Friday, October 29, 2010

The Problem with Judges

I don’t lack for ideas. Some are better than others, but I can hardly see anything and not get some kind of story idea from it. But my favorite so far has been retelling the story of Hosea in a modern setting, which I did in For the Love of a Devil. Hosea’s life story is just one of those stories that works so well for that. Granted, it is hard story to read, but it worked very well. I would like to try that again with another Bible story.

In some ways, Judges seems like an ideal place to look for a story like that, and yet it is less than ideal. The thing about Judges is that the protagonists of are flawed individuals who are used by God, but only after much persuasion. Then after he used them to accomplish his purpose, many of them make bad choices. We sort of like seeing happily ever after stories in which a flawed individual learns from his mistakes and changes his life.

Another problem I have with Judges is that these are primarily war stories. The people were oppressed because of their sin, they turned to God and God used a warrior to deliver them. I could write a story like that, but I’m not sure I want to. Then again, it isn’t like I have a ton of readers I have to please. I could try my hand at speculative fiction instead of trying to frame the story in present day America. I don’t think I would want to do a straight retelling in the same place and time period because I don’t want to rewrite history, but could change the setting. Of course, me being me, I would stick so close to the Bible story that people would know where the idea came from.

What about you? What story would you like to write in the future?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Broken Christians

Lately, it seems like the in thing is to have books about broken Christians and how they have grown in their faith. The books that come to mind are books like Blue Like Jazz and Evolving in Monkey Town (Not that I can convince myself to read either one.). We’re in an odd position because instead of listening to people who have done their homework, studied the Bible and developed answers to the tough questions, people are turning to people who are still seeking answers. That’s not to say that we must have all the answers before we write a book, because none of us have all the answers. The thing that is so dangerous about this situation is that people are making the assumption that just because they personally don’t know the answer to a question, other people don’t have the answer either.

For example, Rachel Held Evans has raised questions about Genesis 1 and 2. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last, but she also makes claims that other people don’t struggle with doubts about what they’ve been taught. In listening to some of what she’s said, I get the impression that she assumes the people who accept the Bible for being accurate are not questioning anything but just accepting what they’ve been taught. If that’s true of her, it begs the question because the only way to convince her that I have thought through the same questions that she has is for me to have the same doubts as she does, when in fact I have given thought to the same questions.

I think that part of the reason people like books like this is because it gives them permission to give up on their search for answers. Read a book written by a pastor or a seminary professor and it isn’t likely to be a light read. When I read Whosoever Will, I found words in there that I’ve never used. The authors touched on some concepts that aren’t easy to understand. But when you read a book by one of these broken Christians you find that they are asking the same questions you are and they don’t have the answers either. You aren’t alone in not knowing the answers, so you feel like it’s fine to bring an end to your search without having answered the question. No theologian worth his salt will say he doesn’t know something until he has logically shown that all the answers others have presented have are invalid. But theologians have a bad name these days.

These days, people are looking for a more up to date religion. Well what’s wrong with the old one? Give me that old time religion. New is not always better. We may not like doing thing just because it is tradition, but we should move slowly when eliminating tradition. It can take many years to produce a tradition and many traditions have been examined time and time again by some of the greatest minds in history. It is arrogant of us to think that we know better without giving the reason for the tradition a great deal of thought. Too many people assume that science has all the answers. They assume that because some scientist has written a report on something it must be true. Many scientific reports are sensational because the scientist is looking for continued funding. So an old man who was bent over with arthritis before he was buried in the ice becomes “the missing link.”

Let’s be very careful about turning to broken Christians for the answers and instead turn to those who are wise. Let’s turn to those who have done their research. I’m all for people finding answers for themselves, but let’s not assume that those seeking answers have the answers.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chip MacGregor Quits

Chip MacGregor has announced that he’s calling an end to his blogging. To paraphrase his reason, he has said all that’s worth saying. It goes without saying that this comes as a disappointment to his 250 daily readers, including myself. I think Chip’s blog is the first literary agent’s blog I followed and it is one of the few that I continue to follow.

I understand the feeling that one has said all that’s worth saying. I had those feelings myself and I’ve wondered if some of the time I’ve spent writing posts would’ve been better spent doing something else, but I’m not sure it’s even possible to say all that’s worth saying. To quote from Michael Hyatt’s comment to Chip’s announcement, “You may think you are repeating yourself, but you are not. You are getting first-hand experience building a platform—something that is invaluable in terms of passing it on to your clients.”

Michael Hyatt is only partly right. Yes, there’s much more that can be said, but a blog is more like a face to face discussion than it is a book. With a book, the author pens his knowledge and puts it out there for the world to read. A reader may pick up one of my books a hundred years from now and gain something from me. However, in a face to face conversation, we say something once. We may turn to another person and have to repeat ourselves. The same is true of blogs. I have a few posts that receive a lot of hits from search engines, but for the most part, the post that is viewed the most is the one that is the most current. I occasionally pick up a new follower and I occasionally offend someone and they leave. Or maybe they just got tired of me. In any case, my audience today may not be the same as yesterday and it may be different tomorrow. My readers aren’t likely to go back and read the archives, so if I want them to read something I’ve written before I have to write it again.

