Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 1

Russell Moore, OnwardRussell Moore. 2015. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group.  (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the fall of 2013 I attended the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) to visit with book publishers about my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality. While I spent most of my time with the publishers, I attended a luncheon sponsored by the Colson Center where I got a chance to hear Russell Moore speak.[1] He impressed me enough that I looked up and purchased a copy of his book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.

Overview

In his acknowledgments, Moore writes:

“In some sense, I’ve been writing this book all my life, seeking to articulate what I believe about the relationship between the kingdom of God and the cultures of this present age.” (223)

In further highlighting the themes of his book, he writes:

“As the culture changes all around us, it is no longer possible to pretend that we are a Moral Majority. That may be bad news for America, but it is good news for the church…we need a church that speaks to social and political issues with a bigger vision in mind: that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (back cover)

“Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention,” (back flap) which is the largest Protestant denomination in in the United States.[2]

The need to cite these summary statements arises, in part, because Moore writes primarily in narratives, avoiding the usual academic convention of a stating a major premise and outlining how it will be demonstrated. His use of narratives is interesting because it forces opponents to lesson to his entire presentation before jumping in to offer objections.

Outline

Moore writes his book in ten chapters that highlight major themes in his thinking:

  1. “A Bible Belt No More
  2. From Moral Majority to Prophetic Minority
  3. Kingdom
  4. Culture
  5. Mission
  6. Human Dignity
  7. Religious Liberty
  8. Family Stability
  9. Convictional Kindness
  10. A Gospel Counter-Revolution” (ix)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion and acknowledgments sections.

God and Country

What makes Moore so interesting to read is that he accepts the premise that we live in a post-Christian society and he proceeds to deconstruct America’s pagan culture laying bare some of its most cherished myths.

The myths of a “Moral Majority” or the existence of a “Bible Belt”, in Moore’s view, were always more about shared values than about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As an Eagle Scout myself, I found Moore’s discussion of his travails in trying to earn the God and Country badge most entertaining. As a Scout teen, he asked:

“Can a Christian be possessed by a demon, or are we protected from that by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?” (11)

This question, of course, set his Methodist pastor advisor to squirming and the pastor eventually admitted that he did not believe in demons, but more to the point the question unmasked the real intent of the Scout badge of instilling just enough Christianity to “fight the Communists and save the republic”, but not enough to have spiritual significance. His leaders wanted to instill the shared values of a kind of civic religion while as a kid Moore just “didn’t want to risk projectile vomiting demonic ooze.” (12) Never mind that an answer to Moore’s question continues to distinguish American denominations.

Assessment

In part 1 of this review, I give an overview of Moore’s book. In part 2, I will drill down into some of his arguments.

Russell Moore’s Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel challenges us to distinguish the gospel of Jesus Christ from different manifestations of Christendom in American culture. Moore advocates engaging the culture, not simply criticizing it, to expose aspects of the culture that present opportunities for Christian witness. His narrative style facilitates this engagement and makes his writing both entertaining and accessible.

[1] Jackson Watts, ETS 2013: Inerrancy in Perspective (http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=4261).

[2] https://www.RussellMoore.com. @DRMoore.

Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 1

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Ten Most Popular Reviews over Last 12 Months

James Plueddemann, Leadership Across Cultures
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is helpful from time to time to review the most popular postings. Notice how many older postings continue to attract readers even now. The James Plueddemann book, Leading Across Cultures, is consistently the single most popular posting on T2Pneuma. This highly theological textbook is of most interest to missionaries, foreign and domestic.

Review Title (Click to Read)

 Date Posted Views
Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture 3/31/2014 65
Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection 7/19/2016 30
Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 5/3/2016 21
Murrow Invites Churches to be Man-friendly 4/29/2015 19
Teague Gives MailChimp a Spin 12/26/2017 17
Nouwen Describes Leadership Challenges 10/3/2017 14
Meeks Explains Amazon Ads (2) 11/7/2017 12
Heifetz and Linsky Lead through Adversity 6/4/2014 12
Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 10/10/2017 12
Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality  12/2/2013 11

Ten Most Popular Reviews over Last 12 Months

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Dayton Explores Evangelical History

Donald Dayton: Discovering An Evangelical HeritageDonald W. Dayton. 2005.  Discovering An Evangelical Heritage (Orig. Pub. 1976). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I heard Dayton speak in September 2006 at Wesley Theology Seminary here in Washington DC. Dayton was the guest speaker at chapel (something about a 30-year anniversary of the book and an award from the seminary). His address focused on the many faces of John Wesley—something new and interesting to me. His talk prompted me to buy the book, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, and another of his books, The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism.

