Thinking Out Loud

November 10, 2017

Feel Like a Misfit at Church? You’re Not the Only One.

At the start of the year, I reviewed Brant Hansen’s first book with Thomas Nelson, Unoffendable, which deals with the subject of anger, and is ideally suited to anyone who has ever ‘lost it’ over a particular person or circumstance. You can read that review at this link.

Brant Hansen‘s second book with Nelson is important enough that I’m eventually going to devote another column to it here, but wanted to make you aware of it prior to the November 28th release in case you’re making a Christmas list. The title is Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something.

This book is for people

  • who are introverts
  • who deal with social anxiety; mental health issues
  • who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar)
  • who feel they are just different; they don’t see the world like everyone else does

and the people who love them because they’re a family member, close friend, co-worker, fellow-student, etc. It’s one of those books where the target readership is somewhat select — not to mention that it also deals with how such people can function in the body of Christ — so mention on blogs and social media and word-of-mouth will do much to help this book find its audience.

I’m about 65% in at this point — thoroughly enjoying it — and will post a full review here when it’s closer to the release date as well as reasons why this book is important to our family.

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September 1, 2017

The Problem of Reviewing The Problem of God

There is so much going on in this book. I feel like I’ve been handed an impossible task, somewhat akin from being dropped off a metropolitan core for a few days and told to write a review of the entire city. Every person. Every business. Every park and school.

Canadian Pastor Mark Clark has set himself to answer ten of the major objections to faith raised by outsiders, skeptics and seekers. It’s a tough assignment, even if you’re leaning heavily on the writings of Tim Keller and C. S. Lewis. Not as tough for Clark however as it would be for you or me, in part because this is his own story; the book is as much testimony as it is apologetics text.

I think that’s what make this one different. Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010. Today they are in three locations on Canada’s west coast with satellites launching in Calgary and Montreal. Mark is part of a new generation of pastors and authors who really does his homework before speaking and writing and his passion and energy rock the house each week.

The ten “problems” form ten chapters:

But to say just that is too simple. Each one of these breaks down into several other subsections. These issues are complex and we’re given a look at each through several different lenses.

To repeat, the book stands somewhere between academic apologetics textbook (for its thorough treatment of each of the issues) and biography (for the times Clark references his own story.) It is the latter that makes this book what it is; an apologetics resource which wears a face and a name, and that makes it accessible to all readers. That last factor is important especially for potential as a giveaway to someone who is asking questions. (Read more about Mark at this CBC-TV story.)

I know I say this a lot — I choose my review books carefully — but this is definitely another of those “go back and re-read” and “keep handy for reference” titles.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity | Zondervan | 272 page paperback | September, 2017

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for an opportunity to read this!

April 4, 2017

Zondervan’s “Secular” Ownership is a Blessing, Not a Curse

This fictitious logo was created when Zondervan and Thomas Nelson became one under HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

It was a Christian bookstore that was a million miles off most people’s radar and we found it somewhat by chance. Subsequent searching failed to turn it up in a directory of such establishment, or even the Yellow Pages for that matter. Stocking a mixture of English and foreign language products, it had a ‘Mom and Pop’ type of vibe, though a rather large stockroom suggested it was a mix of wholesale and retail.

I got talking to the manager as I browsed, told him of my industry connection, and noted that he didn’t seem to have any Zondervan books or Bibles in his English section.

“We don’t carry them;” he said; “They’re owned by HarperCollins and HarperCollins prints The Satanic Bible.”

End of discussion.

Well, not quite; he didn’t realize what he was taking on here.

It’s true that under its Avon imprint, the company does carry the Anton Le Vey version of that title — there are many books that use the same moniker — but the sole paperback edition at 9.99US/12.50CDN hardly seems worth considering when compared to the over 6,000 titles Zondervan has, not to mention another 900+ under Zonderkidz and let’s not forget at least another 6,500 published under the Thomas Nelson banner. Add in some smaller labels and the ratio is about 14,000:1.

