Thinking Out Loud

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.

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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.

 

August 9, 2018

Reflections on Bible Reading is Truly Inspired

A Review of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

Sometimes you find a term online which helps you describe something for which you didn’t know there was a word. In this case, the word is memoirist. A quick check this morning revealed that I’ve actually read all of Rachel Held Evans’ output, and I can’t help but notice in this personal, subjective approach to the Bible there is a striking similarity to the writing of Philip Yancey. If you know how I feel about Yancey, you know this is high praise indeed.

Inspired is, at least ostensibly, a look at the different genres in our scriptures. Anyone familiar with The Bible Project videos is aware that we need to read each of these genres differently and interpret them — both in terms of original meaning and present-day application — in terms of the rules for that type of literature.

Or maybe not. In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as “wisdom stories,” existing alongside “war stories,” “deliverance stories,” “gospel stories,” “origin stories,” and yes, in a category by themselves, “fish stories.”

A gifted writer who grew up in church and researches well, she doesn’t begin to annotate all the background material which went into each chapter. If you did grow up in church, as with her other works, there is a sense in which her story is your story. I found that many of her own experiences resonated with my own.

But there’s also a sense in which this book is aimed at potentially new Bible readers; seekers and recent converts alike who are trying to find the common threads which knit the 66 books in the Protestant canon into a unified, single story. A strength of her classification methodology is that it allows her to blend First Testament and Second Testament material seamlessly.

In between chapters there are some almost whimsical narratives of her own. One places Job in a modern context with his ‘friends’ discussing his recent hardships in a cafeteria. This one deserves becoming a short film.

Rachel Held Evans is viewed as a progressive, and there are certainly some indications of this at a few junctures in her book, but for the most part, it’s about her conservative roots and the reading perspective on the Bible those roots handed her.

I invite you to see for yourself, there are excerpts from the book here (resistance stories, including their similarity to American’s Civil Rights Movement) and here (war stories, including the so-called ‘texts of terror.’)

 

July 14, 2018

Don’t Condemn What God is Using in Someone’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity, doctrine, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:53 am

I’m not going to tell you I’ve had a change of heart about the book Jesus Calling, because I’ve never really read the book in the first place. I’ve written about it here and have simply noted the concerns that some had over the use of the first-person narrative to speak as though it is God speaking, but also noted this is far from the first book to use that format.

Previously, I wrote,

I realize some of you haven’t been in touch with where the doctrinal issues in this book arise. Much of the discussion online has to do with the fact that this book is part of a very small subset of devotional literature where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. In other words, the (human) author purports to be writing this as God, speaking in the first person; “I” instead of “He.” Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always as examples of this; you’ll also find this type of writing on some blogs.

That’s not the entirety of some people’s objections, but it’s a large part.

Early this morning, unable to get back to sleep at 3:30, I read what I consider a generally excellent article on how to spot false teachers. I should say right here that the term “false teacher” leaves no middle ground, no room for nuance, no possibility of the person getting 90% of doctrine right, but 10% wrong. When people use that particular term, it’s all-or-nothing.

You can read the article at this link. (I don’t know the writer and have no idea why the URL is so complex, but it wouldn’t shorten.)

Toward the end he says,

When someone comes forward in the Christian community with a new fresh way of understanding certain doctrines or teachings, the general Christian community tends to eat it up. Think of William P. Young’s The Shack, or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, or Rob Bell’s Love Wins. All of these books abandoned Christian doctrine, and yet were immensely popular.

The false teacher uses their wit, uses their intelligence and uses their ‘godliness’ from a place of arrogance and pride for the express purpose of their own personal gain.

I think there’s a danger here that someone will conflate “fresh way of understanding certain doctrines…” with “arrogance…pride…personal gain.” I’m betting the writer has one or two more recent commentaries on his shelf that also provide us with fresh insights into the scriptures. But I’ll leave that aside.

My single purpose in writing this is simply to say that I think the article loses its overall value when it starts mentioning names.

