Thinking Out Loud

January 12, 2016

Book Review: The Looney Experiment

Nested among the advance reading copies from Zondervan last fall was a book for younger teens. I kept wondering why it was included, but after a conversation later into the year I flipped through the book and formulated a plan.

So today, I bring you a guest reviewer (who I don’t think I’ve met) who is in the same grade as the student in the story, and has a similar first name to the author. I guess it was meant to be!

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds
Zonderkidz, 2015, Hardcover, 208 pages

reviewed by Lucus Wood

The Looney ExperimentAtticus is a young boy in middle school. He is a target for the school’s bully. He likes a girl that doesn’t really know he’s there. Because of the fighting his dad has left his family and Atticus feels confused and angry. Atticus’s teacher leaves to have a baby and they get a supply teacher named Mr.Looney. Mr.Looney seems to show up with Atticus’s dad out of the picture and helps him stand up to the bully at school. He stands up for himself and he makes life better and he goes on to be happy.

I really liked Mr.Looney. He is probably one of the funniest book characters that I have ever read about. Mr Looney has a wacky personality and is very wise though he makes his points in the strangest ways possible. He was my favorite character hands down. My favorite part was when he was jogging around the class room.

My thoughts on this book are: Amazing! Having a crazy teacher in a book is my favorite part of fiction books. I would recommend The Looney Experiment to others because it contains lots of laughs and a valuable life lesson. I enjoyed this book even though I thought I wouldn’t like it. I hope the author will write a sequel. (If he does, I’d love to read it.) I wonder if this book reflects the author’s childhood?  It was a great book and I will definitely read it again.


Read more about the book at Zondervan.com
See what other reviews are saying at BookLookBloggers.com

December 11, 2015

The Ultimate Dumbing Down of Christian Publishing

Coloring Books

Some Christian bloggers feel a compulsion to weigh in on every trending topic, but most are ignoring this one entirely. I’m talking about the growth market of stress-relieving adult coloring books. Never heard of it? The uniquely Christian editions simply mirror something taking place in the larger publishing market except that we Christianize it through the adding of a few Bible verses, though maybe not on every page.

Adult Coloring Book for ChristiansDominating the religious market is Today is Going to be a Great Day! released by Christian Art Gifts, a worldwide consortium of manufacturers and distributors best known for their line of Bible cases. It probably offers the best deal on a price-per-page basis.

But Baker Book Group offers one also, Live Loved containing the writing of Margaret Feinberg, which has author name recognition. On Wednesday, I noticed this title on a list of possible blog review titles. How do you review a coloring book? I dared to ask this, and was told to, “…see this as an experience, and review based on that. Perhaps talk about what you reflected on or if you felt anything during, or coming away from the experience.”

I’ll have to get out my colored pens. Or is it pencils? I know nothing about this genre. Anything I was to color would look like it had been done by a 5-year old. It wouldn’t make the refrigerator door of a preschool, even a politically correct one where everybody’s pictures get posted. I am always coloring outside the lines, which, on reflection, would be a great name for a blog.

Some Christian bookstores are finding this whole trend to be a cash cow. They are in fact selling the pens, or markers, or whatever you use to share this stress-relieving experience. I’m hearing of stores ordering 500 copies at a time of Today... This is Christmas 2015’s Jesus Calling, a veritable gift to Christian merchants.

Where does all this lead? When you have a trend, build a Bible around it; ergo Journaling Bibles:

Bible Journaling full size

“Don’t write in your Bible;” I was told as a child. Hence a vast scripture collection adorns my shelves that are void of any underlining or highlighting. But now we have the sample pages above where apparently every one of us is potentially the next Timothy Botts. It’s a Bible marking adventure that makes Kay Arthur’s intricate inductive study method of Bible marking (see below) appear downright drab by comparison. Again, I know people awaiting the Winter release of these Bibles with baited breath.

So what is this blogger going to say in response?

I have no words. I just don’t get it. Coloring books? This is what it comes down to in a world that faces so many spiritual challenges right now? The gifts under the tree this Christmas are going to be coloring books for adults?

I guess I said it all when I wrote the headline for today’s piece.

