Archives For Review

My friend, Lance Ford, wrote a note on my Facebook wall today reminding me that I haven’t blogged since March 21.

So.

I opened up Dragon Dictate and discovered a number of half-written posts that I thought I’d finish. But I didn’t.

Perhaps tomorrow.

Instead, as my first post back after far too long way, let me point you at three books I’m reading that I have found particularly helpful.

Make Your Own Application

The first is from my friend, Michael Newnham, a.k.a. Phoenix Preacher. It’s called Make Your Own Application. I’ll let Michael explain it in his own words,

A couple of years ago I started writing a weekly column on Fridays I cleverly called “TGIF”

What actually happened was that I woke up one Friday morning and had no idea what the hell to write and something fell out of my head and onto the keyboard. It had to have a title…and it was Friday, after all.

After some hits and misses, I found my voice writing about what was going on in my daily life and drawing scriptural applications from the same.

I wrote about my son and the skateboard park, I wrote about my doubts, I wrote about my faith…and I wrote about my cats. Miss Kitty and Squeak became regular guests of my readers as I chronicled how God speaks through critters.

This book is a collection of those writings. 

Let me just say with all the crap that I see happening in the church — crap that I need to admit is having a significantly negative impact on my faith, Michael’s book is fresh water in a dry and thirsty land. My recommendation is you buy the book. You won’t regret it.

Three Free Sins

The second book is one that Michael recommended, Steve Brown’s Three Free Sins—God’s Not Mad at You. Steve and Michael are both Reformed in their theology. I won’t hold that against either of them. :-)

Three Free Sins had me laughing out loud in many places — which scared the dog. 

I received this from a friend: “You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I’ve ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They’re slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of love . . . no, wait! I was thinking of Labrador retrievers!”

It also often hit me where I needed to be hit, which I greatly appreciate.

Forgiveness was the focal point in Christ’s teaching because he knew that without profound “to the bone” forgiveness, there is no freedom, no real joy, no peace, and no release from the pain and the root of bitterness that destroys nations, families, and individuals. He understood that the key to everything important in life is forgiveness.

And the final book of the three, equally as good as the other two, is Kathy Escobar’s Down We Go: Living Into the wild Ways of Jesus.

Down We Go

Like me, Kathy spent too much time inside the “much sound and fury signifying nothing” world of the North American mega-church, before finding herself on the outside of it.

This book is her story of experiencing Jesus in the midst of people most middle-class Christian folk would attempt to avoid. It is a story of full bandwidth Christianity—a combination of incredible highs and painful lows along with everything in between.

When we put relationship with people above everything, we will cultivate authentic transformational community—little pockets of love—instead of spending our energy, building ministries or lifestyles that don’t reflect the humble spirit of the Beatitudes. These pockets of love help teach us interdependence, a critical characteristic of Kingdom living.

Another critical element we can’t forget as we engage a life of downward mobility is dreaming. Big or small, dreams are part of Kingdom living. They inspire us to try scary things, meet new people, jump into the deep end, or put our toes in the water. Without dreams we can’t make “what could be,” a reality. At the same time, I continue to learn that dreams are often much prettier when they are just dreams.

Life down here doesn’t always turn out the way we think it should be, that’s for sure. But that’s the beauty of downward mobility. “Pretty” and “easy” aren’t the goals. Transformation is. And one thing is clear: Down here, there’s a lot of room for transformation.

It is a must read book for those of us tired of consumer Christianity — who have that sense, as Bruce Cockburn would say in More Not More, that “there must be more…” 

If, like me, you find yourself in a thin space when it comes to your faith, I would highly recommend any or all of these three books.

JuniaNotAloneCoverI could write a long rant on the topic of women in church leadership. In fact, I probably have. I’m just too lazy to google my own blog to find my categorically egalitarian musings.

That short intro paragraph to say, whatever position you take on this issue, Scot McKnight’s essay, Junia is Not Alone is a must read. It’s a $2.99 eBook from Amazon – which some might consider steep for an essay.

But.

If you trust me at all, trust me when I say that it’s worth every penny and then some.

