Tuesday, October 20, 2020

BOOK REVIEW - SACRED PATHWAYS BY GARY THOMAS

 


Before reading this book, I've labored at worship time, having a preconceived notion on what private worship looks like. Then, I discovered this book and read it. This would be one of the five most influential books on my life.

In the first chapter, Thomas introduced the concept of spiritual temperaments -- some might consider it psychological, but I don't. He closed that chapter with a description of the nine temperaments he noticed. The following nine chapters each look at one of the temperaments, giving Biblical examples and ways to develop it, weaknesses of that temperament, and a six question quiz on how strong you are on that temperament. The final chapter encourages you to compare the scores on the tests, and gives some admonitions, such as not judging those with a different temperament.

Thomas does an excellent job of dealing with each temperament. He admits he's stronger at some than others, and tries to give a fair and accurate view of each one.

Allow me to tell a story how this book has positively impacted my life. I started reading this book as my wife and I were planning on a vacation. She always wants to get away from the city for our trip, while I'm not as excited about it. As I read this book, though, I had a hunch she was strong on the naturalist temperament (wanting to get into nature) and had some leanings to the ascetic temperament (wanting structure and solitude). So I realized her desire to get away was connected to her worship temperament, and as a result I was more prepared to encourage that kind of getting away.

I recommend this book to every Christian to understand yourself. I also believe this will help you understand your wife and possible your children (not having any kids doesn't make it easy for you to understand them). I also believe a pastor or church leader may benefit from this book to help the services be varied enough to help any temperament worship.

Allow me to add some thoughts focused on apologetics. One might assume that the activist and intellectual temperaments are the ones best suited for defending the faith. But is it possible that each temperament is capable of defending the faith in a style directed by the temperament?

If you've read this book, what temperaments are your strongest? Mine are intellectual, enthusiast, sensate, activist, and traditional in that order.  


Sunday, October 18, 2020

ARE THERE IDOLATROUS PRIESTS IN OUR CHURCH? (Zephaniah Part 3)

 


"I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, The fish of the sea, And the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land," Says the Lord. "I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests-- Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; Those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, But who also swear by Milcom; Those who have turned back from following the Lord, And have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him." Zephaniah 1:3-6, NKJV  
 
 
Looking at this following section, we see the scope of God's judgment on Judah and Jerusalem. (If I forgot to mention, Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah.) But notice who he narrows in on?
 
In Zephaniah 1:4, God states He'll cut off the names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests. But aren't the two the same? Not necessarily. The pagan priests are the official priests of pagan deities. The idolatrous priests are those who are supposed to be serving the Lord but are actually worshiping other gods as well as the True God.
 
One thing that is helpful in looking at the Minor prophets is to realize if they're speaking to the Northern Kingdom as Hosea and Amos focused on or to the Southern Kingdom as Zephaniah is when they're discussing priests. When the Kingdoms divided, Jeroboam of the northern kingdom allowed anybody who wanted to be priest become one, while the Southern Kingdom maintained the Levitical priesthood. 
 
Let me give you an example to distinguish pagan priests from idolatrous priests. If a secular politician is promoting secular humanism or a New Ager is propagating New Age teaching, they are the equivalent of a pagan priest. If a Christian minister stands up behind the pulpit and teaches the same secular humanism or New Age beliefs, he's an idolatrous priest.
 
Verses five and six list three specific steps taken, starting from the most pagan to the least, but all refer to an idolatrous heart.
 
First are those who worship the host of heaven on their rooftops. The Law forbade such a practice. Here is complete and blatant disobedience.
 
Second are those who worship and swear by the Lord. They, unlike the first group, are saying they serve God. But that's not enough. They also swear by Milcolm (aka Molech). They are worshiping God, but not only the true God. But is this truly worshiping God?
 
Finally, there are those who have turned back from following the Lord and do not seek Him. They are not trying to balance serving false gods with the true God, but they've stopped following the true God. In other words, they are trusting in the Lord with none of their heart but leaning on their own understanding.
 
