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.

May 26, 2017

42: The Right Guy in the Right Place at the Right Time

I’m not a sports guy. If you read this blog, you’ll know that it’s usually a full year goes by before something sports related appears in the Wednesday Link List.

But in 2013, reading Seven Men and the Secrets of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, I found myself captivated by the chapter on Jackie Robinson; to the point that it was the only chapter in the book I read twice.  For any other non-sports readers here, Wikipedia explains that Robinson was,

an American professional baseball second baseman who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. The Dodgers, by signing Robinson, heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues since the 1880s.  Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

This was a gamble that simply had to work. Before even completing the review of Metaxas’ book, I wrote this brief synopsis of that chapter:

The essence of Metaxas’ take on Robinson is that without his strong faith in Jesus Christ, and the shared faith of the manager who signed him — first to a farm team, and then as the first African-American in Major League Baseball — the story would not have happened as swiftly as it did. Both parties knew that if they failed, there might not be another opportunity for another few years or even a decade. Why the faith element was so important is something I’ll save for the review, if I don’t decide it’s a spoiler. Suffice it say that whoever was going to break the professional baseball color barrier needed to be a special person. 

My friend Jeff Snow however is a rabid baseball aficionado. He’s also a pastor and youth and young adults worker whose writing you’ve seen here before in the series we ran twice on the impact of divorce on teens. So when Thomas Nelson released 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry a few weeks ago, Jeff was at the front of the line to buy a copy. I asked him if he could share his impressions.

I finished 42 Faith last week. I really enjoyed it. First, some minor quibbles: It tries a little too hard to find faith where there isn’t really strong evidence from the situation, and the book meanders a bit. Also, the author interjects himself into the story; a chapter may start with him describing how he met a 90 year old former teammate of Robinson over breakfast to discuss Robinson.

The interesting thing for me as someone who has read widely about Robinson is that he uses sources that up to this point have not been touched on much, including correspondence filed in the Library of Congress and an unpublished manuscript Robinson wrote in the sixties that was supposed to be part of a series of book for young people where he talked about the importance of faith in detail.

Another positive part is that most of the evidence the author uses to back up his contentions are first person quotes from either Robinson or Branch Rickey, the other main character in the story.

The author’s contention is that, along with other considerations, that faith in God played a large role in motivating first Rickey in wanting to sign Robinson as the first African-American player in the major leagues, and in motivating Robinson to see this opportunity as divinely guided and as an opportunity to do what God put him on earth to do.

It’s hard to say how someone who has no clue about this story would enjoy the book. The meandering might throw them off. But I think anyone who has an interest in baseball, in the civil rights movement and social justice, or who enjoys inspiring true stories, would enjoy it.

 

October 15, 2015

Currently Reading

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:29 am

I have books stashed all over; in the living room, by the bedside table, and at the workplace* that I access not for review purposes, but just casually reading them for their input. Sometimes I reach the half-way mark and consider doing a review after all; you never know. With these I’m almost at the middle page, though these two books could not be more different.

The Key to Everything - Matt KellerMatt Keller — The Key to Everything: Unlocking the Life You Dream of Living (Thomas Nelson, September 2015)

This would fall into the Leadership genre as Keller is both a Florida pastor and a leadership consultant. The theme is teachability and he looks at things that impede it, the nature of it, and the art of maintaining it; using examples from his own experience and principles taken from the story of Saul (the OT king) and Saul (the NT Paul) and Solomon (the OT wise guy.) Is teachability truly the key to everything? In the intro, even Keller admits the title is a bit overreaching.

There’s some good stuff here for pastors as well as husbands/dads, but the primary target reader is probably someone in business. If you’d like to know more, try this review.

So far there’s been some repetition, and I wish that (like Kyle Idleman) the rather humorous footnotes had been bottom-of-page instead of end-of-chapter; and the content is — as it is in all leadership books — aimed at those who are driven to success. If you like John Maxwell**, who is frequently quoted, you’ll like this.

Accidental Saints - Nadia Bolz-WeberNadia Bolz-Weber — Accidental Saints: Finding God in All The Wrong People (Convergence, September, 2015)

A year-and-a-half after the autobiographical Pastrix (which we reviewed here), the tattooed, sometimes foul-mouthed, Lutheran pastor from Denver is back, this time with what could be described more as a collection of essays; many of which revolve around the various people who make up the weird that is House For All Sinners and Saints (aka HFASS; say it out loud, you know you want to) and people she encounters in the course of her unlikely vocation as professional clergy.

Most people reading this will struggle getting past the language (i.e. occasional F-bombs and S-bombs)*** yet my thinking on this is the same as what my wife and I conclude each time we listen to a new sermon podcast from her church; namely that underneath all the tats Nadia’s theology is quite sound; quite orthodox. Some of the chapters, like the one where as a young Church of Christ girl she visits the home of a very Marian Catholic family, are actually quite heart-warming.

