Thinking Out Loud

October 17, 2017

Charts: All-Time Christian Bestsellers

Current lists like this one from August 2017 posted by the Christian Bookseller’s Association are simply a snapshot in a much longer timeline.

I grew up in a world of charts. Music charts at first, but later book and movie charts also. As as subset of the larger entertainment industry, the Christian products industry tracks its bestselling books and music using a ranking system, and Christian authors have been known to bend the rules of ethics to secure a spot on one of the New York Times bestseller lists.

Christian publishing once had more trade magazines than it does at present, and one feature I remember — it might have been the large-format version of Christian Retailing or perhaps it was Christian Bookseller — was a column which would announce each time another Christian title was going “back to press” for a run of another 10,000 or 20,000 or whatever was needed.  A few times they ran lists of the all-time bestsellers.

I was trying to find such a list, but didn’t see anything that had the details or the methodology of what I remember reading. However at the blog of the Steve Laube agency — must reading for every current and prospective author — I discovered a list posted in June, 2016 by Dan Balow.

You need the click the title below for the full introduction and complete list, but for your information, after taking into account The Bible, here’s how some perennial favorites rank.

The Best Selling Christian Books of all Time

  • The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (1418) – Sales Unknown, but widely regarded as the best-selling Christian title after the Bible.
  • Book of Common Prayer (various editions starting in mid 16th Century) – 300 million (estimated)
  • Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan (1678) – 250 million
  • Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (1563) – 150 million
  • Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) – 150 million
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937) – 142 million
  • The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950) – 85 million
  • Steps to Christ by Ellen White (1892) – 60 million (estimated)
  • Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (1880) – 50 million
  • The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey (1970) – 35 million
  • In His Steps by Charles Sheldon (1896) – 30 million
  • The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (2002) – 30 million
  • The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) – 20 million
  • The Shack by William Paul Young (2007) – 20 million
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1320) – 12 million (in last 150+ years)
  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (1995) – 10 million+
  • Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (2004) – 10 million+
  • Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo (2010) – 10 million+
  • More Than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell (1977) – 10 million+
  • The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson (2000) – 10 million+

In this series:

Charts: The Ten Largest Churches in America.

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September 28, 2017

Kids Who Don’t Need Convincing Can Convince Others

I use the word a lot. Perhaps even overuse it. The word? Apologetics. I’m a fan. A huge fan.

Apologetics isn’t a necessarily an element of systematic theology. I way that because it’s been noted that the word doesn’t appear in many theological texts. But it’s definitely a branch of evangelism, and some would argue it’s at the core of Christian outreach. Relying heavily on logic, it defends Christian belief from detractors and skeptics.

But it’s not child’s play, right? Or is it?

J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene would have you think differently. The former book was spun off into a kids edition and earlier in the year, some friends surprised me with the news that they were suspending their usual Sunday School curriculum for one quarter, and instead take the 13 weeks to look at Cold Case Christianity for Kids.

So I was delighted the other day to receive a sample copy of the kids edition of the second book in the series, in the form of God’s Crime Scene for Kids.

While the first book (in either the adult or children’s series) looks at the evidence for the resurrection, the second looks at creation, or the evidence for what some call intelligent design. Can my friends’ 9-12 year olds absorb that?

With his trademark illustrations, J. Warner Wallace offers entirely new analogies to help kids see the trail of evidence leading to a creator. There are more pictures than the adult edition, but these images help bridge the distance between ostensibly difficult content and a child’s imagination. There is also a website with supporting videos for each chapter hosted by the author.

Let me suggest an analogy of my own. Parents often ask me about the difference between the NIV Bible and the NIrV Bible for children. I explain that for easy readability, the latter uses shorter sentences and a reduced vocabulary, but when it comes to people names, place names and the storyline itself, there are some things that can’t be dumbed down or tampered with.

Similarly, Wallace tosses out terms like causation and reasonable inference like they were after-school snacks, but only because he’s convinced that in the context of the book they’re holding in their hands kids can grasp these concepts. (A cat named Simba bears some of the responsibility for keeping the story accessible to young minds.) He gives kids credit for being able to understand more than we might estimate.

Which brings me to my conclusion: I think God’s Crime Scene for Kids isn’t just for kids. I think there are adults who struggle with the idea of understanding apologetics who would never read Wallace’s longer, adult book. Furthermore, I think there are people reading this who can think of one friend to whom they could say, “I got this book for your kids, but I want you to read it before you pass it on to them.”

I think the presence of a book like this could open a lot of doors to discussion that would cut across all age lines.


