IVP - Behind the Books - Christianity & Culture Archives

July 3, 2012

July 4th: A Call for Prayer

Thank you to Logan Mehl-Laituri for this reflection on Independence Day.

July 4th is not just a day to barbeque and catch up with friends. It is a day to remember our independence and how we became a distinct people as Americans. It was this day 236 years ago that a number of courageous souls openly declared that monarchy was no longer a tolerable form of political expression. They demanded popular sovereignty, and they eventually got it.

logan.jpegI think the experiment they inaugurated was an incredible achievement. But it also wasn't perfect. Popular sovereignty is coupled with popular responsibility. If we are proud of our nation's successes, we also must mourn our collective failures. If we love our country, it means that we bear with it through sickness and good health.

Our nation's military forces, which contributed significantly to our freedom from colonial rule, might be a bellwether. If it is, then we are in a period of ill health, and our country needs to realize this. For many years now, more soldiers have been falling on their own swords here at home than have been falling to the sword in battle (which has raged longer than ever before in our history). As we have for centuries, Christians need to pray for our country, that the violence on all sides of the gun may cease.

As Christians, we can sometimes forget who our real founding fathers were. While I certainly share in the cultural heritage Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington birthed, my true identity is defined by folks like Peter, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and Martin of Tours. I might be distinctively American, but I am determinatively Christian. I love my country, but I love God more.

So what might happen if we let our identity rest more in Christ than in country? How might that impact the militiamen (and women) who will likely grace innumerable parades today? The Church has not questioned war very well, leaving it to the individual service members themselves to wrestle with war and morality. Without a larger moral framework, soldiers and veterans often feel the responsibility laid solely on their shoulders. Though some might be guilty, all are responsible.

Nobody goes to war alone in a democracy; we all share the burden. At worst, even the "us-versus-them" mentality reflects the fact that it's all of "us" that go to war. As recently as my parents' generation, waging war had social impact; taxes were increased to share the monetary burden, food was rationed and gardens flourished. Even professional sports stopped. We could not just change the channel, nor should we continue to do so.

Silence and complacency are no longer options, they are a betrayal. Churches have men and women serving in the armed forces who collectively suffer the worst suicide rate ever recorded. This year there has been one soldier suicide every day . If the trend continues, it will double the rate from last year, which itself was a record high. For half a decade at least, veterans have been ending their own lives at a rate of seventeen per day. This is not merely a statistic, it's an epidemic.

If we love our country and those who protect it—and we should—then July 4th is a day to do more than celebrate; it is a day to act, a day to pray. The wars are not over, not for those who fought them. The war in their hearts and minds will rage for years, maybe the rest of their lives. You, Church, are to pray for the wars to find their end. Some of us may fight with weapons, but we all fight with our faith. american flags.jpeg

Today, remember your founding fathers, remember their deaths as readily as you do your brothers and sisters. More often than not, their blood was spilled not in the fight, but in the refusal to fight. Their blood was not a cry for war, but a call to prayer. Let that prayer be heard in your life and in the lives of those who suffer on both sides of the gun. Let freedom ring for both the victims and perpetrators of collective violence. May God's will be done.

3652.jpgLogan Mehl-Laituri is an army veteran who served in the Iraq War as a forward observer/fire support specialist before applying to change his status to conscientious objector. He is the author of Reborn on the Fourth of July.

Posted by Leah Kiple at 4:25 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

July 26, 2011

Reflections from Wild Goose Festival

Thank you to Rachel Neftzer Snavely, IVP editorial assistant, for taking the time to share her experiences from Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina.

I have a problem. Many, I'm sure, but the one I'm referring to is that I love to be right. Not so bad in itself, I suppose, if it weren't accompanied by a more devious character flaw: I love it when I'm right, someone else is wrong, and I can prove it.

I'm not so hard on myself as to think that I'm the only one who suffers from this hubris. It's human nature, and followers of Jesus are not exempt. In fact, I sometimes wonder if we are not more prone to it than the general population. In any case, it's a serious challenge facing the modern church.