From Scot’s intro:

Moving toward my second decade of teaching college students, more than half of whom grow up in a church, of this I am certain: churches don’t talk about the women of the Bible. Of Mary mother of Jesus they have heard, and even then not all of what they have heard is accurate. But of the other woman saints of the Bible, including Miriam, the prophetic national music director, or Esther, the dancing queen, or Phoebe, the benefactor of Paul’s missions, or Priscilla, the teacher, they’ve heard almost nothing.

Why the silence?

Why do we consider the mother/wife of Proverbs 31 an ideal female image but shush the language of the romantic Shulammite woman of the Song of Songs? Why are we so obsessed with studying the “subordination” of women to men but not a woman like Deborah, who subordinated men and enemies? Why do we believe that we are called to live out Pentecost’s vision of Spirit-shaped life but ignore what Peter predicted would happen? That “(i)n the last days… your sons and daughters will prophesy. .” and that “(e)ven on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.”

Why the silence?

Why the silence, indeed?

I found out about this essay when I took a moment away from working on a script. As is my wont, I checked my RSS feed and saw Scot’s post on Junia is Not Alone. I immediately bought it at Amazon, and thought I’d glance at it before I continued with my work.

Well, that glance turned into reading it all. It’s not that long as mentioned.

I finished it with tears in my eyes.

Scot has written a number of important books. This essay is right up there with the best of them.

And, no matter where you are in the complimentarian/egalitarian discussion, this book is truly a must read.

UPDATE: Read Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s review.

It’s true. Photo evidence below. More comments after the photo.

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David Hayward’s book of his great cartoons arrived a few weeks back and I’ve been remiss in blogging about it. It has provoked much conversation around the Kinnon coffee table – and that alone makes it a smart purchase.

Some might be tempted to call David a cynic. They would be wrong.

His cartoons reveal the humour and the pathos in what we call the church. Some of them make me laugh out loud. Others make me acknowledge my own pain. A number make me angry – but many more help me understand that anger.

This will make a very good Christmas present for anyone who has spent significant time in the church. Buy early. Buy often.

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You might also consider David’s original artwork, also available from his site.

The one on the right, of the girl holding a Teddy Bear and showing it to a rather large bear is one of my favourites.

Clicking on the picture will take you to a much larger version of it – where you can purchase a print if you so desire.

You can view more of David’s artwork here – including much more of his fine art.

Two of my favourite people on the planet are Dick Staub and David Fitch. They both have significant history in the city of Chicago – though Dick lives way out west now. And they both have roots in the C&MA. (And Fitch even has roots in the CM&A – that's a Chicago financial sector joke, in case you were wondering.) If you read to the end of this post, you'll discover they also have another connection.

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Dick's book is the one to buy right now, About You: Fully Human, Fully Alive. This isn't a Christian self-help book. It's not about Living Your Best Life Now™.

This is a God-centered book that takes Hans Rookmaker's famous quote as a starting point:

Jesus didn't come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.

From the book's back cover, Imbi's and my friends, Scott & Pam Nolte (theatre artists and co-founders of Seattle's Taproot Theatre) say this about Dick's book,

Dick Staub's insight into our present age and our deep longings lead us on a 'rowdy pilgrimage' to discover the riches that lay within our unique design while pointing us to the fully human life.

Artist Bruce Herman adds,

…Why does God love us? What is wrong with the current picture of our lives? How can it be painted more beautifully and truly to match the vision of the Artist?

Poet and Author, Luci Shaw writes,

…Dick Staub offers us the coherent narrative of the Why of humanity, the How of healing, and the Who of the Creator, giving firm ground for thoughtful questioners to stand on.

Your humble servant, a pygmy on this back cover of giants, adds,

Dick Staub is one of the few people I've met who truly cares about people becoming fully human. He is an effective and faithful guide on the journey to do just that.

He is indeed. Dick writes this at the beginning of the book,

…I have written this little book to share what I’ve learned about becoming fully human. I’ve studied this question academically, completing graduate studies with a concentration in the humanities (philosophy, the arts, religion), because, after all, the humanities are the study of humans and the culture they create, and that is what I was interested in.

