Vancouver Pastor’s 2nd Book is a Must-Carry Item

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

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.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

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Audio Books Taking a Hit from Two Directions

As with compact discs and DVDs, audio books are prone to the decline in physical media we’re seeing currently. Customers, from teens to retirees are downloading content. With audio books the savings can be significant, given that some books in physical audio form would involve 6-7 discs.

However, more recently experts are asking the question of how much spoken word content people can absorb, and are concluding that people are drifting away from audio books because of podcasts. The podcast format offers a live, unscripted feel which provides more immediacy and intimacy. They also have a lead time of just hours from finished recording to market availability. Is there a ship stuck in the Suez canal? They can make references as fresh as the morning news.

Most retailers have a mentality where the audio book section is part of “books” and don’t really examine it while considering the future of their movies and music. But if it’s taking a hit from both the shift in technology and the growth of podcasts, it might be worth starting that clearance sale sooner than later.

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Reviewers Can Hate the Advance Copy, But Can’t Quote From It

When my other blog,Thinking Out Loud was at its height of popularity, I often found myself the recipient of review copies of books I hadn’t solicited. For the most part however, I requested advance copies or preview editions of books I would want to keep; and today my bookshelves contain a significant percents of what are called ARCs, or Advance Reader Copies.

The deal with ARCs — or any version of the book reviewers are sent — is that you are under no pressure to post a positive review. More recently, bloggers in the U.S. are required to post a statement saying that they received the book free in exchange for a review of any type.

So you can love the book. You can hate the book. You just can’t quote from the book if it’s an ARC.

Here’s why: These “uncorrected proofs” contain various types of spelling and grammatical errors which don’t make it into the final copy, plus there are other embarrassing things that happen such as the example below:

Do you see it? I won’t mention the book, but last week I got curious and wanted to verify that the correction was done… correctly.

Guess what? They almost fixed it!

Sloppy, sloppy editing. Peoples’ names matter.

Oh, lest I forget, this is personal: My last name is Wilkinson.

Beth Moore Cutting Ties to Lifeway

The person who has, without doubt, made the biggest contribution to the earnings of Lifeway’s adult curriculum department, Beth Moore is walking away from the publisher and its parent denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

In an article in Religion News Service, Bob Smietana notes:

…Millions of evangelical Christian women have read her Bible studies and flocked to hear her speak at stadium-style events where Moore delves deeply into biblical passages.

Moore’s outsize influence and role in teaching the Bible have always made some evangelical power brokers uneasy, because of their belief only men should be allowed to preach.

But Moore was above reproach, supporting Southern Baptist teaching that limits the office of pastor to men alone and cheerleading for the missions and evangelistic work that the denomination holds dear…

But the SBC’s four year love affair with Donald Trump would prove to be a line she couldn’t cross. RNS continues:

Moore’s criticism of the 45th president’s abusive behavior toward women and her advocacy for sexual abuse victims turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.

A spokesperson for Lifeway says they plan to continue carrying her materials.

Reaction on Twitter Tuesday (3/9) was overwhelmingly supportive.

Author Brian Zhand said, “In the end, Southern Baptists were more comfortable with Donald Trump than with Beth Moore. Just think about that.”

Author and speaker Danielle Strickland wrote, “We are in a reformation. Time for a rethink of everything and a rebuild on the rock who is Jesus. Congrats, Beth Moore for choosing love over fear. The Kingdom marches on and the gates of hell will not stand.”

Sheila Wray Gregoire added, “You put gospel first, Beth. You want to live a life of integrity. We all see it, even if it makes others uncomfortable—and they should feel uncomfortable.”

Relevant Magazine posted, “Her departure is an enormous blow to the SBC, which is already fraught with controversy over racism within its own ranks that has led to several high profile Black Southern Baptists announcing that they would leave the Convention. Now, it appears Moore is following their lead.”

Skye Jethani tweeted, “The problem is that many church/denominational leaders who lack Beth Moore’s integrity will go along in order to keep the $$ and jobs. They aren’t leading the people; the people are leading them. That’s why white evangelicalism is imploding.”

Diana Butler Bass said, “Beth Moore leaving the Southern Baptist Convention is the religion news equivalent to Prince Harry leaving the royal firm. A big and unthinkable deal.”

