Adding New Life to The Sermon on the Mount

Review: What if Jesus Was Serious: A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love to Ignore – by Skye Jethani (Moody Publishers, 2020)

I first became aware of Skye Jethani through his old blog Skyebox and the Phil Vischer Podcast. I was immediately impressed by his demeanor which I can only describe as forthright. He spoke with authority and wasn’t afraid to speak to problems in what he called, ‘The Evangelical Industrial Complex.’ To learn that we shared the same denomination, The Christian & Missionary Alliance, was just an added bonus.

Over the years I’ve reviewed a number of his books on my blog, Thinking Out Loud. Skye isn’t a household name in the Chuck Swindoll sense, and his writing requires firing up dormant brain cells to appreciate his message. For example, in The Divine Commodity he uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif to discuss what it means to be a Christian in a consumer culture. In With, a book I called ‘the preposition proposition,’ he looks at what it means to try to live life over God, life under God, life from God and life for God when in fact it’s supposed to be — no spoilers here — another preposition entirely.

With Futureville he uses the New York World’s Fair of 1939 as a motif to discuss the effect of negative visions of the church. In Immeasurable he offered a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; a topic which is his long-suit when it comes to public speaking appearances. I’m pleased to own a copy of all four books and have done my best to review them here.

But it’s the book With that’s significant today, because in it, we saw a foreshadowing of what we get in his newest book, What if Jesus Was Serious? which is a series of restaurant-napkin sketches, or if you prefer doodles.

I’ve written several times in several places about the trend toward visual media. An increasing number of people are visual learners and several books have emerged over the last few years which infographics to communicate material that would have heretofore been relegated to the Biblical reference genre. Also, let’s face it, we’ve seen a drop in the attention span of many readers, and a picture can be worth anywhere between 900 and 1100 words, right?

This time, it’s The Sermon on the Mount that Skye Jethani has in his sights. It’s radical teaching from Jesus, so one can be forgiven for asking Jesus the question, ‘Are you being serious?’ Or maybe more simply, ‘Really?’

He breaks Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 into 72 bite-size pieces and each receives a two-page spread with an appropriate doodle. If you’ve ever sketched something on the back of some scrap paper to get a point across you’ll appreciate the approach. There’s also quotations from a diverse group of writers across the Christian spectrum.

Who is the audience for this?

A few weeks ago I recommended the book to a woman to give to a very mature 11-year old who is checking out Christianity. I don’t know that he is the intended audience. I also referred to it as a possible graduation gift. That gets a bit closer, but still not the target reader.

Rather, Skye brings with him to this project many of his views on church and Christian institutional leadership. If you know him at all, you see that reflected clearly. I can see giving this book to a pastor — who possibly has a whole shelf of Sermon on the Mount-related titles by now — as an alternative way of looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon. Equally, I can see giving it to a recent convert who wants to better understand the teachings of Jesus. The book is layered if you know what I mean.

In addition to binge-reading it, it can also be read devotionally. Skye writes a daily subscription devotional called With God Daily, which was no doubt the genesis of this project.

But in the spirit of visual learning, here’s a sample. This link takes you to nine of the project’s 72 chapters and may represent an earlier version and not the final text. You’ll appreciate both the simplicity of the presentation and the bite or edge that’s contained in his writing. You can also learn more at the publisher’s website.


Thanks to Martin at Parasource Canada (Moody’s Canadian distributor) for an opportunity to add Skye’s latest to my bookshelf. This one’s a keeper.

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A Christian Retailer Will Probably Get the Order Right

A well known Christian scholar and podcaster (whose name I’ll leave out) just wrote this on Twitter:

Dear Amazon. You’re the worst. Also, I can’t live without you. But you’re the worst. My new NT Wright book says “Delivered on Monday in mailbox” is actually just an empty envelope that you shipped to me. Thank you for being the worst. I should break up with you, but I can’t.

But somebody went him one better:

Yeah. That ain’t right. So much for this super-efficient automated picking and packing.

