Thinking Out Loud

April 25, 2014

Why N.T. Wright Was on the Cover of Christianity Today

This link to the Phil Vischer podcast with co-host Skye Jethani starts at the place (27:12) where Christianity Today’s Andy Crouch explains why N.T. Wright was on the cover. Okay, actually it doesn’t, even though we used three entirely different codes. But we weren’t really intending to slight Christian Taylor, who had to give up her seat for Andy at the 27:12 mark. Why can’t Phil afford another chair? Anyway, the purpose is to discuss how N.T. Wright reads the other N.T., the New Testament in general, and the Apostle Paul in particular.

January 20, 2014

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

For several months, the book’s working title was Tomorrowland.

Eventually, it was ruled that ‘The Mouse’ would never stand for that, and so the title of Skye Jethani’s third book became Futureville: Discover Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow, and while another Disney property, EPCOT, is mentioned, the major motif in Futureville is the great promise that was held out for mankind in general, and America in particular in the 1939 World’s Fair.

Futureville - Skye JethaniWhile Jethani is not entirely a household name in the Christian community, his voice is as unique as his ability to weave a subject — in The Divine Commodity it was the art and life of Vincent Van Gogh — into his writing as an ongoing talking point. The middle book of the current three takes a different approach; elsewhere I described his book With as The Preposition Proposition.  His audience is widening through friend Phil Vischer’s podcast, but he is probably best known for his work on Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, and its highly ranked blog, Out of Ur, relaunched this past weekend as PARSE.  As I’ve said elsewhere — and in reference to other authors — I think his books are best enjoyed after you’ve had exposure to some visual media; some clips are currently available at his blog Skyebox.

The premise of Futureville is that “our vision of the future is what determines how we understand the present. In a very real sense today is defined by tomorrow… what lies ahead.” The book looks at the wide arc of Biblical history through a lens that is both somewhat philosophical and agnostic-friendly. This is a title that meets the giveaway criteria.

He also offers some fresh insights for insiders. Example: We tend to think of the Biblical narrative beginning in a garden and ending in a return to a garden (which owes more to Crosby, Stills and Nash) while in fact the story ends in a city. If you live in Philadelphia or Detroit or Gary, Indiana, the idea of city may suggest that perhaps God could do better. But Jethani uncovers the rationale behind the imagery.

Social activism, environmentalism, politics, etc. all come under the microscope as does the effect current affairs have on shaping theology. Yes, the Bible can be thought of as somewhat clear on matters, but theological thought trends in ways not unlike celebrity fixations on Twitter. We may know what the text says, but the book points out the ways in which the capital ‘C’ Church will spin it differently and slowly drift from its mission.

Much of the book’s purpose is to help refocus us by freshly acquainting ourselves with the key images of scripture and of worship, and to re-purpose us to realigning our priorities. In many respects, Futureville is prescriptive, it gives the Church a mandate for 2014 not unlike Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock did for a broader society in 1970. While parts of Futureville may leave you disturbed, overall, the book offers assurance that God has orchestrated things to lead toward a conclusion of his choosing, and one that, to borrow from Jeremiah, offers us a future and a hope.

January 3, 2014

My One Podcast Addiction

I talk a lot about the Phil Vischer podcast, but with its switch from audio to video about three months ago, I should have clued in that I could embed one of the episodes here, especially given that many of you drop by to see what’s going here but don’t always click through. I got the idea from Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum — bet nobody else has that blog name — who did the same today.  He wrote:

…The following episode has so many interesting talking points on Evangelicalism, evil, tolerance, witchcraft, control, the world becoming post-Christian, and the end of storytelling, I didn’t even know where to start to unpack it. Once you get past the Pope sneaking out of the Vatican to give alms to the poor (ends around 7:17), the conversation shifts to the depiction of supernaturalism in films and what constitutes good and evil in a post-Christian world.

At around 22:38, Phil, Drew Dyck, and Skye Jethani begin discussing what happens when diversity attacks shared values and how this destroys the ability to tell a story. Phil quotes screenwriting guru Robert McKee noting that when a society has no shared common values you can’t tell a story because no one will agree with the framing mechanisms of rightness and wrongness needed to make a statement about a value depicted through story. Earlier, the trio decided that this has left us with only one agreed-upon value: Don’t oppress (or be mean to) other people. And in the end, this is all that is left of evil.

