Last week, a package turned up in the mail containing the book Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids: How Moralism Suffocates Grace by Samuel C. Williamson (Beliefs of the Heart Press, 2013). The book is a quick read at around 86 digest-sized pages so I was able to complete it in a single morning.
The author’s background is compelling. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:
- My father was born in China to Pentecostal missionaries. My mother was born in a farming family in Kalispell, Montana.
- Though sympathetic to the work of the Holy Spirit, my father disagreed with aspects of AOG theology. He became a Presbyterian and was a PCA pastor until his retirement in 1995…
- I studied European Intellectual History, Philosophy, and Hebrew at the University of Michigan.
- I served in missions overseas for three years and felt God say “not now.” So I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan and got a job at a software company. (There weren’t many jobs in 17th Century, European Intellectual history.)
- With two partners, I bought the software company and worked there as an executive and Chief Product Manager for 25 years.
- In 2007 I heard God call me to writing and speaking. I left the business world and began Beliefs of the Heart.
I agree with the premise of the book as the subtitle defines it. We are teaching kids behaviors and virtues which, while they are important part of passing our values on to the next generation, are not necessarily distinct from what other religions teach. The heart of gospel is most evident when we’re not living out the fruit of the spirit; when we’re angry; when we fall into sin; etc. The heart of the gospel is the grace of God. It’s that grace that sets us apart from other belief systems.
As such, the book is commendable, but as the author confesses in an afterword at the end, the book’s main title is mostly provocative; he’s not addressing specific Christian Education or Children’s Ministry issues here as he’s also concerned with the predominance of moralism and performance-based faith that is found equally in adult sermons and Christian books, which are often concerned with offering a “quick fix” or “ten easy steps” to meeting any challenge.
There were also some areas where the book suffered the fate of self-published titles in its overuse of bold face type (though thankfully, not capital letters) on things like the titles of other works or for emphasis where italics is the common standard. I mention that only because I think that if some of the chapters were fleshed out more, and the book went through more editorial vetting, a major publisher could pick up this title, even though Christian publishers are not spared in the sixth chapter!
All that said, there was enough of interest here to render this worthy of recommendation and the above comments notwithstanding, I think that Christian educators and Sunday School teachers should give this a look as well, especially given its pricing at only $5.99 US, and especially due to a chapter on how simply teaching moralism may be part of the reason kids exit the church as soon as they’re old enough. As John and Kim Walton showed us in a much longer work, The Bible Story Handbook (Crossway), too often we are pulling out the wrong interpretation or spinning the story incorrectly anyway.
Check out the author’s blog BeliefsOfTheHeart.com where you’ll also find more info on the book and podcasts. The book is available from Ingram using ISBN 9781941024003.
Doing the weekly link list for Christianity Today, and always looking for new stories for Thinking Out Loud, I make a daily practice of visiting Religion News Service in general, and the page of senior columnist Jonathan Merritt in particular. So I was intrigued to see that he has written a book for Hachette Book Group’s Faithwords imprint and even more so when I noted that John Ortberg had written the foreword. The book is releasing in hardcover in April at $20 U.S.
Is the God who created us better than the God we’ve created? After following Jesus for nearly two decades, Jonathan Merritt decides to confront the emptiness of a faith that has become dry, predictable, and rote. In a moment of desperation, he cries out for God to show up and surprise him, and over the next year, God doesn’t disappoint… Jonathan shares vulnerable, never-before-shared stories of how he learned to encounter Jesus in unexpected ways.
- Through a 60-hour vow of silence in a desert monastery, he experiences Jesus in silence.
- When a friend dies of a rare disease, he sees Jesus in tragedy. Through confronting childhood sexual abuse, Jonathan discovers Jesus in honesty.
- In an anti-Christian-themed bar, he finds Jesus in sacrilege.
- And when he’s almost kidnapped in Haiti by armed bandits, he experiences Jesus in the impossible.
Though Merritt finds himself in places he never dreamed of, he doesn’t lose his way. Instead, these experiences force him back to the Bible, where he repeatedly offers fresh, sometimes provocative, interpretations of familiar passages. Along the way, he throws back the covers on the sleepy faith of many Christians, urging them to search for the Holy in their midst. Pointed and poignant by turns, Jonathan helps readers open their hearts to a mysterious God and a faith that sustains, guides, and most importantly, surprises. His fearlessly honest story invites us all to discover the messy mercy and crazy grace of a sometimes startling Savior.
Recently named one of 30 leaders reshaping Christian leadership by Outreach Magazine, Jonathan has become a popular speaker at conferences, colleges, and churches.
I’m hoping our publicity rep at HBC will send us a review copy for Thinking Out Loud, and for clarification, this is actually Jonathan’s third book.
Your God Is Too Small is a classic, pocket-sized paperback that in its first half — the half people generally refer to — breaks down a number of false ideas people have about God. This is a rather vital subject matter as these wrong pictures of God are as pervasive in the modern church as they were when J. B. Phillips wrote the book in 1961, which is proably why the book stays in print. However, as contemporary as Phillips’ writing was at the time, some of the language seems dated today, and furthermore his twelve twisted pictures of God take up only 38 pages in the small book; you blink and you’ll miss them!