The other thing Michael Hyatt is only partly right about is the first-hand experience building a platform. By nature of their jobs, Chip MacGregor and Michael Hyatt have had a much easier time building and audience than the average author. It’s tempting to try this as an experiment, but if I were to set up a blog on which I claimed to be a literary agent or the CEO of a publishing company, it wouldn’t take me long before I too had a large following. I don’t say that to brag—quite the opposite—anyone could do the same. Granted, Chip MacGregor and Michael Hyatt are better spoken than some of the other publishing industry professionals I’ve seen, but with thousands of authors out here looking for someone to guide them toward their dream, it isn’t hard to develop a following. But I don’t think Chip and Mike can pass that on to typical authors. It is much harder to develop a following of people who actually want to read the author’s books. Just look at me. I have people who read my blog who I have sure have never read my books. Either that or they hated them and were polite enough not to post a review. The only solution to that seems to be to build the audience first, and then write a book that appeals to the audience. But Chip can’t pass that information along to his clients because they wouldn’t be clients if they didn’t already have a book.

But I think there’s reason to keep on blogging. We need people out here who are actually saying something worthwhile. Without that, what we’ll have is a bunch of people talking about their cats and their grandchildren. So what if we repeat ourselves some. A new audience demands that we tell them the same things we’ve told other people. But there’s also more to say. If we’re tired of saying the same thing over and over, maybe it’s time to change our focus and talk about something else, but there’s always something more to talk about.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review of Whosoever Will

For today’s post I want to review Whosoever Will. I try to make it my policy to review only those books that I think people should read. This book is no exception. In fact, I would suggest that you don’t bother reading the rest of this review and go ahead and buy the book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you are, something is wrong with you.

Whosoever Will is a written as a critique of five-point Calvinism from by a group of non-Calvinists. I think it’s important to use the term non-Calvinist rather than another term because no other term seems to fit, unless we simply say they are Baptists. Often in the discussion of Calvinism there is an assumption that a person is either a Calvinist or and Arminian. The authors of the book don’t fit well in either camp.

If you read nothing other than chapters 1, 10 and 11 then you will have gotten your money’s worth. Chapter one is a sermon on John 3:16 by Jerry Vines. In recent years it seems like we’ve seen a lot of people talking about how that everything God does he does for his glory. Why would God make the world? For his glory. Why would God make people that he intends to send to hell? For his glory. But in what Jerry Vines says about John 3:16, the emphasis isn’t on God’s glory but on God’s love. Why would God send his Son to die such a shameful death? While we might talk about how Jesus will be glorified, John 3:16 gives us the reason. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God is motivated by love. He doesn’t just love me. He doesn’t just love you. He sent his Son because he loves the whole world and wants the whole world to be saved. He knows that not all the world will be saved, but he wants them to be.

No book about Calvinism would be complete without some discussion of the issue of free will. It is a subject that the authors bring up in various places. As depraved individuals, do we have the ability to choose God. The Calvinist makes the claim that no we don’t. We are in sin and have no ability to even turn to God if he doesn’t regenerate us first. From a high level, this seems to make sense, but one of the things the authors of this book did was to examine the logic of this more closely. The logic quickly falls apart because man cannot be responsible for his actions if his creator made him in such a way that he has no choice but to sin. The ultimate responsibility then rests on God. The authors of the book look at how Calvinists try to get around this issue, but I think you’ll see in reading the book that the Calvinist explanation is flawed, at best. I suppose we can’t fault them for that because if they are correct then God ordained that they make the argument they do.

I’ve been looking at the subject of Calvinism off and on for many years, but the book draws some connections that I hadn’t noticed before. It seemed logical that Calvinists wouldn’t be big on missionary work, since they believe those who will be saved will be saved and those who will be lost will be lost. It simply doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time telling people of their need of salvation if you don’t believe it makes any difference one way or the other. So it was shocking to me when I discovered that some Calvinists are firm supporters of missionary work. I began to wonder if the Calvinist/non-Calvinist debate made much difference if we were all doing the same thing anyway, albeit for different reasons. But there’s more to it than just whether we send missionaries to preach the gospel or not. There seems to also be a tendency for Calvinists to aristocratic church government. Elder rule is the modern term for that. There is also a tendency to believe in an invisible church. And there’s a tendency to be ecumenical. I think that if we try to rationalize these tendencies it may be that because Calvinists aren’t sure that everyone who says they are saved are actually part of the elect, they don’t shun people of other doctrine for fear of shunning one of the elect, but they also fear that some of the people in their own churches are not elect, so they reserve leadership to those they are pretty sure are part of the elect, rather than take the risk of putting a non-elect person in a place of leadership. But that’s just my thinking and not what the book says.

Whosoever Will is a well written book and I don’t think you’ll find a better explanation of five-point Calvinism and the problems presented by it. I believe it is a topic that we all need to understand as Calvinism seems to be much more cool these days.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Limited or General Atonement? (What's atonement anyway?)

In my spare time, I’ve been reading Whosoever Will from B&H Publishing. I was enjoying it immensely until I reached the chapter on limited atonement by David L. Allen. In many ways I agree with what he says, but I have struggled with the chapter because of how he defined atonement and sufficiency. His claim is that Christ’s death is sufficient to cover the sins of all men, therefore atonement is general, rather than limited. He makes the claim that if we accept a limited atonement then we cannot make the claim that all men can be saved.