The book is interested me because he dials back to the period of Charles Finney during the second Great Awakening. Finney was the Billy Graham of his day. Unlike Graham, Finney was both a great revivalist and a social reformer. Apparently, early evangelicals were at the forefront of the campaigns to abolish slavery, promote woman’s rights, and advocating temperance. While I knew some of the history of this reforms, I did not specifically associate these reforms with 19th-century evangelicals and the Second Great Awakening until reading Dayton.

Dayton’s historical review includes chapters on abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and temperance. Key personalities and financial supporters of these movements were discussed. The roles of Oberlin College and different seminaries (Princeton, Gordon-Conwell, and others) in social reforms (or not) of the 19th century were especially interesting to me.

So why did American Evangelicals come to focus on evangelism and less on social reform? Dayton explains the difference in evangelical attitudes about social reform to a number of things. Among these were disillusionment following the Civil War, a less optimistic view of the impact of sin, and a switch from post-millennial to pre-millennial eschatological views. According to Dayton, if you believe that Christians will be raptured the moment Christ returns rather than after a thousand years of Christ’s rule, then evangelism takes a higher priority and social reform goes down in priority.

I found Dayton’s analyses of these events credible, informative, and insightful—much like his talk. I can see why Wesley Theological Seminary presented him with an award.

References

Donald W. Dayton.  2004.  Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen NJ:  Hendrickson Publishers (Review: https://wp.me/p8RkfV-xO).

Dayton Explores Evangelical History

Also see:

Dayton: Remembering the Story of Pentecostalism

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

 

Continue Reading

Chesterton Explains His Faith Journey

G.K. Chesterton, OrthodoxyG.K. Chesterton. 2017. Orthodoxy (Orig. Pub. 1908). Satya Books.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those that are curious and think for themselves, many of the best known critics of the Christian faith come up short. The heart of atheism is not a philosophical critique of faith; it is a willful disrespect for all forms of authority, especially divine authority. The reasons for disbelief often border on mere slander of the faith, which becomes obvious as inconsistent criticisms morph over time and show themselves in conflict. Apologetics accordingly begins to resemble the case of the parent trying to reason with tired child when a good nap (or firm discipline) is needed.

Introduction

In his book, Orthodoxy, Gilbert Keith (better known as G.K.) Chesterton sets out to explain how he came to faith in his own words, the words and arguments that ultimately convinced him. In a puckish response to a question posed by his publisher, Chesterton recounts:

“‘Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?’ After a long pause, I replied, ‘I will go home and write a book in answer to that question.’ This is the book that I have written in answer to it.” (7)

When is the last time that you wrote a book to win an argument? Obviously, Chesterton (1874-1936) lived at a time when a “lettered” (“English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic”[2]) man took his arguments seriously.

Orthodoxy Defined

Chesterton defines orthodoxy in these words:

“When the word ‘orthodoxy’ is used here it means the Apostles’ Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.” (5)

Belief in the Apostles’ Creed, summarized in five fundamentals of the faith:

  1.  The inerrancy of scripture;
  2. The virgin birth of Jesus;
  3. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Christ died for our sins);
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ; and
  5. The miracle-working power of Christ (Longfield 1991, 9, 78)

were required for ordination as a Presbyterian pastor between 1910 and 1925. After 1925, one could be ordained without believing the Apostles’ Creed (the liberal view) and, if you persisted in believing the creed, you would be described pejoratively as a “fundamentalist.” Thus, Chesterton’s simple definition anticipated a crisis that had not yet divided the American church, but even today lies at the heart of the culture wars.

