Thinking Out Loud

January 22, 2019

Rooted in Reality, Released as Fiction: Book Took 23 Years to be Published

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

Last week, Michael Bell, one of the contributors at Internet Monk shared the story behind the just-released book In His Majesty’s Secret Service written by his younger brother, Patrick. First here’s what Michael wrote at iMonk:

A little over thirty years ago my younger brother, Patrick Bell, left on an adventure. He joined Greg, his best friend from high school, on a clandestine team smuggling bibles behind the Iron Curtain. For two years they crisscrossed Eastern Europe bringing Bibles, medicines, and food to Christians who faced persecution and even death because of their faith.

They took ten trips into Romania, where Christians were having a particularly difficult time under President Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was also very stressful for the smuggling teams. “When you hear gunfire outside your hotel and there are bullet holes in the window and blood on the carpet, you know you’re in the thick of things.” A network of informers meant that they could never be sure who they could trust.

In his downtime he started writing about what he was experiencing. He wrote in the genre of a historical fiction, with himself and Greg being portrayed as two of the main characters in the book.

His letters from their Austrian base kept us up-to-date on what he was doing. Some of his stories made it into the manuscript he was writing. Others for security reasons did not. He wrote to our family about some of the ethical issues that a Bible Smuggler faces: What do you do when asked at the border if you have Bibles? How do you hold church services when they have been banned? These very real dilemmas were addressed in his manuscript in the context of a story of high risk, betrayal, faith, prison escapes, near misses, revolution, death, and even a little romance. All was skilfully woven together in a way that put the manuscript into the “can’t put down” category.

In the late fall of 1989 we received a letter from Pat. “I’m not very hopeful for the situation in Romania”, he wrote, “there are soldiers with sub-machine guns on every corner.” Six weeks later, the revolution had been successful and Ceaușescu was arrested.. “When Ceaușescu was shown on TV, soldiers became so angry at him, they wanted to shoot the TV.” On Christmas day, 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife were led before a firing squad and executed. They had been tried before a secret tribunal and found guilty of multiple crimes against the country.

A few days later I was watching the CBS evening news. The Romanian border had just been opened with the West and CBS had a reporter on the spot interviewing the first visitors to make the trip across. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my brother Pat, and Holly (his future wife), smiling at the cameras from inside their vehicle? “Why are you headed into Romania”, the reporter asked? “We heard there was great skiing in Romania!”, came the response. The Bibles were, as usual, still carefully concealed. I learned later that they were given a tank escort into Bucharest and he was offered a ride!

So what happened to the manuscript? In 1995, Pat and Holly moved to Japan to teach English in order to pay down school debts. The manuscript went into a box. For the twelve years they were in Japan, another year in Kenya, and nine more years in Canada, the manuscript sat in the box unseen. About a year ago Pat happened upon the box and opened it. There was the manuscript. The floppy disks on which it had been written were long gone. “We really should do something with this,” Holly said. With the help of a friend, Pat had the book scanned and converted back into readable text. Holly found a publishing contest to enter, and so Pat spent a few more weeks editing the book to get it ready to submit.

They won the contest!

At his website, Patrick writes: “…I’m a Canadian, now living in Kelowna, BC. I’m a graduate of Wheaton College (MA, Inter-cultural Studies, 1995) and Regent University (MBA, International Business, 2007)…” He adds that he “is an ambassador for Open Doors, Canada. If you want to help your persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, there are so many opportunities to get involved.”

At Word Alive, here’s a summary of the book:

Jim, Nick, and Kirsten have always had a heart for their fellow believers behind the Iron Curtain. It’s one thing to pray for their brothers and sisters in Romania, though, and another thing entirely to face hostile border guards with illegal Bibles hidden in their van. Only God can blind the eyes of those searching the vehicle so the three of them will be allowed to pass through safely.

Someone in the underground Romanian church is an informer, and the three Bible smugglers want to know who. The brutal dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the watching eyes of the secret police, and a personal vendetta being carried out by a colonel with a forty-year grudge have put them and all the believers in danger. As rumours of revolution swirl around them, Jim, Nick, and Kirsten face an impossible dilemma. If they can’t trust those who call themselves Christians, who can they trust?

