Thinking Out Loud

September 20, 2016

The Mysterious Book of Mysteries

end-times-prophetic-etc-books

This is not a book review. I didn’t read The Harbinger or The Mystery of the Shemitah. Or the book today’s discussion is focused on.

These books just aren’t my thing. I’m sorry. Different things attract different people. I tend to be more IVP than Charisma House. More N.T. Wright than Joyce Meyer.

the-book-of-mysteries-by-jonathan-cahnI have held a copy of The Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn in my hands. It’s a packed volume written in a format where you can simply read it all at once — which I suspect most people will do — or read it in the alternative devotional format provided, doing a page per day. Each page’s header names the specific mystery uncovered or revealed. (The complete Table of Contents is pictured below.)

So why mention it here at all? Simply because if past trends hold, this will be one of the bestselling Christian books from now until Christmas. So for that reason, I think it’s important for some Christians to know what other Christians are reading. Here’s one take on it:

“At the end of each mystery, The Teacher gives the disciple a mission about how to apply it to your life and it can actually transform your life,” said Cahn, describing the story. “I don’t say things lightly like this. I believe this truly can transform lives if you go on this journey. And there other thing is there are mysteries in here that have never been revealed as far as we know, never before. It’s almost like hundreds of Harbingers, if you can imagine that.”

[Radio host George] Noory asked Cahn how he was able to discover these secrets. However, as Cahn pointed out, he didn’t come up with anything. The mysteries, the rabbi maintained, were created by God. And Cahn said once readers start on this journey, it never really ends.

(A sample of the writing from The Teacher appears at the bottom of this article.)

Next, we have the author describing the book on The Jim Bakker Show:

Amid the fanfare of the book’s release, it’s hard to find a good analysis from a website I or you would know. At CBD there were a number of five star reviews, as well as this one which goes on for many, many paragraphs:

Apparently, the time has come for the false Jewish prophets of Mystery Schools that are prevalent in some Messianic Jewish circles to come out of the closet and take a bow. Now that Christians have been trained to search for hidden messages in their Bibles, Jonathan Cahn has come out with his third book; “The Book of Mysteries.” Does the Bible contain “mysteries,” hidden codes and dates for Christians to distract themselves searching out? Absolutely not! God never intended for His word to be a book of mysteries to be unlocked! That is a thoroughly Kabbalistic / Gnostic teaching…

For the most part however, the gatekeeper and watchdog bloggers hold back until something becomes truly popular and then launch their attack where and when it can do the most damage. I’m not sure I fully trust the one above simply because of its sheer length and use of capital letters. Seriously, can’t we debate someone’s theological perspective without the use of caps lock? (I am amazed they published the scathing review on the retail site, which you’ll notice I didn’t link to.)

So what did the publisher say?

The Book of Mysteries opens up with a traveler and his encounter with a man known only as “the teacher.” The teacher takes him an on odyssey through desert mountains, valleys, gardens and plains, encounters with nomadic tent dwellers, caverns and ancient ruins, chambers of scrolls and vessels, and more. The reader is taken along to partake in the journey and in all the teachings and revelations. The traveler keeps a journal in which he writes down each of the mysteries given to him by the teacher in his one-year odyssey—365 different mysteries—one for each day of the year. Thus, on top of everything else, The Book of Mysteries is also a daily devotional unlike any other. And each mystery contains a special mission for each day of the year, a mission that takes the revelation and applies it to reality for a life-changing journey.

I wouldn’t devote myself to this book, but I might read a few more pages just to see what others find so captivating about this author. This will be a huge bestseller. It does seem to be part of an another world, a world quite removed from the centrist Evangelicalism with which I more fully identify.

book-of-mysteries-contents

book-of-mysteries-sample-page


The opening graphic was in my files from a thing I ran last year and was actually the impetus for mentioning Cahn’s latest here on the blog. In fairness, Hagee, Hitchcock and Biltz (not a law firm) were not actually mentioned today. By the way, for those of you who are still reading, don’t you think there’s a similarity between what’s in the above book excerpt and the type of writing you find in Jesus Calling or is it just me?

