Thinking Out Loud

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.

August 25, 2016

Intercessory Prayer: A Different Type of Prayer Meeting

Intercessory PrayerWhen I am given books to read, unless it is a proven author, I often wonder how the title will fare in the marketplace. Will it sell? So it was a bit unusual to receive a copy of something with a cover that reads, “Over 600,000 sold.”

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets is a book I’ve always known about but never had taken the opportunity to crack the pages. Its arrival in my mail this time is because of a re-launch of the title, acquired from Regal Books, by Bethany House, a division of Baker Books. I was a little unclear as to the reason for this. Although the cover changed, the price did not, and in comparing the two versions, the book seems to be entirely the same. The page numbers vary only because of differences in typesetting. Nowhere do we find the words “Revised Edition” or “Updated Edition.” I won’t complain; I wanted to read this!

Dutch Sheets is a rather remarkable individual whose unusual and many times miraculous adventures in prayer are most inspiring. In many ways, the language and tenor of this book make it a very charismatic-friendly title, so similar to other such books I read early in my Christian life.

But the book is strangely cessationist-friendly at the same time, which may account for its sales over the years. Sheets makes it clear that he believes in praying in tongues, but says he will refer throughout the balance of the book to praying in the Spirit. That terminology may still ring of Pentecostalism for many, but it represents an attempt to reach a broader audience.

The book is really half testimonies and half teaching, and the Hebrew and Greek roots of familiar Bible passages are examined. Sheets says that a meeting takes place in prayer as we stand before God on behalf of situations or others in need of God’s intervention. Some of the exhaustive catalog of scripture verses won’t be looked seen in the same way after reading this.

Perhaps in moments of desperate or anxious prayer, we all become a little more Pentecostal; trying to see the hand of God move in the situation which presents itself. We want a miracle. Could it be that there are no cessationists in fox holes?

First published in 1996, this book has endured two decades and is a contemporary classic worthy of my recommendation.


If you think you've seen this title before, you have!

If you think you’ve seen this title before, you have!

The full title is Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth. (Bethany House, 304 page paperback, $14.99 US.) Discussion/reflection questions follow each chapter and there is a short leader’s guide at the back of the book. Also sold separately is a study guide which has also been recently repackaged. A repackaged eight-session DVD is releasing in a few days, with each segment containing 30 minutes of teaching. Finally, a youth edition is also available.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

 

 

July 16, 2015

Book Review: The First Time We Saw Him

The First Time We Saw Him - Matt MikalatosI know I’m going to lose some of you in the next paragraph, but…

This is one of those books where the writer takes key stories from the New Testament and retells them as though they happened today.

There. I said it. Yes, I know… been there, done that.

Updating the narrative is the stuff of every youth group meeting you’ve ever been to, right? But this one was different. I got ambushed. It totally brought the stories to life for me and cause them to see them in a fresh way. Christ’s birth. The parables. The encounters. The miracles. The crucifixion. The post-resurrection appearances.

For me, The First Time We Saw Him: Awakening to the Wonder of Jesus (Bethany House, 2014) shows that Matt Mikalatos is an author who can truly pull this off.

And yes, the above paragraph says 2014. The book was sitting unread in a stack of review copies that I obviously received a year ago. Something drew me to it. That’s probably what bothers me most; that great books like this just get lost in the shuffle because they don’t nicely fit into a specific (prayer, marriage, parenting, devotions) category.

At this point, the review is about to get subjective. If anything, reading The First Time We Saw Him awakened me to the idea that you just can’t wreck this story we call The Bible. No critic can detract from it. Science can’t undermine it. Poor translations can’t spoil it. Skepticism can’t keep you from being drawn back to it.

You can’t make this stuff up. It reminds me of a quotation Philip Yancey attributed to Walter Wink: “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”

It’s times like this I wish this blog, as popular as it is, had exponentially greater influence, because I’d like to start a movement that would get people passionate about books like The First Time Saw Him, and take this book in particular, and make it the sleeper hit of the year; rock it to the top of the charts. It’s definitely worthy of greater exposure.

I think later tonight, I’ll start back at chapter one.


…Since some might feel in my excitement in this review I wandered off course, so here’s the publisher blurb:

Scripture tells us that the words of Jesus made people uncomfortable, confused, angry, repentant, worshipful, and riotous. Today, we read the words of Christ in a steady, even tone and find ourselves wondering if maybe we’re missing something. Could it be that we’ve lost the emotional power of Jesus’s words simply because we’re too familiar with them?

With incredible insight into the surprising and unsettling aspects of Jesus’s parables and life, Matt Mikalatos reimagines familiar stories and parables in a modern-day setting, bringing alive for the contemporary reader all the controversy and conflict inherent in the originals. These emotional, sometimes humorous, and jaw-dropping retellings include the stories of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the lost coin, the feeding of the 5,000, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and more, asking provocative questions like What would be the modern equivalent of Jesus letting a “sinful woman” wash his feet? Who would be the hero of “The Good Samaritan”? How would Jesus tell the parable of the lost sheep in a city like Portland?

192 pages, paperback

April 23, 2015

The Lacey Sturm Story, In Her Own Words

As I wrote back in October, I became aware of Lacey Sturm while live streaming one of the Franklin Graham ‘Rock the Lakes’ events. Many weeks later, a copy of her book The Reason: Revelations of a Rock Princess turned up in a review package from Baker Books’ Canadian distributor, and this week I finally got to it.

The Reason - Lacey SturmI am not the target audience for this book, so I needed to review it with that in mind. Lacey’s story is that of a young girl on a definite trajectory toward suicide, and how a dramatic encounter with a man at the back door of a church she was fleeing redefined that trajectory. She went on to become the lead singer of the Christian — but not always overtly Christian — band Flyleaf.

