Thinking Out Loud

February 26, 2017

Requiem for Christian Bookstores Not Needed

fc-logoOn Friday we reported the impending closure of 240 Family Christian bookstores. If you missed that, you can read it here. I started my Saturday morning at Internet Monk, and was a little surprised by both the negative comments concerning this type of establishment, but also the great number of people bashing the stores compared to those saying they were sorry they were closing and that the store would be missed. Such as:

  • So Family JesusJunk Stores are closing. I feel for the employees, but I can’t say I’m disappointed otherwise. Those places were an abomination.

I’m not sure what you are expecting. Here: Take $100,000 and spend it on products that will be of interest to: Mainliners, Evangelicals and Charismatics; kids, teens, twenty-somethings, middle-agers and seniors; seekers, new believers and veterans; scholars, students, and blue-collar workers; people needing help with their marriage, parenting, addictions, finances, interpersonal relationships, prayer life, devotional life and bad habits; those wanting to learn more about missions, church history, denominational distinctions, and church leadership. To all this add some products which enhance Christian life for those who want to: fill their home with Christian music including hymns, chants, country, adult contemporary, modern worship, rock, rap, etc.; have a few inspirational quotes on their walls and tables including plaques, paintings and picture frames; offer their family a wholesome substitute for the movies they would otherwise watch; have some little gift or novelty that they can give to a child to remind them that God loves them.

Oh yes… and Bibles!

And this is an abomination? That’s rather strong language.

  • I already have more than enough Bibles, and I can’t think of a single other book they’d carry that I would want to read.

Seriously? There’s nothing there for you at all? Not one author who represents your brand of Christianity? Nothing you need for personal enrichment? You’ve got it all.

  • I am sorry for the employees losing their jobs in depressed places – but the closing of Family Values Propaganda Market is a good thing, IMO. Good riddance.

To the above we now add propaganda? By definition, this is material that a group writes about itself. There isn’t one book on the shelves is about Jesus? Maybe you simply (think you) know too much. You’ve been totally jaded and can’t see the good that is still be accomplished through those books.

Or…maybe you’ve never been in a country where nationals would give their eye teeth to get their hands on a commentary or Christian living title or even a praise CD.

  • Yeah, I am not sorry to see the Family Christian book stores close. So much “Jesus junk” made in China; candles with Bible verses, straws in the shape of the Jesus fish, sox that have some religious symbolism, and a few cheesy books but very little that is truly theological.

You focused on the non-book products, and when you did look at the books you wrote them all off with the term cheesy. Perhaps you don’t realize that the high-brow academic tomes you seek are sold in places like that by special order.

Oh, and by the way, if something is anti-theological, bookstore chains and independents vet their product very carefully, something you can’t say for the “Christian” section of Barnes and Noble.

  • The last couple of Bibles I bought for gifts, I got online just to avoid the bookstore.

The bookstore was more than a store. It was a meeting place for Christians and performed a large number of non-retail functions, including referrals to local churches and Christian counselors; as well as staff trained to help new believers connect with that first Bible and parents get the appropriate Bible for their kids, rather than buying one online and then finding it’s too young or too old for them. In 240 places, that will not happen anymore. Your disdain led to the demise of something which you judged as not necessary.

Sorry. That attitude does not emanate from someone who possesses the Spirit of God. A Christian wants to be with and encourage fellow Christians. A Christian wants to come alongside the people, places and ministries which God is using.

And God used those bookstores. You just don’t hear those stories as loudly as you hear from those who seem to be almost rejoicing at Family Christian’s demise; a behavior I would more expect — forgive me for this — from demons.

  • I haven’t set foot in a Christian bookstore in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

Again, a personal choice perhaps, but being flaunted like a badge of honor. I haven’t given to the Salvation Army in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t been to a Christian conference in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t listened to Christian radio stations in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

It’s just too easy to fill in that blank, but to what end? It’s not particularly righteous sounding is it? But it has enough of an air of spiritual arrogance and self-righteousness that someone might be impressed by it. For at least 60 seconds. And then it kind of hangs there and the speaker’s heart is laid bare.

So…want to know the real reasons Family Christian stores closed? It wasn’t the stores’ fault.

