Thinking Out Loud

November 3, 2021

Jesus as History’s Ultimate Person of Interest

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Book Review: Person of Interest by J. Warner Wallace.

This is the fourth time it’s been my privilege to review one of J. Warner Wallace’s books, and while each one makes a compelling case for Christianity, I would propose that the set of four, taken together, provides an almost irrefutable, undeniable case for Jesus being all he claimed to be.

As in his previous titles, the skills of Wallace’s work as a cold case detective provide a motif for the spiritual issues under discussion. This time around it’s a single case: the disappearance and probable murder of a woman named Tammy. In this situation, a body was never located, which makes it the most difficult type of cold case to investigate.

This time around however, on the other side of the analogy is the author’s own faith journey, from atheist to believer. The very personal aspect of this makes it very similar to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

In Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World That Rejects the Bible (Zondervan, 2021) Wallace explains that there are two critical sets of factors at play in a potential murder investigation, and in a critical look at the life of Christ.

He sorts these things using the imagery of a bomb exploding. The first type of these factors includes noteworthy things leading up to the “event,” which he calls the fuse. Then, everything that happens after, he terms the fallout. A longer fuse and  greater fallout lead more clearly to the establishing of a person of interest.

What therefore sets this book apart from other apologetic resources is the emphasis on the particular time and place in history that Jesus occupied, and the spinoff effects including influences in diverse things like art, architecture, literature, sculpture, etc.

Included on the fallout side is the thorny issue of the capital-C Church’s relationship with science, and the influence Christianity has had on other religions, including religions which were founded before the birth of Jesus. It’s a courageous, outside-the-box perspective, and while one might argue that the reverberations from Christ’s life aren’t any more significant than the cultural echoes from, for example, The Beatles, added together, his documentation of such effects make Person of Interest a unique resource.

The book is also peppered with the usual illustrations provided by the author himself which are a hallmark of all of his titles. It does make for faster reading, especially if you process things visually. Some of these however are a bit repetitive, and most require a visit to the website to view more clearly, as the reproduction in the book is rather fuzzy. Several of the footnotes — 54 pages of them in a 312 page paperback — direct the reader to examine these images in detail online, along with selected case notes.

Wallace paints with broad strokes and a few times, I thought the finished work could have been tightened up a little. In the section on architecture he stated that the early followers of Jesus “lacked financial patronage,” (p131) but in fact, this was exactly Theophilus’ role in underwriting the research for the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

In a section concerned with the early church’s role in fostering education, he mentioned The Didache and referred to it having a “question and answer” format (p160) when in fact it does not follow that catechism method. These are things I’m willing to overlook, however.

I’m not sure that I would use Person of Interest as an initial reading suggestion for someone interested in Christian believe — though a week from now I might do that with one particular person I am meeting — but as a supplement to Wallace’s first book, Cold Case Christianity, it would prove to be a good complementary resource.

A free preview excerpt of Person of Interest, consisting of the introduction and first chapter is available at this link.

If you appreciate the study of Christian apologetics and already own a handful of resources, consider this. I guarantee you don’t have anything like it in your library.

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 14, 2019

Currently Reading: Jesus by Max Lucado

Though not slated for release until late into January of next year, I wanted to make you aware of this book now. I usually choose books more esoteric or eclectic than the somewhat mainstream work of Christian bestselling author Max Lucado, but was sent a copy of Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name (Thomas Nelson) and decided to check out a chapter or two.

Immediately I was struck by how deserving Lucado is of his massive sales appeal. He didn’t get his reputation by accident; it was well earned.

In this book, portions of his other works have been woven together seamlessly to create chapters focusing on various elements in the timeline of Christ’s earthly ministry. Yes, some of the chapters are from individual books, but others involve material from four or five different titles.

I’m just past the one-third mark, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say closer to the January 21st release date, but if an author could have a “Greatest Hits” collection, for Lucado, it would be this book. 

Also, add this to the list of “first” books for a new Christian.

January 17, 2017

Christians and Reading

bookstore-signThis is part two of two articles on the general subject of reading and language, especially as it relates to the closing of bookstores in the wider market, and Christian bookstores in particular. Click here for part one.

Times are a lot tougher than in the past. Millennials struggle to find jobs and wealth creation is not as it was in the days of double-digit interest rates. The R-word — recession — is occasionally mentioned; some say we’re moving into it, some say we’re in it, some say we’re in recovery. Christian bookstores could have reason to claim immunity for the following reasons:

  1. In full out economic depression, people turn to religion.
  2. Also in depression, people turn to entertainment. While the book industry doesn’t have the same profile as movies, music and television, it is most definitely a subset of the entertainment industry.

