Thinking Out Loud

November 20, 2017

We Have Met the Misfits and They is Us

I could probably give you a number of reasons why Brant Hansen shouldn’t have a book with W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, let alone two books.1 He’s not a pastor. Not a professor. Not someone who’s made it in the field of sports or business or entertainment and coincidentally happens to be a Christian.

He’s a radio announcer.

That’s it. But Blessed are the Misfits, his second major book release confirms what listeners to The Brant Hansen Show2 and The Brant and Sherri Oddcast podcast3 have known all along: There’s a heck a lot of us out there who feel we just don’t fit in.

The subtitle of the book — which appears above the title, meaning it’s actually a surtitle4 — is Great News for Believers Who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something.5 Insert deep breath here.

Brant not only sees himself as a misfit, but he’s even been diagnosed with a few things just to make it official. The radio show and podcast contain frequent announcements to new listeners that the show may take some time to figure out.6

Brant’s life story would make a book like this interesting enough; but the fact he also does the requisite research, includes Bible quotations and writes well simply adds to the appeal.

I see myself and others I know quite well in the pages of this book. People

• who are introverts
• who deal with social anxiety; mental health issues
• who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar)
• who feel they are failures
• who are lonely
• whose personality type is melancholy
• who feel they are just different; they don’t see the world like everyone else does

As I wrapped up the final pages of the book, I thought of a song recorded eons ago by The Altar Boys, a Christian band.

To all the hearts who have been broken;
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams;
To everyone in need of a friend;
You are loved, You are loved.
To all the rebels wounded in battle;
To all the rockers that have lost that beat;
To all the users all used up now;
You are loved, You are loved.7

Henri Nouwen has called the capital-C Church “the community of the broken.”8 When you think of the misfits at your local church, take some time to also look in the mirror. I see myself repeatedly in these pages.9

Have you ever been to a concert only to find out that the performer is also an official representative of Compassion, Inc., or some other similar charity and you feel like you’ve been ambushed somehow?10 Brant is actually a spokesperson for CURE International; which means there are frequent references to CURE hospitals doing amazing things for kids whose situations looked hopeless.

Personally, I like my books to be books and my charity appeals to be charity appeals; but trust me, you wouldn’t want this book without the CURE stories.11 They are a part of who Brant is, and therefore they deserve the space they get to act as mind-stretching illustrations of the points made in various chapters.

The solution to the problem? This is important because Brant is not speaking to solutions here so much as he’s saying to his fellow-misfits, “You’re not alone.” His personal revelations of classic awkwardness aren’t enumerated here as self-deprecation, but rather I see Brant in the pages of this book as a positive role model for people who feel they just don’t fit. There is very wide swath of people covered in this book. He comes alongside people who are hurting.

That we are also Christians makes the struggle all the more complex in one way, but our identification with Jesus also means that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.”12

We need to remember that Jesus was a misfit, too.

 


1 Click here for my review of Unoffendable, click here for a sample segment.
2 Link to Brant’s website. The show may have a different music mix in different markets.
3 Specific link to the podcast. Warning: Sherri’s laughter is infectious.
4 This is the type of distraction Brant lives for.
5 Spellcheck wants to change Strugglers to Stragglers which might work as well.
6 As true as this is, the part about “listener uniforms” should be taken with a grain of salt.
7 Listen to the song at this link.
8 I can’t prove this is an actual quotation, but Nouwen did say that we are all “wounded healers.”
9 The title of this review, We Have Met the Misfits and They is Us is a reference to the Pogo comic strip.
10 Like that time you’re friend invited you over for the evening, and it was actually an Amway meeting.
11 Learn more at cure.org
12 Hebrews 4:15 NIV
13 There is no corresponding sentence to this footnote. Brant actually only uses one footnote in the book and then in typical ADD fashion, abandons the form.

Thanks to Kimberley at HarperCollins Christian Publishing for an advance copy of Brant Hansen’s book.


Review bonus: The Misfits Tour! (They should pay us for including this.)