In general, many people felt this wasn’t a matter of if, but when this would happen.

Image: Lifeway Women

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Remembering John Baker and Larry Crabb

This past week two significant passings in the Christian author community were noted; people whose resources we carry and whose lives deeply impacted so many.

John Baker (left) co-founded Celebrate Recovery with Rick Warren, a Christ-centered 12-step program to help people overcome their hurts, habits, and hang-ups; which has been translated into 20+ languages and used around the world. He is the author of the book Life’s Healing Choices. He left us on February 23rd at age 72. [Read more at Zondervan.]

Dr. Larry Crabb (right) wrote books which focused on the intersection of psychology and faith; helping people see themselves as part of God’s “larger story,” which was also the name of his ministry organization. He was best known for the book Inside Out, but also authored 66 Love Letters, a first-person narrative (i.e. as though God was speaking) based on books of the Bible, and The Papa Prayer, based on the Lord’s Prayer. You may have also known him for The Marriage Builder. He left us on February 28th at age 77. [Read more at Church Leaders.]

As I looked at their lives I realized there was one very great similarity, in that both caused people to look inside, to peel back the layers past the exterior which others see, and deal with the root(s) of the issues in their lives, and thereby move on to hope, help and healing. Their legacy will continue through the resources they have created.

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Selling on Sundays

File image; not sure whose store, or why the short Saturday

The history of Christian bookstores in Canada being open on Sundays is basically a history of failed experiments. Despite the Lord’s Day Act of 1906 being struck down as unconstitutional in 1985, customers generally don’t expect Christian retailers to be physically open on the first day of the week.

But notice that I now have to qualify that with the adjective, physically open. Our various types of websites — whether yours is a BookManager page fully capable of processing sales 24/7, or a non-transactional site like mine — and our social media are humming along quite fine on Sundays as people have extra time to browse.

It’s not that you have an option. The T. Eaton department stores (better remembered as simply Eatons) would draw the blinds on Sundays up until as late as 1968. There’s no technical limitations that would stop you from shutting down transactions or even browsing on your website on Sundays, but nobody has ever voiced taking such drastic action.

Most of us have also had the experience of our own church asking us if we would mind bringing an order to church on Sunday morning. This type of product ferrying was justified in my younger days because you were doing kingdom business. To repeat it, the phrase kingdom business was used to justify all types of what would normally be work by people employed in church, parachurch and ministry-related occupations.

Back to websites, is all this a slippery slope where Sunday’s distinct identity for the Christ-follower gets lost in a world that doesn’t take this as a day apart?

I often get emails and Facebook product inquiries on Sunday. They come through my home computer, and people fully expect an answer within a reasonable time-frame. My conscience notes what day of the week it is, but I often proceed to answer which often includes checking stock availability and prices on Ingram, Anchor, Harper, etc.

It certainly doesn’t feel like Sunday.

Responding quickly means I don’t forget to deal with that customer on Monday. Furthermore, when adding an item to a cart yesterday (Sunday), I simply submitted the cart for processing. Years ago, I would never do that.

We also have a policy where we post content to Facebook every single day. Because people have so much leisure time on Sunday, I know it’s a day when our traffic increases. I try to make the Sunday posts ministry-focused; something our local chapter of Youth Unlimited is doing, or a Salvation Army initiative. But consistently, Facebook supplies these posts to a very small number of followers. It seems to have a filter that is biased against our assisting third parties.

Yesterday (Sunday) at 4:20, I simply ran the next product promotion that was in the queue. I hesitate to do anything in the morning because I know so many are watching online services and would have their computers running, and that would be simply taking advantage of the situation. 

Besides, it’s kingdom business, right?

Owners and managers: Are you able to fully shut down on Sunday, or do you find your work tends to follow you home? Should customer inquiries be ignored until Monday? If you could shut off transactions on your website on Sunday, would you? 

Related: The Church bookstore dilemma; revisit something we posted here back in 2009.


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Free Graphics for February


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Religious Book and Bible Closing Grand Falls-Windsor Location

Newfoundland’s longstanding Christian retailer Religious Book and Bible House has made the decision to close their store in Grand Falls-Windsor. Product is being liquidated at 75% off throughout February as of this writing.

