Thinking Out Loud

April 5, 2021

Mark Clark’s Follow-Up Book Equally Packed with Content

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


 

Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

March 27, 2021

Outgunned by Talent and Tech

I was walking through the room we used for coffee and fellowship when I heard it. Lee (or perhaps Leigh) who was a 15-16 year old member of the youth group was sitting at the piano playing the theme song from The Simpsons.

I was the music director. Actually, that’s not true, I was the entire music department. No worship band. No vocal team. Just me. And if you came back the next week, it was me.

The Simpsons theme has an interesting melody and there are some adornments to it which go beyond basic chording. It requires a bit of keyboard competence, whereas my goal with the worship at the church was to keep it singable and engaging, and to use simple chords.

I realized that if this was a sample of his playing, Lee (or perhaps Leigh) was a better pianist than I. But the likelihood of getting him to do something on a Sunday morning was small, and the one time I did get him to do a postlude once. The congregation, instead of heading for the exit in spirited conversation, as they normally did, sat in absolute silence staring, while he turned a shade of red I didn’t know was humanly possible. I think he was traumatized, and he never did do anything else at that church.

Fast forward a few years and I was doing the same thing in another church. Very little talent to draw on, except for Martin, an oboe player. Looking back now, if I had not been juggling so many activities, it would have been nice to write him some actual ‘parts’ for some of the songs, but I was too rushed to consider that.

Again it was me. If you came back the next week it was me. For two-and-a-half years. A recipe for burnout if ever there was one.

Then I found about Dave. He was a classical guitarist. The music he was able to make on his guitar — any guitar really, including a cheap beat-up one that might be laying around — was incredible. It would have added so much to a Sunday morning. But he wasn’t interested in doing anything that would be considered “church music.” Sigh!

There were people with so much talent, so why was I up there, week after week?

These days, I have decided not to try. I’m not so much intimidated by the Lees and the Daves as I am by the technology. Not the simple microphone and mixer stuff, I was after all, the audio technician for a national Christian television show once.

No, I mean the more recent access people have to studio software that allows you to sit in your basement and create multi-layered tracks, add special effects, get friends to do a solo on the bridge and send it to you in an email, and sync the whole thing to a video presentation.

We could only dream of things like that, or pay someone $80 an hour for studio time.

Talk about blogging in your underwear, people can make amazing things under similar conditions. (For the record however, I am wearing shorts and a pullover as I type this.)

Sadly, I didn’t keep up with the tech. A year of virtual choirs has only shown me how much I don’t know, and trying to read tenor and baritone vocal parts (in bass clef) have demonstrated the degree to which my sight reading has atrophied and my vocal range has diminished with respect to high notes or holding notes for a long 12-beat ending.

I tweeted a few days ago something to the effect that today, ‘he who controls the tech controls everything.’ Or she. I no longer feel that I can contribute anything meaningful with respect to instrumentation or vocal harmonies or song selection because I’m a hands-on person who likes to be part of the entire process, and these days, I have to take a back seat to those who are technically more proficient.

And of course, we’re living at a time where all the worship music anyone wants to sing is coming from either Hillsong or Bethel Worship (even the Elevation songs’ publishing is Bethel) and nobody is interested when I talk about a classic hymn, or a metrical Psalm or even a song I heard on YouTube by City Alight. I just don’t have the same passion for what’s being created currently.

If I were parenting a young child, or advising anyone with kids, I would encourage them to get the kid to obtain proficiency on one instrument, but also be spending 25% of their music education time learning all they can about the emerging technology, and how they can take the sounds they produce and build upon them to create things which have heretofore not existed, and get them online to reach people around the world they will never meet in person.

I do sincerely envy those who have mastered the tech. Covid-19 has created a tremendous learning opportunity for those in music ministry, and those skills will still apply long after the masks have been folded and placed in a drawer.

 

 

March 24, 2021

The Value Added to Your Life in Reading About Others’ Lives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

You’ve already met Jeff Snow several times on this blog. He wrote about being a campus minister, did a book review for us, and twice we ran his 3-part series on the impact of divorce. Jeff is a voracious consumer of books in general, but especially biographies, the ones which focus on sports history, Canadian history, and key people in Christian history. What’s the attraction to biography? I asked him if he would share that with us.

guest post by Jeff Snow

I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Most fiction I’ve read are books I was made to read in high school. I wasn’t actually much of a reader when I was young, but the genre I did gravitate to then, and even more now as I’ve become more of a reader, is the genre of biography.

