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July 2005

July 25, 2005

Time Magazine recently listed the “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” Predictably, topping that list was Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Saddleback Valley, California, and author of the bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life. The Purpose Driven Life is a phenomenon that defies comparison. In two years it sold over 22 million copies and easily became the best-selling hardcover book in American history. Hundreds of thousands of pastors have been trained in Warren’s Purpose Driven seminars and tens of thousands of churches have participated in his programs. Time gets it right when they say, “Although Franklin Graham is heir to the throne of the Billy Graham organization, many believe that Warren, 51, is the successor to the elder Graham for the role of America’s minister.”

America’s minister. That is a role to which many would aspire, but which few are suited to fill.

Like many other Christians, while I see that there is much to admire about Rick Warren, I have found myself concerned by certain aspects of his ministry and his teachings. Those concerns have led me to carefully study how The Purpose Driven Life became such a runaway success and how Rick Warren has risen to dominate the evangelical church.

On May 26th of this year, I posted an article on my web site that I entitled “PyroMarketing and The Purpose Driven Life.” This article was the result of extensive research I had done into the marketing that caused The Purpose Driven Life to be such a great success. I found a substantial amount of information describing the role played by marketing in the ultimate success of the book. I discovered that an author named Greg Stielstra had also studied the success of The Purpose Driven Life as well as other modern phenomena such as The Passion of the Christ. Stielstra is Senior Marketing Director for Zondervan, the company that published Warren’s book, and was a member of the team that handled some aspects of the marketing for The Purpose Driven Life (though not the subsequent programs such as 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community which were marketed from within Purpose Driven). Stielstra is a confident marketer who was once quoted as saying that “if he promoted a book about quilting ‘to one-tenth of one percent of left-handed quilters,’ he could land the title on the non-fiction bestseller list and prime it for even bigger success.” His observations about what made Purpose Driven Life, The Passion of the Christ and other products such triumphs of marketing, helped him clarify a metaphor he had been perfecting for many years. He termed this PyroMarketing. I found that he was writing a book, entitled PyroMarketing : The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life.

At that time the publication date for the book was June 15 of 2005, a date which has long-since passed. I was eager to read more about PyroMarketing, so when the date passed and it was still not available I began to wonder what had happened. Only a small amount of investigation showed that not only was the book still unreleased, but there was no mention of the book or its author on the web site of HarperCollins, the company that was to publish it. Neither was it listed as one of their “Upcoming Books.” A web site dedicated to the book, pyromarketing.com, which is registered to DDM Marketing & Communications now says simply “Coming this July.” Information that had at one time been available, such as PowerPoint presentations and Adobe Acrobat documents, as well as what appeared to be an early draft of the book’s introduction, had been removed.

I found this strange and, being curious as to what had happened, decided to pursue this further. I soon began to hear whispers which indicated that the book had been suppressed from within the HarperCollins organization. Someone, it seemed, had brought pressure to bear on HarperCollins so that the company felt it was unwise to publish the book. Could it be possible, that Rick Warren, who is the bestselling author for Zondervan, whose parent company is HarperCollins, or people within his organization, could have used his influence to block the publication of this book? My suspicions were confirmed when I read a recent article in Publishers Weekly. But before we go any further, I will need to provide some background information on PyroMarketing.

Greg Stielstra

Allow me to introduce Greg Stielstra. As mentioned, Greg is the Senior Marketing Director at Zondervan. The authors he has worked with in his fourteen years with the company read like a who’s who of Christian publishing. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked with the biggest names in publishing Philip Yancey, Lee Strobel, Jim Cymbala, Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Joni Eareckson Tada, Billy Graham, Dan Qualye, Oliver North, Dave Dravecky, Rick Warren, Kurt Warner, Mike Singletary, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Rosa Parks, Dr. Ben Carson, and others. My work for these authors has won many accolades for marketing excellence, and my track record includes 88 best sellers, 20 #1 bestsellers, and eight books that have sold more than a million copies. Five of these books made The New York Times bestsellers list, including a title that reached #1 and remained on the list for over two years.”

Through his career Stielstra came to realize that many of the principles used by marketing companies were no longer applicable to the modern (or postmodern) consumer. Growing tired of old marketing metaphors based on water or viruses, he observed examples of marketing that had provided stunning results and created a way of understanding marketing based on a metaphor of fire. He termed this PyroMarketing.