For reasons that escape me, Random House, Hachette and Simon and Schuster insist on releasing their religious books, published under the imprints Waterbrook (and Convergence which this one is), Faithwords and Howard Books, in first-edition hardcovers. Even Canada doesn’t catch an “international paperback edition” break as it does with Christian publishers Baker, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, etc. There’s always a paperback down the road, but I think a book like this one, published in a popular trade edition, could seize its momentum and draw in a greater number of readers.****

Nadia may never make a list of favorite authors, but she’s definitely one of my favorite people.


Like I said, the two books could not be more different, but I am enjoying them both.

*But not the bathroom. This is, in my opinion an abuse of books. You’re there for a specific purpose and you want to get in and get out quickly. To paraphrase Proverbs 25:17, ‘Do not spend too much time on thy neighbor’s toilet, lest you get caught up reading the magazines there.’ (Actually, that’s a big stretch from the original text.)

**I’m not a J.M. fan myself, but I’d rather be effective than successful. Nonetheless, there appears to be a strong market for this genre of writing, and there are a number of leadership-related blogs listed in the right margin here at Thinking Out Loud.

***I’m more concerned about the H-word: hate. I think that in past decades we’ve placed too much emphasis on particular lexical elements (like the f-word), and not enough on the content of what people are actually saying. (But don’t expect me to use that word in full here anytime soon.)

****I have always marveled at, even the midst of recession, the American insistence on first-edition hardcovers. England, Australia, New Zealand and other such places always get the paperbacks from Day One. As someone in the business, I never miss an opportunity to rant on this.

October 5, 2015

Eric Metaxas Gives the Women Equal Time

In a publishing environment where branding is prized, it was somewhat inevitable that at some point after the 2013 release of Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness (which we reviewed here) there would be a sequel. The former book was diverse: A President, two politicians, two athletes, a Pope, and a scaled down version of the author’s epic-length biography of Bonhoeffer. With Seven Women… the geography is perhaps more diverse, but the women all are crusaders of one type or another.

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness - Eric MetaxasA book like this allows you the opportunity to read the sections in any order, but in the end, I proceeded in the order the chapters occur; partly because the first four stores — Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, and Maria Skobtsova — were less familiar to me. That left Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa, stories with which perhaps you also are more acquainted with.

Biographies by necessity entail a certain amount of biographical data. In this case, one encounters some of the dry stuff that Wikipedia pages are famous for, only to turn the page and discover Metaxas has linked some aspect of the woman’s life to things we experience in the 21st Century. So with Wesley,

Much of what she taught them [her children] was for the purpose of helping them see through — and therefore be able to resist — the secular doctrines of that time. So she may be regarded not only as the inventor of homeschooling, but also of what today is sometimes called “worldview teaching,” something modern Christian parents in the West have begun embracing as they raise their children in an increasingly post-Christian culture.

And if you’ve ever attended a church where the attendance dips noticeably on the Sundays the Associate Pastor (or Youth Pastor) is preaching, the paragraphs concerning her husband’s curate will certainly resonate. You might add to the above-mentioned accomplishments that she foreshadowed a time when those skipping church would stay home and listen to a podcast.

The story of Maria aka Saint Maria of Paris carries with it both Orthodox and Catholic history. (If you don’t know her, see the quotation we ran yesterday.) Of course, Mother Teresa’s story is overtly Roman Catholic, while Joan of Arc includes elements of Christian Mysticism. Her faith and prophetic gifts are rather amazing.

Hannah More is an inspiration to all the poets, playwrights, novelists and songwriters who wonder if they can make a difference through their art, but again, the story contains references to More’s ability to work the political system of the day.

Corrie ten Boom’s story is better known to Evangelicals, as Rosa Parks’ name is known to anyone remotely aware of U.S. history. You could make these into a movie. Oh, wait… And Mother Teresa’s life example never gets old.  Again, I found the people whose stories were new to me most beneficial, and plan to return to those first four chapters for a second round. 

Some have criticized Mother Teresa for being all about social justice with little attention to proclamation, even to the point of doubting her salvation. Metaxas gives us two insights on this however, one being “the fine line Mother Teresa had to walk as a Christian missionary in a Hindu country;” the other being quotations from a clear statement of the gospel given in her 1979 acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

What is the secret of the greatness of all these women? Often, Metaxas leaves it to the reader to infer or extrapolate such principles, though in the book’s context, their Christian faith is an obvious factor that goes without saying. He is content to wear a historian’s hat for this project, and to vary from that would probably result in a book double the size. As it is, the book gives each figure about 30 pages making this a practical resource for both adults and students.

Frankly, I hope the ‘brand’ continues. Seven More Women… or Seven More Men…? Based on the first two books, I’d place my pre-order today.


A copy of Seven Women was provided by Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada. The Eric Metaxas Show airs Monday to Friday on the Salem Radio Network, or you can listen to past episodes at this link. Joan of Arc was, as it turned out, not Noah’s wife.

April 25, 2013

Eric Metaxas: The Accidental Biographer

To hear him tell it, Eric Metaxas was as surprised as anyone at the success of his William Wilberforce biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery and his epic-length Deitrict Bonhoeffer follow up with Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which clocked in at 608 pages.