Here’s the problem I have with that. First, this is the only place where I’ve seen the word sufficient used in this way. If a hostess asks if she has sufficient dip for all of the guests, she isn’t asking if she has enough as long as we tell people they can’t have any. Neither is she assuming that every guest will choose to get dip. Sufficient doesn’t mean that dip will be on the plate of every guest. Likewise, just because Jesus’ death is sufficient to cover the sins of the world doesn’t mean that all people will be saved.

Second, David L. Allen is using the word atonement in a strange way. To have atonement is to be at one with God. But David L. Allen isn’t talking about actually being at one with God but being able to be at one with God. John 3:16 makes it very clear that “whosoever believeth” is at one with God.

So basically, I’m going to come down on the side of limited atonement because I believe that while God wills that all men come to repentance, not all will. While Jesus’ blood is more than sufficient to pay the price for all the sins of the world, much of the world has rejected him and the payment will not be applied to their sins.

If we reject a limited atonement then we must accept a general atonement, which is where the original General Baptists got their name. The General Baptists of today reject the concept of security of the believer and it partly makes sense when we consider a general atonement. With a general atonement, the claim is that the death of Jesus covered all sins and yet the Bible clearly teaches that some men go to hell. Why do they go to hell if their sins have been covered? It can’t be because Jesus is incapable of saving them, so it would seem that it has something to do with the sinner. The sinner must take some positive action in addition to Jesus’ death on the cross. If salvation is then dependent on the action of the sinner, then it makes sense that a negative action (some sin) would be able to reverse the positive action. By committing that sin, the person would lose his salvation and go to hell, just like the person who failed to do the original positive action.

But that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that salvation is limited to those who believe, but all people have the opportunity to accept Christ. The Bible also teaches that we are not able to lose our salvation. Salvation is wholly dependent on the power of Jesus to save us. I think that if David L. Allen would get his definitions straightened out that he would agree with me, but the important thing to remember is that call people can believe but not all will.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Blue Chip or Dog?

Brad Whittington has an interesting take on how publishers view books. He says that it bothered him that publishers would show enough interest in a book to publish it, but they wouldn’t spend the time and money needed to market it. That is until he realized that publishers offer contracts much like a Wall Street investor purchases stock. The investor wants a diverse portfolio. Most of that portfolio will consist of blue chip stock, the sure thing, but the more risky stock have a greater potential for fast growth, so the investor grabs some of those, just in case one of them really takes off. Publishers will put most of their money in well established authors, but they’ll make a risk investment in some of the unknown authors, just so they have a chance of already having the next bestseller under contract when it takes off. [1]

I’m sure there are ways in which this analogy breaks down, but I think Brad Whittington’s idea is mostly correct. This model may give us some insight into understanding publishers a little better. And if you are a publisher hoping to succeed in this business, it might give you an idea of how you should structure your talent acquisition. Most of us are not blue chip authors. In part, that means that if we get a contract we aren’t going to get much in the way of marketing help. But it also means that our book may be one of hundreds the publisher is just watching. If it starts to gain momentum, the publisher will likely allocate additional resources to help it along, but if it just sits there the publisher won’t do much with it. I once saw Michael Hyatt refer to Colleen Coble as one of their “important authors.” I suppose that terminology works as well here as any. If you are an important author you get marketing help. If you are an unimportant author you’re going to have to create some momentum on your own before your publisher will take notice.

That’s all well and good, but most authors don’t even have a publishing contract. What should they take from this model? Diversity is the key here. In the stock market, if an investor is already invested in blue chip consumer products, he isn’t going to invest in a more risky consumer product stock. Instead, he might invest in a risky stock in the oil industry or the auto industry. It’s a little more complicated with publishing because each publisher focuses on a particular kind of books, but our best bet as an unknown author is to produce a book that is different from the publisher’s most successful books. It shouldn’t be so different that it wouldn’t fit. For example, if a publisher produces Bible study books, we shouldn’t send them a novel. However, if we were to send them a Bible study book that is different than anything else that is out there, they might take the risk, just to see if there is a market for it. But they aren’t likely to take one that is similar to what they’re already selling.

But this model applies to the important authors as well. Publishers don’t like it when their important authors decide they want to write something that’s a little more risky. If you’re an important author who has been writing suspense and then you turn around and decide you want to try your hand at romance, your publisher isn’t going to be real happy. It’s hard to know how the readers will take it. If it flops, the publisher has not only lost the money they put into the book, they don’t have the income from the sure thing they would’ve been selling if you hadn’t wasted your time in another genre.

Whatever your place in the publishing industry—publisher, important author, unimportant author—this model seems to explain things quite well. So, if you’re trying to figure out why a publisher is treating you the way they are, just think of you book like a stock they might decide to invest in.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chuck Swindoll's Feel Good Doctrine

Feel good doctrine can come from many different places. As I was listening to the radio the other day I heard Chuck Swindoll talking about a song he learned in his youth. The verses of the song talk about being satisfied with just, but Chuck Swindoll says that the refrain is unscriptural because it asks the question “is Jesus satisfied with me?” He then went on to say that of course Jesus is satisfied with us. He made the claim that we talk about grace but we focus on works.