The key to successful PyroMarketing is to understand marketing as fire. Founded on the hard fact that we are bombarded with advertising, and that brute-force advertising is simply no longer effective, PyroMarketing attempts a new approach appropriate for the twenty-first century. Interestingly, Stielstra compares the success of The Purpose Driven Life with another surprise hit, The Passion of the Christ. “The success of The Purpose Driven Life or The Passion of the Christ, remains puzzling to many, but not to those who know their secret. What do these remarkable success stories have in common? They each used PyroMarketing.” The technique is well-described in a little song you may have sung while sitting beside a campfire:

It only takes a spark to get fire going
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

PyroMarketing is built around this metaphor of fire. Stielstra says, “Every fire needs fuel, oxygen, heat and the heat from the combustion reaction itself. Heat excites the fuel, breaking its molecular bonds at the ignition point freeing the fuel’s electrons to abandon the fuel and join with oxygen in the surrounding air. Ignition temperatures vary significantly from one fuel to the next. The reaction gives off additional heat which excites neighboring fuel and causes the fire to spread.”

Just as fire depends on fuel, so does marketing. Just as ignition temperatures vary from one fuel to the next, so do the “ignition points” of consumers. And just as fire spreads, so excitement about products spreads. “In PyroMarketing consumers are the fuel and their ignition points also differ widely. There is money stored in their wallets, but there is a very strong bond between consumers and their money. Marketing provides the heat that excites them and, if it can heat them beyond their ignition temperature, it will cause them to exchange their money for your product or service.” This approach empowers “consumer evangelists” who will do the most important and effective marketing on a product’s behalf.

The four steps of this marketing approach mimic the steps of building a fire:

  1. Gather the driest tinder - “These people have the lowest ignition temperature relative to your product. The slightest heat from your marketing causes them to light and burn hot. This is the only group whose ignition temperature is within reach of traditional advertising.”
  2. Touch it with a match - “Let people experience your product or service. If you want prospects to laugh, don’t tell them you’re funny; tell them a joke. Experience is hotter than advertising and can ignite even the mildly interested.”
  3. Fan the flames - “This means equipping your customers to spread your message more effectively through word-of-mouth. Personal influence is hotter than advertising or experience and the only way to convert the apathetic masses. Reach them by leveraging the power of passionate customer evangelists.”
  4. Save the coals - “Keep a record of the people you find with your marketing so that each new campaign builds equity you can tap in the future.”

Perhaps the most important concept to grasp is the cyclical nature of this approach. Saving the coals allows a marketer to repeat the process, as the coals can be used to ignite further dry tinder. The coals represent the equity that can be tapped in future campaigns.

If The Passion of the Christ and The Purpose Driven Life are any indication - and Stielstra makes it clear that they are - this approach seems to provide results and is well-suited to bring success in the 21st century.

PyroMarketing and The Purpose Driven Life

Greg Stielstra was Director of the team within Zondervan that was responsible for marketing The Purpose Driven Life. While he was responsible for marketing only particular aspects of the book, he applied his PyroMarketing principles to any areas which fell under his responsibility. In examining the wider Purpose Driven marketing campaign, he came to realize that The Purpose Driven Life made a compelling case study for PyroMarketing. While they were unaware that they were doing so, and in all likelihood had never heard the term, the Purpose Driven ministry team perfectly applied the four principles of PyroMarketing to such campaigns as 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community. At the risk of repeating myself I would like to make it clear that Greg Stielstra was involved in only a small part of the marketing effort for The Purpose Driven Life and does not claim to be the primary reason for its success. But when he studied the wider marketing effort he came to see that it was a perfect case study for his philosophy of marketing.