I remember exactly when I realized I had this defect. I was a freshman in college, and had proudly declared my major in Bible and theology. I was telling my boyfriend (who is now my husband) all about what I was learning in one of my theology classes. I excitedly delved into some theological minutiae--something about the economic and immanent Trinity, I think--and spoke very eloquently about all the interesting things I had learned. At the end of my trinitarian sermon, my not-yet-husband asked, "So ... why does all that matter?"

"Um. What?"

He repeated the question. "Why does it matter? I mean, how does it affect our lives?" I don't know, I thought, suddenly frustrated with his practical nature.

I realized then that being right, or knowing facts simply for the sake of knowing them, wasn't sufficient for the faithful follower of Christ. Right thought (orthodoxy) and right action (orthopraxy) have to be connected. Being right--or smart, or informed--is worthless if it isn't connected with obedience and action. In fact, it can be destructive. The book of James says as much. Jesus, too.

Rachel & Nick

This is one of the reasons I was so interested in being a part of the first annual Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, North Carolina. The wild goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit, and this festival was all about gathering together and discussing how the Spirit is moving in our time, and how we can enter into the movements of God. The festival was oriented around the themes of justice, spirituality, art and music, and was intentionally inclusive--all were welcome regardless of age, race, gender or religious commitment.

Continue reading "Reflections from Wild Goose Festival"
Posted by Leah Kiple at 8:30 AM

June 27, 2011

Practicing the Way of Jesus in the Messy Details of our Lives

Thanks to Mark Scandrette, author of Practicing the Way of Jesus, for this inside look at how he strives to integrate the teachings of Jesus into the details of his life.


So many people feel a pull toward a more embodied path for spiritual formation. But as one leader recently observed, "There is a lot of radical noise in the church today with little radical action." I wrote my latest book, Practicing the Way Of Jesus, to help address this gap between how we want to live and how we actually live. In the book, I suggest that followers of Jesus have always been formed best by taking tangible steps in solidarity with others, to live into a vision of life in the kingdom of God. I like to call these risks of obedience, "experiments," because we learn to integrate the teachings of Jesus into the details of our lives through creative trial and error. An easy way to get momentum is by inviting a friend into a short-term shared experiment.

Over the phone last week my friend Nate made an offhand comment about how his electronic communication devices were crowding out his awareness of God and attention to people. He said, "Its gotten out of hand when I reach for my device before kissing my wife good morning." Nate and I both spend a lot of time using communication technology in our work (smart phones, email, etc). These are compelling and useful devices for getting things done and staying connected; however, we've both noticed a tendency to be compulsive, jumping up to check email before having a few moments of prayer in the morning or replying to email or status updates at the breakfast table when we should be giving our full attention to those we love. We asked each other, "Why do we do struggle with this?" Partly its the little 'hit' you get when email arrives in the inbox. But we surmised that on a deeper level, it's because we have a fear of missing out or worrying that if we unplug we might lose some of our power to control what happens in the world.

How do the teachings of Jesus speak to these issues? He invites us to trust and not worry, to "welcome children" and to pay loving attention to the people nearest us. Nate and I decided to do a a seven-day experiment together to pursue these things, using principles of abstinence and engagement. We made a commitment to do the following each day: (1) engage face to face with another person and read something on paper before turning to our devices; (2) limit checking email to twice a day-- once in the morning and once in the late afternoon); (3) When going through text messages and emails, pause momentarily to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done..." for each person represented before hitting "reply" or "delete."


Nate and I both experienced dramatic shifts during the week. Clarifying boundaries between work and rest made us more available to our families. Pausing to pray for each person we messaged elevated the task of correspondence to a sacred appointment. And by adopting voluntary limits, we both felt less stressed and hurried. During the week, I struggled to pray mindfully before hitting "send," and once or twice Nate checked his email an extra time. But in general, we found it easy to keep these commitments because we were doing it together. We learned something tangible about what it looks like for us to practice the way of Jesus in the messy details of our lives.

For more on Mark and his other experiments in the way of Jesus, visit www.jesusdojo.com.

