Thinking Out Loud

January 9, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Paul's Other Damascus Road - Cuyler Black

Remember, “The just shall link by faith.”

  • Our artwork today has no specific link, but is in celebration of artist Cuyler Black’s newest greeting card releases from his Inherit The Mirth collection and Nicole Brayden Gifts
  • Passion’s Louis Giglio will pray at the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. Now it’s not happening. Read this update.
  • Shane Claiborne talks about his 2012 trip to Afghanistan on two videos at Red Letter Christians.
  • After several years silence, James Duncan returns to his blog to document his side of the lawsuit he filed against Perry Noble‘s New Spring Church.
  • Also on the subject of lawsuits, at the end of December a court weighed in on the dentist who fired his assistant for being too ‘hot.’  Dan J. Brennan offers a Christian perspective on men and women working together.  [HT: Pastoralia]
  • Michael Gungor has a very lengthy, very thoughtful essay on the state of the Christian music business. Or you can read ‘The Becky Part’ in this excerpt at Vitamin Z. You might actually know her.
  • Stanford University has an atheist chaplain — apparently that’s not an oxymoron — but Get Religion editor Terry Mattingly thinks the reporting on this misses a bigger story: What are the spiritual needs of atheists?
  • Without books like Heaven is For Real at their disposal, where did Old Testament saints think they were headed after death? C. Michael Patton answers this one.
  • Mark Galli at Christianity Today provides an updated profile of Francis Chan. “I’ve got five kids (ages 17 to 1)… My one daughter had to drive on the same day that I taught my other one how to walk. So it’s a weird, weird phase.”
  • If you’re using a computer right now, you are among the world’s richest people. Congratulations! You won the life lottery. Here’s some pictures that ran here two years ago that illustrate your prizes.
  • …And January 2011 was a good month here for several reasons. If you’re new to this blog, another one you missed was this challenge to summarize the gospel in a single sentence
  • A classic book by Louis Giglio is now updated and available in paperback. I am not, but I know I AM is both the book’s rallying cry and its title. (This item was slotted here before item #2 was added late Tuesday night!)
  • Never thought of this one.  With all the gay-friendly churches out there today, do gays really need their own denomination?  A look at the Metropolitan Community Church movement.
  • Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic church in London has ended their gay-friendly service. “Archbishop Vincent Nichols said in a statement that gay Catholics should attend Mass in their local parishes rather going to separate services.” So it’s about the parish system.
  • Sometimes when someone does something silly we jokingly say, “Are you off your meds?” But mental illness is a serious problem that the church needs to be more aware of.
  • The Christian Post weighs in on the thorny issue of how much pastors get paid. Some salary quotations are comparing apples and oranges.
  • A new generation of video game designers wants to launch a new generation of video games that aren’t lame.
  • Do you reach out when new neighbors move in? Here’s a brilliant essay with everything you need to know about how not to do this. Or maybe you’ve already done something like this.
  • Finally, a video for a song from Chris Tomlin’s new — released yesterday — album, Burning Lights, gives us weekend guitar players onscreen guitar fingering charts to play along.

Mrs. Goliath - Cuyler Black

November 13, 2012

The Shack’s Paul Young Returns with Cross Roads

The original distribution target for The Shack was about 15 copies. So it’s not surprising that million-copy-selling author Paul Young refers to Cross Roads as the first novel he intentionally wrote.

While The Shack took Paul Young into some places that other Christian novels would never reach and started all manner of conversations, the fact remains that the response from some Evangelicals and the Reformed community in particular was less than enthusiastic. I would like to say that Cross Roads clears up all the misconceptions and establishes that Young is definitely not a heretic in their eyes, but much of the doctrinal language of The Shack continues in Cross Roads, though I phrase it that way because this is often a war of words, not theology.

The critics are waiting in the wings for enough information about the book to leak out so they might launch their attack without actually buying a copy, particulars I’m not going to oblige them with here. Frankly, I’m drawn to Young’s picture of a loving God — regardless of the size, shape, age or gender in which he prefers to clothe any member of The Trinity — and would have no problem approving him to teach Sunday School at my church, a proposition that no doubt causes his detractors to shudder.

