Thinking Out Loud

February 1, 2022

John Mark Comer on Culture Non-Conformity

The phrase has grown antiquated.

The seven-letter phrase was standard in Evangelical preaching in the mid-20th Century: “The world, the flesh, and the devil.” It was the stuff of spiritual warfare seminars, revival meetings and Pentecostal preaching. And then, like some other words and phrases, it became outmoded.

That is, until Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace by John Mark Comer (Waterbrook, 2021), though this time around, the order is reversed and Comer considers “the devil, the flesh and the world,” and in ways the seminar leader, revival leader and Pentecostal preacher of days gone by might not recognize.

Like his previous work, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer is all about awakening people to recognize the ways in which they have become conformed to popular culture. Or trapped by it. Or enslaved to it. As much as I wanted to review that book when it released, as a regular listener to online sermons at Bridgetown Church in Portland where, until recently, Comer was lead pastor, I’ve heard much of the sermon material which gave birth to both books and the link between them is so strong, I can’t help think there’s got to a third book to complete the trilogy.

But Comer’s methodology is always somewhat subversive. What if you, while taking a firm stand against popular culture and the hold it has on people, were to quote the culture’s own poets, authors, playwrights, and spokespeople? It’s not a new idea, Jesus and Paul walked that road before, and unless you’re extremely conversant on things written by academics, trend-spotters and cultural analysts, you’re going to indirectly hear from voices which are new to you.

But what if you don’t believe in the devil?

Comer is very charitable toward readers who are in a different space. He’s created a book that you could hand to that non-church-attending neighbour or coworker or relative and say, ‘Check this out and tell me what you think.’ The use of the aforementioned ‘secular’ pundits and experts helps facilitate that type of book-giving. The Bible is also generously applied to the discussion, but the book’s primary text is devoid of chapter and verse scripture references which can only be found in the endnotes. There are also quotations from Christian writers ranging from the Desert Fathers to Comer’s mentors and contemporaries.

In calling us to resist the pressures of the dominant culture, Comer seems to include both an individual and corporate response. In other words, a mixture of ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What can my Christian community do?’ in observing and reacting to the world in which we live.

For the ADHD readers among us, each of the three sections contains a two-page recap with key points on how we fight and overcome the devil, the flesh and the world in this cultural moment.

Live No Lies is not however a spiritual warfare manual in the sense of other books you’ve read before. It’s more of a manifesto, seeking to challenge and inspire readers to build a different type of kingdom.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource (distributor of Waterbrook Press titles to the Canadian Christian bookstore market) for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a book I was dying to read!

December 29, 2021

The Philip Yancey I Never Knew

This was not the book I was expecting. It was also the book I almost set aside without finishing. Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Convergent Books, 2021) is the sometimes gut-wrenching story of the early life of one of today’s most popular Christian authors. It is not a pretty story.

Raised in an ultra-conservative Bible Belt family by a single mother, it’s a story of hardship on every level. Having read nearly half of Yancey’s two dozen books, I thought I knew some of the backstory, but nothing prepared for me for these revelations.

After reading the first forty pages just before turning out the lights for the evening, I set the book down and that night, sleep just didn’t come. It would be a week before I would pick up my copy and continue, and with some of the worst of the timeline behind me, I more eagerly continued to the end.

But the end was not what I expected. I knew of Yancey’s work with Campus Life magazine and co-editing The Student Bible, and co-authoring three books with leprosy doctor Paul Brand. But only two of those three surface for a fleeting mention toward the end. The focus here is on earlier times; younger days.

I’m sure he would agree with me that the memoir is a story of family dynamics, and from the outset it appears that the mother-son relationship will dominate. However, in later chapters — and this isn’t really a spoiler — it becomes more about the relationship with his brother Marshall Yancey, and the contrast between two boys who share so many things in common at the beginning, and then arriving at entirely opposite places. In a different world, it might be Marshall’s autobiography people were reading.

Over the years I’ve introduced dozens of people to the writing of Philip Yancey. If pressed, I often say that the draw for me is that as journalist and not a pastor, I am struck by the way he wrestles with scripture and theology.

Now I understand why. I understand why it’s necessary, why it’s imperative for him to fully work out anything he’s going espouse in print. He places a high value on raw honesty and transparency. He’s not always interested in providing the right answers as he is in the process it takes to arrive there. Only then will the answers suffice.

Living one country removed from the U.S., there’s so much of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s America that never touched my own experience. Still, our family’s yearly car trips to Florida meant driving through the southern states, and particularly in the years before the interstate highway system was completed, there were snapshots in the book — especially those portraying extreme poverty — that brought flashbacks to things I’d seen from the backseat of my parents’ car.

The guest speakers at Yancey’s summer camp were not entirely unfamiliar names, and the names of the Christian magazines his mother subscribed to also resonated. But my contact was fleeting whereas he was immersed in that milieu, and it had repercussions on every choice with which he was confronted and how he and his brother saw the world.

For those for whom this is a foreign experience, the book is a necessary tool for processing Evangelical history in the post-war, mid-20th century. No wonder that on book tours, he had said, “I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write.”

It was on such a book tour years ago that I got to meet my favorite writer. I shook his hand and thanked him for all that his books have meant. He had just released What Good Is God? and the publicist had handed me a complimentary copy and I waited until all the purchasers of the book had left and then asked him if he would autograph mine. Being last in line, if I had known things about him that I now know, I might have extended our conversation by a few extra minutes discussing the Christian world which I got to see from a bit of a distance, and that he lived in every waking moment.

I also find now, I’m longing for a part two. How that upbringing shaped those experiences working for a mainstream Evangelical magazine like Campus Life or a publisher like Zondervan, with whom his books were released. Perhaps part two consists of re-reading some of those classics — What’s So Amazing About Grace, or The Jesus I Never Knew or even Soul Survivor — through the lens of what’s been revealed here in Where the Light Fell.

For those familiar with Philip Yancey’s previous works, this is a must-read. For those who have completed other recent books which deal with the history of Evangelical Protestantism in the United States in the past century, again a must-read.

Just be prepared to recognize this as the story not just of one person, but of a mother and two sons, because that’s the essence of what you’ll find.


Thanks to Martin Smith of Parasource, Canadian distributor for Convergent for providing a chance to read this when I’d given up hope of getting a review copy!

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