And later,

Everything I know about becoming fully alive and fully human starts with a simple but profoundly important idea: God created humans and God created us in the image of God so we can enjoy a rich intellectual, creative, relational, moral, and spiritual life. You are not the accidental result of a random, purposeless process but, in fact, were created by a loving, personal God who had you in mind before the beginning of time. This is an essential and reasonable but embattled truth.

Dick's book effectively helps us come to grips with that truth. It is more than worth reading. (I'd also strongly recommend Dick's previous book – the one with a title and cover that doesn't do it justice, The Culturally Savvy Christian.) You should also become a regular listener to Dick's podcast, The Kindlings Muse.

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Though I have no doubt that Dick would be quite capable of discussing the philosophies of Slavoj Žižek – and probably would have little problem pronouncing this Slovenian Political Philosopher's name – Žižek does not show up in About You.

He does show up, however, in Dave Fitch's latest opus, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission – coming in January of 2011 from Cascade Books – Theopolitical Visions series. Dave has yet to show me the book, so I'll need to let him write about it himself;

It’s the culmination of my efforts to write a political theology for the church of my heritage: evangelicalism in North America. I admit this book is a bit intense – theologically and otherwise (be forewarned). Nonetheless, I think it gets at something extremely simple and intuitive. It asks how does the way we articulate our beliefs (doctrine) and then practice them shape us evangelicals as a people in the world? Has the way evangelicals articulated and practiced their belief in Scripture, Salvation in Christ and the Church in the world shaped us in certain ways to be inhospitable to God’s Mission in the world?

I try to get us evangelicals to think about more than whether our doctrine is orthodox (indeed I assume it is). I try to get us to think about how our belief and practice shape our lives together as a people of God in the world. The ultimate question is – are the “kinds of people we have become” congruent with the gospel we preach?

I borrow some simple ideas from political philosopher Slavoj Žižek (his earlier work) to help us see that a politics in the world can either be shaped out of antagonism (we define ourselves by who/what we are against) or it can be shaped out of who we are in our relationship with God. (OK I just simplified it way down for Žižek purists out there) For Žižek of course, the latter is not possible. Nonetheless, he describes viscerally how politics works when it is formed around an emptiness, a core birthed out of antagonisms. For Žižek, this is how ideology operates. For me the question is, has evangelicalism taken on the shape of such an ideology in the world? Have we somehow lost our way and become a politics of emptiness/antagonism? If so, how do we restore ourselves to a politic of fullness in Christ for God’s Mission in the world.

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Fitch's first book, The Great Giveaway (released on my 50th birthday, oddly enough), was a book that should have been read by a lot more people. It was the first book that I added to my Amazon aStore.

It's still an important read and I'd challenge you to pick it up. The new book is aimed more at a theological audience – I'll be buying a copy or two and getting Imbi to explain it to me. (And maybe my Slovenian sister-in-law can help too.) It's not yet available for pre-order, but, as noted, it's part of Cascade Books Theopolitical Vision series (and also not yet listed on their site as of mid-November 2010.)

Oh. And that other connection between Staub and Fitch. Dick was the Youth Pastor at the east coast church where Dave was a teenage member of the youth group. Which explains an awful lot to me. :-)

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With the present discussion of N.T. Wright’s After You Believe (published as Virtue Reborn in the U.K.) I wanted to point you to Imbi’s very good review of the book here @ kinnon.tv from back in mid-March.

Bishop N.T. Wright does a masterful sweep of ethics and its various roots and streams, calling us back to working at Christian virtue – identifying and then avoiding the extremes of grace and works – those two polarizing positions of Christian history. In fact, the book gives us a broad enough and thoroughly orthodox way forward – to begin to become who we already are, in Christ – doing so framed within the church, communally, for the sake of the world, missionally.

Read the whole review here.

North Point Church’s media department has produced this video. Some folk think it’s great that “we can laugh at ourselves.”

Me, not so much. More after the video.

(UPDATE: I should have noted the conversation at Jason Coker’s blog that prompted this post.)

