Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

A Million Miles

Posted: September 1, 2009 in books, church, reading, speaking, words, writing

The first 30 pages of Donald Miller’s new book, “A Million Miles In A Thousand Years.”

Later this month, Miller will be presenting at ACU Summit, as will I. I’m certain many more people will go to hear him rather than me.

Below is the book review I offered for ViralBloggers.


If you’re looking to engage a delightful story of discovering faith, then Alicia Britt Chole’s Finding An Unseen God: Reflections Of A Former Atheist is just right for you. As one who frequently digests academic theology, Chole’s memoir of faith was a wonderful change of pace. Sprinkled with the occasional clever turn of phrase and Chole’s magnificent way of drawing the reader into her story, Finding invites reader’s to simply sit back and hear a beautiful story of emerging faith.

The Best Part

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up Finding is the captivating manner in which it is told. The cover itself is an actual word-find. And for folks like me, who loved word finds as a kid, I was super-excited to be able to work the word-find before diving into the first chapter. Each of these words, turns-out, becomes important to Chole’s story. What’s more, as Chole tells her story, the chapters are intermixed. The first chapter you’ll read is Chapter 52 and the second chapter is Chapter 1. Half of the book (every other chapter) tells Chole’s story from the perspective of her rearing, while the next chapter recounts where she is now and how she is interpreting the present and past events of her life.  The reader is moving through Chole’s story in two directions.

Second, Chole’s story itself is told with a clear voice and delighting manner. You’ll feel as if you’re sitting with Alicia and hearing her talk about growing up as an atheist only later to encounter Jesus. As you engage Chole,  you’ll sense that life has been dark and bleak and black for your friend, yet it’s that blackness that somehow lead her to the foot of the cross, as darkness often does. Chole becomes a conversation partner, someone you sit and have coffee with as she reveals just enough of herself that you are interested and feel as though you’re getting to know her, and not so much that it seems as if she is neurotic and hogging the conversation.

What’s more, if like me, you’re concerned deeply with gender-justice in churches, you’ll be refreshed by a genuine encounter with God that reminds you why female voices, prayers and pens are important to the church.

Third, you’ll hear from a committed Atheist. While her arguments for her own atheism may not be the strongest you’ve ever heard, they vibrate with rings of authenticity that allows the reader to know that for whatever reasons she choose to be an Atheist, so did choose for herself.

The Second to Best Part

It wouldn’t be right to leave you simply with the brilliance of this little book, there is one thing – that while not bad – you might want to be aware of before you plunk down your stimulus rebate on this book.

What is it? you ask. Simply this: At times, Chole gets a little preachy. I’m usually OK with preachy, after all, if someone has a message, we’re bound to advocate it strongly. However, when Chole’s preachy-ness reared its head in this artfully designed conversation, it put the brakes on the discourse. It was the only time I felt that Chole was losing her voice and needing to insert some paranesis at the request of a publisher. Can’t you hear that conversation now, “No one wants to just read your story, you have to advocate some kind of behavior.” This, however, is it. That’s the only editorial comment I will offer.

Should You Buy It?

Finding An Unseen God is worth the time, and it won’t take much of it. If you’re looking for advocacy or heavy-duty theology then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to reconnect with the simple story of a loving God who pursues His people even when they’d rather be left alone, then get your copy today.

I’ve had a hard time convincing my wife and others like her why I Twitter. “Why do you use twitter? What’s the point? Isn’t Twitter just another in long line of mouthpieces for self-obsessed people with delusions of grandeur? Don’t people just post inane information about themselves in the vacant hope that someone will care?” These kinds of questions and taunts are routine and have recently been asked by my favorite sports talk show host, Jim Rome, who spent a good portion of his show last week mocking Twitter and those who tweet.mm_twitter

If you’re wondering whether or not some of the folks tweeting are self-obsessed and tweet only about their mundane lives, yes some are. I don’t follow those people! Those folks serve little purpose, and I’ve put the public on notice that those who tweet about what they’re having for lunch run the risk of being “unfollowed.” Still there are a great many people who use Twitter to great effectiveness for their mission, message and tribe. I think primarily of Michael Hyatt, Guy Kawasaki, Tim Sanders and others. And you can too.

Let me give you some reasons why I think Twitter is a powerful resource.