Posted by Leah Kiple at 8:08 AM

May 3, 2011

Sacred Conversation About Sex

Thank you to Jenell Williams Paris for this post about her new book, The End of Sexual Idenity.

  • An adolescent boy feels confused and ashamed about a same-sex sexual encounter he had.

  • A married woman is considering divorcing her husband because she has fallen in love with a woman.

  • A college student wants to befriend a gay classmate, but isn’t sure how close he should get to a gay person.

  • A mother wonders how to nurture her child’s sexuality in godly ways.

Let’s face it: sex is complicated. Christians sometimes dodge the complexity and discomfort of talking about sex either by making definitive moral pronouncements that seem to settle it once and for all, or by simply refusing to talk about it. But many Christian leaders, including pastors, teachers, lay leaders and others, want to do more than just get the “sex talk” over with. They want to really love people, helping them center every part of their lives in Jesus’ love, including even their sex lives.


My book, The End of Sexual Identity, encourages Christians to pursue sexual holiness in the complexity of the real world. Sexual holiness is nothing new—it’s the old, old story of Jesus and his love, applied to our sexual journeys. For individuals, it’s the call to live life centered, oriented, toward the love of God. We can then reject any other orientation— heterosexuality, even—that would distract us from the central importance of who we really are as beloved children of God. On the corporate level, it’s a call to Christian unity, that we may love other Christians so much we can’t bear to separate from one another, even despite theological and personal differences in sexuality.

In the book, the sexual identity framework is the lens through which I view broader matters of sexuality such as marriage, celibacy, and sexual desire. The book takes on the sexual identity framework—the secular notion that one’s sexual feelings are indicative of one’s identity. The sexual identity framework is divisive, setting believers against one another, and dividing individuals within themselves as they strive to fit with one category or another instead of living before God as a unique individual.

I wrote The End of Sexual Identity with some trepidation, worrying that it might just add fuel to the fire of Christian in-fighting about homosexuality. I want to step back from those heated battles to begin reframing the conversation in a way that leads to civility and mutual respect. My highest hope for the book, however, is that it would inspire sacred conversation about sex—conversation that is real, vulnerable, and consequential. It’s an invitation to all believers to consider how the love of God might challenge, bless, and renew their sexual lives.


Jenell Williams Paris (Ph.D., American University) is professor of anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. She has written for such publications as Christianity Today, Books & Culture and Christian Scholar's Review. Her books include Birth Control for Christians, Urban Disciples and Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective.

Posted by Rebecca Larson at 3:39 PM | Comments (1) are closed

January 5, 2010

Evangelicals and Race

We just got back from InterVarsity’s Urbana 09 Student Missions Convention in St. Louis, where 45% of the over 16,000 attendees were non-white. So David Van Biema’s article in the current issue of Time magazine about evangelicals and race is, well, timely.

The article highlights the perennial questions about how segregated Sunday morning worship is, and focuses on one church that is trying to do something about it. In the process, Van Biema quotes three IVP authors. The church, perhaps surprisingly, is Willow Creek, founded by Bill Hybels (Too Busy Not to Pray, Who You Are When No One’s Looking and Making Life Work). Remarkably, in ten years Willow has shifted from being almost entirely white to being 20% minority.

The article notes that the person who got Hybels started down this path was IVP author Alvin Bibbs (Crazy Enough to Care), who was on staff at Willow at the time and gave Hybels a copy of Michael Emerson’s Divided by Faith. Van Biema also quotes the reaction of David Anderson, founder of the multicultural Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Md. and author of IVP’s Gracism, who said, “I bet they’ve done it faster and better than anyone else with a church that large starting off as all white.”

Such topics have been an interest of IVP for decades with dozens of books on the subject. For evangelicals as a whole, challenges definitely remain in this realm but such change is encouraging and offers hope and a model for others to emulate.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:43 AM

May 19, 2008

Free Preview: Culture Making by Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch's much-anticipated Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling is set for release this summer, and you can get a free preview of the book online. We've posted a PDF of the first several chapters of the book. Check it out, and feel free to pass the PDF along to others (see permission information at the end of the document). More chapters will be posted online next month, so stay tuned.