 

Date City Info
11/27/17 West Palm Beach, FL Journey Church
11/28/17 Vero Beach, FL Christian FM
12/2/17 Hagerstown, MD Word FM
1/4/18 Lynchburg, VA The Journey
1/5/18 Louisville, KY WAY FM
1/6/18 Cincinnati, OH Star 93.3
1/11/18 Hazel Green, AL WAY FM
1/12/18 Tallahassee, FL WAY FM
1/13/18 Panama City, FL WAY FM
1/18/18 Indianapolis, IN Shine FM
1/19/18 Chicago, IL Shine FM
1/20/18 Ft. Wayne, IN Star
1/25/18 Riverside, CA KSGN
1/26/18 Bakersfield, CA KDUV
1/27/18 Visalia, CA KDUV

By the way, does anyone else think it strange that an introvert wants to go on tour where everybody will be looking at him?

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November 3, 2017

Was the Reformation a Mistake?

This recently-released book from Zondervan deserves an award for “Provocative Title of the Year” and I felt that while Reformation Day is still fresh in our minds, I would mention it here. Plus, this is, to the best of my knowledge anyway, a rather unique Christian publication.

The full title is: Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbiblical. The author is Matthew Levering, a theology professor at Mundelein Seminary, University of Saint Mary of the Lake. In the interest of equal time, there is a Protestant response from theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer who does research and teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The book’s 9 chapters look at:

  • Scripture and its interpretation
  • Devotion to Mary
  • The Mass / Eucharist / Lord’s Supper
  • Origin of The Seven Sacraments
  • Monasticism and the Gospel
  • Merit and Justification; God’s mercy
  • Purgatory / Prayers for the dead / Penance
  • The conferring of Sainthood
  • The papacy

Each section begins with a simple one paragraph introduction which sets out the issue and also refers readers with less familiarity with what the Roman Catholic Church teaches to some primary documents. Following this is a summary of what the author views as Luther’s primary concern. The balance of each chapter is headed “Biblical Reflections” which aims to set out Biblical origins for the teachings which concerned Luther and concern many non-Catholics today.

Of the book’s 241 pages (in the pre-publication version) Levering’s main text comprises 166 pages and Vanhoozer is given 41 pages for rebuttal. The latter sees the conflict existing not between Protestants and Catholics but between “catholicism and one particular tradition (Romanism)” which he seems to view as a theological pattern in which carefully vetted scripture passages are chosen because they lend credence to a pre-determined, Vatican issued theology. But the tone of his rebuttal is cordial.

Full disclosure: I did not read every word. (Up to a certain point in writing his response, neither had Vanhoozer.) Some of this was above my pay grade, though it was published by Zondervan, not Zondervan Academic. I do not purport that this was written in my normal book review modus operandi. Rather, I intend to keep this on the shelf and refer to specific items in the list of nine as needed in discussions I have with Roman Catholics.

I understand why the publisher issued the book under this particular title in this particular year, but I still found the title needlessly provocative. The book itself, I find fascinating.


For publisher marketing info at Zondervan, Click this link.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to examine this interesting book.

 

October 16, 2017

Skye Jethani’s State of the Modern Church Address

Those of have heard Skye Jethani speak, be it a sermon, conference message, or podcast conversation, know him to both extremely forthright and wonderfully articulate on matters related to church and culture. He brings this gift to a new book, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. released last week by Moody Press.

The book is a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; interconnected, but presented such they can be studied in any order. While I have heard him touch on many of these before, as assembled here, much of this material was new to me.

Skye Jethani’s forté is analysis, and a major part of his analytical toolkit is a knowledge of the broader sweep of modern church history, some of this no doubt afforded by his years serving in various departments of Christianity Today, Inc. and as a local church pastor. While much ink has been spilled over the last 20 years lamenting the state of the modern church in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, the words here are more prescriptive; a look at where the church may have lost its way presented alongside healthy doses of routes we might take to get back on track. Each essay ends with two or three “next step” questions or applications.

Some standout chapters for me — many of which were brought to life through some clever analogies — included:

1. Ambition (and motivation; always a good place to start)
3. Wastefulness (versus efficiency which can enslave us)
6. Dramas (there are three playing out in church leadership)
8. Simplicity (versus the complexity we see everywhere else, discussed in chapter 9)
9. Complexity (the longest chapter in the book; Jethani at his best)
10. Redundancy (an interesting approach to the matter of pastoral succession)
12. Illumination (another longer chapter; on sermon expectation and who might preach)
15. Platform (this chapter is gold; a look at how we confer authority in the local church)
16. Celebrity (analysis of the rise of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”)
18. Consumers (again, I preferred the longer chapters; this one is about church choices; some of the other chapters not listed I would like to have seen fleshed out in greater detail.)

