Thinking Out Loud

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.”


 

February 8, 2021

5 Questions for a Better Life

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Review: Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets by Andy Stanley

This was, by design, the longest it has taken me to post a book review. The reason is that when I first picked up my copy to start reading, Andy Stanley began a six week series at North Point which corresponded to the six chapters of his latest book. I decided to listen to the message and then, to reinforce its impact, read the chapter after each week in the sermon series.

In Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: Five Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Move, Andy Stanley offers a set of five questions which, if asked at pivotal moments in life, will prevent us from ending up in situations of great regret and remorse. In this respect, it’s a self-help book that someone, if they were not a person of faith, could still read and benefit from.

With each question, Andy offers an illustration from the scriptural narratives of key people demonstrating the principle in action.

I’m not a consumer of the self-help genre — friends have recently mentioned things like Strengthsfinder 2.0, and Crucial Conversations — but I do appreciate the wisdom of Andy Stanley. This time it’s partly autobiographical as he discusses things that he felt his parents did right when he was in his formative years, and also prescriptive for parents today as he discusses how he took what he learned and applied it in the raising of his own children and the foster children he and Sandra have welcomed into their home.

Asked at the right time and place these questions can save people so much hurt. Are we being honest with ourselves? What legacy do we want to leave? What nagging issues in the background deserve our attention? What is the wise thing to do? What does love require of us?

Only in the book it’s not us or we, it’s I and me.

The book uses the examples of Jeremiah, Joseph, David, Paul, and Samuel. And the words of Jesus. If you also watched the series, I know you’re thinking, “Samuel?” Yes, there wasn’t an exact 1:1 correspondence between the video sermons and the book, which also contains a short concluding chapter. But you could read the book and imagine Andy’s voice in your head as you read. The two scripts were quite close.

While I recommend this to anyone reading this review, I especially commend it to anyone with a young adult nearby. This book could save them a life of regrets.

Zondervan | 180 pages hardcover | 9780310537083 | 19.99 US | Study Guide 9780310126560


Thanks again to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for keeping us informed and providing great books like this one for review.

 

February 6, 2021

Apostle Paul’s Day: No “Mega” Churches, Many “Super” Saints

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:24 pm

This appeared on Christianity 201, but as I was writing it earlier, I thought it was the type of thing that might have worked here as well. You decide…

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

4 If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

5 I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue. Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

…Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected…

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

 

February 1, 2021

Dan Kimball Tackles The Bible-Reading Elephants in the Room

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:20 am

Review: How (Not) to Read the Bible by Dan Kimball

I hope you’ve had the opportunity to take a friend to your church and had that moment where, seeing everything through your friend’s eyes, you suddenly see everything that is happening in that space through an entirely different lens.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. We pick it up every day and are often quick to skip over potentially troublesome passages because we know the bigger story, we know the outcome, and we know the divine author. But your friends get tripped up in the first few chapters and then, human nature being what it is, are quick to write off the book completely.

Dan Kimball’s newest book How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-Women, Anti-Science, Pro-Violence, Pro-Slavery and other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture (Zondervan, 2020; and winner of the ‘World’s Longest Subtitle’ award) is an attempt to confront the elephant in the room; many elephants actually of which he focuses on six:

  • unusual and antiquated laws given to Israel
  • the relationship in both Old and New Testaments with the practice of slavery
  • the role of women in society; in Jewish religious life; in the modern church
  • the relationship between the Bible and science; particularly in Genesis
  • Christianity’s claim of exclusivity over all other religious viewpoints
  • the so-called “texts of terror” and seemingly gratuitous use of violence

One of the striking things about the tone of the book is the degree to which Dan Kimball is at ease discussing such things. He understands the mindset of those not yet part of the family, so to speak, and both addresses them directly, but gives the rest of us greater insight into their way of thinking. This is actually the third book by Kimball I have in my library. The title of one says it all: They Like Jesus but Not the Church, which again reflects how conversant he is with reactions to Christianity in the broader marketplace.

So two potential audiences emerge here: Those needing a seeker-friendly addressing of the problematic passages in scripture, and those wishing to better understand how to engage those discussions. Because of his relaxed writing style, I can also see this being a useful tool for homeschool families, though some might not appreciate his treatment of the seven different models for examining creation.

