preaching series, sorta like a friend of ours did a few years back. (We referred to him in this 2010 blog post.)

I was also a little nervous about the idea of this being a particularly “feminist” reading of the text, but it didn’t really play out that way. True, it’s centered on female characters and would fit well into a Women’s Studies core curriculum, but I think the commentary was fair and balanced, and certainly delved into a lot more detail on these particular stories than you might find in a broader commentary title on Genesis, 2 Samuel or Judges.

But the reading the Bible through the lens of literary criticism is both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The reference to “chiasmus” (I know these as chiasms) which are stories containing a built-in symmetry (often following the form, A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’ or something similar*) was interesting but I don’t know that every story has to have this feature. I can see how it makes for great literature but again, I think you’re forcing the literary agenda on texts that, as beautiful as they are, weren’t written to win a prize for non-fiction.

To that end, the author had a penchant for invoking Messianic phrases from Isaiah. Some of them were obvious I suppose, you could see them coming, but I’m not sure how this advances understanding of these texts. I just didn’t see the typology; placing these women as types of Christ, though there were some similarities in the storyline. The payoff on some of those comparisons really was found in the word-study application to similar uses of the same Hebrew word in passages with which we are familiar.

I did love the contrast between the text in Judges, “Every man did what was right in his own eyes” to the author’s commentary that while that may have been the case when “there was no King in Israel,” when there was a king, “Royalty did the right in its own yes.” Good observation. There was another section — one you didn’t underline — I meant to come back to, but now I can’t find it. 

Texts of Terror is a 1984 print-on-demand paperback ($20 US, 128 pages) with a forward by Walter Brueggemann, that is part of the Overtures to Biblical Theology series.

We ran this picture just a few days ago — it’s from a different source — but it’s appropriate to repeat here:

Exodus as a reversal of Genesis


October 17, 2015

Court Rules Google Can Continue Scanning Books

Filed under: books — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am

My Library

If Google Books isn’t a feature you use, this may not seem of great interest; but it affects authors and publishers greatly as well as having repercussions on what the word “copyright” truly means. All this in the same year that the U.S. courts re-defined what “marriage” really means. There’s a continuity to both decisions, don’t you think? But alas, I digress.

From BBC News:

Google can continue to scan millions of books for an online library without violating copyright laws, the US court of appeal ruled on Friday.

The [U.S. appeals] court rejected claims from a group of authors that Google Books violated their intellectual property rights.

Judges sided with an earlier ruling that the digital library was “fair use” and provided a public service…

…The Authors Guild and some individual writers filed the lawsuit in 2005, claiming the project infringed on copyright protection and authors’ ability to make money from their work.

Google Books is a project to scan and digitize millions of books to allow users to search and read excerpts from them.

Judge Pierre Leval wrote: “Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests).”

…The Authors Guild plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court…

There’s more; continue reading at BBC

October 15, 2015

Currently Reading

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:29 am

I have books stashed all over; in the living room, by the bedside table, and at the workplace* that I access not for review purposes, but just casually reading them for their input. Sometimes I reach the half-way mark and consider doing a review after all; you never know. With these I’m almost at the middle page, though these two books could not be more different.

The Key to Everything - Matt KellerMatt Keller — The Key to Everything: Unlocking the Life You Dream of Living (Thomas Nelson, September 2015)

This would fall into the Leadership genre as Keller is both a Florida pastor and a leadership consultant. The theme is teachability and he looks at things that impede it, the nature of it, and the art of maintaining it; using examples from his own experience and principles taken from the story of Saul (the OT king) and Saul (the NT Paul) and Solomon (the OT wise guy.) Is teachability truly the key to everything? In the intro, even Keller admits the title is a bit overreaching.

There’s some good stuff here for pastors as well as husbands/dads, but the primary target reader is probably someone in business. If you’d like to know more, try this review.

So far there’s been some repetition, and I wish that (like Kyle Idleman) the rather humorous footnotes had been bottom-of-page instead of end-of-chapter; and the content is — as it is in all leadership books — aimed at those who are driven to success. If you like John Maxwell**, who is frequently quoted, you’ll like this.

Accidental Saints - Nadia Bolz-WeberNadia Bolz-Weber — Accidental Saints: Finding God in All The Wrong People (Convergence, September, 2015)

A year-and-a-half after the autobiographical Pastrix (which we reviewed here), the tattooed, sometimes foul-mouthed, Lutheran pastor from Denver is back, this time with what could be described more as a collection of essays; many of which revolve around the various people who make up the weird that is House For All Sinners and Saints (aka HFASS; say it out loud, you know you want to) and people she encounters in the course of her unlikely vocation as professional clergy.

