Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notion that Christianity is irrelevant and extreme feels odd, having grown up at a time when things were different. In the course of one generation, the consensus about how the world worked and our place in it changed dramatically, not only on the street but in the church. Snap, one morning you wake up and, after the coffee kicks in, you realize that the “invasion of the body snatchers”[2] occurred while you slept and pod people now control everything. What do you do now?

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divide their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section (the invasion of the space aliens above). In the next review (part three), I will address the third section. In this review (part two), I will focus on this second section.

Living Good Faith.

Kinnaman and Lyons offer an interesting contrast involving six principles, which illustrates why Christian faith feels so out of sync today.

Cultural principle 1:

“To find yourself, look within yourself.” (57)

Christian principle 1:

“To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself in Jesus.” (60)

Cultural principle 2:

“People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.” (57)

Christian principle 2:   “Loving others does not always mean staying silent.” (60)

Cultural principle 3:

“To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things that you desire most.” (57)

Christian principle 3: “Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others” (60)

Cultural principle 4:

“Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” (57)

Christian principle 4: “The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.” (60)

Cultural principle 5:  

 “People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” (57)

Christian principle 5: “God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.” (60)

Cultural principle 6:   

“Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine.” (57)

Christian principle 6: “God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.” (60)

The scariest part of this observation is that many Christians have bought into the cultural principles, first articulated by Roman philosopher Lucretius one hundred years before Christ, and abandoned the Christian ones (59, 62). People forget that the church has been struggling with pagan philosophies from the very beginning.

How do we live the good faith?

Kinnaman and Lyons write:

 “The secret recipe for good faith boils down to this: how well you love, what you believe, and how you live.” (72)

Double Love Command

This is an old recipe for dealing with an old problem and should come as no surprise to those who spend time with their Bible. The authors point to Matthew 22:37-39, which cites the double love command: Love God; love your neighbor. But most people ignore (or misinterpret) the next verse:

“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40 ESV)

“The Law” is a rabbinic reference to the Books of the Law (of Moses), which are the first five books of the Bible. “The Prophets” is a rabbinic reference to all the other books of the Old Testament. If you understand what Jesus is saying, then what you believe is not up for grabs—you cannot just interpret love anyway you want. The Old Testament context for love is found in Exodus 34:6 where God provides an interpretative key to the giving of the Ten Commandments:

Interpretative Key to Ten Commandments

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod 34:6 ESV)

In this context, love (וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד; rav hesed) is better translated as “covenantal love”—keeping your promises. Keeping your promises is another way of saying living them out, as Jesus’ younger brother James famously says:  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17 ESV)

Consequently, Kinnaman and Lyons’ secret recipe for good faith is no secret to practicing Christians, who naturally spend a lot of time with their Bible.


In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.


[1], @BarnaGroup,, @DavidKinnaman,, @GabeLyons



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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During periods of philosophical transition, old verities no longer work and the new ones have yet to be discovered. In the early stage of a transition, the focus remains on the past. The middle stage begins once the obsession with the past subsides, but the future still remains murky. This middle stage holds the most uncertainty, but it also offers the most potential for innovation; that is, until the final stage comes into focus. Because the church currently finds itself in this middle stage, statistically-based research adds great value to the conversation.


David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ new book, Good Faith, starts by posing this question:

“What does the future hold for people of faith when people perceive Christians as irrelevant and extreme?” (12)

The purpose of their book is “to make a case for good faith” (15) which they described as having “three essential ingredients”, which are: “how well you love, what you believe, and how you live” (72).  Kinnaman and Lyons explain these three ingredients in terms of loving God and loving others, remaining biblically orthodox, and living a lifestyle consistent with the two (72-74).

Irrelevant and Extreme

So why do people perceive faith to be irrelevant and extreme?


Kinnaman and Lyons see the perception of irrelevance as a combination of apathy and ignorance (21-22).

Apathy jumps out of some basic statistics. Three out of four Americans have some Christian background, but only two in five Christians actively practice their faith (27). The good news is that the share of Christians who practice their faith has remained relatively stable over the generations (224).The decline in the share of nominal Christians, however, normally dominates the headlines.

Role of the Church in Charity

With little or no social pressure to maintain ties to the church, many American remain ignorant of the role of the church in our culture. For example, many people do not realize that religious groups “make up the largest single share of national charitable giving” (30). When the Obama administration wanted to make progress on prison reform, hunger relief, combating sex-trafficking, and fighting poverty, they called on Christian-led organizations who did the most work in these areas (21). The Christian influence is not understood, in part, because people do not know that many American institutions, including school and universities, hospitals, labor unions, public libraries, voting rights for women and minorities, and endowments for the arts and sciences, began as Christian initiatives (33).

Halo Effect

If you still believe that faith does not matter, consider a secular study done by economists at the University of Pennsylvania which looked at the economic benefit (or “halo effect”) of a dozen houses of worship (ten Protestant churches, one Catholic, and one Jewish) in Philadelphia. The study estimated the economic benefit to be $50 million per year (238). Another study, sponsored by World Vision in 2014, found that people generally believed churches should be involved in public issues like child protection and human rights, but were less tolerant of church involvement in their own spiritual lives (239).


