Thinking Out Loud

November 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

First, because nothing speaks to the advent of our Lord’s coming better than Hello Kitty:

Hello Kitty Advent Calendar

Just one month today until the jolly fat man (not John Hagee) comes to visit.

Our closing graphic is dedicated to whoever does PowerPoint at your place of worship:

Bad Slide Spacing

November 18, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The Cup That Stole Christmas

Of course, there are probably things more important than coffee cups we should be concerned about…

…Time to kick off another edition of the news roundup where other news roundups get their news roundups, unless they get it from another news roundup or don’t borrow from another news roundup… 

…But first, we’re pleased to note another great match on Tinder:



Actual photo of one Christian bookstore's recommended shoebox items: Operation Christmas Child, saving the world one piece of cheap, useless, breakable crap at a time.

Actual photo of one Christian bookstore’s recommended shoebox items: Operation Christmas Child, saving the world one piece of cheap, useless, breakable junk at a time.

Time to close in prayer:

Kids Praying


August 6, 2015

Best of the Blog

Here are three articles from this time three years ago.

•All Bible Verses are Equal, But Some are More Equal than Others

When it was released in 2011, I expected a bigger reaction to The People’s Bible, a new NIV Bible format that places the verses in a font sized based on the volume of traffic for that verse at After all, we place some verses in red if they were spoken by Jesus; soul-winner Bibles come with “Romans Road” type passages already underlined; Key Word Study Bibles only provide the Strong’s Greek or Hebrew index number for selected words3218 in a sentence; so why not highlight popular verses in bigger type?

Do you think this has merit, or is this Bible destined to remain a bit of a fringe product?

•How to Spot Pentecostals and Charismatics

This was printed in 1978 by Jesus Outreach Ministries in Fairmont, West Virginia. I don’t believe any sarcasm was intended, rather they were trying to make the Charismatic environment more user-friendly for visitors. I only deleted the bottom section because the person who gave it to me had written on it.

•Kyle Idleman on Identifying Your True Idols

On July 15, 2012 at Southeast Christian Church, Kyle Idleman asked the congregation a series of questions that are worth considering:

The answer to these questions points to what might be God’s primary competition in our lives:

  1. What are you most disappointed with? or What do you complain about the most?
  2. What do you sacrifice your time and money for?
  3. What do you worry about?
  4. Where do you go when you get hurt; when life is hard? or Where do you go for comfort?
  5. What makes you mad, angry?
  6. What brings you the most joy?
  7. Whose applause do you long for?

December 23, 2014

Calvinist Manifesto

Filed under: Church, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:54 am

Recently unearthed, or it should have been:


“Our goal is to completely dominate Christian publishing and internet media so that anyone, searching out any topic related to scripture or Christian living will land on one of our publications from one of our authors connected to one of our churches which is linked to our parachurch and conference organizations; and all quotations contained therein will be from the ESV.”

I want to continue where I left off yesterday. Consider this a two-part year-end rant.

I don’t mind if people want to believe differently on issues such as Bible translations, women in ministry, eschatology (end times), whether children should partake of the communion elements, the role of the laity in church life, or a host of other subjects. God knew what he was doing and his divine providence, he seems to have left a variety of things open to interpretation. Working out your salvation seems to involve a certain amount of thinking.

What I object to is the attitude that overshadows everything else when it comes to certain denominational tribes.

The problem with being so preoccupied with being right, is that it comes across Pharisaical, or to put it another way, not very Christ-like.

But all that is symptomatic. There’s also the issue of the underlying cause.

Here’s what I think: Some people simply want to be in control.

The nice thing about having God in a box is that once you have God all figured out, in a sense Christian growth has been achieved, the only thing left at that point is to amass further knowledge. When everything is word-based instead of Spirit-led, you end up simply wanting more words, more background, more truth, more axiomatic principles; and then there is no place for experience, no room for the Holy Spirit.

This then manifests itself in different ways, especially in print and online, and one of those is a very troll-like attitude, where there is, as we showed yesterday, a quote from an author you regard as outside your particular fence, and, like the proverbial kid with the finger who wants to test the ‘Wet Paint’ sign, you simply can’t leave it alone.