A well-written biography can be a number of things. It can be interesting. A well-written biography about fascinating person can be as riveting as any fictional book.

A biography can be inspirational. As you read about a person’s character, their story can serve as inspiration for our own lives. One of my professors in seminary made us read biographies of a number of people from church history. His goal, he said, was to help us find “dead mentors”. Biographies can introduce us to people who can inspire us in our Christian walk and in other areas of our lives.

A well-written biography can teach about history. A good biography sets the main character in the context of their times, teaching us not only about the person but also about the historical era he or she lived in.

A biography of someone from the past can educate us about our decisions in the present. Reading about both the triumphs and the mistakes of great people in the past informs us as we make decisions and draw conclusions about our present day lives. As revisionist history and “cancel culture” take root in our society more and more, it is important to sink our teeth into reputable biographies from the past so that we can make sound judgments in the present.

My tastes in biographies tend to be a bit narrow, but allow me still to share five fascinating and interesting people that I think you would benefit from knowing through biographies.

1) Billy Graham. Those of us who are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not realize that there is quickly coming a generation who may never have heard of Billy Graham or understood his impact on evangelism, the worldwide church, and even on American politics. An important “dead mentor” for all pastors and evangelists, and for all Christians.

2) Jackie Robinson. Here I betray one of my narrow interests – baseball. But the story of Jackie Robinson transcends sports. In 1947, Robinson broke the “colour barrier” that existed in baseball and became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. A man of Christian faith, Robinson’s battle against prejudice and racism went beyond the baseball diamond and into business, politics, and activism. An important civil rights pioneer whose philosophy is summed up in the quote on his tombstone: “A life is not important except in the impact if has on other lives.”

3) Abraham Lincoln. You will not have a hard time finding biographies of Lincoln. He is probably the most written about person from the 19th century. His is a story of how great leadership evolves. He went from a young lawyer who refused to take out membership in a church to a president whose 2nd inaugural address reads like a sermon. From having a grade 2 education to being the most powerful man in the USA. Even his attitudes toward slaves and African-Americans evolved. As a self-assured president, he gathered together most of the men he ran against and put them in his cabinet. His was a life we can learn from in many ways.

4) Sir John A. MacDonald. MacDonald more than anyone else had a vision of what Canada could become as an independent country that stretched from sea to sea to sea. He was a complex man. He had his faults, as the subjects of all important biographies do. They should not be glossed over, nor should they serve to overshadow one’s positive contributions. His treatment of natives was in some ways deplorable, yet in other ways he was far ahead of his time, as in his desire to give them the vote. As MacDonald increasingly becomes a victim of today’s cancel culture, it is even more essential for us to understand the full extent of his unparalleled contribution to the Canada we know today.

5) Alexandra Deford. You probably never head of Alex, but you need to get to know her. Her father, Frank Deford, was one of the top sports writers in America in the late 20th century. Alex was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and her father chronicled her life in a book called “Alex, Life of a Child.” It’s the only book written about her life, and it may be hard to find, but if I had to choose only one biography for you to read, this is the one. A heartbreaking story, yet one of incredible courage and grace. Have tissues handy.

There are dozens of others I could recommend, but part of the fun is the discovery. So consider your interests, find a person that connects with them and start reading about their life. Between the covers you will find interesting stories, inspirational mentors, historical guides, and people who will impact the way you look at the world today.

March 15, 2021

Our Sister Blog Celebrates 4,000 Consecutive Posts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 pm

On April 1st, 2010, I had seven blogs. Yes, seven. The one that eventually overtook my interests was a devotional project I developed to keep my mind focused on things of greater eternal value. If Thinking Out Loud was the parent blog, then Christianity 201 was the daughter blog, since these things are never masculine. (When a church splits off to form a new plant, it’s always a daughter church which must really grate on those who want churches to use more masculine language.)

Anyway, today marked post #4000. There were a few music videos at the end, so feel free to click the title which follows for a direct visit.