Still, if he were raising the question today, he could have added that HarperOne currently has a chart-topping title in the Self Improvement category by Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. And let’s not forget Charles Silverstein’s The Joy of Gay Sex (Third Edition).

It’s all dowhill from there; this information is generally used as a basis for attacking the NIV Bible, because those attacks are generally a house of cards theologically, and need some other external reason to exist. The discussion at an Amazon forum on this is always amusing:

C. Goff: I applaud Hapercollins for respecting free speech and publishing books that offer a variety of perspectives.  Perhaps Evangelicals should pool their money and buy an island somewhere, so they can live together in their own theocratic fantasy land. Then they won’t be corrupted by so many sinners who like to think for themselves.

Be Still: Ummm….we did “buy” an island. It was call America, but not look at whats happened because so many people were left to their own “thinking”. Rest assured, corruption commeth from both inside and outside the church. God is the only one good. Not any human.

It goes on and on — there and elsewhere — but I think Joshua really sums up one side of the argument:

Zonderman [sic] is owned by HarperCollins (Satanic Bible, 90% of witchcraft published in world, NIV) which is owned by the devil and Knight of Malta Rupert Murdoch and a Knight of Malta is the first protector of the Antichrist the Pope of the Roman Catholic whore of Babylon church. Jimmy Savile the UK mass child murderer (and mentor of the wife murderer Prince Charles – his other mentor Mountbatten was also a child rapist and a sodomite) is also a Knight of Malta and buried in a Roman Catholic Church in Leeds – he was given a full freemason funeral service. At the 33 degree freemasons receive an Iron cross with a medallion under it and around the medallion is written in Latin: ‘the holy see’ – the Freemason head is the Antichrist – why? – because Freemasonry is also known as the CRAFT and God said in his true and only gospel the King James 1611 bible: Dan 8:25 And through his policy also HE SHALL CAUSE CRAFT TO PROSPER IN HIS HAND; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.

Yikes!

But as the chart below shows, there are a very large number of Christian publishing imprints which have secular ownership.

You don’t want to know about Christian record labels, either. This chart of Christian music market share is from 2014, but not much has changed:

So this is a bad situation, right? That depends on your preconceived biases going into the discussion.

  • Many of the people making the argument are KJV-only, looking for a reason to attack the NIV which, of all the other translations, has always had a target painted on its back.
  • Most of the people making the argument would find a way to reject the ministry of all of the company’s top authors including Rick Warren, Anne Graham Lotz, Lee Strobel, Charles Stanley, Philip Yancey, Henry Cloud, etc. (I will concur, Yancey’s hair could disqualify him from being a Christian.)

But allowing some of these people their fifteen minutes of fame, if Harper’s parent company NewsCorp is basically evil, why would they want to own an imprint like Zondervan?

They bought the company because it looked to them to be a profitable business. They’re in the book business. They wanted to expand. In publishing there are sports books, and cookbooks and science fiction and host of genres of which religious publishing is but one. Furthermore, with a unique arrangement between the company and their printer, mega corporation R.R. Donnelley, they can bring an efficiency to Zondervan’s publishing that can only improve that bottom line.

But what’s in it for Zondervan? They get access not only to HarperCollins’ expertise, but also a distribution channel that brings access to a host of markets they might not otherwise tap: Gift stores, airport boutiques, and foreign market sales just to name a few.

How best to keep your “Christian division” profitable? Leave them alone! Let their acquisitions and marketing people operate with autonomy. Let them do what they do best in a business that they know and understand best.

Back to my discussion with the store manager. What would I say to him differently if we were having the discussion today in 2017.

I’d probably tell him to look no further than the rollout of the new Christian Standard Bible. Happening right now we have a Bible being brought to market by Holman, a division of B&H Publishing, which is a division of LifeWay which was founded back in 1891, and yet they are bringing the new Bible to market a few editions at a time because they don’t have the resources to do it any other way.