If you're on Facebook, you can become a fan of the book at the Culture Making page. Here's a note from Andy Crouch that he posted on the page:

The release of Culture Making is just over two months away. It will be really fun to have the book out there to start lots of conversations about how we can become cultivators and creators of culture, not just critics and consumers of it.

But you don't have to wait until this summer to start reading the book and to start those conversations. InterVarsity Press has taken the unusual step of releasing, not just the introduction or the first few pages, but the first 40 pages of the book, online, in PDF form, for free. (Yes, they are awesome--and thanks to John Holland for originally suggesting this.) And in a few weeks we'll release another three chapters.

You can download the PDF from


Read. Enjoy. But there's one other thing I'd like to ask you to do. Find at least one way to share this PDF with others. Post about it on Facebook. Blog about it. Forward the link--or the whole PDF file--to your small group, your pastor, your six best friends. (Yes, you can do this completely legally--see the last page for the details on what you can and cannot do with this PDF.)

Then, if you don't mind, post on the wall at Culture Making to tell the rest of us what you thought and what your friends thought of these opening pages.

Bon appetit!


Posted by Al Hsu at 7:12 AM

December 10, 2007

The Golden Compass

New Line Cinema's The Golden Compass opens in theaters this week amid much debate and controversy. Based on Philip Pullman's book, the first of a trilogy, it is set in another world like ours but not. Some are concerned that the book does (and that the movie will) represent Christianity in a false and unflattering light. Certainly Pullman has said, "My books are about killing God." So he is not being guarded about his intentions.

Having made my way to the halfway point of the third book, I have found the books to be immensely imaginative and creative. The worlds, the framework of his universe, the driving plot line all contribute to a good read. With a few exceptions, I found the characterizations generally disappointing. Somehow I don't get Lyra. And Will (who shows up in books two and three) hasn't captured me either. On the other hand, Mrs. Coulter is deliciously evil--one of the best-crafted villains I've met in the pages of a book in a long time. (I'm sure Nicole Kidman will be perfect for the role.) Lee Scoresby is as enjoyable a Texas sidekick as you'd ever want exploring the arctic with your pre-adolescent daughter.

But then there are more villains than Mrs. Coulter. Chief among them are the Magisterium (the council that rules the Church in Pullman's world as there is no pope) and ultimately the Authority (a god who was the first to evolve out of matter and who has hoodwinked angels, humans and others into thinking he is eternal in an attempt to control all). This, of course, is where all the hullabaloo comes in. The Magisterium is responsible for immense wickedness and abuses of power. The Authority is not far behind.

So what should we think of all this? Tony Watkins offers a balanced perspective on the trilogy in Dark Matters, a book that I think will be welcomed by devotees and detractors alike. Tony sat down with Pullman to interview him for the book and offers an appreciative portrait. A coworker here at IVP actually believes the books subvert Pullman's own viewpoints, for his heroes and heroines actually act out and approve themes of grace, sacrifice and redemption that would have been impossible without the biblical story.

Mark Morford in a no-holds barred piece puts the challenge this way to those who are upset about the books and movie, "If your ancient, authoritarian, immutable belief system is truly threatened by a handful of popular novels, if your ostensibly all-powerful, unyielding creed is rendered meek and defenseless when faced with the story of a fiery, rebellious young girl who effortlessly rejects your stiff misogynistic religiosity in favor of adventure, love, sex, the ability to discover and define her soul on her own terms, well, it might be time for you to roll it all up and shut it all down and crawl back home, and let the divine breathe and move and dance as she sees fit. Don't you agree?"

Morford's challenge is valid. This is a case where the proper response is likely not boycott or blanket condemnation but engagement and discussion. To the extent that Pullman's work feeds into and reinforces existing stereotypes of God and Christians, a response is needed. Rather than dissuading others from hearing a thought-provoking and potentially hostile story, however, let us offer better thoughts and better stories.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:34 AM | Comments (2) are closed

November 9, 2007

Tragically Cool and Totally Hip

The following clip is from slam poet Taylor Mali, offering further evidence to suggest that the public square and the bully pulpit are relocating. Thanks to Next Wave for pointing me to it.