  1. The U.S. publishing establishment is caught in a “hardcover first edition” mentality which diminishes sales potential through high prices. When a “trade paperback conversion” happens a year later, the sales momentum is completely lost. As more and more Christian authors migrated from the traditional Christian publishers (Baker, Cook, Tyndale, etc.) to the big publishing houses (Hachette, Harper, S&S, etc.) where this mentality is more entrenched, average retail prices for new releases by the bestselling authors actually skyrocketed.
  2. The industry is founded on a “stack ’em high and watch ’em fly” mentality instead of a common sense, “just in time” distribution and delivery system. They send out “floor dumps” and “planograms” with an “if you build it they will come” confidence while failing to see to the organic nurture and cultivating of an author over time.
  3. The parent company never embraced the “order online; pick up instore” concept, even as record numbers of parcels were being stolen off front porches. Or the idea of “shop online, refine your purchase instore.”
  4. Christian publishers were too content to produce products for Christians, when in fact Christians were looking for things to give their non-Christian friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers.
  5. Individual FCS stores were caught in national marketing programs that necessitated purchasing of products nobody wanted or needed at the expense of things for which there was demonstrated local interest.
  6. There was no equivalent to the woman at the big box store handing out samples. First chapter excerpts of the latest Christian titles were simply too hard to come by online. Give people a taste of the author, let them understand his or her heart and intention, and perhaps they might have made the purchase.
  7. Chain stores and publishers have no consumer product panels and no working customer feedback mechanisms. There’s no suggestion box, no place for people to offer their opinions except for the angry rants when a chain shuts down. (As an insider, I can tell you that some of the major players in Christian publishing have nobody to whom store owners and managers can send an email suggestion. They know it all. They have all the answers. They create the products, the stores just sell them; a condescending relationship.)
  8. The industry lost credibility when authors and artists admitted moral failure and yet they continued to market and distribute their products.
  9. Ten years ago, publishers offered print on demand as kind of second life for slow-moving backlist titles and series, but then got seduced by the quicker, lower-cost solution they found in eBooks.
  10. Some pastors got too big for their britches. Once they started to see national success on a grand scale they stepped down from their churches and lost a big part of their platform overnight. I challenge you to show me a “former Pastor of …” who is better known now then they were then. (Okay, maybe the guy who teamed up briefly with Oprah.)

This is a crisis for American Christianity generally. Don’t blame the people at Family Christian. Yes, management mistakes were made; but many were doing the best they could with the materials they were given.

If the industry doesn’t shake itself awake, LifeWay and Parable are next. Hopefully, the requiem for the entire retail genre is still not needed.

January 8, 2017

Blogroll Update # 6

Here we go again; this should pick up where the last list left off… First a recap.

blogThe link to part one. (October, 2014…six years worth of links to that point)

The link to part two. (St. Patrick’s Day, 2015)

The link to part three. (May, 2015, also included my news sources to that point)

The link to part four. (August, 2015, included blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

The link to part five. (August, 2016, a full year later)

The link to a mini update. (Just five weeks after part five the file was getting full again)

Blogs
Cardus Blog | Renewing North American social architecture
The Cross Court –
Charis: Subject to Change
flourishingchurches | Blog
The Domain for Truth
Sheologians | Theology for women, no doilies allowed. – Sheologians
The Little Friar
Man of Depravity | Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
Brazen Church: A Community of Free-Thinking Christians
blog.bible – Equipping you to encounter God in the pages of ScriptureBlog.bible
Dei-liberations | Thoughts on God and World
Above All Else | Thoughts from Kelly Needham
Freed Hearts –
Restless Pilgrim
Theology in Overalls | Where Theology Meets Everyday Life
Rohadi Nagassar | Missional to Mega – Ideas for Church & Culture
Talmidim Blogging
New Life » Blog
Michelle van Loon
The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser | One Man’s Journey From Eternity to Here
Matthew Pierce: I write stuff.
Vita pastoralis – Website of Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy
Gentle Reformation | Speaking truth gently
Sean McDowell
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA – Home – intervarsity.org
Living On Tilt
Blog | Ed Cyzewski: | Author, Contemplative Christian, Freelance Writer
100 Movements
More Enigma Than Dogma | Relationships, Culture & Current Events
David Santistevan
Into the Foolishness of God
Vox Susurrantis | Aaron Wilkinson
Author’s Blog Page | SGM
Joel J. Miller | Theology That Sticks
Ancient Faith Blogs – Contemporary Insight on Culture and Theology
Blog Feed — George H Guthrie
First Things | America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life
Living in the Shoe
Over 40 of Today’s Popular Christian Blogs
Sharefaith Magazine – The Best in Church Leadership, Worship, Tech and Gear!
Speakingtruthinlove’s Blog
Convivium Magazine – Faith in our common life
Before The Cross | Glorifying God by Sharing the Love of Christ
Revealed8
The Thistlette | Christian & Feminist: You Can Be Both