By the way I admonished the first guy with:

Yes you can live without, and you should.
There are still a number of Christian-owned and operated businesses that will ship you an N.T. Wright book, and you might even find one with flexible pricing vis-a-vis Amazon. Either way, they would have loved to have had that sale.

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Getting to Know Our Authors

It took several years, but yesterday and today I finished Out of Darkness, the autobiography of Stormie Omartian. I thought I was familiar with the overall story arc of her life, but this book went deeper on so many levels.

It was also a much darker story than I anticipated; the title is appropriate. Anyone suffering, dealing with trials and tribulations in their life; anyone dealing either themselves or a family member flirting with the occult; anyone who has ever had or known someone who had an abortion (especially in the years when it was illegal); anyone who has had a history of mental illness running through their family; …all these types of people should read this book.

Mentions for Stormie’s career as a Christian health and fitness advocate; or as a songwriter with her husband Michael were much more fleeting than I expected. She does get into the writing of The Power of a Praying series of books, but only toward the final chapters.

Because of some brief time spent in California, a more intimate knowledge of husband Michael’s music, and being involved as a bookseller when the Harvest House series of books launched, I felt I had several points of contact with this story, but the book was much, much more.

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Book Digs Deeper Than Title and Chapter Titles Suggest

As is the case sometimes here, the review below is presented as it appeared at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I didn’t want to be overly critical in that review, but to me, the premise of the book suggested something that aimed at people who are dancing on the fringes of Christian understanding, but the book actually ended up being more for people who are the more typical readers of Christian titles. I thought it was going to be something that would take advantage of HarperCollins’ reach into airports and gift shops around the world, but perhaps that book has yet to be written. In the meantime, this one is definitely worth recommending to people in your store who are at earlier stages of their spiritual journey but are able to process richer text.

Review: The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared Wilson (Nelson Books)

Although this title released in January, I’m just getting to it now. I wasn’t sure if I would do a review — I normally don’t unless I’ve read every page, which I’ve done here — but after completing two of its eight chapters I decided I was all in.

First, I need to address the giraffe in the room. Regular readers here will know that this review is highly uncharacteristic of me, because you’ll also know that Jared Wilson is associated with The Gospel Coalition, which represents a doctrinal position on some issues light years the opposite of my own. I decided there was enough about the book to interest me, and certainly enough to commend for giving as a gift to someone you know whose idea of Christianity consists of motivational platitudes which are often not contained in Scripture.

So I won’t belabor that point, except in a mention of the penultimate chapter. (See below). So let’s dive in!

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity or still tracking at a very elementary level. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today. Let’s list them:

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

These are general enough and timeless enough that the book doesn’t address current social issues, although some thing are alluded to. I think that timelessness is one of its enduring qualities.

The chapter on living your truth echoes the whole postmodern question of subjective truth; an apologetic issue that is still very much with us.

The section on feelings/reality is actually a good lesson in hope; that having Christ we “defy what is visible.” I included a short excerpt from that chapter on the weekend at C201; click here to read.

The discussion based on “God helps those who helps themselves” notes that since the fall, we’ve been “wired for works.”

I want to share with you all the various instances where I underlined sentences and circled key words, but space does not permit. (It’s never a good idea to write a review longer than the book.) In most cases, the discussion was advanced to the point where someone would need to be a little further down the road to understand everything, and yet naive enough in terms of their having perhaps adopted some of these non-Biblical maxims.

There are three more ‘lies’ I think could well have been included here:

  • “everything happens for a reason” – often based in a misreading of Romans 8:28
  • anything that riffs on a misreading of Jeremiah 29:11
  • “all roads lead to God” – as Universalism continues to creep into Evangelical thought

and perhaps you can think of others. Maybe there will be a book two! (The author suggested “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship…”)

So…about that second to last chapter.

This chapter is all about penal substitutionary atonement. It’s a major linchpin in the core doctrines of people in the Reformed/Calvinist world. The chapter’s premise is based on a look at the book Lies We Believe About God written by The Shack author Wm. Paul Young. I’ve seen some of the positive fruit of The Shack and for the right person, I would still recommend it. But there were things in the Lies… book that concerned me and I intend to have a second look at it.