So why have so many Christian bookstores closed? As with yesterday’s article, I haven’t taken the time to cite studies and statistics, but trust me on some things I can offer anecdotally.

First, we mentioned the various time pressures, distractions, and diminishing attention spans. I would argue that this has led to decline in the traditional devotional reading time. Bill Hybels has tried to give this new life by christening it with a new name, Chair Time. I wrote about that in February, 2016. Curling up with a good book and building a personal library are becoming rare activities. The only way to ensure people have contact with books at all is sometimes to have small groups or home groups which are essentially book study groups. That doesn’t always happen however. Many house groups use church-provided outlines or small study guides related to DVD curriculum they are watching. I do like the traditional book groups, especially in the sense in which they provide accountability (to cover the chapters for the next meeting.)

Second, I think the problem is self-perpetuating. Focus on the Family did some studies a decade ago on the spiritual influence the Dad has in the home, citing things like church attendance over time. I would contend that a generation is arising that has never seen their fathers sitting in a chair reading and when I say reading here, I would settle for the Sears catalog or Sports Illustrated. Many homes no longer receive a newspaper; and I understand that, you can read it online. But online reading is very personal. I could be doing anything online now: Checking the weather, balancing my bank account, posting a social media status update, watching YouTube videos, playing an online game, reading a serious article, or writing for my blog. But when someone sits in a chair reading, they are very obviously reading. Kids need to see this modeled for them as a life component every bit as normal as brushing your teeth.

Third, I believe that leadership is not setting the pace. In the retail store where I hang out, we see Sunday School teachers, we see worship team members, we see small group leaders. What we don’t see is elders, deacons, board members. Sometimes I will visit other churches and I see the names of these people printed in the church bulletin and I don’t recognize any of those names. We even had an instance of a pastor who we were told on good authority did not use his book allowance in ten years. (The man was incredibly arrogant and probably felt he knew all there was to know.) There are a few exceptions to this, but many people are chosen to serve their church in this capacity because they are business owners or executives who are successfully managing the company they work for and are considered wise enough to run the affairs of the church. Maybe they’re too busy to work on their own spiritual formation. That wasn’t the case with Stephen however. When The Twelve needed to create another tier of leadership to do the everyday running of things, they chose, “a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” (The solution to this is pastors who buy the books in bulk they want their elders to study and then give them out as required reading.) 

Fourth, the stores need traffic generators; they require a constant hit bestseller to pay the bills. The Left Behind series accomplished this. The Shack brought people to the stores to both discuss and purchase the book. The Purpose Driven Life did the same. (I know there are people here who aren’t fans of these three examples, but they make the store sustainable for people looking for a classic Spurgeon commentary, or something by Tim Keller, or an apologetics resource.) Even on the non-book side of things the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs provided that traffic. These days, whenever something takes off in the Christian marketplace, Costco and Barnes and Noble are quick to jump into the game. Conversely, it doesn’t help when major Christian authors experience moral failure. The publishers occasionally offer products exclusively to the Christian market, but they only do this for specific chains (Mardel, Parable, Family Christian, etc.) not the independent stores who so desperately need this type of support. You have to be inside the stores to see other products you might wish to read or give away.

Finally, we’re not presently seeing a spiritual hunger. People are not desperate for God in North America and Western Europe right now. We hear reports from Africa or South America, though it’s hard to really quantify what is happening when there are often fringe movements or revivals based on extreme Charismatic doctrine or a mixture of Biblical Christianity and local animistic beliefs. In my early 20s, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say (quite tongue in cheek) “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have technology.” There is a sense in which this is true. It does remind me of the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.” We have to find ways to instill that hunger for reading in our local congregations. Pastor recommendations of books from the pulpit are the most significant factor driving customers to make purchases or place orders.  Another way the technology can be made to work is by providing chapter excerpts for people to sample; but publishers are very reluctant to do this, for reasons which escape me. 

In conclusion, all the factors mentioned in the previous article are impacting bookstores in general, these factors listed here are some things that concern me about the Christian market in particular.

not_enough_shelves

January 16, 2017

The Erosion of Language as We Knew It

giant_library_scene

Yesterday I provided a kind of soft intro to the topic I want to look at today which bears on larger issues than just why bookstores are struggling.

There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.

On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.

I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.

There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.

I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.

The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.

  • We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
    • The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
    • The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
    • The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
  • We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
    • monthly phone bill and data plan overages
    • apps
    • cable or satellite television
    • home internet connection
    • streaming services
    • software bundles
    • accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.

