Brooks Structures Story, Part 2

Larry Brooks, Story EngineeringBrooks Structures Story, Part 2

Larry Brooks. 2011. Story Engineer: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In his book, Story Engineer, Larry Brooks focuses on six core competencies which must be mastered to become a professional writer. Those competencies are concept, character, theme, scene execution, writing voice, and structure (23). In part one of this review, I gave an overview of the book and discussed the first five of these competencies. Here in part two, I will concentrate the last of these competencies, story structure, where Brooks focuses the most attention and reinforces with helpful exploration of milestones, how to work with an outline, and other details.

Introduction

In Brooks’ thinking:

“Story structure is the sequence of your scenes that result in a story well told. Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine, and a writing voice that brings it all to life with personality and energy.” (138)

He divides his stories into four parts separated by milestones that drive the plot.

Four-Part Story

Brooks writes:

“The mission of Part 1 is to set up the plot by creating stakes, backstory, and character empathy, while perhaps foreshadowing the forthcoming conflict. Basically, it’s to introduce the hero and show us what he has going on in his life…not for the remainder of the story, but before the arrival of the main antagonistic force (the primary conflict of the story) at the First Plot Point.” (147)

Milestones Separate the Parts

He sees part one as 20-25 being percent of the story and it ends abruptly with the First Plot Point. Part 1 Begins in Peace Ends with Conflict. Part 2 begins with a non-heroic response to this conflict (151). After the midpoint of the story, part 3 shows our hero going on the attack, but ineffectively (155). After information provided in the Second Plot Point, part 4 begins with our hero becoming equipped and emerging as a real hero (156). Brooks summarizes these transitions as the hero starting out an orphan, becoming a wanderer, growing into a warrior, and emerging as a martyr (157).

Brooks writes:

“Milestones are points in your story where new information enters the narrative and changes the direction, tension, and stakes. These milestones appear in the same approximate place, separating the four parts of the story.” (158)

He sees about eighty percent of your story focusing on these milestones, which makes understanding them critical to the structure of the story (159).

Milestones Defined

Brooks cites these milestones: opening scene, hooking moment, inciting incident, First Plot Point, First Pinch Point, Midpoint, Second Pinch Point, Second Plot Point, and resolution scene. He observes:

“If you allow three (or more) additional scenes that setup and surround these milestone moments, that’s at least thirty to forty scenes. Or about two-thirds of your entire story.” (160)

Given the importance of these milestones, virtually everything else in the story focuses on connecting to the next milestone, which makes understanding the story structure important in planning and executing your writing (161). Brooks makes this point repeatedly in his book, distinguishing writers who plan from organic writers who profess not to. Convincing writers to plan their stories is an important theme in this book.

First Plot Point

The First Plot Point introduces conflict into the story. Often the external conflict cannot be resolved until the hero’s inner conflict is dealt with. This is one reason the hero’s response in part 2 remains lame and incomplete. This inner conflict provides a starting point for the character arc of the story where the hero grows into someone much stronger than we see introduced in part 1 (93).

Pinch Point

A Pinch Point is a reminder of the nature and implications of an antagonistic force, unfiltered by the hero’s experience (200), which basically suggests that the hero is not making it all up. In some stories, the mental state of the hero may be questioned, because the response may seem disproportionate to observes not familiar with First Plot Point. The Pinch Point makes it clear either to the reader or the hero that the conflict is real.

Midpoint

The Midpoint comes at halfway through the story and occurs when the hero gains important information about the conflict that is being faced. The information is important enough that the hero ceases to be a wanderer and transitions to becoming a warrior.

Second Plot Point

At the Second Plot comes about three-quarters of the way through the story when the hero gains information critical to advancing on the attack. After this point, the hero is heroic and needs no more new insights, advancing from warrior to martyr, if necessary. The story advances into part 4 where the conflict is ultimately resolved (204-205).

Resolution Scene

In the resolution scene, Brooks writes:

[For part 4] “There is no blueprint for it…[and only one rule] no new expositional information may enter the story after the Second Plot Point that commences with it. If something appears in the final act, it must have been foreshadowed, referenced, or already in play. This includes characters—no newcomers allowed.” (210)

In part 4, our hero exhibits his personal growth and vanquishes his inner demons enough to resolve the basic story conflict (211).

Assessment

Larry Brooks’ Story Engineer is an award-winning book on writing craft that draws on writing both novels and screen plays. Brooks reads easily and he uses examples from numerous well-known books and films. The target audience is authors serious about improving their craft.

 

Also see:

Warren Writes to Grow Characters 

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Brooks Structures Story, Part 1

Larry Brooks, Story EngineeringBrooks Structures Story, Part 1

Larry Brooks. 2011. Story Engineer: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books. (Goto Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In early July as I responded to my editor’s comments on my memoir, a disturbing thought came to mind. I have just written a novel with 98 scenes (from the perspective of a fiction writer) and I have no idea of how properly to write a scene. I scrambled that afternoon to find a writing book to rectify my problem. This search led me to Larry Brook’s Story Engineering.

