Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

Sandberg and Grant Option BSheryl Sandberg[1] and Adam Grant.[2] 2017. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

About half of the patients I visited with in the emergency room during my time at Providence Hospital suffered physical maladies as a consequence of unresolved grief. Presenting diagnoses, such as backaches, strokes, heart attacks, failed psychiatric medicines, suicides, addictions, obesity, and head aches, often resulted from unresolved grief over the loss of a close family member. In such cases, treating the presenting ailment proved secondary to helping them cope with their loss. American society does not cope with grief adequately so we mask our grief with physical ailments.

Introduction

In their book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore Sandberg’s journey with the loss of her husband Dave Goldberg early in 2014 during a vacation in Mexico. They write:

“This book is my and Adam’s attempt to share what we’ve learned about resilience. We wrote it together, but for simplicity and clarity the story is told by me (Sheryl) while Adam is referred to in the third person.” (11)

You might think, oy vey, another book about grief, but you would be wrong for two reasons. First, Sandberg and Grant really do explore the question of resilience, providing something other than another book outlying the stages of grief. Second, Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and Grant is a well-known psychologist at the Wharton School. This book is a deep dive into resilience (or self-care) with both personal and professional applications in view. Still, grief is normally the jumping off point for the resilience issues discussed.

Three Ps

An important insight that Sandberg and Grant return to throughout the book draws from the three Ps of Martin Seligman:

  1. “Personalization—the belief that we are at fault;
  2. Pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and
  3. Permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.” (16)

The three Ps are important because they amplify the losses that we suffer and we hammer them in our own heads through negative self-talk.

In the death of Sandberg’s husband, the three Ps each played an important role in deepening her experience of grief. She initially blamed herself for his death (personalization), felt that everything was horrible—especially for her kids (pervasive), and believed that the pain of grief would go on forever (permanence; 16-20). Her counselors worked hard to disavow each of these lies/half-truths that she had told herself, helping to ease her discomfort and accelerate her recovery.

Core Beliefs of Resilience

Sandberg and Grant see four core beliefs that aid resilience, especially in children:

  1. They have some control over their lives;
  2. can learn from failure;
  3. matter as human beings;
  4. have real strengths to rely on and share. (111)

What stands out from this list of beliefs is how extremely counter-cultural they appear. If anything, our culture reinforces just the opposite beliefs. In fact, Sandberg and Grant immediately cite a study showing that two-thirds of at-risk kids fail to develop such resilience and suffer serious consequences already in adolescence (111).

Assessment

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s new book, Option B, opens up the question of grief through the eyes of someone who has experienced it deeply. Christians often say that when God closes a door, he opens a window—Option B is that window. Sandberg and Grant walk their readers through that window with flair and grace.

References

Seligman, Martin E. P. 1991. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Pocket Books.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheryl_Sandberg.

[2] http://www.adamgrant.net. @AdamMGrant.

Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

Also see:

Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Fairbairn Simplifies Greek and Latin Grammar

Donald Fairbairn Understanding LanguageDonald Fairbairn.[1] 2011. Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I realized my call to ministry, I began studying Greek, the language of the New Testament. This was years before finding a seminary to attend because I feared not being able to keep up with younger students in learning the language. When I eventually entered seminary, I tested out of the first semester of Greek. The complex usage questions that come up in the second semester of Greek proved too hard for me to master on my own. I always wanted also to study Latin, but I never got beyond reading individual verses and using the Vulgate in translating Greek passages for seminary assignments.

Introduction

In his text Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin Donald Fairbairn describes his objectives as:

“This book begins not with English grammar, but with the big-picture idea that different languages can express the same concepts in different ways. Then it turns to the functional question of what languages have to accomplish to enable speakers and writers to communicate well. What do nouns have to do? What do verbs have to do? How can words and phrases be combined to express complex ideas?” (xv)

This last question is intriguing because this was exactly the reason that I failed to test out of my second semester of Greek. I got confused with why I needed to understand so many verb, noun, and participle forms because I did not understand their basic functions, which went much further than my prior experience with a declined language—German.

Fairbairn’s Background

Fairbairn’s interest in linguistics reflects his background. While he is currently the academic dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, he is also the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity with degrees from Princeton University (AB), Denver Seminary (MDiv), and University of Cambridge (PhD)—church history requires more than a passing knowledge of Greek and Latin. His books include: Eastern Orthodoxy through Western Eyes, Grace and Christology in the Early ChurchLife in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers (review: Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1), and Fulgentius of Ruspe and the Scythian Monks: Correspondence on Christology and Grace. 