Lampoon Champ

Chesterton spends considerable time in his book lampooning his critics for their inconsistencies. He writes:

“certain sceptics wrote that the great crime of Christianity had been its attack on the family; it dragged women to the loneliness and contemplation of the cloister, away from their homes and their children. But, then, other sceptics (slightly more advanced) said that the great crime of Christianity was the family and marriage upon us; that it doomed women to the drudgery of their homes and children, and forbade them loneliness and contemplation.” (79-80)

Clearly, this argument is dated, but the inconsistencies persist. Who, for example, remembers that the first co-educational college in America, Oberlin College, was started by two Presbyterian pastors and that the famous evangelist, Charles Finney, served as its president from 1850 to 1866? The feminist movement started as evangelical Christian movement (see Gal 3:28) and it is only after the Civil War that the woman’s movement took a secular turn (Dayton 1976, 121-135). Hopefully, Chesterton will be forgiven for his candid (and dated) comments on this issue.

Coming To Faith

So why did Chesterton adopt the Christian faith? He writes:

“my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing.” (146)

In my own experience, I have found critics quite willing to pick at this or that doctrine that they do not understand or accept without substituting an equally valuable replacement. Christianity as a faith fits the whole person and the entirety of life’s experiences better than competing religions and philosophies which is why it is found throughout the entire world, unlike other faiths that favor one or another ethnic group and region. Mere critics normally do not accept responsibility for their partial criticisms—they steal a person’s hope and faith, and leave their victims in despair. Such actions clearly troubled Chesterton as he weighed his options.

Assessment

G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a challenging but interesting read. He is challenging to read because he is better versed in philosophy and apologetics than most readers and his arguments often hinge on subtle word-play and knowledge of events and readings. Still, Chesterton is interesting to read because he writes roughly a hundred years ago and yet speaks directly to our own context. Read and enjoy!

References

Bradley J. Longfield. 1991. The Presbyterian Controversy:  Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. New York:  Oxford University Press. (Review: https://wp.me/p8RkfV-11c).

Dayton, Donald W. 1976. Discovering an Evangelical Heritage. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Footnotes

[1] Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satya).

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._K._Chesterton#Other.

Chesterton Explains His Faith Journey

Also see:

Longfield Chronicles the Fundamentalist/Liberal Divide in the PCUSA, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Johnson Writes About Pentecostals Ministering in Bad Prisons

Andrew JohnsonAndrew Johnson. 2017. If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro. New York: Oxford.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Confession time. I came to Christ through the testimony of a young and violent gang leader, Nicky Cruz, who came to Christ himself in the middle of a gang fight. His conversion took place in response to an Assembly of God (Pentecostal) mission in New York City.[1] Thus, the convergence of Pentecostalism and witness to violent young men played a key role in my own faith journey[2] so when I learned about Andrew Johnson’s book, If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro,[3] I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Johnson writes:

“Prison Pentecostalism represents a hidden but important part of the Pentecostal movement that has swept through Rio de Janeiro and much of Brazil over the past three decades. This book responds to a simple research question, ‘Why is Pentecostalism so widely practiced inside Rio de Janeiro’s prisons and jails?’” (4)

To find out, Johnson, a sociologist, spent two weeks living inside several jails in Rio de Janeiro and interviewed numerous prisoners and former prisoners. He observes:

“the prison churches not only survive but also thrive in this difficult space … because in many ways they resemble the prison gangs in structure and function. Both gang and prison church claim part of the prison as their own, each implements and enforces a set of rules for their members, and each provides a strong identity to participants and offers them protection and community.” (10-11)

What is perhaps most surprising is the level of respect afforded pastors among the poor generally, prisoners, and even the narco-gangs to the point that:

“gangs generally allow members to leave if they join a Pentecostal church as long as their conversion and subsequent [religious] practice are deemed genuine.” (10; 77).

This option is all the more striking because gang membership generally requires an oath of allegiance until death (“hasta la morgue”; 77), much like the MAFIA in North America. Similar rules and relationships with the Pentecostal churches have also been reported for Central American gangs, like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13; 76-77)[4].

Pentecostals and Gangs

Obviously, the pastors and their church neither condone nor excuse violence or drug use. The support for prisoners in jail under the most inhumane conditions speaks loudly against the attitude that gang members are sub-human, “killable people” (“seres matáves”). Killable people in Rio de Janeiro are generally poor, unemployed, descendants of slaves who live in the “favelas” and who “Brazilians do not cry for” (39-61).

When Pentecostal pastors show up at the prison gates weekly with volunteers to provide food, clothing, medical supplies, and encouragement to prisoners packed so tightly that some must sleep standing up, they get noticed even if they preach against the very things that the gangs stand for—narcotics, sex trafficking, and violence. The respect that they earn is rooted in offering the prisoners something very basic—human dignity (85).

