Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2019

The Best Christian Books Amplify the Bible’s Message

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

I didn’t realize I might want to mention this book here on the blog, or I might have taken some notes! The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with The Reign of God by pastor and theology professor Darrell W. Johnson was given to me by the staff of Regent College Publishing while we were in Vancouver.

Back home, I read the book’s 160 pages in just a single day. Eight beatitudes, ten chapters, total. Eloquently presented.

But now, ten days later, as I see the cover peering out among others on my coffee table, I can’t help but think that this is the best of what a Christian Living (the category in which Christian booksellers file the greatest number of titles) title should be all about.

I realize I say this occasionally, perhaps too often, but if someone was a recent convert and this was their first opportunity to read a Christian book, I would want it to be something like this; something which on a very accessible level says, ‘Okay, you’ve read the text before, you know it’s from The Sermon on the Mount, but now we’re going to look deeper and you’re going to see all manner of things you hadn’t considered.’

And then, in response, I would expect that young-in-faith reader to think, ‘If something like this can be produced out of just a single section of Matthew 5, then there must be thousands of layers of depth and insight that can be discovered in other Biblical texts.’

They would be right. 

One fun thing about the book is Johnson’s dealing with the repeated word, blessed. He offers, “Right on” are the poor in spirit, or those that mourn, and frequently reverts to, “You lucky bums!” That took some getting adjusted to!

The book ends with ten sets of questions for group study.

As I said, had I known I was going to write this, I might have written some things down, but for now, suffice it to say that this is the type of book which got me interested in Christian books, in later distributing them, and selling them; and then much later writing about them online.

 

August 28, 2017

Media that Wasn’t Meant for Christian Insiders

A typical Friday night or Saturday night at my house might consist of sitting by the computer and spinning the giant YouTube wheel. This past weekend, the wheel spun to songs from the musical Godspell.

When I was very young, myself and my friend Cliff boarded a Toronto city bus and rode for forty minutes to the Bayview Playhouse to see the production that some others at our school were talking about, having seen it on previous nights. Despite growing up in church, I had minimal exposure to live music at a professional level and the quality of the band, the singers, and even the lighting and sound was certainly impressive. It didn’t hurt that the cast and musicians included Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas, and Martin Short, and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer.

But while I wouldn’t have articulated this way at the time, I can also report with great clarity that two things struck me that night.

First was the Jesus story itself. I had never before seen the story arc of the four gospels in a single presentation. Years of Sunday School suddenly came to life! You can’t make this stuff up. It’s awesome. I keep coming back to the phrase “If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” (Philip Yancey attributes this to Walter Wink; though Voltaire, with an entirely different motive, said something similar.) The life of Christ; the teachings; the miracles; the conversations with seekers and critics; it’s all — if I can be permitted this indulgence — the making of great theater.

Second however was the power of contemporary music to convey the Jesus story. I think that night planted the seeds which would cause me to go on to become an ambassador for what was to be called “Jesus Music” and later became known as “CCM” or “Contemporary Christian Music;” and to want to do this in a country where Christian radio, as well as access to the artists and recordings were basically non-existent.

But Godspell had its critics among Evangelicals.

Problem One: The musical originated outside of the Evangelical bubble. How could Christians support something that wasn’t composed by one of their own. John Michael-Tebelak, who wrote the spoken parts of the play describes being overwhelmed by the joy found in the Gospels and decides to attend an Easter Vigil at a nearby church. “I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on. I went home, took out my manuscript, and worked it to completion in a non-stop frenzy.” Jewish composer Stephen Schwartz wrote the music.

Problem Two: Jesus was seen as being portrayed as a clown. This assessment is clearly off-base. If anything, the costume used with most touring companies more resembles the look of Robin Williams as Mork from Ork. The idea was to capture the joy the playwright in the previous quotation found lacking. To this day I have never seen this choice of wardrobe as in any way diminishing the character of Jesus, though if it were historically accurate, Jesus would have stood out in a crowd in ways the texts indicate he did not.

Problem Three: There is no resurrection. Wikipedia elaborates:

The “Finale” begins, loud and in B-minor, with Jesus wailing, “Oh, God, I’m dying,” and the community answers: “Oh, God, You’re dying.” Jesus dies and the music comes to a rest. The women of the company sing “Long Live God”, and the men join in with “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” in counterpoint, as they remove Jesus from the fence and carry him out (either offstage or through the aisles of the auditorium). There is controversy over the fact that there is no obvious resurrection of Jesus present in the show, although it can be interpreted that either the singing of “Prepare Ye” in the finale or the curtain call (where all including Jesus return to the stage) is representative of the resurrection…

Stephen Schwartz notes the following in the script:

Over the years, there has been comment from some about the lack of an apparent Resurrection in the show. Some choose to view the curtain call, in which JESUS appears, as symbolic of the resurrection; others point to the moment when the cast raise JESUS above their heads. While either view is valid, both miss the point. GODSPELL is about the formation of a community which carries on JESUS’ teachings after he has gone. In other words, it is the effect JESUS has on the OTHERS which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected. Therefore, it is very important at the end of the show that it be clear that the OTHERS have come through the violence and pain of the crucifixion sequence and leave with a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings they have learned during the course of the show

(This is also as cited in Wikipedia: CapsLock as in the original)

Again, I can’t say how much the musical means to me on a personal level. On that one night, I saw the power of music to convey the Christian message, and this exposure partly set the trajectory of my entire life. But as I was brushing my teeth on Saturday night, two thoughts hit me.

First: Godspell wasn’t written for Christians. It wasn’t even supposed to be that successful, at least where I live. In Toronto, the plan was to hire local performers and produce a few dozen shows for subscribers. Instead, the show moved up to the Bayview Playhouse where I saw it, setting what was then a record run of nearly 500 performances.

Second: I think this is where I get my love for media that is capable of starting conversations with people in the broader marketplace who would never set foot in a church. Those media vehicles we sometimes describe as “crossover” in nature, even if some of them didn’t originate with us in the first place.

  • This is why I like Godspell.
  • This is why I endorse The Shack.
  • This is why I defend the sermons of Andy Stanley.
  • This is why I review and quote from Rob Bell.
  • This is why I refer people to Bruxy Cavey’s church.

When someone is willing to take the message out there and do it in a way that resonates and find an audience with the secularist, the humanist, the cynic, the skeptic, the critic, the seeker, the sinner; at that point I’m on board. “Go for it;” I’m cheering, “Rough edges and all.”


The song All Good Gifts had a rather operatic (and choral) sound when first released. Compare with the 2nd clip below, a more modern version.

The video clip below is from a newer cast.

 

 

 

 

December 23, 2009

Link Letter

Art Linkletter was famous for doing something on TV, but I can't remember what

You’ll never know unless you click on these links, right Art?

  • I never thought the day would come when I’d link to John MacArthur’s blog, but he does a good job of separating out the nuances between “Word-Faith” doctrine and “Prosperity Gospel;” perhaps as only a non-Pentecostal can do.   All this follows the passing last week of Oral Roberts, and is a rebuttal to a (linked) Christianity Today article by Ted Olsen.   Check it out at Grace to You.
  • Speaking of Prosperity Gospel, and how it raises lifestyle expectations, The Atlantic magazine asks the question in a lengthy, in-depth article, “Did Christianity Cause The Crash?”

    Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s,…precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures… Zooming out a bit,…most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. … “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches…pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.

    Read the whole article here.

  • New Blog of the week:  Redeem the Time by David Mercier.
  • Rob Bell item of the week:  “Christians Shouldn’t Fear Controversy Over Doctrine” by Drew Nichter at Associated Baptist Press.
  • Quote of the week: “Good preaching is like a belly button, every person has their own idea of just what it should look like.”  – One of several observations by Clint Cozier, who marks the occasion of the end of his Presbyterian pastorate in Grand Rapids by starting a blog.
  • YouTube video of the week:  “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the online sensation, Pomplamoose Music.   The music’s great; the video itself is excellent.    If you like it, which you will, you can check out “Always in the Season” at this link which is a combo music video and World Vision fundraiser.  (It means “grapefruit” in French.)
  • Speaking of Christmas, why are the genealogies of Jesus in Luke and Matthew so different?   Grant Osborne answers that one in “Who Was Jesus’ Grandfather?” at Christianity Today.
  • Wanna see if you could make the cut for your church’s handbell choir?   Handbell Hero is the liturgical version of Guitar Hero.  Okay, look at the first four keys of center row of your keyboard:  A, S, D, F.   Those are your bells.   Ready?  Click here.
  • YouTube runner up:  The Amazing Grace House. The display has 50,000 lights and is computer controlled by 180 channels.  (I think this was done last year, too; but this is a new video.)
  • Congratulations to Stephy at the blog, Stuff Christian Culture Likes which is now part of Beliefnet.
  • By the way, just to update you — especially our Canadian readers — our iKettle got a couple of direct donations yesterday that bypassed the site, and were picked up by the Salvation Army yesterday.  They totaled $250, which brings us to $380, but still $620 short of our $1,000 goal.   You can still donate (securely) here.
  • Some of the blogs with larger readership are ‘monetized,’ that is to say, they make money because they accept advertising.    The key to this has been the Beacon Ad Network, and your organization or business can reach 450,000 blog readers (guaranteed!) by clicking here.

HT: Pomplamoose at Zach’s.

Today’s cartoon is another from Jon Birch at ASBO Jesus.  Click the image to link the site.

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