Related:


The full title is God’s Crime Scene: Investigate Creation with a Real Detective, David C. Cook, 2017; 144 pages, paperback.

A copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

September 12, 2017

When the Color of the Carpet Actually Matters

While touring a church on a recent vacation day, I was taken to this church library where I simply had to take a picture. I love books and am a product of the power of Christian resources.

“The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. The mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.” – Epiphanius, 4th Century

In Evangelical parlance, the phrase “the color of the carpet” is used as a euphemism for other superficial issues which can serve as a distraction to true worship and fellowship. It functions in the place of a myriad of other topics which can be divisive in the life of a Christian congregation.

I’ve always sworn I would never be a “color of the carpet” type of person. Some things are worth making a fuss over, and others should be consigned to the periphery of church concerns.

And then it happened.

At some point over the course of the summer they removed the church library and gave the contents to a local thrift store.

And I find myself seething.

So in order to justify myself, I have to be convinced that this is more than superficial; this is not about the color of the carpeting. Here’s why I am so strongly persuaded.

This was someone’s ministry in the church. This was a ministry that someone had poured their heart into for the better part of a decade, receiving an annual budgetary commitment, but little else in the way of enthusiasm. The person was away for six weeks visiting family in another part of the country. They did receive an email warning of what was to come, but little could be done at a distance of thousands of miles. This person deserved some opportunity for closure even if it was one last opportunity to view the boxed-up collection. I list this factor first because as a family, we experienced grieving the loss of a ministry, more than once, at the hands of this same church, and so we identify strongly with this particular aspect of the closure.

The library showed the value the capital-C Church has placed on writings throughout history. Though many weeks less than a dozen resources went out, its presence in the church was iconic in the truest sense of that word. It contained resources for parents, books on basic doctrine and Christian theology, chronicles of the history of the denomination. There were Bibles, videos, CDs, and a host of teaching materials instructive for children.

Donations kept the collection fresh. The people, myself included, who donated resources for this were invested in this particular type of ministry. Some books had been given just weeks before the whole thing was eradicated.

Stewardship was squandered. Because of my vocational role in the community at the local bookstore, I know that several hundred dollars worth of books had been purchased only this year. (But only a few hundred dollars. I have no significant conflict of interest here. My reaction is that of a bibliophile.)

The resources belonged to the congregation. People should have been told about the closure weeks ahead, and had the opportunity to take books of interest and make them part of their home library. They belonged to the people of the church, not the church staff.

They could have helped another church that wanted to have this ministry in their church building. This is a denomination that keeps talking about ‘church planting’ and ‘daughter churches’ and being a ‘network of churches,’ but I doubt any were offered the contents of this already-carefully curated collection. Some would be saddened to know what they missed out on.

They could have sent the resources overseas. Again, as a missionary-minded denomination the idea that the collection wasn’t considered to send to pastors and workers who were unable to take their libraries with them to Third World countries is equally perplexing. On a personal level, as an area volunteer for Christian Salvage Mission, I know the organization would have  embraced this acquisition with open arms and heartfelt gratitude on behalf of North American pastors and English-speaking indigenous workers in Africa and Asia. Instead, I wasn’t given the slightest inkling that this was in the works.

They kept two racks of fiction. This was the most disturbing thing of all; what was kept. These shelves are now located in the church’s new café and someone noted that some were books with exceptionally loud colors on the spines. If you were going to keep fiction, these were some of the worst choices. In other words, these books are props. They are being used solely for decorative purposes, to create atmosphere.

They may be deluded that electronic media has replaced books. This church recently signed a contract with Right Now Media, giving church people free access to a large grouping of video content. This is fraught with issues. Video teaching is not the same as learning off the printed page, nor is long-term absorption of the material as great. Older people in the church won’t bother to sign up for Right Now or figure out how it works. The mix of authors and teachers with online content is totally different than those who work solely in print. The library would have complemented the other service. Now they’ll never know if that would have happened.

The space will not see a higher purpose. Looking at that empty room, I wanted to be optimistic; I wanted to say, “Prove to me that what you’re about to do in this space is better than what you had.” It absolutely won’t happen.

The church bylaws are flawed. Major expenditures require approval in a congregational meeting, but the jettison of a major church asset requires no such approval. Given the number of now out-of-print titles that were displayed alongside more recent titles, I’d put the value of what was effectively trashed at at least $20,000 — books aren’t cheap — and that’s an informed opinion of someone working in the publishing industry. So you need to call a vote to acquire larger things, but you’re free to simply give away previously-acquired larger things? No. Not a good idea. For churches or families. Churches operate on the basis of consensus.

