Welcome. It's great to have you along. You'll find a comprehensive "about" page here. Please join the conversation here - but make sure you read my disclaimer, and comment policy.
You can also Subscribe to the RSS Feed
This book is very good. Very, very good. Sometimes Gorman pushes things a little bit further than I would to make his point, sometimes his application of his ideas goes in interesting directions, sometimes his interpretations of passages don’t land where I’d go (and where other much smarter people than me go), and sometimes his tangents and arguments are a little coloured by his understanding of what hobby horses cruciformity rides – but it’s truly fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read while at college…
Want proof. Compare, side by side, the overture to Jesus’ work on the cross in Philippians 2:6-8, with how Paul describes his ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:19, and throughout the chapter. Amazing. I’d never noticed this before – maybe you have.
Here are some of the big ideas he riffs off for a few hundred pages of gold…
“The son’s act on the cross was an act of family resemblance, of conformity to God. God, therefore is a God of self-sacrificing self-giving love, whose power and wisdom are found in the weakness and folly of the cross. ”
“If on the cross Christ conforms to God, then God conforms to the cross. The cross is the interpretive or hermeneutical lens through which God is to be seen; it is the means of grace by which God is known.”
“As a colony of cruciformity, the church first tells its story to itself in liturgy and prophetic edification, so that it can live the story of cruciform faith, love, hope and power within itself. It is then equipped to tell and live the story – the gospel message – in the world, summoning people to faith by the power of the Spirit, and living by love and hope even in the face of opposition from enemies of the cross.”
“Paul’s communities become living commentaries on their master story… For Paul, the most faithful interpretation of the Messiah’s story is not a letter or an argument but a living body, one whose life unfolds step by step in ways analogous to Messiah Jesus. Such a body will bear – literally, or metaphorically, or both – “the marks of Jesus” branded on its body (Gal 6:17)”
Disclaimer/Disclosure statement: The authors of this book are people I know well. One is the principal of the college I study at, Queensland Theological College. The second, if the review process could be any more daunting and personal – is my father. The advice in his chapters is advice I’ve grown up hearing, and seeing applied – though I haven’t been a member of a church that Dad has preached at for 8 years. I received early chapters of this book to proof read, and I didn’t do a very good job of that. I read them. But they seemed fine to me. The book also contains the following paragraph…
Phil and Louise are the parents of four adult children— Nathan, Jo, Maddie and Susie—and they are now learning the ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼art of grandparenting (even though they insist they’re much too young). Nathan’s popular blog www.st-eutychus.com inspired the title of this book.
Which is nice – because as Gary was keen to point out – I don’t really own the copyright on Eutychus…
You can, in the absence of the book actually being released, check out some sample chapters and stuff on savingeutychus.com.
The disclosure should make it obvious that I’m going to have a hard time being objective here – I’m also going to have a hard time coming at this book as though half the chapters are at all novel. This isn’t new to me. It’s bread and butter. It’s how I’ve been taught to preach from my first talk, to a youth group, when I was 16. In many senses it’s how I was taught to write. It’s also how I’ve been taught to preach at college. I think it’s a good model. It meshes with what I know about communication from my profession.
One of the first things you notice about this book, appropriately, is the number of, and caliber of, the guys endorsing the book.
I could tell you this will revolutionise your preaching – but really I have no idea what it looks like to not have some of these tips running through my head, so instead, I’ll focus on some of the bits that I really liked, and let you read it and make up your mind for yourselves when it comes out.
There’s a nice humility underpinning the approach of this book – from confessions about being naturally boring, to constant reminders that preaching isn’t about us. In fact, the very message of the book takes most of the emphasis on the preacher out of the mix, except for this fundamental responsibility at the heart of the book…
“Gary and I are not approaching this book as experts on preaching that keeps people awake. But we are convinced that when attention wanders and eyes droop, it’s more often our fault than our listeners’.”…
Saving Eutychus doesn’t just mean keeping him awake. It also means doing our best to keep him fresh and alert so he can hear the truth of the gospel and be saved. If we have done our job, we will stand up on Sunday ready to deliver a sermon on a Bible passage that we have wrestled with and that the Holy Spirit has begun to apply to our own hearts and lives.
Preaching is God’s work, and any authority the preacher wields comes from the text of the Bible. It’s a nice reminder that no matter how charismatic our personalities are, no matter how engaging and witty we can be as we speak – preaching is ultimately reveals God, points people to Jesus, and relies on the Spirit to be hammered home.
Gary’s answer to this dilemma is prayer.
“Gradually, we seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace. Yes, we may sow, plant and water—but only God gives growth. That’s true in your local church and mine. It’s also true of every podcast and ebook and conference address under the sun. God doesn’t use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray— we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It’s that simple.”
One of the nice things about the book is how honest both authors are about their own struggles in preaching – and their own lives in pastoral ministry that is preaching driven. There are excerpts from real, recent, sermons, to support some of the practical tips, and plenty of rubber hitting road anecdotes to illustrate how each chapter might be applied.
The chapters are relatively evenly split – Gary does the “theology” stuff, Dad does the practical, but the dichotomy isn’t carried out cleanly the whole way through – both are free to enter the other’s turf, so Dad is “theological” when it comes to how you think of the big idea, and Gary is practical when it comes to how you make real changes in the light of some theological insights.
Dad’s bits are shaped by years of trying to communicate better, driven by a gospel motivated (and personality motivated) perfectionism that I’ve inherited in certain areas – his chapters are the result of constantly assessing what you’re doing and questioning why you do it that way, and how you can make it work better, and be less painful, for your listener. Gary’s bits, are, as you’d expect if you know him, thoroughly Trinitarian, almost devotional (in a refreshing way and substantial way), reference Jonathan Edwards a few times, and are laced with really nice insights that’ll challenge the way you think about church – not just preaching, in a section on encouraging your whole church to pray for preaching he drops this Hanselesque breadcrumb:
“The growth of home groups is, I think, a really good thing, but it doesn’t come without a cost. In my experience, the cost is that the ‘prayer’ part of the home group is always weaker than the study part. The net result is that we pray more for my Aunt Nelly’s next-door neighbour’s friend’s daughter than we do for the proclamation of the message of Jesus. (And it’s not that my Aunt Nelly’s next- door neighbour’s friend’s daughter doesn’t need prayer—I’m arguing for both/and rather than either/or.) So, again, it’s just worth checking—is there a dedicated time during the week when people gather specifically to pray for our core business?”
I’ve been part of bible studies at five churches now, and I’m thankful for the way each have taught me to read the Bible and apply it to my life, but this rings a bit true – normally it’s the newest Christians who are the most passionate prayers when it comes to the core business of spreading the gospel.
Gary spends some time on the dangers of manipulation, and while it’s a really valuable reminder – I’m left wondering where “persuading” – openly, rather than underhandedly (manipulation) fits, but no matter how the cake is baked – the conclusion is worth eating…
“The key to preaching, then, is to make the message of the text obvious. Help people to see it and feel it. Help people to understand the text. Paul is talking about what I would call ‘expository preaching’, in which the message of the text is the message of the sermon.”
But this is a great way of making sure the authority of a sermon is resting in the right place – God’s revealed word.
One of my favourite bits of preaching advice from Gary is this, as a rookie preacher it has been really helpful for me thinking through what I think the “big idea” of a bit of the Bible is and how I might frame it appropriately.
“Expository preaching happens when the message of the text = the message of the sermon. Or perhaps better, expository preaching happens when the vibe of the passage = the vibe of the sermon.”
I could go through this book and keep cherry picking out the bits I like, but that might mean you won’t buy the book, and while my inheritance isn’t riding on it, you know, there’s enough self-interest there on my part to want you to buy it, as well as the belief that the book is really helpful – because it’s hard not to be if you think this is the goal of preaching:
This approach ensures that your preaching will be both predictable and unpredictable. It will be predictable in the same way that the Bible is predictable. At the core of our preaching will be the same message—what God has already done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
His chapter that covers doing this well from the Old Testament has been helpful for me, in lecture and chapel sermon form, and it’s nice to have it fleshed out more than I might have managed in blog post form in the past. The chapter includes a really helpful discussion of Biblical Theology and “trajectories” that link the Old Testament to Jesus, to the New Testament, to us…
The book’s format is helpful – chapters contain nice chunks of supporting material, be it passages from the Bible, passages from sermons, anecdotes, or helpful theological and pastoral reflections, and they’re rounded out with nice practical tips, lists, and summaries to help you remember and apply. The conversational tone between Gary and Dad within the chapters (they share a pulpit at Mitchelton and have had a chance to see each other in action for the last year) means the switch between voices is natural rather than jarring, they play nicely off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
It’s interesting for me how many of Dad’s tips are very similar to how good corporate communication happens – it needs to be clear, as geared to your medium, as concise as possible, repeat your key messages, be based on some sort of authority (data in my case, the text when it comes to preaching), and for people to listen it needs to be about people.
“Take a look at the front page of a newspaper sometime. Are interest rates rising? Then you’re almost sure to see a photograph of an affected family. Graphs and statistics can come later. The journalist’s rule is this: if there are no people, there’s no story. So populate your preaching with real people. Use people-based illustrations and people-based application. Where you can, talk about real people and real situations, instead of just talking about abstract ideas. Typically, I’ll scour the newspaper, internet news sources and TV for fresh material. Incredibly, there always seems to be something useful. Of course, if the story involves a member of your congregation then you’ll need to ask permission first.”
This paragraph from Dad comes with a very important caveat in the footnotes:
“In fact, even if it’s about one of your kids make sure you ask permission first! Being a pastor’s kid carries enough baggage without growing up in church where everyone can recite the ‘cute stories’ of your childhood.”
I’ve found this has been incredibly true in the age of the Internet and a “digital shadow” – when my mother-in-law googled me when I started dating Robyn, she found a bit of one of Dad’s sermons that opened “Nathan Campbell has lost his shoes”…
The book covers stuff like pulling a text apart, spoken delivery, receiving critique, putting a talk together – which includes something like a Director’s Cut/commentary version of the sermon manuscript from one of Dad’s recent sermons on Acts. And then, to finish off nicely, there’s a sample critique from Dad, and from Gary on a each other’s real sermons.
