John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Filtering by Category: Books

God's Apology

For the past year I've been blogging material from a book I wrote called Apology. It never got published. I actually received money from two different publishers who both refused to put it out in print. That was hard to hear. Twice. But a funny thing happened during the process of working and reworking this material: I turned into a whole different person. And it was excruciating.

When I first started thinking about the ideas you’ve been reading, my family was living right outside of Atlanta, Georgia. When I agreed to terms with my publisher, we were living just outside of Los Angeles, California. By the time I finished the first draft of the manuscript, we were back outside of Atlanta again. We were in Texas when the second publisher bought it, didn't like it and returned the rights to me. And now I've got boxes piled up in my dining room as we're packing up to return to Georgia (again).

Life is officially crazy, and, as much as I love Atlanta, it's starting to feel like the place where I go to lick my wounds.

I remember loading up the girls and the dog and driving out of our fair city, making our way westward, chasing a dream of building a new kind of church. We were so sure and so optimistic and so hopeful.

But things don’t always turn out the way you want.

It has been a humbling experience in many ways. So many things unrealized, so many dreams left unfulfilled. I've done my best to mask my disappointment (sometimes succeeding, probably failing more often than not), trying to hide from my kids the embarrassment and feelings of failure I experienced. It's hard not to feel like I am coming back with my tail tucked between my legs, a defeated man, a failed church pastor, an extremely sinful one at that.

Being a writer is a solitary occupation, and that solitude doesn’t do much to help those feelings of failure.

When I came up with the idea of writing a book like this one, I thought I’d sit and have conversations with lots of different kinds of people. After abortionist George Tiller was murdered in the summer of 2009, I thought maybe I’d find someone from Planned Parenthood to talk with. But that never materialized. I had it in my head that I could find a Muslim cleric to talk with, but, again, it just never came about. There were a couple of hardcore atheists who backed out and didn’t want to be involved at all.

So many things change, and there’s so little that’s actually ours to control. I cannot, for example, control how you’ll respond to what I’ve written here. You may choose to fall on your knees and cry out to God. Or you may choose to write me off as a heretic. You may find yourself thinking differently about things. Or you may go about your business as usual.

I can’t control you. I can’t control my circumstances – no matter how hard I try. I can only control myself (and sometimes not even that). I can work on controlling the things I say and do. Beyond that, who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, God does. He knew what would happen, which conversations would take place and find their way into this book, how you would respond to all of this, where I would be living. He knew all of this when I first ran the idea of this book past my agent. God chooses to reveal what he reveals, and I’m relatively sure he’s got his reasons.

One thing I do know: I am not the same man I was when this process began. Things are different. I think I’m more myself than I was. I like to think I’m more like Jesus than I was (I’m not one of those people who assume the two are mutually exclusive). As painful as this process has been, the pain is redemptive. God has used that pain to forge compassion in me, to form a stronger character, a Christlikeness that wasn’t there before, or at least wasn’t there as consistently as it is now.

I know that I’m not who I was, and I also know that I’m not yet who I will be. God is in the process of transforming me, a process that won’t be done this side of eternity. He’s in control, and he has my best interests at heart. If I ever doubt that, I’ll just read this entry again.

I began last May by explaining that, technically speaking, an apology is a reasoned argument that makes sense of something we may find difficult to understand. I also acknowledged that the word “apology” has obvious emotional overtones as well. That combination of reason and emotion, I believe, can lead us to understanding. And understanding may lead us to healing.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe he owes me anything, but I’ll accept whatever comes next as God’s apology.

The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible -- On Sale

My heads up agent just alerted me to the fact that Christian Book Distributors has the book on sale for $11.99 now -- which is almost as cheap as I can get it from my publisher! Here's the link if you want to get some early Christmas shopping done.

Oh, and if you order it, you can mail it to me before December 11. I'll sign it and send it back before Christmas. How about that for a deal?