The library was doomed for at least a year. I kept forwarding PowerPoint slides along the lines of “Be sure to visit the church library…” to be used in the on-screen announcement crawl before the service, but never saw them used. Now I know why…

…I’m not sure where I’m going to church this Sunday. I have real issues with this. I’ve become what the church staff may say is a “color of the carpet” curmudgeon.

I don’t care. It was plain wrong. The stakeholders weren’t consulted. A horrible decision.

Now there’s no turning back.

 

September 11, 2017

Two Communities Converge to Rescue Each Other

Sometime after lunch yesterday, I carried the book out to the backyard with the intention of reading, at best, three chapters. By late last night I had devoured all 192 pages in just two sittings.

All Saints: The Surprising True Story of How Refugees From Burma Brought Life to a Dying Church by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle (Bethany House) is not my usual read. But reading a friend’s review and remembering I had been sent a copy spurred me to take another look.

The publisher, Bethany House, is home to some of the best Christian fiction available, and to read the first two paragraphs of their description is to imagine you’re reading about someone’s fictional story. Things like this just don’t usually happen. But if God places the right Episcopal priest in the right parish at the right time, anything is possible. It is the stuff movies are made of.

And a movie was. All Saints (the movie) released at the end of August, and in something you don’t see every day, the original contact with the movie producer is included in the story.

A Karen family wedding at All Saints (from the website of Over My Shoulder Foundation; click image to link)

The books subtitle (above) has conveyed much of what you need to know: Life changes for a young man in his first pastorate — a financially crippled parish which has just endured a painful church split — when three “scouts” from among a group of Burmese refugees living in Tennessee show up only because the church is the same denomination as what they experienced in their homeland, copies of their translation of the Book of Common Prayer in hand; there to check out the orthodoxy of the church. As the story progresses, the groups go through the growing pains of integrating, and then the pastor gets a vision of turning the church’s acreage into a farm. 

The story unfolds switching back and forth between the story of Pastor Michael Spurlock and his wife Aimee in the U.S. and the story of Ye Win (and others) among the Karen [kah-REHN] dealing with a less comfortable life in what is now Myanmar. The manner in which Ye Win’s little band of refugees converge with this Tennessee church is certainly the stuff of fiction, not real life. But remarkably, it happens.

This is a textbook case study on the assimilation of minority groups and refugees into North American churches. Not every story will read as this one, but it’s an excellent example of a pastor, a bishop, and a small group of parishioners being open to the possibility that God is doing something among them. Something worth writing about. Or making a movie.

Read more: Washington Post movie review.


A copy of the book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

All Saints Episcopal Church of Smyrna, Tennessee (image from Over My Shoulder Foundation, click to link)

 

 

September 9, 2017

Charts: The Real Bestselling Christian Books

This is from the list from the Christian Bookseller’s Association’s July bestsellers list, the last one posted online; it’s what you get when you eliminate:

  • all the iterations of Jesus Calling (highest individual rank #5)
  • all the iterations of The Standard Lesson Commentary
  • all the various adult coloring books (Update: turns out there were none in the top 40 this time around)
  • various children’s titles
  • two fiction titles
  • a package of tracts

Titles showing in the image above are unrelated.

Their ranking is placed after each entry in brackets.

  1. Goliath Must Fall – Louie Giglio (1)
  2. Without Rival – Lisa Bevere (2)
  3. Driven by Eternity – John Bevere (4)
  4. Jesus Always – Sarah Young (8)
  5. The Comeback – Louie Giglio (10)
  6. Boundaries – Henry Cloud (14)
  7. Uninvited – Lisa TerKeurst (15)
  8. The Circle Maker – Mark Batterson (17)
  9. Swipe Right – Levi Lusko (20)
  10. No More Faking Fine – Ester Fleece (23)
  11. Steve McQueen – Greg Laurie (24)
  12. The 5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman (25)
  13. When God Doesn’t Fix It – Laura Story (26)
  14. The Mystery – Lacey Sturm (27)
  15. Good or God – John Bevere (28)
  16. The Little Things – Andy Andrews (29)
  17. Simple Pursuit – Passion (31)
  18. Purpose Driven Life – Rick Warren (33)
  19. Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanne Gaines (34)
  20. How’s Your Soul – Judah Smith (36)

The Steve McQueen book is a bit of a curiosity which we mentioned here previously on the link list. Louis Giglio has three titles (two written by him, plus he wrote the intro to the Passion book) and two of the titles (13 and 14) are by Christian musicians. The dominance of John and Lisa Bevere in the list shows charismatic titles are still a driving force in Christian sales. Boundaries, Purpose Driven Life and 5 Love Languages show the enduring strength of those titles after many years. It’s also good to see new writer Levi Lusko doing so sell; I went to his church’s website and listened to a sermon two weeks ago.