Christianity 201 Devotional #4000

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
– I Cor. 4:2 NIV

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
– I Sam. 7:12 NASB

Celebrating 4,000 consecutive days of devotional readings at Christianity 201.

A year ago at this time I was publishing a countdown to the end of publishing 7 days per week. I figured I’d settle into a routine of Sunday thru Thursday or Tuesday thru Saturday.

Then Covid-19 hit and (a) I found myself with more time on my hands, and (b) I figured people were stuck at home and more likely to be seeking more online content. (I was right, starting in March each month’s stats are higher than the previous year.)

I also found myself writing more of the pieces myself, while continuing to return to past contributors, highlight the work of newer authors for the first time here, include the occasional quotations feature, and format the submissions from regular Thursday writer Clarke Dixon, and my wife, Ruth Wilkinson.

I do this with a great sense of personal responsibility, always mindful of:

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
– James 3:1 NLT

I’ve also had to fight the severe pandemic depression that set in, particularly in the first 2-3 months. I know that I speak for many of us.

At the same time, Ruth has been working on a graduate degree in theology, which has raised the bar on mealtime discussion subjects. I recently find myself deferring to her on hermeneutical questions which arise…

…It is interesting how few pastors and Christian writers I encounter who are interested in writing devotional literature. Fortunately, this is more than made up for by the number of bloggers. If I only ran posts which began, “Today we’re featuring a new writer;” I could easily find 4-6 high quality devotions per day based on the hunting-and-gathering process I use to find the ones which do appear.

Devotions should be read — and written — out of devotion to God. Unlike writing a book, this particular genre comes with a daily deadline. In the spirit of Psalm 100, where the Psalmist says, “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!” it should be done joyfully, not out of a sense of an onerous duty or obligation. I am fortunate to be able to say that when an idea or concept presents itself, I do get lost in the pleasure of crafting 800 – 1300 words on that particular subject. The pre-pandemic feeling I had of wanting to cut back the frequency of C201 has disappeared.

This verse,

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
– 1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT

was one that a ministry mentor often shared as part of the signature line on his correspondence. Another word which comes to mind is fervent which the Oxford Dictionary defines as, “having or displaying a passionate intensity.” It’s found in the KJV of a verse in Romans that this mentor used in his “tentmaking” business signature line.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
– Romans 12:11 – NIV

Obviously, God presented me with an opportunity to do something unique and I have tried, as our opening verse at the top of the page instructs, to do this faithfully.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
– Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV

In that light, what do you think is the best original devotional I’ve posted here, or the best themed topical devotional I’ve assembled?

The answer is, the one I’ve posted that day. I really do try to make each one better than the last.

You could expand that principle. If I was still leading worship in a local church, and someone asked me, ‘What’s the best worship set you’ve put together?’ I would like to be able to say, ‘The worship set we did this past week.’ Each one should represent a greater striving for excellence.

So yes, I do enjoy this.

But also, I need this.

I need the discipline that the daily deadline presents or I would get lost in the many distractions that modern life has to offer. (See yesterday’s post for more on this.)

And so we celebrate 4,000 days of writing, including the times we were away in Europe for up to two weeks and devotionals had to be written ahead and schedule. Again, I just wanted to be faithful to something, and on April 1st — with much less fanfare — we’ll mark eleven years of so doing.

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval, O Eternal, my Rock, O Eternal, my Redeemer.
– Psalm 19:14 (The Voice)

March 13, 2021

Love It, Hate It, But Don’t Quote It

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:05 pm

When Thinking Out Loud was at its height of popularity, I often found myself the recipient of review copies of books I hadn’t solicited. For the most part however, I requested advance copies or preview editions of books I would want to keep; and today my bookshelves contain a significant percents of what are called ARCs, or Advance Reader Copies.

The deal with ARCs — or any version of the book reviewers are sent — is that you are under no pressure to post a positive review. More recently, bloggers in the U.S. are required to post a statement saying that they received the book free in exchange for a review of any type.

So you can love the book. You can hate the book. You just can’t quote from the book if it’s an ARC.

Here’s why: These “uncorrected proofs” contain various types of spelling and grammatical errors which don’t make it into the final copy, plus there are other embarrassing things that happen such as the example below:

Do you see it? I won’t mention the book, but last week I got curious and wanted to verify that the correction was done… correctly.