At Internet Monk there’s an excerpt from the book.

Finally, at Word Alive Press, you can read the official contest announcement with winners and runners-up.

U.S. customers can inform their local bookstore that the title may be ordered through Anchor Distributors.


ISBN: 9781486617548 | paperback | 224 pages | $19.99 US/CDN

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January 8, 2019

Melding the Church Categories

Last year the academic books division of InterVarsity Press (IVP) released a title which intrigued me.  Gordon T. Smith is the President of Ambrose University in Calgary. Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three struck me as an ecclesiastic and doctrinal equivalent to what the late Robert Webber was trying to move us toward; the idea of blended worship. The idea is to move from a polarized, either/or approach to incorporating the best from different traditions.

At least I think that’s what it’s about. I don’t, after many attempts, get review books from IVP, be they academic or otherwise. (I’ll admit a lack of full qualification to review scholarly titles, but at 160 pages, I’d be willing to look up the big words!) For that reason, I’ll default to the publisher’s summary:

Evangelical. Sacramental. Pentecostal. Christian communities tend to identify with one of these labels over the other two. Evangelical churches emphasize the importance of Scripture and preaching. Sacramental churches emphasize the importance of the eucharistic table. And pentecostal churches emphasize the immediate presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But must we choose between them? Could the church be all three?

Drawing on his reading of the New Testament, the witness of Christian history, and years of experience in Christian ministry and leadership, Gordon T. Smith argues that the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church. As the church navigates the unique global challenges of pluralism, secularism, and fundamentalism, the need for an integrated vision of the community as evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal becomes ever more pressing. If Jesus and the apostles saw no tension between these characteristics, why should we?

I mention the book now only because today is the release day for another book that I think offers a similar challenge and has a similar title.

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor of King’s Church in London, part of the Newfrontiers network of churches. His book is titled: Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Zondervan). Full marks for the adjective — eucharismatic — which I’d never heard before. (Google produced 5,700 results, but the first page results were all for this book.)

Even though it’s only 140 pages, because the book just arrived late yesterday afternoon, I’ll again refer to the publisher summary:

Spirit and Sacrament by pastor and author Andrew Wilson is an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship, the Eucharistic and the charismatic, with the grace of God at the center.

Wilson envisions church services in which healing testimonies and prayers of confession coexist, the congregation sings When I Survey the Wondrous Cross followed by Happy Day, and creeds move the soul while singing moves the body. He imagines a worship service that could come out of the book of Acts: Young men see visions, old men dream dreams, sons and daughters prophesy, and they all come together to the same Table and go on their way rejoicing.

Two sentences from the précis of both books:

  • “..the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church.” 
  • “…an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship.”

Hopefully people are listening.


Read an excerpt from Andrew Wilson’s book at this link.

 

 

December 27, 2018

By Their Libraries You Shall Judge Them

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am


I just organized all of the books I’ve read and reviewed here in 10½ years, and some I re-read over the same time period.

They’re on five shelves in our living room. The same living room where people sit and talk and drink coffee and eat desserts when we have guests.

They’re all in alphabetical order.

And that’s the problem.

Alphabetical order is so patently unfair.

My bottom shelf contains A. W. Tozer. J. Warner Wallace. N. T. Wright. Philip Yancey.

These are people I would like to showcase. I’d like to have arrows pointing at these books or a flashing light that says, “Look at my library!” “These are the people I read.”

Instead, nobody can see the bottom shelf. It’s partly blocked by the end of the couch and rearranging that would be a major task.

It’s not that I care what people think of me; it’s just that as a book nerd, I want people to think that I read good authors.

Instead, they have a front row view to the top shelf.

My Rob Bell collection.


December 20, 2018

A Cup of Cold Water; A Stack of Good Books

Filed under: books, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:18 am

I came across this quotation while preparing an article for another blog I edit.

If he shall not lose his reward who gives a cup of cold water to his thirsty neighbour, what will not be the reward of those who by putting good books into the hands of those neighbours, open to them the fountains of eternal life? – Thomas a Kempis

As a book guy, it resonated.

At Christmas, it’s timely.