Before I get to my “not so much” response to the supposed humour/satire of the above video, please allow me to chase a rabbit for a number of paragraphs.

Much earlier in the year I took a few seconds to write a post about the ludicrous nature of holographic preachers as apparently championed by church tech guru Tony Morgan and others. Many irony-challenged folk thought I was serious when I wrote,

Since so many of us in the west are convinced that entertaining pew fodder is critical to advancing “the gospel” and that only a very few have the necessary gifts to preachertain – this will become the “perfect” solution.

Christian Post picked up the quote and ran with it – but rather than linking to where it was written – which would have precluded some of the irony challenges – they chose to identify me as the writer of A Networked Conspiracy – my rather short book/long essay/audio CD from 2006. Better to quote “a published author” than a blogger, I guess. (And, hey, it did prompt a few more sales at Amazon. You can download a pdf for free, by clicking here.)

Tony Morgan is a true fan of the technology, seeing it as another example of what the church needs to embraceif we are going to speak the language of today’s culture.” For those of us who would question how technology is used to present the gospel, Morgan pulled out what has become, at least to me, a rather shopworn response,

“If I’m criticized for my passion to present the gospel and help as many people as possible experience a life-changing journey in Christ, I’m willing to face that criticism to live out my conviction

That’s right, Tony because I dare “criticize” how technology is used to “present the gospel”, I am obviously a selfish luddite. And, of course, I think technology is evil and it couldn’t possibly be used to help tell the life-changing Gospel story. Problem is that when it comes to this understanding of who I am, my career path would seem not to support that reading.

My 1978 Bachelor’s degree (and that from 1981 of my wife, Imbi) is in Radio and Television Arts from Toronto’s reasonably well-known Ryerson University. In the late ’70′s/very early ’80′s, I was Sony’s youngest broadcast equipment sales person in North America. I co-founded my first “high tech” production company in 1981.

In the mid-80′s, my wife, Imbi and I co-founded another production company that also included what became a broadcast-focused, medium-sized post house (editing, graphics and audio post) in the third largest production market in North America. (Our production company is 26 years old this September.)

Imbi can guarantee you that I’ve been responsible for purchasing too many 100s of thousands of dollars of high-tech broadcast gear – for which we two were personally responsible – and might I note that the bank(s) got all of their money back and then some. (A little different than one spending a church’s money, might I suggest?)

As well, Imbi and I have (in the past) consulted on design and technology with churches in the U.S., UK, Africa and our home country, Canada. We even briefly spent time on staff with a megachurch where we had oversight for most of the areas covered in the above video. (That experience left much to be desired.)

The past three months where I have blogged sporadically were taken up being involved in the design and production of the rather large NAB booth for one of the world’s largest broadcast software and hardware companies. (NAB is the biggest broadcast and production hardware & software trade show in the world.) Along with being involved in the actual booth design, my work included producing a lot of moving image material, along with producing 2 minutes of film resolution content – that 2 minute piece was commissioned and done less than two weeks before the show.

I’ve also spent a moment or two involved in local church leadership. And produced a minute or two of moving image content that tells gospel-centred stories.

So, perhaps I might have a somewhat informed voice in this conversation. Or not.

“Sunday’s Coming” Humourous? Not so much.

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Rather than comedy, the above video from Andy Stanley’s* North Point Church’s very well-equipped media department should really be seen as simply admitting the truth of something that won’t be changing anytime soon in that world. No doubt, some churches will even use it as a teaching tool for their teams who aspire to megachurch greatness.

In the past couple of days, Twitter has been filled with the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, nod, nod” tweet response to this video (which went up on the 5th of May).

The “isn’t it great we can make fun of ourselves” response of many made me want to pick up my laptop and toss it across the room (into a stack of pillows so it wouldn’t be damaged, of course.)

People mistakenly want to call this “satire.” But the definition of satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.

Do any of you really think the North Point media team meant to expose the “stupidity or vices” of their Christotainment Sunday morning services which no doubt follow the very pattern shown in the video?

Hardly.