I really liked this book, I obviously heartily endorse it, and you should buy at least three. As I was reading it I was pretty thankful – thankful that I’ve been shaped the way I have by a father who wants people to know the ultimate father, shaped to love the gospel of Jesus, and want people to hear it unhindered, and hopefully shaped to be self-aware of my myriad faults and my constant desire to make preaching all about me. This book is a useful reminder for me in that ongoing challenge. And it makes me thankful that in the last few years I’ve been taught at a college by guys of Gary’s caliber (and the caliber of the other members of faculty). I have much to be thankful for, especially the gospel, and the privilege of being a fellow worker in the ministry of the gospel, as a preacher with training wheels on. There’s that old saying about new generations standing on the shoulders and I’ve never felt that more tangibly than when I read a book that spells out so clearly what I’ve been blessed to assume as natural by guys I know. But as impressive as I think those guys are, and as thankful as I am for both of them, it’s the gospel that’s really impressive and powerful to change hearts, not them, not me – but the God who revealed himself in Jesus and his word, who changes us by his Spirit.
What I liked about this book is how digestible the chunks are. Each chapter is an idea. A page or two – basically a blog post. From a different person. Each chapter ends with contact details for that person. It’s very conversational. It’s a nice format – and this is, increasingly, the way this sort of “how to” book is going to work, I think.
I loved that each contributor is passionate about seeing the church communicate its message well, and in a way that removes barriers for people while finding new opportunities. There’s much to like here. And not much to dislike. You should get a copy.
Some chapters resonated more with me than others, each is the product of a time, place, and culture, a little bit removed from the here and now. But it’s possible to mind that gap and get something from just about everybody who contributed.
Here are some of my favourite tips, tidbits, and communication tricks from the book.
“The early church didn’t have the modern technologies we have today. There were no billboards or direct mail campaigns to announce Jesus was coming. The disciples didn’t tweet or blog the Sermon on the Mount or other messages Jesus gave during his ministry. The one thing the early church did have, however, was captivating stories worth telling.” – Introduction, Tim Schraeder
This para is a nice summary of what my Masters project is going to cover next year.
“Church historians have noted that with every major cultural revolution that has taken place in modern times, there’s been an accompanying movement of God’s Spirit as the church has found new ways to reach more people. Our message has never changed but the way we communicate it has found new forms and new mediums throughout the generations.”
“Every time you communicate anything in any medium as a church, it is preaching. I’m not suggesting you start tweeting, “God reads knee-mail,” from your church’s account. What I am suggesting is that no matter what you’re saying, it is a sermon being preached.” – Media is Preaching, Jeremy Sexton
1. What The first step is to fully understand what you are being asked to communicate. Find out the story that is driving the communication. For example, don’t simply announce that Vacation Bible School is next month and assume everyone understands the benefits. Instead, explain the positive impact that it will have on the lives of the children and volunteers. Include testimonials from those involved in prior years.
2. Who Next, consider the audience. Tailor your message to the specific audience that truly needs to hear it. If your church is conducting a class specifically for new parents, then customize the message so it speaks directly to their needs.
3. How When developing your message keep it simple. Don’t use the cryptic language only some Christians may understand. Explain in simple, every day terms how one can come to know and trust in Jesus rather than inviting them to be “washed in the sanctifying blood of the Lamb.” Your message should also be crystal clear. Reduce the effort to get involved with an event or ministry to no more than three or four easy to under- stand steps and direct them to the first step.
4. Where Now that you know the story you need to determine which channels should be used to best reach your intended audience. In some instances an email to a small group is sufficient. In other instances, you may need to spread the word on your website, Twitter, Facebook and in the worship announcements.
There are a couple of really important points in there – I think – the first is to make all your communication about people – both in who communicates it, the content of the communication (stories), and the benefits you spruik (the “what’s in it for your audience” factor), and the second is the emphasis on multichannel communication. There’s a solid theory that suggests a message needs to be heard somewhere between 6-10 times (which means it probably needs to be said more than that) to be communicated effectively.
Simmons has a helpful warning emphasising the corollary of that – everybody else is trying to communicate to the same people multiple times.
“Keep in mind that the members of your congregation are bombarded with hundreds of messages each day. Don’t add to the noise by communicating every idea, event or program to everyone.”
This means being careful and creative with how we get messages to the ears or eyes of our hearers.
Another really helpful point, which I think leads back to ethos being more important than well put together pathos or logos (another part of my project), comes in a chapter by Phil Bowdle called Authenticity > Excellence. He says:
“There’s a word that has generated lots of momentum in the church world in recent years. It’s a word that gets thrown around frequently in conferences, workshops, staff teams and blogs. We’ve become obsessed with it. The word? Excellence.
Excellence has become a mantra behind much of the work we do. We’ve attempted to prove wrong the world’s assumption that if it’s Christian, it’s sub-par. Excellence is a value that has often been overlooked in the church, and it’s as important as ever to keep it at the core of everything we do.
In an effort to demand excellence in all that we do, a more important principle has been overlooked. That principle is authenticity.
I’ll be the first to put my hand up to say that I’ve bought into the excellence idea – because I don’t think being excellent in how we do things stands apart from being real and excellent in who we are – I actually think excellence and authenticity are incredibly related – so long as excellence is aspirational, and room is given for the humanity of the communicator and their audience.
Bowdle makes an interesting point, depending on how you measure excellence, that authentic communication produces better outcomes.
“Interestingly, we generated a much higher response out of the secondary communication strategies we implemented. Things like webcam videos, simple blog posts and in-service testimonies seemed to be more effective than the polished video and print pieces. The difference? The more the authenticity of the person, message or story shined, the more effective the result.”
I would’ve thought that rather than authenticity being better than excellence, authenticity=excellence.
I’d say, given that I have a bent towards judging communication by its character, and its fruits (and hey, so does Cicero), that authentic communication is the most excellent kind – especially if it’s driven by love (ala Paul in 1 Cor 12:31-13:1 – which seems to be one of his fundamental principles for church communication).
If you’ve come across marketing doyen Seth Godin, you’ll recognise the notion of “tribes” – if not, the idea is that the most successful to build something to the point of being successful is to build a tribe. His definition of a tribe: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea,” essentially describes a church. Whether the leader is Jesus or the senior pastor (or both), is a question of one’s ecclesiology. Anyway. Jon Dale applies this model to church communication to suggest we should be working harder at equipping the members of our tribe to talk to other people – which is, I think, the essential secret to doing social media well as a church. He says:
“There are four types of tribal communication:
1. Leader to tribe member.
2. Tribe member to leader.
3. Tribe member to tribe member.
4. Tribe member to outsider.
We spend most of our energy in the church (and business) world on #1. Think about it. We get up on stage on Sunday and do #1. We send out eblasts and do #1. We write books and do #1. Then we upgrade to the latest craze and do a podcast (more of #1). And for kicks we send out a survey and think we’re doing #2 well. But the reality is that #3 and #4 are what change the world.”
Another idea that resonated with me came from Danielle Hartland in Fresh and Light, which basically called for your organisational infrastructure and pathways should be seen, and experienced – rather than heard. And when you’re talking about these important things you should talk about them as they relate to Jesus and in a human way.
“No one is motivated when they feel like a tiny cog in a big machine. Instead of telling people how they fit in your church’s grand plan, tell them how/why things will help them connect to and grow in Jesus.”
This leads nicely back to the importance of the story – and Matt Knisely’s Your Church, the Storyteller, is, I think, the most important chapter for communicating with the post-modern, and post-post-modern world.
“One of the most powerful tools any church has to reach people is a first-person story of a changed life.”
And the best part is, no matter what size church you have, telling stories doesn’t require expensive equipment or complicated multimedia. You really need just one thing: People whose lives are being changed by the gospel message. Ask them for their stories. Ask in emails. Ask them to write their stories down. Ask them in person. Then, tell those stories. Video them if you want. Print them (with permission).
These contributors agree – Jeremy Scheller writes Your Website Needs to Be a Billboard, and suggests the following principles (I’ve summarised them):
1. Keep it simple.
2. Say something about you.
3. Get to the point.
4. Point people to take action.
Paul Steinbrueck in Your Website: your first, and only, impression, says 80% of people who are looking for a church start on the web. And they start with google. So search engine optimisation is really important, as is what people see if they arrive.
He gives seven tips with these points in mind. (Again, I’ve summarised them, buy the book).
1. Optimize your website for search engines.
2. Give your website a nice design.
3. Prominently feature a “New Visitor” section.
4. Include a welcome message.
5. Include pictures or video services.
6. Answer all the questions you would want answered before you visit a church.
7. Publish stories.
The last, and perhaps most important point comes from Scott McClellan – who, in a chapter called Never Trust a Skinny Chef urges people involved in communication to put themselves in the shoes, seat, or ears, of their audience – to make sure it’s hitting the target.
“Read your writing. Watch your films. Listen to your sermons. Browse your website. Navigate the church building using your signage. Subscribe to your email newsletter.”
This is a really useful book, and one I’m sure I’ll be coming back to, both in its initial form – and by continuing the conversation, where necessary, with its contributors. Most of whom are on Twitter.
Timothy Kurek is a braver man than I. If spending a year living “Biblically” by obeying every command of the Bible sounds hardcore – imagine spending a year out of the closet as a gay man, when you’re straight. Lying to your friends and family, leaving your old life behind, and immersing yourself in the gay community.
His paradigm is that Jesus “became something he wasn’t” in the “ultimate act of empathy” – this is incarnational mission on steroids. Only there’s not a huge amount of mission going on, rather, a lot of soul-searching, and an interesting insight into conservative American Christianity, and what it’s like to be part of a gay sub-culture in the Bible Belt.
I’m increasingly passionate about the need for Christians to do much better when it comes to talking about, and to, those who are same sex attracted, and those who are actively homosexual. This means thinking carefully about how we approach the pastoral issue, the political sphere, but most importantly – how we articulate the gospel to our homosexual friends, family, and neighbours, and how we love and care for them in all these areas.