Introduction

Of course, Brooks writes about more than how to compose a good scene. He cites his purpose in publishing another book on writing as:

“Interestingly, there are many books on screenwriting that do what most novel-writing books don’t—they show us what to write, when to write it, what follows what, what should go where, and why, and tell us the criteria for ensuring that our creative choices are effective ones. In other words, how to get it done.” (4)

This statement snagged my interest. Yes—I know what the hero’s journey is; no—I am clueless as to how to compose one. My memoir is an example of the hero’s journey, but how to write scenes that use the template effectively is not obvious, having never done it before.

Who is Larry Brooks?

Larry Brooks is the author of three books on writing fiction and has six critically-acclaimed thrillers, including Darkness Bound, Bait and Switch, Deadly Faux, and The Seventh Thunder. He grew up in Portland, Oregon, was educated at Portland State University, pitched [baseballs] for the Texas Rangers, and spent seventeen years in corporate marketing and training business. Brooks lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, and travels frequently as a speaker and workshop teacher at writing conferences.[1]

Outline of Book

Brooks’ six core competencies are: concept, character, theme, structure, scene execution, and writing voice. He structures his book in eight parts around these six competencies plus an introduction (why we care) and conclusion (putting it together). These eight parts divide into fifty chapters with the twenty-two of the fifty chapters devoted to story structure—the hero’s journey. Let me turn to these competencies.

Concept

A concept is a fresh look at an old idea. Brooks advises that a concept should ask a question where the answer to the question is your story. He writes: “story about ballet dancers is not a concept.” But, “what if a ballet dancer loses her leg at the knee but perseveres against great prejudice to become a professional dancer?” (31).

Notice the “what if” in this last statement. Drilling down into your concept with additional what if questions can help expand on your story and provide the fodder for twists and turns along the way (42). For example, what if your handicapped ballet dancer is also African America, a war heroine, child-prodigy mathematician, the daughter of the president, or lived in the nineteenth century? The possibilities are endless.

Character

Brooks looks at the character through the eyes of the plot. He writes: “Character is the catalyst that empowers everything else in your story.” (56) Obviously, in order for a character to be larger than life, this character must be alive, at least on the page. Aspects of character that he notes are: surface affections and personality, backstory, character arc, inner demons and conflicts, worldview, goals and motivations, and decisions, actions, and behaviors (54-55).

Brooks’ insight into character comes in defining its three dimensions: outward appearance, the reason for behaviors, and inner person (64-65). Economists talk about firms in terms of their structure, conduct, and performance, which is essentially the same set of distinctions in different words. These dimensions interface with the plot because outward appearance and behaviors are observed with or without conflict. The conflict in the story, which drives the plot, is the only way, however, that you can reveal the inner person (71). Here is Brooks’ catalyst at work.

An important component of character, known as the character arc, displays “what the character does in the first part of the story probably won’t be the same flavor of action or decision that will manifest in the last part.” (93) The interplay with plot comes when an external obstacle in the hero’s quest cannot be eliminated until the hero deals with his own internal obstacles (94). The hero’s struggle with these two conflicts is an important subplot, according to Brooks (101).

Theme

Brooks explains that “Theme is the relevance of your story to life.” (118) Your story is essentially a case study illustrating a greater truth.  In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), for example, Jesus illustrates how we should treat our neighbors. The theme is neighborly love and the story illustrates this love. Theme has a sacramental characteristic in the sense that a sacrament is outward sign with an inward meaning. Developing a theme requires careful preparation of context.

Scene Execution

A scene is a dramatic scenario in one time and place that moves the plot (or character) along. It is a transition with a beginning, middle, and ending (229-230). Interestingly, Brooks sees scenes that illustrate character being the primary focus of literary fiction and scenes that move the plot along being the primary focus of commercial fiction (241). Obviously, if the purpose of a scene is motion towards an objective (either character or plot), the context of the scene in the wider story must be known in advance (238-239). For the sake of clarity, a scene should only make a single point. Changes in time or place motivate writing of a new scene (233).

Writing Voice

Writing voice is the attitude that you display as you write. Brooks makes the point that your attitude should be professional, clean, crisp, natural, efficient (247-248). It is a bit like a writer’s personal hygiene—it either goes without notice or it stinks up the place. It is most noticeable in dialogue, in part, because dialogue tends to mark your social position and flexibility.

Brooks notes that “Dialogue is also specific to variables such as age, culture, geography, relationships, and agenda.” (250) Like speech itself, it is hard to fake, prompting Brooks’ watch-phrase: “less is more.” (247)

Because Brooks spills most of his ink on story structure (the hero’s journey), in part 2 of this review will focus on structure.

Assessment

Larry Brooks’ Story Engineer is an award-winning book on the craft of writing story that draws on writing both novels and screen plays. Brooks reads easily and he uses examples from numerous well-known books and films. The target audience is authors serious about improving their craft.

[1] https://killzoneblog.com/about-tkz-and-our-authors. http://storyfix.com/about. @StoryFix.