Guess what? They almost fixed it!

Sloppy, sloppy editing. Peoples’ names matter. 

Oh, lest I forget, this is personal: My last name is Wilkinson.

March 7, 2021

They Called us to Look Deep Inside: Remembering John Baker and Larry Crabb

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:49 pm

This past week two significant passings in the Christian community were reported; people whose lives deeply impacted so many.

John Baker (left) co-founded Celebrate Recovery with Rick Warren, a Christ-centered 12-step program to help people overcome their hurts, habits, and hang-ups; which has been translated into 20+ languages and used around the world. He is the author of the book Life’s Healing Choices. He left us on February 23rd at age 72. [Read more at Zondervan.]

Dr. Larry Crabb (right) wrote books which focused on the intersection of psychology and faith; helping people see themselves as part of God’s “larger story,” which was also the name of his ministry organization. He was best known for the book Inside Out, but also authored 66 Love Letters, a first-person narrative (i.e. as though God was speaking) based on books of the Bible, and The Papa Prayer, based on the Lord’s Prayer. You may have also known him for The Marriage Builder. He left us on February 28th at age 77. [Read more at Church Leaders.]

As I looked at their lives I realized there was one very great similarity, in that both caused people to look inside, to peel back the layers past the exterior which others see, and deal with the root(s) of the issues in their lives, and thereby move on to hope, help and healing. Their legacy will continue through the resources they have created.

February 26, 2021

Opening Lines

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

In my early years of blogging, a popular site to visit was Ship of Fools. The highlight there was a page where reviewers — Mystery Worshipers — would visit churches and write a report based on quite a list of criteria.

The reviewers visit churches around the world, while most are in the UK. Many are ‘high church’ denominations, but there is a variety here as I tried to hone in on alternatives to the Church of England and Episcopal churches which dominate.

One thing they held in high regard was the opening statement, or opening spoken call to worship. I had reason to re-visit the site recently, and decided to do some copying-and-pasting. Some of these services were observed online during the pandemic.

This is something that honestly, Evangelicals don’t put a lot of mental energy into considering; but you could argue that as goes the opening statement, so goes the service.


“The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. It is a pearl of great value.”

‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

“Good morning, church! Praise the Lord. God is good all the time – and all the time God is good.”

‘Good morning. Welcome to church!’

‘Good morning, and welcome to our celebration.’

‘Good morning. It’s a blessing to be here.’

“Good morning! Let’s stand and worship the Lord through singing.”

‘OK. Good morning, everybody. We’re gonna make a start. There’s plenty of seats in the front!’

‘Good morning. Welcome to [name of Church] as we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints.’

‘Is this mic working? Ah, there. Good morning, everyone!

‘Ready to go? I’m ready.’

“Good evening, everybody. Tonight we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the Church.”

‘Visitors are very, very welcome!’

‘A hearty welcome to this Service of God today.’

‘Isn’t it great to be in the house of the Lord?’

‘Welcome. Isn’t it great we have the freedom to worship together today?’

‘We meet in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

‘We are gathered this morning in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

‘Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’

Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God, whose steadfast love is everlasting, whose faithfulness endures from generation to generation.’

‘Hey, welcome… We’re really glad you’re here.’

“Welcome to everyone who is here to worship the Lord.”

‘Praise the Lord with all that you have,’

‘Stand up as God calls us to worship.’

“OK, let’s worship God together.”

‘Let us come together in our call to worship.’

‘Let us worthily fulfill the act of consecration of man.’

V: ‘Let us go forth in peace.’ R: ‘In the name of Christ, Amen.’

V. ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people.’ R. ‘Kindle in us the fire of your love.’


I must confess that this is a point in a worship gathering where I do prefer the gesture to formality. One opening statement that I picked up somewhere and have used myself is ‘We welcome you [or ‘We’re gathered here] in the name of the Father who loves us, the Son who died for us, and the Holy Spirit who lives inside us.’ 

How does the worship service commence each week where you gather?

February 25, 2021

Fantasy New Testament Lineup

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:46 am

People have fantasy football teams, so I thought I might be allowed to dream when it comes to the order of the books in the Second Testament of the Bible. And dream is a good word, since I started thinking about this a few nights ago when I couldn’t sleep.