This book was helpful in capturing something of the emotional fragility of those people Tim interacted with. Tim clearly loves people, and especially broken and fragile people who have been hurt by their interactions with others. Others who haven’t loved them like they are called to, as followers of Jesus. But it ultimately, I feel, misrepresented what it means to follow Jesus, and what it means to love people.
It’s a powerful book. It’s moving. Especially when Tim shares a story of his own past as a homophobic bully, who contributed, in a small part to the misery of a homosexual co-worker he hated. It’s an immersive work, a great piece of gonzo journalism, It’s not an experiment I can see being repeated any time soon, so there’s a certain kudos that comes just from denying yourself for your mission that comes with this.
What struck me as I read this book was that while Tim Kurek is an incredibly brave man, I think the experiment would have been more worthwhile if he was a little more emotionally mature, though, paradoxically, a more mature person probably wouldn’t have thought the experiment was a good idea. He’s open, reflective, and honest about his struggles throughout the experiment. It’s raw. But it’s ultimately largely unhelpful.
While he empathises with those he is championing, and tries to present them positively and as a diverse community that can’t be understood monolithically, and makes some attempts to empathise with the tradition he left behind, he tars all “conservative Christians” with the Pharisee brush, and fails to consider any responses to the homosexual issue along the total acceptance/total rejection spectrum. He attempts to empathise with the Phelps family from Westboro Baptist, but can’t truly begin to fathom, past describing through the eyes of another person, how a person who believes in sin, judgment and Hell, while believing homosexuality is sinful, can truly love a homosexual person without fully accepting them, their orientation, their practice, and their homosexual identity.
This whole “issue” of homosexuality is only polarizing because conservative religion dictates the standards of religious people. It controls their motives and their reactions. It especially controls their politics. I hope to see the day when my conservative Christian brothers and sisters realize that separation is not the way of Jesus.
Conservative Christianity teaches us to love everyone; however, that love can take many different forms. It seems to stem from an “I’m right, you’re wrong” biblical perspective, which imposes only two rather limited options: Insist others conform to your spiritual world view, or ignore those who don’t. A friend of mine calls it the “brother’s keeper” method.
He then tosses out the ability for anybody to be right about the Bible.
“I think about those trapped in the closet who see only two options: stay miserable in life or seek peace in the hereafter. And I wonder what Jesus would do. Would he go door to door campaigning for Proposition 8, or would he rebuke the Pharisees who dole out condemnation like a commodity, for missing the point? I think he would do the latter. But do I think that only because I have lost my focus on what my former pastor used to call the “panoramic landscape of the gospel”? My Pharisee said as much. But it just doesn’t make sense. Life is too short to live out two-thousand-year-old prejudices from Leviticus, Greece, or Rome. Either way, I am starting to believe that people have the right to believe as they wish. My finger pointing has to stop, and thanks to Revive, I am starting to see why.”
This is what happens when you put experience in the driver’s seat when it comes to interpretation.
His emotional immaturity comes through in the assessment criteria he applies to the reaction he receives from friends and family. His brother and sister-in-law accept his announcement almost without blinking, but a schism develops when they find out mid way through the experiment that he is lying to them. His mum hugs him. Plenty of his friends turn their backs on him. His pastor tells him he needs to repent, but that he’s welcome at church like any sinner – and he does it by email, sent from his blackberry. Tim is adamant that the pastor should have called him – and he should have. People from his old life largely ignore his birthday. He feels isolated. Cut off. He was hard done by. He was wronged.
But the experiment would’ve been more genuine, I think, if he’d tried to maintain these relationships rather than expecting everybody else to come after him. It’s easy to criticise without having lived the experience, but love and relationships go two ways. And the picture Tim paints of his gay friends who have been hurt by their parents is that in the main they are still keen for old relationships to continue, even if the people they love aren’t. They’re making an effort – Tim didn’t (or certainly didn’t give any evidence of trying). Not with his church friends, anyway who he condemns for abandoning him.
In the eight days I have been out, that fear has permeated every social sphere I have been part of. I have been rebuked in the name of Jesus, lost four friends who refuse to be close to an “unrepentant homosexual,” and I have even been told that Jesus does not love me…
My phone no longer rings with calls and texts like it did only a short week ago. I have been waiting, preparing myself for numerous conversations about my revelation, but so far most friends seem to desire only distance. It is that distance, I think, that has pushed so many people over the edge, the excommunication from believers, friends, and loved ones that disagree and disengage. My news spread like a plague, but I was the only real casualty…
There is a fine line between tolerance and rejection. Waking up to that fact has cost me dearly. In the past three weeks, I’ve received emails and text messages from people whom I always believed loved and valued me. But now I know the truth. Instead of speaking with me in a personal way to understand my decision, many of these people took the easy path of judgment, and they did so using the impersonal and soulless tools of social networks and email to do the dirty work.
Besides, the Christian friends and community I spent years building seem to have forgotten about me. So many people have disappeared from my life that it is almost as though they never existed. Fair-weather friends? No, just people firmly stuck in their bubbles, I think. On the other hand, the people I am meeting now seem to accept me more than anyone ever has. Perhaps that is because the gay men I spend so much time with don’t judge me by my piety but let my actions speak for themselves. If I make them laugh, they like me for my sense of humor. If I am kind, they like that I am sensitive. Those are earned actions. It is nice not to be judged for my gauged ears, or for the fact that I didn’t read as much of the Bible as a fellow parishioner. It is nice not to be judged by how well I can present a righteous façade.
Here’s a passage from when he eventually goes back to his old church, and sees a friend in the car park:
“An old friend sees me standing by my car and runs over to greet me. The smile on his face is enormous, and it warms my heart. “Tim Kurek! How are you doing?” He ignores my outstretched hand and pulls me into a hug. “I’ve missed you, brother. How are you?” “I’m doing well. How are you?” I say, somewhat shocked by his genuine greeting. “I’m doing great. I’ve missed you, man.” He’s always been a good guy, my friend, and standing with him makes me realize how much I have missed him, too. It feels odd, though…wrong, somehow. How can I miss someone who hasn’t tried to reach out to me? How can I feel a connection to someone who thinks of me as an abomination?”
He’s right. Cutting people off because you don’t like a decision they’ve made is stupid – if they’re no longer claiming to be part of your church community. If someone says “I’m gay, I don’t think I can be a Christian anymore” and you cease contact with them – you’re a jerk. That’s a big secret to reveal and it comes at a cost. But the church has to be really careful about how it deals with sexual immorality within its walls, and within the community – Paul’s pretty clear on that (1 Cor 5). He’s also pretty clear that being a Christian transforms our sexuality – be it gay or straight – that it involves a leaving behind of the old, and a realignment of our identity in Jesus (1 Cor 6:9-11).
If you’re in Tim’s shoes though, or the shoes he’s trying to walk in, I’m not sure you can complain about being cut off if you’ve essentially cut yourself off first, and make no apparent effort to continue relationships. Tim’s gay friend Will, who he grew up with, and pursued/persecuted at the request of Will’s mum when Will came out, is more understanding about his mum cutting him off than Tim is…
“I just try to put myself in her shoes. If I believed what my mother believes, and I had a son come out as gay, I would be mortified because that would mean my blood, my offspring that I love unconditionally, was going to Hell. Now think about Hell from a conservative Christian’s perspective. Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to steer your child away from that path? It is simple enough for me. Her belief separates us, but her motivation helps me understand and accept her, even though it hurts me.” Will steps away for a second and makes a drink for another customer.”
His model of incarnational ministry is a bit skewiff, because while Jesus certainly became human, and lovingly lived amongst sinners – he didn’t become a sinner until the cross – and even then the sinner he became was vicarious (2 Cor 5), and doesn’t push us to joining sinners in their sin, but towards a share of God’s righteousness:
20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus identified with sinners. Yes. And Tim summarises it like this:
I have been taught that I need to be Jesus to the people I meet, that I need to live the love and the faith and the commitment of my God, so that others can see Him, too. If it is true that we can be Jesus to each other, then I will never see Jesus the same way again. Tonight… Well, tonight, I saw Jesus in drag, and now I feel incapable of hate.
Being Jesus, for Tim, means not “shoving theology down people’s throats”… when he’s thinking about how he suddenly finds himself not liking the church very much he says this:
Can I truly claim Jesus and be at odds with his children? Are they even his children? I remember the scripture that says “by your fruit you shall know them.” Yes. They are his children, as much as I am his child. Salvation is not a country club, and we do not have the right to deny anyone admittance. People and their relationships to God are their own concern, and no good can come from my shoving my theology down someone else’s throat.
Shoving “my theology down someone else’s throat” is bad. The very notion of “my theology” is bad. But that’s not the same as telling people the great and freeing news of the gospel of Jesus who sets people free from oppression, particularly the oppression of sin. One of the classic texts used in the relationship between Jesus and an “incarnational” approach to evangelism is Luke 4:18-19.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I’d argue that you can’t just proclaim by being, though loving and empathy are part of our proclamation. This is, I think, The Cross in The Closet’s biggest failing.
Tim is clearly angry at the institutional church. He says, after he returns to his church during the experiment:
“It’ll probably be a long time before I’m comfortable at any church again. I will always do my best to follow God with my life, but being part of a brick and mortar church doesn’t appeal to me at all.”
The book paints his progression from “conservative Christian” to “liberal” – in his own words. His contempt for his former self – who he depicts throughout the book as a pharisaical interlocutor – and his former way of thinking, and love for his new found ability to love people for who they are, means he throws a lot of baby out with the bathwater.
He preempts criticism by both adopting the spiritual high ground, through an account of a moving spiritual event where a gay community group sang praise songs along with “Jesus in drag,” and through the recording of a prayer that a gay man prayed when he re-outed himself as a straight man. He also swears off labelling people, saying people should just be seen as people – while depicting himself, and by extension, anybody who articulates the thoughts the Pharisee version of him was thinking, as Pharisees.
Here’s a couple of passages on the power of labels.
Being a second-class citizen feels like being a tenth-class citizen. If I really were gay, I feel like my life would become such an issue for people that I would be constantly exhausted. Gays and lesbians are looked at as different, perverse, and the label alone seems to illicit an association with the lowest dregs of society, morally speaking. No one wants to be thought of that way! Is it really so unrealistic to let people’s actions speak for them rather than the stigmatized label?