We may not serve Baal, but do we worship Ball, as in FootBall, BaseBall, BasketBall? We may not have a golden calf carved out, but is there a golden donkey or elephant or porcupine in our hearts? We may not be trying to serve both God and Milcolm, but are we trying to blend Christianity with Freudian psychology or scientific theory?
 
Is there any secret idols in our heart? And if Judah didn't escape, should we expect to?

 
 
 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

DOES THE PLOT DIRECT THE CHARACTERS OR DO THE CHARACTERS DICTATE THE PLOT?

 

One definition of "Writer's Block." Courtesy of Terri Main and Wordmaster Books.

 

Last week, I spoke of different approaches in writing, both in "blank paging" vs. "outlining" as well as how much details of the characters the author allows the reader to decide on. But let me pose a question here - is "blank paging" more of structuring the story through the characters, what they believe, what they're struggling with, and how they respond? 

One thing that's true is sometimes the characters can be mutinous when you're writing. Maybe they don't want to say the words your putting in their mouth or they'd do things something different. I've heard authors mention that happen. 

Mark White in a contribution to Spiderman and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry, he mentions the "One More Day" storyline where Aunt May is dying, and Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) makes a deal with Mephisto (Marvel's counterpart to The Devil) that she will live on the condition that history is rewritten and Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson never existed.

White mentions that story-line didn't sit well with the fans, and for good reason. Who in their right mind would suppose Peter Parker would make a deal with the devil? That's completely out of character for him!

Last week, I mentioned that mystery writers tend to be outliners. But that's not how I wrote my mystery. I did have a schedule of events that formed the skeleton of the plot, but I had no idea until halfway through the writing who the murderer was. And then it hit me.

One reason? I had a detailed sheet for each character. It helps me remember details such as how many children they have and their ages. But I also found that the more detail I gave to the character, the more they help you write the plot. 

I know, I know. I sound like an expert when I'm not a published author yet. But I'll tell you what I'm putting my characters through for my next story so I have more rounded characters. I'll leave out what you'd expect (e.g. appearance, marital status and history, favorite foods and sports).

  • Myers-Briggs Personality Test. This was not an original idea - I attended a writer's conference several years ago where the teacher mentioned this to determine which of 16 personalities each character has. Why not?
  • T-Shirts, Bumper Stickers, Refrigerator Magnets, and the Like. That idea came to me when I noticed a couple of T-shirts people wore and what it revealed about the people. In fact, years ago I wrote a blog on it titled "Ye Shall Know Them By Their T-Shirts" - I put a link to it. Jill Williamson has a character in her Mission League series who has an awesome T-shirt collection.
  • Term papers, Seminars, and Items They've Written. Many of my characters from my mystery are published authors.  Papers they wrote and workshops they attended will tell you about their interests and areas where they have some expertise.
  • "The World's Smallest Political Quiz."  This is a ten question quiz which determines not only how they fit on the conservative/liberal continuum, but if they are more Libertarian or Statist. If you want to see that test, you can click here.

If the characters are Christian, I have a couple more tests for them to take.

  • A Spiritual Gifts Questionaire. I'm not sure which one I'd use, but the point is if they're a Christian, they'll have a Spiritual Gift, and that might affect their approach to life as well. In the previously mentioned series, Jill Williamson had the spiritual gifts of the characters show up in the plot.
  • The Spiritual Temperment Test in Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. The author lists nine spiritual temperments. My characters will have these as well. 

 Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? But of course, I don't have to include all the information for each character in the book. 

Are there any characters in a story you've read that stand out, and would character charts be a key in their standing out?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: THE MISSION LEAGUE SERIES BY JILL WILLIAMSON

Is something wrong with me? My all-time favorite series is about a group of people young enough to be my children, and close to being young enough to be my grandchildren!

Or I can put it another way: I'm a fan of a group of Christian teen-age James and Jane Bonds! 

The story focuses on Spencer Garmond, who is being raised by his grandmother after his mother dies, allegedly by the hands of his father. He is recruited during his freshman year of high school into a group called The Mission League, which his parents and grandparents were a part of.

