Thinking Out Loud

August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.


An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Advertisements

May 21, 2013

Firsthand Faith: Making the Family Beliefs Your Own

Like authors Ryan and Josh Shook, I grew up in a Christian home. Years ago, I remember giving my testimony to the church high school group and being very clear that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘adopt’ the faith of your father and mother because that’s all you had; you had to take ownership of it in a more objective sense. Just because you were born in McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.

Firsthand Ryan and Josh ShookThe Shook brothers — sons of Kerry Shook whose book One Month to Live attracted much attention — have developed this concept into Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own (Waterbrook Press). Although the book is written expressly to people in this particular faith situation, early sales of the book indicated that Firsthand struck a cord with Christian kids in their late teens and early twenties; the very people that statistically experience a great faith upheaval in what can be pivotal and transitional years. Here’s a sample:

We watched our parents step out in faith and plant a church when we were boys.  They had very little money at the time, just a dream God had placed on their hearts to reach the lost and hurting.  They started with fifteen people and from there it dwindled to eight after the first gathering.  Five were our family!  Now thousands are part of the church.  But we know all the little miracles God did along the way as our parents would step out in faith and watch God come through.

We feel as though we’ve had front-row seats to watch God working in our parents’ lives as they’ve taken risks in faith to obey God’s call.  But in a sense it’s been their experience, not ours.  We need our own experiences of stepping out in faith and watching God act. We don’t want front-row seats anymore.  We want to be in the game! We want to see God at work up close and personal in our lives.   (p. 108)

The structure of the book is notable. Each of the chapters is followed by a section called Making It Real, which is itself divided into Other Voices (quotes from people in similar situations) Think About It (a short study guide) and Might Try This (a variety of action steps and links to short films by Ryan). In addition to the Other Voices section, the book is very much the product of interviews with young adults whose journey contains the type of faith crisis the book addresses.

Firsthand is a resource worth knowing about that allows a specific audience to reconstruct the foundations of their faith. I’m not sure why the religious publishing division of Random House chose to do this in hardcover — especially when its target market is the demographic most likely to download rather than purchase a print copy — but the $17.99US/$20.99CAN price has not dissuaded buyers. It should also be must reading for anyone who works in high school and college-age student ministry.

A copy of Firsthand was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Waterbrook Press’ Canadian distributor, Augsburg Fortress.

July 5, 2012

The Paganization of Daniel Surrey: A Short Story

Ten years ago a fresh wave of new authors and speakers breezed through the Evangelical landscape. With the seeker-sensitive initiative now entrenched for two decades, the discussions about how to do church accelerated, along with a renewed look at what exactly constitutes a church.

Emerging, Emergent, Missional, Post-modern; words that might have been foreign-sounding in the ’90s became part of the broader discussion in the new century, and the movement was not just a crusade of words; there were changed lives to back up the new approach.

None of this was lost on Daniel Surrey. With just enough counter-cultural DNA to resonate with the new movement, Surrey was a deep thinker whose relationship with his conservative church had possibly always been fragile. While the new breed of writers and communicators may have been missed by those part of the Evangelical status quo, Surrey jumped in with both feet; attending the conferences, buying the books and downloading the audio teachings.

To know his past, it was quite a change. Daniel and his wife Bonnie had raised five children in the Sunday School, midweek kids ministry programs and finally the youth groups of their groups. They had been bus captains, ran the car washes and been chaperones on the junior high winter ski trip. Bonnie was part of the women’s ministry and Daniel had served two years on the church board and was a relief teacher for the largest adult Bible study class. You don’t do all that and then expect to simply go off the grid and drop off the radar.

Their church attendance record suddenly plummeted as they took in house church meetings, alternative worship events, and even did the backyard “we can worship God better in nature” thing during the summer months. As the fresh look at ecclesiology gained traction, it became increasingly easier to find people of like mind. They finally wrote a letter to the Evangelical church in which they had invested a quarter of a century and half their lives, and requested their names be removed from the membership rolls.

Since part of the missional ethos involves being incarnational, they quickly joined a number of community groups involving everything from woodworking to organic gardening to roots music. But their greatest personal investment was in the area of social justice projects. Anything that reached out to the marginalized was fair game, and they gave countless hours of their time to just about every charitable project going.

One particular project particularly energized them, to the point where Daniel eventually took on a leadership role. The housing projects in the south end, next to the coal-fired power plant were home to people who had no aspirations for living elsewhere. Abuse, addiction and chronic unemployment gave way to various types of health and financial problems, and also left the people in those projects as prey for unscrupulous landlords.

While the south end projects outreach had its beginnings with Christian people and church support; with Bonnie’s constant encouragement, Daniel was determined to expand the scope of the project, to the point where partnerships were formed with individuals and agencies from the broader community.

Soon, the work began to downplay its Christian origins and intentions.