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Now onwards and upwards with more and better video, graphics, cameras, lighting, presenters, music and preachertainers – until Christotainment Excellence™ is achieved and the appropriate rewards handed out.

In my post from last fall, What is What? I link to Dan Whitmarsh (via) in his post, Anything to Make A Sale, referencing entertainment techniques in light of “youth ministry”,

… the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell ‘em about Jesus.

Let’s be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.

But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this ‘wow ‘em and tell ‘em about Jesus’ strategy doesn’t do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we’re doing something wrong. That we’re not growing Followers, that we’re not raising Disciples. Instead, we’re creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We’re not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they ‘said the prayer’ following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they’re ‘in.’

And here’s today’s problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they’re using the exact same strategies in the larger church.

I don’t find “Sunday’s Coming” remotely funny.

Sadly, it simply tweaks the Consumer-Driven church from within.

It is NOT a satirical take on megachurch culture designed to elicit change.

It’s an inside joke.

Please, feel free to grab your violins while the joke burns.

*I so identify North Point as Andy Stanley’s as that seems to be the convention used to describe most North American megachurches – as they are mostly built around the personalities of their senior pastors.

Review by Imbi Medri-Kinnon. In North America, the book is known as After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. (Rylan Kinnon brought the book home for his parents, from the U.K.)

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Tom Wright's – Virtue Reborn – is a book that should turn our heads. From the past and present swirling conversations and (re)alignments, and the positioning that we find ourselves in at this time – as Christians in the church – to the point that we should be focused on; the future hope and glory of the Kingdom of God, through our present reality within the life of Christ.

Bishop N.T. Wright does a masterful sweep of ethics and its various roots and streams, calling us back to working at Christian virtue – identifying and then avoiding the extremes of grace and works – those two polarizing positions of Christian history. In fact, the book gives us a broad enough and thoroughly orthodox way forward – to begin to become who we already are, in Christ – doing so framed within the church, communally, for the sake of the world, missionally.

The fundamental answer we shall explore in this book is that what we are "here for" is to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we are made, and doing so in worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and that we do this not least by "following Jesus." The way this works out is that it produces, through the work of the Holy Spirit, a transformation of character which functions as the Christian version of what philosophers have called "virtue." This transformation will mean that we do indeed "keep the rules" – though not out of a sense of externally imposed "duty," but out of the character that has been formed within us. And it will mean that we do include "follow our hearts" and live "authentically" – but only when, with that transformed character fully operative – like an airline pilot with a lifetime's experience – the hard work up front bears fruit in spontaneous decisions and actions that reflect what has been formed deep within. And, in the wider world, the challenge we face is to grow and develop a fresh generation of leaders, in all walks of life, whose character has been formed in wisdom and public service, not greed for money or power.

The heart of it – the central thing that is supposed to happen after you believe, the thing we call a virtue in a new, reborn sense – is thus the transformation of character. (Virtue Reborn, Page 24) [emphasis added]

Bishop Wright calls us to action at many levels – to become who Christ says we are/will be, that is sanctified, and like Him. And to do so in a context that displays the virtues of the Kingdom – that is within the church community so that the world is "compelled" to ask us about the hope of glory they see through how we choose to act, to love, and to grow deeper into Christ-likeness. So that when this age has passed, we are ready to rule and reign with Christ in His kingdom, as his priests and kings. This dual capacity orients us both to the world and to God.

…a glad and unworried trust in the Creator God, whose kingdom is now at last starting to arrive, leading to a glad and generous heart toward other people, even those who are technically "enemies." Faith, hope, and love: here they are again. They are the language of life, the sign in the present of green shoots growing through the concrete of this sad old world, the indication that the Creator God is on the move, and that Jesus' hearers and followers can be part of what he's now doing. (Virtue Reborn Pg 94)

This is a serious call to look to the future and to begin to do the character formation work required of us as individuals (not because we are not already saved by grace, but simply because in the words of the Apostle John, "we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.") There are decisions to be made in character development, that lead to us becoming virtuous. It does not happen magically, nor does it happen overnight. The Apostle Paul speaks of "pressing on" towards the goal.

