Thinking Out Loud

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.

June 3, 2013

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Jesus

Jesus A TheographyThere are two things that are immediately striking about the book Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012). The first is the sheer scope of the work. While some books clearly are the product of a two week writing break, others earn to be called a “labor of love,” or earn the phrase, “represents the culmination of a lifetime of ministry.” This book fits into the latter camp and is the product of two authors who have spent untold hours in deep study of God’s word.

As a reviewer who prizes “rich text;” this is one of the richest books I have ever read, and any critical remarks I might make should be seen in the light of what is generally my highest recommendation. Truth be told, I have read about two thirds of this book out loud with my oldest son. While it slowed the reading time, it allowed me to process the material more fully, at the rate of half-a-chapter per night.  It also enhanced my appreciation of the final chapters which I read normally.  Jesus is definitely a book that delivers your money’s worth. You can’t read this book and not have a clearer picture of the Bible’s grand narrative.

The second thing that is immediately striking is the word theography in the title. The idea is that in trying to present the over-arching story of the Bible, most things printed are biography moving, as the authors say, “from womb to tomb.” The idea here is to look at Christ before and after the incarnation. This is an ambitious goal, and the two chapters most representative of this ambition were the only ones that disappointed, though I am continually interested in accessing books which deal with Christ before the manger — the pre-incarnate Christ — and deal with what the second person of the Trinity was doing before that Bethlehem morning. Ditto Christ’s present activity seated at the right hand of God.

This is a small matter however in a book where each page is full of illuminations, and in particular comparison passages where one aspect of what the writers call The First Testament is unmistakably linked to another in The Second Testament. Sometimes the insights simply involve a different way of expressing a familiar dichotomy; thus Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial is referenced as “Judas’ kiss and Peter’s kiss-off.”

There is also a trade off between the benefit of having two people craft the book who are already established and respected authors, and the tendency of the book to repeat itself in many places. Perhaps readers like me simply need to have some truths drilled in a little deeper.

The sixteen chapters of Jesus: A Theography break down the Christ story into chronological sections emphasizing the spiritual significance of every aspect of His life and ministry. This is truly a book like no other. I’ve seen some dissent online concerning the use of selective Bible translations to make a certain point fit, but we followed up in various texts from the various footnotes — there are 1,835 of them — and don’t feel that any verses were overly stretched to make a point. The authors have also gone out of their way to make dogmatic statements on any theological point which is contentious, making this a book for all Christian readers.

…To someone who mostly reads Christian fiction, I suspect that all doctrinal books look alike, but Jesus: A Theography is a volume like no other. This definitely fits in my top ten list of books I would want to be stranded on an island with. While not every reader will agree with every point this is definitely a book worth owning, underlining and filling with bookmarks. 

An excerpt from the book appears here at Christianity 201.


Jesus: A Theography is a book I truly wanted to read. When no review copy was forthcoming by the publisher after several requests, I purchased this copy with real money. TNI, you owe me one!

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