Outline

Fairbairn writes his book in four parts and ten chapters. The four parts and chapters are:

Part 1: Getting Started

1.Learning a Foreign Language

2. Study a Dead Language: Why Bother?

3. The Building Blocks of Language

Part 2: Nouns and the Words that Go with Them

4. Expressing the Relations between Noun

5.Adjectives, Articles, and Pronouns

Part 3: Verbs: The Heart of Communication

6. What Do Verbs Do?

7. Finite Verb Forms: A Closer Look at Tense and Mood

8. Special (Non-Finite) Verbal Forms: Infinitives and Participles

Part 4: Looking into Sentences as a Whole.

9. Words, Phrases, Clauses: Putting them Together

10. Reading a Greek or Latin Sentence: Some Suggestions.” (vii-viii)

 Anyone who has studied Greek will recognize that getting into the weeds starts when you reach participles. From that point forward (chapter 8) in Fairbairn’s book the advice becomes especially critical.

Highlights

Some of the most interesting things that I learned reading Fairbairn’s book could be described as background information. He gives three reasons to study Greek and Latin: to pick up nuances in the languages lost in previous translations, to understand better the world that birthed Western civilization, and to understand English better (16-23). I did not know, for example, that English has more prepositions than Greek or Latin because it does not decline its nouns—declensions perform a similar function in the language (43). Declension also frees a language to use word order to focus on emphasis rather word function (42).

Some of the most useful details that Fairbairn offers come in discussing the word function of relations among nouns, known as cases. He cites eight: nominative (subject), vocative (command), accusative (direct object), dative (indirect object), instrumental (causive), locative (place), genitive (ownership), and ablative (separation) (58-63). Knowing the function of cases helps a student understand especially the different uses of prepositions and, of course, the uses of the declensions. Not being familiar with the functions leaves one confused when confronted with the many forms that these cases and prepositions can take.

Fairbairn provides a particularly helpful table 4-1 (66) that displays how Greek and Latin handle these basic functions differently. The Greek dative case, for example, handles the dative, ablative, and locative functions found in Latin, making it a kind of kitchen-sink case in Greek. Meanwhile, in Latin the dative case handles only two of the four functions handled by the Greek dative.

Assessment

Donald Fairbairn’s Understanding Language is an interesting and helpful text for beginning students of Greek and Latin. The book reads well and normally substitutes accessible descriptions for the more technical terms that linguists typically employ.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/view-faculty-member.cfm?faculty_id=57841&grp_id=8947.

 

Fairbairn Simplifies Greek and Latin Grammar

Also see:

Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

 

Continue Reading

Meeks Explains Amazon Ads (2)

Meeks Mastering Amazon AdsBrian D. Meeks.[1] 2017. Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide. CreateSpace.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In April I began advertising with Amazon Ads, sometimes called AMS ads. In the summer, I cut my bids about in half and started showing a small profit on the ads at the cost of reducing my sales volume. Over the last six months, I have gone from selling most of my books in person to selling more online and my Kindle sales have exceeded paperback sales. If sales continue at current rates, I will exceed the benchmark of having sold more than one thousand Christian, non-fiction books.[2]

Against this backdrop, when I learned that Joanna Penn was hosting a podcast[1] with Brian Meeks, a former business analyst, on AMS Ads, I was all ears. When I learned that Brian also had a book on the subject, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Brian Meeks begins his book, Mastering Amazon Ads, with these objectives:

“Later in this book I’m going to cover many aspects of marketing: how to improve your ad’s performance, return on investment (ROI), some of the misconceptions about Amazon ads, and dozens of other pieces to the puzzle.” [SIC].(7)

AMS offers two kinds of ads: sponsored product (SP or keyword) and product display (PD or interest) ads (16). Because SP ads run almost immediately and PD ads take a day or two to kick in, many people write off PD ads as not profitable (8).

Brian advocates PD ads because they are easy to set up and serve a different market—PD run on Kindle, while SP ads do not (8). Because the ads serve different markets, they do not compete with one another which implies that authors should run both kinds of ads to maximize their sales. Consequently, I began testing PD ads even before I finished reading the book.

Metrics

Before writing full-time, Brian worked as a business analyst and he advocates testing the assumptions that go into creating AMS ads. But how do you know that your ads perform as well as they might? Brian says test and measure performance among the alternatives.

Brian advocates measuring ad performance by taking daily snap shots of ad statistics provided by AMS. Key performance indicators are:

Click Through Rate (CTR).

How many impressions (views of the ad) are required to get a click?