At first it was just about the order of the gospel accounts. (What we have is called the Augustinian order.) I thought that opening with John would be good because of the symmetry of the “In the beginning…” language with Genesis. But then I started thinking of not running the gospels consecutively at all, but pairing them with other books that were related.

Then it got more complicated. Because Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, I thought that pairing Hebrews with it would be most appropriate; but I also considered that a new believer, reading in the order I first imagined, might find Hebrews a little complex.

Also pairing Luke and Acts seemed so obvious. At first. Then I thought about how I wanted to construct the lower part of the list, and reconsidered that.

So this is all subject to revision, but here’s an example of how it might look:

  1. John
  2. I John
  3. Philippians
  4. Mark
  5. Romans
  6. James
  7. Matthew
  8. Hebrews
  9. Galatians
  10. Jude
  11. Titus
  12. Luke
  13. I Peter
  14. Colossians
  15. Ephesians
  16. II John
  17. I Thessalonians
  18. II Peter
  19. III John
  20. Acts
  21. I Timothy
  22. II Thessalonians
  23. I Corinthians
  24. II Timothy
  25. II Corinthians
  26. Philemon
  27. Revelation

What do you think? What changes might you suggest?


Supplementary Reading:

February 21, 2021

My Life in the Twitterverse

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm

I realize not all my blog subscribers do Twitter, so here’s a few things I’ve been tracking there, since things have been rather quiet here.


In addition to being one of the world’s coolest Christian music stations (mixing Christian and mainstream song) Brisbane, Australia’s “96five” is also a news outlet, so as part of their retaliation against a government decision, Facebook shut down their Facebook page. All their history was lost, it now says “No Posts Yet.” The station reported, “The new laws will require social media companies, such as Google and Facebook, to pay media outlets for using or posting their news… Facebook, however, has argued it should not have to pay anyone.”


@justinsytsma: Stop putting the word Grace in your church if you’re planning to be a people devoid of it.


The power grid in Texas is completely independent of the rest of the US which allowed them to bypass federal standards which include “cold weather safeguards.”  Forgive my Canadian smugness but where I live federal standards are federal standards. That’s what those words mean.


@joshcarlosjosh: Maybe the Billy Graham rule should actually be to never be alone with power, not women.


A Statement from the Board of RZIM Canada: “It is with heaviness of heart and after much prayerful consideration that we are compelled to begin winding down the operations of RZIM Canada.” Click this link for statement.

meanwhile:

The board of the U.K. branch of Ravi Zacharias’s ministry has declared its intention to separate from the organization. “The response of the RZIM US Board does not go nearly far enough in terms of actions relating to leadership and governance.” Click this link for statement.


@LeeGrady: Christian singer Carman Licciardello died [Feb 16th] . He was only 65. He was a legend in the 1980s. I never knew until today that Carman gave his life to Jesus at an Andraé Crouch concert.


When churches want out: Someone put a lot of work into researching this video. 12 ecclesiastically-packed minutes. Click here to watch: Congregations Leaving Denominations: How Hard Can It Be?


Women (especially) and everyone else: Looking for a good podcast, but don’t have time invest in researching what you might hear? Check out The Godly Pod Podcast by Doreen Eager. She does the work for you! 


• The top news story in the Evangelical world this month is the findings of a report concerning the moral life of a celebrated man who is no longer living.
• The top news story in the broader news cycle this month is the result of an impeachment hearing involving a man who is no longer President.


Finally: Listening over the past year to people like @MattWhitmanTMBH
and @SkyeJethani talking about the future of the term “Evangelical” reminded me of this brief comedy routine:

February 13, 2021

Ravi: The Aftermath in Tweets

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

From (HarperCollins Christian Publishing)Thomas Nelson and Zondervan

From author Lee Strobel


Zacharias Trust (UK organization equivalent to RZIM) via journalist Ruth Graham (the full statement referred to is at this link.)

I have assumed that readers here are already following the story and there is no need to go over the details here.

However, if you need to know why this is news this weekend, Christian journalist Julie Roys has a report on the findings.

Spiritual implications for you and me: Thinking about the impact of all this became the springboard for Friday’s devotional at Christianity 201.


Numbers 32:23b CSB: “…be sure your sin will catch up with you.”


 

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.