On God and Publication

One of the many perks of getting a book deal is the opportunity to network with fellow writers. Over the past few months, it’s been really exciting to meet and correspond with established authors I have admired for years as well as new authors just breaking into the market. I want to offer an especially warm welcome to those who have found the blog through my agent Rachelle Gardner’s site or through my Q&A on Alexis Grant’s site. There’s been a noticeable influx of readers from forums like these, so I though I’d take some time today to talk about the writing and publishing process.

But first, a quick update on the status of the book:  Next week I plan to send my first round of edits back toZondervan, which means things will start picking up soon. In the months to come, look for announcements relating to an official title, a release date, cover art, and maybe even excerpts.  The whole process has required more patience than I anticipated...but has also been more affirming and rewarding than I ever could have imaged. Thanks to all who have shown interest and provided encouragement.

So when people find out I’m working with a Christian publisher, I get all kinds of different reactions.  Today I thought I’d address two common ones:

The first comes from folks who seem to assume a high level of divine intervention within the Christian publishing industry.

“Why did God lead you to write this particular book?” they often ask. “How have you seen his hand through the process?”  Some have called my writing a ministry. Others have suggested that instead of building a platform and pursuing publicity opportunities, I should rely on God’s timing and leave book sales to him.

To be perfectly honest, I’m a little uncomfortable using this kind of language to describe the publication process. First of all, I think it’s a misleading to pretend that Christian publishing houses do not function as businesses—complete with contracts and paychecks, corporate structures and sales projections, billing and branding. What might on a philosophical level be God’s timing is on a practical level the publisher’s timing. And there’s no way I’m going to tell my editor that my manuscript will be late because God had a different deadline in mind! I guess I’ve always been reluctant to spiritualize situations that involve personal responsibility, lest we make God into a sort of scapegoat or genie or excuse. 

The truth is, I want to sell a lot of books because I want to make a living doing what I love.  I intend to use every marketing strategy at my disposal in order to boost the publisher’s bottom line so I’ll get a contract again. The process is not an inherently godly one, although I believe it can be done in a godly way – with honesty and humility and with the needs of others in mind.

Secondly, it’s hard to think of my writing as a ministry when it involves so little sacrifice on my part. I love to write. It makes me feel alive and important and in touch with myself.  It’s impossible to describe the gratitude I experience every morning when I wake up and realize I get to spend the day doing what makes me happy, especially when so many people in the world do not enjoy the luxury of choosing their profession. I do pray that I will honor God with the opportunity, that my books will be truthful and that they will mean something to people...but to imply that I write out of selfless concern for humanity makes the whole process sound a lot nobler than it is. I just hope the book will be as much a joy to read as it was to write.

And finally, the biggest problem with claiming that God told me to write this book is that it makes it really hard for you to disagree with what it says!  This is probably the biggest problem with “playing the God card” in general. Whether it’s “God told me to break up with you” or “God wants us to build a new church building” – claiming that God is on your side cuts you off from the input and wisdom of other people. No one in their right mind writes a spiritual memoir at 27. There’s bound to be some sloppy theology or straw men or generalities in there, and I don’t want to stifle conversation by claiming that God is somehow responsible for the content.

If God told me to write this book, then it was in the same way that he tells me to breathe. He may have given me a gift, but how I use that gift is my responsibility.

The second reaction I occasionally get about having a Christian publisher comes from those who assume the industry leaves no room for authenticity or freedom of thought. 

There’s the impression out there that Christian books must include wholesome characters, tidy endings, and “conservative” values in order to make it to bookshelves. This may be true for some publishing houses, but what I love about Zondervan is they publish a wide range of voices—from Rick Warren to Shane Claiborne to Brian McLaren to John MacArthur.  Obviously, there’s a lot of room for diversity of opinion.

I’ve got some potentially controversial material in my book, and not once have I felt stifled or reigned in. I write candidly about doubts about Christianity and my frustrations with current expressions of evangelicalism. While I try to offer hope and a vision for the future, I make no attempt to resolve everything, and all of this seems just fine with my editor...at least so far.

So don’t worry that the book will be watered-down version of the blog or a cheesy devotional book with “for women” tacked to the end. What you read is what I wrote. And if it earns me a notorious “Read With Discernment” sticker from LifeWay - well then that’s just the icing on the cake!

What is your overall impression of the Christian publishing industry? How do you respond when someone tells you that God told them to write a book? Writers, how do you honor God with your work without making him sound like some kind of cosmic literary agent?



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Is the Emerging Church soooo last year?

It is ironic and telling that within a few days of writing a post about how young people seem to be gravitating toward either neo-Reformed theology or the emerging church, I should come across a piece by Dan Kimball in which he speaks of the emerging/emergent phenomenon in the past tense.