That, and to return to my first paragraph, I have been noting lately the number of people who I know and respect who have benefited from Jesus Calling and have given away copies to friends. These are people who I consider discerning in their reading, and in a very Peter-and-Cornelius way, has caused me to avoid the rush to judgement that I previously associated with people who gravitated toward this particular product. (And it’s appeal to a wider readership means there are people far from Christianity who enjoy this resource, but that in itself doesn’t give cause to write it off. After all, it was the tax collectors and sex trade workers who gravitated to Jesus.)

Out of all the Christian literature out there, these acquaintances see Jesus Calling as their best bet in connecting with those in their own sphere of influence. At that point, I don’t argue or try to dissuade them from their purchase.

I would say two things:

♦ First, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn a particular pastor, speaker, author whom God is using in the lives of someone else.

♦ Second, we shouldn’t be too quick to recommend a particular pastor, speaker, author about whom others have real concerns.

In other words, definitely write articles on how to spot false teachers. At least two of Paul’s letters have this as a primary focus.

But be slow to name names. Let the discerning process be cultivated in the individual as they mature in Christ and gently guide them to a place where their eyes are wide open.

 

June 14, 2018

Books about The Book

Many years ago I was given a copy of something titled What’s the Best Book? It was an obviously homemade production — the type of thing you’d get printed and bound at Office Max — and for each book of the Bible it offered three of the best commentaries. On the front cover it proudly stated, “Published by Farrell’s Ice Cream” and an address which I believe was in Florida.* Despite this, I saw the value in such a compilation; this was truly someone’s labor of love.

Inside many of us is an unfulfilled Bible nerd. Though we can’t put Bible College or Seminary on our resumés, we love researching topics for the weekly Bible Study and having an ample supply of Bible reference materials on the shelf. We’d never dare quote Greek — at least out loud — but our inner scholar is always just a breath away from bursting forth.

This week I was truly blessed when a friend, now living on the other side of the continent, gifted me with a copy of Best Bible Books: New Testament Resources by John Glynn with contributions from 4 other writers; published just weeks ago by Kregel Academic. This is the Farrell’s Ice Cream book on steroids.

On a book-by-book basis, it lists the books it consider best resources and the books which are better resources and the ones which are simply good, as well as, at the end of each Biblical book’s section recommending additional books on other subjects which arise out of those texts. (The good/better/best ranking is done as each title arises alphabetically; one needs to read through the listings carefully.)

More than just a recommended list, it offers an informed rundown of the approach the author takes in each; followed by the format and usability.

It’s important to state that the books do not all receive glowing recommendations; there are some tough criticisms here which means no pastor, professor or student will end up with a resource which differed from their expectations. 

This is not a book you just sit down and read cover-to-cover, and for that reason I don’t purport that this is a review. Its benefits are toward those who want to get the right book; for those times when neither budget nor shelf-space allow multiple purchases. It’s also a resource I believe every Christian bookstore should keep handy, and every Bible College and Seminary library ought to display in a special place.

Many of the recommended books are from mainstream sources, though readers will encounter some esoteric publishers. Page counts are given but not U.S. list prices. There are some expensive titles to be sure, these types of materials don’t come cheap.

Here’s what Kregel themselves had to say about it:

There are thousands of excellent resources in the field of New Testament studies. But which tools are best for sermon preparation, topical study, research, or classroom study? In Best Bible Books, the authors review and recommend hundreds of books, saving pastors, students, and scholars time, effort, and money.

Glynn and Burer examine commentaries on every book of the New Testament, describing their approach, format, and usability; they then rank them on a scale of good, better, and best. Other chapters survey special studies for each New Testament book as well as books in related disciplines such as historical background, language resources, and hermeneutics. Also included are helpful chapters on building a must-have personal library, and identifying books that comprise the ultimate New Testament commentary collection. This is an indispensable resource for any serious student of the Bible.

Additional sections include recommended resources on general New Testament background, Jewish context, Jesus in the Gospels, and commentary series themselves.