However, Zondervan, when they rolled out the 2011 update to the NIV was able to bring hundreds of editions and formats on the same day because they had a parent company who was able to bankroll the whole thing. Furthermore instead of “running out” the older editions, most were remaindered within weeks of the conversion.

Projects like this would simply be a dream if were not for the resources of a major corporation backing them. It also means that these Bible editions are able to reach people in ways that simply wouldn’t happen if the company were still independent.

When you look at the big picture, you have to see this relationship as a blessing, not a curse. In terms of propagating the message of Jesus Christ and building the Kingdom of God, the partnership is a win-win-win.

 

February 3, 2017

Review: The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks

Zac Hicks should write a novel. In his book The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan) he proves himself as a master of analogy. Not one or two, but more than a dozen comparisons between the person you might see on the stage at weekend services leading us sung and spoken worship, and other ministry and non-ministry occupations with which you are familiar.

the-worship-pastorThe need for these comparisons is simple: Worship leaders wear many hats. Those who are paid full-time to do this vocationally at larger churches are definitely multi-tasking, but even in smaller congregations, the task of directing us, as well as leading the worship team itself, is multi-faceted.

For that reason, I would argue that for those who perform this function, this is a book that will be referred to on a constant, ongoing basis. The Worship Pastor is basically an encyclopedia of everything related to the responsibility of planning and executing what is, in many of our churches, up to if not more than half of the total service time.

The author has been writing at his blog, ZacHicks.com since May of 2009. His bio notes that he “grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, trained in Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary, and his current doctoral work is in the theology and worship of the English Reformation. Zac’s passions include exploring the intersection of old and new in worship and thinking through the pastoral dimensions of worship leading.”

Indeed, the brilliance of the book is his ability to speak to two vastly different audiences: Those leading in a traditional, liturgical setting, and those serving in a modern, free worship environment. In both cases those leading have more in common in than they realize, and face many of the same challenges.

Back to the analogies. At the book’s website, these are spelled out and it helps you understand the book best to restate them here:

Chapter 1: The Worship Pastor as Church Lover
Chapter 2: The Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic
Chapter 3: The Worship Pastor as Doxological Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Worship Pastor as Disciple Maker
Chapter 5: The Worship Pastor as Prayer Leader
Chapter 6: The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician
Chapter 7: The Worship Pastor as War General
Chapter 8: The Worship Pastor as Watchful Prophet
Chapter 9: The Worship Pastor as Missionary
Chapter 10: The Worship Pastor as Artist Chaplain
Chapter 11: The Worship Pastor as Caregiver
Chapter 12: The Worship Pastor as Mortician
Chapter 13: The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd
Chapter 14: The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect
Chapter 15: The Worship Pastor as Curator
Chapter 16: The Worship Pastor as Tour Guide

The title of the book (reiterated in each chapter) also deserves a second look. Hicks clearly sees the job as pastoral and would have those who serve in this capacity see it as nothing less. For those of us who have been criticized by pastors who felt their toes were being stepped on by a music director wanting to express this type of role in the statements, readings, and off-the-cuff remarks on a Sunday morning, this book grants them the authority to pursue their calling as a pastoral role. 

I couldn’t help but note that for a book written by a musician, this one definitely builds to a crescendo in its later sections. 

Wondering about that 12th chapter? “Death is the unspoken anxiety of North American culture…Our people bring all those fears right into the services we plan and lead. Each week, death is the biggest elephant in the sanctuary.” That one was fun reading. (Full disclosure, the chapter also deals with worship directors called upon to assist with funerals.)

Chapter 14 is actually a high point in the book and one that is anticipated throughout earlier sections. We’re presented with a worship flow (my word, not his) which then maps onto various liturgical and contemporary church service models, from Vineyard to Anglican.

But what about choosing some songs? Hicks doesn’t get around to anything as pedestrian as song selection until Chapter 15, and he does it in a rather unique way: By calling on the various ‘people’ in the previous models he is basically asking us to consider what songs ‘they’ would choose. (As a practitioner, I once commented that a longtime worship leader has heard about 5,000 compositions, but song selection isn’t about the five songs you choose, but the 4,995 you have to leave out.) He applies this also to choosing prayers (and how they are worded) and considering transitional segments.