“That was the first time since coming out that I heard that word and understood what it actually meant. It means that you are a lesser, a second-class citizen, and an anathema. It means that your life is relegated to a single word, and the details of that life don’t matter. It means that your thoughts, experiences, loves, and struggles should be painted over because you aren’t an equal, that yours isn’t as valuable as other lives. It meant you are hated. Even though I am not actually gay, I felt that hate, and it still disrupted something sacred in me. Faggot denotes rejection and epitomizes unwelcome, and it was a vile epiphany that I came to. Without knowing anything about us, the man walking the pugs told all of us that we were not worthy to be in community with him.”
Here’s how he poisons the well as the experiment ends – so that nobody can possibly impeach his testimony, with the prayer his gay friend Ben prays when he has revealed that he’s been straight all along.
“Ben begins to cry. Tears roll down his cheeks like shiny beads, and his lips quiver. He breathes heavily, but still says nothing. And then, as if in a dream, Ben lightly touches my lips with his hand and begins to pray:
“Lord, be with your servant, Tim. Inspire the words that come out of his mouth as he shares the reality of this news with the masses, and as he shares your love and your grace with the masses.”
He slides his hand to my eyes. “Lord, protect his eyes and what he sees. Help him not to see any hatred, but only love, as he sets out on this journey of grace.”
His hand once again moves, to my ears. “Lord, block his ears from hearing the hateful words directed at him from people in the religious community and from this one. Protect his ears from the words of hate that they’ll inevitably speak.”
His hand moves to my heart. “Lord, thank you for this heart! Thank you for the sacrifices he has made. Lord, bless this beautiful heart with every power you possess. Help him never to change, Lord, to be jaded, to be hurt. I love you, Lord, and Tim loves you. Thank you for letting us love each other. Amen.”
Clearly it’s a moving experience for him. Clearly Ben appreciates what he’s done. And by reporting this third party endorsement of his words, from within the gay community, he can now argue from his own experiences that his position is the most authentic position on the gay issue, perhaps with the exception of the gay Christians he lionises throughout the book. And that’s all very post-modern. But am I speaking hatred by disagreeing with the direction Tim took with his experiment? I hope not. It’s such a binary way of viewing the world. I disagree with him – but I don’t hate him. To frame criticism as hate, and to do it before you’ve even faced the criticism, to delegitimise criticism, is a clever rhetorical move, but ultimately pretty empty.
Perhaps my biggest concern, pastorally at least, is that he tosses any same sex attracted Christian who resists identifying with their sexual orientation under the bus. Not because he takes the “born this way” argument, but because he rejects the view of original sin he was brought up with and over-emphasises the importance of being made in the image of God – or at least, his view of the imago dei has no account for the impact of the fall.
“I am sure of my God, who I believe more than ever sent his Son for me, and I am sure of the reconciliation he offers, whether that be between families split apart over divisive issues, or members of opposing political parties. I am sure of the beauty that all mankind has inherited—a beauty that can never be stripped away by bad words or deeds, or even other humans”
Kurek hates on, dismisses, or jokes about, reparative therapy a few times, and perpetuates the myth that attempting to realign your sexual orientation is harmful.
If my mom tried to shove ex-gay literature at me, I’d probably throw it right back at her. Reparative therapy, they call it. They should call it “repression therapy.”
The only thing close to a longitudinal study on the impact of reparative therapy, by Jones and Yarhouse, concluded that it isn’t always effective, but it’s not really harmful.
It’s horrible that coming out, for some people, results in being disowned and ostracised by their family, friends, and ministers – rather than producing loving concern. But Kurek seems to judge people on their inability to show an empathy, or even sympathy, for others that he isn’t prepared to genuinely extend to people who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation with their identity. It’d also be tempting to suggest that he gets a bit of Stockholm Syndrome during the experiment – but I think he actually genuinely loves, and is loved by, the people he lives with for his year. And that’s great. If only it translated to being prepared to love people despite their sin, while still acknowledging sin, and trying to move the locus of human identity to a right relationship with the God who created us all.
I think he’s ultimately right about labels – labels are powerful. They carry stigma. And it’s bad to label people according to their sexuality. It’s bad to let your sexual orientation define who you are. But there are labels that it’s important to own, as a Christian. Adopted. A new creation. A child of God. A follower of Jesus. And adopting all those labels has a powerful effect on your life, and it changes your identity. And it changes your approach to sex and sexuality. I just don’t think Tim quite got there…
But I’m thankful for his experiment, wrong-headed and relationally damaging though I think it was (I think the experiential gains from deceiving his family were minimal, and contributed nothing to the book – especially because they essentially whole-heartedly continued loving him, even though it was hard for his mum). I’m thankful because it did open my eyes to some unthinking prejudices of my own, to times when I might be insensitive to the people around me, to the importance of personal contact rather than hiding behind a keyboard when it comes to dealing with difficult issues, and to the need to keep the love of Jesus for all people at the front of my thinking. And I’m hopeful that as Tim, freed from the shackles of the hatred that constrained him and his understanding of Christianity in the past, will keep looking to the Bible to find out who Jesus is, not just to human expressions of spirituality, I’m hopeful that his experiences will shape him, and others, so that the cross of Christ continues to shape our identity, not whatever closets we feel the need to hide in.
And a TED talk author AJ Jacobs gave on the experience.
Despite a bunch of hermeneutical problems – I really enjoyed his book – it was well written, honest, and good humoured. It wasn’t a great picture of what Christianity is – which is particularly fair enough, given that Jacobs is a secular Jew. You can’t necessarily expect him to have a good grasp of a hermeneutic that incorporates the New Testament.
He had this idea that taking the Bible “literally” and taking it to its logical conclusion meant “taking the Bible literally, without picking and choosing”… he was inspired by his “crazy ex-uncle,” Gil.
He started out by writing down every single law that he could find in a couple of readings of the Bible, then set out to apply them as literally as possible. Though he gave himself some wiggle room right from the start:
“I will try to find the original intent of the Biblical rule or teaching, and follow that to the letter. If the passage is unquestionably figurative – and I’m going to say the eunuch one [Matt 19:12] is – then I won’t obey it literally.”
He gave eight months to the Old Testament, and four to the new – which is generous, because as a Jew he could’ve been consistent and just stuck with the Old.
He says in the TED video that he was amazed by how his behaviour changed his thoughts – rather than his mind changing his behaviour. Which is an interesting insight.
It’s a pretty interesting read, it’s thought provoking, it’s full of great stories that will become good sermon illustrations of his meetings with various people, including a group who are dedicated to breeding unblemished red cows for the purpose of sacrifice once the temple is restored in Jerusalem.
He asked some really honest questions of the Bible, and was honest about how it impacted, and didn’t impact, his life. He ended the year as a “reverent agnostic” who thinks that there’s something important about sacred stuff.
One of his big take home lessons was “though shalt not take the Bible literally,” which is interesting. But very few Christians do what he suggests is the “literal” reading of the Bible. Because the Old Testament is changed by the New Testament. It’s a fun game – but Christians should know better. Shouldn’t they?
Now, I’m not going to suggest that all Christians read the Old Testament well – there are plenty of people who draw weird allegorical interpretations from the Old Testament, or who don’t mind the gap, and take the promises of prosperity that are time and place bound – to Israel, in the land, and apply them to life now. That’s a real problem in many circles that take the Bible seriously. As is reading any Biblical text – from the Old or New Testament – “literally” – taking text at face value without considering context, genre, and what the original meaning might have been.
So there’s a legitimacy to critiquing that approach to reading the Bible – and I think that’s where I’m prepared to cut Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood some slack that others aren’t.
She isn’t doing the hermeneutical work (hermeneutics = principles of interpretation) that she should, as a Christian, be doing – but precisely in not doing it, she’s making a point about some other approaches to the Biblical text. She’s made some people, like Kathy Keller, a little bit upset in doing so. On one level, Keller has missed the point. But on another, she’s right – Held Evans has been on the media circuit promoting this book, using an almost identical rationale to Jacobs, who’s a Jew. Held Evans is a Christian.
We should, I think, expect Christians to have a better grasp of the Bible, and speak from that point of view, most times, lest they undermine the most consistent way to read it – which is as a grand, unfolding, narrative of God’s plan for salvation in Jesus – that’s why we keep the Old Testament, without jettisoning the superseded laws.
This exercise would be problematic if Held Evans is making an in-house point, that is being lost in media coverage of her book. The reception has certainly focused on the controversy and reaction to her book – here are two examples from an American Newspaper I’ve never heard of, and Slate who focus on some controversy surrounding Held Evans using the word vagina in the book – which means some Christian book stores won’t sell it. But most people seem to be getting the joke. Most secular media outlets understand that she’s not applying a hermeneutic she agrees with. The Huffington Post ran these pieces that recognised Held Evan’s point (and this one). It seems most of the in-house furore is from people who don’t get that Held Evans “literal approach” is ironic, or don’t think she should be being ironic. Which is a shame. But there are plenty of readers who won’t get the irony either. This review seems to suggest that because not all evangelicals read the Bible like Held Evans is demonstrating, her being ironic is not enlightened, but adds fuel to the fire.
The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous list of rules and regulations that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives. (294)
And yet, amazingly, scripture is clear enough to Evans that she can determine it has been misread and misapplied by the evangelicals who advocate for a biblical view of manhood and womanhood.
Keller calls Held Evans out for “picking and choosing” – an echo of one of Jacobs’ conclusions to his experiment – that one needs to “pick and choose” if they’re going to live Biblically in modern life.
Here’s what Keller says:
Yet you, who surely know this as well as anyone, proclaimed at the start of your book: “From the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Levitical code to the letters of Paul, there [will be] no picking and choosing” (xvii, emphasis mine). To insist that it would be “picking and choosing” to preclude the Levitical code from your practice of biblical womanhood is disingenuous, if not outright deceptive.
