Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2017

Wednesday Link List

If your Christmas cards need to be truly different, then these boxes of 12 cards (3 each of 4 images) from David Hayward aka Naked Pastor might be for you. Click image for info.

This turned out not badly, considering I didn’t get started until 5:00 PM Tuesday. Article suggestions are always welcomed.

 

Advertisements

November 29, 2017

Wednesday Link List

“Mary Did Uno” as posted at Church Curmudgeon.


Personally, I think our friends at the Family Christian Bookstore in Burlington, Ontario, Canada have way too much time on their hands! (Not related to the U.S. chain of the same name.)


Seeing past the labels: Shocking x-rays reveal that under the skin, groups seen as poles apart are basically the same. From the blog Done With Religion.


As a matter of general principle, I wouldn’t recommend reading a book by a guy who takes his accordion on a book tour. But I’ve read Blessed Are The Misfits by @branthansen and I enjoyed it and think you will also. If you missed my review, click here.

Lots of book-related stuff this week; it just worked out that way. Sit back and start clicking!


 

 

 

November 16, 2017

What These 31 Guys Had in Common

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:16 am

 

Godly men have been growing facial foliage since the beginning of time and church history is filled with Christians who glorified in male-pattern magnificence.1

Jared Brock and Aaron Alford’s book Bearded Gospel Men is about… well I think you’ve got it figured out. Every book needs a premise, right?

Your humble authors have experienced a vast array of diverse Judeo-Christian traditions and have discovered one powerful thing that unites the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox worlds: Follicle faithfulness.2

At first glance, the book is a collection of 31 extremely short biographies of 31 men — oddly not one single woman3 — who belong to the brotherhood of the bearded. Each is followed by a contemporary article with subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Billy Graham…preached the gospel to millions, famously ending every stadium-filled gospel crusade with the old hymn “Just as I am.” We love you, Billy, just as you are. But a Billy beard! What a sight to behold such a thing would be. Perhaps, however it was better this way. Thousands would have come forward at your meetings just get a closer look at the beard and may have caused confusion with the numbers of those getting saved.4

These short pieces are written mostly, but not entirely by the two authors. You may have seen the title before this as a web address.

The book’s history began with a Tumblr blog and Facebook page by Pastor Joe Thorn. It was a joke, really. Mainly memes about beards and good-natured barbs about the superiority of the unshaven.5

There are also a number of pictures with captions that I can only surmise either were are could have been the website’s memes, though the text font is different (see below).

Those biographed — hey, if I say that’s a word — include D.L. Moody, William Booth, Saint Patrick, Charles Sheldon (the original WWJD guy), G.K. Chesterton and Keith Green. There’s no time in those brief accounts to comment on the beards themselves. There’s even a chapter for Zacchaeus, but then didn’t all the males in the gospels have beards? The short synopses are followed by 3 questions for contemplation and a short prayer. In the case of Zacchaeus:

  1. Have you ever wronged anyone, even unintentionally? How might you make that right today?
  2. Is there anything in your life that me obstructing your view of Jesus? How might you see past these things to catch a glimpse of Jesus?
  3. Is there anything Jesus may be asking you to give up, specifically in regard to material possessions or money? 6

So with 31 biographies, 31 additional articles, various memes, etc. this reads more like a magazine than a book. Which is perfect. Because as of late, guys don’t read books. They will read this however, and Christmas is coming. (Hint!)

…The publicist who sent this book suggested it might be timely for No-Shave November.7 Perhaps, although the 11th month only has 30 days and the book has 31 sections. I still see this as a better Christmas gift, though the subtitle, The Epic Quest for Manliness and Godliness is a bit over the top! Consider this one; the guys will thank you for it.

W Publishing, 276 pages, paperback; 9780718099305; page at Thomas Nelson Publishing


1Back cover blurb
2Introduction, p. xiii
3Unless you count the mysterious inclusion of Agnes Bojaxhiu in chapter 20, which apparently we didn’t
4p. 41
5Intro, p. xix
6p. 123
7I guess I’m a couple of weeks late. Sorry!

November 10, 2017

Feel Like a Misfit at Church? You’re Not the Only One.

At the start of the year, I reviewed Brant Hansen’s first book with Thomas Nelson, Unoffendable, which deals with the subject of anger, and is ideally suited to anyone who has ever ‘lost it’ over a particular person or circumstance. You can read that review at this link.

Brant Hansen‘s second book with Nelson is important enough that I’m eventually going to devote another column to it here, but wanted to make you aware of it prior to the November 28th release in case you’re making a Christmas list. The title is Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something.

This book is for people

  • who are introverts
  • who deal with social anxiety; mental health issues
  • who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar)
  • who feel they are just different; they don’t see the world like everyone else does

and the people who love them because they’re a family member, close friend, co-worker, fellow-student, etc. It’s one of those books where the target readership is somewhat select — not to mention that it also deals with how such people can function in the body of Christ — so mention on blogs and social media and word-of-mouth will do much to help this book find its audience.

I’m about 65% in at this point — thoroughly enjoying it — and will post a full review here when it’s closer to the release date as well as reasons why this book is important to our family.

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.

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!

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.