August 26, 2016

Blogroll Update # 5

It’s been a full year since we last ran an update of some of the Christian blogs I’ve bookmarked in my computer. The blogroll that appears daily here is only a small part of the sites I have visited or used in the compilation of the weekly link list and includes some well-known writers and some obscure ones.

close-to-home-on-blogging1Here’s the link to part one. (The really big one from almost two years ago.)

Here’s the link to part two. (Sixteen months ago.)

Here’s the link to part three. (14 months ago, includes my news sources.)

And here is the link to part four. (One year ago, includes blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

Blogs
Home | Ratio Christi
Christ Hold Fast
john pavlovitz | Stuff That Needs To Be Said
Bethany House Fiction | Connecting you with your favorite authors.
Stumbling Zombie | Insights of a zombie stumbling towards the Light.
A better country
Vic the Vicar!
James Edward Sharp | … musical take on the world.
Disciple All Nations | Great Commission for the 21st Century
Redeeming God | Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church…
Her View From Home
Pilgrim’s Rock – Worldview Apologetics Online Courses Books
Uniting Grace
Janet Mefferd | A Christ-centered look at life
The Christward Collective
Acculturated
Slowing Down and Speeding Up Time | Shalem Mental Health Network
Welcome to the BreakPoint Blog
Justin Petrick
ChurchPOP | Make holy all the things!
Brain Pickings | An inventory of the meaningful life.
GoodOleWoody’s Blog and Website
Purple Theology | The Blog of Austin Fischer
Art of the Christian Ninja
Enrichment Journal
Unsettled Christianity
Junia Project Home | The Junia Project
Gender Equality Blog | The Junia Project
The Evangelical Calvinist
Technology, Christianity, Culture | Second Nature
East Coast Veritas | … church planting in Atlantic Canada
Devotions — Proverbs 31 Ministries Devotions
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Jeff K. Clarke – Jesus (RE)Centered
Life in the Kingdom
Teaching Nonviolent Atonement | …Building Cultures of Peace
Theology in the Raw
The Mordecai Blog
CaroleMcDonnell
Liturgy of Life | Sacramentally Cultivating a Household
Christianity in College | Rejoice always, pray continually…
Alan Rudnick | Pastor, Author, and Speaker
Uncommon God, Common Good
Christ Almighty!
Blog – What’s Best Next
A Life Overseas | — the Missions Conversation
Sheep To The Right
Daily Devotions
Randy Bohlender | Family – Faith – Adoption
Mark Buchanan
Christian Funny Pictures – A time to laugh
MOS – Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Jessica Hammer
Samuel D. James | Assorted thoughts on life, faith, and culture
Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice
Read. Engage. Apply.
Circling The Story – Life: mundane and glorious
Ponder Anew on Patheos
Nail to the Door | A call to a new Reformation
Words of Faith, Hope and Love
The Recovering Legalist
That Mom — real encouragement for real homeschool moms
Cerulean Sanctum | …1st century Church in 21st century America
Johnblackmon’s Blog | swimming in the inkwells of indelible grace
Home – Simply Jesus
Blessed Earth | Inspiring Faithful Stewardship of all Creation
The Abuse Expose’ with Secret Angel
The Wardrobe Door
Adventures in Faith & Art | MANUEL LUZ
DyerThoughts – Home
Standing on my Head
JarridWilson.com
firstthreequarters | Christian Old Testament interpretation
Sinner and Saint
Life’s Great Dare
WINTERY KNIGHT
Tin Roof Sky | Listening for God’s voice in the everyday
Amber Cantorna | Beyond
Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely aka Mennoknight
dispatchesfrombrian
The End Time
Reachout Trust | Reachout Trust
Scattered and Small
Faith, Fiction, Friends
Abandoned to Christ
Watch Keep
Heart Language
Quadratos
Ched Spellman
hisgracemygrowth | … life as a Christian wife and mother…
aaron niequist
Facts and Trends
Matthew David Brough – author of the Del Ryder Series
Families First Magazine
EveryStudent.com – Exploring Important Questions about Life and God
Disciples of hope | Living the hope that comes from Christ
spiritual maturity | What does a mature Christian look like?
Tish Harrison Warren
Thimblerig’s Ark | One writer’s journey through faith, art, and life.
Pete Enns | the Bible for normal people
Building Old School Churches
Conventional Futures – On the future of the SBC — J.D. Greear
Survey of Christianity | A personal exploration through my beliefs
A Church for Starving Artists | Where the passionate are fed
Bible Study Magazine
From frightened to father
Carlos Whittaker » BLOG
Scripture Paths
Magazine – Shattered Magazine
The Free Slaves Devotion | A quest to know who I am in Christ
Bryan Hodge | Applying New Testament Christianity to life today.
Encourage Me
The King’s English
You Have Heard it Said
The Iridescence of Grace
MarkHowellLive.com
Blog | Mark Buchanan
The Apologetics Minion – Following Jesus With All My Mind
Produced by The High Calling – The High Calling – Theology of Work
The Christian Reviewer
MOS – Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Apostles Creed – Reformed Orthodox Confessional
Sets ‘n’ Service
Bloggin’ The Word
Society of Evangelical Arminians
Exceptional Christian | Christian living – a lifelong learning process, striving to become more like Jesus Christ every day.
Gene S. Whitehead • Faith, Family and Life
Seeds for the Soul | Planting Biblical Truth Every Day of the Year
Redeeming God | Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church from the Shackles of Religion
Faithful Thinkers
Hot Off the Press | Living On Tilt
Blog — Jonathan Martin
Welcome to WFM – Worship Facilities Magazine
Blessed Beyond Words
Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur
Missio Nexus – Connecting the Great Commission Community
First 15 devotional – Denison Forum on Truth and Culture – Home
Chocolate Book
The Road | Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice

Feel free to use the comments to make suggestions for others I should consider, but check the other lists — use your computer’s ‘find’ feature — to make sure they haven’t already appeared here. 

Note: If you find something here where nothing has been posted for six months, let me know and I’ll delete it. Also, if you find a link which points to a specific article rather than a homepage, let us know that, too.

May 5, 2016

Moving on to Bigger and Better Things

life's journey

As many of you know, I follow an unofficial and invisible ‘algorithm’ of sorts whereby I consistently return to same month posts from previous years to look for new material and new approaches to old topics.

Sometimes there are surprises: The particular item we quoted or linked to has been scrubbed from the site, or the entire blog or website no longer exists. I’ve never purged an article from any of my sites. If it was worth saying that day, I think it’s worth being able to go back and examine it again.

But often, it’s just a case of the writer stopped writing and rode off into the sunset.

The reasons vary, I suppose; but this one got to me:

This week I signed a publishing agreement with [name of publisher] to write my first book.

And with that, he was gone.

I recognize that you can only be active on so many fronts and perhaps if I had a book deal with that publisher — which came close once; they read my manuscript — I might reconsider the daily posts here. But then I keep thinking: It was probably their blog that got them the attention which led to the book deal, and now they’ve stopped doing the thing that got them where they are.

Some things we do in life are stepping stones. One thing leads to another. Once you’ve mastered the bicycle, you tend to leave the tricycle in the garage. I get that. But when it comes to sharing your thoughts in a forum like this one, I don’t see how you can simply not have anything more to say. What about topics that aren’t the central theme of the book you’re doing? Do you no longer have opinions on subjects that are currently on the minds of your (former) readers?