Christian faith appears extreme, not because it is dangerous, but because it is different (22). Pluralistic culture presumably preaches love and individualism, but endless corporate advertising homogenizes perceptions around consumerism and conformity, debasing real love and making a mockery of individual gifts, differences, and preferences.

Kinnaman and Lyons ask a pointed question: “Is it extremism when people live according to what they believe to be true about the world?” (40) Many Americans apparently would answer yes. Kinnaman and Lyons observe:

“While not majority opinions, millions of adults contend that behaviors such as donating money to religious causes, reading the Bible silently in public, and even attending church or volunteering are examples of religious extremism.” (41)

Conversation Difficult

Because many Americans believe that Christian faith is extremist, conversation across the faith divide has become more difficult. A majority of Americans, for example, find it is more difficult to speak with an evangelical (55%) than someone in the LGBT community (52%) (45).

In part 1 of this review, I have provided an overview of the author’s problem statement. In parts  2 and 3 I will look at their suggestions for how to deal with the problem.


In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

[1], @BarnaGroup,, @DavidKinnaman,, @GabeLyons


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Placher Argues the Foundations for Postmodernism, Part 2

William C. Placher. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Many times philosophy is denigrated as irrelevant and uninteresting. Far from irrelevant, it gives form to our thoughts—our default settings—and motivates us to take actions that we never really think about. For example, why do postmoderns head to the mall when they are upset, while back in the day moderns typically stopped to pray in a church? Far from uninteresting, philosophy shapes our music, explains trends in art, and leads us both to see and explain the world and ourselves in fresh, new ways and to rediscover aspects of our history which previously seemed mysterious or simply a bit nonlinear.

In his book, Unapologetic Theology, William Placher makes three observations about the postmodern apologetics project that bear repeating.

  1. Because we cannot argue from a foundation of absolute truth for the truth of Christ, neither can anyone else, such as secular modernists or scientists, argue from a foundation of absolute truth. This is an important observation because if Christian apologists continue to play by Enlightenment rules, there is no inherent reason why anyone should listen (138) and there is the danger that they may simply be shouted down by “imperialistic Enlightenment rationalism and liberalism” (168).
  1. While conversation cannot proceed from a foundation of absolute truth, common cause can still be found on an ad hoc basis. Placher observes that Christians can agree with both Jews and Marxists on the need to extend assistance to the homeless among us (167).
  1. In a real sense, our theology is justified in the eyes of the world by our actions, not the other way around (167).

Let me turn to each of these observations in turn.

No absolute truth, but shouted truth. The Enlightenment effort to find a foundation for absolute truth failed to discover a set of observations or logical relationships which could be used to justify objective truth. In its absence, competition has opened up to substitute subjective truth or truths of various sorts.

In the political realm, an early development of postmodern thinking evolved in Germany in the early twentieth century in the form of national socialism. If no absolute foundation exists, then let’s pick a leader to tell us what to believe. The logic was as unmistakable as the evil that it implied. Fear motivates us to seek easy answers and to accept solutions that would otherwise be unacceptable. The link of national socialism to the philosophy of Nietzsche, particularly his “will to power” is direct and undisputed among those that have studied it.[1] Political correctness, which originates with Karl Marx,[2] flows out of this line of thinking because once you promote a subjective alternative for absolute truth it is terribly inconvenient having your opponents point out the subjective nature of your alternative.[3]

In an economic realm, the absence of absolute truth helps explain the critical role of advertising and Hollywood movie productions in forming public opinion and preferences in daily purchases. If subjective truth is the only truth, storytelling is extremely interesting and important in cultural development because it persuades.[4]

Agree not on truth but on service. Placher makes the point that when we meet someone, we do not lay out a detailed foundation for conversation; we just look for points of agreement and start talking.

At one point I attended my uncle’s retirement from the Council of Churches in New York city and, although he worked as a pastor, a table of orthodox Jews attended the retirement gala. This observation interested me and I invited myself to sit with them. When I asked why so many orthodox Jews were attending a meeting of the Council of Churches, they told me that although they do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they agreed with many of the service projects undertaken by Council of Churches and wanted to get involved.

Service points to Gospel truth. Although Placher does not develop this theme, it is an inference that can be drawn. In a world where many voices scream for attention, actions speak louder than words and point to the motivations that brought them to fruition. Jesus said: “each tree is known by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:44) No one cares for a tree that bears no fruit and such it is with philosophies.

William C. Placher (1948 – 2008) was a postliberal theologian, a professor at Wabash in Indiana College, and the author of numerous books. His doctorate (1975) was from Yale University.