And then there was chapter 24, an even more autobiographical essay which strikes at the heart of ministry from the author’s early experiences as a hospital chaplain. A fitting ending in so many respects.

On a personal level, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last 20 years, I’ve learned that while ecclesiology is by definition the domain of pastors, books about ecclesiology are widely read by a variety of lay-people who who feel a sense of ownership in the local churches in their community. With so much reconstruction taking place in the look, feel and purpose of weekend gatherings; many want to champion these changes while others are fearful of going too far and thereby losing the plot. So while the book is being marketed more as an academic title for Bible college or classroom discussion, I think the finished product is something I would encourage many of my friends to read.

 


Read a short sample from Immeasurable at this link

Related: Skye Jethani on news and media

Related: A review of the 2012 title, With.


Photo: Skye Jethani on the weekly Phil Vischer podcast.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution & Marketing for a review copy of Immeasurable.

October 6, 2017

Teenage Rebellion is not Mandatory

It didn’t happen to our kids — now 23 and 26 — and it need not happen to yours, but many parents take the perspective that teen rebellion is simply to be expected. It also didn’t happen to Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, author of the book Why I Dind’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow and How Your Kids Can Too (Nelson Books) which released in paperback just a few days ago.

First, the story of how the book came to be. You need to know that Rebecca is the daughter of Sheila Wray Gregoire, a Canadian author whose work includes 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and To Love Honor and Vacuum; the last title also being the name of her popular blog.

In the winter of 2014, Sheila asked daughter Rebecca to write a blog post for her on why she didn’t rebel. At first Rebecca said no — yes, I supppose you could call that small scale rebellion — but later changed her mind. Rebecca dashed it off in 20 minutes, and within the week it had been seen a quarter of a million times on the blog and over a million times on Facebook. You can read that article at this link.  Her mom then suggested she turn it into a book proposal.

Next, I need to explain why I wanted to read this book. Although we’ve never met, Sheila is a neighbor, inasmuch as last time I checked, we live in the same part of South Central Ontario. Or maybe we’re Eastern Ontario. It’s a big place and I’m never sure. I haven’t heard her speak but I’ve been aware of her traveling with Girls Night Out, a relief-and-development awareness program for women which tours Canadian cities. So there was a local-interest factor here, but honestly, I figured I’d read a chapter or two and then leave it there. As often happens, I ended up reading the entire book.

Like your first year Psychology textbook, this book relies highly on anecdotes from two dozen Millennials reflecting on their childhood years, with a very generous helping of Rebecca’s own family memories. Today she’s married and is considered a “self help blogger” at her website, LifeAsADare.com. So while everyone contributing to the book has the perspective of a few year’s distance from adolescent events, the voices in the book are all young.

This brings me to where I’ll probably depart from other reviews and publisher marketing on this title. For example this one: “Why I Didn’t Rebel provides an eye-opening way of raising kids who follow God rather than the world.  It should not be expected that teens are going to rebel, especially if you start to teach them the right way young.  The big key is to teach them right from wrong and consequences from a young age.”

I agree wholeheartedly, but I think there’s more potential here. I think that other Millennials might want to read this, and dare I say it, I think some teens could benefit from this; especially those whose home situation is not exactly perfect. I believe some — not all — adolescents might benefit from seeing some ideal family dynamics, and might also identify with the stories of those who persevered and survived amid family chaos.

Was Rebecca’s home situation the exception to the rule? She’s quick to point out that it wasn’t perfect, but it obviously provided her the security or stability which ruled out going through teen rebellion. In ten chapters she deals with the contributing factors and because of her age provides a refreshing perspective against a backdrop of more mature ‘experts’ writing parenting books.

I’m glad I chose to read all the way through; it’s a book I would recommend.


Read a sample chapter at proud Mom Sheila’s blog.

 

October 1, 2017

Apparently, I Wrote an Endorsement for This Book

Author Samuel C. WIlliamson

I own a copy of Hearing God in Conversation by Sam Williamson (Kregel) which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. But it’s a manuscript copy, from which I was asked to write an endorsement. And although I’ve held finished copies of the book in my hand in the past year, I never bothered to open the front pages until yesterday. I’m on the same page as George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization and Eugene Peterson, author of The Message Bible! I should really pay more attention to these things:

So in honor of that discovery, here’s a repeat of my original review at Thinking Out Loud, which, as it turns out, reiterates the above because there was such a time lag to reviewing the manuscript to the time printed copies were available.