This book gives us a rational way forward, growing in character, which leads to virtue that behaves as it is meant to – loving communally -, because we are doing the work and the spiritual growth necessary that will, by what it produces, cause the world to stand up and take notice. It clarifies and recenters all of us to the way of discipleship that Eugene Peterson years ago called" A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" – a title that sums up what Bishop Wright is drawing together for us out of the many threads, indeed the tapestry that makes up the holy catholic church.

Interestingly, Wright extends his conversation with ethics and character beyond just the church audience to include anyone in the western world grappling with ethics – he believes that Christian ethics and virtue are not an end on to themselves – allowing me to become proud of what I have accomplished, in the manner of Aristotle. But rather, Virtue Reborn is always directed towards the good of the body of Christ, and the good of fellow man – we are, after all, alive in the Christ who gave up everything for each of us. Are we the people that will know how to rule and reign as a royal priesthood in Christ's Kingdom, because we have been willing to grow up into all that He means for us to be? Does the world "know we are Christians by our love?"

The Christian walk is often portrayed as a journey. What Wright does with this book is suggest that just like the barricades on sides of highways which keep us from falling into ditches or crossing into oncoming traffic, grace and works act as safety barriers. As proficient drivers, we steer a clear course on the road, not careening off one side or the other. Neither do we stand in the ditches (or in the side aisles) and lob stones at each other, or indeed at the traffic going by. But, on this journey, we are going somewhere, and preparing to "be perfect" . Of course, each of us is at different places – the key being that we are actually meant to be on the journey.

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I watched the winning goal in the men's final hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics where we won the Gold in "our game" – speaking as a Canadian, of course – as I was finishing Virtue Reborn. In explaining what happened afterwards, the sports commentator mentioned having waited and watched for better playing from Crosby and then said something to the effect of "and we got it when we needed it."

Crosby had prepared for that moment for years – and he took the shot because that was what he had been training for. The "luck" involved was in the thousands upon thousand of hours of practice in preparation. So that it had "become natural" to know what to do when it counted. Nobody was expecting it at that point in the Olympics, and yet his prep work snuck it in …

When asked about it, Crosby spoke of not even knowing at first that it had been his goal. "I was given chances and eventually it was going to go in……… !"

What a call for each of us as the church – to work at this life of character building – leading to virtues that will cause us to do the right thing, when the moment comes, as it will for each of us. Where and when only God knows, but when it truly matters will we know it in our bones, marrow, hearts and brains – and do the right thing, make the right decision, becoming Christ-like in our character.  Are we the signposts and beachheads of God's future kingdom in this current world? It is not just a matter of "luck" (grace) but rather preparation and work and decision-making so that doing the right thing becomes automatic.

COURAGE: One last Olympic moment; an example from the selection of a winner of the Terry Fox Award. There were so many examples of grace under fire – and examples of the cost and preparation to be an Olympic athlete. Such a wealth of stories to encourage us to develop, to work at being who we already are – so that we might be ready to rule and reign with Christ. More importantly, that people ask us about the hope that we have, and the love that we function out of.

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I leave you with the words of the Slovenian cross-country skier, Petra Majdic, who fell down a hillside and had to be helped out, obviously injured. She finished her race, winning the bronze! And then discovered that she had several broken ribs – and had probably further injured herself in continuing the race – talk about character, talk about perseverance.

Christie Blatchford, Bill's favourite columnist in the Globe and Mail, quoted her as follows:

"If you make your best", as she put it in her absolutely lyrical English, "it will be worth it."

And that, friends, says it all.

UPDATE: Jordon Cooper adds another post to this conversation, The Christian Book Whore.

Forgive the long title but this post has been brewing since I read Jordon Cooper's Theological Debate As Blood Sport. His post was written early in the "debate" around McLaren's new book. Jordon said this near the end of his post, in regards to the marketing of books like Brian's;

(We) have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses. In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores. You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free, cheaply produced review copies. We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs. Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith. [emphasis added]

Brad Boydston, the king of great random links, wrote this last night,

BRIAN McLAREN'S new book A New Kind of Christianity is getting lots of reaction. That was certainly his goal.