That is all fairly obvious.

We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.

  • Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
  • Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
  • Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
  • Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.

But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:

  • The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
  • The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
  • The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
  • The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.

The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:

  • Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
  • Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
  • Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)

Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:

  • When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
    • It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
    • For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
    • It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
    • The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
    • It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
    • When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
  • The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.

Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

  • The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
  • Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
  • Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.

…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.

Feel free to engage the comments section to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text.

Borders - The End is Near

 

June 24, 2016

Filters

winterglasses

When another volunteer decided to step down after many years, I offered to collect used books in our area for Christian Salvage Mission. I’m in the book business after all, so I believe in the power of Christian literature to transform lives. I haven’t been as successful at this as I could be however, because we now also have a Christian-operated thrift shop in town. Still, I try to inform customers of things we can take that the thrift store might not.

Sometimes the books that people drop off are excellent collections. I immediately recognize the authors or the publishers, even though the books may have sat on home library shelves since before I was born. Others are more recent; titles I would easily recommend.

But sometimes, in the middle of a great grouping of books there is the odd Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventist title. (I recognize that some readers will sense my concern about the first two, but not necessarily the third.)

How did those books end up on these peoples’ shelves? Was a friend persistent? Or did the individuals not realize what they were getting into?

At this point, as a matter of full disclosure, I should point out that I have a copy of The Book of Mormon somewhere in my library. My parents got it in a hotel room while as a family we were in Salt Lake City. I have read some small sections of it. If I die tonight, and someone is going through my collection, they might well ask the questions I am asking here.

Generally, though, I worry that the average, church-going, pew-warming, tithe-giving Christian may not have sufficient filters with which to process the origins of some books, and thereby see the books through a more finely-tuned discernment lens. Do people check to see what the publisher imprint is? Which group claims copyright? Where follow-up pages (with phone numbers or websites) lead?

I should say that I have an unfair advantage. I’ve spent so much time in the industry that when I see Pacific Press®, Deseret Book Company, or a reference to the Watchtower Society, I immediately know who I’m dealing with.

But it’s not just the publisher imprint. Many of the books out there use a similar style of artwork; even the titles themselves sometimes are just a plain giveaway, especially the outreach materials which are produced for giveaway…

…At first, I had no specific conclusion to this, other than to say that this is a reality and people need to be more careful what they allow to come into their homes.

But then it occurred to me that while I didn’t write this with any agenda, Christian bookshops offered — and continue to offer — the type of vetting process that is needed. One pastor once told me, “You and your wife are gatekeepers for the people in our town.” That’s an honor. It’s also humbling. It’s a huge responsibility.

As long as the Christian bookstore owner, or manager, or buyer knows what they are doing, they can insure that only titles of the highest orthodoxy are presented for sale. Even if they don’t, the distribution networks for such stores simply don’t carry materials from marginal groups. And the Christian publishers generally don’t produce such products in the first place.

To the contrary, when you buy a book online just because the title looked interesting, or it was “recommended for you,” or because “other customers also purchased,” or maybe just because it was in the religion section and you liked the price; you really, really don’t always know what you’re getting into, unless you are savvy about publishing.

When a Christian bookstore closes, a local faith community loses a certain level of discernment; we lose some badly needed filtering.

 

 

May 16, 2016

“I heard you perfectly, now tell me what you said.”

Writing Literacy CommunicationIn an age when we are bombarded with voices and information, it’s easy to miss the essential core of what someone is trying to say. I often find myself going back over sentences, paragraphs and pages to make sure I get the gist of what the writer intended, and am currently re-reading a book I recently finished because I want to make certain I’ve internalized the writer’s message.

There are probably a number of reasons this becomes necessary, such as:

Overly Idiomatic

Some writers clearly overdo it when it comes to use of cultural or idiomatic expressions. One friend of mine, who worked with a “Biker Church” loved the cutting edge Bible translations but not The Message which he felt overused American speech patterns. I don’t agree, but it’s a reminder to guard the temptation to speak in nothing but clichés.

Over Concision

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?” I believe that texting or Twitter can force us into communication which is simply too abrupt. A few more words or sentences would better flesh out the story or argument. Many times I will go back through something posted here and tighten it up, but alas, as I’m not paid to do this, much that you read here is first draft.

Overly Prosaic

The opposite of the above problem is writing which overflows with flowery language and description. Some people are simply too verbose. (Notice that I kept this section short!)