Through the use of illustrations from the author’s experience, this book is accessible to all, however having said that, I believe it is also written at a somewhat academic level, thus I would expect The Worship Pastor to appear in textbook lists for worship courses. For those who want to go deeper, the footnotes represent a vast array of literature which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see Hicks explore those writers in greater detail. (The Worship Pastor: Director’s Cut, perhaps?)

My recommendation? This should be required reading for both worship leaders, singers, musicians, and senior pastors.


zac-hicksThanks to Miranda at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to read The Worship Pastor. Any physical resemblance between Zac Hicks (pictured here) and Steven Curtis Chapman is purely coincidental.

January 5, 2017

A Call for More Heterogeneity in the Local Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:22 am

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28 nlt

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
-Colossians 3:11 nlt

scot-mcknight-a-fellowship-of-differentsAbout ten weeks ago I looked at King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and mentioned that we would come back to A Fellowship of Differents; both titles having recently been issued for the first time in paperback. Because of a number of circumstances which derailed much of my reading at the end of last year, I found myself forced to read this title more devotionally the first time, which was well suited to its 22 chapters; but later started at the beginning and re-read it in broader sweeps.

As the two scripture verses I chose to open this review clearly telegraph, this is a book about diversity in the (capital C) Church, but on a more practical level, in the local assembly you and I attend and the congregation which makes up that body. For McKnight, this is a factor central to the teaching of Jesus and (especially) the apostle Paul.

So what does this look like and how do we assure its reality? McKnight reveals his game-plan on page 24 where he notes his intention to track six aspects of Bible teaching:

  1. Grace
  2. Love
  3. Table
  4. Holiness
  5. Newness
  6. Flourishing

The chapters on Table — perhaps more of a shared meal and less of the once-per-month-service-postscript — could easily be a book in itself (and has been with many authors.) While love, grace and holiness are often taught, this one aspect of local church life is so terribly central to the fellowship McKnight envisions, and left me thinking perhaps many of us are missing something.

In the section on Holiness, there is a chapter devoted to one of the clearest descriptions I’ve seen of the decadence which surrounded the early Christians to whom Paul wrote his various letters. While the occasional reader might find this chapter too explicit, it provides us a necessary contrast between how certain terminology applied in Paul’s day to how we might (mis)understand those same words and phrases today.

A Fellowship of Differents is as much about Paul the apostle as it is about the church. In one section, McKnight asks, “Have you ever wondered what the apostle Paul looked like?” Quoting one source, “…a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged of noble [manner] with eyebrows meeting, rather hook-nosed, full of grace.” He then adds his own description, “Paul was a sick man, a poor man, and a foolish man… By the time he died that body of his must have been scarred all over. There is something morbidly fascinating about this beaten, bruised, broken-boned and bloody man…”

In many ways this discussion is a bonus; a wandering perhaps from the intention of earlier chapters, but a clear picture of the type of inclusion needed in a true heterogeneous church.

This isn’t a quick-fix guide to improving your church culture. I found the reward here to be far more personal; after all change begins with me, right? To repeat, you can read this in a few sittings, or choose, as I did initially, to take a month to read the 22 chapters as part of your personal devotional time.


A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together was released in paperback by Zondervan in 2016. More information is available at this publisher link. Long after the normal review parameters, a copy of the original hardcover was graciously provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

October 21, 2016

Emotional Adulting

emotionally-healthy-series

Despite a rather hectic last couple of weeks, I managed to finish reading a book I have long been curious about. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero has a long subtitle but it sums up the book really well: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature while Remaining Emotionally Immature.  (Zondervan, paperback.)

My curiosity was fueled somewhat by the fact the book is part of a brand which includes other Emotionally Healthy… titles, all of which have done well; and also a number of courses. Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in New York City, a racially diverse congregation that he has served for nearly 30 years.