If you are a regular reader here, you know where this is going: Pastors who reach a degree of national prominence, get a major book contract, and step down from local church ministry. We saw this in the last decade with people like Rob Bell and Francis Chan.

I don’t think it’s right to sit back in my recliner and armchair quarterback other peoples’ lives. I would probably never claim to know the will of God for someone’s journey. I believe it highly presumptuous to critique the career changes of individuals I don’t know intimately.

However, in the realm of faith, I believe that the heart of ministry is local church ministry. Show me a published author who detaches himself (or herself) from the day-to-day stuff of the local congregation, and I’ll show you someone who will slowly lose the thing that got them their book contract. On a micro scale, show someone who is a pastor, but is never available at the door to shake hands after the service, or never does coffee shop appointments with parishioners, and I’ll show you a pastor whose sermons will become distanced from the very people he (or she) serves.

For those who are blessed with a deal from a major publisher: Don’t stop blogging. Don’t quit doing the everyday, run-of-the-mill thing that got you where you are. Your book won’t suffer; the non-contractual writing may in fact enhance it.

Not all bigger things are better things; they may just pay more bills.

March 7, 2016

Remembering Jerry Bridges

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:01 am

Jerry Bridges

Learned late last night about the passing of Jerry Bridges on the weekend as tributes poured in creating a top-ten trending item on Twitter. I was blessed to have been influenced by one of his books at a pivotal time in my past ministry life; and equally blessed today to have a number of files in my computer to share with you…

The first speaking engagement I ever had, I thought they were booking me as a musician. “No, we want you to speak, not sing;” said the guy on the other end of the phone. “It’s a winter weekend retreat. We’re doing a book study on Flirting With The World by John White and you’ll be speaking four times for an hour each time.”

Four hours?

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a copy of The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges and actually referred to both books equally that weekend. I’ll never forget the line, “We never see sin aright as we see it as against God.” So often we sin and think we failed ourselves; like going off a diet or something. We forget that we sin against God. Not our friends, family or church family.

For a long time I kept the devotional book by Jerry Bridges, Holiness – Day by Day: Transformation Thoughts for your Spiritual Journey next to the computer. Today I wondered what writing by Bridges might be available online and found this excellent quotation site. Here are some highlights in the category of holiness — plus a few others — this represents about one page of 17 pages available by him.

  • We abuse grace when, after sinning, we dwell on the compassion and mercy of God to the exclusion of His holiness and hatred of sin.
  • Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved.
  • As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.
  • As used in Scripture, holiness describes both the majesty of God and the purity and moral perfection of His nature. Holiness is one of His attributes; that is, holiness is an essential part of the nature of God. His holiness is as necessary as His existence, or as necessary, for example, as His wisdom or omniscience. Just as He cannot but know what is right, so He cannot but do what is right.
  • We need to call sin what the Bible calls it and not soften it with modern expressions borrowed from our culture.
  • What is holiness? The best practical definition that I have heard is simply “without sin.” That is the statement that was made of the Lord Jesus’ life on earth (Hebrews 4:15), and that should be the goal of every person who desires to be godly. Granted, we will never reach that goal in this life; nevertheless it is to be our supreme objective and the object of our most earnest efforts and prayers.
  • I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work of propitiation is the word exhausted. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us; it was exhausted. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all its fury on His beloved Son. He held nothing back.

Oh, as for the four-hour speaking gig, as a group we had a number of late night discussions as people chose the warmth of the large fireplace at Muskoka Woods Sports Resort over the raging blizzard outside, and added an extra session on the Saturday afternoon. In total, I believe I spoke or led discussions for eleven hours! Great memories; and I was so fortunate to have such an excellent source book with which to guide the weekend. Every Christian should read The Pursuit of Holiness.


This is from Jerry Bridges Holiness devotional (p. 94) and is also a selection from his book, The Discipline of Grace.

I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake. Is. 43:25

God uses several metaphors and colorful expressions to assure us that our sins have been literally carried away by our Lord Jesus Christ. One of them is in Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV). Here was an infinite distance as great as human vocabulary could express.

Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, He carried them away an infinite distance. He removed them from the presence of God and from us forever. They can no longer bar our access to God’s holy presence. Now “we have confidence” – or “boldness” as the King James Version more strikingly puts it – to enter God’s presence. (Hebrews 10:19)

Reinforcing this message is Isaiah 38:17, where King Hezekiah said to God, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.” When something’s behind your back, you can’t see it anymore. It’s out of sight. This is how He has completely dealt with our sin and put it away.

There’s an emphatic ring to Hezekiah’s words. They suggest a deliberate, decisive action on God’s part. God Himself has cast our sins behind His back and He is not hesitant or reluctant in doing this. He has taken the initiative and He did so joyfully and gladly. God takes pleasure in putting our sins behind his back because He takes pleasure in the work of His Son.

Do we believe this? Do we believe the testimony of Scripture, or do we believe our guilty feelings? Only to the extent we believe God has indeed put our sins behind His back will we be motivated and enabled to effectively deal with those sins in our daily lives.


Loyalty and Obedience

“Consider the holiness of Christ. We need this first of all to be firmly grounded in our security in Christ…. It is important therefore that we understand the righteousness of Christ, and the fact that His righteousness is credited to us.

On numerous occasions the Scriptures testify that Jesus during His time on earth lived a perfectly holy life.

But the holiness of Jesus was more than simply the absence of actual sin. It was also a perfect conformity to the will of His Father.

It is possible to do the right action from the wrong motive, but this does not please God. Holiness has to do with more then mere acts. Our motives must be holy, that is, arising from a desire to do something simply because it is the will of God….

Consider the holiness of Christ, because His life is meant to be an example of holiness for us….

Consider then His statement, “I always do what pleases Him, “Do we dare take that as our personal goal in life? Are we truly willing to scrutinize all our activities, our goals and plans, and all of our impulsive actions in the light of this statement: “I am doing this to please God”? …

This is the example we are to follow. In all of our thoughts, all of our actions, in every part of our character, the ruling principle that motivates and guides us should be the desire to follow Christ in doing the will of the Father. This is the high road we must follow in the pursuit of holiness.

(From The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges)


Purse-uit of HolinessThe Purse-uit of Holiness: In Evangelicalism, nothing says you’ve entered the mainstream like some friendly title parodying. I never read this book, but it shows how widespread was the readership of Bridges’ classic title. 

The loss of any key Christian author, pastor or missionary always causes me to ask, “Who will replace them?” For someone reading this, maybe it’s you.

 

 

Read a number of other quotations from Jerry Bridges at Christianity 201.

November 23, 2015

September 21, 2015

Chuck Colson’s My Final Word is Serious Reading for ADD Readers

Chuck Colson - My Final WordYou consider yourself a deep reader and thinker, but you struggle with staying focused when you hold a book in your hands. You like to be challenged and engaged, but your ADD kicks in every time you look over there, I think that cat is chasing a squirrel– so you’ve probably already seen the advantage in reading story collections and anthologies.

It’s ironic then that in presenting this assembly of transcripts from the Breakpoint radio program with Charles Colson to you I should be proposing the writing of a man who was such a voracious reader to people who struggle with that same discipline.

Because of who Colson was, it should come as no surprise that many of the short articles in the book are related in some way to politics and political systems. That was his passion, and that is where he truly speaks with authority.

Other themes in My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues That Matter Most include Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics, public life, culture, crimal justice, contentment, homosexuality, and several other topics. Within each theme there are at least a dozen transcripts, some longer, and some that were edited, though at times the subject ends up being political- or economic-related. This of course creates a bit of a liability when you are an international reader because so much of this concerns the American political system and key figures in the U.S. government. Even so, in those articles there are principles to be extracted and some of the stories have ended up on the front pages of newspapers in Sydney, London or Toronto despite their origin.

Then there is the richness in terms of the quality and quantity of the writers Colson quotes. He was a huge fan of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesterton, and to continue the list here would be to leave out others. If you want to know what makes people great, look at who they read and whose quotations they have memorized.