Review: Hearing God in Conversation

God has many means at his disposal to get our attention

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

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

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

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

Here’s the official publisher marketing for the book:

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

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

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

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


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


Related:

My review of the author’s Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

September 29, 2017

Getting in Touch with my Biblical Feminine Side

Every once in awhile I do a feature titled “Currently Reading.” These are books for which I haven’t been given any review mandate and may or may not finish, but feel are worth mentioning. Sometimes they are books which aren’t new releases, and occasionally are completely out-of-print.

A better title might be, “Currently on the Bedside Table.” This describes the time of day I’m looking at them, though it’s actually a lie since the lamp base takes up most of the room. More like on the floor next to the bed, along with several unfinished crossword puzzles, which are a great way to unwind before sleep.

Have I put enough distance between myself and this book? I just don’t want people thinking I regularly choose my books in the women’s section of the bookstore. That’s because I’m currently late-night reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, 2012) the very same writer described by one site as “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing;” and one whose haters have their own Facebook group; and I’m thoroughly enjoying the book. (I chose not to include the links.)

The book is part homage and part spoof  (depending on how you read it) of A. J. Jacobs’ classic My Year of Living Biblically. It’s also a response to the CBMW (the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which could also be represented by COBMAW) the same people behind the infamous “Nashville Statement” earlier this season. Evans searches the scripture to gain a picture of the role of women in both Old Testament times, and also at the time of Christ, and what implications both have for Christian women in today’s world.

But you know what? There’s nothing beyond that synopsis that I can write that would satisfy those whose faith compels them to simply denounce and write people off. I’m the other way around. I may not applaud the rhetorical style of Nadia Bolz-Weber, the artistic license of Wm. Paul Young or the non-directive responses of Rob Bell, but I love all three of them. There are certain people who instead prefer to draw a circle and everyone who is not in that circle is simply out. If that’s you, do the rest of us a favor and stop reading here, because…

…because I want to say a few things I really like about the book, so far.

  1. Evans is a gifted writer. She’s basically writing some type of autobiographical Bible-study memoir thing — a genre, called “lifestyle experiments” which apart from the aforementioned A. J. Jacobs and a few others doesn’t exist — which is difficult to classify, let alone critique. She pulls that off with all the requisite color and humor and other words which have a u in them if you’re British. I have no commitment to this book or its issues, yet I keep turning the page. And I feel like I already know Dan, her husband. (Poor Dan!)
  2. She did her research. Actually a lot of research. In the Bible and elsewhere. She didn’t just write the thing off the top of her head. If anyone would simply take the time to take the book seriously, it’s an excellent treatise on the role of Christian women even if you land the plane on a different runway.
  3. She is in many respects theologically conservative. Okay, don’t tell anyone that, because it would spoil her entire shtick, but she comes from an ultra conservative background, in many respects moved on past that, and yet she hasn’t tossed the baby out with the bathwater (a faith image that always works better around Christmas.) I can identify with her background.
  4. Her book resonated with many, many women who find themselves constantly trying to meet impossible expectations. Six years later, the book is still selling.
  5. She has the pictures to prove it. The subtitle is How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on the Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master. My favorite is her “praising her husband at the city gates” which shows her under a “Welcome to Dayton” sign holding up one of her own stating, “Dan is awesome.” She took her project seriously. (My wife keeps reminding me that’s not exactly what Proverbs 31 is saying.)

This is a book about someone’s life and something they decided to do for 12 months as an expression of their faith journey. Being honest, blunt and transparent is at the very least the antithesis of the hypocrisy Jesus condemned, though it may get you banned at LifeWay stores.

Some people may not like it, but as the pictures make clear, it actually happened, and Rachel was the perfect person to make it happen and make it meaningful.


From the archives: The original cover.

September 14, 2017

Practical Advice for the Aspiring Actor, Poet, Playwright, Singer, Songwriter

Good news for the aspiring artist: You don’t have to starve. Furthermore, Jeff Goins believe there are four financial paths an artist can follow, with poverty and starvation being simply one option!

Real Artists Don’t Starve isn’t the usual type of book we cover here. Because I review books for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, it’s offered through their distribution system. I asked for a copy so I could read it for my son — an aspiring actor and writer — and then pass the copy on to him.