Most people reading this will struggle getting past the language (i.e. occasional F-bombs and S-bombs)*** yet my thinking on this is the same as what my wife and I conclude each time we listen to a new sermon podcast from her church; namely that underneath all the tats Nadia’s theology is quite sound; quite orthodox. Some of the chapters, like the one where as a young Church of Christ girl she visits the home of a very Marian Catholic family, are actually quite heart-warming.

For reasons that escape me, Random House, Hachette and Simon and Schuster insist on releasing their religious books, published under the imprints Waterbrook (and Convergence which this one is), Faithwords and Howard Books, in first-edition hardcovers. Even Canada doesn’t catch an “international paperback edition” break as it does with Christian publishers Baker, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, etc. There’s always a paperback down the road, but I think a book like this one, published in a popular trade edition, could seize its momentum and draw in a greater number of readers.****

Nadia may never make a list of favorite authors, but she’s definitely one of my favorite people.

Like I said, the two books could not be more different, but I am enjoying them both.

*But not the bathroom. This is, in my opinion an abuse of books. You’re there for a specific purpose and you want to get in and get out quickly. To paraphrase Proverbs 25:17, ‘Do not spend too much time on thy neighbor’s toilet, lest you get caught up reading the magazines there.’ (Actually, that’s a big stretch from the original text.)

**I’m not a J.M. fan myself, but I’d rather be effective than successful. Nonetheless, there appears to be a strong market for this genre of writing, and there are a number of leadership-related blogs listed in the right margin here at Thinking Out Loud.

***I’m more concerned about the H-word: hate. I think that in past decades we’ve placed too much emphasis on particular lexical elements (like the f-word), and not enough on the content of what people are actually saying. (But don’t expect me to use that word in full here anytime soon.)

****I have always marveled at, even the midst of recession, the American insistence on first-edition hardcovers. England, Australia, New Zealand and other such places always get the paperbacks from Day One. As someone in the business, I never miss an opportunity to rant on this.

October 9, 2015

The End of Me: A Book For Those Who’ve Reached Their Limit

This is my 4th time around reviewing a book by Kyle Idleman and those previous titles — Not a Fan, Gods at War, and AHA — have been very well received; plus we’ve also looked at the video curriculum for each of those titles plus several posts devoted to the H20 DVD series. It’s partly that I enjoy his writing and speaking, but partly that I just want to be agent for creating awareness of products I believe can be especially useful in the life of those who have been on their Christ-following journey for awhile, those just starting out, and those who haven’t yet crossed the line of faith.

The End of Me - Kyle IdlemanWhich brings us to The End of Me: Where Real Life in The Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins (David C. Cook, paperback, September 2015), the fourth major release by the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Do you ever read the little subject categories they place near the barcodes on books? On my copy this one says “RELIGION” (in capital letters just like that) and then the subcategories “Christian Life” and “Spiritual Growth.” I want to suggest three different bookstore categories where I would file this title.

Bible Commentary – Okay, suppose any Christian title is in some way an amplification of Bible truths, but some authors include this dimension more than others. The End of Me starts out with four particular statements from The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus seems to turn the logic of religious presuppositions on its head. The broken in spirit inherit the Kingdom. Those who weep are comforted. You know these as selections from a part of the sermon we call The Beatitudes. He then continues with four additional principles that are rooted in other parts of the New Testament that continue the upside-down theme. The empty are filled. The weak are strong.

However, each chapter goes beyond the obvious, single allusion to a particular passage. We see that the whole tenor and character of the New Testament reflects these principles multiple times over.

Self Help – Christ’s call to discipleship is very much a call to action. Through his ministry, Kyle Idleman has run into people in all types of life situations and shares these along with personal anecdotes of people missing out on the fullness that God has for them through poor decision making.

In other words, if we can learn the upside-down principles Jesus teaches, we can actually save ourselves a lot of grief and pain.

Humor – As with the previously mentioned three titles, Kyle Idleman is one of those naturally funny people. Some of it is self-deprecating humor, some is dry and sarcastic, and some of it is simply his writing style. The footnotes may be distracting to some, but to me, they’re an integral part of the text.

I like an author who doesn’t take himself too seriously, although he takes his faith very seriously.

There are a number of things about The End of Me that are similar to themes in the previous three published works. Like Not a Fan, there is the idea that following Christ involves commitment to ideals and values and beliefs that go against the ways of a secularized society. Like Gods at War there is the dimension that to live in the upside-down Kingdom is to do so against various other worldviews that are competing for our attention and allegiance. And like AHA, there is the important factor of realizing we’ve reached our limit — the end of life on our own terms — and coming to our senses.

Look for The End of Me in the book aisle in the bright red wrapper.