My Final Word clocks in at 240 pages total, released in August from Zondervan. In the foreword, longtime Colson associate Eric Metaxas suggests that there is sufficient material here to make the book suitable for small group discussions, and if all your group members are not always in touch with such issues, these radio transcripts will certainly raise awareness.

Full disclosure: Because of the nature of this anthology, I have not yet read every section, though I do prefer not to review a book before I’ve read every last word. I do intend to finish it however — it’s perfect nighttime reading for me — and I would encourage readers to keep a pen, pencil or highlighter handy to underline key sections and mark page numbers of passages to which you wish to return. I’m also reading the sections out-of-sequence, starting with ones which resonate more, and then, as I get more into the rhythm of the book, finding the others to be of equally interesting. In that sense, it’s a great reference resource on the topics listed above.

Chuck Colson was a very, very wise man.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for a copy of My Final Word.

September 14, 2015

When is a Book Actually Sold?

photo essay - newark

I had a book review scheduled for today, but then noticed the publisher’s instructions to post it within a specific time frame. Much of this has to do with ‘street dates,’ a system in place that allows publishers and distributors to ship books to retailers ahead of time, which are then held in stockrooms up to a specific ‘lay down’ date which ensures that no single store has a competitive advantages. Stores which are caught not complying are then not allowed to have their future street-date products shipped until the day before or day of release.

The system seems fair until you consider that online vendors can sell the product days, weeks or even months ahead of release. The key here is what is meant by sell. A prepayment means that there has been an actual transaction of funds, but some online sellers don’t run the credit card until the book is actually shipping.

Still, pre-ordering is a huge advantage to internet vendors. Having said that, I realize there is nothing stopping a local store or retail chain from taking advance orders as well. Some are successful at locking customer orders in, and with “A” list titles, sometimes the publisher will go to the trouble of printing up pre-order forms and displays for the stores to use.

But I would argue that if the online vendors are selling the product ahead of time, the delivery to the customer is a moot point.

However, the counter argument is that with a major, much-anticipated release, having the book in the hands of some customers but not others would mean the leaking of major spoilers involving key plot and character details. So the street date system has the advantage of building suspense and creating a theoretical equal footing for all retailers.

Generally, I like my reviews to run the week of the release in physical, brick-and-mortar bookstores. To me, earlier reviews only give the internet sellers an unfair example. People read my reviews, like what I said about it, and then often respond without having to leave their computer. (I generally only review books I am predisposed to like. Despite the blog’s popularity and the number of titles I am offered, I only have so much room on a limited number of bookshelves; ten of the Ikea-style shelves to be precise.)

I do think that physical stores could go a long way toward adopting the pre-sell model, but it can be an administrative burden if you don’t have the staff, or if, in our uniquely Canadian situation, currency fluctuations mean the book might have a different retail price by the time the copies hit the sales floor.

If I weren’t connected to retail, would the blog be an A**zon referrer? I’ve often thought about that. I do love books and connecting people and products I think will be useful in their lives. When that day comes, and it will, I would be more likely to be a referrer to Christian Book Distributors.

April 13, 2015

Book Review: Did God Kill Jesus?

Did God Kill JesusThere was something almost eerie about reading this book over the Easter season. I took a rather slow, almost plodding pace in order to absorb the material and then have a day to digest it before moving on, some of the events described paralleling narratives being brought to mind at Holy Week.

In Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, author Tony Jones looks at the central element of the Christian faith — the death and resurrection of Jesus — though his focus is clearly on the crucifixion and all of its ramifications for doctrine and theology. Over the years, writers and teachers have processed a handful of dominant models of what all is taking place — what we call atonement — as Christ yields his life to the religious and political powers of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers; and Jones considers these as well as a few of the lesser-known theories.

At the very core of his analysis is Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” He veers strongly toward the view that at that moment Jesus sees the Father as absent and dares to suggest that right then, right there, Jesus experiences something akin to atheism; life in a world without God. This is presented alongside the notion that while positionally God’s omniscience is a given, there are things that could only be known incarnationally.

This is a book for people willing to risk actually doing some thinking. Many of us have grown up in environments where we were taught that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins;” but would be lacking clarity in explaining exactly how the violent, death of this One accomplished this. He notes that if a sacrifice were all that was required, a child sacrifice at the Bethlehem manger would have sufficed. He also forces the reader to consider why a violent death was necessary.