It now sits atop my Facebook page; in perfect ratio for FB if you wish to borrow!

November 29, 2018

Book Review: Not Dressed for the Occasion

As more and more people are diagnosed with ADHD, and the internet erodes the attention span of the rest of us, I would expect books which offer smaller bites are an ideal reading retreat in a distracted world. Mart DeHaan did this a decade ago with Been Thinking About, but for the most part, if you want a quick read on your lunch break or before falling asleep, most of what’s out there is either fictional short stories or collections of news stories involving emergency responders performing heroic acts.

What if there were simply a collection of articles which — not unlike the blog you’re reading now — offered some thought-provoking insights into a somewhat random collection of topics? What if, in your own busyness you could consider a faith-focused subject with a three or four minute investment?

Not Dressed for the Occasion by Ron Harris (with Christine Winter) is one such book.

The 71 articles are gathered here in a form the author says, “has no beginning and no end.” You can jump in anywhere and read as many or as few as time permits. The articles are somewhat devotional in nature — think something 3 to 5 times longer than Our Daily Bread, The Upper Room or if you’re in the UK, Every Day With Jesus — which allows more space to anchor the reading in more than one scripture text reference. Each piece is clearly written from a pastor’s heart.

But the articles are also topical. Ron leads a congregation about 40 minutes east of Toronto and there are frequent references to current Canadian current news stories and organizations, though he has also ministered in England and South Africa. Although his church is Charismatic, I would argue that the writing gives the book a much broader appeal, as do citations of everyone from Tim Keller to Rick Joyner, along with the use of a wide variety of Bible translations.

Collections of this nature are also very suitable for older readers, though the publisher has inexplicably chosen to set the book in one of the smallest fonts of any Christian book I own, other than some Bibles. The book can also be used as springboard for topical discussions in a less formal small group setting.

Not Dressed for the Occasion is published by Word Alive Press and available throughout the U.S. and Canada through Anchor Distributing. (9781486616763, paperback, $17.99 US/Can.) The book is one of only a few in the Christian market belonging to a rather unique genre and I would argue it thereby fills a need.

November 20, 2018

When a Christian Author Has a Change in Thinking

For over 20 years, I’ve spent a minimum of two days per week in a Christian bookstore which my wife and I own. We’ve seen books come and go for reasons other than the normal life cycle of publishing. We’ve heard of authors having affairs. We’ve learned of writers who have adopted a position on an issue which makes their publishing contract untenable with their publisher. We’ve seen testimony and biography books where it was revealed the story would have been suited to the fiction section.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris is unique. The author asked for the books — there are at least three related titles that I’m aware of — to be withdrawn when the current inventory is exhausted. He feels that the book is not a helpful or healthy approach to boy/girl relationships before marriage and has worked with a documentary filmmaker to give voice to the readers who found taking his approach harmful and counterproductive. That documentary releases online today!

This does not for a moment change the minds of some people. There will be pockets of mostly conservative people throughout North America — the book’s primary audience — who will continue to follow a courtship model for their sons and daughters, which is often associated with the idea of early (young) marriage.

But it’s different when you discover you know one of them.

A longtime friend asked me to order two copies of Harris’ book for him. I know this person well, and while he’s not exactly an ultra conservative, he does take a traditional stand on some things. I asked if he was serious. I thought maybe it was a bit of a joke, or a test to see if I was aware of recent events. I explained that the author had withdrawn the book, though copies are still floating around.

He replied, “I think he’s wrong now.”

Didn’t see that coming, though in hindsight it’s not unthinkable. I just wonder what Joshua Harris would say to that? The idea that he had it right and has now been sucked into some liberal vortex.

In the end, I think both Harris and my friends need to follow their hearts, though it concerns me that some people felt it took their lives in a direction where they waited for their Prince(ss) Charming to come along and then he/she never showed up. It took away the opportunity to be proactive.

But are Millennials proactive? Many have cocooned into an online world where dating apps offer their only hope of making that opposite-sex connection. Should Helicopter Mom and Helicopter Dad be stepping into the situation setting up a courtship scenario with the future in-laws? 