Baby in the Bargain Bin

Not too long ago I went to a big Christian conference. There were speakers and musicians and classes and keynotes. There was also a giant room filled with Christian products. Everything you can imagine from puppets to communion trays to computer software to t-shirts with terribly cheesy slogans printed on them like "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" and "His pain, your gain". Christian candle makers were there, as were Christian architects and Christian painters. And there was a bookstore. All the usual suspects were well-represented. Max Lucado. Chuck Swindoll. John Ortberg. Andy Stanley. Beth Moore. Liz Curtis Higgs. Tons of Christian romance novels. Lots of sanitized, age-appropriate Bibles for the kiddos.

It was there, tucked away in a bargain bin, that I saw a book I'd written a few years ago, Hearts and Minds: Raising Your Child with a Christian View of the World (Tyndale, '06) on sale, 50% off.

I remember when that book came out. It had taken two years to research and write. I'd been thinking about that book for so long that when I finally held it in my hand, it seemed so perfect -- like one of my children almost. All the contracts and editing and marketing and distribution. All the radio interviews and speaking engagements. All the prayers and hopes and efforts converging into that one amazing moment when I at last received that first copy from the publisher.

But I'll tell you a secret: the same feelings I've been describing the past couple of weeks, those feelings of fullness and emptiness, that combination of happy and sad, sweet and sour simultaneously -- that's what I felt when I held that book initially.

As good as it felt, it wasn't enough. It certainly didn't satisfy me forever. It didn't take away all my fears or quench my thirst once and for all. I still had longings and desires and insecurities. I wasn't fulfilled by holding that book.

And now here it was reduced for quick sales, on the clearance shelf. My baby in a bargain bin.

In that moment, I was really glad that our accomplishments and triumphs aren't all there is, that they are not the highest heights we'll ever know, that the moment of my book's unveiling will not be as good as it ever gets. I was glad because it also means that our tragedies will not have the last word. That my book's failing does not destine me to failure.

I do not have to rise and fall with my Amazon.com ranking, if I just keep remembering that I'm made for something bigger, something better, something this world cannot provide because this world cannot contain it.

I was made for heaven, and, in heaven, there is no bargain bin.

Closer to Comfort; Farther from God

In my last post I mentioned that I'm reading this book by Dale Allison called The Luminous Dusk. In it, the author notes that prior to the 17th Century, with the exception of a very few Romans and Greeks, it was hard to find any European who seriously doubted the existence of God. Furthermore, prior to the Lisbon earthquake of 1700, most devastating "acts of God" caused people to think about themselves and the role they may have played in bringing the destruction upon themselves. But, in that pivotal moment, Voltaire turned the tables on God -- putting the Creator in the dock, as it were -- and demanded he answer for his actions. When it was determined that his answers were not good enough, modern philosophy simply wished the Creator away to the cornfield.

Now, when we ask why there are so many agnostics and atheists in contemporary society -- especially when there were so few throughout the majority of human history -- what are we told?

Hume's declaration that the universe is a closed system will be brought up. We're told that higher biblical criticism in 19th Century Germany poked holes in the theory of biblical infallibility. We're told that Darwin revealed the Book of Genesis as primitive mythology, something only believed by superstitious people who have no appreciation of science. We may even be told that religion was helpful for a time but has been rendered obsolete as we've continued to evolve.

But Allison suggests a factor so obvious we may end up overlooking it completely, a factor far removed from universities and books and debates, a factor that seems benign...until you think about it more carefully. Here's what Allison says, "Secularization correlates directly with a growing physical separation from the so-called natural world. In other words, the more we have moved indoors, the less some of us are inclined to believe" (p. 7).

Could it be something as simple as that? Could insulation and central heating/air conditioning, grocery stores and automobiles, overhead lights and electrical outlets be adding to our disbelief in God?

It does seem to me -- and this is purely anecdotal -- that people who work with their hands outdoors, folks who farm and hunt and fish, who know the feel of the soil and the smell of the rain have a greater sense of their dependence, their limits and the presence of something bigger than this world. People who are asleep when the sun comes up and indoors when the sun goes down, who never really get to see the stars or dig in the dirt find it easier to believe in their own self-sufficiency.