September 8, 2016

The New Testament in Context

encounters-with-jesusIncreasingly, I’m finding there is a certain genre of Christian books that is attracting larger numbers of us: Books having to do with the world at the time of the New Testament.

So I’ve got a list here, but you can feel free to add to it in the comments:

  • The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times, Revised and Updated by Ralph Gower
  • Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim
  • Everyday Life in Bible Times by Arthur Klinck
  • Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word by Moises Silva
  • Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life by Madelieine S. and J. Lane Miller
  • Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolf Richards and Brian J. O’Brien
  • Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey
  • Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey 
  • The Baker Illustrated Guide to Everyday Life in Bible Times by John Beck  
  • The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook by J. Daniel Hays (Editor), J. Scott Duvall (Editor)
  • Understanding Jesus: Cultural Insights into the Words and Deeds of Christ by Joe Amaral
  • Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg
  • Jerusalem At The Time Of Jesus by Leen Ritmeyer 
  • A Visual Guide To Bible Events: Fascinating Insights into Where They Happened and Why by James C. Martin et al.
  • Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary by various authors, various New Testament volumes
  • NIV Chronological Study Bible
  • Ancient Context, Ancient Faith (series) by Gary M. Burge (one title shown above)
  • Daily Life in the Time of Jesus by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh 
  • The New Manners and Customs of the Bible by James M. Freeman 
  • The Works of Josephus by various translators 
  • David C. Cook Journey Through The Bible by V. Gilbert Beers
  • Near Christianity: How Journeys Along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved My Faith in God by Anthony Le Donne (releasing this month)

Thanks to Tim for some additional titles.

September 5, 2016

The Problem of Resource Engagement

Filed under: books, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 am
Christian parents in particular have never had so many resources available to build spiritual formation in their children

Christian parents in particular have never had so many resources available to build spiritual formation in their children

One of the recurring themes in my 9:00 to 5:00 world is a challenge to people, especially men, to be readers. There is a great need in families for children to observe and thereby have memories of their father sitting in a chair reading. I’m not picky on this; I’ll settle for a newspaper or magazine.

Reading separates us from the animals. I know this firsthand, as my cat was never much of a reader, and the one time I owned a dog, while he seemed enthusiastic about books, he would prefer to chew a book’s cover over cracking it open.

Technology has contributed to the erosion of the English language. Spell-check simply substitutes what the computer believes to be our intended words, and since nobody proofreads, nobody notices. Texting doesn’t even try for words. Children are over-stimulated, and a book simply can’t compete with visual media. Our attention spans have dropped to levels so low, it as though everyone has a measure of ADD…

…But this weekend, as I thought about this further, I realize that we’re also in the middle of a crisis involving resource engagement, especially in the church. There was a time we would talk about the buy-in factor. The church would have a special presentation on a weeknight, and the congregation would be encouraged to be there, but attendance was sparse. There would be a special project on the weekend, but few would sign-up. There would be a conference or retreat scheduled, but registration would be low. The special speaker brought a carton of books for sale, but only a handful of people would drop by his table.

We probably have more resources available to us than at any time in history.

And yet, our resource engagement, on a per-capita basis is probably the worst it has ever been. The books and DVDs sit on supplier shelves. Only a few people use the church’s sermon media to catch up if they miss a service. Parents don’t even begin to scratch the surface on the Christian education resources available for their children…

…Enough cursing the darkness. How do we light a candle? How do we increase the buy-in? How do we get Christians to realize the wealth of resources that is available to them which they are basically ignoring and not utilizing? How do we ignite and fuel the passion?

Any suggestions?

