Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2015

J. Warner Wallace: Another Cold Case Solved

Two years ago here I reviewed the book Cold Case Detective by J. Warner Wallace, in which the principles by which this police investigator has operated in his vocation are applied to fleshing out the reliability of the Bible’s gospel narratives. At the time I wrote,

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience.

I enjoyed the book, and in the time that has passed since I wrote that review, have enjoyed recommending it to a variety of readers, though at times, I also feel it is Christian apologetics’ best kept secret.

God's Crime SceneA few weeks ago, Wallace returned with God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) in which he applies the same 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.

I give this a very high recommendation both for Christian readers and those who doubt God’s existence. I’d be interested in seeing links to articles where non-believers have interacted with its various chapters, as I believe Wallace has been very thorough in his documentation and his logic.


At 340 pages in an oversize paperback, this book with ‘crime’ in the title is a steal at only $17.99 U.S.

July 26, 2015

Too Many Characters to Tweet

Some random thoughts:

My wife noted the other night that if she were black and lived in the United States, she would simply take public transit everywhere. It’s increasingly difficult for a person of African-American descent to survive a routine traffic stop.

Also, in the Sandra Bland case, did anyone notice on the video that she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change in an area that was completely devoid of traffic? Even if it’s the custom to divert cars to a side street for the ticketing process, there’s no denying that in the dashcam video, the traffic pattern is unusually light. I’m not sure I would signal a lane change under those circumstances.

Why isn’t enforcement taking place in high traffic areas where the need is more acute and driver errors are more consequential? I’d venture to guess that irrespective of everything that followed, this was entrapment not enforcement.


Internet pornography is an express train that will take you from the “That’s disgusting!” station to the “I’d be willing to try that” terminal in record time. From there you change to trains that can take you in a variety of directions to unexpected destinations.

Yes, there is exploitation; and yes, there is the problem of addiction; and yes, some people do act out on what they see; However, the greatest impact is the potential for long-term viewing to undermine values and alter worldview.


North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) has added extra broadcast times to its Sunday full-service live stream which contains music, announcements, baptisms and the sermons (which later are available by themselves on demand). The program now airs live services on Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00, and then rebroadcasts at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 10:00 and midnight, EST. (The Wednesday rebroadcast has been dropped.) 


Recently the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ran an news item about “Free Range Parenting.” (They might have called the piece “Free Range Kids” but that’s copyrighted by the woman they interviews.) As I watched the kids in the story navigating the New York subway system, I recalled my own days heading off to downtown Toronto on mass transit at a young age.

From my perspective, the problem in the story is not that some parents feel their kids can handle the same level of independence that we did at the same age, but rather, the busybody neighbors who feel it’s their duty to report said parents to the authorities.

We’re living in a tattletale culture. If Big Brother isn’t watching you, the neighbors are.


Finally, three new books to tell you about from Random House subsidiary Waterbrook Press.

Kent Brantly was the medical missionary who contracted Ebola in Liberia and needed to evacuated to the US, where he received an untried anti-Ebola drug. He and his wife have written Called for Life, just released in hardcover. Liz Curtis is back with a study into the Biblical figure known as The Queen of Sheba. It’s Good to be Queen is a paperback original. Finally, Nick Vujicic’s Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying converts from hardcover to paperback.

New Waterbrook Releases

 

July 21, 2015

Shack Author Paul Young’s Newest Releases in Two Months

Paul Young - EveAfter the huge success of The Shack, many publishers were after Paul Young’s third novel, Eve. When first released, The Shack was a game-changer for Christian publishing, its commercial success rivaled only by the controversy it created, with many of the negative responses coming from people who had never read the book. It also was put in the rare situation of having various other books written about it. 

Radio host Drew Marshall once quipped, “There are two kinds of people; people who like The Shack, and people who don’t like The Shack;” indicative of the great divide the book’s portrayal of God created.