  1. Gather the driest tinder - Purpose Driven gathered the driest tinder by seeking out the people who were most likely to respond positively to their campaign. They found 1200 pastors whose congregations totaled some 400,000 people. Using existing credibility gained through Warren’s prior book The Purpose Driven Church and through Purpose Driven seminars, they convinced 1200 pastors to begin a 40 Days of Purpose campaign in their churches. These people were gathered with the promise (or at least suggestion) of success - that by following this campaign they would have bigger, stronger, more successful churches.
  2. Touch it with a match - Having found 1200 pastors who would lead their churches in this campaign, Zondervan produced commercial spots and had them played on Christian radio stations in target areas. This generated some excitement about the program and even provided a small amount of brand recognition. They did not actively promote the book, but the campaigns that were beginning in local churches. For six weeks, following a video introduction by Rick Warren, those churches taught messages prepared by him and studied his book in small groups. Zondervan discounted the book to just $7 (from the usual $20) to promote it to the 400,000 people attending these 1200 churches. The flame was now burning, if only in a small way.
  3. Fan the flames - Zondervan fanned the flames by promoting the book and the associated programs as evangelism. They told how this book had changed lives and grown churches within those 1200 congregations that formed the initial campaign. A company called Outreach marketing produced posters and door hangers and other items to assist churches as they spread the word. Zondervan provided retailers with marketing tools like postcards and emails along with a list of participating churches so they could sell them any additional copies they needed. The pastors and laypeople who had already completed the program, largely unknowingly, became consumer evangelists. The flames spread.
  4. Save the coals - Zondervan gathered information on every church that had done the program, and wherever possible, on the individuals who had participated. They gathered email addresses through their web sites. As more Purpose Driven products become available, Zondervan can market them to a group that has already expressed interest in this type of product. According to Stielstra, saving the coals “is how your marketing budgets build equity and the only way to expand your business with marketing budgets that stubbornly refuse to grow. There is a great deal of scientific evidence for PyroMarketing from psychology, physiology, and sociology.” The coals are now gathered, prepared to heat up a fire that is dying down, or to begin a whole new one.

Following the success of The Purpose Driven Life and other phenomena that displayed the value of PyroMarketing, Stielstra decided the time was right to publish a book explaining his philosophy of marketing. Without claiming credit for its success, he sought to explain the success of the book through the principles of his marketing philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers agreed to publish the book, which was to be titled PyroMarketing : The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life and was expected to reach store shelves by mid-2005.

The Suppression of PyroMarketing

Apparently at some time during 2004, Stielstra met with Bucky Rosenbaum, who at that time was Rick Warren’s literary agent. Rosenbaum has since gone on to become President of Purpose Driven Publishing. Rosenbaum expressed no great concern with the content of the book and made only three requests. First, he asked that The Purpose Driven Life not be the only case study used. Second, he asked that Stielstra write from the perspective of an observer rather than as a team member. In other words, he wanted to ensure that Stielstra did not claim that his marketing technique had been the textbook for the Purpose Driven ministry team. And finally, he asked that he have access to the manuscript prior to publication. While he was under no obligation to do so, Stielstra, as a courtesy, agreed to these requests. According to Publishers Weekly, “On July 6, 2004, Stielstra wrote Warren a letter outlining those three points and included a sample from the book that illustrated how references to PDL were being incorporated. Stielstra e-mailed the letter to Rosenbaum. “Within hours of receiving the e-mail, Bucky replied by saying, ‘This is fine and consistent with our agreement.’”“

A short time later, it seems that Stielstra received a phone call from Doug Slaybaugh, an executive at Saddleback Community Church. He expressed grave concern with the content of a speech Stielstra had made a short time before and indicated that he would do all within his power to ensure every mention of The Purpose Driven Life was removed from PyroMarketing. His concern seemed to be that Stielstra was attempting not only to explain the success of The Purpose Driven Life through PyroMarketing principles, but also that he was attempting to take undue credit for his role.

By this time Rick Warren had a new agent, Jeff Slipp. Slipp contacted Zondervan and expressed his expectation that they would procure the manuscript from HarperCollins. They were able to do this. After reading it, Warren’s agent asked to edit the manuscript and make changes as he saw fit. Stielstra refused, but offered to discuss this man’s concerns. Eventually, due to pressure from Zondervan and HarperCollins, Stielstra did make at least two rounds of changes to the text. The agent finally approved the manuscript and indicated that he would pass it to Rick Warren.