With each passing day, something changed in Daniel Surrey. He met a lot of good people waging this battle for social justice, because when you’re giving help to people who are poor or disadvantaged, the people who tend to join in that fight are indeed good people. They are good because they are created in God’s image, and they reflect that nature in their desire to spread compassion and care.

Their beliefs, however, take a variety of forms. One can still serve in this type of environment, but it’s also true that a house is known by the company it keeps, and before too long, Daniel was being influenced more than he was influencing. His personal belief system at this point was more the product of syncretism than any one particular systematic theology. He had been absorbed into another world.

Which is where I last saw him, through a broadcast on the local community access television channel. He and Bonnie were there at the dedication of a new triplex to house three families, and several representatives of aboriginal spirituality were banging drums and passing some kind of large pipe, while a New Age Shaman conferred words meant to impart some measure of financial blessing and fertility — he mentioned fertility ten times even though all three families had children — to the homes’ new occupants.

And then they all shared a vegetarian potluck meal which centered around deep fried cauliflower, which may have offered some theoretical health benefits in its conception, but those benefits had been diminished by the degree of breading and deep frying. But before they ate, they paused for “a word of thanks” and Daniel Surrey, the former Evangelical Church board member began his “prayer” with an address to “the great spirit of the earth and sky and sun and moon,” at which point I completely tuned out whatever words folllowed.

And I listened to the drumming and watched the passing of the smoking pipe and thought, ‘The secularization of Daniel Surrey is now complete.’

The cable television reporter then did an interview with Daniel, where he talked about the amazing things that can happen when people lift themselves out of their own pain and peril and circumstances by self-will and determination, and my mouth formed the words, ‘You’ve come a long way, Daniel Surrey. A long way.’

October 11, 2010

Philip Yancey: God Is What’s Good

Yes.   I am biased.

Upon first reading The Jesus I Never Knew on a fall day fifteen years ago, I knew I had found a favorite author.   So with great anticipation I looked forward to What Good is God (FaithWords) which releases officially on October 19th.   I was not disappointed.   This is a different book; it has a rhythm and cadence all its own; it is a book which will stretch any who read it, including Yancey aficionados like myself.

The format is quite different.

Divided into ten parts, each part contains two chapters which focus on a particular group of people, and a particular place in the world.   This is a travelog of sorts, and while you don’t have to spend the time in airport waiting rooms as did the author, you feel like you’ve earned some frequent flyer points by the time you turn the last page.

The first chapter in each of the ten sections describes Philip Yancey’s journey to a diverse set of places.    As a journalist, travel ignites his writing.   It also introduces the reason that finds him where he is in his role as a speaker.  The second chapter in each of the sections is in fact the text of a speech (or in one case, a sermon) given to a diverse group of people.

But I didn’t know that ahead of time.

So the second chapter of the first part totally ambushed me.   I am familiar with the feeling of tears welling up as one approaches the ending of a good book.   I did not expect that to happen so soon as it did in the first part, with the text of Yancey’s address to the student body of Virginia Tech just days after the shooting there left more than a dozen fatalities, and just a few more days since Philip Yancey’s own traffic mishap in Colorado left him close to either death or paralysis.

In the sections that followed are speeches to business leaders in China, sex trade workers and the people who minister to them,  the student body at his old Bible College, a Charismatic church in South Africa and members of the C. S. Lewis Society in Cambridge, England, an AA meeting, Christians in India and the middle east; and many others.  These are speeches and addresses you and I would never get to hear, and would never be drawn to read were it not for the set-up in the previous chapter.

But what of the book’s title?

I believe the title prepares you more for something along the lines of a response to today’s militant or “New” atheists.   Perhaps the marketing department at the publisher had something like that kind of hook in mind.   However, the book doesn’t deliver along the lines of apologetics, and while I wasn’t at all let down, I hope purchasers will be appraised about its true content before they buy.

Rather, through its series of narratives, the book demonstrates that if anything, God is what’s good in the world.   That on a global scale, Christianity is making a difference and on a personal level, this is a faith that works. The answer to the question the book’s title asks is found in the way that the Christian God infuses every area of life, especially those places of hurt and pain. This is Reaching for the Invisible God meets Where is God When it Hurts.    Or maybe The Bible meets your morning newspaper.

Still, seeking resolution to the book’s title promise, I turned over the final page and immediately rushed back to the introduction.   If I were not a believer, not a Christ follower, how would all these stories answer the title question?

Technology manufacturers have a phrase called “the tabletop test.”  Engineers design wonderful new products:  iPhones, netbooks, video game consoles, notebook computers, MP3 players, optical storage devices.   But will the shiny new product survive actual use by consumers in the real world?  What happens if it gets pushed off a table accidentally or dropped on a sidewalk?  Will the device still work?