The book touches on a number of practical areas where we can blend emotional and spiritual maturity; some from the author’s personal experiences, from the lives of others, and some borrowing from a broad range of spiritual disciplines forged throughout church history.

If you assess books, as I do, in terms of value, then there are insights on every page. This is a book you will want to read with pen in hand, as you will want to underline it throughout. I think it’s also a book you will want to read, at least parts of it anyway, more than once. Like the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, this blends the best of the Christian Living type of books with the self-help genre, and hopefully will be around for a long time.

I had a number of pages flagged as potential excerpts, but going back decided on this one for today, where he talks about a la St. Benedict about the “elements of a Rule of Life.”

emotionally-healthy-spiritualityDevout Jews today have numerous customs related to their Friday Shabbat meal as a family. They maintain various traditions, from the lighting of candles to the reading of psalms to the blessing of children to the eating of the meal to the giving of thanks to God. Each is designed to keep God at the center of their Sabbath.

There are an amazing variety of Sabbath possibilities before you. It is vitally important you keep in mind your unique life situation as you work out these four principles of Sabbath keeping into your life. Experiment. Make a plan. Follow it for one to two months. Then reflect back on what changes you would like to make. There is no one right way that works for every person.

Sabbath is like receiving the gift of a heavy snow day every week. Stores are closed. Roads are impassible. Suddenly you have the gift of a day to do whatever you want. You don’t have any obligations, pressures or responsibilities. You have permission to play, be with friends, take a nap, read a good book. Few of us would give ourselves a “no obligation day” very often.

God gives you one – every seventh day.

Think about it. He gives you over seven weeks (fifty-two days in all) of snow days every year! And if you begin to practice stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating for one twenty-four-hour period each week, you will soon find your other six days becoming infused with those same qualities. I suspect that has always been God’s plan.


October 20, 2016

When the Saved Need Saving

Earlier this summer I was given an advance copy of Saving the Saved by Bryan Loritts. First of all, the bright cover (i.e. The End of Me by Kyle Idleman or The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister) set it apart from other review books in the stack, but more importantly, I recognized the author’s last name; he is the son of Crawford Lorritts who I believe was connected to some national rallies James MacDonald (Walk in the Word) hosted.

saving-the-savedThe subtitle of Saving the Saved is long, but sums up the book well: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love. I am continually amazed at the number of Christians — even among Evangelicals — who believe their ticket into heaven is something they’ve done. (We’ve written about that here.)

So the author puts a Christian spin on the often government-related noun meritocracy, and certainly the church is complicit in this, giving a higher place or value to certain people “chosen not because of birth or wealth, but for their superior talents or intellect.” (See the 2nd definition here.)

Because I read the book earlier, but wanted to post the review closer to the release date (it’s now available) I relied on a some other reviewers to refresh my memory. One noted some key themes:

1.  Jesus did not try to prove Himself and gain acceptance from others.
2.  How we view eternity affects how we live in the present.
3.  The futility of works-based acceptance.
4.  Moving from performing for approval to abiding in Christ.
5.  Letting peace have the priority over worry.

While another reader broke the book into three sections:

After introducing with a call to arms against a supposed meritocracy of works-based morality, the first part of the book looks at what goodness isn’t–reflecting on soul songs and the longing for the good life, pointing out the universal need for grace, reminding the reader that man-made goodness doesn’t cut it, criticizing the human tendency for pride, and looking at the transformation that results from independence as we reflect on our higher and lower natures, in five chapters.  The second part of the book looks at authentic goodness by changing the focus from performing to abiding, reminding us that our failure is never final, and pointing our attention to the resurrection and its implications for us in three chapters. The third and final part of the book looks at how we practice performance-free love in our own lives by setting a difficult and painful example of forgiveness towards others, practice generosity, practice peace over worry, practice graciousness in marriage, and see genuine love as being a way of being saved from ourselves and our own bent towards inhumanity towards others in the book’s last five chapters, before a thoughtful acknowledgments section that provides some context on where the author was when he was writing this book.

