Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2021

The Value Added to Your Life in Reading About Others’ Lives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

You’ve already met Jeff Snow several times on this blog. He wrote about being a campus minister, did a book review for us, and twice we ran his 3-part series on the impact of divorce. Jeff is a voracious consumer of books in general, but especially biographies, the ones which focus on sports history, Canadian history, and key people in Christian history. What’s the attraction to biography? I asked him if he would share that with us.

guest post by Jeff Snow

I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Most fiction I’ve read are books I was made to read in high school. I wasn’t actually much of a reader when I was young, but the genre I did gravitate to then, and even more now as I’ve become more of a reader, is the genre of biography.

A well-written biography can be a number of things. It can be interesting. A well-written biography about fascinating person can be as riveting as any fictional book.

A biography can be inspirational. As you read about a person’s character, their story can serve as inspiration for our own lives. One of my professors in seminary made us read biographies of a number of people from church history. His goal, he said, was to help us find “dead mentors”. Biographies can introduce us to people who can inspire us in our Christian walk and in other areas of our lives.

A well-written biography can teach about history. A good biography sets the main character in the context of their times, teaching us not only about the person but also about the historical era he or she lived in.

A biography of someone from the past can educate us about our decisions in the present. Reading about both the triumphs and the mistakes of great people in the past informs us as we make decisions and draw conclusions about our present day lives. As revisionist history and “cancel culture” take root in our society more and more, it is important to sink our teeth into reputable biographies from the past so that we can make sound judgments in the present.

My tastes in biographies tend to be a bit narrow, but allow me still to share five fascinating and interesting people that I think you would benefit from knowing through biographies.

1) Billy Graham. Those of us who are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not realize that there is quickly coming a generation who may never have heard of Billy Graham or understood his impact on evangelism, the worldwide church, and even on American politics. An important “dead mentor” for all pastors and evangelists, and for all Christians.

2) Jackie Robinson. Here I betray one of my narrow interests – baseball. But the story of Jackie Robinson transcends sports. In 1947, Robinson broke the “colour barrier” that existed in baseball and became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. A man of Christian faith, Robinson’s battle against prejudice and racism went beyond the baseball diamond and into business, politics, and activism. An important civil rights pioneer whose philosophy is summed up in the quote on his tombstone: “A life is not important except in the impact if has on other lives.”

3) Abraham Lincoln. You will not have a hard time finding biographies of Lincoln. He is probably the most written about person from the 19th century. His is a story of how great leadership evolves. He went from a young lawyer who refused to take out membership in a church to a president whose 2nd inaugural address reads like a sermon. From having a grade 2 education to being the most powerful man in the USA. Even his attitudes toward slaves and African-Americans evolved. As a self-assured president, he gathered together most of the men he ran against and put them in his cabinet. His was a life we can learn from in many ways.

4) Sir John A. MacDonald. MacDonald more than anyone else had a vision of what Canada could become as an independent country that stretched from sea to sea to sea. He was a complex man. He had his faults, as the subjects of all important biographies do. They should not be glossed over, nor should they serve to overshadow one’s positive contributions. His treatment of natives was in some ways deplorable, yet in other ways he was far ahead of his time, as in his desire to give them the vote. As MacDonald increasingly becomes a victim of today’s cancel culture, it is even more essential for us to understand the full extent of his unparalleled contribution to the Canada we know today.

5) Alexandra Deford. You probably never head of Alex, but you need to get to know her. Her father, Frank Deford, was one of the top sports writers in America in the late 20th century. Alex was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and her father chronicled her life in a book called “Alex, Life of a Child.” It’s the only book written about her life, and it may be hard to find, but if I had to choose only one biography for you to read, this is the one. A heartbreaking story, yet one of incredible courage and grace. Have tissues handy.

There are dozens of others I could recommend, but part of the fun is the discovery. So consider your interests, find a person that connects with them and start reading about their life. Between the covers you will find interesting stories, inspirational mentors, historical guides, and people who will impact the way you look at the world today.