Jared Wilson directly addressed one of my concerns with his view on substitutionary atonement, namely his own objection to the idea that God poured out his wrath on sin, which is where I land the plane. He said that throughout scripture, God’s wrath is always poured out on people and brought many references. In and of itself, that wasn’t enough to change my mind, since my view — in fact my perspective on much of what the modern Reformed movement propagates — is based on a different picture of God, though I admit, not necessarily Paul Young’s view.

No, my objection to the inclusion of this chapter is that it was out of place with the other seven. It addressed a statement one doesn’t hear in the marketplace as they might hear the others. It went in a heavy theological direction where the other chapters didn’t. I almost felt that Wilson wrote this out of an obligation to his tribe, the same way the reigning Popes have to be sure to include a statement about Mother Mary in each major address they give and each book they write.

That said, I stand by my assertion that this would be a suitable book to give to someone who is doing Christianity-lite and might be harboring the beliefs in the other seven statements. Especially if you’re walking with them to continue the discussion. It’s a good title for giveaway, or even as the basis for an entry-level Bible study for seekers or post-seekers, though I’d lead it as a seven-week study.


For a very short excerpt from the book check out this one at Christianity 201. A longer excerpt from the chapter on the wrath of God appears at The Gospel Coalition. For the publisher overview of the book, click this link.

Today’s review title was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

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A Christian Perspective on Racism

Some of these titles have been trending on the Ingram lists for the past eight to ten days. We wanted to make our own customers aware of these titles, but still write the copy for the associated Facebook post in a way that wouldn’t trigger their blocks. (Though it will scan the titles.) So I wrote this:

The last few weeks in the U.S. has brought no shortage of opinions on what’s taking place, what caused it, and what needs to happen next. Is there a Christian perspective? Glad you asked! These books — plus The Color of Compromise mentioned here a few days ago — are available on request. Click to see the titles larger, then type the title and the word ‘review’ to learn more. (We recommend GoodReads as a source.) Then place your order.

You’re free to use this graphic on your own website or FB page. Some of you use Book Manager to power your store website which may offer descriptions for your customers.  Here’s the graphic for Color of Compromise I referred to:

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If You Buy Used Books, Watch Out for This Guy!

Actually, there’s not much chance you will run into him. This happened years ago, and the story is told by humourist David Thorne in the U.K.  Still, it’s a reminder to be diligent about similar things!

My Confession

When I was in year ten, I would wag school to catch the bus into the city. I would hide the contents of my schoolbag and go to a christian book store called the ‘Open Book’, covering two levels and a second hand section in the basement. I would go in with my empty bag, select expensive theological volumes, and fill my bag with several hundred dollars worth. I would then use the toilets to remove any price tags before going downstairs to the basement where they would buy my books for half the retail price.

I did this twice a week. I figured that if they caught me I would cry and ask for their forgiveness and as Christians they would have let me go but they never caught on. I remember one person buying the entire Amy Grant tape collection when it had been on the shelves not ten minutes before. I was saving for a motorbike and bought a Suzuki Katana. The ‘Open Book’ went broke a year later so it worked out well for everyone.

Source: 1000 Characters

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The Fig Tree in Edmonton: A New Location

In today’s retail world, it’s always nice to post a good news story, and earlier in the month Nicky at The Fig Tree posted pictures to the Facebook Canadian Christian Retail Insights group page of their new location in the West Edmonton Mall. They have been serving the city for more than ten years now.

If you have a brick-and-mortar store and aren’t part of the Facebook group, contact Mikayla at Graf-Martin for an official invite! (Or send us a note here which we’ll forward.)

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Take Time to Know Your Customer Before Recommending Books

Two days ago I watched a YouTube video with a title something like, “Top Ten Books Every Christian Should Read” that had been posted two or three years back by a popular Christian blogger. It came up in the YouTube/Google algorithm as something recommended for me, but I also considered the possibility that Google is being paid for search engine optimization.

As I scrolled through the list, my reaction, to use the words of a well-known climate activist was, “How dare you!”