It’s a powerful discussion with startling ramifications for Christianity, both as Christians seek to share The Story of All Stories and as we confront genuine Evil as the Bible defines it.

The discussion then verges into talking about external evil and how stories are loath to discuss a greater evil that cannot be explained as just bad thoughts we might have for people who are different from us. We also see into how this comes down to control and why religious ideas with controlling godlike powers or controlling God Himself are anathema to the Christian worldview. And then Jethani mentions how some Christians are essentially practicing witchcraft…

…continue reading here…

Here’s the episode Dan featured, which is the one from a few weeks ago:

August 24, 2013

The Commodification of Christianity

Many times here I’ve referred to Illinois pastor and speaker Skye Jethani who also works for Leadership Journal and is responsible for this blog’s Wednesday Link List becoming part of the Out of Ur website over the course of the summer.  You can follow his blog at Skyebox.

Skye has a forthcoming book, Futureville and his most current book is With… Re-imagining the Way You Relate To God which I reviewed here. However, his first book, The Divine Commodity kept beckoning to me at the local Christian bookstore, and with a lighter summer reading schedule, I decided this would be a good time.

The Divine CommoditySkye’s passion — and if you hear him co-hosting on the Phil Vischer podcast you already know this — is that we in North America and Western Europe live in so saturated a consumer culture that it is tainting our view of what it means to follow Jesus and distorting our expectations from local churches. While untangling ourselves from this mindset isn’t easy, it has to begin with an awareness of the mess we’re in, and that’s where The Divine Commodity shines.

But as the salesman on TV says, ‘But wait… there’s more!’ The Divine Commodity also has a running metaphor running throughout each chapter pertaining to the life and work of artist Vincent Van Gogh. There are also a few color pages of pieces referred to in the book. Typically, this isn’t the type of writing that attracts me, but the art appreciation lesson truly fits here. Van Gogh also recognized that in the church of his day, something was missing; something was off course but as the salesman on TV says, ‘Your mileage may vary,’ in other words how each of responds to the consumerism prevalent in the modern church will be different.

Unfortunately, with many published writings, the theme of lament leads to books which radiate a certain negativity, but Skye Jethani doesn’t leave room for that here. While it’s true that we’ve adopted the ways of major corporations — including corporate branding — Jethani offers an argument that is criss-crossed with references to early Church history as well as contemporary authors that makes this very positive, encouraging reading. Having turned the last page of the book just hours ago, I plan to immediately start back into chapter one in order to be able to articulate his passion and concern on this with others.

My personal belief is that Skye Jethani is a bit of a diamond in the rough, and that as God continues to use his ministry, this 2009 book will get rediscovered and its somewhat prophetic message will be more fully appreciated. To watch a 30 minute sermon of Skye speaking on the closing day of the CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) staff conference, click here.

November 9, 2012

The Preposition Proposition: Skye Jethani

Regular readers here will know that over the course of the late spring and summer, I discovered Skye Jethani through the Phil Vischer podcast, in the sense that the explorers discovered North America, even though North America had been rolling along quite fine without their observation. Actually rediscovered is more accurate, since I had been aware of Skye’s writing at Out of Ur and Leadership Journal for at least six years.

Still, there’s something about being able to put a voice to someone’s writing. The new technology allows us to hear and see so many authors, and the impact of letting the author’s voice speak inside your head while your eyes scan their book or blog is possibly one of the internet’s greatest benefits.

So with that in mind I purchased — that’s right, not a review copy — Skye’s With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God (Thomas Nelson, 2011).  Well, it was on sale, so I couldn’t resist, though I had made a mental note mid-summer to try to read one of his two titles, the other being The Divine Commodity.

With uses a series of prepositions to describe ways people try to control outcomes that we believe are determined by God, a god, or the gods. This desire for control, he says is rooted (initially) in fear. Although this premise has wide-ranging application to many religions, he focuses mostly on false perceptions existing within Christianity.

At this point, I have to agree with Scot McKnight’s endorsement of the book comparing it to J. B. Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small, albeit for a different generation. But where Phillips is focused on the adjectives in views that fall short or confuse God’s nature, With is more concerned with the verbs that describe the interaction between ourselves and God; what we are thinking and doing and attempting to manipulate outcomes.