 

 

September 1, 2017

The Problem of Reviewing The Problem of God

There is so much going on in this book. I feel like I’ve been handed an impossible task, somewhat akin from being dropped off a metropolitan core for a few days and told to write a review of the entire city. Every person. Every business. Every park and school.

Canadian Pastor Mark Clark has set himself to answer ten of the major objections to faith raised by outsiders, skeptics and seekers. It’s a tough assignment, even if you’re leaning heavily on the writings of Tim Keller and C. S. Lewis. Not as tough for Clark however as it would be for you or me, in part because this is his own story; the book is as much testimony as it is apologetics text.

I think that’s what make this one different. Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010. Today they are in three locations on Canada’s west coast with satellites launching in Calgary and Montreal. Mark is part of a new generation of pastors and authors who really does his homework before speaking and writing and his passion and energy rock the house each week.

The ten “problems” form ten chapters:

But to say just that is too simple. Each one of these breaks down into several other subsections. These issues are complex and we’re given a look at each through several different lenses.

To repeat, the book stands somewhere between academic apologetics textbook (for its thorough treatment of each of the issues) and biography (for the times Clark references his own story.) It is the latter that makes this book what it is; an apologetics resource which wears a face and a name, and that makes it accessible to all readers. That last factor is important especially for potential as a giveaway to someone who is asking questions. (Read more about Mark at this CBC-TV story.)

I know I say this a lot — I choose my review books carefully — but this is definitely another of those “go back and re-read” and “keep handy for reference” titles.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity | Zondervan | 272 page paperback | September, 2017

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for an opportunity to read this!

August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.


An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

May 15, 2017

A Golden Age of Christian Blogging

Blogging introduces you to a worldwide collective of people you will probably never meet in this life.   Nonetheless, the online connection means that you can be a source of encouragement to many, many people. The right words, fitly spoken at the right time, can really make a difference in a person’s life.  That’s why I like this picture. The words are coming off the page to bring comfort. Everybody needs a bit of that now and then. The best things that are happening in the blogsphere aren’t always happening on the blogs themselves, but in the meta. When you get to follow-up with someone who has a particular interest. Or try to offer some direct, offline advice to someone who might appreciate a bit of a challenge.  Or know of a third-party resource that could be of great help. Or just to say, “I really don’t have a clue about your whole situation, but I want you to know someone is reading your blog who really cares.” Or offer to pray for them. To actually pray for them.

Words communicate. People are listening. You can have a part in what they hear.

~ Thinking Out Loud, September 2008

Recently I was thinking about the writers who inspired me to start doing this…many of who are no longer writing online, or are doing something completely different. After leaving comments on other blogs, I decided to start one of my own. We started on a platform called e4God, but fortunately were able to migrate the content to WordPress.

Honestly, I think this was a golden age for Christian blogging. Twitter wasn’t a force and podcasts were rare. Today, many bloggers simply post videos or podcast links or have abandoned their platform altogether in favor of the 140-character alternative. 

Travel back in time with me; except where noted these are in no particular order.