As someone who has been blessed by Christian books since my pre-teen years — which is a long time ago — I have books that I’ve enjoyed on a personal level. They’re part of my story, and if people ask, I share what some of them were, but not to the degree of recommending that they need to read them.

As someone who has spend a lifetime working in Christian publishing at both the wholesale and retail level (and on the fringes of the acquisitions and author development level) I don’t think I have ever recommended any of these books he listed to the people with whom I’ve been in contact.

My store shelves and my bookshelves at home have a number of similarities, but an equal number of differences.

Most times, seasoned Christians, veteran Christ followers, whatever you call them, usually know what they’re looking for. The people looking for advice are often wanting to get started at going deeper and for that I have suggestions. (As I’ve stated recently, keeping up with those means there were times my own reading wasn’t as deep as it could have been. If starting over, my library would be more InterVarsity Press and less Thomas Nelson/Zondervan, but what do you do if the former isn’t cooperating and the latter actually knows how to market books?)

My wife suggested I simply publish my own list.

I also know that any ‘Top Ten’ lists are considered clickbait, and when you are a very successful blogger the pressure to publish is immense. I say that as a once moderately successful blogger who felt compelled to produce new content every day for more than ten years.

I guess that, although I’ve poked at this topic repeatedly, what was printed was simply a list of ’10 Books Every Reformed Christian Should Read.’ That would describe it, right?

Wrong. It wasn’t even that. It was a list of ’10 Books Which One Reformer Thinks Every Other Reformed Christian Ought to Read.’

1. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
2. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
3. Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur
4. The Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges
5. Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen
6. Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore
7. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
8. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
9. The Pleasures of God by John Piper
10. The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Yes, there’s a woman on the list, but honestly, until two days ago, after the aforementioned lifetime in Christian publishing, I had never heard of her or the book, or had an inquiry about it. Perhaps she paid for search engine optimization, too.

Lists like this need to be subjective. It reminds me of an instructional article that shaped me years ago as to how to respond when someone asks what is the best Bible translation. “Best for whom?” we were taught to say.

Not knowing where this list is going to land, I would not begin to recommend these books, nor assume that the recipient fits into the “Every Christian” mold that is presumed. People are unique. Their journey with Christ is personal.

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David Jeremiah Speaks to Our World Situation

May 28, 2020 Comments off

“I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet—although I do have a prophet’s name.” – David Jeremiah

W Publishing Group has reformatted an existing publication by a popular radio and television preacher to address the current crisis the world is facing.

Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble by David Jeremiah is an updated, abridged, and adapted compilation taken from his beloved book When Your World Falls Apart.

In addition to the comforting and strength-giving truths of the Psalms and many captivating stories from throughout Scripture, Shelter in God provides a new introduction and material related specifically to our journey through life during the global pandemic.

– From Hallels.com

 

336 page Paperback | ISBN: 9780785241225 | 19.99US / 24.99CDN

Publishers Brace for Returns

A Canadian Press story by Gregory Strong carried by various newspapers on the weekend notes that stores are facing a lack of shelf space as they get ready to display pre-ordered Summer merchandise and must return Spring season titles which didn’t get a fair opportunity to sell while the retailers were closed.

While the story focused on mainstream (secular) market sales, the potential impact for Christian publishers and distributors is the same. Furthermore, Christian authors, publishers and retailers lost out on three key seasons: Most of Lent, Easter, and Mother’s Day.

Furthermore, stores may aim to simply have smaller min/max inventory commitments to key titles.

Here are some very brief excerpts from the longer article:

As publishers try to deal with the massive disruption to the book industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are bracing for another big blow that could arrive over the coming weeks as more retailers open their doors.

A massive return of books stemming from the two-month run of closed doors at bookshops and retail outlets could be a crushing financial hit for many domestic publishers, particularly the smaller independent variety…

…Bookstores and retail outlets are now heading into a new season with much more product on hand than normal, with only so much retail space to showcase new items…

…While publishers are used to the ebbs and flows of seasonal production and demand, the onset of the pandemic presented a unique challenge…

…As bookstores and retail outlets have opened their doors over the last week or two as provincial restrictions have eased, staffers are dealing with balancing unusual inventory levels and it has publishers feeling anxious…

The article also contained excellent insights from mainstream Canadian publishers. Here’s a link to The Toronto Star’s edition of the story. Definitely worth reading.