Except Spencer is the rare non-Christian in his group. He's not used to hanging around "churchers", and isn't certain at first he wants to. Still, he joins the group (it beats the option of being sent to military school). He just hopes it doesn't mess with his dreams of playing Division I Basketball.

Then, he learns he's a possible "Profile Match" for a prophecy people in the group have had for decades. Additionally, he sees similarities between a cult group and a successful movie series.

The course of the book follows his years in high school and trips to Russia, Japan, the Alaskan wilderness, and Cambodia. Of course, he has normal everyday experiences like being chased by wolves, interrogated at knife point on who "The First Twin" is, facing multiple kidnapping attempts, and rapelling down a cliff with a pair of young ladies on a single harness.

This series - consisting of four full novels and a pair of novellas - is aimed for a young adult market. One could debate if it's a straight adventure or if it should be considered speculative with the emphasis on prophecy, but whatever you want to call it, it's exciting and enjoyable. And did I mention this was my all-time favorite fiction series?

Since the focus of this blog is spiritual and deals with apologetics, I'd like to deal with an interesting theological concept in this book. When a recruit joins the league, they are given a spiritual gift inventory so they know what their strengths are. 

But would a non-Christian like Spencer have spiritual gifts? The predominate view would be no; this novel takes a different view. Not only that, but Williamson chose not to give him gifts one might easily allow an unbeliever to have prior to faith like mercy or leadership or teaching. No, she gives Spencer the gifts of prophecy and discernment.

So, for those of you who enjoy answering the questions I leave at the end of my blog, do you believe God gives people who will be Christians Spiritual gifts prior to their rebirth or at least abilities and interests that will develop into Spiritual gifts following conversion?

Also, anybody else read and enjoy this series? And if not, when are you going to remedy that?

 
 

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

IS GOD REALLY GOING TO JUDGE THE EARTH? (Zephaniah Part 2)

 

 "The Great Day Of His Wrath" by English painter John Martin, 1851-1853.

Last week I looked at the first verse of Zephaniah last week, which merely introduced Zephaniah. As far as geneology, it was the most detailed of any prophet, but not much more than that. So what is Zephaniah's message?

 "'I will utterly consume everything From the face of the land,' says the LORD." Zephaniah 1:2, NKJV.

First question is what this is referring to. Is it talking about the near event of Babylon conquering Jerusalem? Or is it describing God's ultimate judgment on the nations in the last times before He returns as King? I believe the answer is yes.

Psalm 24:1 states the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. In both Testaments, it deals with God punishing the nations as well as His chosen people. God is capable of bringing catastrophic judgments on the earth.

But most people fall into two groups. One are those who believe a God of love cannot cast the lost into hell or send physical judgment on the earth. Others believe God will punish the wicked (meaning our enemies) but not His people (that's us).

Peter tells the believers to "conduct yourselves throughout your stay here in fear (1 Pet. 1:17). Paul wrote that we should "cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).

Whenever we hear about fear from most preachers and teachers, it is to tell us to fear not, quoting "God has not given us a spirit of fear" (2 Tim. 1:7) and "Perfect love casts out all fear" (1 John 4:18). It is true through the Scripture we're to trust God to protect us and that is to not fear.

But then we read repeatedly we're to fear God, and so we take the encouraging message to not fear and apply it to those texts to say it doesn't mean what it seems to say but is really telling us to be reverent and honor Him. So we end up letting our conceptions dictate the meaning of Scripture.

The reality is that we sometimes have no fear for God in the literal sense, which may result in not having fear in the sense of reverence either. Many who oppose eternal security/"once saved always saved" claim the adherents of that view are saying we can do anything we want and still be saved (and unfortunately some of those adherents have that mindset). 

We don't expect chastisement (Heb. 12:5-11) and don't seem to tremble at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:10-17; 2 Cor. 5:9-11). As an eternal security advocate, I don't fear losing my salvation, because this is a judgement of works, not sin like the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). But believe me, my knees are knocking at giving an account of my life before my Lord and Savior.