The St. John’s store will remain, but this week faced its own challenges as the region was hit with a Covid-19 outbreak so severe that it cancelled Saturday’s provincial election.

RBBH has been servicing Newfoundland and Labrador with two great stores for more than 60 years.

RBBH Website

RBBH Facebook

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Should Publishers, Retailers Pull Ravi Zacharias Titles?

Update (Feb 12; 3:15 PM) Zondervan has just posted this:

Posted earlier today:

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries has completed its internal report of its late founder, and the results are deeply disturbing.

Late last night, Moody Press author and acquisitions editor Drew Dyck said “I think they publishers should pull his books;” in response to a Twitter comment which stated, “I almost never throw books away. I have people close to me who’ve been victims of serious sexual abuse. I don’t want to see his name on my bookshelf any more.”

This again places retailers (and publishers) in the position of having to decide whether to grant shelf space to the popular author, or if leaving his books on display is creating a distraction or showing a lack of awareness or discernment.

American Christian journalist Julie Roys has a report on the findings. I’ll quote the beginning of it here, but you’re encouraged to read it in full.

Investigation Finds Ravi Zacharias Reportedly Raped a Massage Therapist; Sexually Molested Others

The late apologist Ravi Zacharias reportedly raped a female massage therapist and sexually molested several others, according to the results of a months-long investigation released today by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).

The RZIM board said it is “shocked and grieved by Ravi’s actions” and feels a “deep need for corporate repentance.” The board also apologized to Lori Anne Thompson, the Canadian woman who says Ravi Zacharias lured her into a sexting relationship with him in 2016.

“We were wrong,” the board, whose members remain unnamed, stated. “Our trust in Ravi’s denial of moral wrongdoing and in his deceptive explanations of emails and other records that became public was severely misplaced . . .”

The investigation, which was commissioned by RZIM and conducted by the law firm Miller & Martin, included interviews with more than 50 people, more than a dozen of whom were massage therapists who treated Zacharias.

The investigation was announced in September, after several former massage therapists alleged that Zacharias had sexually assaulted and harassed them at spas he co-owned. RZIM initially called the allegations false, but announced it would hire Miller & Martin after Christianity Today published the massage therapists’ accounts…

continue reading here

Julie’s report also contains the full transcript from RZIM and also mentions one of the more outspoken victims, Lori Anne Thompson. Last week she Tweeted some of her victim impact statement, noting a interesting Canadian connection: She met Ravi Zacharias at a fundraiser for UCB Canada (Christian radio network) in Kingston, Ontario.

Several people have commented online that they are most disturbed at how Ravi was able to compartmentalize his excellent teaching with a life that included moral and ethical compromise.

It’s sad that for some of us, this is how he will be remembered.

For those of us in retail, we probably have considerable inventory of titles that Ravi authored, co-authored, contributed to, or wrote introductions or forewords for. In our store, removing books by Bill Hybels added up to a significant carton of titles, and of course there is no redress from publishers or distributors. With Ravi, I suspect that scope of product would be even greater.

While I haven’t taken any action in my own store — this is all too new — I would caution stores about ordering further product.

Numbers 32:23b CSB: “…be sure your sin will catch up with you.”

Further update: Thinking about the impact of today’s announcements became the springboard for today’s devotional at Christianity 201.

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Experiencing the Synergy Between the Sermon Series and the Book

Review: Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets by Andy Stanley

This was, by design, the longest it has taken me to post a book review. The reason is that when I first picked up my copy to start reading, Andy Stanley began a six week series at North Point which corresponded to the six chapters of his latest book. I decided to listen to the message and then, to reinforce its impact, read the chapter after each week in the sermon series.

In Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: Five Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Move, Andy Stanley offers a set of five questions which, if asked at pivotal moments in life, will prevent us from ending up in situations of great regret and remorse. In this respect, it’s a self-help book that someone, if they were not a person of faith, could still read and benefit from.

With each question, Andy offers an illustration from the scriptural narratives of key people demonstrating the principle in action.

I’m not a consumer of the self-help genre — friends have recently mentioned things like Strengthsfinder 2.0, and Crucial Conversations — but I do appreciate the wisdom of Andy Stanley. This time it’s partly autobiographical as he discusses things that he felt his parents did right when he was in his formative years, and also prescriptive for parents today as he discusses how he took what he learned and applied it in the raising of his own children and the foster children he and Sandra have welcomed into their home.