His treatment of the serpent tempting Eve reveals this as a wordplay, with the original having three possible meanings and the text incorporating all three in different ways. His nod to Christianity at the time of Galileo reminds us that the church hasn’t always been at the forefront of scientific understanding.

There isn’t a bibliography as such, but in the footnotes, we see material was drawn from writers such as Michael Heiser, John Walton, Paul Copan, The Bible Project, and a book I’m now anxious to look at, In the Beginning We Misunderstood.

All this said, the book is rather repetitive at times. While I love Kimball’s ideas and presentation, the editing here seems somewhat lacking. Its 300 pages might easily be cut back to 250, and there are times the book almost plagiarizes itself, such as the sentence on page 142 which is repeated three sentences later on page 143: “Unless Paul is contradicting himself in the same letter, he doesn’t intend for women to never speak a word;” and “Unless Paul is contradicting himself, the verse cannot mean for women to be totally silent.” There is also very frequent mention of Greg Koukl’s “Never read a Bible verse” principle (you should read the whole context) though I recognize that perhaps for Kimball, you can’t state this too many times.

My greatest question reading this was wondering if the arguments presented would be sufficient to allay the objections of non-Christians. Perhaps. Hardcore skeptics? I’m not sure. Perhaps to that end, the book would need to be longer, not shorter. Where Kimball gets full marks is his willingness to confront these issues, and the aforementioned ease with which he navigates each potential stumbling block; a few of which were part of his own personal faith journey.

Better yet, the reader is assured that, ‘I’m not the only one wondering about these passages;’ and offers springboards for further investigation and conversation. A number of additional resources were due to be ready in January to promote additional study by groups or individuals. Learn more at DanKimball.com.

 

 

 

January 29, 2021

Evangelical Flashback

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:00 pm

It was customary in our 11:00 AM service to have as many as four “performed” music pieces each week and two at 9:30 AM. We had gifted people who were able to do three services per month but on the fourth a guest would come to do “special music.”

One Sunday I invited Grant, who I had known back when I lived in the city. I had no doubts that he would do well. He arrived early and satisfied that his sound system check had gone well, he went out into the lobby to be sociable with people arriving for the service.

When it came time to sing, Grant made the obligatory opening remarks, such as one does in these situations. “It’s really great to be with you all this morning;” etc.

But Grant wasn’t just a gifted musician. He was also gifted in sales; the type of guy you would hire to be part of your sales department even if he didn’t know much about your particular industry or product. He was that good.

Part of being good in sales is learning to remember peoples’ names when you meet them. I confess, I sometimes struggle with this. Introductions are made and I converse for ten minutes and then I have to say, “Sorry could you just give me your full name again so I can remember?” Of course the “full” in “full” name is the cheat; I’ve forgotten both.

…and I see Mary, and I see Ted, and I see Jacob, and I see Alice…

But as good as Grant’s giftedness in name-remembering was, his hearing was apparently a little off. Furthermore there were people in this church who had names which sounded close to some familiar names, but weren’t exactly the same.

So Grant launched into a weird litany of names while glancing around the room but not specifically looking at any one person to the degree we could figure out who he was referring to.

When he said “Elisabeth” we all knew who he meant. Each of us had done that once upon meeting her. But who was “Alice?” We never did figure that out.

It was awkward.

Then he did his selection of songs…

…I was thinking about this story last week. I wasn’t sure if I’d shared it here before or not, but I’ve always thought it was rather funny. It’s also a good case for asking “How do you spell that?” if you’re unsure.

Then a new thought hit me.

How would I explain this to my high church friends?

How do I tell someone raised Anglican what “special music” is and that we had guests who would “perform” very non-liturgical pieces from available compositions in contemporary Christian music?

How would I tell my Episcopal blog readers that rather than just stand to sing at an appointed time, it was normal to do a mini-monologue; stating that it’s “really good to be here this morning?” Why not invoke the name of a local sports team at the same time?

And how would I tell my Church of England contacts in the UK that Grant then launched into this unusual roll-call of names which, by this point, even by our standards, was out of place?

Here’s the thing: In an Evangelical church the first two were not unusual and the third was not a service-stopping moment. This type of unscripted patter was and still is the norm in Evangelical churches. Some revel in such informality, but it’s also a distraction. It adds to the view of the congregation as audience to what is enacted on the stage instead of as participants in an act of worship and proclamation.  This is still normative in a few churches.

But such was life.

I hope Alice enjoyed his songs.

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