Thinking Out Loud

April 2, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Irresistible Grace

After falling for an April Fool’s Day prank yesterday — hope you enjoyed yesterday’s here — you may be overly cautious today, but as far as we know, everything below is legit.

Despite a submission guide at PARSE that allows writers to post additionally at their own sites, our Leadership Today overlords want you clicking from their site, thereby depriving me of stats. So if you see something you liked, leave a comment here or there; it’s the only way I know. Clicking anything below will take you first to PARSE.

While leaving no Christian internet news stone unturned, Paul Wilkinson also writes at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, and Twitter.

Devouring God's Word

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

March 28, 2013

Rob Bell Talks About God

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 am

Once you get past an extended section dealing with various disciplines of science, there are a couple of chapters in the middle of Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where he seems to be making a strong case for the centrality of God in every conversation, and when he says God, he’s clearly talking about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About GodBut if you’re expecting the evangelism to reach a crescendo in the final ten to twenty pages, Bell doesn’t exactly deliver. The ending is disappointingly soft. There’s certainly no organist playing “Just as I Am” behind the final paragraphs. So what are we left with?

We’re left with a book that I would be more than happy to have at least one atheist I know read. Yes, there are better books of Christian apologetics, but I don’t know if they would connect with those outside the inner circle as well as What We Talk About…  This book and all Bell’s book are now published under the HarperOne imprint, and  seem tailor-made for browsers in the religion section at Barnes and Noble in the US or Chapters in Canada. I have to say, he gets his audience.

We’re left with a book that — at least in the middle — contains sufficient allusions and direct quotes from scripture to place it safely within the Christian book genre. There were several pages I thought would fit in well at my devotional blog, were it not for the expected backlash.

We’re left with a book that generously acknowledges the range of religious belief in the marketplace, but chooses to deliberately focus on a faith rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Having said all that, this is not the book for the average Christian book reader. But if you want to think about faith from a different perspective, or you want to hone your own apologetics, I would suggest it’s far better to own a copy than to rely on those who criticize the book from the safe distance of never having skimmed a chapter.

If there’s someone in your household, your workplace, your neighborhood, your school or your extended family with whom you want to engage a deeper faith conversation, you should read this, and then pass on the copy to them to read. I guarantee it will get you both talking about what it is to talk about God.

March 18, 2013

Rob Bell Returns to Mars Hill Grand Rapids

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:23 am

To kick off his book tour for What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell returned to Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids last Sunday, and this week the sermon was posted online so the rest of us could experience it. 

Rob Bell 2013To his credit, although he was given complete freedom to speak about anything, he asked the church what their current sermon series was, and was told they were doing a “Seven Deadly Sins” series and if he wanted to jump in, he would draw the sermon on sloth. Yes, sloth. Nothing Bell has ever been accused of. He brings his own trademark stamp to this topic, albeit frequently returning to additional personal updates and references to his own enigmatic character.

He began with a story about failing his first attempt at a California driver’s license; the problem being his penchant for “questioning the questions.” Why does this not surprise me? Well, at least he’s consistent.

In the first part of the sermon, he discussed his recent journey; which I thought was probably considerate of people who have joined the church since his departure. If I can somewhat paraphrase his remarks, he stated that people want to talk about their brokenness, their personal struggles; but that as he was serious about treating these concerns the way Jesus would, he discovered that when we let these circumstances shape us, they become relevant to the larger question of what it means to be human. What next happens is that this type of discussion enlarges the circle of people who want to engage the topic, and you suddenly find yourself speaking to a much larger audience.

He also talked about the television project that he has under development and the live audience got to see a 90-second trailer for which we are at least treated to the audio soundtrack.

…I recognize that Bell is controversial and I don’t want to review the entire sermon — nor do I think people should do sermon reviews — so if you wish to listen, here is the link.  Just clicking the Mars Hill sermon page and hearing a Rob Bell sermon is like trying on an old pair of shoes! It runs about 43 minutes.

Also, I’m about a quarter of the way through the new book. I’m also reading another book concurrently, so this may take awhile, but I’ll have more comments next week.