Brian likes PD ads because the CTR is lower (fewer impressions are required to get a click) and conversion rate is lower (fewer clicks are required to get a sale) (19). In my own test comparing my first books’ SP performance with its PD performance, I notice today that the CTR for my SP is 1,298 to 1, but for my PD is it 340 to 1. This implies that my PD ad generates about four times as many clicks as my SP ad. (Brian’s own test showed five times as many clicks). Brian sees the CTR as a measure of ad copy efficiency (21).

Conversion Rate (12-13).

How many clicks are required to get a sale?

The conversion rate from clicks to sales combined with the bid give the cost of a sale. If five clicks are required to get a sale on average and the bid is $0.11 per click, then the ad cost of a sale is 5 *$0.11 or $0.55.

Return on Investment (ROI).

Are the ads profitable?

According to Brian (13), the ROI for ads is calculated by subtracting ad costs from ad revenue (price times the royalty rate) and dividing that number by the cost of the ads.

Continuing the above example, if a Kindle sale generates $3.47 ($4.95 * 70%) and costs $0.55, then the ROI on that ad is: 531% ($3.47 – $0.55)/$0.55). If the Kindle sale generates $0.35 ($0.99 * 0.35), then the ROI is: – 36% (($0.35 – $0.55)/$0.55).

Clearly from this example, the bid offer and the book pricing work together to determine whether ads are profitable. If the bid is too high or the book price is too low, then the ads are not profitable. Brian makes both observations repeatedly in his discussion and examples.

Assessment

Brian Meeks’s Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide is a helpful book for authors who want to sell books on Amazon.com. Brian’s writing style is accessible and his analytical advice is useful for those not comfortable in working with numbers.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.TheCreativePenn.com/2017/09/04/Mastering-Amazon-Ads-Brian-Meeks.

[1] www.BrianDMeeks.com/non-fiction. @ExtremelyAvg. http://ExtremelyAverage.com.

[2] According to different sources, less than five percent of independent authors sell a thousand books and most sell none at all. For this reason, the thousand book threshold garners attention.

Meeks Explains Amazon Ads

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

 

Continue Reading

Tozer Teaches God’s Attributes

A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the HolyA. W. Tozer. 2014. Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God. North Fort Myers: Faithful Life Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Long writing projects, like my recent memoir, yield a new awareness of the subject being studied, but it comes at the sacrifice of other activities and physical exhaustion. An important way that I recharge my batteries after such projects is to focus on self-care in my reading, devotions, and daily work-out. At the recommendation of a close, spiritual friend, I turned this month to A.W. Tozer’s little book, Knowledge of the Holy.

Who is A.W. Tozer?

Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963) was an American Christian pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor who received two honorary doctoral degrees but had no formal seminary training. As pastor, he was associated with the Christian Missionary Alliance,[1] a holiness denomination, and served as editor of their official publication, now known as Alliance Life. As author, he wrote at least a dozen books focused primarily on Christian spirituality.[2] Knowledge of the Holy was published in 1961, just two years prior to his death.

Introduction

Tozer begins his work with a question: “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” (10) He also expresses a concern about a loss of a sense of God’s majesty leading to an observation: “Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit.” (5) Tozer links this lost sense of the transcendence of God to idolatry and libel against his character (11-13).

If God’s nature is incomprehensible and ineffable, what attributes has he revealed about himself? (16-20) Tozer starts by describing the Trinity, but lingers on mystery of how the Trinity could exist even as God is indivisible in his being. He writes: “All of God does all that God does.” (27) Tozer reflects on the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicaean Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, noting how they spell out with great care how God in three persons can be understood (34) He then observes that work of creation is attributed to God the Father (Genesis 1:1), Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16), and the Holy Spirit (Job 26:13, and Psalms 104:3) (36), which completes the thought that the Trinity is invisible.

Clearly, Tozer prefers to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Organization

Tozer goes on to examine each of God attributes, devoting a chapter to each one for a total of twenty-three chapters. While some might think that God’s attributes are dry and boring, they are terribly important in separating good theology from weak theology.

Self-Existence of God

For example, God’s self-existence not conditioned on anything in the created universe implies that he transcends creation, is not bound by time or space (37-44). The need for Christ arises directly from the problem that as created beings we cannot approach God; he must reveal himself to us. So the question of how many paths are there up the mountain to God is answered: none—God must come to us.[3] It also means that we are totally dependent on him; not the other way around.

God’s Immutability

Tozer’s comments on the immutability of God are interesting. He writes: “To say that God is immutable is to say that He never differs from Himself.” (63) If God were to change, he would have to go from better to worse, worse to better, or change within himself. God’s holiness means that he cannot go from worse to better. Of course, we would not want him to go from better to worse, which might mean that he would perhaps neglect his promises. And God is self-existence, not compose of parts that might need to be harmonized (63-64).

