Thinking Out Loud

October 4, 2015

What Is a Saint?

Eric Metaxas, in the introduction to the chapter on Saint Maria of Paris, in the new book Seven Women and the Secrets of Their Greatness (Nelson Books).

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness - Eric Metaxas[S]he was a poet who swam among the literary elites of St. Petersburg; then she managed her family’s award-winning wine estate on the Black Sea — and became the mayor of the town there. When the Russian Revolution made life impossible, she moved to Paris and became a nun. Finally, even as a nun she confounds our expectations: she smoked and drank. She did not live in a monastery but considered the whole world her monastery. She married twice, divorced twice, and had three children by two different men. Yet for all of this woman’s dramatically unorthodox behavior, the Orthodox Church recognizes her as a saint. Can we be blamed for being confused about this extraordinary woman?

In truth, it is precisely because of all these things that she commands our attention. Her life was messy and complicated, as most of ours are messy and complicated. By breaking every mold in which we would put her, she shows forth the beauty and the full-throated reality of the Christian life in a way that few in history have done.


Many of us are from religious traditions that do not confer sainthood, so the very notion is foreign to us. However scripture reminds us:

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

Eph 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.

The definition varies among denominations, but God is looking for people who live “set apart” to Him and for Him.  Even in the messiness of your life, you can live as such a saint.


The seven women featured in the book are: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks

January 9, 2015

Bible Overview Offers Interesting Premise

Regular readers here know that I choose the books I review, which means that I have an obvious bias before scanning the first page. Often, I am already familiar with the authors from their online work. Generally, you get the impression that I never met a book I didn’t like.

God's Story in 66 VersesBut this one was a bit frustrating. Stan Guthrie’s God’s Story in 66 Verses: Understanding the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book looked like it was going to be an interesting focus on some key passages, but I have to admit, I was taking the title (and subtitle) of the book very, very literally, so that once I got into the first few chapters, I felt I wasn’t getting what the book promised.

Yes, there are 66 chapters, running three to four pages each; and yes, each begins with a key verse from each book in the Protestant canon. But in providing context for these verses, many others are invoked and instead of commentary on the key verse, or why it means so much to the author, we are simply given a retelling of the story.

Of course that’s very important. Bible handbooks provide great overviews for people looking for a companion reference product. Honestly, I think everyone should have one lying around the house somewhere. (Haley’s Bible Handbook is a longtime bestseller; younger readers might enjoy Zondervan’s The Map.) This is especially helpful if your Bible is a basic text edition without chapter introductions, or you have a friend who is just starting out on their spiritual journey and say they already have a Bible, but you want to give them something to help them get started.

But one thing God’s Story… is not is a product presenting the Bible story arc as one, single unified story, despite the similarity of the title to another product line by the very same publisher. Rather, each chapter is discussed somewhat in isolation of the others, which on the plus side, means you can indeed use the book for reference, or read the chapters in any order. Perhaps that stands as a healthy contrast to the former type of product which seem to be proliferating rather quickly.

Of course, if your favorite verses match the ones contained here, then this is a great product for people who might be called upon to give a very short devotional talk on a verse that has been of great benefit to them over the years. Or if there’s one of the minor prophets you tend to skim over, this will draw you into the text and help you understand that book’s significance. (Reading lengths are somewhat equal: Nahum is given more space than Hebrews.)

Bottom line for me however was that the book offers a premise that it doesn’t deliver. It’s a great handbook, and bringing in the context provides a great set-up for the key verse that is inevitably reiterated in the reading, but the title left me expecting something more devotional.  Hey, maybe it’s just me.

So here’s my conclusion: 18-24 months from now Thomas Nelson will reissue this product under a different name. Getting to Know Every Book in The Book is my suggestion. And it will do even better under the second title, whatever is chosen.

Available now from Thomas Nelson, 240 pages, in paperback at $16.99 US

 

January 31, 2014

Thomas Nelson Accused of Spiritual Deception

WND Faith

A conservative writer at WND (World Net Daily) held nothing back yesterday in an full-blown attack levied at Thomas Nelson, an imprint now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. In an article titled Beware the Bookseller Pretending To Be Christian — more about that headline later — Jim Fletcher writes:

Back in the day, with its marketing angle that touted the company’s roots (the company began in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1798), one got the feeling that its books were trustworthy.