 

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Warren Writes to Grow Characters 

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Smith Models Jesus’ Lifestyle

Stephen W. Smith, The Jesus Life

Smith Models Jesus’ Lifestyle

Stephen W. Smith. 2012. The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most perplexing problems in postmodern American is the breakdown of healthy boundaries between public and private, church and state, between work and leisure, and even between male and female. Lacking healthy boundaries, Americans have become anxious, sleep-deprived, eating too much, using too many drugs, and suicidal, as life expectancy declines due to these self-inflicted wounds. With the decay of reasonable boundaries, young couples flinch at the idea of bringing children into the world, preferring to keep pets that are cheaper and offer unconditional love. How should Christians respond in their lifestyles to this dystopian reality facing perhaps seventy percent of the population?

Introduction

Stephen W. Smith’s book, The Jesus Life, starts with a promise: “This book will help you recover your life.” (17) Smith (30) commends these verses:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30 ESV)

He starts by asking three questions:

  1. What do you need to recover from?
  2. Has someone or something stolen the life you wanted?
  3. What’s not working for you in your life? (30)

He finds his answers not in the teachings of Jesus, but in the cadence of the sustainable life that Jesus actually led (33, 36).

Luke’s Gospel Outlines Jesus’ Lifestyle

Smith finds Luke, the Greek doctor, particularly helpful in sorting out the Jesus’ lifestyle. Unlike other New Testament writers, Luke was not Hebrew and the assumptions of a Jewish lifestyle were new to him. Only Luke, for example, writes:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16)

A Jewish writer would not need to say that Jesus’ custom was to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath—all good Jews do this and would not need to observe it. So Smith writes something important for our gentile ears to hear:

“As a boy, Jesus was raised in a culture of sustainable rhythm. His soul was shaped by the cadence of Sabbath keeping and seasonal festivals that were intended to help him and all people to remember God’s faithfulness, protection, and provision.” (36)

In contemporary jargon, Jesus did not grow up surrounded by people burning the candlesticks from both ends; he grew up knowing the boundaries of Sabbath, prayer, and religious festivals pointing to God (36). Here we find an outline of answers to Smith’s three questions cited above.

Rhythms of Life Remain Key

Smith advocates developing a new rhythms of life that will: “sustain and replenish our lives” (41) We start by keeping the Sabbath (44), because tired people love neither God nor neighbor, but Smith looks to us to develop our own rituals of life to remind us of God and who we are. His chapters end with suggestions on how to implement this suggestion, such as “Ask a group of life-giving friends to join you once a month for a meal.” (46)

Smith focuses attention on Luke’s insistence that we see the rhythm—engage then disengage (54)—of Jesus’ ministry. This pattern is repeated seven times in Luke—4:38-42, 5:16, 6:12-19, 9:10-12, 9:28-36, 11:1, and 21:37-38 (56-60). In this last two verses, for example, we read:

“And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.” (Luke 21:37-38)

If Jesus took time to rest and observe the Sabbath, why don’t we? Clearly, we need to do this.

Who is Stephen Smith?

Stephen Smith describes himself on his website with these words:

“Co-Founders, President and Spiritual Directors of Potter’s Inn.  Steve was educated at Lenoir Rhyne College, NC, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, KY; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, IL. Steve has pastored churches in KY, NC and the Netherlands. As a speaker, spiritual director, author and companion, Steve offers soul care and spiritual care through many avenues.”[1]

 Smith is the author of numerous books, including The Lazarus Life, Soul Custody, and Soul Shaping. He and his wife, Gwen, live in Colorado.

Eight Ways to Recover Christianity?

What are the eight ways to recover authentic Christianity? These are outlined in separate chapters in part 3 of the book:

  1. Living the Jesus Life Every Day.
  2. Choosing Obscurity to Cultivate Life.
  3. Living the Life with Our Family and Those Closest to Us.
  4. Cultivating Friendships in Reality and Truth.
  5. Savoring a Sacred Memory.
  6. Extending Life to Others.
  7. Creating Signposts as We Journey through Life.
  8. Understanding the Role of Pain and Suffering (11-12).

Part 1 of the book defines the problem and part 2 outlines Jesus’ lifestyle. Part 4 provides an overview of the good life, building on what was previously said.

Assessment

Stephen W. Smith’s book, The Jesus Life, interprets the lifestyle of Jesus in simple English with many examples taken from daily life. Unlike many authors, Smith focuses on applying principles taken from Jesus’ example to contemporary life. Underscoring this focus on application, Smith quotes scripture primarily from Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation of the Bible, The Message.

[1] https://www.pottersinn.com/team. @pottersinn

 

Also see:

Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

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Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 3

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 3

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto part 1; Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the signs of brokenness in the church today is the near total absence of application in pastoral sermons. In seminary, no sermon is complete without a sermon application. Today’s sermons are delivered more with an attitude of nice-to-know, not critical for salvation or the practice of our faith. In our buddy culture, the idea of a pastor actually offering advice is not-politically correct. The same holds for books about faith.

