Thinking Out Loud

January 20, 2020

Renouncing Both a Doctrine and a Lavish Lifestyle

Review: God, Greed and the Prosperity Doctrine: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies

Many years ago the church which provided space for my Christian music retail, distributing and manufacturing business was also home to a daycare, a Christian newspaper, a radio ministry and a concert ministry. Among other things. And, oh yes, it was also rented by a faith healer of local renown who drew a modest crowd of about 250 people on Monday nights.

When the guy who had the radio and concert ministry got married, some of the other ‘tenants’ in the building got some rather last minute invitations, and I ended up going solo as did the faith healer. And that’s the 100% true story of how I found myself in a brief, one-on-one, subdued and superficial conversation with Benny Hinn as we both waited for the doors to open to the reception.

It was our only direct contact, but suffice it to say that every time his name was mentioned — and in the years that followed it would be mentioned frequently — I had something more than a passing interest. By the time Benny Hinn relocated to Florida, he was, depending on the values behind your metrics, a major success in the world of miracle crusade evangelism.

So I watched with interest in 2017 when word leaked out that his nephew Costi, the son of Vancouver pastor Sam Hinn, had renounced the prosperity doctrine. When the book God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel was released late last year by Zondervan, I missed out on the opportunity for a pre-publication review copy, but after actually holding a copy in my hands and reading a single chapter just a few days ago, I knew I wanted to process the entire story.

I read most of the book in a single afternoon, completing it in the early evening.

The story exposes the excesses and the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Benny Hinn Crusade team. The private jet. The luxurious food. The $25,000/night hotel. These things were paid for by the sacrificial donations of people who could ill afford to part with the money, many times in the belief that a blessing was just around the corner if they would give.

The irony, to put it mildly, was not lost on young Costi. On a trip to India, his conscience was pricked and it set in motion a chain of events that ended with his separating himself from the family business. He studied at a Baptist seminary and now serves as Executive Pastor of Discipleship at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona and also heads a resource ministry, For The Gospel.

The book chronicles his jet-setting adventures, his choice to pursue academic study to equip himself for ministry, and his meeting the woman (now his wife) who would be part of re-orienting his thinking on many doctrinal issues. The book is roughly two-thirds narrative and one-third teaching on what he now regards as error in prosperity teaching.

He now quotes Charles Spurgeon and John MacArthur. Yes, that John MacArthur who has castigated charismatics for decades. It’s like he’s gone from one extreme to the other, out of the fire and into the frying pan, if you like.

With one exception. He’s still continuationist in his doctrine. He still believes that Jesus heals supernaturally. I’m not sure MacArthur, who is a cessationist, is fully engaged on that topic.

There’s a Q-and-A section in the back of the book which spells out his current relationship to Hinn family members. I’m betting Thanksgiving and Christmas may have some awkward moments. But he states in the introduction that he is not interested in having his book be seen as an exposé, but rather, he’s simply telling his own story.

Since the book was published, I understand that Benny Hinn has recanted at least some or all of the prosperity teaching, but we’ve seen Benny do this before (such as the idea that each member of the Godhead is itself triune) and then retract the retraction in later writing.

My devouring of the book reflects my personal interest, but I think it’s worthy of a recommendation. But maybe not for anyone who gave money to Benny Hinn. For those, reading it would be rather painful.


Book page at Zondervan: Click here

Once again, thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada for getting a copy to me so quickly!

December 31, 2019

Blogging Out Loud

Regular readers will realize that once I crossed the ten year mark here at Thinking Out Loud, I released myself from the burden of writing a new piece every day.

In just 3 months, Christianity 201, our sister blog, will reach the same milestone, and I have stated that I am going to do the same there; though this is problematic, as it’s presently a daily devotional blog.

The process of finding daily Bible study articles and then extracting them without violating stated copyrights continues to be a challenge. Mostly, I rely on writers we have used before, along with bloggers who are just starting out and happy to have their material shared.

Increasingly I’ve been writing a slightly greater percentage of the articles myself, which meant fewer pieces here. I know it’s been rather sparse, and it’s not that the creative ideas don’t come, but it’s a question of time, and also the mature realization that I don’t need to respond to every issue making the rounds (and the last half of this year brought plenty of them, didn’t it?)

My reading suffered this year for this and a number of other reasons. I’m realizing that while I enjoy keeping up with the books which achieve popularity, I’d like to go deeper myself. Three things on my wish-list right now are published by IVP (InterVarsity Press) who have repeatedly turned down review copy requests over the years. Mining their back-catalog, I’d love to turn the pages of Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by Randolf Richards and Brandon O’Brien; Evangelical, Pentecostal, Sacramental: Why The Church Should Be All Three by Gordon Smith; and anything by John Walton. Again, all IVP, but publishers only send promotional copies for new releases, no matter how large the blog readership.

I still work two shifts a week at the bookstore. Recently someone asked us, “Who would be a good author for someone who likes N.T. Wright? Or Timothy Keller?” I discovered in my search that GoodReads offers an “authors similar to…” selection for key writers. If you want to go deeper in 2020, here’s a few with whom you can’t go wrong (somewhat edited for my customer’s response):

■ Similar to Wright:
Eugene H. Peterson
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
John H. Walton
Scot McKnight
James K.A. Smith
G.K. Chesterton
John R.W. Stott

■ Similar to Keller:
Lee Strobel
Richard J. Foster
A.W. Tozer
J.I. Packer

Maybe you can think of others.

I wish you fruitful and blessed reading in 2020!

 

December 16, 2019

Danielle Strickland Tackles the Gender Controversies

Danielle Strickland has a new book and 6-session DVD study releasing in February with Thomas Nelson. We profiled Danielle in May of 2018. She’s spoken at Willow Creek and NorthPoint Community Church and at various conferences. This Canadian author has already written for Monarch, NavPress and IVP.

The book, Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future releases in paperback on February 11th. The publisher marketing describes the book as follows:

We are currently at a strategic cultural intersection with relationships between women and men eroding. And it seems no one knows what to do. While it is good for women to expose their pain, what often happens is that they immediately blame the person at the other end of it, which sets up a never-ending cycle of accusations, denial, avoidance, and ultimately devastation for everyone involved.

This moment of discovery should not signal the end but instead become an opportunity to create a different world where men and women are better together.

Better Together is a beacon of hope in a challenging storm. It’s where thoughts can be re-channeled and hope rekindled as author Danielle Strickland offers steps toward a real and workable solution. Her premise is that two things are needed for change:

1) imagine a better world, and
2) understand oppression.

Understanding how oppression works is an important part of undoing it.

Danielle says, “I refuse to believe that all men are bad. I also refuse to believe that all women are victims. I don’t want to be just hopeful, I want to be strategically hopeful. I want to work toward a better world with a shared view of the future that looks like equality, freedom, and flourishing.

The video curriculum releases two weeks later on February 25th. Again, the publisher description:

This six-week video study takes on the most difficult issue our culture and the Church is facing today: gender division. Known activist and speaker, Danielle Strickland shows that we are stronger, freer, louder, and livelier in alignment with one another.

In a time when societal disruptions are rampant—have you wanted to cut and run?

Have you considered your own gender versus the opposite in a defensive way?

If we are honest, we all have. And that truth is where we begin to be set free. We are only as strong as our understanding of our differences—and they are many and varied and begin with each our fingerprint. But we were not created alone, or separately. We were in fact created of and from and in the image of the same God. Until God created man AND woman, he called everything he created ‘good.’ When he saw us together, he declared, “It is VERY good” Gen 1:1-31.

So how then, in a current state of division at every intersection of life, do we return to the flourishing of men and women together as originally intended?

In this six-session study, author, activist, and headlining international speaker Danielle Strickland will guide us through our differences and mutuality with a biblical lens and foundation. She will teach and inspire us to face the core challenge that drives all division—FEAR—and to change the story of our culture. We will transform and become examples of equality and equity as in the Garden of Eden where we were made better, together.

The video trailer for the study series, posted above, released just a few days ago.

 

 used by permission of Christian Book Shop Talk Blog

December 14, 2019

Currently Reading: Jesus by Max Lucado

Though not slated for release until late into January of next year, I wanted to make you aware of this book now. I usually choose books more esoteric or eclectic than the somewhat mainstream work of Christian bestselling author Max Lucado, but was sent a copy of Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name (Thomas Nelson) and decided to check out a chapter or two.

Immediately I was struck by how deserving Lucado is of his massive sales appeal. He didn’t get his reputation by accident; it was well earned.

In this book, portions of his other works have been woven together seamlessly to create chapters focusing on various elements in the timeline of Christ’s earthly ministry. Yes, some of the chapters are from individual books, but others involve material from four or five different titles.

I’m just past the one-third mark, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say closer to the January 21st release date, but if an author could have a “Greatest Hits” collection, for Lucado, it would be this book. 

Also, add this to the list of “first” books for a new Christian.

November 26, 2019

Review: The Faith of Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

Maybe it’s because of the type of reading I normally do, but for some reason, I was expecting something closer to the theology of Queen Elizabeth. Where does she stand on the burning doctrinal questions that so preoccupy and usually divide people here on the blogs, on Twitter, and on the Internet in general?

The Faith of Queen Elizabeth by Dudley Delffs is not that type of book. Furthermore, I would argue that the book’s title offers a promise which in some respects, remains undelivered. Yes, the woman is absolutely extraordinary and she makes no attempts to conceal that she attributes much of her inner strength to her trust in God, and how that source is available to all of us, regardless of our socioeconomic station in life.

But it was only in the ninth (out of ten) chapter that the author provided anything close to window into her prayer and devotional life, and the spiritual inheritance she received from her mother, and grandmother before her.

For someone like myself, who doesn’t read a lot in the genre, the book provided some much appreciated historical context for the nearly 70 years which have formed her reign. In fairness, a look at her faith is inseparable from the larger narrative of her biography, and a look at her life story is inseparable from her faith.

The question arises then, how deep can a journalist investigate when royal protocol dictates the inevitability of high levels of privacy? Sections of the book rely heavily on anecdotes concerning the information-gathering process for the book. There is the conversation with the unnamed woman in the coffee shop and the anonymous man on the train. I love the personal factor at work here, but one hesitates when writing a book of this nature to make the story about one’s self.

Other sections of the book rely on quotations from films and Netflix series about the Queen. I found myself several times asking if I am reading something which purports to be based on actual events, or if its inclusion in the book is for comparative purposes, or just speculation. Delffs made several trips for research, though it did appear at times that the book could have easily been written at the local library.

And then there was the head of an organization I contacted to tell him that their charity is mentioned in one pivotal scene. He was aware of the book and said that it is not a charity for which the Queen is a patron. Which left me confused. Why was she at the event? Why not adopt the charity? I went back to the original sentence and found it rather ambiguous.*

So am I giving this a thumbs down?

Far from it. I think this is one of those bridge titles you could give someone who is perhaps a royalist or monarchist or simply has an interest in all things British, but is unlikely to pick up another Christian title. While the book is not at all faith-focused on every page, and neither might they describe it as the best biography of the Queen they’ve ever read, The Faith of Queen Elizabeth does point to how a personal faith in Jesus Christ is a central part of her life.


The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown | 224 pages with extensive photographs | Zondervan Publishing | hardcover in U.S.; hardcover and international paperback edition elsewhere | December 3 release

*The advance reading copy I received does not permit quotations, as the final text may vary.

July 20, 2019

Canada’s Best Kept Charity Secrets (4): Christian Salvage Mission

Filed under: books, Christianity, missions, philanthropy — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

This week we’ve been highlighting the work of four Christian organizations based in Canada. I realize that our readership here is three-quarters American, but I wanted to give visibility to these groups, and if you’re in the U.S. and choose to donate remember that while you won’t get a valid U.S. income tax receipt for this one, your dollars will go a lot farther because of the currency difference.


Christian Salvage MissionChristian Salvage Mission is proof that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. This organization takes books to places where they are needed, on the mission field where English-speaking workers, unable to bring their libraries with them — appreciate the infusion of fresh resource materials and devotional reading. Furthermore, increasingly, larger numbers of indigenous peoples are learning English, including local pastors and Christian workers.

The organization packs container loads which are shipped using money from donations and money from AIR MILES donated by people who don’t wish to save them for their own use.

There are three ways people get involved.

  1. If you believe in the power of Christian literature you probably have pet causes (such as Wycliffe Bible Translators) and you can add Christian Salvage Mission to the list of organizations worthy of your financial support.
  2. If you are in Canada and know someone who is downsizing their personal library, you can let them know that CSM is an option, especially if that person did any formal Bible college or seminary study and has the type of library pastors are always wanting to get their hands on — but this can also include donations of obsolete Sunday School curriculum or surplus copies of Our Daily Bread in addition to books, commentaries, devotionals, old hymnbooks, etc. — you can arrange to get them to a CSM representative (who are all across Canada) by contacting them in Hamilton through their website or by e-mail; or if you’re reading this in the United States, two similar ministries exist. This site also clarifies the types of materials they are needing.
  3. Prayer!

…A year after getting involved, we finally got to see their office and warehouse in person. Located in a modest industrial unit in southeast Hamilton it’s hard to believe that from this small space, material goes out to various countries with life-changing potential.

Volunteers sort materials daily. These people have a unique window on the world of Christian literature printed both now and in years past.

Murray answered our questions in the warehouse and described their work in detail.

CSM takes a wide variety of materials and has volunteer coordinators and drop off centres in almost every Canadian province.

July 9, 2019

IVP Author Loses to Counterfeit Books Sold on Amazon

Filed under: books, Christianity, ethics, publishing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 am

Christian Author Robbed

Maybe it’s because I work in this field, that this account hit so hard, so personally. This story broke on Christianity Today yesterday morning; excerpts below are just a portion of a larger story you’re encouraged to read in full:

It took Tish Harrison Warren nearly three years to publish her first book. It was more than 18 months of arranging childcare and carving out time to write before she had a manuscript—11 chapters chronicling details from her day-to-day life paired with the rhythms of church ritual.

By the time Liturgy of the Ordinary debuted in December 2016, she and her publishing team had gone through the process of selecting a cover (an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich against a bright green backdrop) and editing the page proofs to check every dot and detail.

But over the past year, thousands of readers ended up with copies that didn’t quite look like the book she and InterVarsity Press (IVP) had finalized three years ago. The cover was not as sharp. The pages were a bit off-center.

These were not IVP’s books at all. They were counterfeits.

A three-year labor of love. It’s a heartbreaking story to read.

IVP estimates that at least 15,000 counterfeit copies of Liturgy of the Ordinary were sold on the site over the past nine months, their retail value totaling $240,000. That nearly cuts sales of Warren’s book in half; IVP reported 23,000 legitimate copies were sold over the past year. IVP also found evidence of counterfeiting on a smaller scale for one other title, Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity, which came out in 2002.

But it’s probably not an isolated story, though CT’s story tilts in that direction:

Sharon Heggeland, vice president for sales operations at Tyndale said, “We have monitoring software in place that looks for third-party sellers. We have very minimal issues with third-party sellers taking over the buy buttons on our products, and we have seen no instances of counterfeit Tyndale titles.”

I think personally we haven’t heard the last story of a Christian title being counterfeited. And yet, inexplicably, this:

But within 48 hours of learning about the Amazon counterfeiters, she bought groceries at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, rented a movie on Prime, and received a package with the telltale arrow logo on her porch.

There’s a lot more; this is complicated. Kate Shellnutt has done a great job of reporting this and you are again encouraged to read the whole report at this link.

Counterfeit sales impact not only Tish Harrison Warren’s current title, but affects contracts for future titles.

Meanwhile, at her blog, Tish Harrison Warren offers readers some options, including how to identify the fake copies, and then returning the books to Amazon and obtaining an authentic copy from IVP with free shipping.

[Note: If you bought your copy from a brick-and-mortar bookstore, it probably would have been purchased direct from IVP and not affected.]

The author also says,

Pray for wisdom for IVPress, Amazon, and me. We each have decisions to make about how best to proceed now that we know that there are counterfeit books out there. This is a situation that IVP has never faced before and they in particular need prayer for wisdom about how to respond.

I also have never faced this before and need wisdom about how to most wisely respond moving forward.

Amazon executives and decision-makers also need wisdom and motivation about how to respond to improve their systems. Please pray for all involved.


Interested in reading the book? Here’s the publisher blurb:

In each chapter of Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren looks at something-making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys-that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship. Come and discover the holiness of your every day.

Don’t just grab the lowest available price online; look for an established Christian retailer, or better yet, if a physical store exists near you, support them before Amazon has decimated the entire landscape.


UPDATE 10:05 AM EST — Determining if you have a counterfeit copy. At this Dropbox link, 11 images showing the telltale evidence of a fake book.

July 4, 2019

Remembering Norman Geisler

Filed under: apologetics, books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

A leading voice in Christian apologetics, author Norman Geisler passed away on Monday at age 86.

Books by Geisler in Christian bookstores include: Who Made God?, Chosen But Free, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, When Skeptics Ask, Essential Doctrine Made Easy, If God Why Evil, and more. He also contributed to many other books, such as Four Views on Eternal Security and a large number of Bible reference books.

Richard Land, Executive Editor of The Christian Post wrote:

…Dr. Geisler has been the “go to” authority for more than two generations of evangelical seminary students who were looking for a bold, erudite, and uncompromisingly faithful defense of the inerrant, infallible Word of God and the historical doctrines of the Christian faith. His ministry was invaluable, and his influence incalculable…

The funeral service will be on July 6th, Saturday at 3pm in Charlotte, North Carolina according to his Facebook page notice.

Read more at Religion News Service.

 

 

June 21, 2019

Andy Stanley Clearly Articulates the Premise of Irresistible

Maggie John of the daily Christian television show 100 Huntley Street has posted a full, 49-minute interview she did with Andy Stanley, talking first about his famous father and his call to ministry, and then focusing in more directly on his book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleased to the World. (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

Some people have their minds made up about what Andy did say or did not say and that’s unfortunate, because I don’t see how anyone can watch this with an open mind and not grasp the point he is trying to make; namely, the need to switch our emphasis from “The Bible says it,” to “Hundreds witnessed it;” to remind ourselves that the key to our faith is not rooted in a book as it is rooted in a resurrection.

I suppose that actually giving this some thought is too big a stretch for some. It’s easier to pre-judge Andy and his book and bring personal bias to the discussion before actually slowing down to hear him out. It’s easier to go on the attack on Twitter and other media than it is to consider that if we fail to listen to this, we’re in danger of losing an entire generation. It’s easier to create a panic, accuse someone of heresy, or rally the troops around a common enemy.

I’m all in on this. 100%. I’ve embedded the video below, but if you click on the YouTube logo, it will open on their site and you can capture the URL to watch on another device. You may read my original review of the book at this link.

 

April 18, 2019

Book Review: The Baggage Handler

I am reviewing a fiction title for the first time in many years.

The Baggage Handler actually released a few weeks ago. I had read the book in February — on an airplane appropriately — but never wrote anything at the time because it wasn’t releasing until March 26th. Then, that date simply flew by unnoticed.

The premise: Michael, David and Gillian all pass through the airport on the same day and no, they don’t end up with each other’s luggage. But there is a luggage mix-up to be sure, with varying degrees of consequences. There is a baggage handler, who seems to work two locations at once; the airport itself and the downtown lost-luggage facility.

And the key to the story is in that word baggage. Don’t think luggage or suitcases, rather this is all about the metaphorical baggage we all carry around, a moment of discovery for all three characters in the story when they try to retrieve their belongings.

Not surprisingly then, author David Rawlings describes himself as a writer of “stories for those who want to dive deeper.” (His follow-up, releasing in December is about a couples’ counsellor.)

It must be said that both the cover design and the decision to release the first edition in hardcover leaves the book bearing a striking similarity to similar titles by David Gregory; Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, A Day with a Perfect Stranger, etc. These titles, as well as similar ones by Andy Andrews, ask us to temporarily suspend belief as to plausibility and accept certain plot contrivances in order to learn a greater lesson.

Bouncing back and forth between the three central characters means the book moves along at good pace, and for those who want to “dive deeper” in a book club setting or even on a personal level, there is a short collection of discussion questions breaking the book into five sections.

My personal disappointment with the book was that as a longtime reader of Christian books in general, I kept waiting for God to show up. Somewhere. On a single page, perhaps. After all, Thomas Nelson put their imprint on it.

There’s no real definition for what makes Christian fiction and I suppose that on the spectrum of books that preach and books ‘written from a Christian perspective;’ this one is in the latter category. At least I hope so.

On the other hand, as someone with much exposure to both Andy Andrews and David Gregory, I see the value in this novel, and already recommended it to someone.

We all have things in our past we need to deal with.

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