I spent my Labor Day reading Saving the Saved; I rarely binge read like this, but like the cliché says, I couldn’t put it down. While the core subject is countering the belief in performance-based faith, I think many of the reviewers missed the underlying scrpiture text, the book also serves as an insightful commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

It also occurred to me that this title falls into a select category of books which would be a great first Christian living book for someone to read, though it is also applicable to the rest of us who’ve been on this journey awhile. A good mix of personal stories and material from other sources. 

Finally, while perhaps this is more reflective of the fact I’m based in Canada, I could not help but not how few books I get to read from the black community. Their voice is often heard in other media, but not so much in print, and the black pastors and televangelists most people see are usually decidedly Charismatic; which does not describe Bryan.  Therefore, where the book gets autobiographical, it reflects a unique perspective.


A copy of Saving the Saved was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada.

September 19, 2016

Rethinking Our Connection to our Jewish Friends

near-christianity-anthony-le-donneHe had me at the title.

Near Christianity: How Journeys Along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God by United Theological Seminary professor Anthony Le Donne is a collection of seven1 essays concerned with the manner in which dialog between Christians and Jews takes place, and the ways in which Christians perceive Jews individually and collectively. There is a flow to this, but I suppose you could read the sections out of sequence, as each begins with a new playing field across which the dialog often takes place. The book officially releases tomorrow from Zondervan.

I don’t want to get sidetracked with superficial details, but at $18.99 US for a 212-page2 paperback, I rather assumed that this title was intended for the academic reader. But I’m not sure that this is the case, hence the review here. Certainly anyone with an interest in religious history, the Holocaust, Israel or Judiasm in Western Europe and North America would find this engaging and understandable. I’m told that Le Donne is the author of seven titles, but other than one from Eerdmans — Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It — the others are textbooks or have limited distribution. 

The Holocaust figures prominently into a couple of the chapters, but perhaps it’s a microcosm of a larger church history:

If this were a book about Christian “best practices” or “what you need to know about Christian beliefs,” we might live without the contradiction.  But this is a book about borders and, especially, the borders shared by Jews and Christians.  So we must ask, How did Christian morality look in Nazi Europe?  What dogmatic shape did it take?  And if we find that it looked similar to the Christian moralities at work in the heresy hunting of early Christian theology, or Constantine’s vision, or the Crusades, or our major church splits, or manifest destiny, or the Salem witch trials, or Confederate America, or the Red Scare, or countless acts of harm to LGBTQ+ children, should we not stop to wonder if there is a deeper sickness at work?  pp102-103

If the book has a central thesis, it is that we are better served if we have Jewish people in our circle of friends, or with whom we can at least have the occasional conversation. The book also points out areas where as Christians we have, sometimes unintentionally, created racial stereotypes that do not foster ideal relationships. We probably never consider this perspective:

If you walk into one hundred different synagogues on one hundred different Saturdays, you might never hear a single mention of Christians or Christianity.  By contrast, most Christian worship services – and there are many, many more of these – regularly refer to Jews and Judaism. Of course we do. Almost all of the Christian Bible was composed by Jews. Most of the early Christian theology was either adapted from Judaism or composed in departure from Judaism.  We believe that our God established a special relationship with Israel. Our Messiah is Jewish. For better or worse, Christians simply cannot stop thinking about “the Jews.”

Would it surprise you to learn that many Jews find great discomfort in this?  Would it surprise you to hear that many Jews (I will not say most because I do not rightly know) would prefer to have Christians focus on something else? Can we blame our Jewish friends for wishing that we would talk about someone, something, anything else? Take a moment to consider this. How would we Christians feel if a neighboring group that outnumbered us by billions could not stop discussing us, in most cases without our presence or permission? Now imagine that this same group has a long history of trying to convert us, punctuated by determined efforts to murder us? Wouldn’t we want those billions of people to just leave us alone? Even if billions of these folks said kind things about us and if most of them meant well, wouldn’t we want them to focus elsewhere?   pp126-127

Le Donne is indebted to C. S. Lewis for more than just the title of the book. Quotations from a variety of Lewis works appear in many if not all chapters. I tend to skip book introductions until I am completely finished reading, but he expands on the connection to C.S.L. there even more clearly. 