I did say that this isn’t a book you simply read for enjoyment, but I’d like to qualify that: Seeing the different tactics used in the approach section of each listing in a section (i.e. 2 Timothy) and then following that section for each publication mentioned is truly an education in itself. It’s a reminder to ask ourselves, “How do I approach the text?”

Paperback | 336 pages | 9780825443985 | $27.99 US | $37.79 CDN 


*I believe Zondervan did something similar once. They had a book by John Kohlenberger called Words About the Word (about translation) and then did something called Books about The Book (from which I stole today’s title) but I couldn’t find evidence for it online to include here.

June 12, 2018

The PTSD Aftermath of a Painful Loss

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

Canada’s Andrea Calvert has just released Not Alone: How God Helped Me Battle Depression through Word Alive Press. She’s also the daughter-in-law of some close friends who shared some of her story with me. I’ve been following her on Twitter and also just became aware of her blog, Inspiring Life Chats, where she’s been writing for nearly a year.

I want to begin with the publisher’s synopsis of the book, and then share a short excerpt Andrea sent us just for readers here.

Publisher Info:

Angry and hurt, Andrea didn’t want to have anything to do with God. How could she when, one day shy of her eighteenth birthday, she had to watch her mother being wheeled into the operating room of Toronto General Hospital to receive a liver transplant? How could a God that “loved” His people allow them to suffer so badly? Why did she have to spend so much time in and out of hospitals, watching the strongest woman she knew endure test after test? Watching this happen, Andrea came to the conclusion that no god would do that.

Then, on April 27, 2011, it was time to say goodbye. After ten long months of waiting for a second organ donation, Andrea’s mother made the decision to let go-it was the hardest thing Andrea had ever dealt with up to that point. The loss of her mother led her into a downward spiral of depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Andrea lost years of her life and still battles to this day with keeping her depression under control.

Jesus reached down and opened Andrea’s eyes at the darkest point of her depression. Searching for a way to deal with her pain, she called out to Jesus, who answered her prayers and called her back into His loving arms. What He has done in her life is nothing short of amazing-Jesus gave her purpose again!

This is her story…

Book excerpt:

I saw a therapist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. I’d never considered depression and anxiety as an “illness.” I always figured that if you were suffering from an illness, you had a problem with your physical health, not your mental health. Mental health related to things like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and I didn’t have either of those, so I was fine.

I absolutely hated myself. My feelings of failure returned, and I withdrew into myself. It was like taking five steps forward and ten steps back. I went back into the darkness. Depression is often like this; once you’ve dealt with some past hurt, you only have a few days before the next issue rears its ugly head. It’s a constant uphill battle. Even when you think things are going really well, someone can trigger an old memory and you’re right back where you started.

There I was, back where I’d started, after five months of counselling and six months of medication. I had to start over. In essence, I was “back on the couch” for more sleep. In actual fact, I’d been couch-bound for about six months. I’d never really freed myself from the lack of self-worth, anxiety attacks, and isolation. I thought no one wanted to be around me, because I certainly didn’t want to be around myself.

Even at rock bottom there was someone there with me. He had always been there. When I saw Mom under a mountain of hospital blankets, He was there. On the phone saying goodbye to her before she went to Toronto that rainy October night, He was there. Through the ten months of sickness and the “Liver That Never Was,” He was there. And now, when I needed a lifeline from the depths of darkness, He was standing up, dusting off His white robes, and getting ready to extend His hand. Jesus. He was with me, and He was sending someone to me. He was bringing me back to Him.

The 118-page paperback is just the right size for those who find themselves in the aftermath of a traumatic loss that is causing stress and depression. Priced at only 11.99 CDN it’s also affordable to give away to someone in the middle of such a situation.

ISBN 9781486616107 | 11.99 US / 11.99 CDN | Distributed to stores by Anchor Distributors and Spring Arbor (US), Word Alive (Canada) and available for customer purchase wherever you buy books.

May 24, 2018

Review: Christianity in an Age of Skepticism

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

In the past few days I’ve shared excerpts from Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan) but I feel this book is important enough to merit a formal review.