  • 22 Words — Not the blog you now know, but in those days, Abraham Piper actually confined each post to exactly 22 words.
  • Sacramentis — Sally Morganthaler’s website was a hub for people who wanted to discuss worship ideas. The church was going through a period of accelerated change, and people like Sally, Nancy Beach and Robert Weber were all speaking into that change.
  • Stuff Christians Like — The mind of Jon Acuff knew no boundaries. Think Babylon Bee for a previous decade. I think of Jon every time I’m in church and need to give someone a side hug. The blog spun off a book deal with Zondervan.
  • Stuff White Christians Like — …well, let’s be honest; there were a number of spin-offs from Jon’s blog, Stephy’s was one of them.
  • Lark News — The original Babylon Bee.
  • The Very Worst Missionary — Jamie Wright provided a missionary’s perspective on short term mission trips which many of us will never forget.
  • Fred McKinnon — What avid worship leader didn’t visit late Sunday night or midday Monday to find out what other worship leaders had posted to The Sunday Set List?
  • Puragtorio — Can someone help me remember this one? Seriously.
  • ASBO Jesus — From across the pond, Jon Birch’s website was delightfully cynical. The initials stand for Anti Social Behavior Order.
  • Flowerdust — The writer formerly known as Anne Jackson gained a huge following early on and was a reminder to us all that it was okay to be broken or wounded or both.
  • Evotional — The original blog of Mark Batterson, bestselling author and pastor of National Community Church in DC.  (When he called his first book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, I thought, “That’s a real dumb title. So much for his writing career.”)
  • Letters from Camp Krusty — My first initiation into the wonderful strange world of Brant Hansen.
  • Greg Boyd — This guy had a huge influence on us. We spent endless road trips throughout the U.S. popping discs in the CD player of downloaded sermons from Woodland Hills Church on the Gospel of Luke. Great memories. “Now go out and build the kingdom!”
  • Skyebox — Skye Jethani would later play a pivotal role in my own life for which I am most grateful. Today, he’s a regular on The Phil Vischer Podcast and an important analyst and commentator on the state of Evangelicalism in North America.
  • Out of Ur — The blog of Leadership Journal at Christianity Today and for 22 months, the home of the Wednesday Link List. (See previous entry.)
  • Tall Skinny Kiwi — As I write this, Andrew Jones and the girls are heading back to Europe mid-June. His unique, ongoing story continues and he has my utmost respect and admiration for carrying on despite the loss of Debbie to complications from malaria and typhoid.
  • Donald Miller — I don’t think it was called StoryLine back then, but I can’t remember. He’s been at this a long time!
  • Bene Diction Blogs On — Investigative blogging in an era before Warren Throckmorton. But who was Bene Diction? I have a friend who claims to know and says I knew her. Wait, what? Her?
  • Naked Pastor — David Hayward migrated his blog to Patheos but then moved back to his own domain. I love his writing, but I’m sure he’s best known for the pictures: Original artwork which you can purchase.
  • Without Wax — Pete Wilson is still blogging. Back then, they were like family; I can still name all three of Pete’s boys.
  • Trevin Wax — (no relation to the above) Trevin is now more aligned with a tribe I no longer follow, but I tracked with his writing for many years.
  • Challies — Tim Challies must have been in the right place at the right time, because today his blog regularly ranks in the Top Ten Christian blog lists in the U.S. though, like myself, he is Canadian. Must reading for the neo-Calvinist set. (Tim lives just about 90 minutes from me. Sometimes in the early morning we drive by his house and root through his recycling bin.)
  • Take Your Vitamin Z — Zach Nielson’s blog had a cool title. Three years ago this month, like many others, he switched his primary focus from blogging to Twitter. 
  • Desiring God — The Pipester was a force to be reckoned with! You never actually had to read it though, because for a time, the Calvinist world faithfully re-blogged every word J.P. wrote.
  • Reformissionary — The original name for Steve McCoy’s blog. Many nights at supper we prayed for Molly.
  • DashHouse — Another Canadian, Darryl Dash now writes primarily for fellow pastors and church leaders. He left a comfortable church in the Toronto suburbs a few years back to church plant in the urban core, albeit a more upscale neighborhood.
  • Team Pyro — Note that we clustered all the Calvinist bloggers together here. These guys helped convince me that there was a type of Christ follower I wanted to be, and that tribe wasn’t it. (At this writing, the blog has been inactive for about six weeks. Don’t people need their weekly dose of Spurgeon?)
  • CenturiOn — Frank Turk from Team Pyro. (Not to be confused with apologist Frank Turek.) I have to give them credit for the excellent illustrations and images.
  • Vintage Blog— Another one from that era who is still writing; Dan Kimball aka “the guy with the pompadour haircut.” If you’re ever in Santa Cruz, look up Vintage Church.
  • Eugene Cho — Another writer who’s been at this for a long time. Korean-born Cho is an author, lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and founder of the charity One Day’s Wages.
  • Jesus Creed — Scot McKnight is another writer who has been faithfully at his computer producing a large number of columns each week since the world was flat. (With enough book sales, perhaps one day he’ll be able to afford the second ‘t’ in his first name.) 
  • John Shore — I tend to think of John today in terms of one particular issue, but in the early days his blog was home for all those who had gotten burned out in their church experience.
  • Michael Hyatt — Better known today for his writing on leadership issues, on building platform and on writing itself, it was his pieces on the publishing industry I enjoyed most back in the day.
  • Blog In My Own Eye — Keith Brenton was another writer who snagged a great blog title. It’s been four years now since Angi, the love of his life was taken from us; yet each day at 3:00 PM, Keith goes on Twitter to offer to pray for anyone with a need or a request.
  • Fire in my Bones — From the then-editor of Charisma Magazine, Lee Grady who still has a blog at the magazine. Right now I can’t think of a more balanced Pentecostal/Charismatic writer. (Maybe Jack Hayford, but he never blogged, did he?)
  • Monday Morning Insights — Over the years, the Wednesday Link List borrowed a number of story leads from Todd Rhoades’ blog.
  • The Idea Club — You never heard of it, right? Actually it was the original name for Cathy Lynn Grossman’s religion blog at USAToday. (Thinking Out Loud actually began as a USAToday blog as well.) An excellent religion reporter. You probably remember better from Faith and Reason. Watch for her byline where quality journalism is sold.
  • Internet Monk — Still updated daily, but sadly without its founder, the late Michael Spencer. This one resonated with a lot of people at a transitional time for the church at large.
  • Boar’s Head Tavern — Another blog Michael Spencer started. 
  • Shlog — The original name for musician Sean Groves’ blog.  
  • One Hand Clapping — Julie Clawson was an important voice in those early days. I wonder who reading this knows how the blog got its name?
  • …Help! I can’t stop…