As to the subtitle however, the book definitely bears the subjectivity of an autobiographical work, but I may have missed the cathartic moment. I would have chosen the less dramatic ‘Shaped My Faith’ over the more sensational ‘Saved My Faith.’3 Make no mistake though, the author’s proximity to Judaism from a very young age is evident in each and every chapter. His window on this ‘border’ is unique.

This was a great book, and I didn’t even mention the section about Jewish comedy. I’ve already started to re-read a few sections and I give this my full recommendation.


1 A popular Christian retail site lists eight chapters, each having different titles than the ones in the advance copy of the book I received. I’ll try to get access to a finished copy of the book and see which was more accurate.

2 Despite the greater number of chapters, the same website lists a lower (192) page-count.

3 In the introduction, the author suggests something closer to preserved and certainly not anything in a soteriological sense.

Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to read a pre-release copy of Near Christianity. Page numbers cited may differ from the finished work.

April 21, 2016

Visual Theology: Part of a New Generation of Reading Materials for Non-Readers

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a KJV

If Solomon were alive today he might well be more accurate to say that of the writing of Facebook posts, blog articles and Tweets there is no end. Literacy is waning, attention spans are decreased and the time and money available for purchasing reading materials is being diverted to tech-based pastimes.

Rather than abandon ship, a number of people are producing materials aimed at keeping us interested in what’s on the printed page. As you’re reading more recently produced resources you’re likely to see a greater use of colors, varied fonts, sub-headers and sub-sub-headers and call-outs, those little boxes of reiterated text at the side of the page intended to draw attention to particular sentences (sometimes referred to as pull-quotes).

In the world of Christian publishing we find for example, Rose Publications providing what I call “fast facts for a bullet-point world” — they’re welcome to use that phrase — in a series of about a hundred laminated pamphlets, not dissimilar to the laminated charts you used in college science courses when there wasn’t time to read the textbook. Church history, The Temple, The Feasts, The Prophets, teachings on Baptism, translation comparison, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Armor of God and the Names of God are just a few of the many titles that condense information for those who just want the Cliffs Notes on a given topic.

Another way information is communicated online is through info-graphics, and we’ve seen this break into mainstream Christian publishing through products such as The Quickview Bible which we reviewed here a few years back. If I had a nickel for everyone I know who in the past twelve months who has used the phrase, “I’m a visual learner…”

Visual Theology coverInto this arena steps Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan, 2016). Because you’re reading this on your computer or phone, the Challies brand should be familiar to you. Despite originating in Canada, challies.com ranks in the top ten on many U.S. lists of the top Christian blogs, spurred on greatly by the predilection of his neo-Reformed, New Calvinist tribe to be among the most active online. Publishers pay real money to run “sponsored posts” on his blog; his Amazon referrer income is probably the envy of thousands of other bloggers; and as we found out one time, a simple mention on his à la carte daily link list can send daily reader stats skyrocketing. It’s no surprise that as a result of his blog, subtitled “Informing the Reforming,” he is now able to write full-time.

Never one to be content with past accomplishments, Tim Challies continues to re-invent the blog with a now daily quotation graphic, and a few years back introduced a number of info-graphics by Iowa communications pastor Josh Byers. While these form the distinctive element of Visual Theology and were certainly the backbone of the book’s elevator pitch, it’s the ones done as flowcharts that I think are most engaging, especially the two-pager (pp 96-7) on How To Put Sin to Death.

In terms of overall organization, the book is divided into four sections:

  • Grow Close to Christ
  • Understand the Work of Christ
  • Become Like Christ
  • Live for Christ.

with two or three chapters for each. The actual text sections — and despite the liberal use of color there’s more text here than I may be describing — are written in fairly plain language including some helpful illustrations from the author’s experiences. This is a book that non-readers — a group especially encompassing teens, twenty-somethings and males of all ages — would find very accessible.