If you think that God’s immutability is boring, think of what it would mean for God to need to learn something or for God to make a mistake—what exactly would a “divine opps” look like? For example, what if the laws of physic changed because God made a mathematical error and the universe imploded?

God is More than Love

Tozer’s comments about love are most helpful. He observes:

“If love is equal to God, then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. Then we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God…

 The words ‘God is love’ mean that love is an essential attribute of God. Love is something true of God but it is not God. It expresses the way God is in His unitary being, as do the words holiness, justice, faithfulness, and truth.” (124)

The personality of a person arises because of their attributes, but also their personal history, which includes many painful experiences. If God’s love defined him in his totality, then how could he justly deal with sin? How loving would God be if he ignored the actions of mass murders and rapists, simply so he could be totally loving to everyone? What kind of love would that be? We really do want God to be just as well as loving.

Assessment

W. Tozer’s book, Knowledge of the Holy, is a Christian classic that deserves to be read and discussed by every Christian.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_and_Missionary_Alliance.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._W._Tozer.

[3] This is actually one lesson from the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis:  11:1-9.

Tozer Teaches God’s Attributes

Also see:

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ.

Continue Reading

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 2, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, the created order can be used to draw inferences about God, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery.

Introduction

In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty (217). These bear repeating.

From Existence

For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis. Life somehow presumably spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until we were created—this is creation story according to many atheists. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual answer given is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory held by most scientists to be the accepted theory of creation, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:[2]

“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”

Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.

From Fine Tuning

Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller writes:

“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” (219)

Given such a small probability that the laws of physics were randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that it is not an accident; it was intentionally planned this way. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach and assuming that it was randomly constructed—no reasonable person would assume that, but would rather assume that a clockmaker had to exist.

From Moral Realism

Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller writes:

“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” (221)

Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them in surviving. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained and equipped like lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.

From Consciousness

Keller, citing Thomas Nagel (110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” (222) It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (3), that

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (224)

Keller summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” (224)

From Reason and Beauty

Keller reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection because it helped our ancestors to survive.

The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? (225). The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.

Keller, citing Luc Ferry, writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.” (226) In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.

Limits to the Proofs

Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.

Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe being removed from it having created it—God stands outside time and space, as we know it. He is also removed from us by virtue of being holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments (228). Keller makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western” (228)

Why is it that Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West? For me, the answer lies in God’s continuing and loving presence in each of our lives. What about you?

Assessment

My brief overview of the third part of Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, does not do it justice. Keller’s book is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age.

References

Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/big%20bang%20theory.

[2]@TimKellerNYC, http://www.TimothyKeller.com.

 

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3

Also see:

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 

Keller Argues the Case for God 

Keller Engages Galatians; Speaks Gospel 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 2

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 1, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Modern and Postmodern

The attempt to apply the scientific method to all aspects of life defined the modern era and people looked upon the professionals undertaking this project as cultural heroes. Early in life I knew people whose past time consisted to trips to the airport to watch the planes come and go, much like our grandparents might have spent time in adoration at a train station. Pilots, doctors, engineers, and other professionals (even pastors) earned our respect solving society’s problems and advancing living standards in the process.

The beginning of the end of the modern era came during the Second World War when humanity looked in horror at the application of scientific methods to the task of killing vast numbers of human beings. In a very real sense, the postmodern era began with a deep skepticism that rational thinking should be applied to all aspects of life, especially relationships among different ethnic and religious groups. The focus on efficiency in the modern era morphed into a focus on equity in the postmodern era. Just like a collage can contain different and contrasting pieces all hung in balance, people often held incoherent views and accepted the incoherence.

Introduction

In part two of his book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller examines some of these incoherencies. The general theme of part two is: religion is more than you think it is.

We care a lot about the existence of incoherencies in our worldview because they reveal hidden agendas that might not be accepted if brought into the light. Keller writes:

“I hope by now my more skeptical readers will see that neither secularism not Christianity has the main ‘burden of proof.’ Western secularity is not the absence of faith but a new set of beliefs about the universe. These beliefs cannot be proven, are not self-evident to most people, and have, as we shall continue to see, their own contradictions and problems just as other religious faiths do. One significant problem is that modern secularism’s humanistic values [like human rights] are inconsistent with—even undermined by—its belief in a material-only universe.” (53)

Secularism as an Alternative Faith

The fact that secularity is an alternative set of beliefs (an atheistic religion) means that, for example, it can be taught in public schools without the scrutiny and prohibitions given “religious” beliefs, a huge, practical advantage for those promoting these beliefs. For many Christians, this observation motivates alternatives like private and homeschooling, posing an enormous burden on family resources and energy.