You have to defend the brand at all costs.

And you have to be seen as a brand defender.

And you have to re-post every article or book excerpt by the other brand-defenders because then you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

My point here is this: Try to identify this when you see it and resist the temptation to become absorbed into this mindset, resist the tendency to end up becoming like them.

Having God all wrapped up may look enticing. Having a God you somewhat control may be self-satisfying. But eventually, God breaks out of the box and you’re left with the wrapping paper strewn all over the floor. Because you never should have tried to contain him.


November 4, 2014

Buying Someone a Bible – Part 3 – Translations

Cartoonist Wes Molebash at The Junia Project website (Sept 2013) (Click image for Wes’ site, Insert Image.)

bible wars



As we mentioned yesterday, usually the first question you ask someone considering a Bible purchase involves trying to qualify which translation they might be interested in. The best way to ask this is, Who is it for? In other words, you want to be told as much as possible about the end user. Young or old? First time Bible reader? Other translations they own? Type of church they attend? Is English their first language?

Much has already been written online about the two broader approaches to translation: Dynamic equivalence and formal correspondence. Lately, some clever marketers have blurred those lines with some new terminology designed to capture interest from those on both sides of the discussion.

While one approach is often termed word for word and the other is thought for thought, really the question is this: To what extent do you retain some of the original forms, and to what extent can you break out of those forms and express the same concept the way we speak today? The challenge is that some of those original forms contain allusions to other Bible passages and you don’t want to rob the Bible of its beauty and symmetry. On the other hand, you don’t want to have to reduce explanations to footnotes, so sometimes just saying things in contemporary language is best. (But then you often find yourself including the historic or literary tie-ins in footnotes instead.)

So today, rather than look at translations in those terms, I’d like to think of them in clusters.

Traditional – Really, with more than 400 years of history, the KJV is in a class by itself here. The person you’re buying one for would have to really be expecting it, or in a church situation where nothing else is permissible.

Formal – With similar syntax and a name association, the New King James Version (NKJV) would fit this category and is still popular in some circles. But so also would the New American Standard Version (NASB), a rigid but accurate translation that is a favorite among Evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges.  (See also this article.)

Popular – The New International Version (NIV) is still considered the best-selling English translation and with an update in 2011, isn’t going away any time soon. For Mainline Protestants and some Roman Catholics, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is the translation of choice.

Contemporary – Aimed at the same market that reads the NRSV, the new Common English Bible (CEB) is gaining popularity. Gaining on the NIV is the New Living Translation (NLT), especially among younger Christians. Despite its age, Today’s English Version (TEV, also called Good News Bible or GNT) is still preferred by some readers.

Creative – When The Message was first published with its use of idiomatic language and stripping away of verse numbers, it attracted a lot of attention. Today, The Voice Bible is the choice for those who want something edgy, with everything presented in a dramatic (play script) format.  Of course, for those who want to color outside the lines, The Amplified Bible (AMP) has been around for several decades now with its alternative words in brackets. A recent copycat translation, The Expanded Bible offers similar options.

Evangelical Denominations – You’ll find many Baptists gravitating toward the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and Reformers and Calvinists choosing the English Standard Version (ESV). The translation philosophy for both is somewhat similar to NASB, with a reluctance to make any risky changes to the text as many learned it in the KJV.

Catholic – The New American Bible (NAB, not to be confused with NASB) is the one most identified with the Catholic Church, but you’ll also find interest in the Catholic editions of the Good News Translation (GNT or TEV), the NRSV, and The Jerusalem Bible.

Easy to Read – The New Century Version (NCV) uses a very basic vocabulary but without seeming childish.  The New International Readers Version (NIrV) uses a more choppy sentence structure, but is well-suited to people for whom English is a second language.

Children – The two Bibles in this category are actually the same as in the section above. The NCV is marketed as the International Children’s Bible (ICB), while the NIrV is issued as a part of various branded series that lead the kids into reading a regular NIV. Also doing well in Children’s editions is a more obscure translation known as God’s Word (GW).