On the other hand, some of the kids my friend works with are not from Christian families. There is value in the group activity situations which avoid the pressure of 1:1 evenings, but it is these very activities that Millennials seem to find uninteresting. To his credit, my friend works in trying to create environments which can involve these very kids, but once they attend, they need to know that it might be on them to take the initiative to connect with that person across the room.

Also, Joshua Harris didn’t know any Millennials when he wrote the book 15 years ago, in 2003. (He was in fact home-schooled and admits to not knowing much outside that milieu.) Some would argue that we need his model more now than ever. But some of the people who were the book’s collateral damage interviewed in the documentary would say we need less of that school of thought.


More info at I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye

October 15, 2018

Joy is Available in All Circumstances: Book Review

by Gloria Matthies

John and Stasi Eldredge are two of my favourite authors, so I was excited when Stasi’s book Defiant Joy – Taking Hold of Hope, Beauty, and Life in a Hurting World (Thomas Nelson) became available. And it didn’t disappoint.

As in much of their other works, Stasi’s style is very readable – personal, authentic, real, relatable. I can see myself in many of her personal anecdotes. We’ve all been there – even accomplished authors!

It wasn’t the kind of book that keeps me reading long past the time I should be making dinner or going to bed. I actually couldn’t read it quickly because, even in its easy readability, there were parts that hit very close to home and I had to stop and mull it over, figure out how to apply it. Even after finishing the book, I find myself flipping back to the dog-eared pages and underlined passages again and again.

Stasi begins by laying the foundation: What is joy? How is it different from happiness? Why does she call it “Defiant”? She asserts – backed up with Scripture – that joy is always available to us in all circumstances, and especially in the really tough ones. She doesn’t shy away from “yes but, what about…” sadness, unmet longing, the waiting, loneliness, opposition, pain, suffering, comparison, resentment, misperceptions – all of which she addresses without judgement but rather with an invitation.

She invites us, dares us even, to step out in faith, to choose, hope, risk, trust, worship, remember God’s promises, in spite of our circumstances. And to be defiantly joyful people!


 

Gloria is co-coordinator of the Better Together Refugee Sponsorship project in Cobourg, Ontario and part time bookseller at the local Christian bookstore.

October 6, 2018

Bestselling Christian Books (at Least Where I Live)

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:38 pm

It’s much later in the day and we didn’t have a blog post today. So I thought I’d post this newly-released chart from the local Christian bookstore! Feel free to express your opinions on any of them; that’s what the internet is for, right?

September 17, 2018

Irresistible — Andy Stanley’s New Take on New Testament Faith

By his own admission, publishing this book is a career-risking move.

Furthermore, the criticism that Andy Stanley has already endured over statements which are contained in Irresistible would cause some to lay low for several months until the storm passes.

But that’s not Andy Stanley. Instead, he takes nearly 300 pages to fully flesh out his reasons for saying that Christianity needs to “unhitch” itself from the Hebrew scriptures, or what we call The Old Testament. Yes, that. For some those were fightin’ words. For others, the implication was that those writings weren’t inspired or aren’t relevant to knowing the backdrop from which events kickstarted in Bethlehem 2,000-plus years ago. That’s called putting words in someone else’s mouth

…It’s hard to review a book when, for many weeks, you were tracking with the sermon series on which the book is based. There are usually few surprises. Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World (Zondervan) is based on a sermon series called Aftermath which the North Point pastor preached after Easter this year. The church website sums it up this way: “Jesus’ resurrection launched a series of events that introduced the world to his new covenant and new hope. But old ways don’t easily give way. Not then. Not now.” That could also well serve as a summary of the book.

The book is divided into four sections and like a good British mystery, each section is building toward the concluding chapters. I said, “few surprises,” above but unless I missed something in the teaching series, Andy pushes beyond the original conclusion and suggests something even more radical in the way we format our copies of the texts. (I’ve decided to avoid the spoiler.)

I was also struck by the humorous tone used to convey a rather serious subject. It creates a reading environment in which even a new believer — struck by the differences between the First and Second Testament and wondering aloud, “What’s up with that?” — can have a complete understanding of the world in which the news of the resurrection was first preached, and how the two parts connect.