In making the decision to ignore the tectonic shift that occurred when Jesus came, you have led your readers not into a better understanding of biblical interpretation, but into a worse one. Christians don’t arbitrarily ignore the Levitical code—they see it as wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus. In him, we are now clean before God. I doubt if you had given birth during this year you would have made a sin offering after your period of uncleanness (Lev. 12:6-7). I doubt this because you know that in Jesus the sacrifices, as well as the clean laws, are fulfilled and therefore obsolete.
She’s right. Christians shouldn’t “pick and choose” – we should read the Bible through the lens of Jesus – but that doesn’t always happen. And I suspect that’s the point Held Evans, if not Jacobs, is making. Jacobs isn’t ignorant of other hermeneutics either – he spends time with Christians of different denominational ilks in his experiment. He hangs out with snake handlers – and acknowledges that most Christians are able to distinguish a disputed verse in Mark as being descriptive, rather than prescriptive, so that we don’t go picking up poisonous snakes every Sunday morning…
Keller makes the point in her review that there are times that Held Evans isn’t as generous to the writers of the Bible as Jacobs was – there are a couple of points where she misattributes views that Paul is quoting to Paul himself, or applies something in a humourous and literal way when it’s clearly figurative. But again, I’m willing to cut Held Evans some slack, because if, at the heart of her premise, is the idea that other people pick and choose how they read the Bible, then she’s right – and her point is well made. Bad readings of the Bible that are inconsistent, and bring bizarre modern hermeneutical gymnastics to the table, produce bad results.
I’m with Keller though – I think the best results, and the best hermeneutical method, involves thinking about how a passage relates to the Lordship of Jesus, and passages should be interpreted as products of their time, place, purpose, and genre – before making any jumps to the present.
Here’s how Keller rounds out her review…
“Rachel, I can and do agree with much of what you say in your book regarding the ways in which either poor biblical interpretation or patriarchal customs have sinfully oppressed women. I would join you in exposing churches, books, teachers, and leaders who have imposed a human agenda on the Bible. However, you have become what you claim to despise; you have imposed your own agenda on Scripture in order to advance your own goals. In doing so, you have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task.”
Most Christian readers I know won’t find her titular definition of “Biblical Womanhood” particularly resonates with their experience. Robyn just told me if I told her to call me master she’d laugh, and if I was serious she doesn’t know what she’d do. We’ve been married five years, and the issue has never come up before. But it’s not really written for me. It’s written for people across a much broader spectrum of Christianity than Held Evan’s fellow evangelicals, perhaps even feminist non-Christians.
Much like Jacobs’ work, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an enjoyable read – it’s funny. It’s occasionally poignant. Whether Held Evans is sitting on a roof, in contrition, trying to cook like Martha Stewart, or calling her husband “master” – there’s something to savour, and get annoyed by, and be challenged by, in every chapter. It’s frustrating. It’ll no doubt mislead some people. But it makes a serious point about wrong ways to read the Bible. And for all the frustations I felt at Held Evans misrepresenting the “evangelical” line that I’m familiar with – she grounded her accusations in reality, she talks about a group dedicated to the Biblical concept of patriarchy, and some “biblical polygamists.” Her criticisms might be of extreme groups, taking extreme positions – but they’re not so absurd that they don’t exist.
Like Jacobs, Held Evans doesn’t give a great answer for how to read the Bible, running the we have to “pick and choose” line – but it goes closer. Here’s what she says:
“Philosopher Peter Rollins has said, “By acknowledging that all our readings [of Scripture] are located in a cultural context and have certain prejudices, we understand that engaging with the Bible can never mean that we simply extract meaning from it, but also that we read meaning into it. In being faithful to the text we must move away from the naïve attempt to read it from some neutral, heavenly height and we must attempt to read it as one who has been born of God and thus born of love: for that is the prejudice of God. Here the ideal of scripture reading as a type of scientific objectivity is replaced by an approach that creatively interprets with love.”
For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it.”
Like Keller, I think this is fairly weak. I think we can approach scripture with an essentially “scientific objectivity” through historio-critical hermeneutics that have been demonstrably popular, at the very least, since Calvin, Luther, and Erasmus (basically since humanism), and with various figures throughout church history before that, with varying degrees of consistency. The criticism that we each bring an agenda to the text doesn’t warrant coming up with a blanket interpretive rule that we have to shoe-horn every text into, it means being careful to treat every text on merit, using a consistent method. But more than that – I think “love” is objective too – not a subjective thing that requires creativity. The Bible reveals God’s love to us in Jesus, from start to finish. We interpret a passage with justice when we realise that the Old Testament laws, and prophets, are fulfilled in Jesus – even if it’s true that the Old Testament laws should originally have been interpreted through the lens of “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “love your neighbour as yourself” – and a Christian ethic should do the same – if Biblical interpretation isn’t dealing with the question of how Jesus changes things – it’s not truly “Biblical” – that’s the criteria by which most readings fail.
The real strength of her critique is in the power of the negative:
“Now, we evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like it’s Martin Luther’s middle name. We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own. Despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word biblical prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity.”
She’s right. Most of us selectively read the Bible. Most of the time. We all have a tendency to want God on our side – supporting our football team, cause, or institution – and I’d argue that there’s an objectively right answer in most of these cases, but a lack of wisdom, ability to make complex decisions with omnipotent clarity, and the effect of sin means we’re all equally unlikely to land on it.
Her methodology is very similar to Jacobs’, only less charitable.
“This quest of mine required that I study every passage of Scripture that relates to women and learn how women around the world interpret and apply these passages to their lives. In addition, I would attempt to follow as many of the Bible’s teachings regarding women as possible in my day-to-day life, sometimes taking them to their literal extreme.”
For me, one of the interesting parts of the book is the way the online conversation on her blog, about the process of writing the book, becomes part of the book itself. There’s something meta about that that I appreciate, the commentary becomes the content. The conversation is about the conversation.
By this point I’d been reminded about a million times that the Bible didn’t explicitly command contentious women to sit on their roofs, and that rooftops in the ancient Near East would have been flat and habitable anyway, but I was determined to engage in some kind of public display of contrition for my verbal misdeeds… I spent an hour and twenty-nine minutes on the safest corner of our roof, reading over my list of transgressions, practicing a bit of centering prayer, and watching a small herd of cats mill about the neighborhood.
My biggest frustration with Held Evans’ exegesis of narrative came in her discussion of polygamy – where she makes the blanket claim that the Bible assumes, rather than condemning, polygamy. I don’t think that’s a particularly sensitive reading of any of the New Testament passages about marriage that either assume a marriage is between a man and a woman (so Jesus in Matthew, Paul in Corinthians), and the qualifications of an elder state that the leaders of churches are to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy, Titus). But the biggest grievance here is that it’s a poor reading of the Old Testament narrative – especially as she holds Solomon up as a Biblical hero – when his propensity for marriage was what caused the end of Israel and the spiralling into exile…
I’m as complementarian as they come – I’m ok with gender forming a different flavour of identity for men and women, and want to affirm, lovingly, and with equal value when it comes to personhood, the distinction between genders. My reading of the Bible resonates with Keller’s, and Flashing (who wrote the second review I linked to), rather than Held Evan’s slightly more post-modern approach to the text, and I’m pretty convinced we’ve got it right – but that’s not a reason not to criticise readings that we all think are wrong – readings that don’t pay attention to the context – which we’re all trying to do, just with different results, and thus, different conclusions. So I’d recommend the book – it’s funny, it’s interesting, it makes some strong points against those it critiques – but I’d not recommend the conclusion – which replaces Jesus as the hermeneutical key with “love,” when surely it’s the love of Jesus that gives all people the most hope, and a life lived following King Jesus is surely the most biblical type of life.
Parenting is fun. We love it. Getting advice about parenting, well, that’s a mixed bag. Some is helpful. Some is odd. Most is well intentioned. Some is revenge for the years of pain I’ve inflicted on other people’s kids.
Here’s my number one piece of parenting advice. Buy your child this kid’s Bible. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. For less than $12, excluding postage, you pretty much can’t go wrong. It’s brilliant. We’re on the third lap. It is well written, it is theologically astute. You’ll probably learn something about how to make Biblical concepts clear enough for kids.
It’s a sensational example of why a Christ centred Biblical Theology brings the whole Bible together.
I’ve found John Dickson tremendously helpful at just about every stage of my Christian life – even when he edited a magazine called Zed magazine that I remember reading as a kid. His books are helpful. His take on public Christianity is pretty paradigmatic for me, and his apparent commitment to excellence – particularly as manifested in his approach to scholarship, and the resources he produces – is something I aspire to.
This isn’t a new book, it has been around for a while, but we’re doing a series at church this term on connecting with people, where the book is suggested as a good way for understanding what evangelism looks like as a church family – it takes the pressure off a little bit, by lowering the bar – and treating evangelism not just as God’s work – which is a robustly reformed understanding of the task, but as the church’s work. A team effort.
My experience while reading this book was quite bizarre – almost an out of body experience. It was like I was reading my own thoughts written to me. This was scary, and somewhat reassuring. Though I hadn’t read the book until a month ago, this is largely the framework I use when I’m thinking about church, mission, and our role as individuals within those contexts.
My take on his foundational premise – that our lives, our whole lives, essentially function as a declaration of who we are, so we should think about that and live intentionally in a way that our lives are consistent with the gospel, in a way that promotes it – means I think it’s an incredibly useful resource, especially as it applies this concept to real life, it’s not abstract, and its incredibly well argued, with occasional references to the author’s PhD thesis, which I read a lot of for an essay once, and found equally helpful.
Here’s a lynchpin sort of paragraph…
“But perhaps the best kept secret of Christian mission is that the Bible lists a whole range of activities that promote Christ to the world and draw others toward him. These include prayer, godly behaviour, financial assistance, the public praise of God (in church) and, as already mentioned, answering people’s questions. All of these are explicitly connected in the Bible with advancing the gospel and winning people to Christ. They are all “mission” activities, and only a couple of them involve the lips at all.”