The Monastic Connection

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation starts with the application up front: Benedict is short for Benedict’s rule which is a structured approach to daily life. He writes:

‘A Rule works that way, to channel your spiritual energy, your work, your activity, so that you’re able to accomplish something,’ Father Cassian said.

‘Monastic life is very plain,’ he continued. ‘People from the outside perhaps have a romantic vision, perhaps what they see on television, of monks sort of floating around the cloister. There is that, and that’s attractive, but basically, monks get up in the morning, they pray, they do their work, they pray some more. They eat, they pray, they do some more work, they pray some more, and then they go to bed. It’s rather plain, just like most people. The genius of Saint Benedict is to find the presence of God in everyday life.’ (52)

Making Room for God

What Dreher is proposing for postmodern Christians is to focus on “finding the presence of God in everyday life.” While this objective is simple enough, it is hard to apply. Consider his advice:

Here’s how to get started with the antipolitical politics of the Benedict Option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good. (98)

If you think these prescriptions are easy, try turning off the television set. I attended a funeral about two years ago where the man was buried with a television remote in his hand. Or how about the smartphone suggestion? My wife, who teaches in the public schools, cannot get through to her students because they are distracted by cellphones constantly and refuse to study. These seemingly simple suggestions represent radical departures from American culture today.

Order in Disorder

Dreher writes: “If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder, then the most fundamental act of resistance is to establish order.” (54) Monks establish order, in part, by praying liturgy of the hours, which is seven times daily (58-59). By regularly returning to prayer, they are better able to reflect on God presence at each point in the daily routine. Dreher notes that “ascetical practices train body and soul to put God above self” (63) and provide an antidote to the spiritual sloth of our time (64). He notes:

A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist. A church that does not emphasize asceticism and discipleship is as pointless as a football coaching staff that doesn’t care if its players show up for practice. (121)

One of the things that I enjoyed most about interning as a chaplain in Providence Hospital’s Alzheimer’s unit was that I got to take the Catholic residents to mass every morning.

Monastery as School

Dreher places a special emphasis in his writing on education as a spiritual practice and cites Benedict’s rule which refers to the monastery as “school for the service of the Lord.” (148). He notes that “The classical Christian does not ask, ‘What can I do with this learning?’ but ‘What will this learning do to me?’” (160) Christian formation is the objective, not learning facts and figures that can easily be forgotten. He is particularly a fan of a classical Christian education which he prefers, because students learn to appreciate the history of the faith.

Reiteration of Argument

Dreher reminds the reader that:

If we don’t take on everyday practices that keep sacred order present to ourselves, our families, and our communities, we are going to lose it. And if we lose it, we are at great risk of losing sight of the One to whom everything in that sacred order, like a divine treasure map, points. (236)

While I know people who have ordered their lives by Dreher’s objectives, I know precious few and most have paid a hefty cost.

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church and culture. He then offers the development of new schools and community as necessary components to maintaining a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I outlined Dreher’s book. In part two, I looked at his definition of the problems facing the church and, in part three, I looked at his recommendation for dealing with those problems.

[1] @RodDreher, TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

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Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 2

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 2

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto part 1; Goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those of us active in church leadership, the hollowing out of the Christian faith is nothing new. Biblical illiteracy has reached the point that seminaries routinely test their new students on their biblical competency and about 90 percent of incoming students are required to take remedial work in biblical studies. Because it is hard to apply biblical knowledge to solving life’s daily challenges if the Bible is largely unknown even by the clergy, it is small wonder that the church has not prevailed in influencing postmodern culture.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

In The Benedict Option Rod Dreher makes the point about biblical illiteracy citing sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton who define the religion of American teenagers as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).  MTD has five basic tenets:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to solve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die. (10).

  MTD is especially prevalent among Catholic and mainline Protestant young people, according to Dreher. The problem is that it has little to do with the God of the Bible and focuses on the worship of the self and material comforts (10-11).

If the church has lost the culture wars, the lost emanated from inside the church outwards. Therefore, the hollowing of the church is the problem, not barbarians at the gates. Still, Dreher sees barbarians anxiously taking advantage of the church’s lost vision (16-17).

How Did We Get To This Point?

Dreher sees five landmark events over seven centuries rocking Western civilization and stripping its ancestral faith:

  1. In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality.
  2. The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
  3. The eighteenth century Enlightenment, which displaces the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy.
  4. The Industrial Revolution (ca 1760—1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  5. The Sexual Revolution (1960—present) (22-23).

It is interesting that Dreher reverse-engineers the antecedents of the postmodern era. The enchanted world that he sees prior to William of Ockhams (1285-1347) development of nominalism or metaphysical realism. This world distinguishes God from his creation (not realism which keeps them united, according to Dreher) can actually be traced to the first verse of the Bible. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (23-27). In order to create the universe, God had to have been separated from it.