Asked at the right time and place these questions can save people so much hurt. Are we being honest with ourselves? What legacy do we want to leave? What nagging issues in the background deserve our attention? What is the wise thing to do? What does love require of us?

Only in the book it’s not us or we, it’s I and me.

The book uses the examples of Jeremiah, Joseph, David, Paul, and Samuel. And the words of Jesus. If you also watched the series, I know you’re thinking, “Samuel?” Yes, there wasn’t an exact 1:1 correspondence between the video sermons and the book, which also contains a short concluding chapter. But you could read the book and imagine Andy’s voice in your head as you read. The two scripts were quite close.

While I recommend this to anyone reading this review, I especially commend it to anyone with a young adult nearby. This book could save them a life of regrets.

Zondervan | 180 pages hardcover | 9780310537083 | 19.99 US | Study Guide 9780310126560

Thanks again to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for keeping us informed and providing great books like this one for review.


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Canadian Bookstore Chain: Revenue Down, But Profit Up

Canada’s national bookstore chain, Chapters/Indigo made news last week on two different fronts. The financial picture in the headline is the focus today, but first, I don’t want to miss something else.

On February 1st, the company announced it had appointed Peter Ruis as president of the company, who will be relocating here from the UK. There were to parts of the press release where the wording struck me as significant, and I’ve highlighted them here in italics:

Canada’s largest book and lifestyle retailer, announced the appointment of Peter Ruis to the position of President, effective immediately.

Did you catch that? And also,

…In his capacity as President, Mr. Ruis will be responsible for leading the Executive Team, fundamentally reshaping Indigo as a Living with Intention company, and transforming the Indigo business model while elevating the brand and driving profitable growth…

In the paragraph which followed, CEO Heather Reisman reiterated that key phrase,

“…We look forward to having Peter bring his wealth of knowledge and expertise to Indigo at this exciting moment in our business as we pivot to a Living with Intention company, providing our customers with the ideas, experts, and products to help them in their quest to live with purpose.”

She is saying that increasingly, Chapters/Indigo will be about lifestyle philosophy, about living — if I may put the words in her mouth — a “purpose driven” life.

As to revenue, according to a Canadian Press report,

“Double-digit revenue growth in the first seven weeks of the quarter had set us on a trajectory for meaningful growth,” Reisman said in pre-recorded comments shared during a call with analysts on Friday…

…Still, while the Toronto-based retailer’s third-quarter revenue slipped to $365.4 million, down five per cent from $383.7 million, its net profit grew nearly 19 per cent.

The book and lifestyle chain reported $30.7 million profit for the three months ended Dec. 26, up from a profit of $25.8 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

Big box book retailers can be an inspiration for smaller, independent retailers selling the same products, but as we’ve seen in the U.S. over the years (with Borders, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Family Christian, etc.) they can be extremely vulnerable.

Chapters report of being able to do more (financially) with less (retail revenue) is probably not uncommon in the retail sector. Stores were able to tighten hours and even have temporary shutdowns, only to reopen with abbreviated hours and customers with pent-up demand for titles they wanted or had ordered during the lockdown. Having an already established online ordering and delivery platform probably also served them well, especially as anti-Amazon sentiment increased.


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A Winning Formula for Selling the New Filament Bibles

It’s obvious.

It’s easy.

But I’m presenting it here in case it didn’t occur to you.

Simply have every employee go to the App Store, or Google Play Store and download (free) the Filament Bible App to their phone or tablet.

That’s it.

You’re now in a position to demonstrate the feature each time a customer asks, since most people carry their phone in their pocket anyway.

Remember that this isn’t just an NLT thing; Filament Bibles come in KJV as well.

If you missed the video earlier, this takes only one minute of your time:

I found balancing the book and the phone while sitting in a chair a bit challenging, but if you’re sitting at a desk and have the book and your phone both on that same flat surface, it works best.

Some editions are missing the Filament icon on the title page. Simply indicate this and it will direct you to a particular page to activate the app. Note also that customers can do this in the store on their phone — the app downloads fairly quickly — and do their own demonstration. I suggest having a designated hardcover copy or a lower price leather copy of the Bible for this purpose as it will get a little shopworn over time.