Thinking Out Loud

February 21, 2017

Christianity in 30 Seconds

God Enters Stage Left - Tim Day

Three years ago, we introduced you to Tim Day’s book God Enters Stage Left. At the time it was published, it was part of a movement wherein many authors and publishers were looking for ways to express the Biblical narrative as a single story, unfettered by the divisions between its various books in general and the line of separation between the first and second testaments in particular. Today that sentiment among writers and Bible edition creators is, if anything, continuing to grow.

The thing I especially liked about God Enters Stage Left — and mentioned in the review — was that “everything is written with the non-churched, not-Bible-literate reader in mind. The pass-along potential here is huge…”

That was then. Very recently I was alerted to an interview that Tim Day did a few months ago on the program Context with Lorna Dueck on the power of story. (See below.) That got me thinking. The book is already very concise, but what if Tim had to reduce the story arc of the Bible’s 66 books to a 30-second elevator pitch? What would that look like? I got in touch with Tim through Twitter and what follows was his response. Note that the book and the core message of Christianity’s sacred text are somewhat synonymous; so this is also an elevator pitch for the book itself.

God Enters Stage Left is a creative retelling of the Biblical story as a six-act play.

Through history, the Bible has been used to support war, oppression and religious legalism, leading many people to question belief in God. God Enters Stage Left walks through the unfolding Biblical narrative to show that the actual meaning of this story is quite the opposite of popular belief.

God’s approach to transforming the human heart is not outside in – having the right rules, getting rid of bad people, following strong leaders and facing harsh accountability. Rather, Jesus shows us that God’s approach is quite the opposite. God changes the human heart inside out. As we experience deep love from a close friendship with God, this enables us to live a life of love. We are freed from a life governed by rules, top-down leadership, and harsh accountability. We can experience peace within and peace with others. We are freed us to serve others compassionately, even those we may consider our enemies.

God Enters Stage Left ends with a Q & A section that provides concise answers to many of the common questions people have about the Bible.

Tim Day is the Director of City Movement. He previously served for 14 years as Senior Pastor of The Meeting House. He lives in Burlington, Ontario, Canada with his family. He is married to Liz and they have three children, Nathan, Rachel and Josh.

Learn more about Tim and City Movement at his website.

Order the book at this link

What would your version “Christianity in 30 seconds” or “The Bible in 30 seconds” look like?


Watch the interview with Lorna Dueck: Fast forward to 17:23

February 9, 2017

Books Which Influenced Me

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

bookshelf-backgroundIn more spiritually formative years — and spiritual formation should be ongoing — there were several books I was encouraged to read which had a lasting effect. Many of these are now out of print, but I’ve included here things published in the last 40-50 years only. I have read some classics as well, especially Andrew Murray and A. W. Tozer. Glancing at my bookshelf, here’s what I came up with:

Less recently published

The Mind Changers – Emory Griffin  – Compared the evangelism process to candle-making with three stages: Melt, mold, make hard. Was recommended at a conference.

Contemporary Christian Communication – James Engle – Central to this was a chart showing the spiritual formation process from pre-conversion to decision to post-decision.

The Translation Debate – Clark Glassman – From the perspective of a Bible translator this looks at the challenges faced on the mission field. Wish IVP could find a way to revise and update this.

Shout it From the Housetops – Pat Robertson – Not exactly a popular name with some people today, but this early bio challenged me as Pat and his wife Dede sacrificed a posh lifestyle to buy a rundown TV station.

Destined for the Throne – Paul Billheimer – This was the first doctrinal book I was encouraged to purchase in the two years I was attending a charismatic congregation. It was recently repackaged.

Flirting with the World – John White – Showed that it’s the inner life that matters, not the externals by which people might be judged.

The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges – A wonderful companion read to the above title, this proved to be Bridges’ signature work.

Your God Is To Small – J. B. Phillips – Especially the first half, dealing with the false ideas people have about God. Should be required reading.

The Liberator and The Word on the StreetRob Lacey – Written for street youth in Manchester, England this was the most extreme paraphrase I’d ever encountered.

The Jesus I Never Knew – Philip Yancey – Based on some well-made and badly-made films on the life of Christ, a look at shaping an accurate picture of Jesus.

Theology for Non-Theologians – James Cantelon – One of the first of many I would read in the theodicy genre.