Not long afterward, it appears that Rick Warren contacted Zondervan’s President, Doug Lockhart, and demanded that all references to The Purpose Driven Life be removed from PyroMarketing. Apparently this demand stemmed from a concern that this book would make a clear connection in the mind of the reader between The Purpose Driven Life and marketing technique. Lockhart returned to Stielstra, suggesting that he remove all references to Warren’s book and that he find examples of his marketing principles from the 2004 Presidential campaign. He declined. To this day Stielstra has refused to edit those portions of his book. HarperCollins has not published PyroMarketing and will give no indication as to when or even if they will do so. At this point the book is more than a month past its publication date and has not yet been printed. As indicated earlier, all mention of the book has been removed from HarperCollins’ web site. Amazon sent a notification to customers who had pre-ordered the book indicating that it had been delayed and providing order-cancellation information. The site currently shows an August release date. It now seems unlikely that this book will ever be published, at least unless HarperCollins returns the rights to the book to the author so he can find a new publisher. To this point they have refused to do so. According to an article published in Publishers Weekly, “Harper senior v-p/director of corporate communications Lisa Herling declined to discuss Stielstra’s assertions, noting only that Pyromarketing “is still in the editorial process, and the publication date is yet to be determined. We do not discuss the details of our editorial process nor our conversations with our authors.” Warren’s organization referred PW to Zondervan.”

Publishers Weekly also quoted Stielstra as saying, “It’s becomes apparent that a resolution is far, far away. If HarperCollins isn’t going to publish my book and they don’t want to upset their largest author, I can understand that. Just give me back my book.”

What Happened and Why?

Is Rick Warren, America’s Pastor, using his power to suppress this book? If so, what value is there in denying the truth of what made The Purpose Driven Life such a success?

Based on the information available to us we have to conclude that Rick Warren or his representatives brought his considerable influence to bear on Zondervan, and thus on HarperCollins, demanding that this book be suppressed. Warren represents a significant source of revenue for these companies. Not only is he the biggest selling author for Zondervan, but he is also the bestselling author for the parent company HarperCollins. It seems that they felt they had to cater to his demands, for his influence far outweighed that of Stielstra.

But why does Warren fear this book? From all I could find, Stielstra has never written anything negative about Rick Warren or The Purpose Driven Life. If anything, he has praised both the book and the author and appears to respect Rick Warren as a pastor and as a church leader. After two rounds of changes that were subsequently approved by Warren’s agent it seems clear that the book will be likewise positive in tone. What would cause a person to knowingly risk interfering with a contract made between two other parties? Based on the comments made by his representatives, it would seem that the explanation lies in Warren’s fear that his critics will misinterpret the book and twist Stielstra’s words to prove that Warren is not a pastor, but a marketer. He feels that people will come to view The Purpose Driven Life as a marketing success rather than a ministry success. This may also impact Warren’s global P.E.A.C.E. plan which is in the beginning stages even now. Perhaps when people become aware of PyroMarketing techniques they will come to see themselves as “glowing coals” and realize they are part of a larger marketing campaign.

Strangely, and perhaps ironcially, few people would list marketing as a primary concern with The Purpose Driven Life. Only a brief survey of various reviews and critiques proves this to be true. Having studied almost all of the available information about The Purpose Driven Life and the principles of PyroMarketing, it is clear that the book does owe much of its success to this type of marketing. The Purpose Driven Life was not merely a grassroots, word-of-mouth, ministry success. It was a well-planned and carefully-orchestrated marketing triumph.

Based on this information, it is only right and fair that Rick Warren and his representatives retract their demands and allow PyroMarketing to be published. Zondervan must follow suit, freeing HarperCollins to publish this book. Supreme Court Justice Luis Brandeis once said, “men feared witches, and burned women.” Misguided lawmakers have often tried to control their critics by restricting their right to self-expression. But just as the women who were killed in Salem did little to solve the problem for which they lost their lives, so suppressing PyroMarketing will do nothing to silence Warren’s critics, for marketing is among the least of their concerns.

Sources Cited

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA628774.html?display=breaking (Subscription required)
http://www.pyromarketing.com/documents/PyroBio.pdf
http://www.pyromarketing.com/documents/MagazinePublishers_script.pdf
http://www.pyromarketing.com/documents/PyroExcerpt.pdf
http://www.pyromarketing.com/documents/GregStielstra_Presentation.pps
http://www.pyromarketing.com/documents/WOMpresentation.ppt
http://www.pyromarketing.com/documents/WOMoverview.doc

July 25, 2005

Hang on to your hats, because I am about to spiritualize (and very possibly trivialize) one of the great laws of physics. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, in its simplest form, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take a look around and you will see this law in action every day.