Someone long forgotten told me that this was a must-read book for 2018, but although I can’t place who it was, I know it was someone I respected so I decided to investigate further. I know the word Evangelism scares many of you, but this is how-to book on a whole other level. Whereas Mark Clark’s The Problem of God is concerned with the particular arguments people will use against the existence of God or the deity of Christ, Sam Chan is concerned with how we craft our various types of presentations, be they a one-on-one story of God’s presence in our lives, or a one-to-many presentation in the style of a sermon.

The latter type of information might be helpful for those starting down the road of becoming preachers. I can see this book easily fitting into a first year Homiletics class in a Bible college. There are also online resource links which take the reader to the academic section of the Zondervan website. But in terms of its overall intent, its pricing, and the fact it doesn’t appear under the Zondervan Academic imprint, this is a book for everyone who wants to be better at our calling to be the life and witness of Christ in this world.

I have some favorite chapters. Chapter two deals with introducing Jesus into casual conversation with our friends and the different approaches we can take.

…our community has a powerful role in forming our beliefs. Different communities with some of the same experiences will interpret them in different ways. Different communities with the same facts, evidence and data will interpret them in different ways.  ~p43

Chapter three deals with assembling a response to the needs of people around us, and looks at the various metaphors in the Gospel narratives in a way that this reader had never seen them presented. I’m a huge believer in using charts and diagrams and this book is generous with both.


~p71

Those unfamiliar with the challenge of using traditional means to try to reach Postmoderns will find the situation well-defined in the fourth chapter.

…the gospel will remain unbelievable as long as our non-Christian friends don’t have many Christian friends, because we tend to adopt the plausibility structures of those we know and trust. ~p117

For those who haven’t studied the challenges of world missions, the fifth chapter deals with contextualization.

To the crowd, John told them to share food and clothing. To the tax collectors, John told them to stop cheating. to the soldiers, John told them to stop extorting money and to stop accusing people falsely ~p135

I don’t agree with Sam Chan on everything. (This is the probably the only book in my collection that says, “Foreword by D.A. Carson.) There were some early chapters where I thought I better subtitle might be, The Evangelism Methodology of Timothy Keller, since Chan gushes about Keller’s writing repeatedly. (Doing this with the audio book would make a great drinking game.)

The chapters on preaching topical and exegetical sermons would probably be of greater interest to… well, preachers. Though I must add that I did appreciate the idea that it’s not a case of either topical or exegetical. Both approaches borrow from the other, even if some won’t admit that. 

That Sam Chan is of Asian descent would give this book appeal to anyone who is part of a minority where Christianity also has minority status. That, plus his Australian origins play into the book many times where he argues that the Bible is not interpreted the same all over the world. (A great example is the inclusion of Don Richardson’s account that in presenting the gospel to a particular tribe, they were cheering Judas because treachery is honored in that tribe.) Because I live just an hour east of Toronto, which has a very high Asian population those stories really resonated.

Again, I view this as part of a limited collection of must-read books for this year. Everyone from the zealous, new convert who wants to reach out to his work, neighborhood or social network; or the seasoned, veteran believer who wants to reminded of the evangelism fundamentals will find this beneficial and will, like me find themselves returning to re-examine several key chapters.


Excerpts appearing here previously:

May 18, 2018

A Random Chart of Bestselling Christian Books

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:29 am

This list doesn’t purport to reflect national trends in either Canada or the United States. It’s simply a list that I’ve compiled for many years for the local Christian bookstore where I live. That’s why, in the larger scheme of things, I call it random. It’s highly subject to customer purchasing in one small(er) town, where the data set is small enough that it only takes a few customers to get excited about certain titles to skew the results (though allowances are made).

It also doesn’t apply recommendation. Sometime soon, I need to do a chart of the books I would recommend, the ones which appear on my bookshelf at home which are so very different from the purchasing I do for the store. The list below also includes Christian fiction, for which I have very little personal exposure. There are kids books listed as well.

I’ve sized this so that it will be visible if you’re using a phone, rather than a tablet or PC.

 

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