I know we would all like to think that God is satisfied with us, so it is tempting to think that since we are now under grace he is satisfied with us no matter how we might mess up. Chuck Swindoll has a bigger following than me, so rather than just saying that I disagree with Chuck Swindoll, let’s see if we can see what the Bible has to say about this subject.

If Chuck Swindoll is correct, then it must be the case that there is never a case in the Bible that God is never dissatisfied with one of his elect. We could point to someone like David, a man after God’s own heart, but we know what David did. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then committed murder to cover up his sin. We find after that incident that God wasn’t satisfied with David, as Chuck Swindoll would have us believe. In fact, David’s son died as a result of his sin. In another place, David numbered the people and God wasn’t happy about that either. As a result, many people died.

The argument some people might make is that because David is in the Old Testament that he was still under the law rather than under grace, but today God is not dissatisfied with us because we are under grace. So for the sake of argument, let’s limit our discussion to the New Testament. If Chuck Swindoll is correct, we should find no instance in the New Testament where there is a Christian that God is dissatisfied with because we’re under grace.

We turn our attention to Act 5 in which Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession and decided to claim that they had donated all of the money to the church, even though they kept back part of the price. The money was theirs to do with as they pleased, but they lied and as a result they dropped dead. Were they saved? It certainly appears that they were. Were they under grace? Absolutely. But how else can we explain them dropping dead for their sin if God was satisfied with them? It is very important for us to realize that it is possible for us to get outside of God’s will and when we do God isn’t satisfied with us.

I think that is the point of the song Chuck Swindoll mentioned. We have every reason to be satisfied with Jesus, but when we look at our own lives it is easy to see that we’re not living up to the standard that we should. God isn’t satisfied with that and because of his grace he is working to bring us to where we should be. If we follow the philosophy that Chuck Swindoll seems to be preaching, it may encourage us to feel good about ourselves, but it puts us in danger of living outside God’s will.

Now it may be that some people have the idea that Ananias and Sapphira weren’t true Christians and for that reason they were killed. That is dangerous theology because it begs the question. It would seem that because God wasn’t satisfied with them they must not have been saved and therefore they are not a good argument against Chuck Swindoll’s feel good philosophy. By accepting that, we risk putting ourselves back in slavery to sin. If our basis for knowing if we are saved or not is in whether God is satisfied with us or not, then we may try to do works to satisfy God so that we can be sure we are saved. Instead, we should recognize that God isn’t always happy with us, even like a parent isn’t always happy with a child, and we should attempt to get back to where God wants us to be. But at the same time we should recognize that even when God isn’t satisfied with us he is constantly satisfied with Jesus. As long as we are putting out trust in Jesus, we have nothing to fear.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Local Confusion

On Barry Creamer’s show the other day there was a caller who made an unexpected comment. The topic of the day had to do with why young people aren’t staying active in church once they move away from home and part of the discussion centered around church authority and the local church. What made the caller’s statement interesting was the concept she had of the “local church.” As she described it, she had made the decision not to attend a local church. When Dr. Creamer questioned her, it became clear that what she was actually saying is that she didn’t attend a church near her, but instead traveled some distance to go to church. It was clear that she was not pleased with Dr. Creamer saying that she should be part of a “local church.”

So often we use terms and assume that other people are using them the same way, but if other people don’t know what we mean when we use these words we may be communicating something different than what we’re saying. The fact is that the caller was correct in her understanding of what the term “local church” might mean, but her understanding was far from what the term means in church jargon. It occurs to me that the caller might not be unique in her understanding. If so, those of us who have spent such much time talking and writing about the local church may have done so in vain.

To be clear in our meaning, let’s look at what we mean by the “local church.” I mentioned one possible meaning in that some people may think we mean that it is in the same town as us. It is local instead of distant. Another possible understanding and perhaps a more common misunderstanding is that a local church is a subset of the larger organization. You might think of it like a local McDonalds. We know that there is a large corporation that is called McDonalds, but when we talk about eating at McDonalds we actually mean that we went to a local McDonalds. If we go to another McDonalds, we might refer to it the same way. And then we might talk about what McDonalds is doing to their menu. We use the same term to refer to the local as we do to the corporate. And it hardly matters because the money all flows toward McDonalds Corporation anyway.

But let’s look at the concept of a “local church” in the way that I believe the Bible refers to local churches. The word “church” occurs 80 times in the King James Version. The vast majority of those references are very clear references to a local church. By that I mean that the term refers directly to an assembly of believers who gather regularly for worship and service to God. There are some references that are either not referring to such a body of believers or it is unclear if they are or not, but the vast majority of the usage in the Bible is to “a local, visible body of baptized believers.” I see no reason to go into the unclear references today, but I want to point out the 70 plus local church references because I want to make it clear that the concept of a “local church” is important to God.

I think Acts 15 is particularly interesting for our discussion here because it very clearly refers to more than one church and the actions of both churches. There was a question of doctrine in the church at Antioch, so that church sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem concerning the matter. In verse 3 we see that “the church” brought them on their way, referring to the church at Antioch. Then in verse 4 we see them received of “the church”, referring to the church in Jerusalem. That may not seem significant, but look at verse 22 where it please “the whole church” to send people to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. “The whole church” in this verse isn’t referring to all believers everywhere, but it refers only to the church at Jerusalem.