The fact that many of these secular beliefs are not time-tested the same way that traditional religions have been means that we simply do not know how lives will be affected by the children who have been so vigorously indoctrinated. Given the huge human toll associated with the century-long experiment with communism, this lack of time-testing should be viewed with great suspicion.

Crisis of Meaning

“What is the meaning of life?” (57) For years people have joked about this question, but it poses a defining weakness in secularism, especially the Marxian variants. Placing the individual at the center of cultural begs the question of how the individual came into being and such prominence, in the absence of biblical faith. The secular account of creation claims that we evolved from a historical accident, which implies that life has no intrinsic meaning—we are simply a highly evolved bacteria. Political correctness (shouting down opponents) began with Marx who did not want people citing the Bible’s creation account because his theory, known as dialectical materialism, did not have a defensible alternative.

So Why Else Do We Care About the Meaning of Life?

Keller cites an interesting story by Atul Gawande who:

“tells of a doctor working at a nursing home who persuaded its administrator to bring in dogs, cats, parakeets, a colony of rabbits, and even a group of laying hens to be cared for by the residents. The results were significant. ‘The residents began to wake up and come to life. People who we had believed weren’t able to speak started speaking … People who had been completely withdrawn and nonambulatory started coming to nurses’ stations and saying, ‘I’ll take the dog for a walk.’ All the parakeets were adopted and name by the residents.’ The use and need for psychotropic drugs for agitation dropped significantly, to 38 percent of the previous level. And ‘deaths fell 15 percent.’” (58-59)

Why? Keller concludes: “we all seek a cause beyond ourselves.” (59) Obviously, a philosophy like secularism that denigrates human value and the search for meaning is seriously flawed. It is not enough to be housed and fed.

Six Basic Human Needs

The core of Keller’s argument in part 2 focuses on six basic human needs: meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, and justice. (216) In his own words, these points are made:

“…in each chapter, I looked at Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.” (216)

The purpose of this discussion is to convince secular readers that the Gospel is indeed a sensible alternative.

Assessment

My brief overview of the second part of Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, does not do it justice. Keller’s book is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age. In part three of this review, I will turn to Keller’s last question: how does Christianity make sense?

References

Gawande, Atul. 2014. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Metropolitan Books.

[1]@TimKellerNYC, http://www.TimothyKeller.com.

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 2

Also see:

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 

Keller Argues the Case for God 

Keller Engages Galatians; Speaks Gospel 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 2, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why does anyone care about theology, the study of God? In our thoroughly secular society, God would seem to be irrelevant, yet these are not happy times. Suicide rates have recently reached record levels and life expectancy went down last year in America for the first time driven by increases in death rates from preventable causes. If your faith is in the basic goodness of human beings, why is nuclear war an increasing worry? If your faith is in rational decision-making and technology, why Is life expectancy declining here in America due to preventable causes? As the presumptions of secular society have proven to be at best false and at worse idolatrous, turning to God and the study of his ways might seem a sensible response.

Introduction

In his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller sets forth these objectives:

“…I will compare and contrast how Christianity and secularism … seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope—all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them. I will be arguing that Christianity makes the most emotional and cultural sense…” (4-5)

A bit later he addresses his target audience: “If you think that Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then this book is written for you.” (5) Keller writes in three parts: (1) Why does anyone need religion? (2) Religion is more than you think it is; and (3) Christianity makes sense. (vii-viii)

This review is written in three parts that correspond roughly to Keller’s own divisions. The first part will, in addition, provide an overview of the book.

Who is Timothy Keller?

Timothy Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York in 1989. While many pastors have founded churches in recent years, Keller stands out for having successfully witnessed to young, urban professionals with a faithful message, something thought inconceivable until he did it. He writes prolificly about Christian apologetics and his writing is passionately followed by young pastors and seminarians interested in urban ministry. He grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Bucknell University (BS), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Westminster Theological Seminary (PhD).

Keller distinguishes three uses of the word secular. In the first, a secular society is one that separates religion from the state, as is true in most Western countries. In the second, a secular person focuses on the material world and is skeptical that anything exists outside it. Finally, a secular culture focuses on the present, material reality and “meaning in life, guidance, and happiness are understood and sought in present-time economic prosperity, material comfort, and emotional fulfillment.” In a secular culture, even people professing faith may not act on it in making significant life decisions. (2-3)

In this sense, secularism is an atheistic religion, one of many, because God no longer occupies first priority in the lives of secular people, regardless of their professed religion.