Have you ever seen a slow-motion replay of a big boxing match where the broadcasters show the punch that finished the match? A gloved fist flies towards a face and at the moment of impact you can see the law in effect. As the glove meets the face, it reacts according to the amount of force applied to it. When the fist meets flesh, the point of impact is compressed inwards – perhaps a cheek is pressed into the boxer’s mouth. As that happens, the force of the punch pushes the entire head in the same direction as the fist is travelling. The opposite cheek sags eerily outward and a spray of sweat flies off the man’s body. The action of the fist striking with stunning force produces an equal and opposite physical reaction.

While this law is true in the physical world the framework of this law applies equally to truth. Through history we have seen that for every truth God reveals about Himself, there arises an equal and opposite error. Whenever God has chosen to reveal new truth about Himself, an opposite falsehood has arisen to lead people astray from the Lord.

The history of truth’s progressive revelation to mankind is not constant. Through history we have seen that for truth to progress, God must first reveal it in an objective sense. There must then be a combined effort on the part of God and men to subjectively reveal that truth to church or society. Where the objective revelation may take place in a moment or a day, the subjective revelation may take years or ages. Consider God’s revelation of His Law to Moses. In just a short while He wrote the Law on the tablets, objectively giving His Law to a particular man. It was then the combined task of God and Moses to subjectively integrate these Laws into society.

History, then, when viewed through a wide lens, is a series of these great epochs as God first makes an objective revelation and men then slowly integrate this truth into society. The first is an action on God’s part and the second is a reaction on the part of men. While there is always a positive action in reaction to truth, there is also an opposite negative reaction that arises in direct opposition.

J.A. Wylie describes the waves of action and reaction as being similar to the tide rising on a beach. A great wave crashes down on the beach, and for a moment it seems that the beach and the land beyond must be flooded. But in a moment the ocean’s fury is spent and the wave retreats, washing back towards the sea. But a careful observer will see that not all the ground that was gained by the great wave has been lost. Before long another wave crashes on to the beach and more land is gained by the ocean. And thus, by a series of advances and retreats the tide flows in and the beach is gained. And so it is with truth.

I want to briefly consider this in the contexts of four of the great epochs in history: God’s original revelation, God’s revelation to Moses, early Christianity and the Reformation.

Revelation After Creation

At the close of Creation God created a man in His own image and placed him in the Garden of Eden. The crowning achievement of His Creation, man was given a position of great honor and responsibility. Man was given dominion over the earth and entrusted with the responsibility to tend it. Everything was given to him but a single tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man walked in perfect communion with God. We do not know what truths God revealed to man at that time, but we can presume that it was just exactly what he needed – no more and no less. God told man what he needed to know to thrive in a perfect world. It was in this beautiful world that there arose the first error as Satan convinced man that He could be like God. In opposition to the truth that man is limited and God is infinite, arose the opposite error. Satan convinced man that he could be like God. The waves receded so that by the time of Noah the Bible tells us everyone on the earth, with the exception of Noah and his family, hated God and sinned continually.

truth gradually progressed in society. But as truth had progressed, so had error. Paganism took root as the opposite of the pure worship of God. The tower of Babel arose as men reached to the heavens to usurp the glory due only to God. We see that paganism, though in a primitive form, arose and thrived as the evil alternative to God.

Mosaic Revelation

Many years later God’s children found themselves in bondage to the Egyptians. It must have seemed like the world contained nothing but darkness and surely the Israelites must have felt that God had abandoned them to their sin. But this was not so. Just when it seemed that things could not deteriorate any further, God providentially raised up Moses. After leading the people from their slavery, God gave Moses new revelation about truth. Over the course of many years, this truth was subjectively integrated into the Israelite society. The tabernacle and later the temple were built as places to worship God. The feast days were integrated into the calendar and the ceremonies into times of worship.

During this time error also increased in direct opposition to the pure truth of God. Baal worship progressed in its influence and in its evil. The ceremonies of pagan worship grew in proportion to match the ceremonies of god-ordained worship. God’s people were continually led astray by more developed forms of pagan idolatry that directly contradicted true worship.