I look for similar tests in the realm of faith.  My travels have taken me to places where Christians face a refiner’s fire of oppression, violence and plague…

When I spend time among such people, my own faith undergoes a tabletop test.   Do I mean what I write from my home in Colorado?…

I must admit, my own faith would be much more perilous if I knew only the U.S. church, which can seem more like a self-perpetuating institution.   Not so elsewhere.  Almost always I return from my travels encouraged, my faith buoyed…

If a person had never read Philip Yancey before is this book a good place to start?   Probably, I would recommend What’s So Amazing About Grace? For the rest of us, don’t miss this unique piece of writing from Philip which is, truly, as big as the whole world.

The full title is What Good is God:  In Search of a Faith that Matters (Faith Words, hardcover, 287 pages, October 19, 2010; $23.99 US/$26.99 CAN)

Photo:  Randal Olsson – The Christian Post

June 17, 2009

Born Again But Not Evangelical?

laftovers - converted soupI frequently hear people speak of Evangelicals as “Born Again-ers,” so I was intrigued to learn last night that Barna Research make a distinction when surveying people.     They use “born again” to reflect some point at which we confess our sin and seek forgiveness, making Jesus Christ lord of our lives.

But they use a series of questions to determine if a person has what they consider a true Evangelical worldview.    The two are not automatically synonymous.

All this is in my continued reading of unChristian by David Kinnaman, the book that has for some reason become my end-of-the-day reading, which means some days I don’t get very far.   But spending 15 minutes stuck on page 159 last night didn’t help, as I pondered the worldview issues they use to clarify the distinction.

The criteria are laid out at Barna.org along with poll results.   I’ve paraphrased here in question form:

Born Again

  • Have you made a confession of sin?
  • Have you made a profession of faith in Christ?

evangometerEvangelical

  • Do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles that it teaches?*
  • Do you view God as all-powerful?
  • Do you view God as perfect?
  • Do you view God as active in the world today?**
  • Do you contend that Jesus did not sin?
  • Do you assert that Satan is a real spiritual being?***
  • Would you disagree with those who say that heaven can be earned through good works?
  • Do you believe Christians have a responsibility to share their faith with others?
  • Would say your religious faith is very important in your life?

*This refers to principles the Bible teaches.   You can believe this and still also hold that there’s a problem in the dates of some kings in your KJV or in the naming of a city in your NRSV

**Barna combines these three into one question.   I broke them up because I think we can rush to quickly to answer a question like this.  We need to constantly have our perspective on God in full view.   The linked article refers to 9-point Evangelicals, which I believe to include the two ‘born again’ questions.

***Real being as opposed to idea or concept.   Among those who said they were Evangelical, rather than those who adopted the stringent Barna criteria, this area had the greatest potential for variance.  60% were less likely to agree on this one.

So Kinnaman, again on page 159, defines the U.S. voting population as consisting of

  • 9% Evangelicals
  • 38% Non-Evangelical, born-again Christians
  • 29% Other, self-confessed Christians
  • 24% Those outside Christianity

On page 162, he says to pastors, “In your church on any given Sunday, chances are you have all four of the faith slices represented in the audience.  How are you communicating so that everyone in the  congregation can understand, think about and respond to social, political and spiritual issues in appropriate ways?  In your sermons as well as in the environments and conversations your church facilitates, are you helping to develop people’s capacity to think, act, and pray in terms of a biblical worldview?”

That’s a good question for anyone in Church leadership; or anyone who is part of the Body of Christ for that matter.

born-again-cartoon

April 18, 2009

The Susan Boyle Phenomenon

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 pm

It’s 10:40 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.    Adding up ONLY the clips that appear on the FIRST YouTube “Most Viewed” page, and NOT COUNTING the ones that are subsequent interview clips or background reports, we’re currently looking at 63.7 MILLION hits.   And this doesn’t include clips on Vimeo and other video upload sites.

susan-boyle

Obviously, there is more at work here than simply want to see Simon Cowell at a loss for words.    And it’s more than just the Andy Warholl sentiment that “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, or 63.7 million YouTube hits, whichever is larger.”   Well, maybe not the second part.

It’s our desire to hear a good news story.   It’s our desire for calm; for tranquility.   It’s a dash of peace in a world of war, economic collapse and personal heartbreaks.    Like the old Anne Murray song says, “We sure could use a little good news today.”

It’s a story only rivaled this week by the President of the United States’ new dog.   These two stories are the escape people are looking for.    But Susan’s story also brings hope to all kinds of talented people who are searching for their own personal big break; people who have dreams…

It IS a story that makes you smile.

If a tag brought you here, this is a blog about another kind of hope, brought to the world 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ, in the story that we celebrated last week at Easter.    The need for a hope and a future is something basic to everyone.   Even more years ago, someone wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”

It’s true today.   Some trust in technology, some trust in science, some trust in the resilience of the human spirit; but ultimately, God is the only one we can fully trust.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.