At the end of the day Cross Roads is a work of fiction, with a very contrived premise or two, but no more extreme than James Rubart’s Soul’s Gate which we reviewed here a few days back. It is well-written, technically accurate, and resolves plot loose ends.  It’s a book about life, and how some people live it, and what is left when life suddenly ends. It contains various aspects of the gospel, and isn’t afraid to wade into doctrinal issues that concern us as ‘church people.’

Nonetheless, I would say about this book what I said about Shack, and that is its greatest value is in giving the book to spiritual outsiders for the purpose of starting conversations; it’s not the last word on systematic theology.

The medical element of the book does not weigh it down; in fact the book is very lighthearted in a couple of places, including one scene that can only be described as comedic. The lead character is delineated vividly in the opening chapters; you cannot help but have opinions about Anthony Spencer. The author isn’t afraid to introduce new subplots or complications in the last quarter. Some Biblical passages are alluded to, at other points you get chapter and verse. The work validates that Young is a good writer and certainly deserving of the success which changed his life so dramatically a few years ago.

If you’re one of the eighteen million people who purchased The Shack you don’t need to think twice about also getting a copy of Cross Roads.

Cross Roads is in release worldwide in hardcover ($24.99 US) on the FaithWords imprint of Hachette Book Group. A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud through Speakeasy, an awesome social media book promotion agency. The term “Sunday School” used above isn’t literal — we don’t have one — I’m referring to leading a Children’s ministry small group.

Learn more: The author discusses the book in this YouTube video.

June 6, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Links

Welcome back to WLL. You’re not playing the game unless you click through. Place your mouse on the underlined section of each story and click.  (“Oh, you mean that’s how it works?”)  Above image: Sacred Sandwich archives.

  • Like his father before him — and at almost the same age and circumstances —  a Pentecostal minister from a snake-handling sect dies from a rattlesnake bite.
  • A former marine gets assigned to preach the section of the Sermon on the Mount dealing with non-violence. Reactions were strong, but not from military people.
  •  “For an insecure 16/17-year-old kid whose life, identity, main social activity, and faith were wrapped up in the church she’d been a part of her entire life, it was devastating.”   Check out 11 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When My Church Split.
  • Saturday, May 26, 2012 was supposed to be M.’s wedding day. But in between, after reading the book, When Sinners Say I Do by David Harvey, things changed.
  • Thanks to whoever sent me info about Cardiphonia. Original worship songs on three different themes on a pay-what-you-can basis. The newest is Hymns for the Ascension.  Or just listen.
  • Just when you thought you had solved the dilemma of whether to be buried or have your ashes scattered to the four winds, now there is the option of diamond burial.
  • On a similar theme, here’s a major discussion at Parchment and Pen on the subject some of you have considered, How Can Heaven Be Heaven When People You Love Are In Hell?
  • Got 9 minutes? On video, an orthodox priest teaches the difference between the Protestant view of salvation and the Orthodox view of salvation, under the title, Love Wins – An Orthodox View.
  • Got 53 minutes? That’s a greater commitment. But you’d get to hear the very first ever Phil Vischer podcast with Skye Jethani. (This is for you adults, not the kids.)
  • Got all day?  Check out the video-on-demand apologetics programs featuring Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis.
  • Joel Osteen is set to sit in the producer’s chair for a new movie about the life of Mary which he hopes will be “the biblical prequel to the story of The Passion of The Christ.”
  • Remember that story about the 43-building college campus that was going to be given away free of charge?  Well, it’s down to two finalists.
  • Here’s an article by yours truly at C201 designed for those of you who want to rethink how you draft your prayer lists. (I actually do some serious writing once in awhile.)
  • And a message to those graduating from the hallowed halls: The academy doesn’t need more academics, but the local church does.  Advice for theological seminary grads.
  • Mystery link: Does anyone know the story behind this Elevation Church music video? The YouTube location has no information and the blogger who posted this was equally silent.
  • Matt Hafer’s advice to pastors actually has application to anyone who proposes to stand before a group of people and lead them into God’s Word.
  • It’s “the only billion dollar house in the world.  Ironically, it’s found in one of the poorest countries; India.” America’s Next Top Mommy looks at over-indulgence.
  • You have to read the comments on this one: Advice for students heading off this fall to a Christian college or university.
  • Todd Rhoades thinks it’s only a matter of time before a pastor legally changes his name to something ending in dot com.
  • If the Blue Like Jazz movie missed your town, you can arrange for a showing.