I had been aware of Tony Jones through his blogging activity at Theoblogy, and knew that because of his co-authorship of The Emergent Manifesto, some readers here might question his orthodoxy. My thoughts ran somewhat the other way; reading through I asked myself if the book could not have appeared under HarperCollins’ more Evangelical imprints such as Zondervan, instead of HarperOne. (There were a couple of language issues early on, which are, in balance, unfortunate.) Jones is simply a nice guy, charitable to people whose views on Calvary are different because they are Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Progressive or even Pentecostal. By this I mean, the book accounts for all tastes.

Perhaps it is my own perspective, but my takeaway — and I mean this as high praise — is that I found myself thinking about Jesus and what would be going through his mind throughout all aspects of his final words to his disciples, his betrayal, his beating, his trial before Pilate and the agony of the crucifixion itself. Could there be any higher benefit to the reader of a Christian book?

Click here to read sample pages of Did God Kill Jesus?.

March 26, 2015

Big Box Book Stores’ Christian Shelves Lack Essentials

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Saturday night around 6:30 PM we dropped into a Chapters store. The Chapters and Indigo stores are the Canadian equivalent to Barnes and Noble, and whether I’m in Canada or checking out B&N on holidays, I love to hang out in the Religion section and see what conversations I can initiate.

This time it was a couple whose son was being baptized the very next day in the church where I was baptized many years earlier. They were looking at a couple of Joel Osteen books and when I tried to steer them away from those, they didn’t actually need much convincing. They immediately commented on the somewhat random assortment listed under ‘Christianity.’

“Why is Deepak Chopra here?” they asked.

“You could always move them around the corner;” I offered. I like to keep my options in these stores open, so re-shelving books isn’t in my repertoire.

Anyway, instead of just scanning the shelves out of personal interest, I tried to see it from their perspective and said to myself, “Okay, if we were standing in a Christian bookstore right now, what would I suggest to them?”

And then I hit the wall.

First, so much of the inventory on these shelves was new releases. There wasn’t much in the way of recurrent, perennial Christian books. The strength of the Christian book market has largely rested in the strength of what is called its ‘back-list’ titles. By this I don’t mean the classic writers who are now deceased, but rather simply the best books of the last 25 years. Some earlier Yancey titles. Experiencing God by Blackaby. The Lucado series on the crucifixion and resurrection. Even more recent stuff like Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield and the first two Case for… books by Lee Strobel were missing. (Having the classic writings of Andrew Murray, A. W. Tozer, Spurgeon, etc. isn’t a bad idea, either. The Lumen Classics series would be a good fit at low price points.)

Second, there are so many books which simply did not belong in that section at all. I saw title after title that was completely foreign to me. To sort this out you need two things. One would be an awareness of the publisher imprints on each book and a knowledge of who’s who. The other would be a combination of discernment and plenty of time to study each book carefully. Obviously trusting the publisher imprints is faster, but if it’s a truly special occasion — say a Baptism gift — you do really want to take the time to get the best book.

Given their son’s age, I decided to go for younger authors. I’d just watched the live stream release party for Judah Smith’s newest, Life Is _____; and then they had Jefferson Bethke, the guy whose launch was tied to a YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion.” But then, a book that seemed almost out of context: Radical by David Platt. I told them a bit about the book, and Platt and the Secret Church movement, and even though I don’t usually align with Calvinists, I said I thought this was the best choice overall. I left before they made their final decision.

…The reason this family was in the store at all was because the nearby Christian bookstore had just closed permanently. A friend of a friend was supposed to do a book signing and release party that day and had arrived to find the doors padlocked. These (for lack of a better word) “secular” bookstores are all that many communities have now, but finding the book you need is a major challenge.

The publisher reps who visit these stores are no doubt aware of strong back-list titles that would work, but the bookstore chains’ buyers are under orders to buy only the newest titles. To get their foot in the door, publishers need to be constantly re-issuing the older titles in new formats, but it’s hard when their orientation is to what’s new and forthcoming.

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