Why Does Anyone Need Religion?

While the number of cultural Christians continues to decline in the U.S., the number of devote Christians continues to grow here and abroad. Why? Keller offers two reasons:

“…many people find secular reason to have ‘things missing’ from it that are necessary to live life well. Another explanation is that great numbers of people intuitively sense a transcendent realm beyond the natural world.” (11).

What’s Missing?

Secular postmodernism asserts many rights, such as human rights, that are a legacy of Christian morality, but it has no justification for maintaining them outside the Christian tradition. For the Jew or the Christian, human rights make perfect sense because they believe that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), but for the Marxist, who does not believe God exists and believes that all rights are conferred by the state, such logic seems meaningless. Citing Habermas, Keller writes:

“The ideals of freedom…of conscience, human rights and democracy [are] the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love…To this day, there is no alternative to it.” (13)

For the radical individualist, the absence of any moral obligation beyond the individual leaves no philosophical justification for human rights yet most assert human rights should be respected without a justification. Passing a law to assert disembodied values can certainly be done, but what happens when an evil coalition passes contrary laws? Many people have sensed that something important is missing and have come to see faith in God as essential to maintaining a just society.

A Sense of Transcendence

The sense of transcendence becomes obvious when contemplating the limits of the material world. Keller writes:

“Steve Jobs, when contemplating his own death, confessed that he felt that ‘it’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience…and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.” (16)

In my own experience, I came to understand that even nihilism, complete denial of the existence of God, points itself to God because the human heart refuses to live without hope.

Assessment

Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age. In parts two and three of this review, I will turn to Keller’s other two concerns: why religion is more than you think it is and how Christianity makes sense.

References

Habermas, Jürgen. 2006. Time of Transitions. UK: Cambridge.

[1]@TimKellerNYC, http://www.TimothyKeller.com.

 

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1

Also see:

Keller Argues the Case for God 

Keller Engages Galatians; Speaks Gospel 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Nouwen Describes Leadership Challenges

Henri Nouwen, Temptations of LeadersHenri J.M. Nouwen. 2002. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One professor of mine in seminary described scripture as laconic, meaning that every verse is written with a minimum number of words. We are told only the basics, leaving the rest of the story free to be contextualized—applied to our own situations. The best example of laconic writing in the postmodern world appears in advertising where each word is uttered with a price tag attached. If you say something to the whole world on television during the Super Bowl at the cost of a celebrity’s mansion, what words would you choose?

Introduction

In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen writes laconically about Christian leadership. Two passages inform Nouwen’s view of leadership more than the many others that he cites. They are the three temptations of Christ in the desert before he starts his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11) and words of the risen Christ to Peter just before the ascension (John 21:15-18) (23).

Nouwen structures his book in three parts around the three temptations. They are to be relevant (turn stones into bread), to be popular (throw yourself off the temple), and to lead rather than to be led (to have authority). He further divides these parts into three sections: the temptation, a question or task, and a discipline. Throughout these discussions, Nouwen weaves his experiences as a priest living with special needs friends from the L’Arche community in Toronto after retiring from an academic career, which took him to Harvard Divinity School (22).

From Relevance to Prayer

Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant—turn stones into bread (30). Writing about his experience at L’Arche, Nouwen notes his new friends had no interest in his accomplishments or the network of friends that he had. Nouwen writes:

“This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self—the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things—and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.” (28)

Who Are You Really?

If you strip away the degrees and the robes, who are you really? As a chaplain intern working an Alzheimer’s unit, Nouwen commitment cut me to the core—he stayed in this environment that I found solace in knowing that I would leave at the end of three months. My love of the patients was clearly conditioned on my departure, his was not. I missed being relevant—finishing my training, moving to new challenges.

Nouwen sees Jesus’ question to Peter—“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 ESV)—as being important in understanding the task of the servant leader (36). He writes:

“…the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” (30)

By irrelevance, Nouwen means abandoning the “fix-it” mentality that many of us cling to; he clearly does not mean abandoning the ministerial task of pointing the lost and the suffering to Christ (31). He clearly sees the need to develop contemplative prayer as an antidote to the need to be relevant (42-43).

From Popularity to Ministry

Jesus’ second temptation was to do something spectacular to draw attention to himself (53). The Gospel of Matthew records it this way:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Matt 4:6 ESV)

Jesus responds, saying: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt 4:7 ESV). In John, he tells Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17) For Nouwen, the temptation to engage in heroic leadership is blunted by ministering in teams. As a member of the L’Arche community, he always brought along a companion whenever he was asked to speak (58-59). Nouwen furthermore sees a special need for leaders to practice the discipline of confession and forgiveness as an antidote to the propensity to want to be popular (64-65).