So, what do you think? Does comfort take us farther from God?

Closer to People; Farther from God

In his book, The Luminous Dusk, Dale Allison tells of a study that was conducted among scientists, a poll to determine how many of them believe in God. He says that among those who do believe in a supreme being, most of them are cosmologists -- someone who studies the universe as a whole and, by extension, humanity's place within the universe. More cosmologists than biologists believe in God. But more biologists than psychologists believe.

Could it be that the closer your field of study takes you to people, the less likely you are to believe in God?

I'll admit here that when I get alone, say, at the beach or on a mountaintop, I can sit still and contemplate the beauty of creation. This naturally leads me to a deeper contemplation of the Creator. I find peace readily at hand. I experience contentment. The light and momentary troubles of this world seem just that: light and momentary. Perspective returns, and I know the truth of Jesus' statement, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

But add a few people into the mix -- a nagging wife, her defeated husband and whiny children in tow, or an old bickering couple or a loudmouth businessman yammering away on his cellphone about his fantasy baseball draft or some other strange nonsense -- and my "peace like a river" easily turns into a stage-5 rapids.

It's just harder for me to be a good Christian when there are people around.

Perhaps this is why I chose to become a preacher instead of a counselor. Instead of patiently listening to others tell me about their personal problems for 50 minutes, I'd much rather make them sit and listen to me tell them what to do.

I don't think I'm alone in this struggle. I spent a lot of time last week with other professional Christians -- preachers, professors, authors, etc. And I noticed something strange. When they talk about God, their eyes light up. Their energy level rises. They love talking about God, about the Bible, about Jesus, the Holy Spirit and salvation. They positively glow when they talk about what God has done for us and what a magnificent person he is.

But when the subject changes to church or -- more specifically -- people in their church...well...their countenance falls. There's always someone stirring up trouble or threatening to leave. Someone just got a divorce. Someone else is having an affair. A child has been abused. Lies have been told. Money is missing. Forgiveness is withheld. Factions form.

It would be so much easier to be a good Christian if there weren't all these broken, messed up people around!

And yet, for some strange reason, God refuses to let me deal with just him. He insists that if I'm going to be in a relationship with him, I must also be in a relationship with his people.

So, how do you balance it? Do you ever find spending time with people takes you farther away from God?

Free Book

Just wanted to remind you that I'm offering free copies of my latest book, The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible, for people who will do one of two things: 1. Take a picture of yourself with the book and email it to info@52greateststories.com. Here's an example from my friend Andy Sikora:

2. Write a review of the book on Amazon.com.

Do one of those two things, and I'll make sure the person of your choice gets a free copy of the book for Christmas.

Here's a question for you to help me with: What sort of prize should I give to someone who does both of those things?

52greateststories.com

It just came to my attention that something's been a little screwy with my website and comments lately. For a while you couldn't leave comments at all. Then you had to sign in to leave comments. I think I fixed it so that we're back to normal, but I can't figure out how it got messed up in the first place. Needless to say, if you've read the previous post you know how topsy-turvy life has been over the past couple of weeks.

Part of this topsy-turviness is related to the fact that my latest book, The 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible, is about to come out. It should hit stores next Tuesday, in fact. And you can already buy it online from your favorite places like Amazon.com or Christianbook.com.

One of the things we're working on is a website to go along with the book. You can read the first chapter, and we'll be adding all sorts of fun stuff in the coming weeks.

Oh, and it would really help me out if those of you who have read the book (or at least portions of the book or maybe you heard me teach through the material) could go and write a favorable review on Amazon.com. In fact, if you do that, I'll send a free copy of the book to the person of your choice as a Christmas gift.