…This ended up longer than I planned. Those were great days. Through these and other writers I got to read some great books and think about things related to God, Jesus, The Bible, Church, Evangelism, Doctrine, etc., that I otherwise might never have considered.

My life is richer because of all of you…

…So…who did I miss from that era who was big impact on you?


And now, a Best-of… moment from those early days:

May 5, 2017

The Book Which Launched J. Warner Wallace

Four years ago, most of us did not know the name J. Warner Wallace. Today his two bestselling books have made him a leading voice in Christian apologetics. I’ve received a copy of Foresnic Faith the newest from him and hope to review it here in the near future.

We never repeat book reviews here. I’ll re-purpose other content, but generally the book reviews are limited to a specific time period when the book is fresh. Today an exception…

The book that started it all

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience. Josh McDowell did it years ago with Evidence That Demands a Verdict; Frank Morrison with Who Moved the Stone? and more recently Lee Strobel brought a large audience to the discussion with The Case for Christ series.

Enter former Los Angeles County homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (2013, David C. Cook).  Like Strobel, Wallace was a skeptic turned believer, and like McDowell, Wallace leaves no stone unturned in his study of the reliability of scripture, from obscure passages to those central to core doctrine.

The book is divided into two parts, the nature of cold case investigation — and this case is 2,000 + years old, and the particular evidence that the Bible offers. But first one other book comparison, and you won’t see it coming. Years ago Philip Keller wrote A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. People loved that book because there were particular insights that only one who tended sheep could offer toward interpretation of the text that begins “The Lord is my shepherd.” In many respects, Cold Case Christianity offers the same type of intimacy with the subject matter that only an insider who has worked in this vocation can contribute. So if you feel you’ve read enough apologetics titles to last a lifetime, allow me to offer you one more! 

It’s important to note that Wallace approached this originally from the perspective of an atheist. While the evidence in this case is compelling, I found the first part of the book (which is more than half of the total) most interesting. Possible recipients of this book would include men (Father’s Day is coming) and anyone who reads mysteries or watches mystery or suspense or programs related to the justice system on video or TV.

In a sense, in Cold Case Christianity you, or someone you know who is sitting on the fence in terms of belief, are the jury. So the other possible recipients of this book would be anyone who is investigating Christianity; including people who might not read other books in the apologetics genre.

The second part of the book is the evidence itself. Here, Wallace brings in much from non-Biblical sources, satisfying the oft-voice complaint that some apologists are simply using the Bible to prove the Bible.

This is a handbook I intend to keep within reach and will no doubt refer back to many times.

The sophomore release

Two years later, Wallace returned with a similarly structured book looking at a slightly different subject. Again, with Forensic Faith just coming to market, I decided to make this a two-for-one.

In God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) J. Warner Wallace applies his unique skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed…

…You can learn more about the books and ministry of this author at ColdCaseChristianity.com .

March 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

tweet-othersWelcome to WLL#348. It’s also Ash Wednesday. We have an unusual number of mid-month pieces here today even though the list was prepared the day before. So not fresh off the press, but we thought worth including. Don’t forget to try to get your suggestions to me by 6:00 PM EST on Monday; but later ones do get considered.

Our extro image is from the Twitter feed Unvirtuous Abbey:

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