After nearly five years, Young reappeared with Crossroads, followed by another three year gap that’s about to change on September 22nd when Eve, a 320-page novel releases simultaneously in hardcover and paperback from Howard, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

From the publisher’s blurb (excerpt):

…When a shipping container washes ashore on an island between our world and the next, John the Collector finds a young woman inside—broken, frozen, and barely alive. With the aid of Healers and Scholars, John oversees her recovery and soon discovers her genetic code connects her to every known human race. She is a girl of prophecy and no one can guess what her survival will mean…

…Eve is a bold, unprecedented exploration of the Creation narrative, true to the original texts and centuries of scholarship—yet with breathtaking discoveries that challenge traditional misconceptions about who we are and how we’re made. As The Shack awakened readers to a personal, non-religious understanding of God, Eve will free us from faulty interpretations that have corrupted human relationships since the Garden of Eden.

Eve opens a refreshing conversation about the equality of men and women within the context of our beginnings, helping us see each other as our Creator does—complete, unique, and not constrained to cultural rules or limitations…

You can read the full blurb at this link.

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly published on Monday, Howard Vice President and Editor in Chief Ami McConnell said,

I think the thing that I am most proud of is that it’s the product of decades of thought and perhaps even pain on Paul’s part, and it’s a very rich experience. Every read that I’ve done has brought out new levels of awareness and understanding. This is a story that has never been told before. I have been working on just novels – no non-fiction – for a decade, and so I know the tropes. I know what notes you have to hit with certain kinds of stories, and I’m faithful to make sure that authors hit those notes. This is a story I have never read before. It’s a new approach to a story as old as our culture.

You can read more of that interview at this link.

 

July 20, 2015

It’s Summer: You’re Entitled to Some Diversions

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

For the most part, the Christian blogosphere takes itself all too seriously. When was the last time you saw anyone review a fiction title? And no, we don’t count the bloggers who trashed The Shack without ever reading it.

I try to read at least one fiction title in the summer. If I can’t actually go anywhere in the warm months, I can at least enjoy some small diversions or distractions.

The Deposit SlipThis year it was The Deposit Slip by Todd M. Johnson, which released back in 2012. I’d seen this one in the bookstore and it struck me that it was my type of storyline, and definitely male-reader-compatible in a field that attracts a mostly female demographic. I also didn’t want to start a series, so a stand-alone title was needed.*

The book is legal mystery that begins with a young woman who discovers a deposit receipt from a local bank when emptying out her late father’s safety deposit box. The amount is a cool $10.3 million. She hires a lawyer and from the beginning — this isn’t really a spoiler — you know the bank is as guilty as heck and covering the truth; but the remaining pages are needed to get everyone to what one expects to be a dramatic, final courtroom showdown.

The case has a variety of twists and turns, with a very fast-paced script based on the author’s 30 years in legal practice. Though this isn’t my usual genre, I was able to track most of the legalese.

The faith-focus in this novel is basically non-existent. Given its publication under the Bethany House imprint, a division of Baker Books, I checked a variety of other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Otherwise, five stars.


*The following year the author released Critical Reaction which features a different cast of characters and this time around, a female lawyer. I enjoyed Deposit Slip so much that the 2nd book is currently in my pending stack of books.

June 9, 2015

Toward a Post-Industrial Faith

Reading John J. Thompson’s Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World, makes me wish that Zondervan had a sort of outreach imprint like Baker Books has with Brazos or NavPress has with Think, because this is probably the best example of what we once termed a pre-evangelism resource.

Jesus Bread and Chocolate - John J. ThompsonSaid differently, this is the book you always wished existed so you could start the conversation with that friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker who believes that Christians are people who simply don’t [fill in the blank] and one of the the things they don’t enjoy is, for example, a decent glass of wine.

Of course, if you think that beer is of the devil, or that an $8 loaf of bread is simply bad stewardship, this is probably not the book for you.

I was drawn to review this after watching an interview the author did with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani a few weeks earlier. I connected the name with a Christian music store called True Tunes that specialized in all the hard-to-find, out-of-print and imported Jesus Music and CCM that was born in the days of the Jesus People in the 1970s.

However, people do move on to other interests and reinvent themselves, and although the book has a chapter which references those early Christian music days, John Thompson has emerged as a connoisseur of quality beer, wine, coffee, bread and sees in the making and enjoying of these things a number of modern day — or more accurately ancient — parables to everyday life and faith. (If they published in hardcover, and added more pictures, this could be a coffee-table book about coffee!) 