It’s important to understand that when the Bible is talking about a church it is talking about a local church. The promises in the Bible concerning the church are made to those individual local bodies of believers who gather each Sunday and sit together in a room to hear a sermon. They’re made to that local body of people who shake hands, slap each other on the back and offer a shoulder to cry on. Some people have the idea that just because they are saved they are a member of “the church” and so it doesn’t matter if they actually attend services or not. They assume that salvation has given them the right to the promises God made to “the church.” They may know that there is benefit in local church participation, but they don’t see it as important. They find it easy to skip church or they may go to one church this Sunday and another the next. It works with McDonalds, doesn’t it? But when God talks about the church, our responsibility to the church and the church’s responsibility to us, he is talking about a local church made up of fellow believers that we know personally.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let's Get Real

I came across this video by way of Michelle Argyle. Much like with Hardware Wars, you don’t really need a full length novel to get the point, the video is enough. I’m not sure if picking on the work of Jane Austin is a good thing or a bad thing. I think, perhaps, that what the author is attempting to point out is the recent trend to blow everything out of proportion in a story just to get people to read it. I’m fascinated by how many authors think they have to begin their stories with something major, like a murder or some such thing. Instead of realism we have sensationalism.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Plot vs. Situation

Frequently, I see someone talking about something they believe would make a great story. Sometimes it’s a writer. Sometimes it’s a person who has no idea what it would take to write a story. The problem is an issue of plot vs. situation. A situation is the current state of things. For example, if you wreck your car then you have a situation. If you meet an important person, that’s a situation. If you have a disease of some kind, that is a situation. As unusual as your situation may be, it doesn’t guarantee that writing about that situation will produce and interesting story.

Plot is what happens in a story. The plot makes or breaks the story. We may begin with a situation, but we have to work it into a plot. Consider the book, The Magic of Ordinary Days. The situation was that a young woman committed adultery and must keep her pregnancy secret. Now, consider also the book Not My Will. It too is built around the situation of a woman needing to keep her pregnancy secret, but the two books are distinctly different. In The Magic of Ordinary Days, the woman is sent to marry a single farmer. In Not My Will, the woman hides her marriage and puts her child up for adoption so that she can collect her inheritance from her spinster aunt’s estate.

When we start with the situation, we should ask ourselves whether the situation is driving the plot or is a result of the plot. In The Magic of Ordinary Days, the situation of her being pregnant is the initial disturbance of the story. It’s because of that situation that she’s sent away from home, but as the plot progresses that disturbance plays a less significant role. Yes, she’s pregnant and that shows up in the story, but the plot begins to focus on her relationship with other characters in the story, such as her husband and the two Japanese women. The world is at war with Germany and even the farmers in a remote part of the country are impacted by that war.

We see the plot in the ordinary stuff that takes place. She’s never had to do the stuff that expected of her on the farm. As the plot progresses, the situation doesn’t remain constant. We can think of the plot as the actions that take place to change one situation into another. Throughout a story, we find many different situations that are created as the characters take action to remove themselves from the previous situation.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I’ve been giving some thought to worship services. In particular, I’ve been giving though to some of the stuff people do to “improve” the worship service. Over the past few decades, churches have been changing stuff up by incorporating contemporary music into their services and shortening the sermon. They’ve replaced the pulpit with a high stool and the pastor no longer wears a tie. They’ve removed the hymnal and gone to big screens. You know what I’m talking about.

Here’s the interesting thing: I’m not so sure these improvements are improvements at all. Take contemporary music, for example. I like some of the contemporary music and think it should be used, but in every church I’ve visited that had gone totally to contemporary music I’ve heard someone (usually a church member) complaining because the music is too loud. I can’t really say much about the tie. I think most of these guys would look better if they’d wear a coat and tie, but as long as they peach the word, I don’t suppose it makes much difference. As for the stool, I suppose it’s okay, since they want to appear on the same level as the people there. I’ve often taught classes while seated. But the real reason for the pulpit is to give the guy a place to put his Bible and notes. Without it, he’s either fumbling with his notes, using a teleprompter or he isn’t going to have much to say.

The thing that really gets me is this idea that people don’t want to hear a long sermon. I don’t know where that idea came from, but I don’t think it’s true. There are limits to how long people can sit and listen, but the fact is that people enjoy listening to speeches. Somehow we’ve forgotten that, thinking we need to find a way to entertain people to get them in church, but the “entertainment” people prefer is to listen to a speech. Yes, I know that more people will show up for a concert than for a sermon, but if you had a concert every Sunday they would stop showing up. People will go to a political meeting to here a candidate speak. People will turn on the television to hear the State of the Union Address. People will go to meeting where they listen to one lecturer after another. And the thing that seals it for me is that I enjoy listening to speeches. You might decide I’m weird, but I know too many other people who enjoy listening to a well presented sermon to think that.

So we’re here trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. We ask why people aren’t in church and decide that they don’t want to listen to a speech. Who would want to do that? Pretty much everyone, actually. But the thing is that if we ask people why they don’t attend church they may say something about the sermon. And they might say they would attend if the music was better. That doesn’t mean, however, that what they say is correct. People don’t usually say they enjoy listening to speeches and yet they choose to sit through them all the time. What I think is that we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by assuming that people have short attention spans.

