Thinking Out Loud

May 24, 2018

Review: Christianity in an Age of Skepticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


~p71

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpts appearing here previously:

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April 30, 2018

Evangelical Assimilation: A Review of the Babylon Bee Book

The year was 2010, and a popular Christian humor and satire blog, Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff was a must read on a daily basis when a book of the same name released, Stuff Christians Like. Today the satire site of choice is The Babylon Bee, and it was only a few weeks in that we finally learned that the creator of the site was Adam Ford, known to that point as the artist behind the Adam4D comic.

Cracking the pages open of How to be The Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living, it was hard not to make comparisons to Stuff Christians Like, although about halfway through I had bought in to the premise of How to be… enough to enjoy it on its own merit.

For the record however, Stuff… took material from the daily blog and incorporated it into a collection of columns, whereas How to be… offers all-original material which has not appeared on the blog, in this form, to this point. So to get the comparison out of the way, I think the Babylon Bee material, like Jon Acuff’s blog before it, has more bite to it in the short-form rather than long-form format, and I also think the How to be…’s long-form moved it away from some of the references de jour, which make it so amusing. Ford, and (we’re told) a team of writers scour the Christian headlines, all too familiar to Wednesday readers here, and extrapolate fictional (i.e. fake) news stories taking those headlines to extremes.

The book instead tries to be more timeless though names are named. For the first few chapters, I pictured this book falling into the wrong hands, such as some neophyte convert in a Third World country where satire doesn’t exist. I longed for a page at the front, blank except for the words, ‘Warning: This book is satirical and should not be taken seriously.’ Now we might have to wait a year or two for some missionary to return with stories of a tribe where the book is being followed to the letter.

The book is published in hardcover in North America; 193 pages, of which 19 are blank, 12 are simply chapter titles and 12 are half-blank by virtue of the page formatting. So more like 156 digest-sized pages for $20 US or $26 Canadian. Forgive me for saying the book would be funnier in paperback.

What I did especially like is that Ford and co-author Kyle Mann offer some solid Biblical quotations to offset the farce, including an entire page (8 verses) from The Sermon on The Mount. This, plus allusions to other scriptures stand in contrast to the way they can be misused by churches (and satire writers) to produce unintended interpretations.

This is a book about learning how to assimilate into Evangelical culture. Like the Acuff book, it also reminded me of Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row, which we mentioned a few months ago in a general article on the Christian use of humor.

The Babylon Bee has an enormous online following. This book will resonate well with people who are informed as to the people, places and things which make up Evangelicalism. (Though one review suggests some names in the advance copy were excised from the final printing.) There were a few laugh-out-loud moments for this reader, but often what comes across isn’t satire, but rather sarcasm, and there is a difference.

On the other hand, if you decide to fully buy-in — if you live in the aforementioned Third World country, for example — there is a Holiness Tracker at the end of each chapter by which you can gauge your spiritual progress. Reading those brief sections, I do get the feeling that some will try to take the book literally, or, that many are already following the same steps to Evangelical conformity.

March 27, 2018

Your Job is a Parable: Book Review

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

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

I have a thing for analogies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

 

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