IVP - Behind the Books - August 2011 Archives

August 29, 2011

God In a Brothel

I read an article today about a large sex-trafficking ring that was busted right here in Chicago. The descriptions of the crimes perpetrated against women and girls, in some cases as young as 12, by these evildoers both broke my heart and enraged me. Sometimes we Christians think anger is unchristian—an emotion we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel. But God kindles a righteous indignation in the face of such injustice. So should we. And it should lead us to act.

For a while after I read the article I felt powerless to respond. I’m not in law enforcement. I’m not an undercover investigator. What can I do? But then I realized I was forgetting a major tool at my disposal, one that is uniquely available to me because of my job here at InterVarsity Press. I can use the power of words to increase awareness and support others who are at the front lines of the abolitionist battle. Daniel Walker is just such a person who has worked in the front lines and now strives to tell the world what he saw there. God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue is Daniel’s firsthand account of the horrors of the sex-trafficking industry.

3806.jpgOne reviewer said this about the book: “Most books I’ve read from Christian publishers are ‘nice’… God in a Brothel is not one of those books.” But then, sex trafficking is not a nice topic, is it? God in a Brothel isn’t nice. It disturbed me significantly, as well it should have. But like most books that can rouse us from our “nice” slumber, it is powerful and uncomfortable, and it has the potential to literally change the world.

In it you’ll meet Daniel Walker, an ex-undercover agent who has courageously shared his story of infiltrating the multi-billion dollar global sex industry. It is a difficult journey into this world, and even more difficult to read Daniel’s personal experience of costly discipleship, agonizing failure and unlikely redemption. Gripping in its realism and yet thoroughly overlaid with holy hope, Walker’s book simultaneously rips open the veil over this dark world and issues a call for God-fearers around the world to rise up, speak out and take action.

It’s true. I’m not busting through the doors of brothels in east asia—or here in Chicago—to liberate girls from slavery. I work in a nice office in a nice suburb with nice people. But I do have the power to make a difference by exposing this horrific problem and supporting the people at the front lines like Daniel with my prayers, my money and my mouth. I hope you’ll consider reading God in a Brothel to learn more and consider how you’ll take your own stand.


There are many organizations working to fight trafficking in the US and around the world. Please learn more about them and prayerfully consider how you can support their work. You can make an eternal difference.

Free the Captives

Not for Sale

Abolish Child Trafficking

Polaris Project

Hagar International

Compassion International

Posted by Rebecca Larson at 4:07 PM

August 19, 2011

What Does it Mean to Evangelize Ethically?


Is there a right and wrong way to evangelize? How could the way Christians proselytize affect the Gospel message? Elmer Thiessen discusses these questions and many others in his new book, The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defense of Proselytizing and Persuasion.

Dr. Thiessen recently took time out of his busy summer schedule to answer some questions on the main points of his new book:

How do you define proselytizing?

I define proselytizing, or evangelism (I used the terms interchangeably) as the deliberate attempt of a person or organization, through communication, to bring about the conversion of another person or a group of persons, where conversion is understood to involve a change of a person's belief, behavior, identity, and sense of belonging. Although my focus in the book is on religious proselytizing, it should be obvious from this definition that proselytizing occurs in many contexts, including the area of commercial marketing. Advertisers are trying to change our identities! It is also fairly common to define proselytizing as bad evangelism. I, on the other hand, use the term in a neutral sense, where proselytizing can be either good or bad. In short, proselytizing involves any attempt at trying to convert a person.

What are some of the ethical objections leveled against religious proselytizing?

I deal with a dozen different objections to proselytizing in my book. Many view it as inherently wrong because it seems arrogant and intolerant. Persuading another is seen as meddling or an invasion of privacy. It is also seen as coercive. Missionary activity can be described as religious colonialism or cultural genocide. Some critics assume that proselytizing is wrong because religion is inherently irrational or unverifiable. There is also a weaker form of opposition to proselytizing, which maintains that proselytizing is often, or nearly always immoral. Here, some critics point to the unwelcome consequences of proselytizing. It sometimes (often) leads to hatred and division. Some proselytizers claim a right to proselytizing while denying this right to others. The motivations of proselytizing are also often questioned. Is it merely a form of self-aggrandizement? Or, is it a way to overcome self-doubt?

What are the characteristics of ethical proselytizing?

Ethical proselytizing protects the dignity and freedom of the individual and cares genuinely for the person being proselytized. These are the foundational characteristics. Obviously, any kind of physical coercion is wrong. Similar concerns arise with regard to social and psychological coercion, though as I argue in my book, these are difficult to define, and so we can at best rule out extremes in social and psychological coercion. Financial inducements to convert are also wrong. Ethical proselytizing must always be truthful and humble, even to the point of admitting that one might be wrong. After all, we as Christians only know in part! Ethical proselytizing will take into account and show some respect for the communal identity and culture of the proselytizee. It should be noted, finally, that success is not a criterion of ethical proselytizing.

Why is it important to note the difference between ethics and etiquette?

Frankly, I find it rather annoying to have Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons come to my door from time to time in order to spread their faith. It's embarrassing to have to refuse their invitations and finally close the door on them. I prefer to be left alone, but have they done anything morally wrong? Obviously not! They have only encroached on standards of civility that we have come to accept in a liberal democracy. That is why I think the distinction between ethics and etiquette is so important. Proselytizing is frequently seen to violate our standards of civility, or violate our normal etiquette, but these standards are not central and are relative to a specific culture. Ethical norms, on the other hand are more important and universal. My concern in the book is to uphold ethical standards in proselytizing.

How should churches evaluate their evangelistic efforts?

The first step for churches is to be aware of the importance of doing evangelism in an ethical manner. There is a danger, particularly in evangelical churches, to think that because evangelism is so important, we shouldn't worry at all about how we go about doing evangelism. But Christ's message needs to be conveyed in a Christ-like manner. Therefore, I believe churches should spend some time reflecting on how they do evangelism. There are some key biblical passages where concerns about the ethics of evangelism are raised (Luke 9:51-6; I Cor. 4:1-2; I Peter 3:16-16). The approaches to evangelism in a church should be evaluated in the light of these passages. In my book, I identify 15 criteria in Appendix I to distinguish between ethical and unethical evangelism. This might be a useful checklist to help a church assess how they are doing in terms of ethical evangelism. It is also important for members of a church to hold each other accountable; we need to help one another uphold the highest ethical standards in spreading the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Elmer Thiessen.jpg

Elmer Thiessen is currently spending his summer at a college in Debra Zeit, Ethiopia teaching a course called "Philosophy, Theology and Logic" to 25 seasoned Ethiopian pastors.

Posted by Leah Kiple at 9:15 AM

August 5, 2011

Becoming Trade-Show Immersed

Thank you to Alisse Wissman for writing this post. Alisse is international sales coordinator and academic print publicist for IVP.

I'm a strong believer in full cultural immersion. When I decided to study abroad in college, I chose a program that would provide classes about the culture I was living in and allow me to physically experience that culture through travel, museums, language, and in particular, Irish dance.

So when I started working at IVP just over a year ago as the International Sales Coordinator, the question of my attendance at the International Christian Retail Show was raised. Would I like to attend? Could I handle such a big show within weeks of starting a new job? Would I be able to establish a rapport with customers by then?

"Absolutely," I said, laying down all my cards. I was in. Taking the leap. Fully immersed.

Not having heard of ICRS before, I did some research: the International Christian Retail Show is produced and hosted annually by the CBA, the association of Christian stores. It features a variety of Christian publishers and music/movie producers who set up booths featuring their artists and products. Store owners, distributors and media browse the aisles checking out the latest in Christian retailing.

It seemed simple, but what followed my very brief three-week training period was a small bit of cultural shock. Yes, I grew up in an evangelical home, and yes, I attended an evangelical Christian college, but was I ready for the art of evangelical Christian retail? Not particularly.

I was thrown into a world of Christian celebrity sightings, rows of booths and kiosks vying for my attention, mazes of author-signing lines and meetings with international customers on a noisy show room floor. Full immersion means no turning back, and there I was, in a completely new conference culture. But thankfully the experiment worked just the way I hoped it would, and adapting quickly, I gained brand new insights into the publishing world.

This year I felt much more prepared. I knew our customers and authors, had a year of experience and was quite excited to meet up with so many people whom I only see once a year.

Richard Foster.JPG

ICRS took place in Atlanta this year, and two IVP authors attended, both of whom I was thrilled to get to know in greater capacity. Richard J. Foster, author of the forthcoming Sanctuary of the Soul, and Adele Calhoun, who recently published Invitations from God, both gave interviews and signed copies of their books for fans, media and shop owners. It was lovely to see these stellar authors interacting with the people who so cherish their writing.

I was also able to spend time with both Richard and Adele throughout the show. Richard was full of wisdom about ICRS (which he has attended many times), giving me tips and pointers. Adele and I bonded over our shared love of Cape Cod, and she even gave me ideas on places to visit for my upcoming vacation!

Conversations with our international customers were also priceless. It's fascinating that our books, which generally are written in America, relate to people not just in other English-speaking countries, but even in places like Singapore and Ghana.

Highlights of this year's show: 

  • Sitting in on a radio interview during recording (this one between Richard Foster and Moody Radio)
  • Hosting a delicious author dinner at an Italian restaurant in downtown Atlanta (despite walking 1/3 mile in the sweltering heat)
  • Meetings over meals with our major distributors to share food and conversation (always about books, of course)

I think some cultural aspects of ICRS will remain the same--it will always be a place to meet authors and buy your favorite flavor of "Testamints"--but I hope it will continue to be a place where IVP can nurture relationships between authors and readers, and foster bonds between ourselves and the dedicated people who love to sell our books.

Posted by Leah Kiple at 9:30 AM | Comments (1) are closed

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