Pentecostals and Political Action

Although Pentecostal pastors are often maligned for not engaging in political action, Johnson writes:

“When the pastors embraced rapists, prayed with murderers, sang worship songs with drug dealers, and treated all the inmates as people endowed with inherent worth, they were participating in an activity that subverted the social order.” (165)

He coined the phrase “politics of presence” to describe how they have changed the dynamics of prison life and raised the awareness of the brutality of prison life when they preached back home in their congregations (143-166).

Assessment

Andrew Johnson’s book, If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro, is a striking work. Clearly, his research transformed his own attitude about Pentecostals and reading it transformed mine. It is hard to be neutral about brutality, even if it takes place a world away and among people that are hard to love. This is a book likely to be talked widely for a long time. Read it if you dare.

References

Peterson, Eugene H. 2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: HarperOne.

Wilkerson, David. 1962. The Cross and the Switchblade. Pyramid Communications.

Footnotes

[1]As an adult working in Hispanic ministry, I learned that Nicky Cruz was both Puerto Rican and a lifelong evangelist (Wilkerson).

[2]Although I then joined a Presbyterian church, one might describe me as a lifelong Presbycostal, a term that I first heard from Eugene Peterson (217).

[3]https://crcc.usc.edu/people/andrew-johnson.

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-13.

Johnson Writes About Pentecostals Ministering in Bad Prisons

Also see:

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts

Carolyn Tennant, Catch the Wind of the SpiritCarolyn Tennant. 2016. Catch the Wind of the Spirit: How the 5 Ministry Gifts Can Transform Your Church. Springfield: Vital Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Statistical estimates show that Pentecostals (including Charismatics) are one of the fastest growing Christian groups. Their growth through evangelism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America swamps that of North American and Western European Christian groups that appear to be in decline.[1] While such statistics can explain what has happened, theology is required to explain why.

Introduction

In her book, Catch the Wind of the Spirit, Carolyn Tennant points in an interesting direction, writing:

“Catch the Wind of the Spirit grew out of the context of need and emanated from a deep study of Ephesians 4. After pondering the five ministry gifts for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that our emphasis has been all wrong. The vast majority of teaching on this has focused on church leadership. I’m firmly convinced, however, that God is focused upon the ministry currents that each person is supposed to oversee. He means for the whole church to get involved.” (5)

Currents Demonstrate God’s Power

Tennant focuses on “currents” as a concept in the electrical sense, where God himself provides the power that flows through believers to accomplish his will for our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with. The “currents” of evangelist, teacher, pastor, prophet, and apostle (6-7) are in view here and are certainly not titles of church leaders in the manner that she uses them. Clearly, Tennant’s focus on the work of the Holy Spirit, as suggested by her title, marks her as a Pentecostal.

Tennant cites an old Yiddish proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” (16) She then begins her exposition with a curious analogy for being led by the spirit offered by the early Celtic church. Celtic monks would sail in coracles, small boats shaped like a walnut, taking neither a rudder not paddles, but allowing the wind to blow them where it may: “believing that God would take them where they were supposed to go to share the gospel.” (9) The idea of current is also analogous to flow of water as it, much like the wind, carries a coracle along.

Ephesians 4

The key verses in Tennant’s exegesis are:

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service…” (Eph 4:11-12 NAU) [2]

Tennant highlights the verb, gave, making the point that these currents inform the ministry of the entire church; they are not titles given to leaders set apart from the body of the church to undertaken these currents independent of the church (26-27).

Structure of the Book

Tennant structures the chapters of her book around five pairs of discussions. In each discussion, she first introduces a chapter on a current; then she follows that current with a discussion of the leadership role that focuses on that current. In the first pair, she writes about the “Powerful Wooing Current”, then discusses the role of an Evangelist. The second pair starts with the “Radical Forming Current” and is followed by a discussion of the Teacher. These five pairs therefore outline ten chapters with summary material before and after for a total of fourteen chapters.

Example of The Radical Forming Current

Because my own ministry focuses on teaching, Tennant fascinated me with her outline of sixteen different roles where teaching was the primary focus. They are: counselor, mentor, life coach, facilitator, luncheon discussion, training leaders, leading a new converts class, blogging, leading workshops, leading Sunday school, leading retreats, youth ministry, facilitating small groups, Bible quizzes, leading a men’s or women’s group, developing curriculum, and teaching seminary students (78-79). Tennant admits that her listing is incomplete, yet she shows that teaching goes beyond Sunday school. A lot of teaching takes place, for example, in a thoughtful sermon.