You can read more about Taylor and his poetry at his website, www.taylormali.com. I, however, would like to hear what you think of this particular piece, so be sure to post your comments, you know what I mean?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:26 AM | Comments (2) are closed

November 2, 2007

God Bless the Adult Child

From Christian Smith’s “Getting a Life: The Challenge of Emerging Adulthood,” Books & Culture, November/December 2007.

We have long known that, for a variety of reasons, religious participation for many young people declines significantly when they leave home. Going away to college seems especially likely to kill regular church attendance for most. Historically, marriage and parenthood have then marked the return for many to church and more active faith. Regardless of what one thinks of these facts per se, the following general observation holds. When the space between high school graduation and full adulthood was fairly short . . . the length of time spent out of church tended to be rather short. But with the rise of emerging adulthood in recent decades, churches are now looking at 15-year or even 20-year absences by youth from churches— . . . if indeed they ever return. And these are crucial years in the formation of personal identity, behavioral patterns, and social relationships. Returning to church as full-fledged young adults with children in tow—yet having spent a decade or two forming their assumptions, priorities, and perspectives largely outside of church—they may very well bring to the churches of their choice motives, beliefs, and orientations difficult to make work from the perspective of faithful, orthodox Christianity.

It's difficult for me to read the phrase "15-year or even 20-year absences" and the word youth in the same sentence. It is, however, a particularly nagging problem for those who minister through churches--and those, quite frankly, who publish books for people in churches. Take heart, however, dear pastors and publishers: Smith does a nice job of setting a content agenda for us all. Sexuality and marriage, parenting adult children, stewardship, modesty and humility, education, civics and even ecclesiology are concepts worth exploring or revisiting, because they are all concepts that, in our current context, demand a kind of agile wisdom to successfully navigate.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:34 PM

June 6, 2007

Body Image and Artificial Beauty

In our book Wanting to Be Her, Michelle Graham talks about an actress who didn't recognize herself in a magazine because of how different she had been made up. Well, More Than Serving Tea coeditor Nikki Toyama blogged about this link:


It has an amazing one-minute video of how women are made up and photoshopped to look entirely different from how they normally appear in real life. Even supermodels don't look like supermodels. Check it out.

Posted by Al Hsu at 7:30 AM | Comments (1) are closed

May 30, 2007

New Book Technology Again: Ancient Scribal Blogs Discovered!

On my May 9 post I said I’d give my laptop for a peek at some ancient scribal blogs. Well, I’m going to keep my laptop and have my ancient blogs too. Here are some.

The first is a scribal blog from an ancient Assyrian royal scribe who is having his annual job performance review:

"I have not been treated in accordance with my deeds . . . if it is befitting that first-ranking scholars and their assistants receive mules, surely I should (at least) be given one donkey." (See “Non-Israelite Written Sources: Assyrian,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, p. 725)

Continue reading "New Book Technology Again: Ancient Scribal Blogs Discovered!"
Posted by Dan Reid at 10:25 AM

May 21, 2007

N. T. Wright on C. S. Lewis

I don't typically read Touchstone much, but they ran an article by Tom Wright, author of our recent book Evil and the Justice of God. The article is an appraisal of Mere Christianity that is quite interesting, not just for Wright's take on Lewis but also for what Wright models, a spirit of generosity that says, "I don't quite agree, but Lewis's contribution is still good, even if he doesn't exactly say things the way I [Wright] would." Here's a snippet:

I owe Lewis a great debt. In my late teens and early twenties I read everything of his I could get my hands on, and read some of his paperbacks and essays several times over. There are sentences, and some whole passages, I know pretty much by heart. Millions around the world have been introduced to, and nurtured within, the Christian faith through his work where their own preachers and teachers were not giving them what they needed. That was certainly true of me.

. . . One of the puzzles, indeed, is the way in which Lewis has been lionized by Evangelicals when he clearly didn´t believe in several classic Evangelical shibboleths. He was wary of penal substitution, not bothered by infallibility or inerrancy, and decidedly dodgy on justification by faith (though who am I to talk, considering what some in America say about me?).