December 5, 2020

Under-educated Cows and the Power of Marketing

Book Reivew: Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A by Steve Robinson

There’s nothing like a business success story, and several times in my life I’ve taken the time to read a few of them. It’s interesting and inspiring to know how certain companies succeeded and why they succeeded, and this story of the American fast food chain Chick-fil-A is no exception.

I hadn’t planned to review this 2019 book, so I’ll keep this short. Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand by Steve Robinson is the story of the fried chicken sandwich chain told through the eyes of the person who served as its Chief Marketing Officer for many years. It doesn’t strongly purport to be a biography of Truett Cathy, the founder of the chain, but as a personality-driven enterprise, his signature was all over everything the company did and every decision they faced.

Strangely, I’m writing about a restaurant I’ve only stepped in for one minute, a sandwich I’ve never eaten, and an advertising campaign I’ve never experienced.

Truett Cathy was outspoken about his faith in Christ. To this day, the restaurant locations remain closed on Sunday. Writing for Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, Steve Robinson is free to enumerate the Christian principles which drove the company and quote the relevant scriptures. That same faith is present in Robinson and his family.

When those principles and related comments concerning LGBTQ-related issues caused protests in 2012, that incident is barely referenced in a few short sentences on a single page. Most of the attention is given to the developing a work culture which truly serves its customers, and a corporate culture that is marked by great generosity. With the latter, Chick-fil-A’s sponsorship of various college-level football events is a huge part of their corporate identity.

This is a book you would give someone — hate to stereotype but probably male — who reads business books or biographies, or someone supportive of Christian ideals but not having crossed the line of faith, still willing to read a soft-message Christian book. Or maybe just someone who likes the cows in the advertising campaign. Everybody loves the cows.

…I hate to mention this, but I felt it was ironic that a book outlining how Christian values have driven the company’s desire to create the finest customer-service experience, that in the conversion of the book from hardcover to paperback they referenced a number of photo insert pages which were simply omitted in the paper edition, one of which is referenced on page 171. Maybe the purpose was to show what a less-than-pleasant customer experience looks like.

January 20, 2020

Renouncing Both a Doctrine and a Lavish Lifestyle

Review: God, Greed and the Prosperity Doctrine: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies

Many years ago the church which provided space for my Christian music retail, distributing and manufacturing business was also home to a daycare, a Christian newspaper, a radio ministry and a concert ministry. Among other things. And, oh yes, it was also rented by a faith healer of local renown who drew a modest crowd of about 250 people on Monday nights.

When the guy who had the radio and concert ministry got married, some of the other ‘tenants’ in the building got some rather last minute invitations, and I ended up going solo as did the faith healer. And that’s the 100% true story of how I found myself in a brief, one-on-one, subdued and superficial conversation with Benny Hinn as we both waited for the doors to open to the reception.

It was our only direct contact, but suffice it to say that every time his name was mentioned — and in the years that followed it would be mentioned frequently — I had something more than a passing interest. By the time Benny Hinn relocated to Florida, he was, depending on the values behind your metrics, a major success in the world of miracle crusade evangelism.

So I watched with interest in 2017 when word leaked out that his nephew Costi, the son of Vancouver pastor Sam Hinn, had renounced the prosperity doctrine. When the book God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel was released late last year by Zondervan, I missed out on the opportunity for a pre-publication review copy, but after actually holding a copy in my hands and reading a single chapter just a few days ago, I knew I wanted to process the entire story.

I read most of the book in a single afternoon, completing it in the early evening.

The story exposes the excesses and the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Benny Hinn Crusade team. The private jet. The luxurious food. The $25,000/night hotel. These things were paid for by the sacrificial donations of people who could ill afford to part with the money, many times in the belief that a blessing was just around the corner if they would give.

The irony, to put it mildly, was not lost on young Costi. On a trip to India, his conscience was pricked and it set in motion a chain of events that ended with his separating himself from the family business. He studied at a Baptist seminary and now serves as Executive Pastor of Discipleship at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona and also heads a resource ministry, For The Gospel.