Assessment

Carolyn Tennant[3] is an adjunct professor at the Assembly of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri and professor emerita from North Central University in Minneapolis. Her doctorate is in Educational Administration and Supervision, University of Colorado at Boulder. Carolyn Tennant’s Catch the Wind of the Spirit highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. This is through the Christian church from a Pentecostal perspective based on an exegesis of Ephesians 4. Because the Pentecostal church has grown rapidly over the past century, we might be led to believe that it has done a better job of balancing the five gifts of the spirit than other Christian groups.

Footnotes

[1] Status of Global Christianity, 2017, in the Context of 1900–2050. Summary Data Abstracted from: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds. World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed October 2016), www.worldchristiandatabase.org.

[2] The underlying Greek manuscripts offer no punctuation, but scholars have offered their best guess and the English translation offers a second guess.

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolyn-tennant-58209452. @CaTennant

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Pettrey Explores Forgiveness

Dani Pettrey's SubmergedDani Pettrey. 2012. Submerged. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be forgiven? Which is more important, the forgiveness of God, forgiveness of those offended, or forgiveness of yourself? What makes forgiveness real? Sometimes the journeys that we take are not the trips that we plan.

In Dani Pettry’s novel, Submerged, we meet a beautiful and talented young woman, Bailey Craig, with a history. Bailey returns to the small town in Alaska where she grew up to bury her beloved aunt Agnes, who died in plane crash, and settle her aunt’s estate. As the days tick by, Bailey runs into her high school flame, Cole McKenna, who has not forgotten her and is now a deputy sheriff, and they both learn that the plane crash that killed her aunt was no accident. As other murders are uncovered, we learn that solving the murders requires detailed knowledge of Alaska’s Russian history that only Bailey poses. Will Bailey stay to face her past and find her aunt’s murderer or run away, as she did so many years ago? The answer depends on the depth of her experience of forgiveness.

Alaskan History

The backdrop of Pettrey’s romantic suspense is modern Alaska. In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Steward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The purchase added 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of new territory to the United States, but was ridiculed in the Congress as Steward’s Folly. Later gold and oil deposits were discovered and the Alaskan purchase proved wise indeed. Alaska became a state in 1959.[2]

Dani Pettrey

Dani Pettrey writes inspirational romantic suspense and has nine published titles.[3] She lives with her husband, two daughters, and son-in-law in Maryland. Submerged was her first published title in 2012.

Dani and I met in October at a conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Association[4] in Woodbridge, Virginia. Intrigued, I later ordered a copy of Submerged online.

Assessment

In Dani Pettry’s novel, Submerged, proved hard to put down. The storyline is fresh, credible, and cannot be anticipated; her characters are flawed, but live life deeply and struggle in overcoming their afflictions. I cried my way through the last couple chapters. Perhaps you will too.

Footnotes

[1] http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse

[2} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Purchase.

[3] Submerged (2012), Shattered (2013), Stranded (2013), Silenced (2014), Sabotaged (2015),  Shadowed (2016), Cold Shot (2016), Still Life (2017), and Sins of the Past (2016).  https://www.DaniPettrey.com.

[4] https://acfwvirginia.com.

Pettrey Explores Forgiveness

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Teague Gives MailChimp a Spin

Paul Teague Email Marketing with MailChimpPaul Teague.[1] MailChimp Unboxed: Set-Up Your Account Correctly, Add New Subscribers, and Use the Best Email Marketing Techniques! Manchester, UK: Clixeo Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Nearly all marketing books advise independent authors to develop an email mailing list of readers who enjoy your books and raise the likelihood of repeat sales. The implication is that you have a well-defined audience eager to subscribe to your mailing list and that you understand marketing to them well-enough to write catchy newsletters that appeal to them. Unfortunately, audience information is illusive and the tools to reach them are often poorly documented for right-brained, creative types, as would describe most authors.

Why Invest in a Book about MailChimp?