 


If you want to take pen (or pens) to Bible, I propose that this might be a better use of your time:

Inductive Bible Study

 

November 12, 2015

Reviewing Wicked Women of the Bible

In a publishing environment that has brought us Bad Girls of the Bible and Desperate Women of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible, it was only a matter of time until Wicked Women of the Bible. Zondervan author and editor Ann Spangler’s titles are usually a little bit more pedestrian, but as she explains it her publisher “suggested that it might be interesting to use the word wicked in both its literal and ironic sense;” or cover what the blurb calls “wicked and ‘wicked good.'” In all honesty, I see this book coming back in a year or two on my “formerly published as…” list with a new title.

Wicked Women of the Bible - Ann SpanglerMoving past that, I expected to find perhaps at most a dozen women covered, but this book takes on no less than twenty; and for each there is the story itself, followed by some background on the setting, followed by study questions. That “The Times” article follows the story is an interesting twist, that contained information that was well-researched, as were the stories themselves. (Each section’s title page also contains a related Biblical text.)

God chooses to reveal himself through narrative. The stories we grow up with — whether involving male or female protagonists — are actually telling us much about His character and dealings with His people. Some of the stories in this collection were quite familiar, and some involved women that are less frequently highlighted. The ones we learned as children are probably in the former category, yet I found both types of account to be written in a measured, informative manner.

Spangler’ present-tense storytelling style also involves bits and pieces of conjecture, but nothing too excessive. This is not what some call ‘Biblical Fiction,’ but falls more into the commentary category. Some of the best insights are in the footnotes; I never considered Jericho’s Rahab as an innkeeper. Or that Bathsheba wasn’t entirely an innocent victim of King David’s advances. Still, in one case David is singing to his wife Michal, and the sample text provided is recognizable from Song of Solomon. A footnote acknowledges this inter-generational stretch, but for some reason, this one concerned me.

Overall however, this is a great resource for small groups and an excellent catch-up for new Christ followers unfamiliar with these narratives. It also provides balance to those who feel the nature of the Bible literature is overly patriarchal.

October 3, 2015

Weekend Link List

Thought we'd spend a Saturday on the links.

Thought we’d spend a Saturday on the links

blank calendarIf you’re the type that tracks blood moons and Shemitah years, in North America, the change to Standard Time this month is the same night as Halloween. I’m sure this must mean something to John Hagee and Jonathan Cahn.

Selections from the cutting room floor this week, and recent additions:

  • “‘Kids, put away the phones and iPads,’ I announced. ‘We’re going to watch a movie and all look at the same screen the way God intended.'” Skye Jethani looks at what it means to be alone together.
  • The campus newspaper of the state university in Idaho refused an advertisement from a creationist group saying, “many of their claims could be construed as overtly belligerent to our readership.” The university defended the newspaper’s actions.
  • Al Menconi reviews Joe Amaral’s The Story in the Stars DVD. “I’m convinced that Story In The Stars needs to be seen and understood by every Christian in the world and should be taught in every Bible class and science class at every Christian school in the world. This isn’t just an interesting documentary, it is a biblical way to understand what has been right in front of our eyes for thousands of years.”
  • Tensions in the SBC summarized: “We have been pulling on a loose thread for quite some time. Now, it is finally unraveling.” The author expresses five concerns, the fifth of which concerns the role of Dr. Russell Moore: “Moore speaks when I would be silent and remains silent when I would speak. Most of the time, I do not find him representing my views as a Southern Baptist in the public square. Rather, he lectures me on what he thinks my views ought to be.”
  • Zondervan releases a new book by Alan Chambers, former President of Exodus International: “After closing Exodus, the Chambers thought of starting a new organization, but realized quickly that they wanted off the public stage. ‘We wanted to be Alan and Leslie Chambers for a time,’ he said.Around the same time, the couple apologized to the LGBT community on national TV for any hurt Exodus may have caused with their assertion that reorientation of same-sex attraction is possible. “’We wanted people to know we had a sincere change of heart,’ said Chambers.” A review of My Exodus at Publisher’s Weekly.
  • “A Colorado court has issued an arrest warrant for Teen Mania Ministries founder Ron Luce for failing to appear at a hearing last month, according to court documents…in connection to Compassion International’s lawsuit against Teen Mania…Charity Navigator ranks Teen Mania as the nation’s fifth-most insolvent charity with a net worth of negative-$5.2 million.” More at World Magazine.
  • Essay of the Weekend: The new ABC-TV prime time version of The Muppets flies in the face of Jim Henson’s original vision. “…the show suffers from what, since the finale of Seinfeld, has become an overused writing gimmick: no real resolution to the characters’ problems.That’s a far cry from Henson’s original hope of leaving the world a little better than he found it.” I guess it’s not easy being green.
  • Canadian Corner: For this academic, with an federal election just a few weeks away, the problem isn’t that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is Evangelical, it’s that he’s not Evangelical enough. “Ironically, it might be well for the Prime Minister to be a little more afraid than he seems to be about the end of the world: whether brought on by global climate change, the proliferation of war, or the pent-up fury of oppressed peoples.” The environment is a critical issue in the October 19th vote.
  • Finally, the next time you’re eating pecans think of this: Federal labor law enforces say that children from the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, some as young as 6 or 7 were forced to work as much as 14-hour days, including kids who had peanut allergies.