  • Impact. Through tweeting you can get your message in front of a lot more people. Because your text is limited to 140 characters, you can’t blather on, but you can inform, encourage, and direct your audience. Plus, they don’t have to come to you like a blog post. You go to them. All you have to do is figure out a way for them to follow you. I used to blog in this space quite a bit. Quite frankly, it got to be a hassle. I was an early-comer to blogging, and the medium has changed significantly over the last five years. One thing that was always true though was that to have a high readership I had to post 4+ times per week. Many times I didn’t have that much to say! With Twitter now, I simply reference that a new post is up and hundreds of people can potentially see it within minutes. The same number of readers it took days to accumulate, now access the blog within the first hour it’s posted. This combined with retweets has exploded blog readership (though not comments to my discontent). My impact is now far wider, and because of it, I can post just once a week and my content is generally stronger. This is a win-win when your message is the Kingdom of God. I reach more people with my messages through the web (blog + podcast + Twitter + facebook) than I do on a Sunday morning. Maybe up to 4 times as many. That’s an impact for God’s Kingdom. Brought to you by twitter!
  • Knowledge. Twitter, more than anything else, gets knowledge and information to me fast. I learned of Michael Jackson’s death, the uprising in Iran and countless other news items through Twitter. Most of the time, someone on Twitter “breaks” the story before traditional news agencies. An easy criticism is that the folks on Twitter can post anything and we should be slow to trust what we read there. That is a possibility, however, my experience has been that Twitter-ers, like me, are incredibly concerned with their own credibility and treating their followers as friends. We are generally slow to throw a disprovable “fact” against the wall. Interestingly, it has been those in the news media, politics and public life who most often tweet first and think later. More than that, I follow the tweets of people in the same industry I’m in or want to be in or those who have something to teach me. They direct me to great information that I’m blessed to know. I’ve learned about writing, leadership, marketing, technology, missional living and ministry by following people who know more about those things than I do. I draw from the wisdom of Andy Stanley, Greg Daniel, Donald Miller, Rick Warren and others without paying a dime to hear them at a conference. I know what they’re reading, what they’re thinking, and how they are working with and leading organizations. For free.
  • Followers Become Friends. I have friends on Twitter that are not my friends in the conventional sense. I have spent little or no time with Dave Lemley, Greg Kendall-Ball, Travis Stanley, Darin Campbell and others, but we share both a common faith heritage and common perspective on U.S. and world events. I’m allowed to dialogue with them about those particular items and build relationships with them though I’ve never spent more than an hour with any one of them. In other cases I follow and am followed by people like David Christian whom I have never met, yet we’ve had many discussions. That’s just cool! It’s a glimpse of heaven where we will know and be fully known.

  • Thinking. Like all writing, tweeting makes you think about what you think. Do you really want to advocate that position? Is this something I should post without being able to enter a conversation or give some background? How can I be coherent in 140 characters (in 119 characters if I want to be retweeted)?

I encourage tweeting and am trying to discern ways that I can incorporate it in meaningful ways during church services, and classes and with our staff.

To get started on Twitter, check here, here and here.

A few months ago I sketched out a blog post about the death of blogging. In the post itself (which never met the net), I described how boring blogging had become and how I felt that there wasn’t much being said on most blogs — including this one. I posited that the reaosn for this was that most blogs and bloggers I read were ministers/pastors and or professors which meant, like our preaching itself oftentimes, their writings had to be safe in order not to “offend” anyone. Therefore there was never space for authentic questions and genuine dialogue about the sticky issues of life and faith — fundamentalism, politics, sexuality, race, war, pacifism, and the like. Not only that, but some of my favored bloggers, like Scot McKnight, had gone “corporate” moving their blogs from independent site host like WordPress and began blogging with For-Profit companies like BeliefNet. Something seemed lost. I was done! In the post I intended, in my best Nietzsche-esque voice, to proclaim: “Blogging Is Dead” and announce that I was shutting down my little corner of the web. There would continue to be Palmer, but no more Perspective.

Then two things happened: (1) People started talking to me about my blog and about the things (read: ideas, thoughts, opinions) that they liked and disliked. Since I believe that writing best serves the world as discussion-starter, even the fact that some folks disagreed with me fulfilled the intent of the blog, and (2) Mark Love started blogging. Mark is not only a great speaker/preacher and the best missional mind in my ecclesiological tribe, he is my “pastoral coach,” a name I came up with for lack of anything better. Mark, for me at least, has the freedom to actually say some things, and as you would suspect, says it well. So I decided to file away my eulogy on blogging and committed to posting a blog entry from time to time. 

But now something else has happened that renews my faith in the power and usefulness of blogging. I have been invited into 2 new blogging adventures, and I’m excited about the possibilities for both.

The first is a project shepherded by Dr. Love himself. The object is to discuss missional ecclesiology. When the site goes live you will hear from learned professors, pastors and ministers working in church contexts, spiritual directors, and laity. The group is broad, and I expect will continue to broaden. We are men, women, African-Americans, Caucasians, scholars, young and old, as well as some international voices. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll get more information as the launch dates approaches.

The second is a partnership with The Ooze called Viral Bloggers. The folks at The Ooze identified some blogs/bloggers they liked and asked us to partner with them in the great American pastime of generating commerce. Every so often, I will review a forthcoming or recently released book aimed at the Christian literary market. I’ll post the review here, and copy/paste the same review over at Viral Bloggers. 