 

 

 

 

August 25, 2016

Intercessory Prayer: A Different Type of Prayer Meeting

Intercessory PrayerWhen I am given books to read, unless it is a proven author, I often wonder how the title will fare in the marketplace. Will it sell? So it was a bit unusual to receive a copy of something with a cover that reads, “Over 600,000 sold.”

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets is a book I’ve always known about but never had taken the opportunity to crack the pages. Its arrival in my mail this time is because of a re-launch of the title, acquired from Regal Books, by Bethany House, a division of Baker Books. I was a little unclear as to the reason for this. Although the cover changed, the price did not, and in comparing the two versions, the book seems to be entirely the same. The page numbers vary only because of differences in typesetting. Nowhere do we find the words “Revised Edition” or “Updated Edition.” I won’t complain; I wanted to read this!

Dutch Sheets is a rather remarkable individual whose unusual and many times miraculous adventures in prayer are most inspiring. In many ways, the language and tenor of this book make it a very charismatic-friendly title, so similar to other such books I read early in my Christian life.

But the book is strangely cessationist-friendly at the same time, which may account for its sales over the years. Sheets makes it clear that he believes in praying in tongues, but says he will refer throughout the balance of the book to praying in the Spirit. That terminology may still ring of Pentecostalism for many, but it represents an attempt to reach a broader audience.

The book is really half testimonies and half teaching, and the Hebrew and Greek roots of familiar Bible passages are examined. Sheets says that a meeting takes place in prayer as we stand before God on behalf of situations or others in need of God’s intervention. Some of the exhaustive catalog of scripture verses won’t be looked seen in the same way after reading this.

Perhaps in moments of desperate or anxious prayer, we all become a little more Pentecostal; trying to see the hand of God move in the situation which presents itself. We want a miracle. Could it be that there are no cessationists in fox holes?

First published in 1996, this book has endured two decades and is a contemporary classic worthy of my recommendation.


If you think you've seen this title before, you have!

If you think you’ve seen this title before, you have!

The full title is Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth. (Bethany House, 304 page paperback, $14.99 US.) Discussion/reflection questions follow each chapter and there is a short leader’s guide at the back of the book. Also sold separately is a study guide which has also been recently repackaged. A repackaged eight-session DVD is releasing in a few days, with each segment containing 30 minutes of teaching. Finally, a youth edition is also available.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

 

 

July 12, 2016

Retro Reviewing: Pagan by Frank Viola and George Barna

Filed under: books, Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

In 2008, books about ecclesiology were selling briskly. Bloggers were consuming and recommending books about the church and church planting at rates never before seen, and the market included both clergy and laity, with the latter group feeling empowered to take an interest in a subject previously left to the professionals. (Historically in North America, while you might need theological degrees to be the pastor of a church, the work of planting includes colorful stories involving all types of people.)

paganPagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices was an important book during this time. The Tyndale House-distributed title with the bright red cover was presumably an update of a previous edition in 2002. According to what I wrote at the time, George Barna’s contribution was added for the revised edition. I have to assume that included much of the research; up to 25% of each page contains exhaustive footnotes. Those notes give the book an academic air, but in the end, especially re-reading this today as I’ve been doing, you realize that some of what is being offered up is based in opinion; specifically a preference for less-institutional, more organic worship setting, specifically the house church type of gathering. The book seems to want to call for a more radical paradigm shift than is realistically possible across the entire spectrum of churches.

In 2008, the market was ripe for a book like this. It was a time for deconstruction, and many were re-inventing the wheel. The terms emergent church and emerging church were on everyone’s lips, as was the idea of being missional, but this book doesn’t necessarily go there, since many emergent forms consisted of a blended worship which continued to incorporate the very traditional elements the book decries as rooted in medieval Catholicism, academia and even forms from other religions.

Where the book shines however is in terms of giving us an historical understanding of why we do the things we do.  The use of church buildings. The sermon form. The robes and vestments. The clergy. The paid church staff. The Choir. Our expression of Baptism and Communion. Christian Education.