Flash back to 1984, Brent Bourgeois from the album Come Join the Living World
sounding a little bit like Earth, Wind & Fire.

September 21, 2015

Chuck Colson’s My Final Word is Serious Reading for ADD Readers

Chuck Colson - My Final WordYou consider yourself a deep reader and thinker, but you struggle with staying focused when you hold a book in your hands. You like to be challenged and engaged, but your ADD kicks in every time you look over there, I think that cat is chasing a squirrel– so you’ve probably already seen the advantage in reading story collections and anthologies.

It’s ironic then that in presenting this assembly of transcripts from the Breakpoint radio program with Charles Colson to you I should be proposing the writing of a man who was such a voracious reader to people who struggle with that same discipline.

Because of who Colson was, it should come as no surprise that many of the short articles in the book are related in some way to politics and political systems. That was his passion, and that is where he truly speaks with authority.

Other themes in My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues That Matter Most include Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics, public life, culture, crimal justice, contentment, homosexuality, and several other topics. Within each theme there are at least a dozen transcripts, some longer, and some that were edited, though at times the subject ends up being political- or economic-related. This of course creates a bit of a liability when you are an international reader because so much of this concerns the American political system and key figures in the U.S. government. Even so, in those articles there are principles to be extracted and some of the stories have ended up on the front pages of newspapers in Sydney, London or Toronto despite their origin.

Then there is the richness in terms of the quality and quantity of the writers Colson quotes. He was a huge fan of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesterton, and to continue the list here would be to leave out others. If you want to know what makes people great, look at who they read and whose quotations they have memorized.

My Final Word clocks in at 240 pages total, released in August from Zondervan. In the foreword, longtime Colson associate Eric Metaxas suggests that there is sufficient material here to make the book suitable for small group discussions, and if all your group members are not always in touch with such issues, these radio transcripts will certainly raise awareness.

Full disclosure: Because of the nature of this anthology, I have not yet read every section, though I do prefer not to review a book before I’ve read every last word. I do intend to finish it however — it’s perfect nighttime reading for me — and I would encourage readers to keep a pen, pencil or highlighter handy to underline key sections and mark page numbers of passages to which you wish to return. I’m also reading the sections out-of-sequence, starting with ones which resonate more, and then, as I get more into the rhythm of the book, finding the others to be of equally interesting. In that sense, it’s a great reference resource on the topics listed above.

Chuck Colson was a very, very wise man.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for a copy of My Final Word.

August 25, 2015

Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

It’s one thing to write an article about an upcoming Bible based on media releases — which appears in part at the end of this one — it’s another thing entirely to hold one in your hands. Such was the case last week when a beautiful bonded leather edition of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible was delivered.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible open

Opening the pages, it occurred to me that in another era, this was the type of product that a family would order by mail, wait weeks for, and upon its arrival the family would gather around the dining room table to check out the different features. It deserves a party!

This is very much an encyclopedic Bible taking the existing NIV Study Bible — which will continue to remain in print — and combining it with ideas such as the supplementary articles seen in the ESV Study Bible and the use of charts seen in the Life Application Study Bible, and the use of full color, in-text pictures first used in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

As you would expect, there are detailed introductions for each book, but also to each section of Biblical literature. However, the bulk of the supplementary articles are placed at the back, and these are topical but also tied to elements of systematic theology, though I’ve noticed the publisher prefers the term Biblical theology. There are many maps at the back; I also noted a full-page map embedded in the middle as well. A variety of scholars contributed to the project which was headed by D. A. Carson. The print version also includes a free digital download.