More recently published

Radical – David Platt – A challenge to be aware of and consider giving time to the cause of third world missions.

Irresistible Revolution – Shane Claiborne – What happens when a young man takes the teaching in an Eastern College course seriously.

Mark and Luke – Michael Card – There are actually four gospels in the series, I read these two and on each page Card brings the narratives to life in a fresh way.

Jim and Caspar Go to Church – Jim Henderson – Our modern church scene through the eyes of an atheist.

The Shack – Wm. Paul Young – Love it or hate it you have to admit this started a ton of conversations about the nature of God and the place of Christian fiction.

Days of Elijah – R. T. Kendall – For an Old Testament study, Kendall brought a lot of Christ to the table in this look at key Bible figure.

Not a Fan – Kyle Idleman – A great “first book” for a new Christian; it is a good representation of the Christian Living genre previously typified by Lucado and Swindoll.

If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat – John Ortberg – Maybe it was because I read this concurrent with the video series; a great faith-builder. 

There’s also the writers who brought significant elements to the discussion table; alternative thinkers like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren; church planters like Michael Frost and intellectuals like Greg Boyd.

I’m sure I could have listed this many again and I’ve left out somethings I would have wanted to include. The reviews on the blog are also books I recommend.

I’ll be away the day this publishes, so if you leave a comment and it gets caught in moderation, I’ll catch up to it eventually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 22, 2017

How We Treat Our Physical Copies of the Bible

water-damaged-bible

I want to ask for your help with something I’m working on for a future article; and this possibly applies more to those of you who have been a Christian for a longer period of your life, or even grew up in the church.

I want you think about a Bible in physical (print) form that you once owned, or that you own now, and ask if you have any reservations or feelings about one or all of the following questions.  (i.e. pick one and focus on it, or attempt to answer a few…)

  1. Is it okay to leave a copy of the Bible lying on the floor? (Either flat or upright.)
  2. Is it okay to have your Bible in a stack of other books with other books piled on top of it?
  3. Is it okay for stores to sell Bibles in damaged condition? (Especially if pages are slightly torn?)
  4. If a Bible becomes damaged, what is the proper method of disposing of a Bible? (Regular garbage / recycling / never dispose of … Consider the possibility of water damage if your home is flooded, for example.)
  5. Parents: Do you lean toward letting your kids use their Bible at whatever cost to its physical condition, or do you encourage greater reverence for the physical copy? (Keeping it in a special place, etc.)
  6. Finally (here’s a tricky one) what about underlining, circling, highlighting or the current fad of coloring in Bibles; is that appropriate? *

I don’t get a lot of feedback here despite the number of readers, but I really need your help on this one. Please use the comments, not the contact page, so everyone can see your response. And feel free to share the short-link for this article http://wp.me/pfdhA-8HS on social media. (Tell your friends it’s an open-ended survey about the care and feeding of Bibles.)

Bible Journaling 2

Bible Journaling 1

Bible Journaling 4

* The coloring Bible samples were already in my picture file; please don’t focus entirely on that particular question.

Please note that this article contains several keywords which may result in WordPress adding advertising below which does not originate with Thinking Out Loud or Christianity 201.

January 19, 2017

The Harsh Reality of an Aid Worker’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

Today’s a bit of an exception: A book that’s not new (published in 2012) and not carried by Christian retailers. Rather, it was loaned to me by a friend who met the author at a work-sponsored event several months ago and thought I would enjoy it. I need to return the book to him now, so I don’t even get to keep it, which means I really didn’t need to bother to write anything about it but the fact is, I’m really pumped (a pun which will you’ll get in a minute) about this and want to share it in the hope some of you might track it down.

wine-to-waterWine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World (Avery) is the suspense-filled autobiographical account of how Doc Hendley went from bartender in a college town to founding his own charity and being sent carte blanche to Darfur, Sudan by Samaritan’s Purse to develop a program to bring fresh water to people there regardless of their religion or politics.

Ever watched or read an appeal for a third-world charity and wondered what the people on the ground actually do when they wake up each morning? It’s possibly the polar opposite of what you imagine. As the story unwinds, Hendley is basically an actor in a play in which he has to write (and re-write) the script daily. There is guaranteed opposition and no real promise that you’ll live to the same the next day. In one harrowing tale, he is at a loss to understand how a bullet fired directly at his head could possibly have missed.