In 2016, as I’ve gone through it again, I believe the book continues to speak into our tendency to do church as it has always been done. Reading it eight years later provides a different lens however; many models were considered and not those churches which were implemented succeeded. Rather, the book inspired church planters to take a salad bar approach, to pick and choose which elements they wished to refine or delete altogether. 

However, this time around, I also got more of the sense of walking in on a heated argument; a reminder that there are two sides in a debate, the other being traditionalists. It could be argued that we came through this micro-period in church history and not much changed. Or, it could equally be argued that in 2016 we have a much greater variety of churches doing very different types of things, and giving expression to their worship in unique ways. 

For the latter group, the book Pagan may have been a big part of that.

 

July 11, 2016

Shane Claiborne’s Treatise on Capital Punishment

Executing Grace

Shane Claiborne’s latest, Executing Grace is a well-written, well-researched and well-annotated look at the history of capital punishment in the United States. It is both gently persuasive and passionately persuasive at the same time. It is a thorough, exhaustive treatment of the subject from a perspective that is both Biblical and Christ-centered. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read on any issue. End of review…

…Sitting in my backyard, on Canadian soil, reading Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, by Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) is a rather strange experience, especially in the wake of a week of violence in the U.S. that has fueled discussions on racial discrimination and injustice. I don’t usually cover U.S.-interest books, preferring to devote my review time to things that are of equal interest to people in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

I made an exception to this partly because I’ve tasted the writer’s passion after following him on Twitter for a few years. No execution in the U.S. escapes his gaze, and with each one, there is horrible lament. You feel Claiborne’s pain with every new case, and then, after the act is carried out, his sorrow. He’s like one crying in the wilderness, but for him, it must feel like spitting into the wind. There are churches in many southern states who I expect are definitely not keeping him on their short list as a guest speaker any time soon. Such is the life for those who choose to speak with a prophetic voice.

The book brings together an avalanche of material, there are simply so many cases to draw on. Again, from my backyard chair, I have to ask, ‘Why am I even allowed to read this; why would the powers that be allow this book to be exported out of the U.S.?’ The situation is one that I believe any self-respecting nation would find — how do I put this — rather embarrassing. These are not stories you want the world to read, even one at a time, let alone assembled in a single collection. America’s history, on this issue, is rather stained; the atrocities of the era of lynchings only replaced by a more civilized-looking substitute containing an air of due process.

While the book has more than a dozen chapters — each fulfilling a specific function — they are united in their presentation of the contrast between capital punishment as a means of avenging or making right a capital crime on the one hand, and the idea of grace and mercy on the other. You have to ask yourself which side of the issue you’re on.

The reading of the book eventually becomes subjective. I’m getting angrier and angrier as I read of cases where innocent people were executed for crimes they did not commit. Or spent decades of their adult life behind bars until their innocence was finally proven to be true. Or tortured on death row with dates for their execution that were constantly revised and pushed back. Or executed by so-called modern, sophisticated means which prove to be barbaric; the death process dragging out to 30 minutes or an hour or perhaps not working at all.

But the very anger at injustice that I’m feeling lands me solidly at the point of recognizing the system as flawed; yearning for reforming the system. I’m not a U.S. citizen, but it makes you want to work for change. How does my own country fare? While there are references to capital punishment’s top five nations, I don’t recall a reference to Canada, and England is only mentioned in passing. This is a Made-in-America problem which requires a Made-in-America solution.

As with the situation in the U.S. last week, the church can be the leading agent for social change, but unfortunately, we don’t speak with a single voice on this issue. The greatest number of state-sanctioned executions take place in what is termed the Bible belt, and last year one prominent Southern Baptist leader wrote a piece for a major media outlet on why he supports the death penalty.

If you read this book, it will make you angry as well, frustrated, and rather sad, however you can’t not read something like this. As Claiborne states so clearly, knowing what is going on — having the information — is vital to a change in attitudes and practice to take place. For those of us who claim Christ as our Lord, we are complicit in the killings if we remain silent, or simply defer the matter to elected officials. 