Books, Books and More Books

Lately, I've developed quite a stack of books I'm planning to work through. I had a birthday at the end of February, and I used that as an excuse to buy a bunch. Then I had some sent to me (sometimes people do that). Finally, this week -- while I was out in California -- I went by my publisher and my new best friend (Alex Field) not only bought me lunch but told me I could pick up any books that looked interesting to me (these two things combine to make it easy to become my new best friend). So, here's a list of books I've got waiting. Let me know if you've read any of these or if any of them sound interesting to you:

A Comedian's Guide to Theology by Thor Ramsey

The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism Is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness by David Aikman

Empire Falls: A Novel by Richard Russo

God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Peter Greig

I Want to Believe: Finding Your Way in an Age of Many Faiths by Mel Lawrenz

LifeSpace: The practice of life with God by Joni Grace Powers & Robert Pyne

Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith & Politics by Tony Campolo

The Road: A Novel by Cormac McCarthy

Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies by Jeffrey Overstreet

Who's Your Caddy? Looping for the Great, Near Great and Reprobates of Golf by Rick Reilly

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West: A Novel by Gregory Maguire

Book Done

For those of you keeping score at home, I wanted to let you know that at 10:59pm tonight I sent the final three chapters of my latest book to my publisher. I am relieved. I am exhausted. I am happy. I don't know what to do with myself.

My plan is to take a couple of weeks off, watch as many movies as I can and clear my head before I try to figure out what's next for me.

One of the things I want to do is read some. Because of the nature of this recent project, I've been reading commentaries mostly. In fact, I think I read more commentaries in the past four months than I did in all of graduate school!

So, here's where I could use your help. What are the books I need to get and read now? I'd like a mix of fiction and non-fiction. To start, Jill bought me Ferrol Sam's newest novel, Down Town. I cracked it open yesterday and read about 100 pages before I knew what had happened. Oddly enough, that's the only book I received for Christmas this year.

What do you recommend?

The Point of Education -- Christian or Otherwise

Christians have always been pioneers in the fields of education and learning. For various reasons (some good and some bad), Christians have always started schools, teaching people not only Christian doctrine but to read and write well, to appreciate and understand science, medicine and mathematics. This has been true since the days of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria (both of whom differed from other educators in that they admitted male and female students). Contrary to what some would have us believe, real Christians have always championed the cause of education -- from the middle of the second century to this day.

But why? Why has education always been so important to Christians?

Plantinga sums up the real reason why education and learning are so important for Christians (or at least why they should be):

The point of all this learning is to prepare to add one's own contribution to the supreme reformation project, which is God's restoration of all things that have been corrupted by evil (Engaging God's World, xii).

How is this different or similar to the ways in which you see Christian institutions approach education and learning?

What's So "Christian" about Christian Education?

I must say it was distressing to read your comments about what makes "Christian" education "Christian." The sad truth is that many Christian schools were started at a particularly shocking time in American history -- and sometimes for particularly shocking (though often unspoken) reasons. The 1960s saw a tremendous amount of societal change happening in America. The two most pertinent factors as it relates to the rise of Christian schools (and a lot of Christian schools were started from the mid-60s to the early-70s) are: (1) the banning of prayer in public schools and (2) desegregation.

Many Christian parents claimed they were righteously indignant over the first factor when, in reality, they were afraid of the second.

So, schools were started where little Johnny and Mary could ride the bus without rubbing shoulders with brown-skinned people -- and, of course, they could pray. And...uh...attend chapel services where there would be...um...praying. And the Pledge of Allegiance with strong emphasis on the words "one nation under God".

There. Does that make it feel "Christian" enough?

Let's see...we've got chapel and praying and "one nation under God" and...oh...how about Bible classes?

Plantinga's book has much to say about this topic. It is aimed at Christian colleges, but it applies to Christian elementary, middle and high schools as well. Here's a great quote from the preface:

[N]o matter how a Christian college plans to integrate faith, learning, and service, it will never conduct education-as-usual -- not if it is serious about Christian higher education. It won't even do education-as-usual with Bible classes tacked on, or education-as-usual with prayers before class, or education-as-usual with a service-learning component and a ten o'clock chapel break (Engaging God's World, p. xiv).

My question to you last week was, "How is 'Christian' education different from regular education?" Your response was, "Not much."

My question this week is, "How should 'Christian' education be different from regular education?"