But wait. You say, observant reader that you are – this sounds exactly like that Sir Francis of Assisi misquote (h/t Gary Ware) that you don’t like: “always preach the gospel, when necessary use words” – you’ve said before that words are necessary. Thankfully, I’ve also said that I think a whole bunch of other stuff that communicates the truth of the gospel, deliberately, and alongside the use of words, also counts as word ministry (how we live/act, how we sing, multimedia, though I remain unconvinced about gospel mime).
I think words are necessary for word ministry, and for mission, but they aren’t the only part of our testimony. I think this book seeks to avoid people saying “words alone” – because our testimony will be much richer if we’re living them out, together, and letting people who are gifted in particular areas carry the load in those areas.
I like this quote from Augustine on the place of good works.
“Now of all who can with us enjoy God, we love partly those to whom we render services, partly those who render services to us, partly those who both help us in our need and in turn are helped by us, partly those upon whom we confer no advantage and from whom we look for none. We ought to desire, however, that they should all join with us in loving God, and all the assistance that we either, give them or accept from them should tend to that one end.”
Dickson is not denying that the gospel is words – he simply says we promote the gospel with more than words. Importantly he says this:
“Does this mean that people can start believing in Christ without hearing the gospel at all? No. As the apostle Paul makes clear, “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). First Peter 3:1 shows us that the gospel’s role in conversion is more complex than we sometimes realise. It is not enough simply to affirm that people are won to faith only through the hearing of the gospel. Let me explain. Leaving aside the important theological observation that all conversion is ultimately the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit, let me try and account for conversion from the human side of the equation, which is what Paul and Peter are talking about in the above texts. Humanly speaking, hearing the gospel is the necessary and sufficient cause of faith in Christ. It is necessary inasmuch as people cannot put their faith in Jesus without first learning the gospel about him. It is sufficient in that the gospel can bring people to faith all on its own—it needs no other factor (other than the work of the Holy Spirit). However, none of this means that hearing the gospel is the only cause of faith, or even that it is always the primary cause of faith. Other factors (on the human side of the equation) will frequently play a minor or major role in winning people over to the One revealed in the gospel.”
I could wax lyrical about this book and its benefits for a couple of thousand words – or you could just buy it and read it.
I’ll start with what I thought was a question I would have liked a bit more time spent on, or where I think something could be added – the first is his definition of the gospel…
“The gospel is the announcement that God has revealed his kingdom and opened it up to sinners through the birth, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity… Any account of the Christian gospel that does not narrate the basic content of the books we rightly call the Gospels does not deserve to be called a “gospel outline”. It might be a true and accurate statement of biblical truths—and, for that reason, valuable and useful for our hearers—but it is not the gospel that Jesus said must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10).”
I largely agree. I think the best three word reduction of the gospel is “Jesus is Lord” – if it was six words it would be “the resurrection shows Jesus is Lord” – but reductions suffer because they are simplifications… I’d want to suggest that while this is an incredibly useful description of the Gospel, it kind of cuts loose the Old Testament, especially creation and fall – which, though I have hesitations about the predominant usage of 2 Ways to Live (seriously, how many other conversations do people walk up to somebody, and unless they’re a professional cartoonist, or playing pictionary, say “can I draw you a picture”), though I have hesitations about this use – starting the gospel account from creation and fall is, I think, an essential part of the gospel narrative, I think John’s gospel, in the prologue, agrees with me, as does Matthew with his fronting of the genealogy – so this insight isn’t precluded by the summary above. I just think making it explicit is useful.
God’s role in creation, as the sole author of creation, is the foundation of his commitment to the act of promoting the gospel, so it’s not absent from his thinking. He says:
“There may be different ways of expressing it but I think I would have to answer this question with the simple statement: there is one God. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible makes the resounding, unapologetic declaration that there is just one Creator and Lord of the world. It begins in the Bible’s opening line: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). To ancient readers, this was not simply a sensible way to start a holy book. It was a huge swipe at the entire religious outlook of the time. The opening lines of the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, to give just one example from the period, list no fewer than nine separate gods, each with its own part to play in the events leading up to creation. Saying that “God created the heavens and the earth” was tantamount to saying that no other deity was involved in the universe… If there is just one God in the universe, everyone everywhere has a duty to worship that Lord.”
Tying the motivation for preaching to the Lordship of Jesus, rather than to fear of judgment or as some sort of good work, is incredibly freeing – from guilt, and from any sense of obligation, outside of the joyful gratitude that being one of the people of the true Lord of the universe brings. This is very helpful. He says:
“We promote God’s glory to the ends of the earth not principally because of any human need but fundamentally because of God’s/Christ’s unique worthiness as the Lord of heaven and earth. Promoting the gospel to the world is more than a rescue mission (though it is certainly that as well); it is a reality mission. It is our plea to all to acknowledge that they belong to one Lord.”
To which I say: “Amen”…
I think this paradigm really helpfully anchors the good that we do – promoting the Lordship of Jesus should be behind our care for the environment, and our love of other people – we do these things because both creation and people are good objects to love, but we ultimately do them because we live for the Lord Jesus, not ourselves – and the act declares something about that Lordship. It’s a complex relationship. I think “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
“Good deeds must never be thought of as a missionary tactic, a means of getting people onside before hitting them with the gospel (“throwing cakes to children”, as Emperor Julian would say). They are the essential fruit of the gospel. Good works must be done for their own sake, in obedience to the Lord. God’s grace proclaimed in the gospel finds its essential outcome in the godly life of those who believe the gospel. Nevertheless, it is precisely because good deeds are an essential fruit of the gospel that they so powerfully promote the gospel. Although we must not find ourselves “doing good” simply as a gospel ploy, there can be no question that Jesus expected unbelievers to observe our acts of love (for the world and for one another29) and through them to be convinced to worship the source of all love: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).”
He also says:
“Following the example of Paul and Jesus does not necessarily mean that we do what they did. It means that we live by the same flexible ethos, seeking the good of many so that they may be saved. Every aspect of our lives—including our social lives—can and should be directed toward the glory of God and the salvation of our neighbours.”
Being already convinced of the place of mission in the Old Testament – or the place it should have occupied in Israel’s approach to the nations – I found his stuff on Israel’s role as proclaimers of this truth convincing and helpful. Sadly, there was nothing that specifically supports my theory that the wisdom literature was a model of evangelism through participation in an international wisdom dialogue, as far as I know I’m still essentially alone there… but his understanding of how Israel was to promote the good news of God in their words, their life, their worship, and their distinctiveness from the nations is useful, and surely forms some of the working in developing a Biblical Theology of mission.
The sections relating to what it meant for Israel to evangelise by being Israel is, alone, worth the price of the book. This is one of the money paragraphs:
“Worship by the Book, Tim Keller of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church writes: Israel was called to make God known to unbelieving nations (Ps 105:1) by singing his praises (Ps 105:2). The temple was to be the center of a “world-winning worship.” The people of God not only worship before the Lord but also before the nations (cf. Isa 2:1-4; 56:6-8; Ps 47:1; 100:1-5; 102:18; 117). God is to be praised before all nations, and as he is praised by his people, the nations are summoned and called to join in song. This pattern does not essentially change in the New Testament, where Peter tells a Gentile church to “declare the praises” of him who called us out of darkness. The term cannot merely refer to preaching but must also refer to gathered worship…
Passages like these illustrate just how natural it was for biblical writers to see corporate praise as public proclamation, as a type of evangelism. This doesn’t mean that all gospel proclamation is “praise” but it does mean that all true praise has the potential to be gospel proclamation, for in it we recount the wonders of Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection and return.”
This leads to a particular approach to how church is conducted – it’s not about being seeker sensitive, but about being clear about who we are praising, about why, and concerned about how we conduct our gatherings – concerned for their quality.
“There are all sorts of reasons some of our churches have visitors – location, architecture, demographics and so on-but, in my experience, the most significant factor is the quality of the church service. By “quality” I do not mean the professionalism of the leader or the standard of technology and music. I mean the degree to which the congregation revels in its experience of praising God and encouraging one another…
I want to stress in the strongest terms that visitor-focused services are not an evangelistic necessity. Normal church meetings conducted exceptionally well will not only inspire the regulars; they will draw in visitors and, through the powerful vehicle of our corporate praise, promote the gospel to them.”
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this book, in terms of its reception, and the bit that I took the most convincing on, is the question of the semantic range of the word “evangelist,” and specifically whether or not everybody has a responsibility to speak the gospel, not just promote it. Dickson’s take is interesting. I feel like he’s onto something. Especially because I’m pretty committed to the idea that the body is made up of different people with different gifts – but I feel like in the absence of other people gifted in evangelism, or in smaller manifestations of the body – people have to be evangelists, I don’t think this is something that Dickson would deny… but I can’t put words into his mouth, here’s what he says:
“We are involved in God’s mission, and so we must allow his Word to shape our part in it. The slogan “Every Christian an evangelist” has a noble purpose, but it is not a biblical way of speaking. For Christians in general—as opposed to evangelists in particular—telling the gospel to others (evangelism) could be described as the icing on the cake of mission.”
His argument essentially seems to be some people are icing specialists (evangelists), some people are cake makers (promoters of the gospel), and that it’s fine to just make cake because that’s where the substance is, and its the harder bit. I guess I’d want to say that everybody should be able to make the icing, and evangelists have to be pretty good at making cake too. Again. I don’t think he disagrees. His tips for picking those people who are especially called, or gifted, as evangelists are valuable – but I do think that each one of the characteristics (keenness to share the gospel, relate well to non-believers, Christian maturity, and clarity on what the gospel is – including speaking intelligibly) is something that all Christians should aspire to.
One other very minor criticism is only really relevant if you’re convinced that Bruce Winter is right about what Paul is doing at the Areopagus, in Acts 17, if his exercise is an exercise in wisely assessing the situation, and meeting a social convention for his audience, which expected to be introduced to “foreign gods,” while presenting the gospel, then I’d say Paul’s speech there isn’t an anomaly, but rather, an essential demonstration of his approach to gospel preaching. I’d argue that rather than simply being an apologetic to their concerns, it is a presentation of the gospel that adheres to how they expect to hear about new gods. But that’s not a point that in any sense undermines this fantastic book.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for me – personally – coming from a guy whose excellence I admire, as someone who is too often tempted to think that my own pursuit of excellence in evangelism will be what produces fruit, came in this paragraph…
“A few years after these strange days, I asked Glenda [the lady who led him, and many of his friends from school, to Jesus] what she put her “success” down to. Without blinking she answered, “Prayer. We prayed earnestly, regularly and specifically for your school, and the Lord in his grace answered us.” As an evangelist who is sometimes tempted to think too highly of skill, style and creativity in evangelism, her words were (and are) a salient reminder that the “harvest” is the Lord’s, not mine. The most basic gospel-promoting task, therefore, is not evangelism; it is prayer to the Lord of the harvest.”