December 12, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Ketzel The Cat Menorah
Happy 12-12-12

  • Ketzel The Cat Menorah can be ordered here and was discovered, with lots of other Hanukkah kitsch here. If you don’t know the story behind this symbol, read this.
  • Speaking of kitsch, I never thought the introduction this fall of Theologian Trading Cards — yes this really happened — would lead to people wanting to collect cards that have been autographed.
  • He seems a bit young, but someone has already written a Rob Bell biography.  Here’s another review of Rob Bell and a New American Christianity.
  • Mark Driscoll’s home state, Washington, recently legalized small-quantity possession of marijuana. He reflects on this, noting, “people tend to stop maturing when they start self-medicating.”
  • Di Jameikan Nyuu Testiment (the Jamaican New Testament) represents four years research work and US$350,000; funded by was the American Bible Society, Wycliffe Group of Companies, British and Foreign Bible Society, and Spring Harvest through the Bible Society of The West Indies. Read more about the Jiizas Buk here and here.
  • Jen Wilkin writes a must-read for parents on guarding Sabbath-rest for your children.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of someone buried in a glass-sided coffin especially here in North America just creeps me out; even if the guy was/is a saint.
  • Here’s a skillfully-written list by Rachel Held Evans of five things you don’t have to walk away from if you leave conservative fundamentalism.
  • If you show up on Wednesdays looking for pictures to use on your blog, you might want to get to know Catholic Memes (Facebook page) or Catholic Memes (website).
  • “In an irony of history, the time of spiritual preparation and silent waiting has become the busiest, most frenetic season of the year.” Read more from Philip Clayton.
  • Here’s an article I wrote a year ago about what was then the top news story for at least month, concerning a popular college football coach and his inappropriate relationships with kids too young to attend the college in question. It’s interesting to read this now that we know how the story ended.
  • And from exactly a year ago, Steven Furtick bats it out of the park at a Liberty Convocation. I am really enjoying this series.
  • A Jewish music preservation group sets out to make the definitive Hanukkah compilation and ends up with an album dripping with Christmas cheer.
  • And speaking of music, I don’t know who wrote this song, or who is singing, but it gets my award for most costume changes in a four-minute praise video. This had ‘zero views’ when I discovered it.


We Do Family

November 14, 2012

Wednesday Link List

These are some of the pages my browser history tells me I visited…

  • Married? So what about other opposite sex friendships? Here’s an answer you may or may not like. Check out the fifth video in this collection at Parchment and Pen. And the other videos, too.
  • An update from Heaven is for Real co-author and dad Todd Burpo on how life has changed, how it’s the same, and the movie version of the book.  
  • A longtime Baptist minister was beaten to death inside his church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Rachel Held Evans responds — at length — to Kathy Keller in particular and others in general on accurate Biblical interpretation as it affects her controversial new book. 
  • Martyr’s Prayer is a CD that is also available as a live concert featuring the music of Michael Glen Bell and Duane W. H. Arnold with guests, Phil Keaggy, Glenn Kaiser, Jennifer Knapp, Randy Stonehill, Kemper Crabb, Margaret Becker and others. Learn more here.
  • The picture at right represents my wife’s contribution to this week’s links. Click the image for source.
  • The link you’ll be forwarding to your friends: Someone takes a hidden camera inside Mormon Temple rituals.
  • Go deep: How the belief in annhiliationism diminishes the gospel message.
  • Bookmark this for later: Tyler Braun offers ten things to say to people who are mourning.
  • Another new video from Worship House Media: Check out every Christian cliché you’ve ever heard at Stuff Christians Say..
  • Tony Jones considers Shane Hipps a friend, so his brief review of Selling Water By The River is somewhat telling.
  • Tobymac opener Jamie Grace may be the world’s only musician with Tourette syndrome, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, echolalia, anxiety disorder — and a Grammy nomination. Read the interview.
  • Christianity Today is re-launching the Today’s Christian Woman brand.
  • Congratulations to Canada’s oldest gospel choir, The Toronto Mass Choir, on 25 years of making a joyful noise.
  • A year ago we visited The Likeable Bible — all your favorite verses to be sure — and a year later it’s still online.
  • Retro link to September: John Ortberg looks at the unparalleled life of Jesus in an excerpt from Who Is This Man?

If you’re a Wednesday-only visitor here, be sure to check out the Weekend Link List from Saturday.

July 24, 2012

Rob Bell: Exploring The Spirituality of Wonder

Yesterday’s comments here notwithstanding, I am all in favor of embracing the mystery of God. As we get several years on in this faith journey we tend to lose the element of awe and wonder.This is a short video, and reactions online — see below — have also been equally shorter — except for this guy who dissects it to the nth degree — the five below are among the few longer than a single sentence.

June 11, 2012

Church Governance Issues: Succession Plans

On the weekend I linked to the stories concerning the impeding departure of Darren Whitehead from Willow Creek in northwest Chicago and Shane Hipps from Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids.

When the subject of pastoral succession comes up, I usually dodge the question and instead discuss my personal pet peeve: Transition times.  I believe that churches of all sizes suffer greatly during the time between the moment the senior pastor leaves and his (it’s usually a ‘he’) replacement arrives; which can be a span of months or even years.

At the time I concluded,

Something; anything, has got to be better than the status quo way of doing things.

This time around I want to again somewhat dodge the question and look beyond the relatively simple  — or seemingly simple — task of choosing a successor to the present pastor; and look at the underlying cause of problems instead of the symptom.