Yes, the above paragraph does say beer and wine; you can almost hear the sound of the demographic narrowing. If your definition of what constitutes a Christian book is, well, more somber, then again, this title is probably not your particular cup of tea, or in this case coffee. So I’m going to let the publisher define it for you:

Farmer’s markets, artisanal dark chocolate, home-made bread, craft-brewed beer,  and independent boutique coffee shops may not immediately call to mind issues of faith, but they should. As the “American Dream” starts to fray at both ends, millions of people are embracing values that seem to hail from a bygone era. They are seeking out the local, the small, the responsible and the nourishing instead of the cheap, the homogenized, the mass-produced and the canned.

Is it possible that this renewed interest in these pre-modern values may actually offer an open door into the hearts and minds of this generation? Is there a way to explore specific, inspiring stories about coffee, bread, chocolate and art that lead people toward a truly Biblical understanding of the person, words and work of Jesus to reveal the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel?

With fascinating stories and a thread of memoir, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate explores the emerging—actually re-emerging—values of this post-industrial age and points out parallels between them and the teaching and ministry of Jesus and his earliest followers. Rather than seeking to tie the faith to trends in the culture, it shows how trends in the culture are already very close to the organic kind of faith that could re-energize the church and bring countless young and middle-aged people into a saving experience of Christ.

I think that last paragraph might leave you feeling the book is less accessible than it is. Let’s just say that Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is equal parts quality food, heartfelt autobiography, and a whole lot of stuff to think about.

 

 

 

June 3, 2015

Wednesday Link List

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery – Kiev, Ukraine.  More interesting church architecture at this link.

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery – Kiev, Ukraine. More interesting church architecture at this link.

Some day I’m only going to run links from blogs that don’t have pop-ups asking for subscriptions. There will only be about five links that week.

May 20, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Poor signage or a creatively named new outreach for Teen Challenge?

Poor signage or a creatively named new outreach for Teen Challenge?

Okay, hands up everyone who remembers the Bible story about The Horn of the Llamas?

Okay, hands up everyone who remembers the Bible story about The Horn of the Llamas?

Witty introduction, not in the Advance Reader Copy, to appear here in print edition.

in case of fire

Tomorrow on the blog: In Case of Rapture, Or Long Weekend, This Church will be Closed — a look at a major megachurch that already takes one weekend off in the winter, now doing the same in late Spring. (Title similarity to the graphic above was pure coincidence.) 

Video of the Week: This reminded me so much of Boney M who did Rivers of Babylon, though this sounds more like Rasputin.

May 13, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

The interior of an abandoned church is seen on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. From the Huffington Post link below, click through to see 14 more abandoned churches.

What you see each week are the links that ‘survived.’ You don’t get to see the rabbit trails which led nowhere, which can tie up the better half of an hour before I realize they aren’t yielding anything worth publishing.

Jordan from Blimeycow

May 11, 2015

Seeing Your Life From God’s Perspective

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 am

Orion's belt

About a week ago before falling asleep, I reached into the review stack, and discovered a 2013 book, The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan. Clearly, this was a book for women, but it was late so rather than pull out another title, I decided to read just one chapter.

Beauty of Broken - Elisa MorganSeveral days later, I am two-thirds of the way through my first foray into this Christian “women’s interest” book. Maybe I’ll start reading “mommy bloggers” next. (Okay, maybe not.)

Elisa Morgan’s life has been marked by a number of circumstances that would have to be described as tragic. I’m not purporting to review the book here, so I won’t get into details. But it was the one page where her husband Evan shared something — I believe it’s the only spot in the book where he speaks — that I wanted to share as an excerpt today. This is the entirety of the quotation, but remember you’re jumping into the middle of much larger story.

Finally I just sat down in the bay window of our breakfast room and looked up at the sky. Honestly, I’d had it. But I felt compelled to look at the stars.  I’d always been intrigued by the galaxies. And in that moment, one of my favorite Psalms filtered through my thoughts, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?'”  (Psalm 8:3-4 NIV).

It was like God was drawing my gaze upward – to consider his heavens.  I couldn’t not look. Yet I couldn’t figure out what was going on, what I was supposed to see or understand.