So I was surprised to learn that a solution has existed since the summer of 2012 in the form of a Lifeguide Bible Study from InterVarsity (IVP) titled Distorted Images of God. If people feel that God is emotionally distant, that He raises impossible expectations, that He is isn’t listening, or that He is inconsistent and random; this eight-week study might be a good alternative to doing a character study or book-of-the-Bible study.
9780830831456 $8.00 US; 64 pages.
Looking up titles at Send the Light’s website is easy if you follow these four steps:
- Type the title or author into the CBD site
- Copy the ISBN
- Go to the Send the Light search field
- Paste the ISBN
Works every time! Last night we were looking up a new book by C. Michael Patton, who we read regularly at the Parchment and Pen website. The book is, Now That I’m A Christian, and new-believer resources are hard to find, so we’re anxious to start carrying this title.
But many of the new releases at Send the Light — especially audio, for some reason — have nothing entered in the author field, and the sight couldn’t navigate the apostrophe in the word I’m.
It does get tiresome.
Like the book The Well by Mark Hall which I reviewed here in August, 2011, Thrive is both the title of a book and a compact disc. I’ve been privileged to hear the CD several times and read several sections of the book twice. This is Mark’s fourth book and while some authors may appear to write from a theoretical standpoint, Mark Hall is in the trenches, doing youth ministry first and foremost, and then doing what he views as a second role, as a musician with the band Casting Crowns.
The book’s full title is Thrive: Digging Deep, Reaching Out and the subtitle and the cover telegraph the book’s outline and content. Using examples from his years in student ministry, as well as a few road stories from the band, Mark delivers something fresh in each of the book’s 30 chapters. I’m struck by how he is both forthright and yet transparent and vulnerable at the same time.
The primary audience for Thrive will be people who are familiar with the band’s music, but really, this is a contemporary Christian living title that earns a place next to popular writers such as Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, or even Max Lucado. Bookstores really should have a few copies in Christian Living, Youth Books and in the music department.
I remember once hearing, “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see,’ part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.’” That’s really the focus of this book. It is suitable for both new believers and those who are spiritual veterans. It is equal parts teaching, anecdotal and autobiographical.
I read parts of Thrive out loud at our family devotions while our sons were home for reading week. I can only say that this was the right book for us and it arrived at just the right time.
Thrive is published by Zondervan in paperback at $15.99 US.
That moment where you realize you have hundreds of dollars tied up in un-redeemed music coupons, and absolutely nothing you particularly need or want right now.
She gets loads of Christian media attention; definitely a Christian personality whose star is rising. But there’s one problem: The very first word in Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber is an expletive that cannot be printed here, and it is but the first of many.
That said, I’m on my second-time through some of the chapters and Pastrix earns my highest recommendation, provided of course we’ve made clear the question, ‘recommended to who?’
Such is the nature of the contradictions in the book, and in many ways such is the nature of the contradictions that define (or undefine) the tall, tattooed, female Lutheran pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints, aka HFASS. And yes, you’re allowed to — and they do — pronounce it half-ass.
The book is a collection of biographic memories in a loose chronological sequence that sometimes act merely as springboards for some sermon extracts. You get the feeling that Nadia would have been more comfortable producing a book filled with some of her unique sermon insights, but the publisher no doubt felt some back-story was necessary, at least the first time around.
I have two takeaways from reading the book.
First, Nadia is a very wise person who unfortunately made some very unwise decisions early in life, but decisions that are redeemed in the unique voice her past gives to her present. Was writing this particular book using a very edgy, street vocabulary wise? A future Nadia might rethink it, but it does create a product unlike anything else that has crossed my desk before. She creates a meeting place in print where seekers and skeptics can join the sexually ambiguous in their quest for truth. She is, like other Christian writers, paving a road to the cross, but it’s a back route that few travel.
Second, it’s evident that Nadia has now, and always had, a pastor’s heart. Her calling to ministry is evident at different stages of her life — even in her darkest moments — and is perhaps more evident than dozens of other pastors I know who, granted, don’t drop the f-bomb as often. Her flock aren’t the type of sheep that would make it into an award-winning photograph, but they’re her sheep, and she is doing her best to shepherd them and truly grieves if one falls by the wayside.
Pastrix will appeal to people who match, demographic for demographic, the people who attend HFASS, or potential converts. People on drugs. People who sleep around. People who commit crimes. People who Jesus loves. People who Jesus died for. Future brothers and sisters you might find yourself sharing eternity with.
You can recommend this to the edgy people who bought Jay Bakker’s book, or people who read Donald Miller or Rob Bell or Rachel Held-Evans. But in most of our stores — especially where I am in conservative Canada — it will be a special-order title; not something many of you would carry on the shelf.