But it’s actually prepositions he uses, describing life over God, life under God, life from God and life for God; all of these being inadequate or less-than-desirable or mostly just plain wrong illustrations of what we’re meant to live, which is life with God.

These models are somewhat different than things we’ve considered before, and Jethani reinforces each within each chapter. This may seem repetitious, but he does it with slight differences each time; and toward the end ties in a familiar scripture passage that he shows illustrates all four of the incorrect belief models.

Obviously, life with God is the one that is clearest, even if our day-to-day practices find us drifting into one of the wrong assumptions. I found myself returning to the early chapters in order to keep the distinctions clarified as I continued reading; and the use of hand-drawn diagrams attempts to aid that clarity.

Ultimately, this book is probably too philosophical for some, but this week as I talked to someone who is very intentionally seeking spiritual truth, I talked her into purchasing a copy as I believe she has been and continues to be bombarded with misguided concepts about how God desires us to relate to and connect with him. Pray for K. that the Christian literature she is reading will answer her objections and her hesitancy toward becoming a disciple.

…The sample selection from With that I used at Christianity 201 this week is a little different, but it reflects the different ways this book can get you thinking on a variety of levels.

October 10, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and we were away, so the list is slightly smaller. Remember to have your submissions in by 8 PM EST Monday night.

If you blog on blogspot, you should know that your blog address here in Canada automatically redirects to a .ca ending instead of .com and manually changing links to your blog is somewhat time consuming! We’re just assuming it flips back for our U.S. readers.

July 14, 2010

Wednesday Link List

We’re back with the links… some of these have been accumulating for a few weeks, and there have been many great posts lately at Christianity Today, which are represented here:

March 24, 2010

First Spring Wednesday Links

While New Mexico and Arizona had snow this winter, we here in Southern Ontario, Canada have hardly seen a flake of it.   But snow in May is not unheard of, especially out on the Canadian prairies.   Here’s the past seven days online as I saw it:

  • If you haven’t seen it already, Peter Hitchens, brother of noted atheist Christopher Hitchens details his conversion in this Daily Mail (UK) article
  • Kent Shaffer has once again dusted off his calculator and slide rule and using a mathematical formula known only to NASA, brings a list of the Top 100 Christian Blogs plus 30 bonus blogs.   (I’m pretty sure the one you’re reading now was # 131.)
  • Speaking of charts and lists, the blog Floating Sheep offers a map showing the dominance of different forms of Christianity around the world, although, maybe it’s just me, but the North American map and the world map seem somewhat conflicted.  See for yourself.
  • Because I don’t watch the animated TV show, King of the Hill, I had never seen this incredibly accurate, must-see bit from two years back where Hank Hill and family decide it’s time for choosing a new church.
  • On a more serious look at the same subject, J.D. Greear — whose goal is to plant 1,000 churches in 40 years (it’s true) — discusses the thorny topic, “On What Grounds Should You Move to Another Church?”  He sees this as finding a balance between two truths.
  • The graphic at the right is apparently page eight of a coloring book, Jesus and the Dinosaurs as posted online by David Kirk at the blog Frogtown.  Love the line, “He probably did.”
  • We talk a lot about the “un-churched,” but Skye Jethani asks the musical question, “Who are the de-churched?” in Part one of a two-part post at Out of Ur.
  • John Stackhouse discusses what happens when pastors — or any of us for that matter — get asked to offer a prayer at an academic, civic or sports gathering, and comes up with an answer you might not expect.
  • Jim Lehmer adds up all things he’s looking for in an ideal church, and finds them in a completely different kind of place.
  • Ever wonder what kind of books pastors are reading?  Greg Boyd — who may not be 100% representative! — shares his list and they’re not titles most of us are familiar with.
  • C.S. Lewis may no longer be with us, but he seems most contemporary when he discusses the where our focus should be in worship.
  • Internal links:  If you missed the two-part series on the weekend, my wife Ruth grieves the loss of our church (again) on Friday, while I look at the issues of who gets to serve — and who decides — on Saturday.
  • The website Fast Company summarizes the implications of Google’s pullout from China, including how it might affect a similar situation in Australia.
  • From The Online Discernmentalist Mafia site; first there was Build-a-Bear, and now…



And before I started this blog, I remember happening on the Prayer Pups. After a two year run, there haven’t been any new strips posted since August, but the archives are worth visiting.


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