I WISH that Mark Noll's book The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith would get as much attention. The whole postmodern cultural shift discussion that McLaren and the emerging folks want to lead is so insular and so Western — while so much of what is shaping the church in 2010 is so global. [emphasis added]

Jordon's point and perhaps Brad's is that we bloggers are getting played by, at the very least, the publishers and in some cases, the book authors. HarperOne (ANKoChristianity's publisher) doesn't care whether I slam or sing the praises of Brian's book. In the market place of idea-based books, any PR is good PR. In fact, they probably love that I discuss Brian's book over and against McGrath's Heresy – another HarperOne book.

Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson CEO sings the praises of his company's Book Sneeze program. He's got all kinds of bloggers who've signed up to be "sneezers" for Thomas Nelson.

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Their site trumpets, Booksneeze Gives (BOOKS) to Bloggers for Free. But that would be free ONLY from Thomas Nelson's perspective. Since they place ZERO value on the time of the Bloggers reading their books.

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Let's have a bit of fun with math, kids, shall we.

We will use Brian's new book as an example even though it's not a Thomas Nelson book.

ANKoChristianity is 320 pages in total length (according to Amazon.) With the preface and main body text and excluding the endnotes, index, title page, etc, the book is about 260 pages. Average word count per page is around 350 – 400 words. We will use the lower number.

Now considering that the average reading speed for an American adult is in the 200 words per minute range, with Brian's book being approximately 90,000 words – it will take the average reader about 7.5 hours to finish the book. Basically, an average working day.

BookSneeze---Bloggers-get-free-books-in-exchange-for-a-review-1.jpg

Now to get a book from Thomas Nelson, you need to promise to write a minimum 200 word review of that book and post it on your blog AND a consumer website (like Amazon). When you provide links to prove to Thomas Nelson you've done so – you get another "FREE" book.

Forgive me, but this is almost Pavlovian.

Let's say you only take 30 minutes to write your review – you've still spent 8 hours of your time on a book that publishers want you to help them market.

There is no way in the world that the real costs of the books publishers and their PR and Marketing Firms are shipping you cost more than 10 dollars including shipping (and I'm being very generous to the publishers with this figure).

Are you really willing to work for a publisher for a little over a dollar an hour?

Where I Stand on This
I remember being flattered when I was asked to join the Ooze Viral Bloggers a couple of years ago. Wow. My blog is important enough that they want to send me free books. (Gullible is my middle name.)

But the books really aren't free folks.

The expectation was that I'd read them and then write something about them – the unwritten contract. When a book Oozed it's way to me I would commit my time to reading it, shortly after it hit my doorstep – and at least say something about it. Even if the book was crap – which far too many were.

And human nature being what it is, most of us don't want to say bad things about "gifts" from anyone, even publishers – whether they're oozing or not. No doubt publishers are very aware of this basic reality of human nature. They aren't in the gift-giving business – they are in the book publishing business. As Jordon says, their bottom line is making a profit – and I do not begrudge them that.

I'm just not willing to work for them for free.

With much of this in mind, I opted out of the Ooze a year ago in terms of asking for books. (I officially asked not to receive anymore emails about the Ooze books in January.) I've never opted in to Booksneeze and won't.

With shipping and taxes, I paid just under $28CDN for McLaren's new book. I chose to spend the time I did reading the book and critiquing it – not feeling like I was beholden to the marketing efforts of the OozeTV team & Mike Morrell, HarperOne or anyone else. (BTW Mike, though I'm sure you really do like Brian's book, when you comment on people's blogs about said book, it would be good if you noted you were paid for your efforts in the Ooze viral marketing campaign for it. There probably are one or two people who don't actually know that and it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.)

I still receive the occasional email offering to send me a book. Some I accept – but with no promise to review the book one way or the other. And I mention in the review that the book was provided for free – even though there is no law in Canada to force me to do that.

But to my fellow bloggers.

Your time really is worth something.

If publishers want you to join them in their efforts to market their books – it's only fair they pay you – and that you tell us you are being paid to read and review their books.