In many respects, the book is personal. His motivation for writing begins with a 2007 trip to China in which he was asked a poignant question about the church in America. In the book (and elsewhere as well) Andy mentions a verse displayed in his office, Acts 15:19: “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (NLT) He’s committed to removing any barriers to faith which might be hampering someone who would otherwise want to be part of Christ’s family.

As he has stated many times, one of those barriers is the material found in the Old Testament (or if you prefer, First Covenant). The violence. The scientific questions. The seemingly arbitrary rules for conduct. The supernatural occurrences. Instead, he believes (as the book’s subtitle affirms) that we need to be focusing on “the new” and in so doing, focus on what the first generations of believers had in a world before church buildings, a world before printed copies of the scriptures, and a world where the resurrection was everything.

It was a faith to die for.


Release Date: September 18, 2018 | 9780310536970 USA | 9780310536987 UK, Aust/NZ, Canada


Thanks to Dave K. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a review copy.

 

 

August 11, 2018

The Biebs Focuses Attention on a 2011 Tim Keller Marriage Book

Filed under: books, Christianity, marriage — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:50 am

A publisher couldn’t ask for a larger amount of publicity, especially for a title about to turn seven years old. This past week, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller got an unusual amount of attention after Justin Bieber was seen carrying the book around following an intense emotional time with fiancée Hailey Baldwin, which caught the attention of the paparazzi and had the tabloids buzzing.

At DailyMail.co.uk it was the story lede:

Justin Bieber revealed he has turned to an incredibly conservative Christian self-help book for relationship guidance in the wake of his tearful public exchange with fiancee Hailey Baldwin.

The 24-year-old Canadian pop star, who was pictured crying while comforting an equally-emotional Hailey, 21, earlier this week, was seen carrying the religious book about marriage while out and about in New York on Wednesday

Justin seemed to credit the book with helping him to overcome ‘bad days’ as he spoke to photographers outside of Hailey’s Brooklyn apartment building – however it is unclear whether he is following all of the advice in the tome, which also tells men and women to abstain from sex before marriage, suggests that wives should submit to their husbands, and depicts the Bible’s view of marriage as being monogamous and heterosexual.

Justin did seem to suggest that he is leaning on the book heavily for guidance as he and Hailey navigate their relationship ahead of marriage, holding it up and showing it to photographers and fans when they asked about how he and his fiancee are doing after their emotional display on Tuesday…

The lengthy article is more about the book than about the couple.

Then in a sidebar, there is further description:

…In addition to discussing the relationship between a couple, and the importance of their bond with God, Keller’s book… has more than 1,000 five-star reviews, also suggests that wives must submit to their husbands, and advises men and women to abstain from sex before marriage.

Through his writing, he aims to show everyone – ‘Christians, skeptics, singles, longtime married couples, and those about to be engaged’ – what the Bible’s view of marriage really is which, according to Keller, is monogamous and heterosexual…

The article concludes,

The couple are devout Christians and have been going to church together since rekindling their romance.

But then, just when you think you know everything there is to know about the book, the same website published yet another article with the endless headline, “Inside the conservative Christian self-help book Justin Bieber is using to navigate his relationship with Hailey Baldwin – which suggests wives should submit to their husbands and warns against sex before marriage.” Yes, that was all headline for the article.

The précis in the article seems to have borrowed much material from a chapter summary by Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition and from Tim Keller’s blog.

…’Men and women each have distinct glories and we need one another. Marriage is the primary (though not only) place where those glories are blended and we are profoundly enriched.’

One chapter in the book, written by Keller’s wife, is about the different roles men and women play in marriage.

According to The Gospel Coalition, it discusses the Christian teaching that marriage is a place ‘where the two sexes accept each other as differently gendered and learn and grow through it’

Keller and his wife seem to believe that men and women are fundamentally different, and take on different responsibilities in a partnership.

It’s unclear how well that particular passage resonates with Hailey Baldwin. While the model hasn’t spoken out about feminism, she does count several feminist among her friends…

Many online publications and news sites connected with the book this week including Cosmopolitan, Billboard and a brief mention at CNN. It will be interesting to learn to what degree all this publicity has impacted sales.

 

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