From Leading to Being Led

The third temptation of Jesus was to be powerful (75). Nouwen observes that: “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.” (78) After re-commissioning Peter, Jesus prophesies his death:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 ESV)

In this sense, as Christian leaders, we find ourselves led, whether we like it or not. Nouwen sees theological reflection as the primary antidote to the temptation to be powerful (88).

Assessment

Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, is a short reflection on the nature of Christian leadership. Nouwen sees leadership principles in Jesus’ three temptations. He outlines core leadership principles in terms of polarities—from relevance to prayer, from popularity to ministry, and from leading to being led. This is because polarities have the characteristic of being not problems that can be solved, but of being poles that we move back and forth between. We are repeatedly tempted to be relevant, to be popular, and to lead. It is a struggle to find new ways to pray, to minister, and to be led. In that sense, Nouwen’s work remains fresh and interesting to Christian leaders, regardless of their tenure, position, or experience.

[1] http://www.CrossroadPublishing.com.

Nouwen Describes Leadership Challenges

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn, How to Market a BookPenn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn. 2017. How to Market a Book. Bath, UK: Curl Up Press.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the banes of postmodern life is that successful professionals must communicate effectively across multiple media. Communication is more important than ever because technology has made all of us more productive. If one 2017 professional can now do the work of a dozen 1960 professionals, then that professional effectively functions as a team, including the team manager. Production, marketing, and sales all need to be done by that one professional. As an economist, I faced this challenge; it has only gotten worse now that I am an author and publisher.

Introduction

Joanna Penn in her new book, How to Market a Book, advises authors on trends in marketing and sales of self-published books. She sees five non-negotiable activities for all book marketing:

  1. Make sure that your book is the best it can be…
  2. Identify your comparison books and authors.
  3. Optimize your book sales page…
  4. …use paid promotions to send readers to your book page.
  5. …set up a professional looking website and an email list sign up. (281-282)

In my experience, each of these activities can keep you busy. During the past year, for example, I spent more than six months working with different webmasters to upgrade my three websites (T2Pneuma.net, T2Pneuma.com, and StephenWHiemstra.net), which is Penn’s item 5. Meanwhile, I spent an equal amount of time moving my titles from exclusively with one printer to be jointly with another printer, Penn item 1. These two activities ostensibly prepared me to be more effective in my promotions, Penn item 4.

Who is Joanna Penn?

Penn is an interesting writer for self-publishers to pay attention to because she is one of the few authors who has succeeded in quitting her day job and living off the proceeds of her writing. Less than five percent (one in twenty) of independent authors sell a thousand books (I have sold about six hundred) which implies that even fewer authors have broken even on their book sales. Most independent authors are supported by a dhealthy or by a spouse. By her own accounts, Penn started seriously writing in 2006 and quit her job in 2011, five years later (7-9). This track record makes Penn a credible source of recommendations for how to succeed in self-publishing.

A Healthy Mindset

Part of Penn’s success arises because of a heathy mindset. She writes: “marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it.” (13) This mindset is a form of “attraction marketing” which means that you find out what people want and offer it to them.

Why is this important? Two reasons stand out.

Attraction Marketing

First, when I studied marketing in the 1970s and early 1980s, I was taught “push marketing”. Push marketing means that the firm bought advertising and pushed it out to the reading, listening, and viewing public. Attraction marketing is new and many people have not yet caught on to it. Penn has done her homework which is an important reason for her success.

The Mindset Advantage

Second, Penn mindset comes as a relief for those of us who doubt our own credibility as authors. It is one thing to write a book; it is another to believe that anyone other than your mother would want to read it. This fear of being an unworthy author is pervasive and it prevents many authors from succeeding in their marketing. Penn mindset shows that she believes in herself and does not get in a muddle in reaching out to others who will appreciate her writing.

The Book Launch Thing

Another gem arises when Penn writes that “marketing is more than a book launch” (20). While I have learned to sell books in person and online, my failure to have a great book launch has always bothered me. Penn offers an important piece of background information on this point.

 Traditional Publishers Focus on the Launch

Traditional publishers, who work with retailers to stock and toss books all the time, focus on the book launch because they have limited time and resources to devote to each book. The launch is coordinated with a media campaign and a month later they are on to another book.

For small publishers who have no retail connections, no publicity team, and no media budget cannot easily host a successful launch following this model and probably should not try. Book marketing is more of a marathon than a sprint for the small publisher because resources are tight, relationships need to be built, and learning is an ongoing necessity.