If you haven’t figured it out, the book’s title relates to how Hendley the Bartender begins a series of pub-based fundraising events with the aim of helping with the world water crisis. But he does so not knowing where the money will be used. When he first connects with Samaritan’s Purse, they actually turn down his donation and invite him to see the situation firsthand before he spends the first dollar.

I mentioned at the outset that Wine to Water isn’t sold at Christian retail, but perhaps it should be. On a personal level, Hendley strongly identifies with his religious upbringing as a preacher’s kid.  His personal faith in God and the power of prayer ought to be a challenge to the rest of us who perhaps have the dotted the is and crossed the ts when it comes to doctrine and theology, but may be missing out on actual real faith. I think it’s true that there are no atheists in foxholes.


Read an interview with Doc Hendley on the book’s page at Avery/Penguin. Donations can be made at winetowater.org .

January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

January 14, 2017

As Metaphorical as a Simile

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Maybe it’s because of the pending release of a certain movie which will go unmentioned which is based on a certain book which was so very controversial in 2007 when it released; but I keep thinking that some of us Christians are very narrow when it comes to embracing different art or literary forms…

Just because you heard the phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” in the movie Forrest Gump, you shouldn’t extrapolate the individual comparison in a single scene in the film to be a general guiding principle for life. In most respects, life is not at all like a box of chocolates. Nor, as Google might lead you to believe, is like an arrow, a bicycle, a camera, a deck of cards, an elevator, a football, a grapefruit, a hurricane, or… I’ll let you work your way through the rest of alphabet. In my wife’s opinion, life is more like a sushi bar, or the bag containing the Scrabble letters, or herding cats, but I’m willing to bet this month’s rent that those don’t work for you either.

Comparing things can be helpful to our understanding however. In Jesus’ teaching ministry, he took examples from the world as his hearers knew it — mostly agricultural comparisons — and either made direct connections or taught the principles as parables because they were parallel to things his audience could relate to. In my world, I often will use computer jargon and terminology to create an analogy which teaches a Biblical principle.

Our language generally offers us two options: Metaphor and simile. (You’d have to be as dumb as an ox not to know the difference. Just kidding! That’s an example of simile. And sarcasm.) A popular technique in the broad category of metaphor would be allegory, with the most recognizable examples in Christian literature being Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia books; along with a number of contemporary writers in the Christian fantasy fiction genre.

But there is another writing technique I would like to offer here as simply springboard. Skye Jethani does this in The Divine Commodity where he uses the art of Vincent van Gogh to get the discussion rolling, or in Futureville where the springboard is the vision of the future as offered by the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mark Batterson does this with The Circle Maker, beginning with the legend of Honi.

You could also argue that almost all Christian fiction — while some of it allegorical — is mostly springboard for further discussion; consisting either of internal deliberation, or discourse with friends in your book group, church library or at the Christian bookstore.

This technique does not sit well with all readers. The purists who prefer expository preaching to topical preaching would, with horror, rate the springboard type of writing even further down the spectrum. It’s just all too easy to criticize; to get lost in the metaphor or allegory and miss the point. Some recent popular preachers shun illustrations entirely to the point where, several years in, their advisors corner them to say, “We don’t really know anything about you.”

So here are some reminders:

  1. Most metaphors are limited to single aspects of the thing being compared. Any similarity life has to a box of chocolates is overshadowed by other aspects of the box, the wrapper, the plastic inset, etc., and life generally does not come with a complete guide printed on the lid. This is because…
  2. …All metaphors eventually break down at some point. There are a few ‘perfect’ metaphors, but more imperfect ones. This can lead to a situation where…
  3. …Metaphors and allegories are easily misunderstood. Not everybody grasps the comparison first time around, especially if the chosen metaphor is something somewhat foreign.
  4. Borrowing a theme or idea from another world — whether it’s a legend from another religion or a principle of motorcycle repair — does not necessarily imply endorsement.
  5. The placement of a metaphor or discussion springboard in mainstream Christian literature may result in it being seized upon by people on the fringes of mainstream Christianity who want to use the metaphor to say things the author never intended.