This has been happening a lot on the blogosphere recently. The general consensus among the movers and shakers the conversation-formerly-known-as-emerging seems to be this: “It was a wild ride. We learned a lot. We deconstructed, reconstructed, and changed our approach to a lot of things. Now it’s time to go our separate ways.”

Writes Kimball:

I know now that through time various theologies and differences have been discussed as categories within the emerging church world have been created... And that different people in the emerging world now focus on different things, different theologies, different networks. But those early days were quite a fun few years and very life-saving for me in many ways.

Now, I completely agree that among evangelical writers, pastors, and speakers, the “emerging church” as a cohesive movement is clearly a thing of the past. Together these guys (it was mostly guys) felt and engaged the changes brought on by postmodernism, and together they responded with new questions, new ideas, and new approaches to Christianity. As the conversation became more detailed and the initial splash turned into ripples, these leaders drifted in different directions as their interests and emphases and traditions diverged. This, of course, should be expected of any movement, particularly an evangelical one, and is probably a good thing.

But here’s the problem I have with declaring the “emerging conversation” over:  Some of us are still talking.

Perhaps in McLaren’s church, “everything has changed,” but in mine, addressing global poverty or AIDS or healthcare will get you branded as a “bleeding heart liberal” if you don’t do it right. Perhaps among McKnight’s students, it is assumed that women should have the same leadership opportunities as men, but in my community, the concept of a female pastor is about as foreign as a gay one. Maybe Kimball assumes that everyone has read N.T. Wright, rediscovered the significance of the kingdom message of Jesus, and re-framed the mission of the church as being one that should benefit the world, but when I tell people around here that I think God has a plan to redeem and restore the entire creation right here on earth, I get called a heretic. 

What I’m trying to say is that some of the most basic and important elements of the emerging movement have yet to catch on among the general public. Even though I know better, from where I stand, heralding the end of the emerging church is like heralding its defeat. It’s like declaring modern fundamentalism the victor and conceding that the skeptics were right all along about how this whole thing was nothing more than a fad. From here, saying that the emerging church is yesterday’s news is like signaling the end of a movement before it ever really got off the ground.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about  how long it takes for new things to catch on in the rural South. That’s just how things are down here, for better or worse. But on behalf of all the isolated “emergers” living day-to-day in communities like mine, I’m tempted to pull the obligatory, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?” on my blogging friends.

It’s important for these leaders to remember that there are still a lot of environments in which the “emerging conversation” is desperately needed and incredibly relevant.  What may seem passé in academic circles is still trickling down to laypeople across the country. What was discussed and published last year is still being read this year. Conversations that some are finishing, many are just beginning.

The truth is, there are a lot of us out there whose only connection to like-minded believers has been though the blogs and books of “emerging” writers and thinkers. Maybe “emerging” is not the best word anymore. Maybe “emerging” is “so last-year.” But for people like me, “emerging” has come to signify a sort of community, maybe even an identity - the one group where we feel we actually fit.

It may sound silly and petty...(it may actually be silly and petty)...but I wish we could keep the “emerging” label around just a little while longer because, around here, if I’m not an “emerger,” I’m just a liberal.

Even though it's nothing more than a name...it's a name. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss it.

What do you think? Is the emerging church a thing of the past?



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Disturbing Photos + This Week on the Web

So yesterday’s post was about all the troubled marriages making news this week, and because I like to include a graphic with each piece, I went to stock.xchng to get a free stock photo to use.

I entered “marriage” into the search field, and guess what came up:


What the heck? Looks like we can add one more item to our list of things that actually threaten the sanctity of marriage - stock photos.

Perhaps some captions are in order? 


On the Web this week, you might want to check out: Peter Bregman’s article, “Don’t get outraged at Sanford” on CNN.com; Peter Rollins’ post on what makes someone a theologian; Brian McLaren’s interesting (and probably controversial) piece on sexuality.

I recently discovered “Conversion Diary,” a very cool blog from fellow writer Jennifer Fulwiler about her journey from atheism to Catholicism.

Also bumped into an old Out of Ur post from Scot McKnight about how he believes the work of N.T. Wright and Chris Wright best embody where theology is headed over the next few years, arguing that the two Wrights have “set before us two words that have become increasingly fruitful and I think will be the subject of serious theological reflection in the future. The two words are ‘earth’ and ‘mission.’”  I’ve been reading a lot of N.T. lately, but haven’t had a chance to pick up Chris’s The Mission of God. Great. Another book to buy! :-)

I try to check out my readers’ blogs regularly and have been super-impressed, though I don’t always have time to comment.  By the way, if you think Paul VanderKlay’s comments are smart here, check out hisblog. So much to think about!

So, what struck your interest on the Web this week? What are you writing about on your blog? (No shame in self-promotion here, folks!)



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Six Things that Actually Threaten the Sanctity of Marriage

This hasn’t been a good week for marriage. From Jon and Kate Gosselin’s divorce, to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s infidelity, to the embarrassing exploits of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluscon, the headlines have been a painful reminder of how troubled modern marriages can be.