Overly Cute

This becomes an issue in a world where people are accustomed to cutesy headlines and teasers. It leads to a “style over substance” situation where people end up impressed with your wit, but have no idea as to your intention. This type of writing or speech often distracts or misleads.

Poorly Structured

Living as we do in a bullet-point world, people want to follow your train of thought from (a) to (b) to (c) to the conclusion. Unfortunately, prose doesn’t offer us the possibilities seen in, for example, a flow chart, unless we’re prepared to do a lot of backtracking. In my own writing, I am very aware of overuse of “however…” or “On the other hand…” and sometimes it is unavoidable.

Too Culturally Specific

In a fragmented culture we don’t all see the same movies or listen to the same songs. If you referencing a film, it may be necessary to take a paragraph to set up the plot rather than assume that the storyline is part of a common culture.

Lack of Annotation

Especially in written works, some background or sourcing needs to be provided in footnotes or appendices, where it goes beyond the flow of the article to do it in the type of set-up paragraph noted above. This way the reader who is lost can get back on track.

Loss of Focus

Going back to our introduction, and my re-reading of a recently completed book, some of the responsibility has to rest on the listener or the reader. It’s possible that my own first exposure to what you wrote or said was ruined by my own lack of focus or ADD tendencies. In conversation, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Do you mind repeating that?”

Topical Ignorance

Again, this is reader/hearer problem. It’s possible I’ve waded into a subject with which I lack sufficient background knowledge, or a breaking news story or trend of which I was completely unaware. No amount of re-reading or asking you to repeat will cover my need to take three steps back (yes, an idiom) and do the necessary research in order to catch up.

Previous Bias

If I truly don’t like the speaker or author, it’s easy for me to be dismissive of the source. If you don’t believe the book has anything to say, you might find yourself skimming its pages instead of attempting to properly digest the contents.

Generational Shifts

People communicate differently from generation to generation. As you get older, you often need to brush up on the communication styles of, for example, Millennials, or you might miss the full impact of what’s being said. Included in this is shift of meaning of individual words. A few years ago, if your son said he “had a wicked time at youth group;” this probably meant it was great, not evil. You would need to know the word usage in advance. 

Terminology Differences

This problem arises frequently in the type of topical writing we do here and occurs when people of different faiths use the same term, but are using it entirely differently. It’s hard to not mention the example of Mormonism, where discussions often break down because people don’t stop to define their terms as used in their church. It’s a more serious problem than the generational changes of the previous section.

Generally, communication isn’t complete until the reader has fully understood. The adage that “If the learner hasn’t learned the teacher hasn’t taught” may oversimplify the situation, but I believe it’s applicable more times than it isn’t.

October 27, 2012

Calvinism Defined and Other Quotes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:57 pm

Much of what goes by the name of “Calvinist,” is really just a small handful of doctrinal commitments read through an assumed American ideology.

~Kyle Strobel, August 21, 2011


The best response to an atheist is to cook them dinner and give them a hug..

~Either Phil Vischer or Skye Jethani on a recent Phil Vischer podcast., I think it’s the one I linked


I make everybody know the book is not happy if it’s in the cabinet or in the drawer.. It should be sent out and read; it should go to the hands of the readers

~Hernando Guanlao, age 60, who turned his Manilla home into a public library as quoted in a Toronto Star article on September 26th … also at Huffington


Compromising the music wars by having two services can further divide a congregation. Your contemporary service should include one hymn; your traditional service should include one modern worship composition. This gesture keeps both groups united.

~Outspoken Christian blogger Paul Wilkinson who came up with this while thinking out loud one day last month.

July 2, 2012

What’s a 250-Page Book Worth?

This week I got an email notification that a local author’s three books — two fiction and one non-fiction — are being offered as free downloads on different days this week. Having known writers who were a little distressed that their books were remaindered, and musicians who were little disappointed that their albums were deleted, I can’t imagine the motivation for broadcasting the fact that the product you labored so hard to create is being valued in economic terms at nil.

I can see how this author might believe that this is going to help him get his message out to a wider audience, or that it might raise his profile on the world stage, or that it might result in other books selling at closer tho his normal price. But on a transaction-by-transaction basis, it means his works are now owned by people who have no particular investment in them.

My thesis is that people are not reading. All our leisure time is now consumed by supporting our screen habits: The pocket screen, the Mac/PC/laptop screen, and the 42-inch plasma screen.

Furthermore all our leisure time money (dollars, pounds, etc.) are tied up in supporting all those same screen habits.

You may wish to argue that “sales” of eBooks are brisk; that this is why the brick-and-mortar bookstores are dying off, because people are downloading books electronically and watching/reading them on a variety of devices.