The penultimate chapter is a crash course on restorative justice. For some, raised and saturated in a world of eye-for-an-eye, punitive justice this will be a stretch; an awakening. It proposes a paradigm shift of epic proportions, and yet is strangely appealing, offering the hope of a new way forward.

June 28, 2016

Review: Hearing God in Coversation

God has many means at his disposal to get our attention

Hearing God in ConversationOver a year ago I was privileged to read a manuscript edition and asked to do an endorsement for a book which is now releasing from Kregel Publishing. Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere is the second book by Sam Williamson, following Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids which we reviewed here.

I would expect that a year is forever when you’re an author awaiting national release, so I was surprised this week with the good news that the book is now ready. Here’s the summary I wrote:

In Hearing God In Conversation: How to Walk with God, Samuel Williamson affirms the church’s long-held position that God’s primary means of speaking to us is through scripture; while at the same time, through a blend of Bible teaching, contemporary and classic Christian authors, and personal experience, shows us that God is in no way limited in terms of what he can use to prompt us, nudge us and lead us. Written in a casual, sometimes lighthearted style, Hearing God in Conversation propels us to a place of expectancy with respect to God’s voice; to look for God’s personal message to us in a variety of circumstances; and to be aware that God has a vast catalog of means he uses to guide his children.

Sometimes you forget about books you reviewed, but just seeing my own abstract of it, so much came flooding back. I really enjoyed it and benefited personally from reading it at the time.

Here’s the official publisher marketing for the book:

Christians are comfortable saying that Christianity is about a relationship with God. Yet many might also say that they sense little meaningful relationship with God in their own lives. After all, the foundation of good relationship is communication–but conversation with God often seems to go only one way. We may sing of walking and talking with God in the garden, His voice falling on our ears, but few have heard that beloved voice themselves.

Sam Williamson acknowledges the fundamental human longing to hear God’s voice and offers a hopeful supposition: God is always speaking–we’ve just never been taught how to recognize His voice. Williamson handles this potentially heady topic with his characteristic straightforwardness and leavening humor. This book deftly bridges the gap between solid biblical theology and practical application, addressing topics such as how to truly pray without ceasing, how to brainstorm with God, how to navigate our emotions, how to answer God’s questions, and how to hear God’s voice for others.

Hearing God in Conversation offers simple, step-by-step lessons on how to hear God. Williamson begins with Scripture meditation. He then expands the practice of listening for that voice everywhere–in the checkout line, on the job, in a movie theater, and even in silence. From there, he demonstrates how to hear God’s guidance when making any decision. By the end, readers’ eyes and ears will be opened to the limitless methods through which God speaks.

The 224-page resource is distributed in the U.S. by Kregel and independent distributors such as Anchor, and in Canada by David C. Cook; and is available to wherever you buy quality Christian products. In the spirit of the book, maybe God’s using this blog post to suggest you get a copy!!


I also encourage you to check out the author’s website BeliefsOfTheHeart.com

June 24, 2016

Filters

winterglasses

When another volunteer decided to step down after many years, I offered to collect used books in our area for Christian Salvage Mission. I’m in the book business after all, so I believe in the power of Christian literature to transform lives. I haven’t been as successful at this as I could be however, because we now also have a Christian-operated thrift shop in town. Still, I try to inform customers of things we can take that the thrift store might not.

Sometimes the books that people drop off are excellent collections. I immediately recognize the authors or the publishers, even though the books may have sat on home library shelves since before I was born. Others are more recent; titles I would easily recommend.

But sometimes, in the middle of a great grouping of books there is the odd Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventist title. (I recognize that some readers will sense my concern about the first two, but not necessarily the third.)

How did those books end up on these peoples’ shelves? Was a friend persistent? Or did the individuals not realize what they were getting into?