As I’ve mentioned before, I personally think it is counterproductive to spend time and money trying to mess with the constitution so that it restricts the rights of U.S. citizens under the banner of “protecting the sanctity of marriage,” especially when heterosexual couples face a divorce rate that hovers between 45 and 50 percent.  The truth is, gay couples make up a very small percentage of the population. Regardless of your position on homosexuality, when you consider the numbers, it becomes clear that gay marriage would have very little effect on an “institution” that we heterosexuals have done a fine job of screwing up on our own.

Now, I’m no expert, but I have a feeling that our time, our money, our sermons, and our political activism would be better spent combating those things that are actually threatening marriage in this country and around the world. Here are a few things that came to my mind:

1. Materialism. I don’t know about you, but for me it is genuinely a struggle to remember that I don’t need more stuff to be happy. We live in a culture that constantly blurs the lines between necessity and pleasure, and so it should come as no surprise that what couples argue about the most is money and spending. If I had to name the one vice that I think has done the most damage to the reputation of the Church and the family over the past 100 years, it would be greed. And I struggle with it as much as anyone else. It’s so sad to think that marriages are ending every day over things like credit cards and fancy cars, McMansions and model airplanes – things we don’t even need to be happy.

2. Entitlement. Also linked to America’s culture of greed is our pervasive sense of entitlement. Entitlement is what leads men to think they “deserve” a mistress after a hard week at work and women to think they “deserve” a new wardrobe that will break the family budget. When there’s an argument, both parties feel they “deserve” an apology, and when apologies are not given, someone often will feel they “deserve” to be happy by getting out of the marriage.

3. “It’s all about the kids.” One thing that struck me about the Jon and Kate interviews was how often the couple said, “It’s all about the kids.”  “It’s their house,” Kate said at one point. “I work for the kids,” she said at another. “I have to do what’s right for the kids,” Jon added.  “We do the show for our kids,” they both said. By making our children the center of our lives, we are 1) teaching them to be selfish and entitled, and 2) neglecting the importance of prioritizing our marriages. Sure the Gosselin kids have matching clubhouses and cute clothes and constant activities and memories from expensive vacations, but now they don’t have a strong marriage to look up to...which is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children.

4. Sexual repression. I love that Christians are beginning to talk more openly about sex, because for many years sex was treated as something dirty and sinful.  In fact, I’ve known more than one Christian couple to break up early in their marriage because of major sexual repression issues that stemmed from the guilt associated with sex.  I think progress is being made in this area.

5. Sexual exploitation. On the other hand, on TV and in movies, sex is often made into little more than a joke. Now, like most people, I enjoy a little sexual humor every now and then (Chaucer and Shakespeare certainly incorporated it into their work!) but when sex is treated as nothing but an animal instinct or bodily function, it loses its mystery and sacredness and gives us one more excuse to approach relationships with an attitude of consumerism.

6. Hypocrisy. Not to belabor the point, but high-profile pastors and politicians who preach incessantly about “family values” would do well to observe their own rules. Their hypocrisy triggers cynicism, and cynicism triggers despair.

What would you add to the list? What are some other things that actually threaten the sanctity of marriage?



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What Are You Reading? Who Do You Trust?

Though we are taking a break from our book club discussions for the summer, I wanted to check in now and then to see how your summer reading is going.


I’m right in the middle of N.T. Wright’s Justification. Intended primarily as a response to John Piper’s criticism of the so-called “New Perspective” on Paul, it’s a fascinating read and much more accessible than I expected it to be...although there are moments when I find all the back-and-forth about the meaning of Greek words to be a bit tedious. (What were we saying the other day about the regular guy on the street not really caring about this stuff?)

Wright wrote something in the Introduction that really struck a cord with me.  He described what he called a “large and difficult problem in Western Christianity” that is characterized by “the implicit clash between those who get their faith from the four Gospels, topped up with a few bits of Paul, and those who base it on Paul, topped up with a few illustrations from the Gospels.” (p. 26)

In that sentence, Wright succinctly describes a phenomenon I've been trying to put my finger on for years! Having been raised in a culture that seemed to emphasize Paul over the Gospels, I often find myself jumping to the other extreme by focusing solely on the teachings of Jesus to the neglect of Paul. What I love most about N.T. Wright is that he always manages to bring harmony to the two, more than any other biblical scholar I have encountered.

...Which is one of the many reasons why I generally trust his assessment of Scripture, and why I often turn to his Web site or his books when I have a question about a particular passage.  I think we all have certain biblical scholars who we find ourselves being drawn to time and again, and whose reputation and credentials make them a trusted source for information and insight.

So, who do you trust when it comes to biblical scholarship? Got any “favorite” theologians?

What else are you reading? What’s next on your list?

I think I’m going to take a break from all this deep stuff to read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde next!



Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.