In my case, I have been using MailChimp for about four years, but never really got comfortable that I knew exactly how to use it effectively. The online documentation is thorough and well-written for middle-of-the-day use, but in the wee hours of the night when I typically wrote my monthly newsletter it appeared almost incomprehensible. In this context, I welcomed Paul Teague’s how-to book, MailChimp Unboxed when it appeared earlier this year.

Teague introduces his objectives with these words:

“I have written this book because I want to show you why email marketing is so powerful and I also want to demonstrate how you can get started immediately, using only free tools.” (4)

Teague’s audience is the small business operator and his zero-to-sixty metric starts with no knowledge and ends up with explaining targeted Facebook ad composition. The focus, of course, is on becoming familiar with MailChimp as an email and customer-relationship-management (CRM) platform (3-4), although Teague clearly has experience working with a wide range of alternative email marketing tools.

Basic Concepts

Although I have been managing an email list for over a decade, email had not been invented when I attended my last marketing class in the early 1980s. Teague’s explanation of basic concepts proved helpful for me. The motivation for email marketing arises through “repeat sales, cross-sells, and upsells” (6), which is quite different from keeping in touch with an author through a newsletter focused on what’s been happening lately. Spam is unrequested and unstoppable email, while “proper email marketing is always permission-based.”(7)

In some sense, email marketing is all about the life-cycle of participants in a database list who share common interests. How do you find and motivate people to subscribe, open, and click on your emails rather than unsubscribe from the list or report your emails as spam? (7-9) Emails “bounce” when they cannot be delivered because of incorrect or old addresses, full mailboxes, technical problems, or are blocked (9).

Moving On

Once Teague reviewed the basics of email marketing, he began walking through the MailChimp sign up process and performing basic functions. As with any how-to computer book, I found it helpful to sit in front of the computer and walk along with him to make sure that the easy stuff was really easy for me. I always find this arrangement challenging because every time Teague taught me a new trick I wanted to run and play with it.

An example of this problem occurred last night. Having reviewed how to set up welcome-to-my-list and unsubscribe-from-my-list, I found myself implementing this framework for a men’s group mailing list that I maintain. I used to warn people that “itis easier to get on than to get off my list”, but not anymore! I sent an email to list members inviting them to invite men to subscribe or unsubscribe, as they see fit.

Who is Paul Teague?

Paul Teague is an author and web-designer living in Manchester, UK. He writes online that he has “worked as a waiter, a shopkeeper, a primary school teacher, a disc jockey and a radio journalist and broadcaster for the BBC.” He wrote his first book at the age of nine.

Assessment

Paul Teague’s MailChimp Unboxed is a helpful book on how-to start with and utilize MailChimp for email marketing. He limits his discussion to features available in the free version of MailChimp with the small business operator in mind as his target reader. He generally avoids delving into the integration of MailChimp with other email tools used by professional marketers. Teague writes clearly and uses screen shots to illustrate his points.

Footnotes

[1] https://clixeo.com. http://self-publishing-journeys.com.  @PaulTeagueUK.

Teague Gives MailChimp a Spin

Also see:

Scott Writes Pro Email Newsletters 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

C.S. Lewis’ Faith Journey

C.S. Lewis MemoirC.S. Lewis. 1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt Book.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Memoirs often challenge reviewers because they are not easily summarized. An analytical book often argues a single idea by breaking it down into supporting ideas while a synthesis builds up related ideas to form a conclusion. While a good memoir is more the latter, oftentimes the path through life can be serendipitous in its living and can read more like a mystery in its telling. Thus, even a deep read may not reveal the structure in the author’s mind, leaving the reviewer in a pickle as to what pieces to highlight.

In his memoir, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis writes: “The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less ‘Confessions’ like those of Saint Augustine or Rouseau.” (vvii) This description pegs Lewis’ work as a memoir which differs from an autobiography primarily in having a theme (“my conversion”). The conversion of C.S. Lewis to the Christian faith interests many because Lewis ranks among the most persuasive of Christian apologists of the twentieth century owing to his skill as a fiction writer and vast knowledge of modern and classical languages, and philosophy. While others might resort to penning a memoir out of vanity or desire for reflection, Lewis writes at the urging of his readers (vii).

The Question of Joy

When I purchased Lewis’ book back in 2013 during seminary, I was attracted by the title, Surprise by Joy, and paid no attention at all to the subtitle: The Shape of My Early Life. I hoped for a study of joy, perhaps as a biblical theme, but did not initially identify the book as a memoir. When I began reading in earnest this fall having just completed a memoir of my own, Lewis’ memoir posed an immediate interest. Lewis does not study joy extensively perhaps because his early life displayed so little of it.