This is really powerful stuff for anybody who thinks too highly of their own God given skills, and ability to think. I thoroughly recommend this book that you’ve hopefully all read already.
Smart Business, Social Business is the most technical of the three books I read during our holiday. It’s not for everybody. Where the other two were “vibe” based, and supplied principles, this is stats and numbers driven. Where the other two were conversational in tone, this is didactic, and assumes a degree of familiarity with some business and marketing terminology.
Out of the 85 percent of people who want companies to be present in social media:
34 percent want companies to actively interact with them.
51 percent want companies to interact with them as needed or by request.
8 percent think companies should be only passively involved in social media.
7 percent think companies shouldn’t be involved at all.
The data is clear. Consumers want to have conversations with companies they care about. They don’t want to engage with corporate entities or logos, either—they want real, live human interaction and two-way dialogue with employees. And this can only be achieved with another person.
“One of the worst things any company can do is create a thriving community and then abandon it. Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Before launching new communities, Facebook fan pages, and Twitter profiles, a company must get a firm commitment from everyone involved to continuously engage in these channels. Otherwise, the company will surely be at the center of criticism and will probably be featured in a Harvard Business Review case study titled “What Not to Do in Social Media.””
“An advocate is a customer who talks about a product, service, or brand without being asked to. These customers may or may not be influential in social media, but that doesn’t stop them from talking about the brand and telling others about it.”
There’s some interesting stuff on the cash value of social media followers…
“In 2010, social media marketing firm Vitrue determined that the average value of a Facebook fan is about $3.60 in equivalent media each year. The firm calculated this using a wide range of clients and their 45 million aggregate fans before arriving at the $3.60 annual valuation. A couple of assumptions Vitrue makes up front are that each status update posted by the company generates an average of one new impression for each fan. It also assumes that the brand is posting two updates per day. Finally, Vitrue placed a value on each impression by assigning a $5 CPM, which translates to $300,000 in earned media per month, or $3.6 million annually, for a fan page with 1 million fans. The mathematical equation follows: 1M impressions × 2 posts × 30 days = 60M impressions 60M impressions / 1,000 × $5 CPM = $300,000 $300,000 × 12 months = $3.6M $3.6M / 1M fans = $3.60 The one flaw in this equation is that the $3.60 valuation heavily relies on the fact that the company needs to post an average of 730 status updates a year to reach that $3.60 value per fan. That’s just less than two posts per day, which is extremely high; sometimes overengagement can appear to be spam and can result in a loss of fans.”
And a bit on the amplification that social media platforms allow…
“For example, assume that company A has 1,000 Twitter followers. Every time it shares a piece of content, its potential reach is 1,000. Of course, this number will naturally grow as the company acquires more followers. The reach of the messages will increase exponentially as more followers retweet the message. If one of the company’s tweets gets retweeted 10 times and each of those followers has 1,000 followers, the total reach of that branded message would be the following: 1 tweet × 1,000 followers = 1,000 10 retweets × 1,000 followers = 10,000 1,000 + 10,000 = 11,000 total reach An engaged community that finds value in content that is shared on Twitter is likely to share that content with its own microcommunities.”
Create social media policies that address employees’ behavior when engaging online.
Train employees on how to blog, use Twitter, and be conversational when interacting in the community.
Develop a metrics model to measure the effectiveness of employee engagement on the social web.
Find and engage with online influencers and the communities where they spend their time
The first two steps are pretty much described by Likeable. The strength of Smart Business is the emphasis it places on listening to what people are saying online – you can join all sorts of conversations by monitoring when people on Twitter are talking about relevant issues, and even what people in your area are talking about with a tool like Nearby Tweets.
Part of doing social media well online is understanding how people behave online, and what sort of people you want to “empower” or build systems around. The book divvies up people according to how they use the net.
Creators—Create and publish content on blogs, Twitter, and YouTube.
Critics—Post ratings and reviews on websites such as ePinions, Yelp, and CNET. These users also comment on various blogs and wikis and contribute to online forums.
Collectors—Collect content in the form of tags and RSS feeds. They also vote for content on websites such as Digg.com.
Joiners—Join social networks but might not necessarily create or interact with any content.
Spectators—Only consume content. They read blogs, watch videos, read customer reviews, and listen to podcasts.
Inactives—Don’t create or consume any social content whatsoever.
The book also advocates finding advocates who will do the talking about your business for you – or, in the case of ministry, will use the channels you create to share the gospel (and stuff about your church) with their friends.
“Whatever the reason, advocates are vocal, passionate, and unafraid to praise the brand (both online and offline). In some cases, advocates even defend the brand against criticism and negative feedback. And even though they might not have hundreds of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, or RSS subscribers, the conversation with advocates about the brand is always authentic. Why? Because they’re being real and aren’t trying to impress anyone.”
You’d hope that comes with the territory of being part of a church – that should involve a significant level of personal investment.
Like every social media textbook everywhere, Smart Business relies on the premise that content is king – and that producing engaging content is fundamental to any social media success. It makes a distinction between proactive and reactive content (this distinction pretty much applies to all forms of consumer/public relations).
“Proactive content considers all outbound engagement and includes the sharing and distribution of brand-related messages on corporate blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other owned media properties. Proactive content can include product- or company-related announcements, industry perspectives, contest management, and other promotions…”
Proactive content gives you the opportunity to plan. This is something we do at Creek Road, because the service, not just the sermon, is defined by the big idea of the passage, we are starting to think about how we build the big idea, questions, and application, into our use of social media. This little snippet from the book is particularly useful.
“Some companies create just weekly or biweekly editorial calendars. However, it’s good practice to also maintain a six-month thematic calendar that documents and includes upcoming events, holidays, product launches, and other topics of interest to customers.”
Reactive stuff relies on having that carefully defined voice, and being quick to engage with criticism – preferably in a winsome way. It’s also worth reacting quickly to positives too, there are some great case studies in these books where encouraging and affirming people who have taken the time to engage with your product has worked to boost the good vibes involved as the interactions spread through people’s networks…
“Reactive content happens as a result of listening to conversations on the social web and responding when relevant. It can certainly include responding to comments on corporate blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, but it can also entail leaving comments on third-party blog posts.”
Here’s a “slideshare” that goes along with the premise of the book.
This book was harder going than the other two books, but it was pretty useful, especially as a companion piece providing some of the technical background and research to support the conclusions the other books assume.
I really enjoyed this book. This was actually my second time through (I’d read through it on a previous holiday) – but I wanted to skim over it again having read Platform… its fundamental thesis is that the social media success is tied to being Likeable , which in turn is tied to being a good citizen of the web, giving content away, sharing, and being altruistic in order to win brand loyalty and create ambassadors. So its got some great tie ins with ministry – especially since the gospel should come with built in enthusiastic ambassadors, namely, the church (2 Corinthians 5:20).
“In the beginning, there was Adam and Eve. Eve said to Adam, “You’ve got to try this apple,” and the first marketing interaction in the history of the world had taken place.”
The fundamental conviction at the heart of this book is that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing (I agree), but that harnessing word of mouth marketing and even generating it – especially in the age of social media – requires a bit of thought and deliberation, and then an ongoing commitment to being present in a persistent and authentic way.
“Who is better to defend you against negative posters, you or your thousands of happy customers? What kind of company would you rather do business with as a consumer—a company that publicly answers every single customer, or one who seemingly ignores many customers?”
The thought and deliberation happen at the level of thinking about your brand’s personality and the substance or content you aim to share to engage and benefit your audience.
Being authentic means speaking in a language that really represents who you are, but also in a language that resonates with the people you want to connect with – this means, in business, avoiding corporate weasel words or legalise, in the Christian sphere it’ll mean avoiding jargon and in crowd stuff.
You also need to have some grasp of the way each social media channel works, and use that knowledge and the thinking work you’ve put in to figure out a strategy for how you use them (or don’t). I’ve put together something like a social media strategy a while back which has some info about how Facebook works, amongst other useful things, but this book is helpful because it gives you practical homework at the end of each chapter that will leave you with a good sense of how to take your next steps into the world of social media.
There’s some stuff in the book that’s incredibly useful if you’re looking to promote a specific product where you want a purchase decision (which I don’t think you can do with the gospel – there are a few more categories that probably need to be esablished than a Facebook ad or status update can accomplish) – so this advice is relevant for events, or for people who are looking for tips for a small business, there are lots of pearls of wisdom along the way, like:
“Write five sample Facebook updates that combine an engaging question or valuable content with an irresistible offer, and link to your website to buy or learn more. Test, track, and measure the results in order to optimize for future ROI.”
To translate – even when you’re selling something you want to be hooking people with the update so that even if they don’t act, they engage, and including some sort of call to action. And you should experiment till you get it right. This is a theme Platform develops in more depth, I’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of days.
In my experience, and I, at last count, administer Facebook pages for about 20 different churches, events, and businesses, the pages that do this stuff well, and thoughtfully, are the ones that take off – so one page, for a popular drag racing team, has gone from 0 to 7,000 fans in about six months, just by having a well thought out brand, carefully driving people to their page, providing good content, and urging people to share the love and invite their friends.
Here are some examples of helpful “homework” from the book.
1. If you’re a one-person operation or a very small business, write down five things you could say that would seem inauthentic or that sound like marketing-speak to a customer. Then write five examples of how you could say the same messages in a more authentic way on Facebook.
2. If you are part of a large organization, create a plan for how to represent yourself authentically. Recognize that authenticity won’t be easy but that it’s essential. Meet with key stakeholders and management at your organization to determine how you can make communication more authentic across all channels, especially on social networks.