“Yeah. Yeah. I know, you’re all-powerful and all,”  I said sarcastically through the glass of the window up to the sky. I couldn’t believe I was acting this way towards God and I half expected him to zap me in the moment. But I was just so sick of it all.  In this weary night watch I relented, “I see it all, God. You made all this. You’re infinite. Whatever!”

Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off the night sky. And then Orion’s Belt came into focus. My eyes were nailed to it. I couldn’t pull them away.  Astronomy wasn’t even a hobby for me, but everything I’d ever known about that constellation whirled through my mind. Orion’s Belt: three stars, seemingly perfectly aligned and yet most likely hundreds of millions of miles apart from each other. For some reason I imagined myself in an airplane – no, a space ship circling in the cosmos, and then around a single star in the formation. I realized that from that vantage point – going around just one of the three stars, I couldn’t really see or even know about the other stars, much less how they aligned together to make a unique constellation.

And then I heard God speak to me – as in no other moment in my life. I’ll never forget it.  Evan, from where I sit, it all lines up.  Suddenly, I was sitting with God, next to him in his celestial seat, viewing eternity past and future, without limitations. God laid his hand on my shoulder, and pointed out the stars to me: a picture of his providence and sovereignty in our lives. From no other place could I have comprehended… from where he sits, it all lines up.

May 7, 2015

Thursday Link List

Monday night we went to see Do You Believe? but it’s so late into the theatrical run, that I decided to hold comments until the week the DVD releases. For now, suffice it to say I think that in many ways it improves on God’s Not Dead which is by, I think, the same producers.

So there was no blog post scheduled for today, and rather than a re-run, I thought we’d just do what we do best, with some material that didn’t make it in time for yesterday.  But first, a random page from The Brick Bible:

Brick Bible

Amy Julia Becker at the Washington Post on the National Day of Prayer:

But if Christians want a National Day of Prayer that invites people from various faith traditions to join together in what we hold in common — a belief in a good, active, creator God — and implore that God to work through us and in us for the good of our nation and our world, then we need to do so in a way that creates common ground rather than reinforcing the theological points that divide us.

Thom Rainer’s list of 10 Things Never to Say to a Guest at a Worship Service:

“That’s not the way we do it here.”Of course, you can’t have a worship service where any behavior is acceptable. Most of the time, however, the varieties of worship expressions are absolutely fine. I heard from a lay leader recently who witnessed that sentence spoken to a guest who raised her hand during the worship music. She never returned.

Pete Wilson’s 4th book launched Tuesday, What Keeps You Up at Night?

It’s easy to feel paralyzed by uncertainty.  We want our questions answered, our decisions affirmed, and our plans applauded.  But life doesn’t come with an instruction manual and rarely follows a straight path. How would your life change if you learned to lean into uncertainty instead of waiting on the sidelines for just the right moment or opportunity?

For an international body concerned with religious freedom, Russia is now on their watch list.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reports Russia is now a country to watch. The USCIRF issued their report April 30. According to the 232-page document, there are 17 nations listed at Tier 1 abusers of religious freedom. There are 10 on the Tier 2 list, including Russia. Mission Eurasia Director of Religious Freedom Issues, Wade Kusack, says Russia being on the list is a big deal. “This is a first official announcement, or recognition, of the persecution from the U.S. government’s side.”

Purposeful Parenting: 5 ways to avoid raising ‘It’s all about me’ children.

A recent study on the origins of narcissism in children concluded, “narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation: parents believing their child to be more special and more entitled than others.” The abstract of the study further explains, “children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them.” Unfortunately, the “you are so special, so smart, so beautiful, so talented, so gifted—you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be—mantra” is often believed, and our children suffer because of it.

“I’m into Jesus, but not all the technical, big-words stuff.” Sorry, but in many circles,doctrine really matters.

Indifference about doctrine is the mother of every heresy in all of history, and in our day indifference about doctrine is spreading like wildfire in the pulpits and pews of our churches. Ironically, the assertion that doctrine doesn’t matter is in fact a doctrine in itself. When people tell me they are into Jesus but not into doctrine, I tell them that if they are not into doctrine, they are, in fact, not into Jesus. We cannot know Jesus without knowing doctrine, and we cannot love God without knowing God, and the way we know God is by studying His Word.

 

 

Songs with substance
If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

 

 

 

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