Worth NotingThe Story is a Bible story book for adults showing the larger story arc of the Bible in a single narrative. The Kingdom New Testament is a NT written by popular Bible scholar N.T. Wright. And speaking of NT editions, people still seek out The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips.

Unfortunately, in many respects this article is not as useful as yesterday’s piece about features, as if some of these are of interest, you’ll have to investigate them elsewhere.  Passage comparison at sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub and Blue Letter Bible are a good place to begin. Hopefully this has at least helped you narrow down your search.  Bible translation selection is both a science and an art, and many people have a lot of emotional investment in particular Bible versions. In many respects, perhaps it is better that we put the features explanations first, as you might want to simply select the features you want, and then explore which translations offer those particular editions.

For further reading:


October 21, 2014

The Protestant Kid and The Crucifix

Yes, this is the third time around for this column, but it’s been four years…

When I was in the sixth grade, my friend Jimmy Moss and his family moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where he later decided that his life calling was to enter the priesthood.

I have never seen Jimmy since. I doubt very much he goes by ‘Jimmy’ now. “Father Jimmy?” Okay, it’s possible.

crucifixJimmy’s family were Catholic. I know that because we had several discussions about it. Not so much Jimmy and I. Mostly my parents and I. It was considered necessary that I know a little about this particular take on Christianity should it ever come up.

Later on, I decided to check it out firsthand. Much later on. I think I was in my mid-twenties when I first attended a mass. I was working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Toronto at the time, and there was another girl in the office who also had never been to a mass, and so we both agreed that on the next weekend we would attend a mass.

I remember several things about that mass. It was the middle of summer and the sermon was short. If there was one at all. If there was, I can tell you the announcements took up more time. It seemed like we were in and out of there in about twenty minutes. In truth, it couldn’t have been much more than twenty-five.

I didn’t know where to turn in the missal to follow the order of service. Someone nearby spotted my confusion and informed me we were in “the sixteenth Sunday of ordinary time,” or something like that. But they were flipping back and forth between different sections of the missal, which didn’t help.

I also remember the guy standing at the back reading a copy of the tabloid Sunday paper. I don’t think he ever looked up from the sports pages. I was later informed that “being there” was paramount. It was important to attend apparently, even if your heart wasn’t in it. Just show up.

Which would explain the guy who was wet. The way I figured it, he must have lived directly across the road from the church. He had jumped out of his backyard pool, donned the minimal amount of clothing, and joined the newspaper reader at the back of the sanctuary. He was the one dripping water droplets on the floor. Really.

I didn’t go forward to “receive the host,” i.e. take communion. But I tried my best to sing the two hymns. And I knew the words to repeat the “Our Father.” And my reflexes were quick enough not to launch into, “For Thine is the kingdom…”

Most evangelicals have never been to a mass. Nearly twenty-five years later, I would attend again. Once every quarter century. I guess that makes me a nominal Catholic.

…Anyway, I was often invited into Jimmy’s home. I remember several things about it all these years later. The first was that if I stayed for supper, Jimmy and his two brothers had to wash their hands before and after meals. That was new to me, then, but it’s a practice I’ve adopted recently since discovering the world of sauces and salad dressings. A good meal is one where I leave with sticky fingers that require a rinse.

crucifix2The second was the presence of crucifixes. I think they were spread throughout the house; but the memory may be of general religious icons; there may have only been the one at the front door.

This was a Catholic home. That was communicated to every guest, every salesman, every one of the kid’s friends. I couldn’t avert my eyes. Jesus was there on the cross, and he didn’t look happy.

We didn’t have a crucifix in our home. Crosses in my evangelical world were distinctly sans corpus, a phrase I just made up mixing French and Latin. As kids in Sunday School we were told that Catholics have crucifixes and Protestants don’t. I wonder sometimes if it would have been good if we had one.

(Which reminds me of the Catholic child who entered a Protestant house of worship for the first time, and seeing a cross at the front of the sanctuary, blurted out “What have they done with the little man?”)

For Christmas 2009, the Gregg Gift Company brought out some kind of ornament for the front hall that says, “This Home Believes.” I don’t think one’s expression of belief should be reduced to a sign, or that a sign should be expected to carry the burden of verbal witness, but I often wonder if we should have something at our front door — like the Mezuzah on Jewish homes — that alerts guests, salesmen and friends that “This is a Christian home;” preferably something that contains in its iconography the unmistakable message of the core of Christianity.

Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a crucifix.

September 25, 2014

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

I’ve written about this before, but was reminded again after reading an article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, the newest page launched a few days ago by Christianity Today. He called it, Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

It begins:

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.

I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


August 13, 2014

Wednesday Link List

God has no phone but I talk to him

Control the WeatherTime to dust off the flannel graph, test the cassette deck and warm up the filmstrip projector as another season of ministry kicks off. As for that book cover on the right, there’s no link because…well…someone might actually click through and buy one.

Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and edits Christianity 201, the latter of which is always looking for submissions.

May 21, 2014

Wednesday Link List

John Wesley quotation

Out of several hundred potential links, these were some things that got my attention this week. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the list’s owner, a blog of Leadership Journal in the Christianity Today family. From there, click the stories you want to see.

When not hunting down links for you, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, and Christian Book Shop Talk.

March 23, 2014

“We are the final arbiters of what God can use.”

Yesterday I made the mistake of wading in to the comment section of a blog which was very dismissive of a recently-released Christian film. The movie takes on a rather difficult subject and involves some doctrinal positions on which all might not agree. But ultimately, it’s a story of a young man’s courage in the face of spiritual opposition and his willingness to attempt to rise to the challenge and defend his faith in God’s existence.

The blog in question was agreeing with another blog that had totally dismissed the film. Completely. No redeeming qualities. Nothing of worth. I wrote,

…I can easily imagine a demographic who would be greatly encouraged by it, especially pre-university students.  It is, after all, the stuff youth group movies are made of.

And in that sense, this particular picture follows a long line of similar films. Not perfect. Definitely flawed. Scenes we would have written differently. Characters that might have been more developed. A plot line that seems contrived.

But isn’t that the basis of all Christian fiction? Doesn’t each novel begin with a plot contrivance that moves the story along? Aren’t all Christian novels and movies likely candidates for debate as to their spirituality?

I then wrote,

This type of review is simply all too-dismissive, and that’s where credibility is lost. Apparently there is absolutely nothing redeeming in this film. I totally get the reviewers concerns — perhaps the script is indeed rather lame in several places — but within the range of English communication there’s got to be a way to express those caveats that is less dogmatic, less damning.

And then I got attacked.

I should say that I have seen a couple of different previews of the film, so my remarks were not made in a vacuum, but I made the mistake of conceding I had not seen the full production, and that only provided a further opening.

And then I just felt sad.

I should never have commented on this particular blog. I am clearly an outsider. I am an outsider because I don’t go along with the party line, I don’t add my “like” the established consensus.

I think for myself.

I covered a lot of this fifteen months ago in a piece called Protect the Brand at all Costs. I guess I just needed a reminder of what I wrote at that time:

What I have issues with is … bloggers who only read their own authors, only quote their own leaders, only attend their own conventions, basically now only use their own Bible translation, and — this is actually happening — only sing their own songs.  I have written before how a previous generation longed to see a coming together of The Body of Christ in unity and now we are seeing increased fragmentation. And this fragmentation even extends to exclusivity, which is a mark of cult faith. And the printed and online output by Calvinists is so out of proportion to their actual numbers that they tend to dominate everyone’s lists of best books and best blogs.  Basically, a doctrinal preference has become a fortress wall.

There was a link to a review of the movie that raises the serious concern that the apologetics used in the film are weak and won’t withstand criticism in the real world. I can see that only because I see that happening in all our apologetic attempts. Some of our best books and many of our best arguments do have vulernabilities. That’s why someone so correctly observed that ‘it’s not any one argument that wins over skeptics, seekers, atheists and agnostics, it’s all the arguments combined.’

But to dismiss another person’s offering of their best to God in the form of what was no doubt a costly and time-consuming project is to me even more dangerous. As I learned in church this morning, there is a difference between judging and passing judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5, Romans 2:1)

The latter reference reads this way in The Message Bible:

1-2 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

Defend your own brand if you feel you must. But don’t call another man’s work trash.

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