The book chronicles his jet-setting adventures, his choice to pursue academic study to equip himself for ministry, and his meeting the woman (now his wife) who would be part of re-orienting his thinking on many doctrinal issues. The book is roughly two-thirds narrative and one-third teaching on what he now regards as error in prosperity teaching.

He now quotes Charles Spurgeon and John MacArthur. Yes, that John MacArthur who has castigated charismatics for decades. It’s like he’s gone from one extreme to the other, out of the fire and into the frying pan, if you like.

With one exception. He’s still continuationist in his doctrine. He still believes that Jesus heals supernaturally. I’m not sure MacArthur, who is a cessationist, is fully engaged on that topic.

There’s a Q-and-A section in the back of the book which spells out his current relationship to Hinn family members. I’m betting Thanksgiving and Christmas may have some awkward moments. But he states in the introduction that he is not interested in having his book be seen as an exposé, but rather, he’s simply telling his own story.

Since the book was published, I understand that Benny Hinn has recanted at least some or all of the prosperity teaching, but we’ve seen Benny do this before (such as the idea that each member of the Godhead is itself triune) and then retract the retraction in later writing.

My devouring of the book reflects my personal interest, but I think it’s worthy of a recommendation. But maybe not for anyone who gave money to Benny Hinn. For those, reading it would be rather painful.


Book page at Zondervan: Click here

Once again, thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada for getting a copy to me so quickly!

August 9, 2018

Reflections on Bible Reading is Truly Inspired

A Review of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

Sometimes you find a term online which helps you describe something for which you didn’t know there was a word. In this case, the word is memoirist. A quick check this morning revealed that I’ve actually read all of Rachel Held Evans’ output, and I can’t help but notice in this personal, subjective approach to the Bible there is a striking similarity to the writing of Philip Yancey. If you know how I feel about Yancey, you know this is high praise indeed.

Inspired is, at least ostensibly, a look at the different genres in our scriptures. Anyone familiar with The Bible Project videos is aware that we need to read each of these genres differently and interpret them — both in terms of original meaning and present-day application — in terms of the rules for that type of literature.

Or maybe not. In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as “wisdom stories,” existing alongside “war stories,” “deliverance stories,” “gospel stories,” “origin stories,” and yes, in a category by themselves, “fish stories.”

A gifted writer who grew up in church and researches well, she doesn’t begin to annotate all the background material which went into each chapter. If you did grow up in church, as with her other works, there is a sense in which her story is your story. I found that many of her own experiences resonated with my own.

But there’s also a sense in which this book is aimed at potentially new Bible readers; seekers and recent converts alike who are trying to find the common threads which knit the 66 books in the Protestant canon into a unified, single story. A strength of her classification methodology is that it allows her to blend First Testament and Second Testament material seamlessly.

In between chapters there are some almost whimsical narratives of her own. One places Job in a modern context with his ‘friends’ discussing his recent hardships in a cafeteria. This one deserves becoming a short film.

Rachel Held Evans is viewed as a progressive, and there are certainly some indications of this at a few junctures in her book, but for the most part, it’s about her conservative roots and the reading perspective on the Bible those roots handed her.

I invite you to see for yourself, there are excerpts from the book here (resistance stories, including their similarity to American’s Civil Rights Movement) and here (war stories, including the so-called ‘texts of terror.’)

 

August 2, 2009

Father/Son Relationships

Dan Hill - bookThis weekend, I’m doing something a little different.   My world normally consists entirely of reading and evaluating books that will be sold in the Christian book market.   This weekend, I’m reading I Am My Father’s Son by Dan Hill, a singer-songwriter who was inescapable here in Canada in the late ’70s and early ’80s; and whose songs (Sometimes When We Touch; You Make Me Want To Be; etc.) have been recorded by artists around the world.

Is this book biography or autobiography?    Hill masterfully manages to do both at once.   He tells the story of the constant tension between himself and his father against the backdrop of the story of his own success in the music industry.   But he tells much of his father’s story as well.   Honestly, I’ve never read a book quite like this; a book which manages to successfully carry out several different objectives.