Visual Theology

Additionally, Visual Theology is a great resource for either the person wondering, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ or the person whose current status is more of, ‘I’ve just made a commitment to become a Christian, so what do I need to know or do next?’ In terms of elementary things the Christ-follower needs to know, the book is no doubt indebted to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (who also writes the foreword) and other books of that genre, but without the dryness or clinical treatment that sometimes accompanies Christian academic or reference works.

Remarkably, the book is mostly denominationally neutral. Though the footnoted sources betray Challies’ roots and preferences (Tim Keller, Dane Ortland, R. C. Sproul,  C. J. Mahaney, John Owen, etc.) I was impressed by the doctrinal evenhandedness the book presents. True, my Anglican friends would cringe at the suggestion that ordinances means the same as sacraments, but I actually appreciated the inclusion of both terms.

In the author’s hometown, there is a congregation that advertises themselves as, “a church for people who aren’t into church.” Well, this is a book for people who aren’t into books. A gospel primer for adults, if you will.

Considering the graphic design and printing process that went into creating this book, the 156 page paperback is a steal at $17.99 US; and for the nerd in the family, the books of the Bible listed in the style of The Periodic Table of Elements is worth the price of admission.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for much-appreciated copy of Visual Theology which, if I loan it out to friends, I will probably not get back!

 

March 19, 2016

Jesus For President (It’s better than some of the current options)

While I’ve re-run many articles over the course of the blog, book reviews have not been among them. Book mentions are usually unique to a particular time and place and only relevant while the book is new. The attention of reviewers and readers alike then moves on to whatever is next.

But I was drawn to this short review because the book is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in this an election year; not to mention the release of a 10th anniversary edition of the author’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. So grab some cooking grease to power the bus engine as we head out on the road once again…

“Growing up we were taught to sing the exciting songs of Noah and Abraham and little David and Goliath. But we were never taught songs about debt cancellation, land reforms, food redistribution and slave amnesty. We don’t know if it was just hard to come up with words that rhyme with “debt cancellation” or if folks were hesitant about venturing into the ancient (and sometimes boring) world of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy… Whatever the case, these books are where some of God’s most creative and exciting ideas come alive.”

Jesus for President pp 57-58

About fifty years ago elementary school students had something called ‘readers’ which contained base materials for a variety of subjects. Each page brought some new adventure, they were the equivalent of a variety show for students with poems, psalms, pictures, maps, science articles, biographical stories and fiction. Basically, everything in it but the kitchen sink.

I’ve just finished reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. Like Shane’s previous book, The Irresistible Revolution, this book has everything but the kitchen sink, too. 

This book begins with an overview of the early Jewish history as recorded in the Pentateuch. There is also a great deal of focus on Constantine’s influence on the Church in the 300s. Constantine, a hero to some for his legitimization of Christianity, isn’t doing well on review these days. (See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of an American Nation for more of this, or listen online to some of Bruxy Cavey’s teaching at The Meeting House in Oakville, ON www.themeetinghouse.ca or check the blogsphere for reviews of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. etc.)

But kitchen sink style, Claiborne and Haw then move on to practical ways that the Church can make a difference especially in terms of the environment, the economy and creating equity. They don’t stop at stamping out poverty. They want to stamp out affluence, too. In some respects, they could have got two very different books out of this, but their understanding of Israel’s history, their interpretation of Christ’s teaching, their take on the first few hundred years of Christianity; all these provide context for where they see the church today. In other words, first you get their motivation, then you get their methodology.

Like the school readers of old, you’re left with a primer on social action, with every page yielding something new. (And the visual dynamics of each page help, too.) And not one paragraph, not even one sentence in the book is theoretical. It’s about living all this out on a daily basis. 


Keep up with Shane and partner-in-crime Tony Campolo at RedLetterChristians.org

A year after this was review was published, I later covered the Jesus for President DVD which is still widely available. You can read that review here.

 

 

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