Author Jeff Goins is someone I ran into years ago in the Christian blog world, and he himself got some early mentoring from Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson. Some of you will recognize his name from the cover of the 2015 NIV Bible for Men, hence the inclusion here, but for the most part, he’s followed the trail to writing business and marketing titles, albeit from a Christian perspective. His catalog includes The In Between (Moody Press, 2013), The Art of Work (Thomas Nelson, 2015) and now Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Surviving in the New Creative Age.

The book is divided into three sections, (a) developing the right mind-set, (b) approaching and understanding the market, and (c) the thorny issue of money; getting paid. In each are four chapters and overall the book is well-crafted reading.

Goins relies heavily on both anecdotal accounts from artists alive and well and historical biographies of artists from past centuries, the latter mostly from the visual arts. (I would have liked more composers in the mix, but that’s my only criticism.) Some of this was accomplished through regular research, but he also was able to obtain a number of face-to-face interviews to give this project much original content.

So what’s his advice?

Some of it flies in the face of what the non-artist might conclude. Be original? Goins says it’s okay to steal, though he does qualify that. Be good at one thing? Goins says you need a diversified portfolio. Be generous just to get your art out there? Goins tells artists never to give their art away for free. Find a Patron? (Or Patreon, but he doesn’t say that!) Goins suggests it’s a great way to go, but you might have to be your own patron, at least at the start, earning income through regular work that supports you and your art.

In other words, this is realistic. But he also says that there are steps you can take so you don’t starve.

Unable to wait to send my son the book, I sent him a few excerpts:

Starving Artists wait for their Big Breaks.
Thriving Artists become apprentices in their crafts. (p.40)

[on Zach Prichard]  But let’s not misinterpret what happened here: talent did not do this; tenacity did. If you want to see your work succeed, you must be stubborn. You must be willing to keep going, even in the face of adversity. On the surface, stubbornness may look like a liability, but in creative work, it can be an asset.  (p. 65)

Once we have mastered our mind-sets, we must tackle the market. Here, we cross the threshold from being creative to doing creative work. This is the place where we become professionals and learn how this works in the real world. This is where we network and advertise our talents to the masses. And if we do this well, people will not just pay attention, they will also pay us. (p. 69)

All creative works need influencers who will vouch for them to an audience who doesn’t know them yet. But it is not enough to meet a patron; you must cultivate one… If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate — a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. (p. 75)

We hold in our minds a certain picture of a professional artist as a lone creator, some solitary genius who executes a vision all by himself, slaving away at the work with only his thoughts and brilliance to keep him company. But this is a gross misunderstanding of how real artists get their work done. As creativity researcher Keith Sawyer says, “You can’t be creative alone. Isolated individuals are not creative. That’s not how creativity happens.” (p. 110)

Those are all from the first half. I don’t want to give too much away here. But the book is full of many, many nuggets of wisdom like this. And yes, I did finish the book, all 232 pages, even re-reading some sections at the beginning after turning the last page. (Sidebar: The way the bibliography was set up — almost conversationally — was absolutely brilliant.)

To be clear to regular readers here, this isn’t “Devotions for Artists.” Jeff Goins is a Christian writer, but the book is published under the Nelson Books imprint. Again, it doesn’t conform to my usual reading habits, but it was interesting and edgy enough to keep me turning pages. Reading it through my son’s eyes made a lot of difference as well.

 

September 1, 2017

The Problem of Reviewing The Problem of God

There is so much going on in this book. I feel like I’ve been handed an impossible task, somewhat akin from being dropped off a metropolitan core for a few days and told to write a review of the entire city. Every person. Every business. Every park and school.

Canadian Pastor Mark Clark has set himself to answer ten of the major objections to faith raised by outsiders, skeptics and seekers. It’s a tough assignment, even if you’re leaning heavily on the writings of Tim Keller and C. S. Lewis. Not as tough for Clark however as it would be for you or me, in part because this is his own story; the book is as much testimony as it is apologetics text.

I think that’s what make this one different. 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. Today they are in three locations on Canada’s west coast with satellites launching in Calgary and Montreal. Mark is part of a new generation of pastors and authors who really does his homework before speaking and writing and his passion and energy rock the house each week.

The ten “problems” form ten chapters:

But to say just that is too simple. Each one of these breaks down into several other subsections. These issues are complex and we’re given a look at each through several different lenses.

To repeat, the book stands somewhere between academic apologetics textbook (for its thorough treatment of each of the issues) and biography (for the times Clark references his own story.) It is the latter that makes this book what it is; an apologetics resource which wears a face and a name, and that makes it accessible to all readers. That last factor is important especially for potential as a giveaway to someone who is asking questions. (Read more about Mark at this CBC-TV story.)