This book would totally resonate with that young girl in your sphere of influence who dresses in black, or has purple hair, or holes up in her room for hours listening to music you consider dark, especially the one whose writing or poetry seems saturated with sadness.

Lacey describes her early years as one addicted to sadness; addicted to pain. In the book, her ‘Before and After’ story is very clear; her life change very dramatic.

Years later, she has another encounter with someone who again speaks what can only described as a supernatural word of knowledge into her life about the ministry gift and burden God gave her, and the role of her husband Josh in leading and guiding the application of that gift so that it doesn’t burn her out. He tells them, “This is a very heavy, heavy calling. God has poured his love for this generation into your heart, and allowed you to sing with a heart of passion, so they will know God loves them.” (p.164)

Again, this book isn’t for everyone; but it’s a resource that everyone should know exists because you never know when you’ll encounter someone in a similar situation. It’s also a good read for anyone in, or considering entering the music business.

 

September 10, 2012

Learning More About Other Faiths

For Christian publishers, any kind of reference book can be a tough sell, and the sub-category of “world religions” isn’t likely to produce a chart-topper anytime soon.  So I always appreciate it when authors and publishers go out of their way to produce helpful material in a form that is more accessible to the average person.

Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day (Bethany House paperback) is one such title, and the “15 minutes” in question is probably more like ten minutes for most of us, if that.  For someone like myself — eternally doomed to confuse Hinduism and Buddhism — books that provide a refresher course like this are always needful, and Garry R. Morgan, who teaches missions at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota even provides a bonus “extra minute” with an always interesting sidebar.

The book has 40 chapters and covers 24 distinct religious groups, with five sharing parts of two chapters, and others having multiple chapters.  (Christianity  5; Islam 6; Folk and Aboriginal religions, Buddhism and Hinduism 3 each; Judaism 2.)

Sometimes there are similarities between other faiths and our own.  Here’s a paragraph from the book with parallels added:

…Conservative Judaism leaves to each congregation whether or not they will accept a female rabbi (sounds familiar, my denomination is wrestling with this right now). The person who actually leads the synagogue services, however, is the cantor, or hazzan (in other words, the worship leader or worship team is in charge of the service). Large congregations seek a cantor who not only sings but will also compose original music. Usually the cantor is also responsible for coaching young people in Hebrew as they prepare for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah (in other words he doubles as the youth pastor).   (Okay I stretched that a bit, but not much.) 

Or this paragraph about Islam,

Islamic beliefs and practices are based on the Qur’an, the Sunna and the Haddith. The Quar’an is held to be sacred scripture… Many questions about faith and practice arouse after Muhammad’s death, so Muslims asked those who had known the prophet and were still alive what he said or did in various situations. These were eventually written down and collected into the Sunna (or Sunnah) meaning “Traditions.”  Although not considered a holy book like the Qur’an, in daily life the Sunna is moved more frequently. (Which reminded me of what some view as a concern that although we have the gospels, in many of our churches, the majority of New Testament sermons are based on what Paul wrote, not the words of Jesus.)

The book is also ever dealing with the question of which groups deserve a chapter and which are simply mentioned in the context of a larger body, which bears on the question, what constitutes what the larger group would consider a “cult” and at what point do these subset groups become a religion in their own right. (Or if you want to go for the pun, in their own rite.)

Books like this are tough to write because, while this one will mostly be sold through Christian bookstore and online channels, there is always the possibility (and for the publishers, the hope) that the title will appear on the shelves of mass retailers like Barnes and Noble in the U.S. or Chapters/Indigo in Canada; which means you don’t know that a member of that group won’t flip through a copy to see how they’re represented.

And I wondered if there was something of this behind a sentence that appears early on,

At the publisher’s request, this book intends to be descriptive rather than evaluative or polemic.

so I contacted the author at Northwestern. Garry Morgan was gracious enough to write back:

Garry R. Morgan

…They encouraged me to not hide my own faith, but to just describe what the various religions believe and practice, without an overtly evangelistic “here’s how you share the Gospel with a ….” section.

Even in my World Religions courses at Northwestern College, where all the students are professing Christians, I strive to be fair and accurate in describing the religious beliefs of others (I tell my students my goal is to teach in such a way that a follower of the religion sitting in the classroom would agree with my description, even if they disagreed with my assessment). So, I don’t think the book would have been substantially different without that request. Had I assumed an all-Christian readership, I might have added suggestions for appropriate responses to the various religions (e.g. “You can’t love your Muslim/Hindu/etc. neighbor and fear them at the same time.”). I did find it challenging at times to use vocabulary or phrasing that non-Christians would understand (it’s surprising how ingrown one can become teaching in a Christian environment). I think keeping the potential non-Christian reader in mind helped sharpen my writing.

Certainly the problem of becoming ‘ingrown’ is behind the need for this book. While I learned a lot reading this — including reading some chapters twice — and especially enjoyed the sidebars at the end of each entry, I lamented the absence of a concluding chapter to bookend the very helpful introduction. In a way, Garry Morgan provided the missing element to me in his note, and I offer it here alongside my recommendation of this title:

I do believe the Christian faith is truly unique. I think that comes out in the first chapter on Christianity in the book. My hope is that non-Christian readers would do their own evaluation and come to the same conclusion, and that Christians (who I assume will be the vast majority of readers) would have a resource for better understanding what others believe in today’s increasingly globalized society.

A copy of Understanding World Religions was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin a book promotion and publicity agency that comes alongside publishers and authors to increase visibility for key titles in Canada. 

Quoted sections page 60 and page 69.  The book is 174 pages and retails for $12.99 U.S.

Other books in this series include, Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day and Understanding Your Bible in 15 Minutes a Day both by Daryl Aaron.

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