Dr. Daniel Hill III is a name known to Canadians for his groundbreaking work in the area of human rights.   As a black scholar with an earned PhD in Sociology, he forged new territory in Canada in the 1960s; both easy and hard to do in a place where racism was more subtle than in the U.S.

But it’s the younger Dan Hill — that would make him # IV — whose story I have tracked throughout reading the book, for one very personal reason:  We went to high school together and Dan was a good friend with my next door neighbor.    (Though, I have to note, that even this story has a Christian element to it, as Daniel Hill’s father — Dan’s grandfather — was a pastor who went on become Dean of the School of Religion at Howard University in Washington, D.C.)

The book takes us into the living room and kitchen of the Hills home in Don Mills, and invites us, like the proverbial guest at Thanksgiving, to be part of the debate atmosphere that characterizes the senior Hill’s interactions with his oldest son.  To many readers, these scenes are all too familiar.

As most men will attest, the main subject of this book, the relationship between fathers and sons, is a theme that forms the underpinnings of many a man’s life.   We men are all shaped by our fathers in more ways than any of us would want to admit.   Many of us men end up becoming like our fathers in ways we never imagined.

When it comes to defining that, Dan Hill nails it.

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The book is available in Canada from HarperCollins and in the U.S. by special order with the publisher.


November 16, 2008

While Cluttering Up Other Peoples’ Blogs, I’ve Noticed A Common Theme

Filed under: blogging, books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 pm

First, I posted this last week to Zoeincarnate:

When I’m not blogging, I own a couple of Christian bookstores, where there might as well be a big white line down the middle of the store separating the fiction buyers from the non-fiction buyers. It’s nice when there’s a book somewhere in the middle, like Shack and Jacobsen’s So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.

So my take on this is: Bring on more socratic dialogue. (What do publishers really know about my customers anyway? They certainly aren’t up to doing much in the way of listening to what retail is trying to tell them.)

BTW, it’s interesting to note that the last time we had a really big landmark Christian fiction title — This Present Darkness, 22 years ago — there were actually very few imitators. If anyone wants to imitate anything about Shack, they should consider the whole didactic conversations that, as you note, are also common to McLaren’s trilogy.

Actually, I need to divide the store into friction and non-friction! (Read last sentence again if you missed it!)

Ha Ha!  That last line is so funny.   Then last week, I found myself repeating myself myself at 22 Words:

As a bookstore owner, I’m always astounded by the reluctance of fiction readers to consider biographies, which are, by definition, great stories.

(Whaddya know? That was exactly 22 words!)

(Guess I’m just passionate about The Shack, and the whole retail perspective on Christian fiction in general, as seen by a person who otherwise doesn’t read very much of it.)

October 26, 2008

A Life Redeemed

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:38 pm

I try to write something original at least three or four times a week here, and usually have a couple of posts per day, which means that a lot of what I place here is either links or pastes from other stuff online.   In that time I’ve borrowed from various entries in many blogs, but this is the first time I’m linking you to someone’s biographical page.   However, I think this is a great story… it shows that your personal history has nothing to do with what you and God can accomplish together.    I hope it inspires someone out there.   (Let me know.)

For the past four months Gerrard Fess — who despite many years in ministry in the U.S. is still proudly Canadian — has been working at the Church of Christ in Hagerstown, MD.   I mention that because this page isn’t entirely up to date.   But it’s the earlier part of the story you need to look at…

Link here for My Story Thus Far.

Gerrard is also a huge hockey fan, so you might want to browse through earlier posts on his blog and check out his views on NHL expansion.   I did a quick overview of his blog, Deep Thoughts by GMan, and feel like I know this guy — it’s amazing how we’ve both covered some of the same stories.   I expect he’ll be linked on our blogroll before too long!

If you’re reading this and your past is full of brokenness, or just doesn’t read like the typical “raised-in-Church” testimony, remember that God can take a life and redeem it for His glory

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