Let’s consider that possibility.

The greatest promotional vehicle for a book is word of mouth. When enough people have read a particular new release, they start talking about it and they tell their friends.  So all of this downloading ought to result in a groundswell of book interest, which might explain my author-friend’s excitement about the free download offer.

If in the highest categories, electronic book sales only represent 22% of the total number of copies sold — let’s be generous and say 1/4 — then those people are going to spread their passion to their friends:

  • one friend will buy the book electronically
  • three friends will buy the book in print

So you have a few books that go out at ridiculously low prices — in North America let’s say $5.99 or $2.99 or $0.00 — that spark the sale of many more both in Nook/Kindle editions and in print.

But it’s not happening. 

I think the reason is that people are downloading books but not finishing them. They’re using the low-priced and free titles to practice seeing what their electronic toys can do. Perhaps they are reading the introduction and the first chapter, and then, having spent nothing on them, they spend no time finishing them.

Now, let me be clear. I think some print prices are too high. I have continually challenged how the U.S. publishing industry, caught in several years of bad economic times — insisted on keeping the practice where first editions were published in hardcover.

Driven by greed, many author’s works which were pending were deleted and the authors released from their contracts in the years from 2008-2010, because the industry decided they would rather get nothing than sacrifice a publishing paradigm that keeps the books priced high.

The print equivalent of a $3.99 or $5.99 download is a $5.99 or $8.99 value edition; and the industry has no reserves about using this format for older titles, but isn’t interested in using similar tactics to introduce new authors and secure a future for their brand.

But in electronic reading, all bets are off. It’s like a new wave of marketers rushed to the head offices of the various publishers and presented an idea that would see people “adding to cart” all manner of titles and create the illusion of a vibrant and active electronic publishing sector.

Just two problems.

The books aren’t getting read.

The books are being devalued in the process.

June 12, 2011

Reading Now Consists of Short Word-Bites

…It started out on one of my other blogs.   First, I posted this…

It’s the one thing that separates us from the animals: We record our personal and corporate histories, our dreams, our fables, our ideas and our discoveries; and we pass them around to each other and on to the next generation. If we stop reading and writing and move toward using media only as a basis for temporary experience, we are, as a species becoming less developed not more developed.

For Christians, this becomes even more vital and more complex, because we are in many respects a word-based family of faith, so when we neglect the responsibility to be readers, we risk the very realistic future of our beliefs becoming forgotten.

Then Phil from the UK wrote back…

Interesting thought, Paul — but isn’t this precisely what books do, preserve a record of temporary experience? Isn’t that why we need(ed) them, because our experiences are necessarily temporary? And does it matter whether our words are committed to paper and ink: are they not just as powerful — even more so — when recorded via electronic media (such as this blog) with its immediacy and global reach? It’s the question no one in the book trade wants to face, but has the time come to say books are history? I’m not saying it has: just daring to ask the question…

To which I wrote back…

One of the hardest decisions I had to make was when my parents wanted to get rid of the acoustic upright piano that had been in the family for three generations. I was already a huge fan of digital pianos but still didn’t want to give up the acoustic, even though it weighed a ton and would have been costly to move and re-tune. I had to wrestle with the question, “What is a piano?” Even though it has no vibrating strings, the digital piano we now enjoy is actually much more versatile and I don’t miss the old upright much at all. So I am prepared to concede on this one, if I have to, even though I believe digital books are going to grow from the present 10-11% of the industry to as much as 25% by 2013, and then plateau at that level.

But this post was about reading in general, which I feel is on a rapid decline. There is something being lost here, and the new formats are confusing the issue and causing us to miss the more serious trend.

To which Phil replied…

I’m not so sure, Paul: I think it’s more the way we read and write that’s in decline. We’re all reading and writing tweets, texts and Facebook status updates, sometimes longer emails and blogposts, snippets and short articles in magazines and newspapers — but less in-depth reading, an inability to concentrate on anything that goes on for much more than 500 words or so…

… and I think the Christian community has to take a large share of the blame for this: take a look at the way Bible reading is encouraged in churches with short snippets of the Bible taken out of context in daily devotionals that take no more than 5 minutes to get through. Take a look at any Bible reading notes published: how many of them encourage people to read or interact with more than half a dozen carefully selected verses?

How much has Christianity contributed to the degeneration of reading rather than encouraged literacy? It’s no wonder our society can’t focus when the People of the Book have lost it…

…and then I exported the whole thing here, and now it’s your turn…

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