I do believe that while there are applications of Zephaniah 1:2 and following having taken place when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the complete fulfillment will take place in the future. Both believers and unbelievers will face the consequences of their answers.

So if we believe that God will someday judge the world, how will that affect the way we live? What effect will it have on how we relate to others?

 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Issue Of Sovereignty In Novel Writing.

I remember when I was doing critiques as an ACFW member. I was reading one novel where the male lead was knocked out and put in a death trap inside a house. He made it out unharmed but still bound. 

Then, he heard footsteps. Was it the bad guys to make sure there job was finished? No! God was good: it was his buddy who came to see if he was okay.

The author then submitted their synopsis of the story for feedback. When it got to the scene I mentioned, the author again mentioned God is good in allowing the hero's friend to come instead of his foes.

Is God good? Absolutely. And in the novel itself, the hero was definitely saying God is good. However, the fact that good guy showed up instead of the bad guy had nothing to do with the goodness of the Lord, but the goodness of the author. (Unless you are such a strong Calvinist that you believe every word a novelist writes has been predestined.)

In a sense, could a novelist/screenwriter be viewed as a small 'g' god? They have the ability to create a world with people in it. The places may resemble real life places (e.g. my novel takes place in Indianapolis.) Or the places are fictitious but still operate in our reality (such as my favorite coffee shop which closed half a dozen years ago in real life but still is open for business in my novel.) Or the writer is a sci-fi or fantasy writer where you have your complete world with creatures that you don't have here.

The first two books I read on Christian writing were How To Write (And Sell) A Christian Novel by Gilbert Morris and Writing For The Soul by Jerry Jenkins. Morris made it clear from the start that we shouldn't just start writing but in advance divide the book into parts and chapters. Likewise, he has a detailed list on what each character looks like as well as other info. 

Jenkins has a completely different philosophy. You may or may not know that when he and LaHaye started writing Left Behind it was supposed to be a novel, not a series. It didn't turn out that way. He also likes getting interesting characters in a room together and see what happens. Jenkins tells readers that he didn't kill off a character - he found them dead. Likewise, he keeps the descriptions to a minimum, allowing the reader the honor of deciding what a character looks like.

Now, there are times descriptions help. Remember the story I mentioned at the top of this blog? The hero's friend was named Billy Bob.  How many of you have a picture of a white guy? I did. The author was creative in having an African American with that moniker. 

However, the story I was critiquing was a sequel to a published novel. She mentioned Billy Bob's ethinicity in the first book; she forgot to mention that in book two. So I had an incorrect picture of the character as I was reviewing the second story, before I had a chance to read the first one.

Another writing book I read was Writing Killer Fiction: The Fun House of Mystery And The Roller Coaster Of Suspense by Carolyn Wheat. She mentioned that most mystery writers plot it out like Gilbert Morris, while suspense authors are more apt to just write without planning ahead.

So let me close this with two questions. The first is how you'd write. (And if I'm blessed to have any authors as regular blog readers, please tell me about your writing). The second is from those who know me which one you think I would lean towards. I'll answer the second question next week.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN OTTE

 


I have yet to interview Allistair MacLean or Agatha Christy. Possibly because they exited from the earth's scene before I started doing author interviews. However, when I get a chance to interview on of my favorite authors, it always turns out to be a blessing, and this interview with John Otte (pronounced Ought-Tee) is an example.

I'll admit - if I ever get my murder-at-an-apologetics-conference-mystery published, John would be high on the list of people I'd like to write a blurb. One reason is because he's a very good author. The other is he's a Lutheran minister. I've had the privilege of reading both his novels and his theological non-fiction.

*        *        *   

JR: You are one of those writers that I'm not sure which I admire more: your night job or your day job (Lutheran minister). How much overlap is there between these two ministries? How does one strengthen or challenge the other?

JO: I’d say there’s a fair amount of overlap between the two. In terms of how being a pastor (specifically a Lutheran one) informs my novel writing, since I’ve primarily written Christian fiction, I definitely bring my “theological baggage” along with me in writing those stories. There are a surprising number of Lutherans in Christian speculative fiction specifically and Christian fiction in general, but we have a unique “flavor” to our theology that can serve as a counterpoint to the prevailing viewpoints that you find in Christian fiction. It’s not that I set out to layer in Lutheran stuff, it’s just a part of me and my worldview so it’s naturally going to emerge.

As for how the crossover flows in the opposite direction, members of my congregations, both past and present, will tell you that I’m an inveterate storyteller. If I can put a story in a sermon or Bible study, I’m going to. And being a writer means that I’m going to show a little more care in telling those stories, especially if it’s one that I’ve made up.

JR: While not the first novel you wrote, your first published fiction is the Failstate trilogy (also including a pair of e-book novellas). I absolutely loved that series, but I also found that the final one brought up some theological questions concerning parallel universes. What inspired that series?

JO: I didn’t originally plan for that to be a trilogy at all. I wrote the first book as a stand-alone novel. But I was certainly open to writing more. The first book was inspired by a situation at a writers conference where I felt very much like Failstate in the first novel: the loser outsider who felt that life should be treating him better, envious of other people’s successes. As I was processing my experience, my wife suggested that I should write a superhero story for our oldest boy (he was about three or four at the time, if memory serves). Everything just kind of gelled and the result was Failstate.

As for the rest of the trilogy, I originally pitched three other books with the middle two being a slow burn to what would eventually be known as Failstate: Nemesis. My publisher at the time wasn’t impressed with what I came up with for books two and three and suggested we condense it down into one. So I had to cherry pick the details that had to be in there and invent a story that they could be included in. My agent suggested including zombies. And thus Failstate: Legends came to be.

JR: You also have a two novels (I don't know if it should be
considered a series) dealing with a universe ruled by the Ministrix and the Praesidium. (Numb, by the way, was the above mentioned first novel; The Hive was written afterward.) How far are we from that basic concept in our society? What problems does our divided society face and what answers are there?

JO: I fear that we’re getting closer and closer to it each day. I see many Christians who are heeding the siren call to political power and influence, especially as our place as the center of Western society has slipped in recent years. That makes us nervous and uncomfortable and, when people get anxious, they tend to do whatever they can to find stability and security. While I’d like to think that most Christians wouldn’t fall for the Ministrix’s pitch, I worry that a surprising number might. And while I don’t think many people would be satisfied with the completely antireligious state of the Praesidium, I fear that parts of our society may be inching in that direction as well.

I’m no prophet, so it’s hard for me to diagnose the division and chart a course forward. I would say, though, that the best solution for Christians is to remember two things: our privileged position in society is an aberration and not intentional. We were always meant to be outsiders and countercultural. If the world is shifting away from us, that’s fine. We remain what God calls us to be: salt and light.

JR: A series you wrote that I enjoyed as much was a non-fiction blog titled the Lutheran Difference. Could you tell us about that? 

JO: Like I said earlier, I know that in certain pockets of American Christianity, Lutheranism is kind of a mystery. People know who Martin Luther is and they acknowledge his contribution to the Protestant Reformation. But then they try to lump us into groups that we don’t fit in, such as Protestant (technically, we’re not) or Calvinist (no way) or Arminian (the fact that I had to look this up to make sure I spelled it correctly should tell you how well we fit in this group also). We don’t hold to what many would consider “typical” American Christianity’s beliefs about conversion or baptism or communion or any of that stuff.

So I figured that, since I’m in sort of a unique position being a Lutheran pastor on the one hand and a Christian author on the other, that gave me a unique opportunity to share a little of who we are and the theology that shaped me and continues to shape us. My intention wasn’t to argue with anyone or try to convince them to become Lutheran. I just know that there’s a rich diversity of theological thoughts and traditions; it’s always helpful to understand them to enrich your own faith or, at the very least, understand where people are coming from.

JR: Thank you for your time, John, and may the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless your ministries.

JO: May the Lord bless you as well! This was great!

 

Reader, have you seen any situations where fiction and theology blend?