The Early Church

Jesus’ death marked the end of the Mosaic era. The ceremonial and judicial laws were fulfilled in the Savior. In place of law and ceremony God planted a church – a church that was not merely an extension of His plan for His people but was the fulfillment of His plan. His eternal plan led to this church, composed of men and women, Jew and Gentile, black and white – a church of people from all races united in their love of God. But the laws of truth were in effect even then, and there quickly arose opposite errors. The simplicity of the early church was polluted as jealous men fought for rank and position. Whatever God instituted was quickly matched by a corrupt opposite. Simplicity gave way to symbolism, free grace to man’s work and sacrament to ritual. The early church gave way to a Roman religion that for over a millennium seemed to hold back the tide of truth’s progress.

The Reformation

Once more the waves receded so that the beach again appeared to be bare. Once more it seemed that God had allowed the shadow to cover the earth. But there, in the 16th Century a light flickered. God allowed one man, Martin Luther, to take a stride forward in truth. Following in Luther’s footsteps other men came to rediscover great truths that had seemingly been lost since the time of the apostles. Within just a few years this truth had been integrated into Christianity in the movement that came to be known as the Reformation. Similarly, within a few years, there had arisen errors to match these ones. As truth unfolded in a more complete form, so more complex errors were invented. Arminianism arose as a means of lessening the terrifying prospect of God’s absolute sovereignty. Catholicism continued its corruption, attacking the principles of Protestantism – Christ’s sufficiency, His completed work and God’s free grace.

And So On

And so it continues. Even in our present day, hundreds and thousands of years after these great revelations, truth marches on. The truths God revealed to Adam, to Moses, to the apostles and to the Reformers continue to challenge the church. There is little reason to doubt that more epochs will unfold, or perhaps are unfolding even now, as God more fully reveals truth. As truth progressively unfolds, error continues to oppositely assert itself.

It is of foundational importance to understand that while each truth further strengthens its position, each error further corrupts the attempts to undermine God’s revealed truth. Each truth draws closer to perfection while each error draws closer to destruction. Just as a child lies to his parents and as his ficticious story progresses it becomes less and less plausible, so error upon error progressively undermines the position of those who fight against truth. God’s truth must and shall prevail. In the end error will be destroyed; truth will reign supreme and shall be fully revealed. We will know truth even as truth knows us. Truth will win in the end.

I first posted this article over a year ago. Just yesterday my attention was drawn to it when Steven G. Brant linked to it in an article in the Huffinton Post. His article was subsequently picked up by Yahoo and suddenly there are hundreds of people linking to the article. I thought it would be interesting to post it again and have some discussion about it.

July 25, 2005

I have had the mixed blessing of reading several of the titles in the LifeChange series. Some have been good, some have been awful. But I guess that is to be expected when the authors represented range from C.J. Mahaney to Pat Robertson; from John Piper to Bill Gothard. Of the titles I have read, none has been better than The Cross Centered Life.

In his book The Discipline of Grace Jerry Bridges wrote, “The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it” (The Discipline of Grace, page 46). C.J. Mahaney would have us remember that sometimes the most obvious truths are the very ones we need to be reminded of the most. The Cross Centered Life is just such a reminder.

July 24, 2005

destruction.jpgIt is a tragic fact that many, and perhaps even the majority of students who proclaim to be Christians when they begin college, no longer make such a claim when they have finished. Four years of college, four years of being away from the presence of parents and church, leads many to abandon the faith they once professed. To combat this ongoing problem, David Wheaton, radio host and one-time tennis professional, has written University of Destruction. This book is targetted squarely at the teenager who is about to depart the comfort and safety of home to set out on his own, beginning with a college education.

July 24, 2005

sinker.jpgHook Line and Sinker is a book based on what the author, Michael Bresciani, calls “refutation preaching.” “Refutation preaching as its name implies serves to refute some doctrine or teaching that has previously been established and generally accepted. Often these previously established teachings have been based on the scriptures themselves. Still other teachings have gained acceptance through oral communication” (page 9). Refutation preaching, says the author, is as old as the Bible’s record of human history. The prophets of the Old Testament were called to refute what had become accepted theology, but went against God’s Word. In this book, Bresciani seeks to refute some of the cliches and theology that have become accepted within the church. He does so with mixed results.

Some of what the author refutes is far overdue. God is testing you. I claimed a verse of Scripture. God told me to tell you. These are all phrases we hear used in a way that is foreign to any Scriptural understanding of God’s work in our lives.