I know I say this a lot — I choose my review books carefully — but this is definitely another of those “go back and re-read” and “keep handy for reference” titles.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity | Zondervan | 272 page paperback | September, 2017

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for an opportunity to read this!

August 10, 2017

Rob Bell Responds to All Your Questions

The pastor and I had talked for more than an hour. The topics had shifted quickly and covered a wide swath of theology, ecclesiology, culture, ethics and church history. Several times I had to ask what the connection was between something he had said, and what had been said just a sentence earlier. But it was all stimulating, even invigorating.

So when the time ended, I got up to leave and said, “That was awesome. I really enjoyed our time together. That was deadly serious and a lot of fun at the same time.”

And then, before I turned to go out the door, I added, “But you know…you never actually answered my initial question.”


Answers are what people want. Especially if the person being asked is somewhat controversial. But perhaps we North Americans and Western Europeans are simply too destination oriented. Maybe we need to enjoy the process or the journey more than fret the arrival.

Rob Bell’s newest book What is the Bible: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel about Everything (HarperOne) is based on a series of Tumblr posts he has been doing over the last two years. Most of the articles were removed with the arrival of the book — something his publisher probably insisted on — but as I remember it, many were driven by reader questions.

Those readers got responses. I don’t know if they got the answers they desired, but speaking for myself, I’ll take some of these replies over a direct answer any day. And many times, Bell is really clear we’re asking the wrong questions in the first place.

For example, take the chapter titled, Is the Bible inerrant? For Bell this is like asking,

Did Mozart’s symphonies win?
In your estimation, has Mozart prevailed?
Do Mozart’s songs take the cake?
Are his concertos true?   (p.279)

and if you’re willing to concede any ground to him at all, he does make his point well, even if it’s not the direct answer you were hoping for. He says it’s the wrong question.

He encourages readers to read the Bible literately instead of literally — I would argue for the use of literaturely — knowing what genre they were seeing and then examining it appropriately on that basis.  (p.80)

Bible narratives come to life as never before. How did that woman in John 8 get caught in the act of adultery in the first place? Bell sees the clue in John 7; this is a festival not unlike our Creation Festival here or Greenbelt in the UK; it’s a religious camping event; there is much wine; someone ends up in the wrong tent. (pp 26-28) I can personally attest there isn’t much privacy at such things when the tents are sandwiched in close, though there was no alcohol factor at Creation.

Melchizedek? Bell writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior. But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. As Bell puts it,

If this is a story about the new thing God is doing, how come a character shows up who is already in on the new thing God is doing? (p.146)

For Bell there is a connectivity between portions of scripture we’ve perhaps never linked before. He starts out in the gospels and the whisks us to I Kings and just when we’ve caught our breath we’re in Psalms. All in the space of two pages. For Bell, genealogies are a ride at the amusement park, and the people with the weird names are the stuff of great theater. You end up thinking, ‘I really should read the Bible more often.’

And there are the personal moments. We’ve all heard the story of Bell’s first speaking engagement at a Christian camp, but the story of his first practice sermon in school was new to me. He knows he wants to reinvent the wheel so to speak, and so launches into a prototype of the prophetic Rob Bell style with which we’ve become familiar. The other students’ and the professor’s reactions coincide with a page turn, as you turn over the leaf, you’re expecting a certain type of response.

So as to the question at hand, what is the Bible?

Bell’s answer is not entirely radical. I’m not sure that I’d put this in the “first book for a new Christian to read” but you could do much worse. Better a response filled with life and dimension than something clinical. Twice Bell reminds us, as he has stated elsewhere previously, that the ancients regarded the scriptures as a fine gem which, when turned in different directions, reflects and refracts the light in a multitude of patterns and hues. It’s no accident that Bell’s book’s cover mimics this, appearing differently depending on how it’s being held…

…Preparing this review, I found myself diving back into familiar chapters. There’s no time to start from scratch right now, but I will probably use this a reference when reexamining key Bible passages. For the legion of Bell critics: Consider the potential audience. Through HarperOne, this book was available in airport gift shops and general market booksellers worldwide. It’s not an academic treatise on the meaning of the entire Bible, but an introduction for people who might want a fresh take on a belief system from which they may have once walked away.


A copy of What is the Bible was provided long after the standard review window had closed by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.


An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

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