I do need to declare a conflict of interest here: My wife and I are fans. I featured her at Thinking Out Loud a few years ago as her reputation started to go national. I download each new sermon as it appears on her blog, and track the printed text as we both listen to the audio. We’re not doing some ministry watchdog thing, waiting for her to trip up doctrinally, but with each sermon we’re always in awe of how theologically orthodox she is.
I begged the people at Jericho books for a pre-release copy of this book and had just about given up when I discovered a book had been delivered wedged between two 20-inch square pieces of cardboard. That never happened before. It seemed fitting, somehow. It’s a book that will certainly occupy a place on my bookshelf, but it will have to be a spot where my conservative friends won’t see it. Then again…
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint is published in hardcover by Jericho Books an imprint of Hachette Book Group. Both Send the Light and CBD consider this title too hot to handle. The Canadian distributor is Word Alive (!) and the book will transition to paperback in September.
Reasons we prefer print
Tim Challies linked to this on the weekend. The first paragraph at Digital World states,
A cursory glance at the statistics for the US ebook market will tell you most people are sticking with paper, and there’s a good reason for that. As the following infographic will show you, paper books fill many uses which ebooks cannot.
If I were one of the Christian publishers who bet the rent that backlist could be kept alive electronically, I’d be recanting and assigning some print-on-demand ISBNs.
Just like my local radio station does requests at noon hour, Send the Light Distributors are very quick to listen and add products to their database. When I mentioned last week that Pope Francis’ full length paperback, The Joy of the Gospel was topping the overnight list at Ingram for several days this week, they checked into it immediately and decided to add it. (Unfortunately, the author field is blank, which will limit search results, but you can click the image below to add it.) In Canada, Word Among Us Press is distributed by Joseph’s Inspirational in Toronto.
We brought a couple of these in from Ingram last week and they sold within a few hours. While we’re not a Catholic store, and often wrestle with how much we should cater to that market, there is also interest in the new Pope from among Protestant readers. The final paragraphs of the book however (section 60) contain — as Catholic works often do — a prayer to Mary with which many in our industry may not be comfortable.
As some of us learned Monday, Larry Willard and his wife Marina Hofman were involved in a serious car crash on Sunday that left the driver of the other car dead. At the time, CTV News in Sudbury reported:
A 29-year-old man is dead after crashing into two cars Sunday afternoon.
At approximately 3:31 p.m. the OPP was dispatched to a motor vehicle collision on Highway 69 south of Daoust Lake Road…
Initial investigation revealed a northbound Chrysler Sebring crossed the centre line into the southbound lane… The driver then continued northbound in the southbound lane, colliding head on with a Jeep Commander.
Russell Galbraith, who was driving the Sebring, succumbed to his injuries after being taken to hospital. The driver and passenger of the Jeep Commander were transported to hospital and are in serious but stable condition…
We spoke with staff members at Faith a few hours ago and learned that Larry is in traction with fractures in both legs and pelvic injuries while Marina suffered abdominal injuries.
Join us in remembering both in prayer. We held back on running this story until we had more accurate details. Thank you for your patience.
While comparing notes with another retailer this weekend, we both agreed that running a sale or printing a coupon with “20% off” or even “25% off” no longer drives customers into the store. It’s possibly due to online competition, but no doubt also due to stores like Winners offering discounts based on suggested list prices that customers don’t trust.
Today, I started wondering if that’s true at the wholesale level as well. Traditionally, booksellers enjoyed the standard “trade discount” of 40% and then publishers and distributors would offer advertise “extra 2%” or “extra 4%” or pre-publication discounts of 46%. (Why was it always 46%? It was based on “40 and 10,” they would deduct 40% and then take 10% off what was left. Sometimes dealers would be offered “40, 10 and 10″ on a special item and it would sound like 60%, but was really just under 52%.) But lately, it’s hard for dealers to be impressed by anything less than 50% off, a factor not lost on David C. Cook Canada’s “Big Deal” promotion running through 2014.
Dealers want greater incentives to commit and also need greater margins to give customers the discount they are seeking.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I rather like the Korean cover of Skye Jethani’s book With (Thomas Nelson). The book uses a series of prepositions to help you wrap your mind around the different ways different people engage their relationship with God. The Korean cover signals to the reader that the book is about some not-so-abstract faulty concepts that are easy to fall into, using the author’s doodles that appear inside the North American edition. Jethani, who is a very cerebral author, has just released his third title, Futureville. What do you think?
I didn’t get to hear the budget live, but if I understand correctly everything that was being said on the drive home today, the Finance Minister is freeing up retailers to buy product from any vendor or distributor if they feel the distributor of record (or exclusive distributor) isn’t being fair in terms of conversion of U.S. pricing. So technically if Distributor “B” can prove to the U.S. publisher that they can offer better pricing than Distributor “A” they should be able to sell the product as well.
Is that what you heard? Feel free to comment, and I’ll update this as well. (Ethically, the distributor who marketed the product to you should get first pass on the order, and in a smaller country, double distribution isn’t efficient, though there are some regional variances where this could make sense…)