Guess not.

He continues,

Thomas Nelson has seemingly not cared about being too rigidly biblical in its offerings for some time, and the current list of authors/books is disturbing to anyone who would identify as a conservative Christian…

He then systematically works his way through attacks — some detailed and others off-the-cuff — at Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, Brad Lomenick, Richard Stearns, Ron Sider, Donald Miller, Judah Smith, Leonard Sweet, and Bob Roberts, Jr. It’s hard to imagine that there was anyone left on the author roster that Fletcher hadn’t lined up in his sights.

As the article builds to a crescendo he concludes:

…They remind me of those thoroughbred running backs in college and the NFL, the ones who feint this way and that, stopping defensive backs in their tracks.

But feinting can also mean one who intentionally deceives.

Deception.

Read the full article here.

It should be noted that whether you agree or disagree with the doctrinal state of Christian publishers in general, or Thomas Nelson in particular, WND editors committed a major blunder in creating the article’s headline. (Generally, writers do not choose their header.) The article is about the actions of a publisher, but the headline implies that booksellers — brick and mortar, or online — are complicit in spiritual deception, when perhaps they have simply trusted the Nelson brand over the years. Yes, local retailers try to practice discernment, but even in these scaled-back publishing times, they can’t be expected to read every book by every author.  

So what does an article like this accomplish, exactly? It’s certainly meant to be insightful and helpful, but it comes off like a rant. I don’t agree with every word that Rachel Held Evans or Donald Miller writes, but I do find sections of their books redemptive. To a younger generation, they represent a trend where key voices in the Christian blogosphere have graduated to print. And just as there are at least three major streams in the creation/origins debate, the fact remains that Christians hold different views on Israel/Palestine.

Instead, the rant reminds me so much of, “We’ll get Mikey to try it, he hates everything.” 

Or in this case, Jim.

The article’s tag line describes Fletcher as a book industry insider. With more than thirty years in the same business, I’d like to suggest that booksellers do indeed practice discernment. If you don’t like Thomas Nelson’s offerings, shop elsewhere, perhaps focusing on classic authors from past centuries. But I’ll bet the rent that there were books back then that were considered sketchy, a few of which are still around, but also bet that there are books today that just possibly could endure as long, and I think we’d all be surprised to see what’s still being read 50 or 100 years from now.

December 9, 2013

Currently Reading

I currently have four books on the go at once; one is already released, three are releasing in January.  I like to do full reviews only when I’ve completely finished each and only closer to the actual street date in stores. But I wanted to share some brief thoughts on each today.

Currently Reading 1

Futureville by Skye Jethani — Just as his first book, The Divine Conspiracy used the art of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif, this time around the Leadership Today editor looks at the anticipation for the future which American’s experienced at the outset of the 1939 World’s Fair, and shows that whatever we believe about the future is rooted in and shaped by the present. I’ll admit to some bias, but I believe Skye Jethani is one of the most important voices in the church today; a writer with a prophetic gift for telling it like it is. I’ve already read part of this book twice.

The Noticer Returns by Andy Andrews — This author has a gift for propelling the reader from chapter to chapter. The character known as Jones returns from the first book in the series, and Andy Andrews portrays himself in the story. So is this fiction or non-fiction? You decide. Either way, you’ll wish you had a ‘noticer’ speaking into your life. This title released in October.

How to Be Rich by Andy Stanley — This book summarizes material from different sermons the North Point Community Church pastor has used in introducing the church’s annual “Be Rich” campaign, which this year gave away over $4M U.S. to area service organizations. Unfortunately, the title is going to confuse some — it already has in my family — and lead to the impression this is a book on prosperity doctrine, when it fact it is all about being generous with the riches you’ve already been given.

Clout by Jennie Catron — The executive pastor of Cross Point Community Church was on the fast track to success in the Nashville music business until a merger and downsizing ended her dream. The book deals with seven things that can destroy ambition and dreams, and four things that can strengthen you as you reach toward personal objectives. Jennie Catron is a key writer on leadership issues for both women and men; there’s much similarity between her writing and that of Michael Hyatt. The book is published under the Nelson (business books) imprint.

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