Influence of Lewis’ Parents

Lewis begins his journey of faith describing his parents:

“I was born in the winter of 1898 at Belfast, the son of solicitor and of a clergyman’s daughter…The two families from which I spring were as different in temperament as in origin. My father’s people were true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of the talent for happiness. The Hamiltons were a cooler race. Their minds were critical and ironic and they had a talent for happiness in a high degree—went straight for it as experienced travelers go for the best seat in a train.” (3)

One might expect a memoir to start with one’s birthday, not a season of birth—winter, especially in the first sentence. For a man of letters such as Lewis, this is unlikely to have been an accidental turn of phrase. If you think that I am reading too much into this one word, Lewis describes the Lewis family as having “not much talent for happiness”, while his mother’s family posed a “talent for happiness.” Again, this is unlikely to have been an accidental turn of phrase. This is true especially because we soon learn that Lewis’ mother died while he was yet quite young and just before he announces this fact to us he takes great pains to define joy (18).

Lewis’ Experience of Joy

Before defining joy, Lewis takes pains to outline his imaginary life as a child and cites a number of books that aided this interior life. He is especially attracted to “dressed animals” and “knights in armor” that live presumably in “Animal-Land” (13). After discussing three such books, he cautions readers not interested will find nothing further of interest in his memoir because books such as these are his joy (17). He then writes:

“I call it [a desire more desirable than any other satisfaction] Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” (18)

Lewis accordingly finds joy in reading and in his interior life, perhaps, because he experienced such deep grief on the loss of his mother (18-19) and found joy nowhere else in his exterior life. He concludes: “with my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” (21)

Boarding School

With the death of his mother, Lewis’ father became his chief influence and his father sent both Lewis and his brother off to boarding school, which Lewis describes as a concentration camp. Much of his memoir, with the exception of about fifteen pages devoted to his experience as a young British officer in World War One (WWI), focuses on his experiences in a variety of schools. While fascinating to read, in the context of the story of Lewis’ coming to faith, his education functions as a lengthy prelude to his conversion experience—there I was; here I am.

Returning to Faith

After WWI Lewis returned to school at Oxford and began to reassess his worldview as a college atheist. In conversations with a friend, he notes have been persuaded to give up his:

“chronological snobbery, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” (207)

In my own experience, this “chronological snobbery” forms a cornerstone of atheism in our own time because it is hard to accept the divine inspiration the Bible when anything written before the Internet (Millennials) or before the 1960s sexual revolution (Boomers) is considered obsolete. Lewis clearly anticipated this larger problem having named and confronted it already in the 1940s.

Hounds of Heaven

Lewis writes using different metaphors about God’s pursuit of his soul. For example, he writes:

“But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seem to me a transcendental Interferer…’This is my business and mine only.’” (172)

and

“And so the great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.” (211)

But for Lewis the metaphor that he highlights most obviously is that of a divine Chess master in two separate chapter titles: check and checkmate (165, 212). What metaphor would appeal to a scholar and intellectual? Lewis writes of returning to faith in 1929, when he was 31 years old (228).

And what does Lewis make of joy? Once having rediscovered his faith, he lost interest and described it merely as a signpost which, having provided direction, posed little further utility (238)

Assessment

C.S. Lewis’ memoir, Surprised by Joy, is a gem that describes his early childhood, falling away from and return to Christian faith. This is a book of special interest to Lewis fans and those interested in Christian memoir.

C.S. Lewis’ Faith Journey

Also see:

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 1—Overview 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

Kelly James Clark, Return to ReasonKelly James Clark. 1990. Return To Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One reason that many people dismiss apologetics is influence of the romantic period (early nineteenth century) has led many Christians to focus on heart rather than head in their faith. Pastors have been known to say—“people won’t care what you know until they see how much you care.” While there is truth in this expression, head and heart cannot be separated.

After the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards observed that, if revivals were not followed by sound teaching, the formerly fervent new believers soon wandered off, never to be seen again in church. We witnessed this very same pattern in the weeks after 9-11 as the new faces in church after the attack soon disappeared again. Clearly, we need apologetic insights into the faith that we adopt with our hearts in order to remain faithful when our fervent hearts cool.