My guess, and this is complete speculation on my point, is that somewhere in the back of his mind Rob Bell knew that some restlessness was stirring in his spirit when he invited Shane Hipps to join the staff.  Shane’s letter to his church family indicated that he inherited a role that was in part, customized to shape Rob Bell’s unique giftings and outside ministry to the larger Christian community. But when the church decided to retrench and return the pastoral role to something more traditional — albeit absent the actual sense of control that many pastors enjoy — Shane decided that this wasn’t the trip he signed up for.

Less speculative is that Bill Hybels — possibly the number one American pastor on the subject of leadership issues — had a clear sense of succession in mind when Gene Appel was hired as teaching pastor. But that didn’t quite work out. Then, out of the land down under, came Darren Whitehead.  I listened to podcasts of both men, and enjoyed the teaching ministry of both. But now Bill and the Creekers are back to square one where the role of teaching pastor — which is really one step away from being senior pastor — is concerned.

While I don’t know all the nuances of Mars Hill, I do know that Willow is not going to miss a beat as long as Bill Hybels keeps showing up for work on Monday morning. (Actually, he says he does his best writing in a nearby coffee shop.) He’s still there. There are lots of good people on staff. There are probably dozens of people in the church’s ‘farm team,’ (the Willow Creek Associates ministry network) that they are aware of. There are good men leading the satellite campuses.  And they — and to a similar extent Mars Hill — can call up just about anybody to speak on Sunday morning; people who would be thrilled to honor the invitation.

But what does your church do when there is no heir apparent?

Here’s how I would armchair quarterback this:

First, most of our local churches are far too personality oriented. We want to see the back corner church office — the one with the extra window and the larger desk — occupied. We need to get past the idea that church life revolves around a single individual. And I include myself in this; I need to think of North Point as North Point, not “Andy Stanley’s church;” I need to refer to Saddleback as Saddleback, not as “Rick Warren’s church.”

Second, we need to see succession as an ongoing process; not something that surfaces in urgency at the moment a resignation letter is issued. I alluded to the ‘farm team’ earlier, and certainly any professional sports team is always scanning the horizon to see who is upcoming through the ranks and who is setting records on other teams. So also local church leadership needs to have in view the people who God is using.

Third, especially in medium and smaller churches, we need to empower the laity.  I don’t care how small your church is; right now there’s a layperson in your church who is capable of doing a sermon next Sunday, and it would actually be a pretty good sermon, too.  This means that a pastoral vacancy, when it happens, is just that, a vacancy, not a crisis of national emergency proportions.

Fourth, we need to periodically do some teaching ministry cross-pollination among our churches. The notion of a “pulpit exchange” has become all but antiquated, but we need to allow congregations — from the largest megachurches to the smallest chapels — the privilege of hearing different voices.  Many pastors are afraid to surrender their pulpit on Sunday morning; instead, the exchange notion should be ritualized; and I hold up  the 5th Sunday of every third month as a possible day for it to take place.

Finally, we need to look at our own scriptures and borrow a chapter or two from Israel’s history and consider the possibility of co-regency.  Many of our Bible timelines are messed up, and our apparent “Bible contradictions” exist because of a failure to understand how some of the Jewish nation’s kings actually ruled as co-regents.  The idea of a “senior pastor,” “teaching pastor,” and “executive pastor,” is an attempt to divide the pastoral role in a larger church so that the absence of a single individual doesn’t cause a collapse of sustained ministry or future visioning.

Too many churches are weakened by not having a vision of what the church is going to look like in two years; in five years; in a decade. These are critical times for the church in the western world, and we do ourselves and God’s Kingdom a great disservice when we don’t bring our best to the church leadership table.

Personnel will change; God will call people to new fields; we need to allow the same Holy Spirit that is leading pastors to also lead local church leaders.

February 1, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Ideas are always welcomed, but I’d especially like to hear from people who are in touch with electic Christian bloggers from outside North America. 

As for the drum kit (above) the blog where I sourced it (click image) says it’s claimed to be the largest drum set in the world by a church in New York state.  Can someone verify this?