July 23, 2005

historychristianity.jpgIt takes a brave man to attempt to encapsulate 2000 years of church history in six 30-minute segments. Three hours is barely enough time to adequately explain the background information necessary to understand the rise of Christianity, to say nothing of its long and storied history. Anyone attempting to create a survey of Christian history must be able to choose and concentrate on only the most critical events and only the most important historical figures. History of Christianity, written and hosted by Dr. Timothy George, attempts to do just this. The results are mixed at times, but generally quite positive.

It has long been an observation of mine that to study Christian history in a way that is fulfilling and accurate, we must draw distinctions. We must differentiate between the many groups that lay claim to the name “Christian.” When we equate Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox, the history of the church becomes murky - difficult to understand. But when we make appropriate distinctions, the light shines and we are able to distinguish between the history of those who considered themselves Christians, and those who actually were. For example, if we understand the papacy to be at odds with Scripture, it becomes obvious why the office became so corrupt. If we understand that Roman doctrine denies the true Gospel, we can see why the church needed to be reformed.

Thus before the viewer begins this series, it is helpful for him to understand the distinctions within Christianity and to draw his own conclusions about them. For sake of brevity I will not review each of the episodes individually. Instead I present this summary of their content:

  1. THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY: THE EARLY CHURCH
    From AD 65 - Executions of Peter and Paul at Rome
    To AD 430 - Death of St. Augustine in North Africa
  2. THE CHURCH IN THE MIDDLE AGES: THE QUEST FOR ORDER IN MEDIEVAL CHRISTENDOM

    From 410 - Fall of Rome

    To 1483 - Birth of Martin Luther
  3. THE REFORMATION: DIVISION AND RENEWAL BETWEEN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN TIMES

    From 1483 - Birth of Luther

    TO 1564 - Death of Calvin
  4. THE AGE OF REASON AND PIETY: THE CHURCH IN EARLY MODERN TIMES

    From 1543 - Copernican Revolution

    To 1738 - Conversation of John Wesley
  5. CITY SET ON A HILL: CHRISTIANITY IN THE NEW WORLD

    From 1492 - Columbus Discovers the New World

    To 1770 - Death of George Whitehead
  6. INTO ALL THE WORLD: CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT IN AN AGE OF UNCERTAINTY

    From 1789 - Fall of the Bastille

    TO 1989 - Fall of the Berlin Wall

As we might expect, some segments of the series are stronger than others. I was somewhat disappointed with the second and sixth segments, but found the remaining four quite strong. The episodes dealing with the Reformation and the New World were particularly informative. The second segment, which was to take the viewer from the death of Augustine to the birth of Luther, dealt predominantly with St. Francis of Assisi. He is clearly an important figure in one particular branch of the Christian tradition, but the attention given to him led other important figures, such as Tyndale and Hus to be overlooked. In fact, these two men received only one shared sentence in the narration. Surely the men who were the forerunners of the Reformation merit more attention than that. There was no mention of the Crusades or Inquisitions in this episode or any other. The final episode continued to blur the importance of the distinctions between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. Dr. George speaks of the important of ecumenical efforts in Christianity, but does little to define the terms on which Christians are to unite. He uses the oft-quoted phrase, “In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity,” but makes no attempt to define the essentials.

This leads us to return to my concern with the lack of helpful distinctions. Because of this oversight I am sure that a Roman Catholic viewer would feel as uncertain at times as a Protestant or Orthodox viewer. Despite my concern about this matter, the series offers a lot of good information and will surely fulfill its purpose, which is to provide points of interest that will lead the viewer to engage in future study of the history of the church.

The disc contains several helpful extras which add to the value of the series: a leader’s guide that contains background information and study questions; a student workbook; and the complete script for each episode.

In the final assessment, then, I feel it may have been more beneficial had Dr. George written this series to appeal predominantly to one of the Christian traditions. However, this remains a helpful series and one I can recommend. It would make a solid basis for a study on the history of the church provided the leader is willing to deal with the distinctions the author overlooks.

This DVD is available from Vision Video, 1-800-523-0226.

  EvaluationSupport
Theology/Accuracy
A bit of a mixed bag. See the text of the review for an explanation.
Special Features
They aren’t flashy, but they’re very helpful.
Uniqueness
There are plenty of survey courses on Christianity available.
Importance
We can’t underestimate the importance of studying the history of the church.
Overall
Not entirely consistent, but generally a good presentation.
More About Ratings & Reviews
July 22, 2005

I am going to pose a question and ask you to think for a minute or two before answering. Stop for a moment before you continue reading this article and answer this simple question. Who is the worst sinner you know? Chances are that you know hundreds of people. Perhaps a thousand. Think of all those people and ponder which one is the worst sinner of all.