What will this do for you? It will help folks like you — in these economically testy times — identify which books are worth your dollars. At the same time, Viral Bloggers is a great place to find out what others are saying and what is happening in the Christian community (especially those of us with a slightly missional, emergent, social-justice bent). Some of these books will find there way to your bedside table and/or serve as starting points for small groups. 

What will it do for me? Well, none of your business 🙂 No. While you’re saving money by only purchasing the books you’re really interested in, I’ll be…well, none of your business! But there are some perks for me, too.

All this to say that I have entered the world of “Poly-blogging” or “Multi-blogging,” contributing to multiple blogs. Whether poly-blogging is for people who have large blog followings or for folks whose blogs don’t have the muscle to stand alone, I’m not sure. I don’t know how many readers other bloggers have.  All I can say is that I hope this reading (and largely non-commenting) blog community will join in the fun at these two other blog-stops on the road to Christian dialogue and conversation.

coverpichebRecently, I sat down with Edward Fudge (him in front of his computer in Katy, TX, and me in front of mine in Redwood City, CA) to discuss his forthcoming book, “Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement For Believers Today” (Leafwood Publishers, 2009, softcover, 262 pages, $19.95).  This is what Fudge had to say.

A neglected book

SP: Hebrews is not a book we hear discussed very often. Why do you suppose that is the case?

EWF: You are right about that. This neglect is very unfortunate, in my view, because Hebrews is one of the most Jesus-focused, gospel-packed books in the New Testament. You will see the evidence for that on almost every page of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.

SP: Why do most people miss this focus?

EWF: It comes from a lack of real study of Hebrews. Folks go away from it without ever seeing and appreciating the book’s real message. They assume it is just an old book about even older Jewish rituals, sacrifices and priests, with no meaning or value for them.

Who wrote Hebrews?

SP: Do you know who wrote Hebrews?

EWF: I know as much about it as anyone else, which is finally nothing for sure! ☺ Origen told the truth about two centuries after Christ when he said that the author “is known to God alone.” It almost certainly was not Paul, for a variety of reasons. My personal vote among the candidates goes either to Barnabas or to Apollos.

SP: Why do you favor Barnabas?

EWF: The author of Hebrews calls his own work a “word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22). The same Greek expression is found at Acts 13:15, where it is translated as “word of encouragement.” There, Paul and Barnabas are invited to address a Sabbath synagogue audience, which they do for the next 31 verses. Their remarks are called a “word of encouragement.” Not only is Barnabas involved in that, his name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) – a comment on one of his chief characteristics. He is also a Levite, who would be very interested in the subjects of priesthoods, sacrifices, and their results. These themes  permeate Hebrews and can also encourage us today, as I show in Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today.

SP: What can you say in favor of Apollos?

EWF: Well, for starters he is called “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). This fits Hebrews very well since its author clearly was exceedingly familiar with his ‘Bible,’ which was the “Old Testament” as we call it. (Hebrews actually tells the Story of the Son of God — from heaven to earth and back to heaven again — based on four different Psalms.) Apollos was also “an eloquent man,” as was the author of Hebrews). And he was from Alexandria, Egypt – a city of learning noted for a particular type of Scripture interpretation. The author of Hebrews reads his Bible in a similar manner.

Why was Hebrews written?

Q: Do we know why Hebrews was written?

EWF: Yes we do, although we don’t know exactly to whom, when, where, or precisely what was going on. But we do know that, for a variety of reasons, the original recipients of Hebrews were worn out, disheartened, tempted, and seemingly about ready to walk away from their faith. The book hints at some possible causes, including persecution, passing of time, being misfits in their culture, the appeal of sin, and so forth.

Q: That situation sounds very up-to-date! How does the author of Hebrews respond to it?

EWF: I love it! To revive his readers’ spirits and to renew their commitment, the unknown author re-tells the Story – the story of the Son of God who became a man, to live and die as our representative, and who is now in heaven representing us as our High Priest. Hebrews is thoroughly focused on Jesus! Its message is always contemporary. We can never go wrong by focusing on the Savior himself. I am very pleased that several reviewers have described Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today in those same terms.

A ‘bridge’ commentary

Q: You call Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today a “bridge” commentary. What does that mean?

EWF: When it comes to Bible studies, there are two worlds out there which often never come together. One is the ivory-tower world of academic specialists with all their scholarly issues and technical jargon. The other world is where most believers live and work and worship. Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today attempts to bridge this gap. For example, I worked from the Greek text of Hebrews but Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today doesn’t have a single Greek word in it. Although the bibliography covers eight pages and includes 80+ scholarly articles from theological journals, this book uses everyday language. By linking scholarship with simplicity, I hope to give the reader the best of both worlds.