William Placher’s book, Unapologetic Theology, reviews modern and postmodern philosophical arguments that affect how we do theology and witness in the postmodern age. In part 1 of this review I summarized Placher’s argument for why the modern age is truly over—objective truth has no foundation that we can all agree on. In part 2 I summarized key implications of his work. Placher’s work is a fascinating read written for college students, but helpful to anyone concerned about cultural trends.


Lind, William S.  2009. “The Roots of Political Correctness.” Online: November 19.

Schaeffer, Francis A. 1976. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton: Crossway Books. (Review:

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. (Review:

[1] For example, Nazi propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl, named her documentary on the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg a paraphrase of Nietzsche’s famous phrase, Triumph of the Will (Schaeffer1976, 62).

[2] For example, see: (Lind 2009).

[3] Marx tried to substitute his concept of dialectal materialism for the existence of God, but enthroning man or man’s thinking in place of God begged a creation account. Evolution seemed to fit the bill here until scientists in the ninetieth disproved the concept of spontaneous generation. Rather than explain how mankind could not evolve to be the center of the universe, Marx and his followers refused to talk about it and began to restrict access to Bibles, which competing creation account. It was curious to see why communist countries, such as North Korean, imprison anyone with a Bible while also arguing that God does not exist! This persecution is not arbitrary but has a philosophical foundation that goes all the way back to Marx.

[4]This is the theme of a recent book by Sachs (2012).

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Placher Argues the Foundations for Postmodernism, Part 1

William C. Placher. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is hard not to notice the crisis of identity facing Christians and the church today. If we as Christians see ourselves as created in the image of an almighty God, then nothing is impossible for God and, by inference, for us as heirs to the kingdom. On the other hand, if we start to believe our critics that God does not exist and church is just another human institution, then our options are no different than anyone else’s—limited by the time and money immediately available. Because we act out of our identity, we need to care about what our identity is in our heart of hearts, not just on our business cards. For Christians, our truest identity is defined in our theory of God or, in other words, in our theology.

In his book, Unapologetic Theology, William Placher writes:

“This book represents some of the philosophy I have been reading, as one context for thinking about a new way—or maybe a very old way—of doing theology.” (7)

By “old” Placher means to argue apologetically from a Christian perspective with Christian assumptions. This “old” perspective, which he calls the “unapologetic” approach, is interesting because:

“Christian apologists can adopt the language and assumptions of their audiences so thoroughly that they no longer speak with a distinctively Christian voice.” (11)

Arguing from the “new” Enlightenment perspective means:

“questioning all inherited assumptions and then accepting only those beliefs which could be proven according to universally acceptable criteria.” (11)

If those universally acceptable criteria preclude faith in Christ Jesus by their nature, then the “new” perspective blunts effective witness (12). Worse, if no universally acceptable criteria exist, which essentially means that the Enlightenment (or modern) era is over, then the price of arguing is paid without gaining any credibility as a witness. Thus, adopting an unapologetic stance appears warranted in the postmodern era which we find ourselves in.

Placher’s argument raises two questions that we care about. First, is the modern era truly over and, if so, how do we know? Second, because Placher clearly believes that the modern era is over, how do we approach apologetics in the absence of universally acceptable criteria for discussion? We care about these questions because it is hard to witness for Christ in the postmodern era if, in effect, we do not speak the language of a postmodern person.

In part 1 of this review will focus on the first question while part 2 will consider the second.

Is the modern era over? Placher starts his discussion of the Enlightenment with the father of the Enlightenment, René Descartes, writing:

“Descartes had set the goal of seeking a foundation for knowledge, but modern philosophy soon divided between empiricists who looked for that foundation in bare, uninterrupted sensations [things you see, hear, feel, taste…] and rationalists who sought it in logically unchallengeable first truths.” (26)

For empiricists, a problem quickly emerged because:

“We cannot build knowledge on a foundation of uninterpreted sense-data, because we cannot know particular sense-data in isolation from the conceptual schemes we use to organize them.” (29)

If this is not obvious, think about how one knows that a light is red and different from yellow or green. In order to recognize the difference, one needs to understand the definition of red and how it differs from yellow or green. Without knowing that definition, red is not a distinct color. We teach colors to children at a young age so they seem obvious to us as adults, but to untaught kids colors have yet to be learned. The definition of red is what is meant here as a conceptual scheme.

For logicians, Placher observes:

“What we cannot do is find some point that is uniquely certain by definition, guarantee to hold regardless of any empirical discoveries, independent of any other elements in the our system.” (33)

Placher notes the definition of a mammal, “a warm-blooded animal with hair which bears live young”, had to change with the discovery of the platypus (32). While the problem posed by the platypus seems trivial, Placher notes after referencing Russell’s paradox that:

“If our definitions in mathematics or logic lead to problems, we may decide to change them, but we always have more than one choice.” (34)

In conclusion, Placher cites Wittgenstein observing:

“when we find the foundations, it turns out they are being held up by the rest of the house. If theologians try to defend their claims by starting with basic, foundational truths that any rational person would have to believe or observations independent of theory and assumptions, they are trying to do something that our best philosophers tell us is impossible.” (34)

In other words, the attempt by Enlightenment scholars to find a defensible basis for objective truth has failed and we are now in the postmodern era where it can be said: “how you stand on an issue depends on where you sit”.