Classic auto emblem from The Holy Observer

October 16, 2011

Rob Bell Pens Response to the Responses

In keeping with our policy of all Rob Bell news all the time, here’s the latest:  HarperCollins will release a paperback response to the critics in February 2012 simply titled The Love Wins Companion.

Bit of a cover similarity, don't ya think?

Here’s the 411 from the publisher:

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into Rob Bell’s bestselling Love Wins, the expansive and accessible Love Wins Companion offers scholarly support and critiques, resources for individuals, groups, and classes, and brand new material by Rob Bell himself. As Love Wins continues to become a touchstone for thousands of readers worldwide, controversy surrounds the book’s arguments. Author Brian D. McClaren wrote that with Love Wins “thousands of readers will find freedom and hope and a new way of understanding the biblical story,” yet USA Today observed that “Bell has stuck a pitchfork in how Christians talk about damnation.” Here, in The Love Wins Companion, Rob Bell offers commentary on the positive and negative attention his groundbreaking book is receiving, delivering a crucial supplement to one of the most important books since the Bible.

For those looking to go deeper with Rob Bell’s bestselling pioneering book Love Wins, this companion offers:

  • Insights and commentary by theologians, Bible scholars, scientists, and pastors
  • Deep analysis of all relevant Bible passages on heaven, hell, and salvation
  • Detailed chapter summaries, discussion questions, and Bible studies for individuals, groups, and classes
  • Excerpts from works throughout Christian history illustrating the variety of teachers also debating the issues Bell wrestles with
  • New material by Bell on his mission for the book and how people can take the next step

August 3, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday list lynx

All the news that’s fit to link.

  • A U.S. judge has ordered the ban on circumcision to be removed from the fall ballot in San Francisco.
  • Nicholas Kristof remembers both John Stott and the idea that not all Evangelicals are blowhards in this New York Times article.
  • We’re getting weary following the Schullergate story, but the latest has Robert H. back on the board
  • Can’t post enough of these type of links:  Jim Martin on Six Ways to Avoid Having an Affair.
  • Or Jon Acuff on three perfectly easy ways to wreck your marriage with social media.
  • Randy Alcorn looks at the two books written in response to Rob Bell‘s Love Wins and finds great material with surprisingly little overlap in the books by Francis Chan and Mark Galli.
  • You can’t call it televangelism any more because they no longer use television.  So how about intervangelism.
  • This link is actually from 2009, but it’s good every once in awhile to get inside the anatomy of a witness/evangelism experience.    (Note: Go Buses are a provincial transportation system serving the Toronto hinterland.)
  • The amazing thing about this online book about Biblical Relationships is not the solid Biblical content or the clarity of the online formatting, but the fact that the author, Regis Wengel is only 19.
  • Nothing intensely spiritual about it, but here’s an interesting one minute video about What Matters Most.
  • ‘That was a great talk, can I have your notes and PowerPoint slides?’  John Stackhouse explains why the answer to that will always be ‘no.’
  • Tony Campolo on ‘Baby smiles’ and having a joyful countenance.  After you read this, copy and paste it and create your own brand of email forward.
  • Speaking of babies, Jason Boyett now has a parenting blog; check out Dadequate: Ordinary Adventures of a Write-Brained Dad.
  • This fall, Canada honors its own Christian musicians with the cross country Maple Noise Tour featuring Thousand Foot Krutch, Greg Sczebel, Manafest, Johnny Diaz, To Tell, Jon Bauer, Jodi King, Manic Drive…  oh yeah, and some group called The Newsboys.
  • Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk reports — with tongue firmly in cheek — on a group that finds the book of Genesis too explicit and is fighting to get it banned.
  • Our closing cartoon this week is a somewhat random sample of what’s going on at Mighty Mag.  Richard Gunther is a New Zealand artist whose work can also be seen on Ray Comfort’s webpage.  In addition to various types of illustrations, a “daily nibble” provides a brief devotional thought.  This one illustrates I Tim 1: 3-4