We can’t just assume any ol’ speech will do. People won’t show up if all they get is a boring speech, but if we can give them a good speech, we’re more likely to hold people than if we try entertaining them with other things.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The In Crowd

School themed movies typically portray the cheerleaders and the jocks as terrible people who are too stuck up to pay attention to anyone. It’s a wonder they get along with themselves, much less anyone else. But the fact is that people like being in the in-crowd. The in-crowd is designated by the uniforms they wear. People want to be part of the group and once they make it they get to wear the same uniform as the others. Although, it isn’t about the uniform.

What people want is to be special and the group makes them special. I think that’s part of the reason so many writers cluster around literary agents and editors. It’s also likely that this is the reason so many people prefer the idea of having an agent to self-publishing, even through the probability of success is greater for those who self-publish. There’s something about having someone tell you that you’re part of the group. There’s also something about being able to tell people that you know a person that everyone recognizes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jesus Yoga

This is hilarious, though it shouldn’t be. In Yahoo, Yoga, and Yours Truly, Albert Mohler reports that his inbox is filling up because the Associated Press made people aware of a post he wrote about Yoga. I saw the original article when he wrote it and wondered if he was making too much out of it. Basically, I have the same concerns he does about Yogo itself, but I figured most of the Christians practicing Yoga were actually just “twisting [themselves] into pretzels or grasshoppers” only for the exercise rather than true Yoga. But look at the following e-mail he received:

I get more out of yoga and meditation than I ever get out of a sermon in my church. My favorite image I use in yoga is that of Jesus assuming a perfect yoga position in the garden of Gethsemane as he prays. How do we know that the apostles and early Christian guys did not use yoga to commune with Jesus after he left?

This woman clearly sees something more to Yoga than simple exercise, leaving me to think that people who practice Yoga are insane. But what I find particularly funny is the number of people who jumped on Albert Mohler for what he wrote. It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t think would matter that much. So what if Albert Mohler thinks they’re doing the wrong thing. I suspect they’re jumping on him because they feel guilty and think he may be right.

And the thing is that when people of God have been accepting of the practices of other religions in the past it hasn’t taken long for them to completely embrace the false religion. Just look at the history of the Jewish people. The married women who believed in idols and their children followed after idols rather than God. In the case of Yoga, what we would expect to see happen is that people will first embrace Yoga, then in hopes of getting an even better spirituality they’ll start trying the religion it’s associated with. Just like this thing about Jesus being in a perfect Yoga position in the garden of Gethsemane. The Bible never said that. What it does say is that he sweat drops of blood. It says that he cried out to the Father. A man going through that kind of turmoil isn’t going to be found sitting cross legged with his palms turned upward. He wasn’t reflecting on his inner being; he was talking to God.

The fact is that the Bible tells us to meditate, but not on ourselves. We are to meditate on the law of God. So for you Yoga folks out there, instead of contemplating your belly button or what direction your energy is flowing, I suggest you get in the Word and study it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Pressure Cooker

Yesterday, I wrote about a person being split in two. A more realistic situation is that of a person being declared dead, then returning home to find that his wife has married someone else. I would never want that to happen to me, but I like the concept because there’s no clear cut solution that works well for everyone involved. The woman married one man, expecting to grow old with him. She moves on to another man, so when the first returns she’s in love with two men. Of course, neither man wants to give up on his claim to her affections.

Stories like these are like a pressure cooker. As the story builds, the pressure grows greater and greater. Eventually, the story will burst. Something will have to happen to release the pressure, but it isn’t clear where that will be. As in real life, the break will occur in the weak spot, but it may take a lot of pressure to find where that spot is. The two equals will face off against each other and the pressure will keep building. That’s exactly what we want to happen. Then when the pressure is at its greatest one of the two will cave under the pressure. Something about his character will cause him to do something that takes him out of the running.

But there’s a danger that one will take out the other. One of the men may kill the other. The pressure took him out of contention, but it doesn’t help the other guy. That gives us a tragedy because the woman is left with no one. The great thing about it is that it allows us to ask what we would do if we were in a similar situation.

Monday, October 11, 2010

That's Mine! Yes, it's mine!

For a long time we’ve had this concept of a person duplicating himself. Often we see this on ads, a woman cleaning house divides into several copies of herself and the work gets down, of course that is to illustrate how much easier life would be with whatever product they’re selling. It’s an interesting concept because we wouldn’t mind letting someone else go to work so we can take time off, but it would never work.

Can you imagine if you could just divide yourself in two? You would run into problems right away. Which person would do what? If you’re a naturally bossy person, both of you would be telling each other what to do and neither of you would do anything. If you’re a natural follower, both of you would wait for the other to decide what should be down and neither of you would take charge of the lead. (On a side note, I think that is why God designed marriage the way he did.)

I’m somewhat fascinated with the concept of one person becoming two because both people would have equal ownership of everything that the one person previously owned. I own a house and a car. I can do what I please with it, but if I suddenly split in two there would be another man who had as much right to that house as me. One of us could go find another house, but neither of us would want to. We could share the house, but one of us would end up with the smaller bedroom. We’d have to flip a coin or something.