October 5, 2015

Eric Metaxas Gives the Women Equal Time

In a publishing environment where branding is prized, it was somewhat inevitable that at some point after the 2013 release of Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness (which we reviewed here) there would be a sequel. The former book was diverse: A President, two politicians, two athletes, a Pope, and a scaled down version of the author’s epic-length biography of Bonhoeffer. With Seven Women… the geography is perhaps more diverse, but the women all are crusaders of one type or another.

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness - Eric MetaxasA book like this allows you the opportunity to read the sections in any order, but in the end, I proceeded in the order the chapters occur; partly because the first four stores — Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, and Maria Skobtsova — were less familiar to me. That left Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa, stories with which perhaps you also are more acquainted with.

Biographies by necessity entail a certain amount of biographical data. In this case, one encounters some of the dry stuff that Wikipedia pages are famous for, only to turn the page and discover Metaxas has linked some aspect of the woman’s life to things we experience in the 21st Century. So with Wesley,

Much of what she taught them [her children] was for the purpose of helping them see through — and therefore be able to resist — the secular doctrines of that time. So she may be regarded not only as the inventor of homeschooling, but also of what today is sometimes called “worldview teaching,” something modern Christian parents in the West have begun embracing as they raise their children in an increasingly post-Christian culture.

And if you’ve ever attended a church where the attendance dips noticeably on the Sundays the Associate Pastor (or Youth Pastor) is preaching, the paragraphs concerning her husband’s curate will certainly resonate. You might add to the above-mentioned accomplishments that she foreshadowed a time when those skipping church would stay home and listen to a podcast.

The story of Maria aka Saint Maria of Paris carries with it both Orthodox and Catholic history. (If you don’t know her, see the quotation we ran yesterday.) Of course, Mother Teresa’s story is overtly Roman Catholic, while Joan of Arc includes elements of Christian Mysticism. Her faith and prophetic gifts are rather amazing.

Hannah More is an inspiration to all the poets, playwrights, novelists and songwriters who wonder if they can make a difference through their art, but again, the story contains references to More’s ability to work the political system of the day.

Corrie ten Boom’s story is better known to Evangelicals, as Rosa Parks’ name is known to anyone remotely aware of U.S. history. You could make these into a movie. Oh, wait… And Mother Teresa’s life example never gets old.  Again, I found the people whose stories were new to me most beneficial, and plan to return to those first four chapters for a second round. 

Some have criticized Mother Teresa for being all about social justice with little attention to proclamation, even to the point of doubting her salvation. Metaxas gives us two insights on this however, one being “the fine line Mother Teresa had to walk as a Christian missionary in a Hindu country;” the other being quotations from a clear statement of the gospel given in her 1979 acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

What is the secret of the greatness of all these women? Often, Metaxas leaves it to the reader to infer or extrapolate such principles, though in the book’s context, their Christian faith is an obvious factor that goes without saying. He is content to wear a historian’s hat for this project, and to vary from that would probably result in a book double the size. As it is, the book gives each figure about 30 pages making this a practical resource for both adults and students.

Frankly, I hope the ‘brand’ continues. Seven More Women… or Seven More Men…? Based on the first two books, I’d place my pre-order today.

A copy of Seven Women was provided by Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada. The Eric Metaxas Show airs Monday to Friday on the Salem Radio Network, or you can listen to past episodes at this link. Joan of Arc was, as it turned out, not Noah’s wife.

October 4, 2015

What Is a Saint?

Eric Metaxas, in the introduction to the chapter on Saint Maria of Paris, in the new book Seven Women and the Secrets of Their Greatness (Nelson Books).

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness - Eric Metaxas[S]he was a poet who swam among the literary elites of St. Petersburg; then she managed her family’s award-winning wine estate on the Black Sea — and became the mayor of the town there. When the Russian Revolution made life impossible, she moved to Paris and became a nun. Finally, even as a nun she confounds our expectations: she smoked and drank. She did not live in a monastery but considered the whole world her monastery. She married twice, divorced twice, and had three children by two different men. Yet for all of this woman’s dramatically unorthodox behavior, the Orthodox Church recognizes her as a saint. Can we be blamed for being confused about this extraordinary woman?

In truth, it is precisely because of all these things that she commands our attention. Her life was messy and complicated, as most of ours are messy and complicated. By breaking every mold in which we would put her, she shows forth the beauty and the full-throated reality of the Christian life in a way that few in history have done.

Many of us are from religious traditions that do not confer sainthood, so the very notion is foreign to us. However scripture reminds us:

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

Eph 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.

The definition varies among denominations, but God is looking for people who live “set apart” to Him and for Him.  Even in the messiness of your life, you can live as such a saint.

The seven women featured in the book are: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks

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