Or.

They can ACTUALLY send you free bookswithout stipulating anything.

If the books you receive really are great, you might just write something about them.

(And can people please go read the Cluetrain Manifesto. This old school marketing stuff is getting old.)

Peter Gabriel – Oh my goodness…

kinnon —  February 18, 2010 — 3 Comments

Peter-Gabriel-_-Live.jpg

…(or the lack thereof), his new album is fantastic. Sparse yet majestic classical arrangements of some of his favourite songs by writers like Paul Simon, David Bowie, (my favourite band) Elbow, Neil Young and others.

I strongly recommend you check out Scratch My Back.

There are some days that I wish I could be paid to blog. (I hear that laughter.) But I get paid to produce television and media content for clients. And my blogging and focus on ANKoChristianity has caused me to get rather behind on work that needs to be finished. I hope to respond to Brian McLaren's response to me in the next 72 hours – but that will depend on how much paying work I get done in that timeframe.

So.

Let me point you to a few other reviews of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity.

Trevin Wax is simply one of the best bloggers in Christian blogdom. Gracious, scholarly and a very good writer. Though I would not share all of the finer points of Trevin's theology, I look forward to his posts showing up in Google Reader. Trevin has dome some of the very best interviews with N.T.Wright. Please read Trevin's take on Brian's book, Why Brian McLaren's New Book is Good for the Emerging Church.

I took Kevin DeYoung and his co-writer, Ted Kluck to task for their book, Why We Love the Church. Brian's book, which I would actually agree with less than DeYoung & Kluck's book, has been treated with kid gloves in comparison (by me). That being said, DeYoung has written a firm, even handed and indepth critique of McLaren's book that is a must read, Part 1 and Part 2. His paraphrase of the late Stan Grenz and Roger Olson on classic liberalism is one of the most effective moments in the review – at least for me.

Nathan Gilmour of The Christian Humanist (?) pens an interesting review as one of the Ooze Viral Bloggers. (I hope you can get a prescription for that / GRIN.) He outlines where he sees Brian getting it right, wrong & sneaky while giving the book "a nod" at the end. Nathan takes McLaren to task particularly for pitching himself as an available consultant at the end of the book. (I confess I skimmed over that in my reading.) Nathan writes,

I realize that not everybody is as suspicious of out-of-town “experts” as I am, and I’d be fine if McLaren were consistently sanguine. But as it stands, it looks like he decided to use this book, which pitches itself as a moment of honesty, as a platform to promote himself and his Emergent Village buddies while calling dedicated ordained folks prison guards, and that’s an inexcusable bit of duplicity.

Nathan may call it "inexcusable" but he still goes on to recommend we purchase the book,

…a book’s excellence lies not in its being right but in its being interesting. Given that criterion, I’d still recommend this book for folks interested in reading some philosophical-progressive alternatives to modern evangelicalism. There are some moments of sloppy thinking and others of outright self-serving dishonesty, but on balance, I can accept those sorts of things in a book that spurs me to think for a while, and I think that this book did.

Ron Cole is about 1/2 way through reading ANKoChristianity and has a generally favourable response to the book, along with a deep love for Brian himself. (That is a good thing, btw.)

Jeremy Bouma, in the process of placing Pagitt beside Pelagius and eliciting something stronger than a "hmmmm" promises to peruse ANKoChristianity and publicly place his thoughts before us. (Some people say I'm alliterate.)

And finally, as perhaps many folk who read me would not read Challies (the #1 Christian Blogger in the Universe – as far as statisticians are able to ascertain – and a near-Toronto lad to boot), Tim writes a very well written, hard and angry response to Brian's ANKoChristianity. (102 comments at this point in time)

[Humour Alert] And finally, finally (or the last word and the word after that) I have been told that there is no truth to this rumour from the future that when ANKoChristianity finally takes over;

Albert Mohler, former President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (now renamed the ANKoChristianity Southern Seminary) will still be permitted to teach. But only in German. On Thursdays. Wearing a cardigan. In a shuttered Episcopal Church. In Poughkeepsie, NY.