But what if the person who splits is married? Can you imagine a woman trying to decide which of her two husbands she’s going to keep and which she’s going to imagine to be his brother? It shouldn’t matter which she keeps, so she could flip a coin too, but it seems like a strange way of doing things. And I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy who loses in the coin flip. He was married to a woman he loved and who loved him, but then because of the luck of the draw he is out and his double is in.

Fortunately, that isn’t possible in real life, but it could make for an interesting story. It has plenty of conflict. Several science fiction writers have hinted at the concept when they bring in a character from an alternate reality, but there’s always something that designates one to be the person who is the real person and one to be the alternate. About the closest I’ve seen to what I’m talking about is when Commander Riker was duplicated with the transporter on Star Trek. But enough time had passed before they were brought together that one of the two had already established his claim to all the stuff and moved on. I’m not sure I’ll ever write a story like that, but it does seem like an interesting concept.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Clear Reason

The good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one” the line says from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. The argument seems valid. If the death of one person can result in saving the lives of a hundred, it seems like a good trade, though none of us want to be that one or for that one to be a close friend. It’s the way wars are fought. A commander doesn’t want to lose men, but sometimes he has to send people into a battle they probably won’t win so that the rest of his men can position themselves for a battle that they will win. Soldiers choose to go to war because they know that even if they die it will make life better for their families back home.

But it’s not easy to show an individual’s willingness to sacrifice for the group. With Spock it made sense because he was a very logical character. From seeing him in action before we knew that for him to do what he did he would have thought it out logically and had come to the conclusion that his sacrifice was the logical option. It also produced great irony because he was supposed to be the least moved by emotion and yet his last act was one of great love for his shipmates.

With normal characters we end up relying so heavily on the emotions of the character. In real life, emotions apply well to a group, but in fiction it isn’t easy to show one’s love for the group. If an emotional character is to make a sacrifice for the group, it seems to work better if the focus is on one member of the group. For example, a man who happens to be in a bank when it is robbed may not be willing to risk his life for the group, but if his wife is in danger, he’ll do whatever it takes for her safety. When our characters do anything, there must be a very clear reason why he would do it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Scary Stories

People like being scared. When we were children, we would hide ourselves away in a dark closest and tell ghost stories. I broke a window one time because of doing that. Some friends were over at the house one day. They, my sister and I had been sitting on the front porch telling ghost stories. We all went around to the back of the house to go inside. Us four had just gotten to the back door, with me leading the way, when the dog barked. I know I jumped, but I kind of think the other three pushed me forward. Whatever happened, my arm slammed into the glass and broke it.

It takes more to scare most adults, be people still enjoy being scared. There’s an element of fear in every good story. We build a reader up to expect that certain things will happen, but we also introduce the possibility that it won’t . In suspense, the level of fear is pushed somewhat higher than what you might find in other genres, but every story has to have something to fear.

The greatest fear comes from things we can’t control. A car speeding down the highway at 120 mph doesn’t incite us to fear as much as a car with no brakes traveling down the road at 55 mph. But the most scary things are the supernatural. You hear the story about the old engineer that carries a light through the woods where the train used to run and it has the potential to scare you. You know it isn’t real, but you can’t help but wonder.

One of the difficulties of writing scare novels is that many genres require us to stay within the bounds of reality. A way to get around that is to have the characters telling scary stories. That way, we don’t have to say we believe there’s a woman knocking at the door wanting her golden arm. Instead we’re saying that we believe some friends might sit around the camp fire trying to scare each other. Then when we introduce the thing that really is out there in the woods, the reader has reason to fear it might be the thing from one of the stories, even though we can’t actually do that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sin: A Moving Target

Sin and our attitude toward it is an interesting thing. Not that long ago, divorce taboo. Fornication was also taboo. It’s interesting how different things are today. We’re much more accepting of divorce than we used to be. As for fornication, you can’t hardly watch a television show these days without someone at least implying that he is sleeping with his girlfriend. And for that matter, look at the Tyler Clementi case. I don’t condone what Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei are accused of, but the biggest concern people seem to have right now seems to be how to stop such bullying and no one seems to be concerned about what else was going on in the room at the time. Tyler Clementi is not innocent, but because he died people want to put all the blame on his roommate.

First let’s consider the alleged crime of Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei. If I had someone using my dorm room for romantic encounters with a lover—either man or woman—I would be more than a little upset, so I can understand the temptation to do what they are accused of doing. We can’t really know their motives. For all I know, they may have just thought it was funny and wanted other people to see. But if we ignore what was actually happening and consider that a level of privacy should be expected in a dorm room so that the people living there can change clothes etc. Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei had no right to turn the camera on Tyler Clementi without his permission.

But why aren’t more people outraged over what was going on in that room? Forget that it was with another man. Suppose it was with a woman. It wouldn’t be any more right and yet the big question seems to be whether Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei—who weren’t actually at the bridge when Tyler Clementi jumped—can be charged with murder. As writers, that should scare us. Imagine if a politician decided to take his life after some news reporter exposed his impropriety. Is the reporter now responsible for the man’s death? But to look at this and think “well, he was just having sex with someone he wasn’t married to.” What are we thinking?