July 18, 2011

Hell is Real, But I Don’t Want To Talk About It

I just finished reading Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones, published by David C. Cook.  The timing of this book — even though it began as a project long before the current furor — makes it a kind of response to Love Wins even if not directly so.  While the Rob Bell book uses its first two chapters to ask enough questions to somewhat undermine a belief in everlasting punishment for those who don’t believe, Brian Jones takes his first couple of chapters to state categorically that he now believes in the certainty of hell as traditionally understood, and as literally taught in the Bible.

He uses  his unwavering belief in a physical hell as the premise for what he wants to go on to talk about, which is the need to communicate the existence of hell to our unsaved family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.  It refutes Love Wins only in the sense that Jones’ dogmatic certainty stands in stark contrast to Bell’s questions and uncertainty.

The point Jones really wants to get to is taking the message of salvation to those whom life puts us into contact with.  Just as last summer’s Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick gave us the phrase “audacious prayers,” so does Hell Is Real… give us a phrase, “apocalyptic urgency.”   That urgency runs through all 266 pages.

However, don’t start constructing placards or buying TV airtime right away.  The hallmark of this book is the balance of the approach between said urgency, and finding appropriate times and places to work with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in a person’s life.  The key to this book isn’t the first part of the title so much as the parenthetic part, But I Hate to Admit It. Many of us have a natural reluctance to engage our friends and contacts in a faith conversation, much less a debate.

Unless people come to you with specific questions or a specific outpouring of the heart on a matter of need, sharing the message of — to use a $50 word — propitiation is delicate.  Too aggressive an approach and you create barriers that can set the conversion process back indefinitely.

In many respects for those who have decided that Bell simply asks to many questions and undermines too much of what church leaders have always believed and taught, Hell is Real represents the next step in the discussion.  In other words, after all is said and done, where do we go from here?  What is the practical application of all the debate?

Brian Jones would say the “hell part” of the equation is necessary to create the apocalyptic urgency needed to make evangelism effective.

Brian Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

July 15, 2011

The Last Word on Hell

What an interesting time this is for Christian publishing.  Children’s experiences of heaven top bestseller lists (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Heaven is For Real, A Message from God) while the adults — sparked by Rob Bell — debate the existence and/or nature of hell.

The last word on this subject may belong to a book I’m currently reading.  It’s far too early for me to begin anything resembling a review, but Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones (David C. Cook Publishing/August 1, 2011) seems to me to relate better to the misgivings many people, including Christians, have on the subject of hell.  At 272 pages, it’s also a much longer treatment of the subject than the current bestseller in the refuting-Rob-Bell department.

Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

June 21, 2011

God Wins: A Preview of Mark Galli’s Response to Love Wins

[Job: ]
You [God] asked, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?”
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me. …
I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.
(Job 42:3, 6)

Yesterday Christianity Today published a preview excerpt from the forthcoming book by it senior editor, Mark Galli, written in response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins to be published in July under the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell and Why The Good News is Better Than Love Wins.   Having only this small section to work with, I couldn’t help but read it with my brain echoing the cadence of Bell himself.   If you read it that way, you’ll see the similarity.  What follows is an excerpt of an excerpt, so you may wish to click the link now; otherwise when you arrive, what follows actually takes you into the second page…

There are questions, and then there are questions.

In Love Wins, there are lots of questions—eighty-six in the first chapter alone. The book you are currently reading will address a number of them, because they are good questions. But before that, the first thing we need to do is think about the very nature of questions. Because there are questions, and then there are questions.

There are questions like the one Mary, the mother of Jesus, asked the angel when he told her some astounding news. Mary was a young woman engaged to marry Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. “Greetings, favored woman!” he bursts out. “The Lord is with you!”

Suddenly finding herself in the presence of a messenger of God, Mary is naturally “confused and disturbed.”

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel reassures her, “for you have found favor with God!”

And then he drops the bombshell: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” This Jesus, he says, will be very great, will be called the Son of the Most High, will be given the throne of his ancestor David, and will reign over Israel forever in a Kingdom that will never end.