At this point, as a matter of full disclosure, I should point out that I have a copy of The Book of Mormon somewhere in my library. My parents got it in a hotel room while as a family we were in Salt Lake City. I have read some small sections of it. If I die tonight, and someone is going through my collection, they might well ask the questions I am asking here.

Generally, though, I worry that the average, church-going, pew-warming, tithe-giving Christian may not have sufficient filters with which to process the origins of some books, and thereby see the books through a more finely-tuned discernment lens. Do people check to see what the publisher imprint is? Which group claims copyright? Where follow-up pages (with phone numbers or websites) lead?

I should say that I have an unfair advantage. I’ve spent so much time in the industry that when I see Pacific Press®, Deseret Book Company, or a reference to the Watchtower Society, I immediately know who I’m dealing with.

But it’s not just the publisher imprint. Many of the books out there use a similar style of artwork; even the titles themselves sometimes are just a plain giveaway, especially the outreach materials which are produced for giveaway…

…At first, I had no specific conclusion to this, other than to say that this is a reality and people need to be more careful what they allow to come into their homes.

But then it occurred to me that while I didn’t write this with any agenda, Christian bookshops offered — and continue to offer — the type of vetting process that is needed. One pastor once told me, “You and your wife are gatekeepers for the people in our town.” That’s an honor. It’s also humbling. It’s a huge responsibility.

As long as the Christian bookstore owner, or manager, or buyer knows what they are doing, they can insure that only titles of the highest orthodoxy are presented for sale. Even if they don’t, the distribution networks for such stores simply don’t carry materials from marginal groups. And the Christian publishers generally don’t produce such products in the first place.

To the contrary, when you buy a book online just because the title looked interesting, or it was “recommended for you,” or because “other customers also purchased,” or maybe just because it was in the religion section and you liked the price; you really, really don’t always know what you’re getting into, unless you are savvy about publishing.

When a Christian bookstore closes, a local faith community loses a certain level of discernment; we lose some badly needed filtering.

 

 

June 2, 2016

Largest Independent Wholesale Distributor of Christian Books to Close

After several days of speculation, Send the Light Distribution (STL) of Bristol, Tennessee confirmed on Tuesday night that it will be shutting down in a brief email and website posting:

STL Closing

While you probably never heard of STL, they were a key conduit in getting Christian products to the brick-and-mortar retail community, with more than 10,000 wholesale customers. Despite this, the announcement this week has been greatly under-reported in Christian-focused media.

Send the Light DistributionSTL provided one-stop shopping for bookstores who would otherwise need to deal with each individual publisher. Of the more than 500 vendors who work with STL — which included book, curriculum, Bible, music, DVD and giftware creators — nearly a third were exclusive, meaning that STL was their warehouse, under the subsidiary Advocate Distribution banner, which allowed an equal playing field with books released by major publishers such as Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Baker Books, etc.)

Those independent publishers must now scramble to find new avenues of distribution, though the options are very limited.

The first option is Anchor Distributors of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, which has had a strong Charismatic emphasis which may temper the enthusiasm of STL’s more conservative publishers, although many of those are already represented in the company’s inventory. Anchor recently purchased Word Alive, a Canadian Christian book wholesaler, and is now the only remaining Christian distributor.

(A well-known company in Cambridge, Mass., Christian Book Distributors, primarily sells to consumers, not to bookstores. Despite having the word distributors in its name, it is not considered a wholesale supplier.)

The other option is Ingram Publisher Services which is part of Ingram Content Group, the world’s largest independent book distributor, which deals in a wide swath of printed materials including books from other religions, erotic literature, etc. which would be equally repulsive to STL’s conservative clients. Furthermore, Ingram recently slashed the wholesale discount to smaller stores unable to meet its new $5K minimum.  (Full disclosure: …including the store this writer is associated with. While we still have access, we no longer can afford to pay a premium price for products and still remain sustainable.) (Point of information: Other publishers and distributors don’t do this, though the size of individual orders can affect discounts received; some smaller stores could view Ingram’s actions in this as simply hostile.)