Simply put, we’re not as disgusted by sin as we once were. With divorce, it was considered a bad thing until it go close to home. When our friends began getting divorced and when family members began getting divorced we found it hard to take the hard line, saying that divorce is wrong. Basically, it’s the herd mentality. We learn that something is wrong and it’s easy to hang onto that conviction as long as the people around us agree with it. But when we see the people around us doing the things we know to be wrong we begin to question our convictions. You’ve seen riots and looting on television. Everyone knows it’s wrong to smash a store window to grab the televisions inside. On a normal day, most people won’t do that, but in a riot many people do it. The assumption is that it can’t be wrong if everyone is doing it. People are willing to accept fornication, divorce, adultery and any number of other things because it appears that everyone is doing it.

What’s the solution? How do we know what is right and wrong if going by the actions of those around us is an inaccurate method? As your mother used to say, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” Of course you wouldn’t, but it isn’t always so simple. And yet, it is. It comes down to a question of whether we want to please God or please man. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Instead of looking around us and questioning what other people think is right and wrong, we should be looking into the word of God and asking what God’s law says about what is right and wrong. We need to be taking a stand for what God says, not following after other people because it seems right.

So if that’s right, then God has something to say about the actions of Dharun Ravi, Molly Wei and Tyler Clementi. Take a look at Leviticus 18. It has a great deal to say about uncovering the nakedness of various people. In another place, God forbade the a high alter and required the priests to wear pants under their robes so their nakedness would not be exposed. Based on the principle we see here, the apparent actions of Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei were wrong because they exposed the nakedness of two other people. But at the same time, God has something to say about the actions of Tyler Clementi and his friend. Also in Leviticus 18 is the command, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.” So where should we stand on this issue? We should stand with God and say very simply that they were all wrong.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Your Critics' Support

Most people realize that I don’t agree with Rachel Held Evans. My take on her doctrine is that she believes a living god exists, but she also believes we came from monkeys. But I have no intention of discussing her doctrine. There’s plenty of evidence to prove her wrong that others have written about. What I do want to talk about is a marketing tactic she uses that might do us all well to examine. Writing for The Washington Post Rachel wrote the article When Atheists and Baptists Agree. In the article, she calls her critics by name and provides links, but she doesn’t pick on just any critic, she chooses Ken Ham of the Creation Museum, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist Blog and Dr. Albert Mohler, a prolithic blogger and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is through his blog that I learned of the article she wrote.

What we can learn from this is that if you want publicity from blogs you should pick a fight with bloggers who have a history of writing about people who disagree with them. Also, the bigger following they have the better. If you look at how her article is designed, it appears that she was aiming to produced something that could not go unanswered. She accuses Dr. Mohler and other Baptists of “setting young Christians up for failure” and “orchestrating the very exodus that they fear.” She also says, “the Baptists have essentially conceded that the atheists are right after all.” The fact is that on the thing we’ve “conceded that the atheists are right” about we never disagreed. The atheist say that evolution and Christianity are incompatible and so do we. We have to is we are to hold to our belief that every word of the original Bible texts were inspired by God.

The thing that Rachel Held Evans accomplishes through her antagonistic article is that she gets publicity from her critics. She gets much publicity from Dr. Mohler and yes, she gets some from me. As a result, I’m sure she’ll sell more copies of her book to people who want to know what she has to say.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What's Write

One of the hard things in life is saying what’s right and knowing that people will be offended by it. As writers, I think that influences what we write. We don’t like people to be offended. We want everyone to like us, but that doesn’t happen. The easy thing is to try to please people, but it doesn’t make us much of a person if we tell them things that we know aren’t true. I believe the thing that makes writing hard isn’t the work but rather doing what is right.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Squeezing the Sermon Turnip

The other day, Brandon Cox of Saddleback Church wrote about repurposing sermons to get as much out of them as possible. The argument is that since sermons take so much effort to produce they should be used to the maximum. Having repurposed sermons on numerous occasions in the past, I get his point, however, as I considered the concept in that light I began to question the wisdom of that.

My first problem with trying to squeeze everything we can out of a sermon is that the people who’ll be seeing the repurposed sermon may not be in the target audience of the original sermon. For example, suppose a pastor in a fishing village preaches a sermon, we package that sermon up and play it for Rick Warren’s usually audience at Saddleback Church. I’m guessing it wouldn’t go over well, and yet it may have been a very effective sermon in the other church. It is important that we realize that we can’t divorce the message from the audience.

Another issue is that I don’t see why we should spend so much time repurposing sermons when there are other things that are just as costly that we never repurpose. Many churches have a children’s church. While the pastor is preaching his heart out, there’s another lesson going on in another part of the building. It may have taken just as much or more time to prepare, but the only people who’ll hear it are a handful of children. The only reason we have for repurposing the sermon but not the lessons taught by other teachers is that the sermon is sitting there ready for us to use. If it is going to require significant resources to repurpose the sermon, we should give it careful thought.

There’s a difference between seeing a need that we can take care of by repurposing a sermon and trying to find several ways to repurpose a sermon. For example, if someone contacts us to ask about a particular topic and the pastor recently preached on the topic, it might save us time to point the person to that sermon for help. On the other hand, if we’re looking for ways to repurpose sermons, we may expend a great deal of effort only to have most of the things we did ignored by most people. So, repurpose sermons if it helps you accomplish something, but don’t spend too much time trying to get everything you can out of them.