That’s a lot to take in. Most mothers just want to know they’ll have a baby with all ten fingers and ten toes. But what exactly all this means—Son of the Most High? ruler like King David? reign forever?—seems not as perplexing to Mary as one other detail. “But how can this happen?” she asks. “I am a virgin.”

Mark Galli

That’s her question, and it’s a good one. A virgin getting pregnant without the help of a man—well, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. It’s an honest question, prompted by natural curiosity and driven, not by fear and doubt, but by wonder: how is God going to pull this off?

Mary asks one type of question; the other type was posed by Zechariah a few months earlier. He was a priest married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, an old man at the other end of life and the reproduction cycle, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

It happened in the Temple, as Zechariah burned incense in the sanctuary. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared before him. “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear,” Luke’s Gospel says.

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!” Gabriel reassures. “God has heard your prayer.”

What prayer? For a son? For Elijah to come to herald the Messiah? For the Messiah to come? We’re not told what Zechariah’s prayer had been, only that it has been heard. This is what Gabriel told him: Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son whom they were to name John, and this John would be an extraordinary man.

Again, Gabriel piles on the attributes. John will be great in the eyes of the Lord, will be filled with the Holy Spirit—even before his birth—will turn many Israelites to the Lord, will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, will prepare people for the coming of the Lord, will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and will cause the rebellious to accept godly wisdom.

 Again, that’s a lot to take in. And the thing that bothers Zechariah is the thing that bothers Mary: biology. “How can I be sure this will happen?” he asks the angel. “I am an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

His question seems like a logical one. But it is not a good question. Gabriel chastises Zechariah, telling him in no uncertain terms that he, Gabriel, stands in the very presence of God. Of course he can deliver on this promise of good news!

“Since you didn’t believe what I said,” Gabriel continues, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” The consequence for asking a bad question: Zechariah is made mute. No more questions. Only silence.

So what’s the difference here? The questions are so similar. Why is Mary’s treated with respect while Zechariah’s is an occasion for spiritual discipline? Why does the angel seem indifferent to Mary’s natural curiosity and angry about Zechariah’s?

 The difference appears in one little additional clause Zechariah adds to his question. Mary simply asks, “How can this happen?” Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure this will happen?”

Mary’s question is about God. Zechariah’s question is about himself.

Mary’s question assumes God will do something good and great, and seeks to know how it will unfold. Zechariah is not at all sure that God is good and great, and seeks proof.

Mary wants to learn more about the goodness of God. Zechariah mostly wants to be self-assured.

As I said, there are questions, and then there are questions…

continue reading; main link, jump to page two of five

go straight to page two

Related on this blog: Francis Chan’s response to Love Wins

May 24, 2011

Francis Chan on Erasing Hell

The hot topic of the spring of 2011 will forever be recorded as “Heaven, Hell and the Hereafter,” but probably the response of Francis Chan will be noted as one of the more heavyweight contributions, given the huge ongoing popularity of his first book Crazy Love.   The ten minute video clip below initiates that response and also serves to promote the July 5 release of Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David C. Cook.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let me pause and point out a serious liability of the whole video upload thing.  Unlike a blog, where I have control of whose comments are posted, it would appear that YouTube selects “featured comments,” in this case choosing one for which I’m sure the uploader would not approve.  So let me encourage you to watch the video here, and to link your friends back here, not because I need the stats, but just to avoid a lot of nonsense.

I think what’s going to happen with this book is that a lot of people who are down on Rob Bell are going to say, “Finally, here’s a book to stop Love Wins in its tracks.”

And in case you miss it, I think what Francis Chan is saying is that we’re fighting over doctrine and missing the point that this is about the souls of real people some of whom we interact with on a daily basis; and saying basically, how dare you trivialize this or reduce this to a doctrinal debate.

May 11, 2011

Wednesday Link List

How about changing the name to “Linkerama”?  Just kickin’ around some ideas.  Looks like the links lynx is back!

  • What is about church life that gives us so much material for everything from Christian satire sites to cartoons?  This one is from Tim Walburg at ToonFever.com aka Church and Family Cartoons:

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