  • Okay, I can’t say I’ve read every single word, but this exhaustive article on the subject of tithing is probably the best I’ve seen — author and Canadian financial consultant Leo De Siqueira really poured himself into this — but you have to read  all  three  parts.
  • Despite the popularity of the recent TV series “Big Love” and the current Broadway hit, “The Book of Mormon,” a Reuters special report quotes Mormon leaders admitting that people are currently “leaving the church in droves.” Apparently all the pop-culture attention is a double-edged sword.
  • The news story playing out about an hour down the road from where we live — involving the ‘honor killings’ of four family members — got worldwide coverage this week, and Get Religion looks closely at press coverage both in and outside Canada.
  • A tarp now covers a prayer in a high school auditorium after a federal judge ruled its presence unconstitutional; … a poem a seventh-grader wrote in 1963 that begins with the words “Our Heavenly Father”  Karen Spears Zacharias sees an irony involving the 16-year old who brought the complaint.
  • Jeff Bethke, the guy who did the viral video, Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus (now at 18,000,000 views) is back with Sex, Marriage and Family. “You might share a checkbook and a house, but are you actually friends?”
  • If The Shoe Fits Department: At least one Roman Catholic blogger thought the Bethke video was directed at his denomination, and filmed a response. Then he disabled comments, though a few got through.
  • Call me old fashioned, but you just don’t expect to see “Allah” in a scripture translation project sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators.  But before Jack VanImpe is all over this, let’s hear the explanation.
  • If you go to a certain ministry job-finding site, the greatest need right now is for worship pastors. But Jim Greer thinks we’re putting too much emphasis there and advancing the wrong paradigm.
  • Meanwhile, Willow Creek (and former Mars Hill Grand Rapids) worship guy Aaron Niequist as released A New Liturgy. Brad Lomenick introduces the project and its promo video.  If you already know Aaron’s music, check out (and download) Liturgy #2.
  • Pete Wilson sits down with Will, a friend and neighbor, who describes living with the consequences of childhood sexual abuse.
  • When times get tough and the pews get barren, the church gets resourceful, but blogger Josh Rhone thinks they’re taking The MacGyver approach to church.

    Wednesday List Lynx arrives late to the party

  • In the modern church, especially the American megachurch, kids are conspicuously absent, doing their own thing in a Kid Min program.  But that doesn’t fit every situation, hence the need for the Messy Church template.
  • Brett Harrison explains carefully his decision about his tattoo, which, for the record, he didn’t actually get yet.  (Not sure about the one he wants to give his 2-year old,  though.)
  • Kerri Weems offers some fasting recipes.  Wait a minute, I’m confused, isn’t that a contradiction?
  • Speaking of food, while Christianity Today isn’t switching to a format featuring restaurant reviews, they do pay a visit to The King’s Kitchen in Charlotte, NC.
  • Meanwhile, in other part of the galaxy: This is Your Wake Up Call Online is the website of Chief Inspiration Officer, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie. Research it and get back to me, okay?
  • The graphic below originates with the photoblog Spiritual Inspiration. There are some you can use on your blog or Facebook page which are perhaps better quality than the one I chose, but I was really struck by the quotation.

November 10, 2011

Mr. Driscoll, I Think You’re a Little Inconsistent

Filed under: ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

We can think ourselves so right at doctrine and yet get it so wrong when it comes to ethics. I’m glad this didn’t make the link list yesterday, because I really want you to read all of it; in fact I secretly wish I’d written it. This is from Dana at Upwrite, and the link will repeat at the end for you to comment there…

Over the last few days, I have read two lengthy articles by Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle. One article was about yoga and the other about MMA fighting (both accessible on his website).  Essentially, Driscoll is addressing the question of Christian participation (whether actively or as spectator) in these two activities.

And all of it was ridiculous.

Okay, let me set forth my biases right away. I am not a Calvinist. I don’t dig Reformed theology. In fact, I find most of it abhorrent. I am more egalitarian than complementarian. I just am SO theologically opposite of Driscoll.


I think he is a brilliant communicator, a theologically consistent preacher, and a remarkable leader. And I’ve subscribed to his podcasts for years.  One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Driscoll is his consistency. His theology is consistent (even when I hate it). His teaching is consistent. His work is consistent. And then he goes and writes two articles that are SO ridiculously inconsistent!  I’m seriously surprised and disappointed.

Basically, his argument goes like this:
Christians should not practice yoga because it is rooted in Eastern religion and the physical practice can’t be separated from its religious roots.

Christians are free to embrace MMA, even though it’s brutally violent and also rooted in Eastern philosophy/religion, because the physical sport can be separated from the religious roots and Jesus is the ultimate fighter.

Am I the only one that sees the problem with this?

Really, it’s just further evidence of Driscoll’s heavy-handed hypermasculinity. Is anyone shocked that he would “receive” MMA but “reject” yoga? I don’t care how about the injury rate compared to other sports, the strict rules, or anything else. At the end of the day, shame on us, as Christians, if we are at all entertained by bloody, brutal violence, whether in the ring, cage, or elsewhere!  Oh wait. My bad. Shame on us, as Christians, if we stretch, exercise, breathe and meditate.


So what we’re gonna do here is close comments so that you can address this on her blog.  (Tell her we sent ya.)  BTW, MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts.  And so you know if you go to the blog, where she references WTF, that stands for the World Theological Federation.  Or something.

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