At 2880 pages this is a Bible packed with features. As such, I wish the font chosen for the notes was a little clearer, but I might upgrade to the large print edition. This may not be your take-to-church Bible edition, but it offers some great helps for both the new Christian who wants background information, and the veteran Christ follower. 

Below is the original article posted here in anticipation of this significant Bible release…


NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Opinions here are those of the author; this is not a sponsored post.

While the title may confuse some, you have to assume the publishers already sorted out that potential confusion and went ahead with the name anyway. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is releasing later this summer, and is certain to get mixed up with the classic NIV Study Bible which has been with us for several decades. The latter isn’t going anywhere.

At a major online Christian retail site, we read:

The NIV Study Bible will remain in print. With over 10 million copies sold over 30 years, this bestselling study Bible will continue to help readers come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

And then it offers this chart which outlines the differences:

NIV Study Bibles compared

Looking closely at the author list above, methinks that that Zondervan is going after the same market as purchased the popular ESV Study Bible. Clearly, to some extent, the Reformed community is in view. However, by virtue of its weight, the ESV product attracted a broader audience containing features which had not heretofore seen in study Bibles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the ESV Study did contain elements worth emulating.

Zondervan is quick to point out that this new project was not adapted from the present study edition, but was “built from the ground up.” 

Bonus: For those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a look at some of the extras in this Bible below which is a clue to where the advance peek treasure is buried:

NIV Zondervan Study Bible ArticlesClick the image above, and then click the “preview” tab to see the full table of contents and many of the introductory articles.

August 6, 2015

Best of the Blog

Here are three articles from this time three years ago.

•All Bible Verses are Equal, But Some are More Equal than Others

When it was released in 2011, I expected a bigger reaction to The People’s Bible, a new NIV Bible format that places the verses in a font sized based on the volume of traffic for that verse at BibleGateway.com. After all, we place some verses in red if they were spoken by Jesus; soul-winner Bibles come with “Romans Road” type passages already underlined; Key Word Study Bibles only provide the Strong’s Greek or Hebrew index number for selected words3218 in a sentence; so why not highlight popular verses in bigger type?

Do you think this has merit, or is this Bible destined to remain a bit of a fringe product?

•How to Spot Pentecostals and Charismatics

This was printed in 1978 by Jesus Outreach Ministries in Fairmont, West Virginia. I don’t believe any sarcasm was intended, rather they were trying to make the Charismatic environment more user-friendly for visitors. I only deleted the bottom section because the person who gave it to me had written on it.

•Kyle Idleman on Identifying Your True Idols

On July 15, 2012 at Southeast Christian Church, Kyle Idleman asked the congregation a series of questions that are worth considering:

The answer to these questions points to what might be God’s primary competition in our lives:

  1. What are you most disappointed with? or What do you complain about the most?
  2. What do you sacrifice your time and money for?
  3. What do you worry about?
  4. Where do you go when you get hurt; when life is hard? or Where do you go for comfort?
  5. What makes you mad, angry?
  6. What brings you the most joy?
  7. Whose applause do you long for?

July 18, 2015

Two Children’s Products Every Adult Should Own

You will learn much from these two products that were originally produced for a much younger audience. If you can’t justify the expense in a kid-less home, rent a kid for the weekend.

Jesus Storybook BibleThe Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan).

We attended a weekend seminar where the speaker walked up to the pulpit carrying only this book. While it doesn’t replace a regular Bible, it shows how the classic stories we read to our children anticipate or foreshadow the coming of Christ. Probably one of the few Children’s Bible story books to receive critical acclaim by theologians.

If you can’t bring yourself to own a kids title, in October the book is releasing in an adult edition as The Story of God’s Love for You.

 


 

WhatsInTheBibleSetBuck Denver Asks “What’s In The Bible?” by Phil Vischer (Jellyfish Labs).

Regular listeners to his podcast know that the Veggie Tales creator decided to go beyond the moralism of the video series that made him well-known, and this time around teach the Bible narrative instead.

There are sections of these stories that evidence the input of Christian education and theological specialists. There’s a lot of inane banter between the puppet characters, but in-between, there are lessons for both kids and adults that begin with the first introductory kid-friendly segment about Bible inspiration and interpretation. Each episode is about an hour with a break in the middle.

13 DVDs will set you back, so look for bundles like the one pictured here. A second series is now in production.

 


Check out an interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones on the Tuesday, June 19th edition of the Eric Metaxas Show, hour #2.