Assessment

Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book is a useful, readable, and timely book for authors who publish. I found her comments on podcasting and publishing audio books particularly insightful. Perhaps you will too.

[1] http://CurlUpPress.com. www.TheCreativePenn.com. https:/JFPenn.com. @TheCreativePenn.

 

Also see:

Penn Whispers to Professional Speakers 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

Continue Reading

Bell: Sharp Characters Spirit Dialogue

James Scott Bell: How to Write Dazzling DialogueBell: Sharp Characters Spirit Dialogue

James Scott Bell.[1] 2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What dazzles editors? Journeying from nonfiction to fiction writing, I have had to learn new things. Where nonfiction authors write articles, reviews, and reflections, fiction authors focus on writing scenes. While nonfiction authors focus on analysis and description fiction authors focus on plot, character, and dialogue. When I stumbled across James Scott Bell’s How To Write Dazzling Dialogue, I knew that I had to learn how to dazzle.

Introduction

Bell starts by comparing three manuscripts. The first begins with description. The second begins with descriptive dialog. The third begins with dialog between two people in conflict. Which has the most rapid pace? Which is most likely to get noticed by an agent? Bell describes the third manuscript as “crisp and tense”. It is taken from Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote (9).

Dialogue Defined

Bell defines dialogue citing John Howard Lawson’s Theory and Technique of Playwriting who described dialogue as “compression and extension of action.” He goes on to say that: “Every word, every phrase that comes out of a character’s mouth is uttered because the character hopes it will further a purpose.” In other words, every character has an agenda. (12) Thus, dazzling dialogue arises from the intersection of two characters’ agendas in opposition. (13)

 Five Functions of Dialogue

The role of compression is important. Bell writes: “Dialogue is not real-life speech. It is stylized speech for which the author, through the characters, has a purpose.” (16) Focusing on the character’s agenda, the dialogue must cut to the chase and reveal underlying conflict, even if in good natured banter. (17) Bell sees five functions of dialogue:

  1. Reveal story information
  2. Reveal character
  3. Set the tone
  4. Set the scene
  5. Reveal theme (22).

In weaving a story, Bell advises the author to act first, explain later and to hide story information (exposition) within confrontation to avoid appearing too preachy. (25) How people talk reveals their character in terms of education, social position, regional background, and peer groups (35-36). Tone is revealed in how characters talk to each other (36). The scene is described through how characters react to it and to each other (37). Theme can be revealed without being preachy by embedding it in the dialogue. (38)

Practicing Dialogue

Bell suggests that the best way to learn to write dialogue is to practice acting out or writing out different roles with a voice journal. He writes:

“How do I know what a character’s voice sounds like? I prompt them with questions and then let them talk. I do this fast, without thinking about it much. What I’m waiting for is the moment when the character starts talking to me in a voice I did not plan.” (40-41)

He advises writers to take time in writing these journals out and reading them out loud (41-42). Another way to practice dialogue is to convert movie scripts into scenes in narrative form. (42). His example is taken from Cool Hand Luke, a film starring Paul Newman (1967), one of my favorite movies.[2] Bell also suggests trying improvisation. (45)

Increasing Tension

Dialogue can also benefit from new agendas, arguments, barriers, and addition of fear. (61) Bell recommends that characters who simply act out who they are in dialogue makes for natural conflict that simply flows out of their personalities.

The classic film that Bell returns to over and over is Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (28-30). In the film, Humphrey Bogart plays a closed mouth private detective, Sam Spade, who interacts with talkative socialites, manipulative millionaires, and sleazy women who have trouble telling the truth. Conflicting agendas break out everywhere because the characters differ deeply from one another. This is what Bell refers to as orchestration because well-formed characters ooze conflict. (62)

Arguments can be playful or serious. Barriers can be cultural—think of someone that thinks so differently from you that communication is difficult—or situational. Have you ever had a job interview where the interviewer was constantly interrupted with phone calls or an assistant breaking in? Sometimes barriers to communication can be downright funny or simply discouraging.

Assessment

James Scott Bell’s How to Write Dazzling Dialogue is a fascinating read for authors needing tips on how to improve dialogue and follow convention in writing it. Bell writes thrillers, teaches writing, and works as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. His advice on dialogue runs deep.

Footnotes

[1] www.JamesScottBell.com. @JamesScottBell

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Hand_Luke.

References

Connelly, Michael. 2003. The Last Coyote. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Lawson, John Howard. 1936. Theory and Technique of Playwriting. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

 

Also see:

Bell: How to Plot a Good Novel 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

Continue Reading
1 2 3 24