 

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Catherine Hudson: A Prophet’s Journal

There have been at least ten occasions in the life of our bookstore where one of customers has become one of our authors. Catherine Hudson knows what it’s like to experience the hand of God moving in her life and ministry. There’s never been a time she hasn’t walked into my store beaming a God-moment she can’t wait to share. I remember telling her not too long ago that she needs to write a book. I did not realize one was already in progress!

Publisher marketing from Guardian Books an imprint of Essence Publishing:

A Prophet’s Journal will take you on a journey to learn how to hear from God and know it is God speaking. Hearing from God will prepare your heart for what is coming. Seldom are we invited into someone’s personal journal… their thoughts, feelings, weaknesses and challenges. What about their prayer life, burdens, hurts, and even miracles? Have you ever heard someone describe their visions? Or tell you the specific words they have heard God speak to them?

A Prophet’s Journal is a unique book unlike any you have probably encountered before. It will leave you with questions, perhaps a longing to know Him better. This book is like a buffet table for your spirit, the opportunity for an experience, as you grow in your knowledge of the nature of God and His ways. If you have ever wondered what God is really like, or who Jesus is, read this book. If you have been a follower of Jesus but struggle with knowing Him more intimately, A Prophet’s Journal will help you. Perhaps you have been searching for a spiritual reality and haven’t found what you’ve been looking for? This is your opportunity…

Excerpt from the book –

“As the horrible device fell off, I saw the person open his eyes. You could see confusion and fear on his face. It was like he didn’t know where he was or how he got there. I watched as he looked around; a flush of colour started to come back to his face. I could see him trying to squint and see through the gloom of this terrible place. Once his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, he suddenly stood up straight and tall, like a man with purpose.”

Catherine Hudson has been walking with the Lord since she was twenty-six and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother of thirteen. She is a dog trainer and owns My Bark Avenue Academy. She lives in eastern Ontario, Canada with her two dogs. In 2019 she became the children’s director of the Community Children and Youth Outreach.

More information at Essence Bookstore.

Two Canadians Look at the U.S. President

May 20, 2020 Comments off

Dr. James Beverley has taught at Tyndale College and Seminary since 1988. He’s the author of three books for Thomas Nelson in the comparative religion category.

Larry Willard is the founder and publisher of Castle Quay Books (CQB) and has held a number of executive positions at Tyndale and is known to readers here for founding Faith Family Books, a Christian retail venture in Toronto which gave much visibility to Canadian authors.

So why are these two guys writing about Donald Trump?

It could be owing to the unusual approach of taking a prophetic perspective.

God’s Man in the White House: Donald Trump in Modern Christian Prophecy is born out of the political, moral and spiritual battle raging in America and around the world about the controversial U.S. President.

Quite unknown by most of the general public is the fact that Christian prophets have been claiming for over a decade that Trump is the chosen one, that he is God’s man for the White House for this particular hour. In this book, …Beverley documents the hundreds of prophecies about Trump that started over 10 years ago, and provides the political and religious context for the ongoing prophecies and controversies about the 45th president.

God’s Man in the White House is the most complete resource of materials on this subject and includes references to over 500 prophesies and statements made by more than 100 prophets and top Christian leaders, including: Kim Clement, Mark Taylor, Lance Wallnau, Lana Vawser, Lou Engle, Jeremiah Johnson, Michael Brown, Frank Amedia, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Paula White, Stephen Strang, Robert Jeffress, Rodney Howard-Browne, Jim Garlow, and James Dobson. Whatever your view on the subject, you will benefit greatly from this collection.

Canadian Christian News Service

The book is available to retailers in Canada through Parasource and through Ingram in the U.S.

9781988928302 | 210 pages | 18.95 (Parasource) 19.95 (Ingram)