Commentary on Worldview

As a conservative Catholic, Dreher begins his march towards postmodernism with a Middle Ages world view, not a biblical world view, as might be more typical of a Protestant writer. Dreher’s starting point is important because it colors his view of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. In my own thinking, for example, I have often referred to scientific discoveries as “God’s Easter Eggs” which he hides from us in such a way to assure that we would find them. If all of knowledge is God’s knowledge, our faithfulness is not necessarily undermined by what we know so much as our attitude about it.

The more corrosive problem that arose in the nineteenth century was not so much the Industrial Revolution or the Enlightenment, but emergence of the Romantic movement. Dreher writes:

The Romantics, as they were called, found many aspects of the new rationalist, mechanized society distasteful but had no interest in returning to the Christian world. They prized emotion, individuality, nature, and personal freedom. (38)

Here attitudes about God and his relationship with human beings and the created order clearly changed. If Christians came to believe that God primarily worked through our feelings, not our minds, then it was a small step to insert the self in place of God. This is because no one outside the self can mediate our feelings, which ultimately undermines the authority of the church and scripture.

The Sexual Revolution

Sexuality might easily remain the domain of family life within the community. However, if the self mediates feelings, sexuality takes on a completely new role. Dreher writes:

‘Eros must be raised to the level of a religious cult in modern society, not because we really are that obsessed with it, but because the myth of freedom demands it.” Says political philosopher Stephen L. Gardner. ‘It is in carnal desire that the modern individual believes he affirms his individuality.’ The body must be the true subject of desire because the individual must be the author of his own desire. (43)

If this comment appears oblique, think of it as a creation story for the individual. Much like Marx banned Bibles because his communism lacked a valid creation story, postmoderns deny God’s sovereignty through the worship of desire and must have their own creation story, which however unlikely places the individual at the center of the universe [of desire].[2]

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church. He then offers the development of new schools and community as necessary components to maintaining a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I outlined Dreher’s book. Part two looks at his definition of the problems facing the church. In part three, I will look at his solution to those problems.

References

Gardner, Stephen L. 1998. Myths of Freedom: Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism. Greenwood.

Smith, Christian and Melinda Lundquist Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.

[1] @RodDreher, TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

[2] This is why gender advocates express no interest in hearing about the problems—disease, drug abuse, suicide, depression—created by the risky behavior that they advocate. To recognize these problems, they must admit that they have no credible creation story and that God is sovereign.

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Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 1

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 1

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Benedict of Nursia, Italy (480 –547 AD) is a Christian saint established a rule for daily life and a new monastic order.[2] The rule stipulated seven prayers each day (the hours) and ordered every aspect of life in the monastery. Benedict’s rule helped the Christian church survive the fall the Roman empire. It later served as a model for universities in the Middle Ages and the corporation in modern times.

Introduction

In his book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Rod Dreher sees the church today facing a challenge similar to the fall of the Roman empire and Saint Benedict’s response, establishing a monastic order, as providing a template for the church’s dilemma today. He writes:

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives [can] no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.” (2)

Why the Apocalyptic Response?

Dreher sees the 2015 defeat of a conservative initiative in Indiana, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at the hands of Gay rights activists and major U.S. corporations as a watershed event. It was quickly followed by the U.S. Supreme Court declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell decision). In this new environment, he writes:

Dreher sees the 2015 defeat of a conservative initiative in Indiana, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at the hands of Gay rights activists and major U.S. corporations as a watershed event. It was quickly followed by the U.S. Supreme Court declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell decision). In this new environment, he writes:

“Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.” (3)

Dreher declares that the culture war is over and Christian conservatives lost. The election of Donald Trump as president has given the church more time to prepare, but little hope of a revival. Dreher paints a grim picture of a hollowed out church that needs to build an ark for the coming flood (238).

Background on Dreher

Who is Rod Dreher? He describes himself as a senior editor at The American Conservative and an author of several books including: Crunchy Cons, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming [his sister], and How Dante Can Save Your Life. He and his wife have three children and live in Southern Louisiana, which may account for his interest in floods.

Organization

Dreher writes his book in ten chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion, acknowledgments, notes, and an index. The chapter titles are:

  1. The Great Flood,
  2. The Roots of the Crisis,
  3. A Rule for Living,
  4. A New Kind of Christian Politics,
  5. A Church for All Seasons,
  6. The Idea of a Christian Village,
  7. Education as Christian Formation,
  8. Preparing for Hard Labor,
  9. Eros and the New Christian Counterculture, and
  10. Man and the Machine (vii).

Dreher writes like a conservative Catholic. Still, he balances his examples between Evangelical and Orthodox Christian sources. He even throws in examples from Jewish communities (130) and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons; 135). The theme, decline of the American Christian church, led me to expect Dreher would take shrill tone, but Dreher studiously avoided this temptation through use of research and helpful case studies.

Monastery in Norcia

One case study that stands out was his visit to the Monastery in Norcia, Italy, where Saint Benedict was born. The Norcia monastery dates from the tenth century, but was closed in 1810 by Napoleon Bonaparte who worked hard to devastate the Catholic church throughout Europe. Dreher writes:

“Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that had the power to destroy the church. ‘Your majesty,’ the cardinal replied, ‘we, the clergy have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred year. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.’” (49)

American monks helped recently to re-establish this monastery (48-49). Dreher’s visit inspired lessons that he enumerates throughout his book.