But above all, it worked; a lot of people have become Christians through reading Lewis and, though, like me, they may have gone on to think things through in ways he didn't, they retain, like me, a massive and glorious indebtedness.

For more, click here.

Posted by Al Hsu at 7:12 AM | Comments (3) are closed

May 9, 2007

New Book Technology: The Story Behind the Book

Did you enjoy the YouTube movie “short” on “New Book Technology” the other day? There is a serious side to that, you know. Early Christians were in fact at the forefront of the early introduction of the codex, or what we call the “book,” in place of the scroll. Not that they abandoned the scroll (or roll), nor did Christians invent the codex, but there is a great deal of evidence that the codex early became the preferred medium for Christian Scripture. Why? We are not certain. But for the most recent codex, er . . . book, on the subject, take a look at Larry Hurtado’s The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. No, this book is not from the IVP scriptorium, but it’s irresistible fodder for a “Behind the Books” blog, and it has some info that editorial types can geek-out on. (Another interesting book is Harry Y. Gamble’s Books and Readers in the Early Church.)

Hurtado explores several features of the actual physical manuscripts of early Christian texts as a neglected resource for understanding early Christianity. Chapter two is devoted to “The Early Christian Preference for the Codex.” This is definitely a technical, scholarly study that is careful to avoid unwarranted conclusions, but I’ll hazard losing some nuance and offer some tidbits here:

For the most part, up through the second century the codex was reserved for texts Christians regarded as Scripture, generally those that would eventually make up the Christian canon. Other Christian texts too could be in codex form, but the preference of the codex for “scripture” is markedly pronounced. Up until the third century, more than 98 percent of non-Christian Greek books are rolls. But for that same period, nearly all Christian books are codices. By the fourth century, the rest of the world had caught on.

The early Christian preference of the codex for their texts is so pronounced and widespread that it requires some explanation. It wasn’t just the handy form of the codex that dictated it. It wasn’t ease of production, since the codex was more difficult to make than the roll. It wasn’t economics that drove it, since the savings (maybe 25 percent) were not that great. It wasn’t social status (a codex for common folks, rolls for literary folks). It seemed to have signified something, to have “semiotic” value. It almost appears that if in the second century you saw Urbanus walking down the street with a codex in hand, you’d take notice and assume he was a Christian.

Well, so how did it get started? In fact, how did it develop? As for the latter, it’s evident that Christians were experimenting with the technology of making a good codex, and particularly with the aim of jamming more scriptural books between two covers. So it’s not like the technology was just dropped in their lap fully developed, having been perfected in the big publishing houses of Antioch or Rome. At this point we can only speculate about the initial impetus for the “Christian” codex. Was it the form in which the first collection of Paul’s letters or a Gospel was “published”? Was it preferred by some technologically innovative and influential early Christian leader, maybe a geeky apostle? Did it have its origin in using these texts in early Christian worship? We just don’t know! It’s interesting to consider though, and maybe time and further research will answer these questions.

Meanwhile, think about this: In a significant respect, we owe our present-day book form to the initiative of the early Christians. Anyone want to go back to the scroll? Well, actually, I’m scrolling down a computer screen as I write. Is this an improvement? What has been lost? What has been gained? And notice how today we are experimenting with the best ways of using this new technology—but the goal is to emulate the printed page!

Now for a little self-indulgence: editors and publishers of Christian literature have a long history, and a cloud of unnamed saints in our tradition. I for one would love to meet some of them, and I’d give my laptop for a peek at a second- or third-century “Behind the Books” blog from a Christian scriptorium in Antioch, Alexandria or Rome.