I’ll wait.

Who did you think of? Perhaps you thought of a parent who did irreversible damage to you when you were only a child. Maybe you thought of a co-worker who delights in his own depravity, or maybe you thought of a friend or family-member who is imprisoned for what he has done. But if you were honest I hope you were able to admit that you know someone who is a far greater sinner than any of these.

Who do you know better than anyone else? Whose heart is laid before you in its entirety, so that you cannot escape the evil bubbling just beneath the surface and the far greater evil buried deep within? When I stop and think about the greatest sinner I know, I really have no choice but to admit that it is me. I am the greatest sinner I know. It feels good to say it. Good but humbling. I am the greatest sinner I know. I may not sin as much as the guy next door, but I see only a few of his evil deeds, so he cannot be the worst winner I know. I see every single one of mine. All day long, in everything I do and in every word I say, I see my own propensity towards evil.

I know how my heart grumbles when it should be glad, and how it is glad when it should cry out. I see how I can walk away from the poor, lonely and destitute and rarely think of them again. I know how I continually do the very things I least want to do and least should do, all the while avoiding those things I most want to do. Truly there is no end to the depravity of my heart. William Law, who lived in the 18th century, knew this. He said, “Nothing hath separated us from God but our own will, or rather our own will is our separation from God.” He said also that, “Self is the root, the tree, and the branches of all the evils of our fallen state.” The selfishness of my heart and my love for what is evil is both shocking and humbling. And it all begins with me.

The apostle Paul knew this. While there are few people in all of history most of us would be more eager to spend time with, and while there are few who have contributed more to the Christian faith, he looked into his heart and proclaimed himself the chief of sinners. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15,16).

Like Paul, William Law was the worst sinner he knew. He wrote, “We may justly condemn ourselves as the greatest sinners we know because we know more of the folly of our own heart than we do of other people’s.”

You are the worst winner you know. I am the worst sinner I know. Say it to yourself and let it sink in. Let it penetrate your heart and your conscience.

All is not lost.

Why did Paul proclaim himself the foremost of sinners? He was not dwelling on his own sinful nature, nor bemoaning his state. No, Paul was pointing, as he did in every area of his ministry, to the cross of Christ. The depravity of the apostle was great, but how much greater was the love of Jesus Christ! He received mercy so that Jesus might display His amazing grace.

In The Cross Centered Life, C.J. Mahaney writes of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. “As Jesus reclines at the low table, leaning on one elbow, His feet stretched out away from the table, the woman stands over Him and begins to weep. All conversation ceases. The sound of her weeping grows in volume, filling the house and spilling out into the street. Her freely flowing tears wet His unwashed feet. She kneels down, takes down her hair, and with it begins to wash Jesus’ tear-stained feet. The she kisses them and anoints them with perfume as an act of worship.”

We have all heard this story many times. But maybe we have missed its full significance. This woman was not weeping out of remorse for her sin. She was not asking the Lord’s forgiveness, hoping that her cries would stir His heart to give her a word of blessing. She knew that she had already been forgiven. Her soul was cleansed, her past forgotten. And so she wept, crying out with joy, gratitude and devotion. Looking to the worst sinner she knew, she was filled with love for the One who had extended grace to her. And so she wept, providing for Christians of all ages a beautiful example of worshipful devotion. And so she wept.

The greatest of sinners requires the greatest Savior. I am the greatest sinner I know. Thankfully, because of God’s grace, I also know the greatest Savior. And so I weep.

July 22, 2005

Everybody’s friend John, proprietor of Monergismbooks, has asked me to let you know that he is having a big ol’ Summer Sale. All of the Banner of Truth titles he stocks are 40% off, but only until July 28, so there isn’t time to hesitate. Visit this link to get the details. This is your opportunity to stock up on some of those excellent but often-expensive titles by Iain Murray, as well as Puritan classics and all sorts of other great books.

For those who have not yet figured it out, Doug of Coffeeswirls fame will be my partner in crime at the Desiring God National Conference. And while we are on the subject, they just announced the details about the conference. You can read about it here. Let me know if you’ll be there!