In part one of this review of Kelly James Clark’s book, Return to Reason, I gave an overview of Clark’s argument about evidentialism

“Evidentialism [according to Clark] maintains that a belief is rational for a person only if that person has sufficient evidence or arguments or reasons for that belief.” (3)

I will examine in part 2 three arguments for the existence of God laid that Clark critiques: the cosmological argument by Richard Taylor, William Paley’s argument from design, and a probabilistic argument outlined by Richard Swinburne. Clark describes attempts to prove God’s existence from facts known about the natural world at natural theology (15).

The Cosmological Argument

This argument begins with a question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (17) Citing Taylor, Clark appeals to the principle of sufficient reason:

“…for every positive truth there is some sufficient reason which makes it true. There are two ways that statements can be true. Statements can be contingently true, which means their being true depends on something else; and statements may be necessarily true, which means their truth is not dependent on the truth of other statements.” (18)

Taylor sees no reason to doubt that the existence of the world is contingent on something else that we do not know (the chain of causality must lead to something eternal and imperishable). This eternal and imperishable being is God (21-22).

While the conclusion from this argument that God exists is obvious to a theist (someone who already believes in God), a non-theist sees no reason to conclude that the world is contingent on anything (23). The theist stops when God is presented; the non-theist asks whether God is contingent (24). Thus, the pre-supposition that God exists renders the argument moot.

The Argument from Design

Clark summarizes Paley’s argument succinctly:

“The world shows design; design implies a designer; hence, the world requires a designer.” (27)

Paley arguments that the existence of a stone poses no evidence that anyone ever put it there, but if one found a watch lying on the beach, the precision and subtly of a watch begs the question of who made it.

Hume argued, unlike with a watch, we have no experience with how the universe was made and so it appears as a unique item. Our explanations are therefore by analogy, not direct knowledge. Suppose, for example, the universe were created by a committee, not just one person. Thus, we cannot intuit the existence of God from design, except perhaps through anthropomorphism (51). Darwin believed that instead of design, the extinction of species pointed to an absence of design and to evolution as the mechanism for the creation of complex animal features (33-34).

A Probabilistic Argument

Clark summarizes Swinburne’s probabilistic argument as follows: 

  1. “The existence and design of the world—including morality, free moral agents, religious experience—are extremely improbable without the hypothesis of theism.
  2. The hypothesis of theism significantly raises the probability of the existence and design of the world.
  3. The hypothesis of theism explains and unites under a sign hypothesis an otherwise disparate and unlikely set of phenomena—the existence and design of the world, religious experience, miracles, and evil.
  4. The hypothesis of theism has sufficiently intrinsic plausibility.
  5. Therefore, it is like that God exists” (38).

Mackie looks at the same evidence and concludes that a materialistic or naturalistic origin for the universe is more likely, particularly because we have never observed a person without a body (38-39). Consequently, once again we see that the probabilistic argument depends heavily on the fundamental beliefs that you hold, prior to the argument rendering the argument moot (40).

Clark argues that because each of the arguments for God’s existence (or non-existence) do not stand alone, independent of prior beliefs, experience from the natural world cannot be used to substantiate the existence of God. In statistics, we are taught that relationships among observe data cannot determine causality, a restatement of Clark’s conclusion. It is accordingly pointless to pursue the requirements for proof under evidentialism (43). He therefore proceeds to explore alternatives.

In his book, Return To Reason, Kelly James Clark examines the Enlightenment claim that insufficient evidence exists to believe that God exists, an argument that he describes as evidentialism. He reviews three arguments for the existence of God and their weaknesses. He then goes on to reject evidentialism as a standard for determining rationality and to discuss the rationality of belief in God. Clark’s concise presentation should interest anyone who cares about apologetics.

References

Darwin, Charles. 1958. Autobiography (Orig Pub 1887). Edited by Francis Darwin. New York: Dover.

Hume, David. 1980. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Orig Pub 1776). Edited by Richard H. Popkin. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mackie, J.I. 1982. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paley, William. 2002. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (Orig Pub 1785). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. Online: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/paley-the-principles-of-moral-and-political-philosophy. Cited: 18 November 2017.

Swinburne, Richard. 1979. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon.

Taylor, Richard. 1974. Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

Also see:

Plantinga Defends Merits of Confessional Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

Continue Reading