Posted by Dan Reid at 7:59 AM

May 2, 2007

Talladega Nights and Trinitarian Prayer

In the movie Talladega Nights we get a glimpse of how car racing superstar Ricky Bobby offers the blessing at a family meal. He addresses "Little Baby Jesus," thanking him for helping him win races, make money and marry a beautiful wife. When his wife asks why he's talking to "baby" Jesus, Ricky Bobby says that he wants to pray to "Christmas Jesus." And he continues, "Dear tiny infant Jesus." It's a funny scene (Yes, I did see the movie--my family made me! Really.), but it might also be a fair reflection of how we like to pray--and who it feels safe to pray to. Little baby Jesus isn't going to interfere much with our prayer agendas.

In my work life I have been pondering the value of addressing all three persons of the Trinity in prayer. In The Path of Celtic Prayer (an upcoming IVP book) Calvin Miller highlights Trinity praying as one of the unique features of Celtic faith. Care is taken to address Father, Son and Spirit as in this prayer from Andrew Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica called "A Prayer for Grace":

I am bending my knee
In the Eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who died for me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me.

Today I was making a final check on The Ancient Christian Devotional, and I came upon Basil the Great making a comment on the importance of invoking the Trinity in baptismal rites (as it relates to Acts 10:38):

Do not be misled because the apostle frequently omits the names of the Father and the Holy Spirit when he speaks of baptism. Do not imagine because of this that the invocation of their names has been omitted. . . .To address Christ in this way is a complete profession of faith, because it clearly reveals that God anoints the Son (the anointed One) with the unction of the Spirit.

It was striking to me that this church father also wanted to be sure that we understood that we were addressing all three persons of the Trinity in the baptismal rite. Clearly, the Trinity factored high in his faith. And so I ponder: does our contemporary prayer life reflect a three-person theology? Are we prepared to have the power of the Trinity shape our agenda, or are we trying to control what happens in prayer by praying in ways that feel safe and easy?

Posted by Cindy Bunch at 7:55 AM | Comments (1) are closed

April 26, 2007

Paganizing the Faith

In reading Jerry Sittser's revision of his upcoming book of spiritual history, Water from a Deep Well, I was arrested by his comments on the paganization of the church. It seems that the Church of England is selling off church buildings they cannot afford to keep up to developers, who are converting them into apartments, pubs, recreation centers, businesses and more. He continues:

In short, these buildings are being paganized. No longer used for worship and the administration of the sacraments, they have become the tools of modern capitalism. Perhaps the church in America is following the same course. Today many churches preach self-help principles, peddle a variety of clever religious products, offer various programs to religious consumers, and cater to the “felt needs” of people. Ironically, while England is paganizing church buildings, Americans could be “paganizing” the faith itself. When the church is functioning at its best, it communicates the grace and love and power of God so completely that the faithful are enabled to live for God wherever they are, and thus to claim the “secular” world—theaters, bowling allies, schools, businesses, neighborhoods—for God’s kingdom purposes. At its worst, it does the opposite; the secular world encroaches on the church until it finally takes over.

Americans paganzing the faith? I think he has hit the nail--or, perhaps, the bobblehead Jesus--right on the head.

Posted by Cindy Bunch at 11:55 AM | Comments (1) are closed

April 20, 2007

Andy Crouch on Faith and Culture

Andy Crouch, director of the Christian Vision Project and author of a forthcoming IVP Book, had this to say to StudentSoul:

The place where faith and culture meet most fruitfully is where culture is broken. Taking our faith into culture means to find a creative way to serve in those broken places. There's no other resource for dealing with brokenness that's as powerful as the gospel lived out creatively and effectively in the context of local culture. The gospel gives us enough hope to enter into these very difficult, seemingly hopeless situations. . . . None of us really gets to change "the culture," but a lot of us could change something about our neighborhood or the school down the road from our house or the local theater company.
I like the contrast of images here: "The Faith" does battle against "The Culture"; meanwhile "our faith" sends us in search of brokenness within "local culture" to be creative agents of healing. Small and local may not be as sexy as a big battle, but it sure seems a lot more creative when you think about it.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:15 AM | Comments (2) are closed

Get Email Updates

You'll get an email whenever a new entry is posted to Behind the Books

Subscribe to Feeds

Got a Book Idea?

Please follow our submissions guidelines. We cannot respond to book proposals or inquiries within the context of this blog.