However — and this is so important — the use of parables and similar teaching forms by Jesus should be an encouragement to us to find similar redemptive analogies in our modern world. If you’re a writer, avoid the pressure to be boringly precise and instead, introduce edge into your writing by finding the connection everyone else has missed heretofore.

Communication is only achieved when the hearer fully gets it, and that will involve drawing parallels between ‘A’ and ‘B’ rather than repeating the words of a definition over and over to someone who is missing the point.

January 13, 2017

The Busy-ness of Christian Living

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

I’m about a third of the way through Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better by Brant Hansen Show host Brant Hansen. It’s probably lighter reading than many items I cover, but it’s what I need right now after a rather hectic fall season in which my reading schedule went totally out the window. The book in a nutshell: Christians should not be easily offended.

Here’s a quick excerpt.

unoffendableOne of my friends, David, said something this morning during our church gathering that I keep thinking about.  He said, “You know what? I think God is really just looking for spiritual people. That’s what He’s always been looking for.  He will handle the rest.  He wants a people who long to know Him, rest in Him, and love Him.”

That can sound like a “Well, yeah, obviously” moment.  But it didn’t strike me that way.  I’ve been thinking about it all day, how we love to do everything but “be spiritual.” (By the way, it’s not a generic “spiritual” we’re talking about here.  Spirituality must be “with” something or someone, just as much as romance or loyalty.  What my friend is referring to is a spirituality based on relating to God through Jesus.)

American church culture, generally speaking, does not encourage this sort of restfulness.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Instead of inviting people out of the exhausting storm of busy lives, we add to their loads.  We give them even more to do, or prompt them to feel guilty about what they’re not doing.

How do I know this? I’ve done it. I was good at it.

***

Mike was a smart high school kid in my youth group years ago, and very conscientious, too, which explains the question he asked me one day.  I think I’d just finished giving a lesson on tithing or something.  He earnestly asked, “So I get so confused with all this stuff.  Can you just make a list for us so we know we’re doing all the right things?”

“Great idea,” I said.  And that week, I made a very awesome pie chart called the “Discipleship Wheel,” broken into eight different parts, to distribute to all of them.

I used a computer.  I was proud. It was very professional looking.

“See, guys, just remember to do this stuff:  attend worship, do short-term missions, pray, evangelize, give your money to the church and the poor, study the Bible, be a part of youth group, and…”

I can’t remember what the other thing was. Something super-important.

“…and then you can know you’re doing all right with God.”

Mike said, “Thanks!”

I saw Mike – he’s now an engineer and a father of six – not along ago and I told him how sorry I was, and we had a good laugh. Thankfully, he now has a better picture of just how good God is.

He now knows that God did not call us into Pie-Chart Life, however smart-looking the chart.  God wants to know us.

Check out The Brant Hansen Show on these stations, enjoy the selected wisdom of Brant (and producer Sherri) in 20-minute segments on his Oddcast; or follow him on Twitter.

Unoffendable is available in paperback from Thomas Nelson.

January 12, 2017

Building a Bible Reference Library

The chart that follows was produced many years ago by Thomas Nelson. It may exist online now, but when I tried to track it down about a year ago I couldn’t locate it; so I was quite pleased to find it yesterday in a pile of papers.

Many of the suggested Bible reference tools listed below are now available online, to the point where it’s possible to need a particular nugget of information, and not necessarily classify it as to the type of information required. The internet probably blurs the distinctions below.

Look at the graphic and then scroll down for my comments on each element. Click the image to view full size.

bible-reference-library

Tier One The Bible itself is foundational and there’s no point building a library about it without actually owning several good ones.

Tier TwoConcordances — listing occurrences of particular words in particular translations — are somewhat obsolete with what our desktop computers and phones can do. Still, a dictionary of Bible terms is helpful, but you need to be careful you’re not using a theological or religious dictionary. For example, the term trinity isn’t found in scripture, so a Bible dictionary won’t necessarily contain it. However, that may be the very thing you wish to examine, so then you’d want to additionally own a theological dictionary, or find a Bible encyclopedia that combines both.