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church and culture, and offers the development of new schools to maintain a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I will outlined Dreher’s book. Part two looks at his definition of the problems facing the church. In part three, I will look at his solution to those problems.

[1] , TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

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

Also see:

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Beechick Outlines Biblical Learning Method

Beechick Outlines Biblical Learning Method

Ruth Beechick. 1982. A Biblical Psychology of Learning. Denver: Accent Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most insidious assumptions of modern and postmodern people is that the current generation is the most intelligent, most perceptive. It is as if everything that came before was prologue to this fantastic new beginning. Not only is this assumption not true; it is idolatrous because, like original sin, this assumption presumes the role of God, who is the true source of all knowledge. This is why as we grow in our faith and learn about it, we find the Bible increasingly interesting. Books that help us understand the Bible in new ways are especially interesting.

Introduction

In her book, A Biblical Psychology of Learning, educator Dr. Ruth Beechick starts noting that: “we need a theory of learning based on the Bible.” (8) The reason for Beechick’s interest is that in studying learning theory more generally, she was frustrated that the behavioral theory explained primarily the behavior of rats (stimulus-response) and other theories likewise focused on only one dimension of learning. Surely, human complexity required a more complex understanding of learning, she thought (9).

Learning Starts with the Heart

In her attempt to develop a biblical understanding of learning, Beechick observes:

“When we look to the Bible one inescapable fact about man is his heart. The word is used more than 800 times.” (12)

Beechick goes into a long discussion of how modern people understand the biblical concept of heart, but I suspect that, because the heart has a much wider scope of meaning in Hebrew and Greek, heart would translate as a range of emotional and intellectual meanings, which Beechick argues do not all begin with cognition in the mind. She argues from biblical, historical, and scientific evidence that the heart has its own autonomous influence (39).

Biblical Learning Model Uses More Information

Beechick makes an interesting chart comparing sources of input into three learning theories—behaviorism, humanism, and biblical—with their view of man and basis of study. Behaviorism views man as a personless body; humanism views many as a biological organism; and the biblical view of man is that we are created in the image of God. Behaviorism studies laboratory animals; humanism studies mankind; and the biblical view considers animals, people, and the biblical experience (26). From her review, she concludes that the biblical view is better informed than behaviorism or humanism because it takes into account more information (33).

Beechick’s core learning model is built on a model from John A.R. Wilson, Mildred D. Robeck, and William B. Michael called Psychological Foundations of Learning (New York: McGraw Hill, 1969) and has five components:

  1. Wise self-direction (creativity),
  2. Concept Learning,
  3. Information learning,
  4. Heart-set (self-discipline), and
  5. Parental love and discipline (54).

Each of these components interacts with the others and combines influences from both the head and the heart. The remainder of the book focuses on explaining each of these five components.

Example of Psalm 78

Beechick walks through this learning model that she finds illustrated in several verses in Psalm 78 through wisdom and foolishness applications of the model (example and counter-example). The wisdom application is found in verses one, six, and seven (70):

  1. Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
  2. that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,
  3. so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; (Ps 78:1, 6-7 ESV)

The foolish-learner application is found in the verses that follow (72). Proverbs 10 provides another application of the model through example and counter-example. In walking through these illustrations, Beechick notes that learning starts with the orientation of the heart (heart-setting) and that God disciplines his people with both anger and love (69). Because our hearts are not always naturally set on learning, discipline plays a key role in biblical learning, which the Psalmist likens to the growth of a palm or cedar tree (Ps 92:12).

Who is Ruth Beechick?

Her Amazon author page reports the following biography:

“Dr. Ruth Beechick spent a lifetime teaching and studying how people learn. She taught in Washington state, Alaska, Arizona and in several colleges and seminaries in other states. She also spent thirteen years at a publishing company writing curriculum for churches. In ‘retirement’ she continues to write for the burgeoning homeschool movement. Her degrees are A.B. from Seattle Pacific University, M.A.Ed. and Ed.D. from Arizona State University.”

Ruth has written numerous books and curriculum materials for homeschooling, but she passed away in 2013 and does not have her own website.

Summary

Ruth Beechick’s A Biblical Psychology of Learning is an interesting for anyone interested in biblical teaching methods, which explains why she has been so influential in the homeschooling movement. Her learning model is complex which seems appropriate because we are complex people, but it also suggests that rigorous study is required to apply it.

Also see:  Books, Films, and Ministry

 

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Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation

Cover Bauckham's Theology of Revelation

Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation

Richard Bauckham.[1] 2017. The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Orig pub 1993).  UK: Cambridge University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Revelation captures the imagination like no other book in the Bible. Its popularity among Christians is almost a striking as the reluctance of pastors to teach it. Who wants to initiate a discussion that is likely to grow heated as participants defend their own favorite interpretations? Yet, what other biblical text elicits such passion on a regular basis? This is both the attraction and the risk of Revelation.

Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation with this overview:

“Revelation is seen to offer not an esoteric and encoded forecast of historical events but rather a theocentric vision of the coming of God’s universal kingdom, contextualized in the late first-century world dominated by Roman power and ideology. It calls on Christians to confront the political idolatries of the time and to participate in God’s purpose of gathering all the nations into his kingdom.” (i)

The series that this text embodies strives to offer a theological commentary rising above the usual focus on exegesis of individual verses, which is limited to historical, textual, grammatical, and literary commentary according to the series editor, James D. G. Dunn at University of Durham (xi). As someone who has spent a lot of time reading commentaries, I find this series highly attractive—one goes to seminary to study God, not just to analyze an ancient text with the modern scientific tools of a skeptical mind, as is the usual fare in commentaries.

In his introduction, Bauckham asks a fundamental question: what kind of book is Revelation? He writes: “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia” (2). In other words, we see three genre (or classes of literature): apocalypse, prophecy, and letter. I will borrow these three genre to structure the remainder of this review.

Apocalpse

Bauckham follows J.I. Collins in using this definition of apocalypse as a literary genre:

“Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in  which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another supernatural world.” (6)

Bauckham sees John’s revelation as both highly contextualized to the first century church’s situation and a visionary disclosure of God’s perspective more generally on the human condition (7). Bauckham writes: “It is John’s readers’ concrete, day-to-day world seen in heavenly and eschatological perspective.” (8) What makes John unique among apocalyptic writers is that he writes in his own name and timeframe—more typically apocalyptic writing takes the name of an historical prophet and is set in an historical period (11).

Prophecy

Bauckham sees John’s prophecy arising out of a vision that he has written down with great care and intense study within the tradition of Old Testament (OT) prophecy (2-3).

For those unfamiliar with OT prophets, the OT prophet worked, not so much as a visionary, but as someone who called his audience back to faithful commitment to the Mosaic covenant. Frequently this involved reminding the community of faith of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy 28. Because covenant non-fidelity remained a theme in the OT, the curses tend to get the most show time and they represent, not so much a prediction in time and place, but a verdict rendered in the heavenly court.

Bauckham sees Christian prophecy having three elements. First, the prophet discerns the contemporary situation in lieu of God’s nature and purpose. Second, the prophet predicts how the current situation must change if God’s kingdom is to come. Third, the hearer of this prophecy is then expected to respond in faith, which leaves room for the individual or community to participate freely in God’s purpose for the world. This why, for example, Nineveh was spared after Jonah prophesied its destruction. The destruction of Nineveh was contingent on its citizen’s rejecting God’s purpose for them (148-149). God is slow to anger precisely because he truly wants us to repent and accept salvation (Exodus 34:6).

Letter

Bauckham writes:

“The whole book of Revelations is a circular letter addressed to seven specific churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea (1:11; cf. 1:4; 22:16). They are probably named in the order in which they would be visited by a messenger starting from Patmos and travelling on a circular route around the province of Asia.” (12)

Each church is called to be conquering as their part of a general eschatological battle. Bauckham sees these specific letters being both tailored to the particular problems of those church, which John clearly understands in great detail, and representative of wider problems in the church. This wider application becomes obvious when you ask—why only these seven churches (there were many more) mentioned?

Bauckham’s answer is that these seven messages are used by John as seven different introductions to Revelation, reflecting seven different ways that the book can be read (14).  While I have personally always seen the letter to Laodicea being especially pertinent to the modern church, I would be curious how to read Revelation in view of the others—Bauckham does not offer these tantalizing details. However, we recognize that the number seven is the biblical number reflecting completeness (16).

Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation is a fascinating read and of interest to anyone having an interest in understanding the Book of Revelation. I bought my copy during a visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s bookstore in Charlotte, NC knowing that I would find it useful in teaching. Still, Bauckham writes with surprising clarity about this complex subject.

[1] http://RichardBauckham.co.uk.

 

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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

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Tutt: Imprisoned Cop Thrives

Joseph Tuttolomondo and Rosemarie Fitzsimmons. 2015. Caged Sparrow. Virginia: The Portrait Writer LLC.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2011 I worked as a chaplain intern in a psychiatric ward where I found it helpful to observe patients in their groups before visiting with them individually. One morning as an art group assembled to begin their work, attendance was especially heavy and I offered my chair to a latecomer. For some reason he began escalating, but as the staff gathered putting on their blue latex gloves, the other patients came to my defense saying—“leave the pastor alone”—and threatening the patient who was now shouting at full throttle. While I was stunned for having been called out by the patient, but I was truly humbled by support given me by the other patients.

In Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons we “Tutt” unlikely prison inmate: a narcotics chief from “Little Italy”, who helped clean up Buffalo, New York’s MAFIA and was later framed for a crime that he did not commit. How likely is a former narc to survive a prison sentence surrounded by criminals that he had arrested and sent to prison? In his own words, Tutt writes about November 1977:

“People like me don’t survive prison. I knew that going in. I accepted that one day, may in a week, maybe in six months, someone would probably find me lying face-down in an exercise yard with a shank sticking out of my gut…I’m on their turf, living on their terms—a sparrow in a cage with two thousand cats.” (1, 3)

In the telling of his story, we learn a bit of MAFIA lore:

“during the late 1800s, a young Sicilian couple’s wedding plans were shattered when an officer from the occupying French army raped the bride-to-be and she committed suicide from the shame. After the funeral, the grieving young groom stood on the church steps and shouted ‘Morte ala Francia Italia Anella!’ (Death to the French, Italy Cries!) From these words came the acronym, MAFIA, and their battle cry.” (5)

Tutt grew up knowing the Omertià code: “You saw nothing.You heard nothing.You said nothing.” (5) Young and street smart, Tutt proved to be a good cop—maybe too good. After he and his partner survived an ambush, he thought that he was invincible (62-64).

He should have known: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18 ESV)

The set up that snagged Tutt was an informant who turned on him, as he pieced it together:

“Carlone must have gone to his District Attorney and said I was a bad cop, and that he was going to offer me a bribe. The DA probably gave him money and put it in an envelop, but Carlone [who was a drug user himself] must have had second thoughts, so he took the money out and replaced it with folded paper [which was supposed to be a list of drug users].”(75-76)

The set up should have failed in court, but no one seemed interested in the truth and Tutt was convicted and sent to prison. But along the way something unexpected happened …

Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons is true story, even though the names have been changed to protect the innocent. After his release from prison, Tutt worked for the city in another occupation, qualified for his retirement, and left Buffalo to live in Florida. Rosemario Fitzsimmons is an author living in Northern Virginia who specializes in inspirational memoir writing. Caged Sparrow is a page turner interesting to anyone who likes a good detective story.

[1] www.RoseTheStoryTeller.com. @pJoy93

 

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Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Abayomi Akinyemi. 2008. Avoid the Path to Pisgah. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, A Strang Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Have you ever wondered why you fail to achieve your potential in your faith walk and in life? You are not alone. Many talented people do not realize their potential, frequently falling short in dramatic ways. Think of all the young celebrities—sports and film stars—who in spite of fame and fortune end up living desperate lives in poverty later in life.

Underachievers share much in common in Moses who led the Nation of Israel out of Egypt only to be later forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. God only allowed Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land from atop Mount Pisgah (Deut 3:26-27). Are you ready to avoid the trip up Mount Pisgah and enter the Promised Land?

Introduction

 In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi examines the story of Moses and how he achieved so much, but failed to achieve his dream of entering the Promised Land. In his introduction, Akinyemi (18) sees “seemingly minor distractions, weaknesses, and temptations” forming a pathway to Pisgah. Furthermore, he observes:

“Moses was a great vessel in the hand of God. He was called, anointed, and given a mandate by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land, yet he did not fulfill his destiny.” (26)

How could this happen? Akinyemi (77) sees the answer in a single verse:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Heb 12:1 KJV)

Besetting Weights and Sins

The key words in this verse are besetting weights and sins. A besetting sin is one that we know about and struggle with our entire lives, like an obsession that we cannot control, but a weight is a hindrance or character flaw. Moses had at least three weights: an anger management problem, a tendency to complain, and he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure.

Moses’ first weight was an anger-management problem (91). Early in life, it led him to murder an Egyptian who was abusing a fellow Hebrew (Exod 2:11-12). Later in life, when he saw the Nation of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf, he threw down the tables of stone that God had given him with the Ten Commandments (Exod 32:19).

Moses’ second weight was problem with complaining. Moses (91) did not want to go back to Egypt when God commissioned him and he did everything he could to get out of it (Exod 3:11—4:17). When the people of Israel began complaining in the desert, Moses (93) followed suit and began a rant against God (Num 11:10-13).

Moses’ third weight was that he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure. At Meribah, when the people had no water, God told Moses to speak the rock to yield water (Exod 20:8), but, when the time came, Moses struck the rock twice with his rod (Exod 20:11). Why was the instruction important? Moses did not give the honor to God for delivering the water, but took it for himself in front of all the people by striking the rock. Consequently, God did not allow him to lead the people into the Promised Land (Exod 20:12).

Mount Pisgah

When Moses complained about this punishment to God, God said:

“Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” (Deut 3:27 ESV)

Thus, Moses died on Mount Pisgah and never entered the Promised Land.

How do we avoid the path to Pisgah? Akinyemi (110-112) advises us to control our anger, yield totally to the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and avoid pressure from people. But most of all we should pray aggressively, especially at night (112-117).

Assessment

In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi[1] examines the problem that many talented Christian leaders fail to achieve their God-given potential by examining the life and ministry of Moses. Moses, in spite of obvious gifts of leadership, never entered the Promised Land which was a key objective of his call to ministry (Exod 3:7-10). Akinyemi writes with energy and recounts many interesting examples from scripture and from evangelism in his home country of Nigeria. Anyone interested in realizing their potential in ministry would do well to read and study this book.

[1] http://www.zion-cityofgod.org.

 

Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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