Check out the Phil Vischer Podcast and the What’s In The Bible website.

 

July 11, 2015

Where the New NIV Zondervan Study Bible Fits In

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Opinions here are those of the author; this is not a sponsored post.

While the title may confuse some, you have to assume the publishers already sorted out that potential confusion and went ahead with the name anyway. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is releasing later this summer, and is certain to get mixed up with the classic NIV Study Bible which has been with us for several decades. The latter isn’t going anywhere.

At a major online Christian retail site, we read:

The NIV Study Bible will remain in print. With over 10 million copies sold over 30 years, this bestselling study Bible will continue to help readers come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

And then it offers this chart which outlines the differences:

NIV Study Bibles compared

Looking closely at the author list above, methinks that that Zondervan is going after the same market as purchased the popular ESV Study Bible. Clearly, to some extent, the Reformed community is in view. However, by virtue of its weight, the ESV product attracted a broader audience containing features not heretofore seen in study Bibles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the ESV Study did contain elements worth emulating.

Zondervan is quick to point out that this new project was not adapted from the present study edition, but was “built from the ground up.” We know that like the ESV Study, it contains supplementary articles and that well known Biblical scholars were responsible for particular books, but for many of the finer details, we’re going to have to wait until the August 25th release date to see all its 2,912 pages.

Of course, if Zondervan wants to send me a review copy, they know how to reach me!

Bonus: For those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a look at some of the extras in this Bible below which is a clue to where the advance peek treasure is buried:

NIV Zondervan Study Bible ArticlesClick the image above, and then click the “preview” tab to see the full table of contents and many of the introductory articles.

June 9, 2015

Toward a Post-Industrial Faith

Reading John J. Thompson’s Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World, makes me wish that Zondervan had a sort of outreach imprint like Baker Books has with Brazos or NavPress has with Think, because this is probably the best example of what we once termed a pre-evangelism resource.

Jesus Bread and Chocolate - John J. ThompsonSaid differently, this is the book you always wished existed so you could start the conversation with that friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker who believes that Christians are people who simply don’t [fill in the blank] and one of the the things they don’t enjoy is, for example, a decent glass of wine.

Of course, if you think that beer is of the devil, or that an $8 loaf of bread is simply bad stewardship, this is probably not the book for you.

I was drawn to review this after watching an interview the author did with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani a few weeks earlier. I connected the name with a Christian music store called True Tunes that specialized in all the hard-to-find, out-of-print and imported Jesus Music and CCM that was born in the days of the Jesus People in the 1970s.

However, people do move on to other interests and reinvent themselves, and although the book has a chapter which references those early Christian music days, John Thompson has emerged as a connoisseur of quality beer, wine, coffee, bread and sees in the making and enjoying of these things a number of modern day — or more accurately ancient — parables to everyday life and faith. (If they published in hardcover, and added more pictures, this could be a coffee-table book about coffee!) 

Yes, the above paragraph does say beer and wine; you can almost hear the sound of the demographic narrowing. If your definition of what constitutes a Christian book is, well, more somber, then again, this title is probably not your particular cup of tea, or in this case coffee. So I’m going to let the publisher define it for you:

Farmer’s markets, artisanal dark chocolate, home-made bread, craft-brewed beer,  and independent boutique coffee shops may not immediately call to mind issues of faith, but they should. As the “American Dream” starts to fray at both ends, millions of people are embracing values that seem to hail from a bygone era. They are seeking out the local, the small, the responsible and the nourishing instead of the cheap, the homogenized, the mass-produced and the canned.

Is it possible that this renewed interest in these pre-modern values may actually offer an open door into the hearts and minds of this generation? Is there a way to explore specific, inspiring stories about coffee, bread, chocolate and art that lead people toward a truly Biblical understanding of the person, words and work of Jesus to reveal the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel?

With fascinating stories and a thread of memoir, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate explores the emerging—actually re-emerging—values of this post-industrial age and points out parallels between them and the teaching and ministry of Jesus and his earliest followers. Rather than seeking to tie the faith to trends in the culture, it shows how trends in the culture are already very close to the organic kind of faith that could re-energize the church and bring countless young and middle-aged people into a saving experience of Christ.

I think that last paragraph might leave you feeling the book is less accessible than it is. Let’s just say that Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is equal parts quality food, heartfelt autobiography, and a whole lot of stuff to think about.

 

 

 

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