3. If you already have a social media policy, examine it carefully to ensure that it encourages authentic communication, and tweak it if it doesn’t. If you don’t yet have a social media policy, draft one now.
4. If multiple people are responding on Twitter on behalf of your organization, have them sign tweets with their name or initials.
1. Create a social media policy that insists on honesty and transparency as the default expectation. Review with other key stakeholders in your organization what company information, if any, is off-limits and how you can better embrace openness and transparency while still keeping this in mind.
2. If you work at a large organization, determine whether your chief executive officer can effectively use social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook herself to be the ultimate transparent representative of your brand.
3. Closely examine your social media policy to make sure it is aligned with the values of honesty and transparency at its core. If it is not, consider what you could add to help instill these values. Include references to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s code of ethics.
4. Write down three ways you could respond to questions and comments on social networks in a more transparent way in order to further build trust with your customers.
And here are some helpful quotes from the book…
“The formula for ad success is not to link ads to your website or shopping cart but to link to your fan page. Connecting users to your page encourages them to engage with you. They might enter a contest or ask you some questions about products, services, or your industry. They have the opportunity to connect with other people in your community.”
“Also, forget the notion that YouTube is about creating “viral videos” and getting millions of views. Is it possible to create videos on YouTube that will go viral? Sure. But think of the last 10 viral videos you’ve seen on YouTube. Chances are few of them, if any, were created by or for a business. Most of these videos take off organically. Videos that are “produced” don’t tend to go viral. What makes content viral is that very thing that often can’t be produced: the spontaneity of human experience. Even parody videos are based from the initial experience that was captured on video and released to the world, then deemed viral.”
“Many company blogs are unsuccessful because they are updated infrequently, and too often they’re updated with press release-like broadcast material, rather than valuable resources or content. With a blog, you have the opportunity to include longer text updates than you’re able to through Facebook or Twitter, as well as incorporate photos, videos, polls, and other multimedia. You can also tell stories at your own pace and on your own terms.”
One of the central theses of the book, if not the central thesis, is that being successful on the web means being prepared to give away good material in order to build your brand, and goodwill.
I think the great take home messages for people in ministry, or people who are thinking about how to use Facebook for Jesus, is that churches looking to use social media to help spread the gospel, as a way of connecting with people, the secret is in empowering those in the pews to be using your church’s presence as a bit of a call to action in their use of Facebook – we should be encouraging those who are keen ambassadors of Jesus, and members of our church communities to be talking about both Jesus and church in an authentic and engaging way online, we don’t carry the entire weight of producing good content that people will engage with (though our church/ministry pages should be doing that).
There are some interesting ways I’m thinking we could use Facebook advertising spinning out of this book – you could target people who say they’re Christians who have just moved to your area (changed location), you can target friends of friends to invite them along to evangelistic events, you can target people who aren’t Christians to welcome them to your area with the offer of a welcome pack if they like your page, you can target engaged or married people in your area to offer pre-marriage counselling or to advertise a marriage course. Facebook advertising is fairly powerful stuff – which is why it can be insidious when used by unscrupulous people. I read someone I respect greatly who said that the low quality of advertising on Facebook was enough to drive him away from spending advertising dollars, and someone yesterday suggested the inappropriate ads he was receiving were causing a rethink about Facebook’s values – but it’s not Facebook that does this, beyond an algorithm, it’s people using the data and likes you’ve supplied to target you – the key to improving the standard of ads on Facebook is liking more particular stuff (the ads I get are almost exclusively coffee related), and for advertisers – the key is producing relevant ads that might cut through some of the noise of weightloss ads, dating service spruiking, and whatever else you get coming up on your profile.
It’s interesting too that the emphasis on social media success seem to fall around characteristics that are emphasised by Paul as either parts of his ministry, so he has a fairly cross-shaped approach to ministry that emphasises ethos and substance over flashy and impressive stuff, or the modern equivalent. Authenticity. Loving others. Being selfless. Responding to situations that emerge with humility, integrity, generosity, and grace… the guy who wrote this book is basically the most successful social networking consultant going round – and he’s essentially advocating that people behave sacrificially in what they give out online, though he’s doing it with the expectation that it will eventually produce material returns, and we’re expecting that it will build goodwill that will get the gospel a hearing.
There are some great ideas in the book about what sort of content makes good Facebook content and boosts engagement – the ultimate goal is being likeable, and getting people to share the stuff you’re putting out there, which I guess raises a question about how we get people in our churches on board with this and thinking about themselves as ambassadors when they’re online, which probably taps into a bigger issue regarding how we get people to think about ambassadors when they’re offline. Part of authenticity is making sure that the experience people get of our church family is consistent both in the virtual world and the real world.
I did a little bit of flying during the last weekend – and I’m rubbish at writing at airports and on planes, so I chose to do some reading. My book of choice was Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography of Steve Jobs.
It was an interesting read, the carefully cultivated messianic myth came up against an access all areas account of Steve’s life. He was, as it turns out, a nasty and deliberate man. He had an incredible knack for understanding people and culture and using that to his advantage. This worked in his favour in business, he was constantly ahead of the curve – able to anticipate desires before we knew we had them. That was one of his significant mantras – people don’t know what they want until you give it to them. But this same ability meant that he was able to crush people, and did, just for kicks. He had poisonous relationships with lots of people who used to be his friends, and with members of his family, because he believed the myth. Essentially. He believed he was different, that he was special, and that his vision would change the world. And while he fostered a culture of robust discussion, and could have his mind changed, he’d immediately take the ideas of others and claim them as his own.
This is a fascinating exercise in anti-hagiography. It’s not a victor’s history. It’s a picture of a deeply flawed man who embraced his flaws to change the world. Like him, or hate him, and it’s hard to love him after reading this book… Jobs changed many industries, designed products that are being copied by all sorts of other people, and brought a new approach to business, especially the computer business, where everything was managed by one company (ie hardware design, manufacture (to an extent), software, retail, post retail (by providing a closed system). The open systems v closed systems thread that ran through the book, and Jobs’ interactions with Bill Gates provided an interesting picture into Silicon Valley and the technology we use. I enjoyed that. I learned lots. There are things Jobs did that are definitely not things I’d want to implement in my home life, or in my church life, but his pursuit of excellence, and his unrelenting confidence in the “truth” even in the face of opposition and rejection were in a sense, inspiring.
The great thing about the book was that it totally humanised Jobs. He was flawed. He wasn’t Nietzsche’s Übermensch, even if that was his self perception for a while. He wasn’t particularly smart – outside of his industry (and even within it) he did some really dumb stuff, that wasn’t skirted around in the book, it was a no-holds-barred treatment of his life. An example of his less than optimal decisions included not treating his cancer because he believed he could get rid of it just by drinking juice and applying some internet remedies. While he wasn’t particularly likeable, he had some redeeming features, and he was passionate. He was human. He was vulnerable. He wasn’t the messiah, just a naughty boy.
It was kind of sad that the tone of the book, and the editorialising at the end, seemed to excuse some of Steve’s behaviour on the basis of his achievements, as though the ends justified the means. It’d be interesting to hear from Steve’s neglected children, and from the friends and colleagues he left scattered in his wake, in twenty years – to see if they agree. There was a very real human cost to his decision to build a life around himself and his vision.
He told his biographer, in the months before he died, that he was “50-50″ on the question of God. He wanted there to be something else. He seemed to think his achievements would be works that God might judge him on. Apparently his last words were “oh wow, oh wow, oh wow” at least according to his sister’s more hagiographic eulogy (but who doesn’t say nice things at that point).
Here are some of the snippets from the book that I thought were particularly interesting insights from a man gifted with the ability to make particularly interesting insights…
“Reflecting years later on his spiritual feelings, he said that religion was at its best when it emphasized spiritual experiences rather than received dogma. “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.””
“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” he said. “For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.” He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. “I like to think that something survives after you die,” he said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.””
On designing with the end user(s) in mind…
““If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?” he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if there were five million people using the Mac, and it took ten seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to three hundred million or so hours per year that people would save, which was the equivalent of at least one hundred lifetimes saved per year. “Larry was suitably impressed, and a few weeks later he came back and it booted up twenty-eight seconds faster,” Atkinson recalled. “Steve had a way of motivating by looking at the bigger picture.””
On Apple’s Design philosophy…
“Apple’s design mantra would remain the one featured on its first brochure: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Jobs felt that design simplicity should be linked to making products easy to use. Those goals do not always go together. Sometimes a design can be so sleek and simple that a user finds it intimidating or unfriendly to navigate. “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious,” Jobs told the crowd of design mavens. For example, he extolled the desktop metaphor he was creating for the Macintosh. “People know how to deal with a desktop intuitively. If you walk into an office, there are papers on the desk. The one on the top is the most important. People know how to switch priority. Part of the reason we model our computers on metaphors like the desktop is that we can leverage this experience people already have.””
““The Apple Marketing Philosophy” that stressed three points. The first was empathy, an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer: “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.” The second was focus: “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” The third and equally important principle, awkwardly named, was impute. It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys.”
On applying this philosophy even to the smallest of things…
“People do judge a book by its cover, so for the box of the Macintosh, Jobs chose a full-color design and kept trying to make it look better. “He got the guys to redo it fifty times,” recalled Alain Rossmann, a member of the Mac team who married Joanna Hoffman. “It was going to be thrown in the trash as soon as the consumer opened it, but he was obsessed by how it looked.” To Rossmann, this showed a lack of balance; money was being spent on expensive packaging while they were trying to save money on the memory chips. But for Jobs, each detail was essential to making the Macintosh amazing.”
Eutychus was a young man who fell to his death because the Apostle Paul preached for too long (Acts 20). He's now the patron saint of non-boring Internet.
Nathan is a Christian. A husband. A father. A student. A writer. A PR Consultant. A coffee drinker. A fan of staccato lists in profiles.
He is currently a student minister at Creek Road Presbyterian Church, Carina (South Brisbane) and the opinions expressed on this page are his own and not representative of Creek Road, or the denomination.
Some of his PR/web marketing clients include: