Thinking Out Loud

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:

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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.

 

May 13, 2018

Panicked Publishers add Morality Clauses to Book Contracts

After John Ortberg (pictured left) took concerns about sexual impropriety concerning Bill Hybels (pictured right) to the Chicago Tribune, the dominoes started to fall leading to Hybels’ resignation from one of America’s largest churches last month.

From Bill Cosby to Bill Hybels, 2018 has so far been a year that has placed sexual misconduct in the spotlight. Each year, publishers are forced to withdraw product from their catalogues, or cancel pending publication of forthcoming titles. Sometimes, there’s nothing in the book itself that is harmful, but the authors have become tainted and publishers want to avoid the spectre of large numbers of returns if the public gaze intensifies.

Rachel Deahl covered this recently at Publisher’s Weekly. The following is only a small excerpt, so read the piece by clicking the title below:

In the #MeToo Moment, Publishers Turn to Morality Clauses

Until recently, the term “moral turpitude” is not one that crossed the lips of too many people in book publishing…

A legal term that refers to behavior generally considered unacceptable in a given community, moral turpitude is something publishers rarely worried themselves about. No longer.

Major publishers are increasingly inserting language into their contracts—referred to as morality clauses—that allows them to terminate agreements in response to a broad range of behavior by authors. And agents, most of whom spoke with PW on the condition of anonymity, say the change is worrying in an industry built on a commitment to defending free speech…

…Another agent, who admitted to having concerns about some of the morality clauses he’s seen, said he nonetheless understands publishers’ rationale for using them. “There are obviously a lot of very complex things going on here,” he said, speaking to the way publishers are reacting to the shifting social climate. He also noted that most publishers he’s dealt with have been open to changing these clauses. “When you go back to [publishers] and remind them that authors are allowed protected speech, political or otherwise, my experience is that they’ve been very responsive.”…

…Mary Rasenberger, president of the Authors Guild, who has seen some of the morality clauses publishers are using, said she also understands why houses are moving in this direction. “There are instances where it is appropriate to cancel a contract with someone—if, say, they are writing a book on investing and they’re convicted of insider trading.” But Rasenberger has concerns about the new boilerplates she’s been seeing. “These clauses need to be very narrowly drawn. The fear is that clauses like these can quash speech that is unpopular, for whatever reason.”

Another agent admitted to being distressed by the fact that some of the morality clauses she’s seen “are going very far.” She said that though she and many of her colleagues think it’s “not unfair for a publisher to expect an author to be the same person when it publishes the book as when it bought the book,” she’s worried how extreme some of the language in these new clauses is.

“If you’re buying bunny books or Bible books, these clauses make sense,” said Lloyd Jassin, a lawyer who specializes in publishing contracts, referring to deals for children’s books and Christian books. He wondered, though, about a publisher trying to hold authors of any other type of book to a moral standard. Noting that morality clauses are about money, not morality (specifically, they’re about a publisher’s ability to market an author), he posed a hypothetical. “Is the author of The El Salvador Diet, which touts a fish-only regimen, allowed to be photographed eating at Shake Shack? That goes to the heart of the contract.” He paused and added: “This is definitely a free speech issue.” …

again, you’re encouraged to read all this in the context of the full article

 

 

May 11, 2018

Dissecting the Evangelism Process

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

They say the problem with trying to dissect a cat and learn how it works is that once you make the first cut, you’ve killed the cat.

Trying to over-analyze the various elements of faith can have the same effect, but as I’ve started reading Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan, 2018), I’m finding the opposite: Something about this approach really brings the gospel to life.

One of the things which impressed me is the use of charts and diagrams, as in the excerpt below:


1 Thessalonians 1:4–10 reveals six crucial parts that persons play in the symphony of evangelism, which Chan outlines below:

  1. God’s role is to choose people for salvation (v.4). God has a sovereign role in salvation. This is the theological idea of calling, election, and predestination.
  2. Jesus’ role is to save people from wrath (v.10). He is responsible for dying for people and their sins, rising from the dead, and one day coming back to judge people. Jesus’ other role is that the gospel story is about him (v. 8). The gospel is a message about who Jesus is and what he’s done to save people from their sins.
  3. Paul’s role is to communicate the gospel (v. 5). He did this both with words and actions, not just what he said but also how he lived. Paul gives more details about his model life in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–12.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower the person who is communicating the gospel (v. 5). Perhaps this means that the Spirit gives the person the gift of effective communication or the words to say. And the Spirit also illuminates the person hearing the gospel by convicting them (v. 5) and opening their heart to receive the gospel with joy (v. 6).
  5. The Thessalonians hear the gospel and welcome it with joy (v. 6b). They respond with faith (v. 8b) by turning from their idols to God (vv. 8b–9). Now they imitate Paul (v. 6a) and are models for other believers (v. 7) while they wait for Jesus to return (v. 10).
  6. The gospel is a message about Jesus (v. 8). It is the means by which the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins (v. 5) and enables them to welcome God’s salvation with joy (v. 6). (20–21)

This chart further describes these evangelism roles by mapping them along six theological categories:

Like Paul’s role in 1 Thessalonians, “Our role is to communicate the gospel both in words and actions. But our role is not God’s: we are not sovereignly choosing who gets saved. Our role is not Jesus’: we are not saving people from their sins. Our role is not the Holy Spirit’s: we cannot force people to believe. Instead we must stay focused on our role as the evangelist and do it well.”


I’ll definitely have more to say about this book, probably later next week. It’s a great resource for both churches and individuals.  Learn more at this page.

Book excerpt sourced at Zondervan Academic

May 4, 2018

Christian Author Flaunts Use of Vulgarity

Filed under: books, Christianity, missions — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
 – Ephesians 4:29 NLT

Nor is it fitting for you to use language which is obscene, profane, or vulgar.
– Ephesians 5:4a GNT

The new book The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright had the potential to speak to issues on which she is well-versed, such as ‘short-term mission trips as seen by a full time career missionary,’ along with other topics. Over the years I’ve read her takes on short-term missions and I think she has some very valid things to say.

Unfortunately for all, she’s somewhat sabotaged her prospects for this book’s wider acceptance with gratuitous use of profanity, vulgarity and expletives; furthermore, she’s proud of it. I’m not sure what this says about where she is currently at spiritually, or what it says about Convergent, a division (like Waterbrook) of Penguin Random House (PRH). 

That LifeWay doesn’t carry this shouldn’t be a surprise, but neither is it available through Christian Book Distributors (CBD).

She writes,

“I have no interest in pandering to a larger crowd for the sake of a bigger audience, even if it means I won’t get my message to as many people. This may shock you, but it’s not my purpose in life to tell the whole church and everyone in it my thoughts on God and faith and ministry and all that stuff. My goal here was to write a memoir, not a thesis, so my job was to write my story, my way, and that’s what I did. For any number of reasons, the language being only one, the book I released into the world isn’t gonna appeal or be palatable to a lot of people, and I’m 100% cool with that.”

“I don’t really care if some hyper conservative blowhards don’t hear those messages from me. If someone’s eyeballs are too righteously delicate too see “bad words” in print, or their earholes are too religiously tender for a little Audible profanity, then a book that uses the word “f**k” to talk about f**ked up missions obviously isn’t the right vehicle to get the message to them. Like, I’m just not their people and my book is not their book — and that’s cool…”  [edited]

Then, in the same blog post she totally flaunts her choice by listing all of the instances of swearing and invites readers to censor the book with a black sharpie if giving it to someone more sensitive. I’m including this here only to show those reading this the sheer volume of these which occur, though, in the spirit of the topic at hand, I’ve made a crude (pun intended) attempt to redact the words themselves:

I don’t want to seem hypocritical about this, but years ago the bookstore I own and manage decided to carry the testimony of Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, which has the f-word in the very first sentence. I think the packaging of that book and the fact it would only appeal to those who knew her story limited the possibility of accidentally being purchased by the wrong person, and we also added — and continue to add — a small warning sticker of our own to the back cover.

I’m not sure why I’m willing to give Nadia a pass and not Jamie, but each bookstore has to decide what works for them. I did have a white-haired grandmother rather deliberately purchase Nadia’s book and come back later to order multiple copies of it, and her book which followed.

The publisher writes:

The Very Worst Missionary is a disarming, ultimately inspiring spiritual memoir for well-intentioned contrarians everywhere. It will appeal to readers of Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jen Hatmaker, Ann Lamott, Jana Reiss, Mallory Ortberg, and Rachel Held Evans.”

That’s a rather narrow list.

It’s too bad that, a time when Christian authors, publishers and bookstores are struggling, an author would choose to deliberate his or her audience.

I like Jamie. I really do. I think her perspective needs to be shared. This choice of, for lack of a better term, lexical set was her decision and that of her publisher. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they feel they made this decision intelligently.

 

 

April 13, 2018

Boy Who Didn’t Come Back From Heaven Now Suing Tyndale House Publishers

Tuesday in The Washington Post:

On Nov. 14, 2004, as 6-year-old Alex Malarkey drove home with his father Kevin in rural Ohio, a left turn nearly took his life. As Kevin turned the car it collided with another vehicle, and the boy’s skull became completely detached from his spinal cord.

But Alex did not die — and that’s the central fact behind a long-running controversy that has now led to a lawsuit.

Two months after the crash, Alex emerged from a coma as a quadriplegic. The injured boy also began telling family and friends about traveling to heaven and meeting Jesus and Satan.

In July 2010, Kevin and Alex Malarkey penned an account of the boy’s religious experience, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.” The book was published by Tyndale House, a publisher of Christian books. It went on to reportedly move more than 1 million copies and spent months on the New York Times bestseller’s list. The book was part of a bumper crop of similarly geared narratives — tales of near-death experiences and brushes with the Almighty published by religious imprints.

Then it all fell apart. In January 2015, Alex, now paralyzed from the neck down, admitted he had fabricated the story.

“I did not die,” he wrote in a blog post. “I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”

The admission created a firestorm within the worlds of evangelical faith and Christian publishing. The controversy was revived this week when Alex — now 20 years old and living off Social Security — filed a lawsuit against Tyndale House in Illinois’s DuPage County, where the publisher is located. The complaint alleges Kevin Malarkey was the main actor behind the fabrication…

continue reading here

Christianity Today picks up the story Wednesday:

…Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015, after Malarkey admitted he made up the story of dying and going to heaven after the accident.

“Now that he is an adult, Alex desires to have his name completely disassociated from the book and seeks a permanent injunction against Tyndale House requiring it to do everything within reason to disassociate his name from the book,” according to the complaint, which was covered in The Washington Post.

Malarkey has sued on the grounds of defamation, financial exploitation, and publicity placing a person in a false light, saying that Tyndale went forward with initially publishing and promoting the book knowing his opposition. He states that he did not write any part of the book or consent to the use of his name as a coauthor and story subject.

The suit states that he has “never been permitted to read the contract, nor to review any accountings provided under the contract, he refuses to acknowledge that the contract ‘is in effect and binding,’ now that he has reached the age of majority.” …

…Tyndale said in a statement issued this week that it no longer promotes the book or makes it available for sale, and that it has complied with the terms of the book contract.

“This is a terribly unfortunate situation, which deeply saddens all of us at Tyndale,” said Todd Starowitz, the publisher’s spokesman. “Despite the claims in Alex Malarkey’s lawsuit, Tyndale House paid all royalties that were due under the terms of our contract on his book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015 when Alex said that he had fabricated the entire story. Any books still available from online vendors are from third-party sellers.” …

continue reading here

Clarification: Since the product recall, many mistook the story being recanted as belonging to the book Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo (Thomas Nelson) since both are about kids. Bookstore sales staff continually need to emphatically set the record straight.

Product which was available as of January 16th, 2015 before the recall. Image captured at Ingram/Spring Arbor.

 

The book was one of many similar titles on the New York Times bestseller list in August, 2011

 

April 12, 2018

A Bibliophile’s Ambivalence

Filed under: bible, books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

Apparently the book thing runs in the family…

About Old Books

by Aaron Wilkinson

I both love and hate owning old books. I love it because old things are awesome. I love the mystery of reading an old book and picking up occasional clues as to who owned it before and where it came from. I love the look, the feel, and the smell of old books. It turns reading into a very sensory experience.

I hate it because old books grow fragile. As I read them and use them, I often can’t shake the thought that I am contributing to their wear. I feel guilty about touching it.

At one point I got my hands on a cheap Latin Bible that was over a hundred years old. It was beautiful and also very portable. I could fit it in my pocket. One time I was casually reading it in my university dorm room. I opened it gently but the fragility of the binding was greater than my exceptional care and the hard cover tore from the spine. I’ve done a lot of morally questionable things in my life but breaking that Bible was definitely the worst.

So my antiquarian bibliophilia presents a conflict of interests. I want to own old books because I love them but I also think that far more deserving people should own them because I know they can care for them better.

I was thinking about this dilemma while waiting for the bus a few days ago and something occurred to me. My use of the centenarian Vulgate led to its partial destruction but it also lead to me better understanding the Latin language. The book ages but the words on the page and the language itself find new life. I may have contributed to the wear of the book but I’m contributing to the continuation of the language and text at the same time.

The physical vessel for the words, the book, is worn down but the words find a new physical vessel, myself. I’m not going to go around destroying books on purpose now, but ancient things find new life when we study them and carry them forward.

One of my favourite pieces of music is The Seikilos Epitaph, which according to Wikipedia is “the oldest complete surviving musical composition.” I’ve committed it to memory and its tune is one of the things I’ll whistle to myself while impatiently waiting for the bus.

If I were to go back to first century Ephesus where the epitaph was found, I would have something in common with them right off the bat. It’s nice to know I have friends 2000 years ago.

Physical things are still well worth preserving. In fact, they should absolutely be preserved and by people more capable than myself. 100 year old books are not actually all that rare but there are things that are hundreds or thousands of years old that should probably be out of my reach. But we can all play our part in preserving the beauty of ancient things by studying them and sharing them.

As for damaging the old Vulgate, I will turn myself into the police immediately.

April 9, 2018

Book Review: The Jesus I Never Knew

It is, without doubt, my favorite book by my favorite author.

When it was published, in 1995, I was sitting behind the counter of a Christian bookstore when a man came in and asked if we could order him five copies. A few days later someone else asked if they could order six. A few weeks later the first man came back for ten more.

I knew I had to read this book. I was familiar with Philip Yancey because of his connection to Campus Life magazine and The NIV Student Bible. He was the guy with the hair. Trained in journalism, he is an example of a Christian author rising to prominence not having formally studied theology or having pastored a church.

Yancey had written many books before The Jesus I Never Knew was published. Three were with leprosy doctor Paul Brand, as well as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappoint With God.

But in a way, The Jesus I Never Knew would kick off a run of prime titles for Yancey which include: What’s So Amazing About Grace, Reaching for the Invisible God, The Bible Jesus Read, Rumors of Another World, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, What Good is God and Vanishing Grace.

When he writes, he stands in for all of us, with all our questions, misgivings, disappointments, doubts, and hopes when it comes to Biblical texts. He’s not afraid to wrestle with the scriptures and if, as with Jacob, that takes all night, then so be it. He’s never written a formal autobiography — unless you count Soul Survivor — but you come to know him as you read his writing.

This was my third time reading The Jesus I Never Knew.

My first reaction, on completion of the last page, is to want to turn to chapter one and begin all over. Jesus simply leaps off the page. Yancey has looked at the life of Christ and assembled a myriad of data and then rearranged that information to give us a picture of Jesus as he would have presented himself to the disciples and gospel writers.

An alternative title might be, The Jesus You Thought You Knew, or perhaps The Jesus You May Have Missed. If the gospel accounts might be considered an outline drawing of Christ’s life, with this book Philip Yancey fills in the colors, the shading, the textures of the big picture. Over the years, readers have found the section on Christ’s temptation and the Sermon on the Mount to be especially helpful. There’s also the drama of the encounters Jesus has with everyone from the Pharisees to the lepers. He offers much in the way of context then along with personal application for us now.

So…today’s review is not a new book, but if it’s new to you, I hope you’ll track down a copy.

Zondervan, paperback, 9780310219231

March 27, 2018

Your Job is a Parable: Book Review

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:38 am

One of the best ways to learn how to identify the spokenness of your own job is to listen to what God might be saying through another person’s work

I have a thing for analogies.

I love it when someone can connect the dots between two things otherwise not connected. I try to file these away in my head for future use, and sometimes I am actually able to recall the right analogy and share it with the right person at the right time. Once or twice, I’ve been fortunate enough to create the parallel right on the spot.

My guess is that’s how it is with author, pastor and Ambrose University professor John Van Sloten. He seems to have the gift of analogy — admittedly not one of the spiritual gifts in scripture — that would allow him to make up instant analogies as needed. On second thought, that is the gift of teaching. And teaching through parables was the preferred form of Christ’s earthly ministry. My guess is that in our time, Jesus would be creating an abundance of modern day parables using everything from nature and agriculture (which he did) to sports, to driving a car, to scenes from movies, to technology.

Van Sloten’s parable-of-choice is vocation. In Every Job A Parable: What Wal-Mart Greets, Nurses and Astronauts Tell us About God (NavPress, 2017) no career on the socio-economic spectrum is insignificant, all have something to teach us about the ways of God. He even considered working a half day as a Wal-Mart greeter as research, but felt his friends might misunderstand! (For my UK readers, substitute Farmers in the subtitle for your edition.)

God is more present at your work than you know. And I think he wants you to know that. God wants you to see that he is there and that His Spirit is moving in you, through you, and all around you. God wants you to know him in all you do – including the third of your life that you spend working.

Not included in the book’s subtitle are a look at trash collectors, labor negotiators, photographers, electricians, recording artists, landlords, accountants, geophysicists and judges. But also be prepared to meet a crooked lawyer, immoral politician and an atheist writer. (There’s nearly 50 jobs covered.)

Sometimes an analogy is not entirely necessary. The chapter on first responders, ER nurses and physicians is a reminder that such people are, in those situations, the very hands and feet of Christ.

Reading this I was reminded of the title another book, published many years ago but also from NavPress, Your Work Matters to God. I couldn’t help but think how many people feel that their work doesn’t matter. That they’re merely trying to pay the bills so they can have some time or money left over to do work for God’s Kingdom. Van Sloten would argue that your ministry doesn’t begin at 5:00 PM or whenever you punch out at work, but rather your job is filled with ministry possibilities that can impact you, if not also the people around you. 

When Jesus wrapped a parable around a particular vocation, he was affirming the creational goodness of that job.

John Van Sloten, above, wrote another book with an intriguing title, The Day Metallica Came to Church.

There’s an interesting paradox at work as you read through. This is a book which, while structurally focused (i.e. the chapters by definition follow a specific format) it is also topically diverse (i.e. the range of colorful people interviewed provide a springboard to various broader discussions). If you’re the type of reader who likes books with pictures, this book, while it has no images or illustrations, is actually full of them.

Not everyone gets to see the fruit of their labors the same day. The example is of a scientist who publishes a research paper that is based on the work done years ago by others; and then she herself may not see the full application of her discovery.

We worship an eternal God whose plan is infinite, so for him to wait a few years or decades to manifest the meaning of our work shouldn’t be a big surprise. For God, there is a time and a purpose for everything. And sometimes his purpose, or the fullest sense of his purpose, shows up at a later time.

Each chapter also ends with a short focus section called Lectio Vocatio. It includes a number of different directives for post-chapter consideration. There’s also an index of the various vocations mentioned as well as links to YouTube sermons the author preached on various occupations, including some not in the book. 

This is the spirit-lifting book everyone needs after a hard day at the office. Or factory. Or rocket ship.

A copy of Every Job a Parable was provided by our friends at Graf-Martin Communications.
Print edition (North America) 9781631465482 | 208 pages | NavPress paperback
Print edition (UK) 9781473670662 | 208 pages | Hodder & Stoughton paperback
Watch a one-minute video trailer with the author.

February 9, 2018

Growing Up in a Strict, Ultra-Conservative Christian Home

This is a review of a book. Its inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

On Wednesday, I read a 390 page book in a single day. That’s somewhat unusual for me, but the weather, some really great writing, and a fascination with the story combined to make this possible.

Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket To Salvation by Aaron Hartzler is his true story. It is published by Little, Brown & Co., not Hachette’s Evangelical imprint, FaithWords, though in my opinion it comes oh so close to fitting in there, especially the first two-thirds. That’s probably why it took me five years to be aware of this 2013 title; that and the fact it was marketed as a Young Adult memoir. I’ve missed being in the target audience by many decades.

We first meet Aaron as a four year old, being groomed for the role of church play actor; though as he grows up, it’s a different type of acting which captures his attention. There are are short scenes from his early school and summer camp experiences, with most of the book taking place in his high school years. It is in high school he really starts acting only the role he is playing daily is one of a church kid who is at odds with the ultra high standards and beliefs of his community and especially his parents.

He’s placed in a Christian school, but his interest in popular music proves too much for his ultra-straight parents and as punishment he is placed in an even more conservative Christian institution. But the punishment in many ways backfires, as these kids seem to have more after-school freedom than anything at his prior school, some of them without having to employ the cover-up tactics that Aaron finds necessary…

…The book is a wonderful time capsule of Christian culture in the 1980s including some things I had forgotten such as Sandi Patty’s divorce and Amy Grant’s admitting that she visited a topless beach. It’s also a reminder of backyard Bible clubs, dressing up for Sunday services, guest missionary slide shows, Pioneer Girls & Boys Brigade, purity rings, and denominational talent contests.

While Aaron is raised with corporal punishment, when he gets too old to spank, his parents disciplinary method of choice is basically shaming. Honestly, this is hard to read, and enduring this with him means I’m often rooting for Aaron instead of his parents. I keep feeling that any choices Aaron made in life — and the book stops many years shy of its own publication date, but I did some further research* — happened because his parents forced him there…

…More remarkable is that I got this book in a load of bargain titles from CBD. Yes, Christian Book Distributors. I can say with confidence that this item totally escaped their usual vetting process, and as it turns out is currently not listed at the site. Nonetheless, I’m glad I got to read it. It may be marketed as Young Adult non-fiction but I think parents should read it as a cautionary tale.

No kid should have had to grow up in that culture of shame.


*There are some reviews online for this book which contain what I consider a giant spoiler, including some editions of the book with a different subtitle also containing that spoiler. I think for me it was more important to let the book take me there rather than begin with some aspects of the story a foregone conclusion. If possible, look for the book with the cover above. The other subtitle was a publishing blunder.

 

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