7 Men And the Secret of Their Greatness - Eric MetaxasThis time around he offers a sampler of stories in Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness. He draws on material from the earlier books for two of the sections, and the seventh is someone with whom he worked personally; which leaves us with this lineup:  George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson,  

While I’m not a sports guy, I’ve mentioned here a few weeks ago that the Jackie Robinson chapter was my favorite, and the timing vis-a-vis the 42 movie works out well.  It also typifies Metaxas’ desire to bring us new narrative elements, and new backstory. It as if he is anticipating the question, “Can you tell me something I haven’t heard before?’

Was the inclusion of Washington pandering to a U.S. audience? While I can see the eyes of Brits and Canadians rolling, the chapter allowed the book to reach back into another century. At the contemporary end of the timeline, that Metaxas worked with Charles Colson gave him access to details others would miss.

There is literally something for everyone here: Sports, politics, Catholic interest, U.S. History, etc., and with Father’s Day coming up, this is a title I can highly recommend. If the 608 pages (of the Bonhoeffer book) is too much reading some men, this one is only 256 pages, but is a book to be measured by its depth, not its length. Readers are encouraged to read the chapters in any sequence as I did.

The book releases next week from Thomas Nelson in hardcover in the U.S., elsewhere paperback.

November 30, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Paragraph containing witty introduction and possible lynx/links pun reference to Lynx canadensis or Lynx pardinus if picture is included.

  • Let’s kick off with a very short video on the influence the King James Bible had on the English language.  This is actually an excerpt from a very interesting eleven minute video on the language as a whole.
  • From there we go to a much longer video; a sermon video where N. T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, preaches in, of all places, Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.  This was recorded just a few weeks ago on November 6th.
  • With church attendance slipping, Christian colleges and universities in the U.S. are cutting tuition costs, some by as much as 50%. “…One of the most pressing issues is that there are fewer prospective students for these schools to recruit. Religious membership has been on the decline, especially among young people.” Read the full story at CNN Money.
  • A new title in the Lego Bible series has been pulled from Sam’s Club outlets for being too violent.  One Facebook comment notes, ““I hear you are banning The Brick Testament for its offensive content but not the Bible which contains all the same content…”  The Brick Bible: A New Spin on The Old Testament is the 4th book in the series by illustrator Brendan Powell Smith.  [Update: Chaplain Mike covers this topic actual pictures!  Well, not violent ones, but one that’s not suitable for young children.]
  • A good friend of ours has recorded a tribute cover for Larry Norman’s song UFO.  Enjoy a limited time free preview.
  • My other blog, Christianity 201 marks 600 posts with some thoughts from James chapter 1 about seeing ourselves as we really are.
  • Eddy Arthur at Wycliffe Bible Translators UK posts a curiosity-inducing review of a new book, Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool by T. J. Macleslie, published by Bottomline Media. If you’re tired of the “then I became a Christian and now everything’s great” genre, this may be the story for you.  Here’s the review for the book pictured at right.
  • Annie Goebel, president and co-founder of the women’s prison ministry Daughters of Destiny, met the son she gave birth to as a teen in 1973 earlier this month.  Read the story at The Christian Post.
  • Laura Ortberg Turner and Owen Strachan discuss whether Scripture dictates that women work inside the home.  First, here’s Laura’s response to Owen’s critique of Tide’s “Dad-Mom” commercial.  Second, here is Owen’s response to Laura.  That this occurs at her•menuetics makes the comments all that much more interesting.
  • Rachel Held Evans hosts guest blogger Kathy Escobar (see blogroll at right) on the topic of spiritual insecurity.  Discussion starter: “The basic premise of Christianity is that there is nothing good in us.  That original sin has ruined us and we are miserable sinners, unworthy of anything good without the blood of Jesus…”
  • Family Feud Department: My one son has been getting into a popular card game, Magic: The Gathering; while my other son — who sees the game played at his college — is not entirely convinced it’s a good idea. He wrote up his thoughts which I’ve posted as a “page” here so you could read them.
  • Concert-goers in Canada already know them, but there’s a lot of buzz everywhere lately for brothers Nathan Finochio and Gabe Finochio aka The Royal Royal. You need to have an iTunes account to get their music.
  • Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity thinks this Coke Lite commercial is actually dramatizing A Catholic Girl’s Worst Nightmare.
  • Something lacking during announcement time at your church?  Adam Stadtmiller takes up the cause of what is often an epic fail.
  • And for all you worship team leaders and aspiring worship team members, here’s how one Canadian church auditions and integrates new musicians.
  • Tony Woodlief guests at World Magazine Online on why he was predisposed to agree the people who were boycotting Black Friday.
  • And this 3-minute video provides all the reason you need to skip the big sale.  Or any big sale.  Some scenes may be disturbing.

That’s it for WLL this week at TOL; try to submit your suggestions by 9:00 PM Mondays.

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