Given the choice, Anchor would be the better option.  Without new distribution avenues, stores dealing in print books may be forced to tell customers that a favorite author is no longer available.

The closing of STL also ends Great Value Books (GVB) a company which began as OM Lit, a fundraising arm of Operation Mobilization.  STL had recently folded GVB into its primary warehouse. Bargain books are great deals for customers and can also contribute positively to a bookstore’s bottom line.

The closing of STL also affects another segment of the Christian population: Homeschoolers. Unless someone steps up to buy it, HomeSchoolCatalog.org will end when STL shuts down. As it did for bookstores, the homeschool division allowed families to purchase all their supplies from a single source.

So why the closure? In an article at CT yesterday, STL president Glenn Bailey stated, “When companies get creative and find new and better ways to do things, like Amazon Prime … at the end of the day, that kind of thing also destroys the current or past way that business had been done.”

But some see this as just a delayed ripple effect of the bankruptcy last year of Family Christian Stores. Literary agent Steve Laube disagrees, telling CT: “If their demise had been six months ago, I would have made the correlation [to the FCS bankruptcy]. But today it is merely a reflection of the shift in retail buying patterns. Ironically, it doesn’t mean books aren’t selling, when in fact they are. Instead it only means they are being purchased in a different place.”

For publishers and bookstore owners alike, this is a sad time. We wish them — and the nearly 100 employees at STL — the best and encourage you to pray for all who are impacted by this.

 

 

 

 

 

May 28, 2016

Theology in Story

Clear Winter NightsRather unexpectedly yesterday, I found myself devouring all 160 pages of a 2013 novel by Trevin Wax Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After (Multnomah). What attracted me to the book, besides some familiarity with the author’s many years of blogging, was the concept of using a story to teach.

As a huge fan of three novels by David Gregory which use this format — Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, Day with a Perfect Stranger and Night With a Perfect Stranger — I see the value in a genre for people who would never pick up a more commonplace ‘Christian Living’ title, let alone a book on basic theology. This is a book which has a storyline, but at the same time is using the plot at the front door to allow a lot of truth to enter through the back door.

Two words come to mind here, the first is didactic. The storyteller is truly the teacher. But the second, better word is the very similar dialectic, using a conversational style to impart knowledge, as did writers like Plato. This can also be called Socratic dialog or the Socratic method.

The banter is between two central characters, Chris Walker a disillusioned church planter whose job promise and engagement have both been broken; and Gil his grandfather, a retired pastor. You could call this Weekend with a Perfect… oh, never mind; that doesn’t work here; it’s a different dynamic.

Without giving away too much, I couldn’t get over how many of the topics Chris and Gil cover resonated with me. The book isn’t afraid to tackle some tough issues facing the church collectively and individual Christians, yet does so with tact, humor and grace. The key characters being male also makes this an ideal gift for men, something that is rarity in the world of Christian fiction, though I still prefer the dialectic label to override the fictional nature of the story.

While Trevin Wax and I are from vastly different tribes — he writes for The Gospel Coalition and works for LifeWay — I didn’t allow that to influence my reading and it doesn’t stop me from giving this book my full recommendation. In fact, a couple of times my eyes watered as the conversation unfolded. Clear Winter Nights works on many different levels.


Another author who writes in this genre is Andy Andrews. We reviewed The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer.

Another fiction title that used the dialectic method was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

My review of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger by David Gregory was more of an explanation of the DVD series which came from the first two books. He did the first two books with Waterbrook, part of the same publishing group as the title by Trevin Wax we’re reviewing today; but the third was published by EMI Worthy, who wouldn’t send a review copy, so I did the write up of Night With a Perfect Stranger in bullet points.

Apologies to UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand readers for spelling dialogue the American way. I know. What are we going to do?

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