William Placher’s book, Unapologetic Theology, is a fascinating review of modern and postmodern philosophical arguments that affect how we do theology and witness in the postmodern age. In part one of this review I have summarized Placher’s argument for why the modern age is truly over—objective truth has no foundation that we can all agree on. In part two of this review, I will summarize Placher’s arguments for how we should do theology and witness understanding that we are in the postmodern era.


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Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Vicktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Viktor E. Frankl. 2008. Man’s Search for Meaning: A Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust (Orig Pub 1946).[1] Translated by Ilse Lasch. London: Rider.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is the meaning of life? “To glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.”[2] Reminding ourselves of the centrality of God in our lives is a good theme for Holy Week.

For unbelievers, life is a bit more complicated, kind of like the mathematics of planetary motion for people who still believe the universe revolves around the earth. The mathematics of planetary motion became so much easier after Copernicus demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa.


In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares both his concentration camp experiences during the holocaust and his observations as a logotherapist (meaning therapist) on the meaning of life. (104) His purpose in writing, as stated in his preface, is that: “I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair.” (12)

Problem of Despair

This purpose statement is a massive understatement, as we later learn from Frankl’s own summary of the predicament of our times, when he writes:

“Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to copy with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as a contention that being has no meaning.” (31)

Neurosis can be defined as an “excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession”[3] while an existential vacuum (lack of meaning in life) “manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” which afflicts 25 percent of European students and about 60 percent of American students, according to Frankl’s own statistics. (110) As a parent, I used to say that the two most dangerous words in the teenage vocabulary were “I’m bored”; apparently, Frankl would agree.

Meaning of Life

In reading Frankl’s work, we can surmise that Frank’s life work as a logotherapist arose immediately out of his experience during the Holocaust, but we are never explicitly told. What is remarkable is that Frankl, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was offered the opportunity to immigrate to America before such opportunities went away, but stayed in Vienna to look after his parents who were not offered this opportunity (13).

Why link meaning in life to experiences in a concentration camp? Viktor again does not explicitly tell us, but he does explain how he managed to survive the Holocaust when 27/28 camp inmates did not. Frankl busied himself in the camps contemplating the lectures that he would give after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp! (82) In other words, this book was the therapy that he administered to himself in the camps—outlining what he would write in this book. Contemplating the meaning of life in the camps gave life meaning, as he spent his days laying railroad tracks and, later, caring for inmates dying of typhoid.

Surviving in the Camps

Frankl offers numerous tips to prospective concentration camp inmates on how to survive. Among his observations are:

  • Don’t draw attention to yourself from sadistic guards.
  • Shave daily, walk briskly, and stand up straight to look healthy enough for work.
  • Applaud profusely when sadistic guards read poetry.
  • In walking in formation, stay in the middle or the front to avoid those that stumble and the beatings that follow.
  • Offer free psychiatric counseling to guards in need of it.

Short timers, who have given up on life, ignore these rules and smoke cigarettes that might otherwise be traded for food.

Critical Role of Meaning

A critical point in all this craziness is that, according to Frankl, survival depended on finding meaning in suffering. Frankl reports that the death rates in the camps days after Christmas in 1945 rose dramatically, not because of any external deprivation, but simply because inmates who had hoped to be released by Christmas gave up the will to live in the days thereafter. (84) When life hangs by a thread, small changes in attitude make a difference. Frankl writes:

“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost…we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (85)

So Frankl learned that inmates needed to live for other people who depended on them and to live to finish unfinished tasks, like the book he was to write. (87, 109) In other words, meaning comes not from looking inside one’s self, but from transcending one’s self.(131)


Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is an unusually fascinating book. Frankl does not dwell on the horrors of the camps, but develops lessons from it for daily life in a postmodern world. When he discusses his survival tips, my mind immediately jumped to office situations where the same tips would be pertinent, suggesting not an opportunity for dark humor but that the camp experiences helped Frankl strip away the thin veil of the civilized world to see more fundamental truths. This is a book that you will want to read and, perhaps, return to occasionally for reference.

[1]Ein Psycholog ergebt das Konzentrationslager (A Psychiatrist’s Experience of the Concentration Camp).

[2]“The Larger Catechism” (7.111) The Book of Confessions. Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part 1. 2004. Louisville: Office of the General Assembly.



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Soule Gives How-to Advice on Deep POV

Soule, Deep POV

Soule Gives How-to Advice on Deep POV

Sherry A. Soule.[1] 2016. The Writer’s Guide to Deep POV: Create Realistic Characters, Settings, and Descriptions. Sacramento: FWT.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of my goals for 2017 is to upgrade the quality of my writing. While I primarily write nonfiction, even nonfiction Christian writing includes significant storytelling and memoir is sometimes described as narrative nonfiction, both of which suggest that the line between fiction and nonfiction writing blurs more than occasionally. An important challenge in traversing the fiction and nonfiction boundary is learning to show rather than tell emotions, descriptions, and character development, which is often described as deep point of view (or just deep POV) writing.


In her new book, The Writer’s Guide to Deep POV, Sherry Soule writes:

“Deep POV is just describing everything that your character is feeling, observing, and identifying, along with whatever they’re seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling…” (4)

Deep Point of View

The point of deep POV is to remove the narrator and reduce narrative distance to bring the reader closer to the actual experience of the characters (8). She offers four tips in implementing deep POV:

  1. “Writers should try to reduce as many filtering references as they can from their writing. Words such as felt, saw, heard, smelled, and notices…
  2. Naming the emotion can become a bad habit….
  3. Be more specific when describing places, settings, people, clothing, objects, cars, etc. so you don’t create a weak visual…
  4. One way to rid your fiction of shallow writing is to use the ‘look through the camera lens’ method…[so that everything] is perceived through that POV.” (10-11)

While she admits that there are times when telling can pick up the pace in your writing, anytime that you can rewrite to show rather than tell you should do it. (12) Deep POV offers: “the reader direct access to the character’s moods, emotions, and perceptions.” (13) Showing the character’s reactions and views is what Soule sees as revealing a character’s true voice. (49) For the author, deep POV is the focus of revision work.

Use of Examples

At its core, The Writer’s Guide to Deep POV is a how-to book inventorying the different ways that deep POV can be used and illustrating its use in paired examples. Typically, Soule offers a SHALLOW example of a paragraph or series of paragraphs followed by a DEEP POV example of the same material. These DEEP POV examples are taken from her own published work, while the SHALLOW examples are presumably taken from an earlier draft. While this method may be tedious to read, it offers the aspiring author a cookbook of examples to study when writing in any part of the inventory covered.


For example, in her chapter on fatigue, Soule writes:

“When your character is tired or fatigued, I would show the character’s mental and physical exhaustion through Deeper POV. I realize that it is much simpler to just state that a character is drowsy or that a character looks exhausted, but I think it is much more fun to show the reader instead—don’t you?” (107)

Some of the “physical signs of exhaustion” she lists are: “loud yawning, heaving eyelids, droopy eyelids, weakness in limbs, cannot concentrate…” (108)

Example of Fatigue

After this, one of her examples for fatigue was:

SHALLOW: Dan looked sleepy and he fell asleep in class. He started snoring loudly. The teacher got mad and woke him up.

DEEP POV: Dan’s breathing slowed and his eyelids grew heavy. He rested his head on the desk and his eye’s closed. He must’ve been snoring, because the teacher shook him awake.” (109)

After such short examples of SHALLOW and DEEP POV writing, Soule often offers more lengthy examples running for several paragraphs. Much of her book consists of roughly 30 short chapters of 5-6 pages each taking this basic format of explanation, physical signs, and shallow/Deep POV examples. The inventory covers description, character development, emotions, and other places where an experienced writer should employ deep POV.


Sherry Soule describes herself as a bestselling author, editor, publisher, and writing coach, where her fiction writing focuses on urban fantasy, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance. Her book, The Writer’s Guide to Deep POV, remains one of seven books in a nonfiction series entitled: Fiction Writing Tools. Judging from this volume, the rest of the series is certainly worth a look.

[1] @SherrySoule,


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Peterson Writes About His Life as a Pastor

the_pastor_review_03032017Eugene H. Peterson. 2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most dramatic appearances of God in the Bible comes in chapter 3 of Exodus when God appears to Moses in form of a burning bush. It is interesting to ask why God would appear in the form of a naturally occurring inkblot test. If the inkblots are properly prepared, they have no inherent structure so when a patient looks at them, the only structure seen is the structure imposed by the patient.[1] Is it any wonder that my kids, when they were small, used to confuse our pastor with Jesus? My kids are not the only ones; the inkblot image is a wonderful metaphor for how people today relate to their pastor and to God. The more enigmatic the pastor, the more fitting the inkblot image.[2]

In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson captures this enigmatic character[3] when he writes:

“I can’t imagine now not being a pastor. I was a pastor long before I knew I was a pastor; I just never had a name for it. Once the name arrived, all kinds of things, seemingly random experiences and memories, gradually began to take a form that was congruent with who I was becoming, like finding a glove that fit my hand perfectly—a calling, a fusion of all the pieces of my life, a vocation: Pastor.” (2)

Peterson see the pastor as a particularly talented observer, much like God took animals to Adam to see what he would call them (Gen 2:19), as he writes:

“A witness is never the center, but only the person who points to or names what is going on at the center—in this case, the action and revelation of God in all the operations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (6)

But, of course, naming is the creative act of a sovereign, not of a passive observer. For this reason, some theologians describe God as a Suzerain (King of Kings) and Adam as his Vassal (king), but Peterson would chide at the whole idea of being an authority figure, preferring the title of pastor, not “Reverend or Doctor or Minister” (2) even though he was all of these things.

Even if Peterson prefers business causal, he is not just causally present. He writes:

“Staying alert to these place and time conditions—this topos, this kairos—of my life as a pastor, turned out to be more demanding than I thought it would.” (8)

Peterson’s sensitive to matters of time and space comes as a surprise. As Christians, we think of God in terms of the omnis—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent—all present, all knowing, and all powerful; but Christianity has no Mecca where we must worship or make a pilgrimage—God is not partial to a particular place and even Sabbath is not so much a day as a commitment to devote time to God. But for Peterson pastors must model themselves on God in his omnis in a sacramental sense:  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6 ESV) And Christ did not die in some random place; he died conspicuously—in front of the whole world—in Jerusalem. Therefore, Peterson cautions that “the life of faith cannot be lived in general or by abstractions.” (12)

Do you get the idea that Peterson chooses his words carefully?

Peterson’s idea of the pastor call is wrapped up in a peculiar package. He describes a dog wandering around marking his territory in a manner that appears haphazardly to a human observer, but no doubt makes perfect sense to the dog. He then writes:

“Something like that is the way pastor feels to me. Pastor: not something added on to or imposed on who I am; it was there all along. But it was not linear—no straight-line development.” (26)

This sort of explanation, which is potentially quite demeaning, describes an image of the pastor as a Myers-Briggs personality type of ESFP:

“Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.” [4]

This postmodern concept of a pastor leaves me wondering what would happen if Martin Luther or John Calvin were to come before an ordination committee today? While I know that Peterson’s pastor has great appeal today, I am not sure that Peterson intended his vision of the pastor to be normative, as it has become.

One of the attractive things about Peterson to me as I read this book in seminary was that he had been a church planter. At a time when organized churches seem to be wandering off the rails, God’s presence appears most conspicuously in new churches that have yet to be coopted by our culture. Peterson writes about an old rabbinic story:

“Shekinah is Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be—a place…God’s personal presence—and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory.” (100-101).

I can relate to this Shekinah image, having worshipped in so many different places, in so many different styles of music (or none at all), and in so many different languages.

Peterson’s final chapters begin with a story of a visit to a monastery where the cemetery was always prepared for the next funeral, having an open grave as a reminder (289). This is fitting end because Christianity is the only religion that began in a cemetery (Matt 28:1-7).  Citing Karl Barth, Peterson reminds us: “Only where graves are is there resurrection.” (290).

I have tried several times to review Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor, and flinched at the task, not knowing where to begin. Having written my own memoir, however, during the past year, his book started to make sense to me in spite of its nonlinearity. I think that I have read most of Peterson’s books, but this is a favorite, but do not ask me why. Still, I am sure that most pastors and seminary students will share my love for this book.

[1] What does Moses see? Moses sees God commanding him to return to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to release the people of Israel, something that had been on his heart for about 40 years (Exod 2:11-12; 3:10).

[2] This is at the heart of the psychiatric image of God and counseling model of the pastor. People have a lot of trouble with the transcendence of God. They do not want to be “fathered” with conditional love, they wanted to be “mothered” with unconditional love. For this reason, the postmodern image of God is more of a grandparent than a parent and people chide at the ideal that God is a father that actually requires anything at all of us. The code language normally used is to say that a pastor should be a “patient, non-anxious presence.”

[3] If you think that I am the only one to see an inkblot here, meditate a few minutes on Peterson’s book cover.




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Vanhoozer Confronts Dualism Dramatically. Part 2

vanhoozer_review_02162017Kevin J. Vanhoozer. 2014. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.  (Goto part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Vanhoozer’s uses the theatrical model to show that faith and action can be taught together in a way that teaches faithful balance of the two. In my own writing, I have argued that music is a spiritual disciple because in music thinking and feeling (proxies for mind and body) cannot be separated (Hiemstra 2014, 150-152). The theatrical model is, however, stronger because faith and action are inseparable on stage as in life.

Throughout church history Esau has been denigrated because he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew (Gen 26:33), but we are little different. Citing Alan Wolfe (2003), Vanhoozer writes:

“Evangelical churches lack doctrine because they want to attract new members. Mainline churches lack doctrine because they want to hold on to those declining numbers of members they have.” (54)

Our birthright as Protestants according to Vanhoozer is solo scriptura (55). If, as Vanhoozer describes it, “the church is a theater of the gospel in which disciples stage previews of the coming kingdom of God” (59), how are they to be faithful actors if they do not know their lines? Vanhoozer argues that the crisis of doctrine is, in fact, a crisis of authenticity—the actors no longer learn their lines.

What is so fascinating in this metaphor of the theoretical model is that this crisis of authenticity arises because we have lost a sense of who we are as Christians. Vanhoozer writes:

“What we have on the world stage, then, are various kinds of beings presenting themselves to one another by acting out their existence and essence (i.e. that they are and what they are).” (67)

In other words, a tomato communicates that it is not a banana by what it is and would just look silly trying on stage to act as if it were a banana. In much the same way, Christians who do not know God deeply through their reading of scripture and adherence to doctrine cannot convincingly display the gospel. Consequently, Christianity lite experiences a crisis of authenticity much like a tomato pretending to be a banana.[1]

Inasmuch as this is merely the motivation for Vanhoozer’s exploration of the theatrical model, it should be obvious that this book is not a light read. Basic doctrines of the church are examined in light of the theatrical model. One such examination takes the form of a question: if the gospel is drama, what kind of a drama is it?

Vanhoozer argues that the gospel is obviously not a tragedy because in tragedy the hero “is no match for hostile gods or impassive Fate, yet nevertheless displays courage in the face of impossible odds.” The gospel is no tragedy because Christ’s life is not taken but freely given, as we witness in the Garden of Gethsemane. He argues that the gospel is rather a comedy, which “is the tendency to bring the proud down a notch, though in a kinder, gentler fashion than tragedy”. Furthermore, “tragedy begins well but ends badly; comedy begins with a complication but ends well”. (94) It is always good for actors to know what kind of drama they are acting in!

Another attribute of a drama which is important to know is how many acts take place. (95) The expected answer is three: creation, fall, and redemption.[2] Vanhoozer argues for five:

Act 1: Creation, the setting for everything that follows (Gen 1-11)

Act 2: Election of Abraham/Israel (Gen 12-Mal)

Act 3: Sending of the Son/Jesus (the Gospels)

Act 4: Sending of the Spirit/Church (Acts—Jude)

Act 5: Return of the King/day of the Lord/consummation/new creation (Rev) (98).

The theatrical model aids in making this selection because the turning points in the drama signal something dramatic is happening. For example, the creation and fall normally make up two of the three acts, but both fall in the first three chapters of Genesis which lumps acts 2-5 into a single act (redemption), missing a lot of the drama of scripture. Vanhoozer sees the fall simply as part of the conflict within Act 1, much like conflict which exists in the other 4 Acts (98).

Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s Faith Speaking Understanding is a deeply theological text which employs the theatrical model to illustrate and extend our understanding of the Bible and discipleship. Critiques of the theatrical model can be found in the appendix. Seminary students and pastors are the intended audience, but others wanting to delve deeply into their faith will find it fascinating.

For reviews of other books by Vanhoozer, see the list of references below.


Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2014. A Christian Guide to Spirituality. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. (3-part review: Vanhoozer:  How Do We Understand the Bible?,,

Vanhoozer, Kevin, J. 2005. The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.

Vanhoozer, Kevin, J. and Owen Strachan. 2015. The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. (Review: VanHoozer and Strachan Argue Case for Pastor-Theologian;

Wolfe, Alan. 2003. The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith. New York: Free Press.

Wolters, Albert M. 2005. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformation Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[1] What are God’s “essential dispositions”? Vanhoozer (67) cites: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,’” (Exod 34:6 ESV) This is the Bible’s explanation of what it means to be created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). See the sermon that I preached for my daughter’s wedding. (Living into the Image;

[2] See, for example: (Wolters 2005).

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Vanhoozer Confronts Dualism Dramatically. Part 1

vanhoozer_review_02162017Kevin, J. Vanhoozer. 2014. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most pernicious heresies in the church of our time is old fashioned Greek dualism which separates faith and action. This dichotomous thinking, however, is inconsistent with the biblical understanding where faith and action are inseparable. Jesus and his half-brother, James, both rail against hypocrisy, defined as a separation of faith and action.[1]

In his book, Faith Speaking Understanding, Kevin Vanhoozer argues for a new look at the theatrical understanding of faith and action because Christians must both speak and do “Christian” in pursuing authentic discipleship (19). The theater provides an interesting way to live out the doctrine of the church because an actor must not only speak a part but also act it out which may at first seem unnatural but with practice may become instinctive, like learning to ride a bicycle or swim. Like a good actor will focus not on displaying an emotion, but really feeling it, the good Christian must put on the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

Vanhoozer uniquely emphasizes the role of sound doctrine in discipleship. Like a good actor must learn his lines, doctrine guides discipleship and avoids the trap of adopting a “performance mentality”. Sound doctrine is part of teaching people how to keep the faith and applying doctrine (or theology) to their daily lives (xiii-xiv). They learn by applying this doctrine in life, hence the special need to act it out.

Vanhoozer sees scriptural interpretation playing a key role in theology. He writes:

“To be a follower of Christ is to be a follower of Scripture in all three senses of ‘follow’:

  1. To understand the meaning of what Christ says in Scripture,
  2. To respond to his instructions with obedience, and
  3. To go after Christ or along ‘the way’ of Christ”. (1)

He sees the history of the church as virtually the same thing as the history of biblical interpretation (2).

Vanhoozer describes his book with 9 “It is about” statements. It is about (1) being biblical, (2) theology, (3) church doctrine, (4) the Gospel of Jesus Christ, (5) life, (6) the reign of God, (7) the church, (8) public theology, and (9) reality (4-9). He writes in two parts where the first part lays out his theater model and the second part offers a detailed proposal for how it should work (9-10).

The remainder of part 1 of this review will examine Vanhoozer’s theater model while part 2 will focus on the details of how it works.

Vanhoozer offers four reasons for merging doctrine and drama, two intrinsically difficult topics:

  1. The subject matter of the Bible is inherently theodramatic, saying what God has said and done in history.
  2. The language of the theater offers images and concepts to bridge the theory/practice dichotomy.
  3. The purpose of theology is to cultivate disciples where knowledge is static, but wisdom—lived knowledge—is dynamic and dramatic.
  4. Every Christian has a role to play (20-21)

This last point is critical. The uniqueness of the church as a theater is that the audience is invited into the play and helps to determine how the performance is played out. Vanhoozer writes:

“disciples obey the truth and the gospel when they take hold of what they behold and let the drama of the Christ serve as the metanarrative or control story of their own lives.” (40)

In other words, in this drama spectators do not remain spectators. And doctrine allows “disciples to fill empty spaces and empty moments with redemptive speech and action.” (47)

Kevin Vanhoozer[2] is a Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, Illinois. His degrees are from Westmont College (BA), Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv), Cambridge University, England (PhD). This book, Faith Speaking Understanding (2014), is designed as a more readable and pastoral version of an earlier book, The Drama of Doctrine (2005), which lays out a theological defense of the theater model.

For reviews of other books by Vanhoozer, see the list of references below.


Kevin J. Vanhoozer. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. (3-part review: Vanhoozer:  How Do We Understand the Bible?,,

Vanhoozer, Kevin, J. 2005. The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.

Vanhoozer, Kevin, J. and Owen Strachan. 2015. The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. (Review: VanHoozer and Strachan Argue Case for Pastor-Theologian;

[1] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”  (Matt 23:25-26 ESV) and “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17 ESV)


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Matthews Teaches Stretching

matthews_review_02142017Jessica Matthews. 2016. Stretching to Stay Young: Simple Workouts to Keep You Flexible, Energized, and Pain-Free. Berkeley: Althea Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In January as I proceeded to step up my daily exercise routine, a problem developed with tightness in my back, which quickly caused me to re-evaluate my fitness objective. Consulting with a friend who is a personal trainer, she advised me to revise my warm-up routine to lengthen my stretches and add a few new ones to my routine. It worked. My tightness relaxed; I am back to my new workout strategy; and I went looking for a book to learn more about stretches. My search led me to Jessica Matthews’ book: Stretching to Stay Young.

Matthews writes about having a similar experience as a fitness instructor, but observed:

“Once I was stretching regularly, however, I began to move more easily—not just while exercising but in my everyday life as well. I increased my range of motion and fain immense flexibility, reducing the aches and pain I had become accustomed to.” (8-9)

In my case, stretching not only helped me reduce tightness, it helped me workout harder and I ended up overdoing it a bit, which caused a different set of issues.

Matthews cites studies showing these benefits: decreased stiffness, improved function, reduced pain, enhanced performance, improved range of motion, improved balance, and decreased anxiety and depression (17). Medical benefits include reduced: stress, blood pressure and heart rate, breathing rate, and chronic back pain. (18)

For me, these benefits have been real. My basic warm up routine began in the summer of 2008 when I experienced several episodes of extreme, lower-back pain that left me unable to work—I had to lie on my back on the floor all day at one for three days running. On advice of my doctors, I began doing core exercises, which included stretching and Pilates, about seven days a week. After beginning this new warm up routine before swimming laps, I never again experienced that kind of pain and, with minor tweaks, I have continued this warm up routine since then.

Matthews is located in San Diego, California and cites her background as:  Kinesiology Professor (Point Loma Nazarene University), Yoga Studies Professor (MiraCosta College), President & CEO of Integrative Wellness Education, Senior Advisor for Health & Fitness Education at American Council on Exercise (ACE), and a contributing editor at Shape Magazine.[1] She writes her book in three parts—the science, the stretches, and the workouts—which are proceeded by an introduction and followed by lists of resource and references, and by a subject index. The book is printed on high-quality, rather stiff paper that might help the book survive a few trips to the gym. The illustrations are also large enough that you might be able to make out the routines without your glasses.

Jessica Matthew’s book, Stretching to Stay Young, is an interesting read. I loved to find that some of my stretches have catchy names like “Standing Crescent Moon” (74-75), “Bird Dog” (82-83) and “Figure 4” (92-93) and that I need to adjust my routine to do them correctly. The Standing Crescent Moon, for example, is best done as a static stretch, not a dynamic stretch (bobbing), while the Bird Dog is just the opposite, contrary in both cases to my current practice. I was also pleased to learn what people down at the gym are doing with foam rollers—exercising muscle attachments called fascia. If you are new to the proper way to do stretches, as I am, then this is a book that you want to check out.


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