Tier Three – I think that every Christian should have some familiarity with an in-depth commentary; the type that focuses on a single book, or the one-volume kind. Again, if you’re doing this online instead, you need to know it’s commentary you’re looking for. I would also argue that a Bible handbook, providing summaries of each book, should be moved up a tier. It’s something that new Christians often find most helpful. Word Study is a challenging field referring the etymology (origin) of key words in the original (Greek and Hebrew) languages and not everybody is ready for it. Still it’s good to have experience seeing how these books are constructed, or online, knowing it’s word study you’re looking for.

Tier Four – Right now books on life in Bible times are very much in demand as people seek to better understand the context and culture which brings passages to life. The second suggested resource, a study guide is probably what you already use in your home church group during the week and I expect the suggestion here is that you would be collecting many of these as you work through particular books. Bible maps are something I never placed great importance in, but I’m now seeing the value of them more than I did in my early Christian experience. Topical Bibles are helpful; even if you’re doing a verse-by-verse look at scripture it’s good to pause and consider the themes the passage presents in greater detail. 

Omitted – The chart makes no reference to the devotional genre, which I believe is necessary to make the Bible personal; otherwise all these books are just about hoarding information. I would also contend that in building a library like the one envisioned here, a foundational book on apologetics would be good to own. Others might argue that a prayer guide, such as Operation World are fundamental to the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ extends far beyond our local congregation, our region or even our nation. For those who have pursued a formal Christian education, the lack of a book on systematic theology is probably the most glaring omission. There are some books which simplify this and help new believers see the various pieces of the puzzle.

December 8, 2016

Worldwide Shortage of Christian Book Titles Continues

Other customers also got confused:

Lynette Eason’s Without Warning is the second book in a series and released a few weeks ago. Joel Roseberg’s Without Warning is coming in March, 2017.

without-warning-books

This sort of thing happens a lot.  In 2013 it was two music releases:

But 2016 has been a particularly rough year, especially this fall:

unashamed2

However, it’s clear that some Christian musicians didn’t quite grasp how to play the game:

where-the-light-gets-in-and-shines-through

Personally, I’m guessing the light gets in through the same hole it gets out (or shines through.)

So why or how did I discover the forthcoming Joel Rosenberg release? Because they were using the same hashtag on Twitter at the same time this week. Does nobody check these things? Where are the social media savvy types who are supposed to know what they’re doing? 

Let us know if you spot any Christian publishing or music sources of confusion.

October 28, 2016

The Four Gospels; Not the Four You Think

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

king-jesus-gospelFor years I’ve enjoyed reading Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog online, but only recently did I consider the possibility that I’ve been depriving myself by not reading more of his works in print, at least the less academic ones. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited is a book that recently underwent what the industry terms a “trade paper conversion” as did another title we’ll consider later in the season, A Fellowship of Differents. (Both titles Zondervan.)

McKnight begins with the thesis that when ask, “Have you heard the gospel?” we could be basically referencing up to four things:

  1. The Method of Persuasion
  2. The Plan of Salvation
  3. The Story of Jesus
  4. The Story of Israel / Story Arc of the Bible

He would say that the first two tend to overshadow the second two. He then launches into an extended consideration of the gospel

  1. as preached by Paul (there are reasons he begins there)
  2. as recorded or emphasized by the gospel writers (the synoptics plus John)
  3. as taught by Jesus
  4. as preached by Peter (representing the book of Acts, overlapping with Paul)

Throughout the book, McKnight uses the verb gospeling to describe the process of proclamation as well as the idea of gospeling the gospel.  You also encounter the word soterians, people who equate the gospel to a means of salvation. (Not the aliens in a Star Trek episode, as some of you were thinking.) 

With so many different emphases reflecting so many different doctrinal patterns, the book leaves some unanswered questions — this is, after all, a condensation of much longer scholarly writing — but Chapter 9 – Gospeling Today, is particularly helpful in our present context and builds toward the conclusion in Chapter 10 – Creating a Gospel Culture, where in five pages, McKnight presents his own summary statement of the gospel. The whole book is really a stacking of premise upon premise leading to this encapsulation.

For him, the gospel as the account of Israel’s redemption is paramount to any other consideration. Several appendices record the Bible’s summary statements of its gospel and analysis of the sermons in the Book of Acts.

I am richer for having read this book as it helps me to clarify what it is I need to be saying — and not saying — when opportunity arises to share the good news.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to read this title, now in paperback from Zondervan.


Related: 2009 review of The Blue Parakeet by the same author.

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