A narrative-style book

Q: You also describe Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today as a “narrative-style” commentary. Tell us about that.

EWF: That refers to the fact that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is written as flowing narrative, although it discusses each verse of Hebrews in detail. It does this in 48 chapters, each covering a portion of the Scripture text. Each chapter begins with a very short section called “Why & Wherefore,” which relates that section to the big picture. That is followed by “Unpacking the Text,” which goes into detail, but in narrative style, with subheads to make it read more like a typical book.


Q: I see that Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is already endorsed by a considerable variety of notable scholars and church leaders, even before its release. Isn’t that a bit unusual?

EWF: What is somewhat uncommon in the case of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today is the theological and international diversity of the endorsements. Hebrews contains a number of quite controversial passages, about which Christian “tribes” traditionally disagree. I am very pleased, therefore, that this book is recommended by knowledgeable reviewers across the spectrum.

For example, the quotes on the back cover of Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today come from Methodist, Calvinist, Church of Christ, Baptist, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal and Emergent church scholars. The full text of these seven endorsements, plus 29 others, fills the first six pages of the book. You can read the endorsements online already, with photos, biographical comments and (where applicable) website links of the reviewers, by clicking here.

Wise Words #1

Posted: December 4, 2008 in perspective, quotes, reading, speaking, speech acts, words

I’m oft reminded of the wise words I’ve come to memorize and live by over my life. (I’ll post wise sayings every now and then.)These sayings, for whatever reason, have exploded in my mind and I will never forget them. Today’s wise words are from one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the end, it is not the words of our enemies that we will remember; it is the silence of our friends.”

Now that we’ve reviewed the look of The Voice: New Testament we turn to examining how The Voice handles the gospels.

Let’s begin with what I like about the way the gospels were handled. First, Chris’ choice regarding who would best retell each gospel was genius. Lauren Winner penned Matthew, which is fitting given that she is Jewish. Greg Garret retells Mark, Brian McLaren retells Luke, and later Acts, of course, and Chris Seay takes on John’s gospel. It should be said at the outset that the gospels, neither in older versions of the Bible or this one, was written by one person. And having people retell gospels that somewhat reflect their authors biography and interest adds significantly to the depth of the project.

As you read through The Voice you will notice words in both italics and in boxes. These words are explanatory. For instance, as Lauren retells Matthew 5, she highlights that Jesus is referencing material found in Deuteronomy. I love the fact that this note is not tucked away in a bottom footnote. Rather she has incorporated it into the text. This is not “Bible Reading For Dummies,” rather the writers take seriously the addition of material that the originally audience would have known that 21st Century readers don’t.

Second, the gospel narratives are told in screenplay (or play) form. As a high school student, I loved reading plays because it seemed like I could more easily enter the written world, and it seemed like the reading went faster. As I read through the gospels I noticed that I had not sat down and read through the gospels in that manner in years. Though I knew the story, it was coming alive again for me. What’s more, in the screenplay format, staging directions are given, like (everyone talking at once) or (overhearing them). I truly felt like I was watching something unfold. It wasn’t unlike watching one of your favorite movies; you know the story and what’s coming, but you’re just drawn into the story because it’s told so well.

Unfortunately, the screenplay format makes it difficult to use The Voice with an audience if there is no Keynote or PowerPoint available. As you read the gospels to people, you have to come up with a way to explain who is talking, because the text doesn’t do that. There’s no, “Then Jesus said…” It can be used with an audience, I do it every week, but you have to be created. If you teach a weekly Bible study, I suggest you just buy one for everyone in attendance.

Before you call me a corporate shell for The Voice, I want to highlight one BIG thing I do not like about it. Here it is: Baptism is called “Ritual Cleansing.” Here I show my church of Christ heritage and Restoration Movement bias. In the footnotes, ritual cleansing is referred to as baptism, but I think that baptism is such a meaningful and beautiful image that it should have been retained.

As a contributor to the project, I know that there are some things that are “decided” in terms of language. I suspect that is what happened here because the term is used consistently throughout the gospels. For instance, in Old Testament references to God, we were asked to use “The Eternal One.” These changes are made for many different reasons, and to coddle Sean Palmer’s sentimental regard for the word “baptism” certainly wasn’t one of them. However, the term “ritual cleansing” makes baptism sound more pedestrian and effectual that I believe it is.

In total, the gospels are wonderful, particularly Matthew. And while much of the advertising around The Voice is about emerging generations and new Christians as a young man, but old Christian I found that the gospels inspired in me a desire to re-enter this timeless story.

P.S. If you would like to order a copy of The Voice e-mail me and I will add you to my bulk order. You’ll pay a seriously reduced price plus whatever it cost me to mail it to you wherever you are.