Truth and Discernment

I recently saw a video clip of a Christian leader who was literally screaming because a Christian organization was advertising a series of seminars featuring a Jewish rabbi teaching on the Old Testament (as Christians refer to it). Admittedly, he was trying to be funny, and he may very well have had a point. But whatever point he may have had was lost on me when he started hopping up and down, red in the face, yelling at people because -- in his opinion -- Christians cannot learn anything about the Bible from a person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah. His line of reason was this: the whole Bible is about Jesus; therefore, if you deny the centrality of the historical Jesus, your interpretation of the Bible will be wrong.

I thought of him when I read this paragraph from the preface to Plantinga's book:

[John] Calvin understood that God created human beings to hunt and gather truth, and that, as a matter of fact, the capacity for doing so amounts to one feature of the image of God in them (Col. 3:10). So Calvin fed on knowledge as gladly as a deer on sweet corn. He absorbed not only the teachings of Scripture and of its great interpreters, such as St. Augustine, but also whatever knowledge he could gather from such famous pagans as the Roman philosopher Seneca. And why not? The Holy Spirit authors all truth, as Calvin wrote, and we should therefore embrace it no matter where it shows up. But we will need solid instruction in Scripture and Christian wisdom in order to recognize truth and in order to disentangle it from error and fraud. Well-instructed Christians try not to offend the Holy Spirit by scorning truth in non-Christian authors over whom the Spirit has been brooding, but this does not mean that Christians can afford to read these authors uncritically. After all, a person's faith, even in idols, shapes most of what a person thinks and writes, and the Christian faith is in competition with other faiths for human hearts and minds. (Engaging God's World, p. x)

Plantinga is saying (and here he is in good company with folks like John Calvin and C.S. Lewis) that Christians need not avoid listening to the wisdom of people who aren't Christians. There are those -- apparently like the hopping mad Christian leader in the video -- who think Christians can only learn from other Christians. After all, one could apply his premise to almost any field of study. I believe that Jesus is not only central to the Bible but to all of life. Therefore, if a person denies the centrality of Jesus, what can they teach us about any field of study? Psychology? Biology? Chemistry? History? Literature?

If taken to its logical conclusion, this line of reasoning leads us to only listen to other Christians and believe that we -- and only we -- have cornered the market on truth.

Plantinga seems to be saying that there's truth to be found in our world. Christians ought to be on a search for truth, but they must know that some of it lies beyond the boundaries of Christendom. And then he hints at what is perhaps the single biggest missing ingredient in the lives of many Christians. He says, basically, this search for truth among the wisdom of non-Christian people will require discernment on the part of Christians.

Ah, discernment. We're not very good at that. And we've managed to arrange our world so we don't have to be. I can listen to a Christian radio station -- where I know they'll never say or play anything objectionable. I can read only Christian books and only associate with Christian people. Our local church will distribute literature telling me where all the boundary lines are and what constitutes acceptable Christian behavior for those who aspire to leadership positions in the church (no smoking, drinking or going to R-rated movies). Heck, they'll even print up an easy-to-read voter guide telling me which candidates stand for the official Christian position. Christian leaders will tell me which issues I should be outraged over and which movies are Evangelically acceptable (Evan Almighty, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.).

The average Christian sitting in the average church isn't brimming with discernment. And I have to wonder if that's not a problem we created and are perpetuating.

A "Christian" Education

A new friend from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company found my blog and graciously sent me several new books. Anyone who knows me knows that the way to my heart is through my bookshelf! One of the books he sent is called Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. It is, in a word, fantastic.

Plantinga is now the President of Calvin Theological Seminary, but when he wrote this book he was the Dean of Chapel at Calvin College. In that capacity, he found that many students were coming to college unprepared to integrate their academic pursuits with their intellectual pursuits. They had fallen prey to what we've been talking about here on the blog in recent days about having life stuffed into various categories. School was one wedge of the game piece. Church was another. There was no overlap.

His intent is to knock down the dividing walls for students on their way into the school. In fact, this book is required reading for incoming freshmen at Calvin College.

Now, I logged plenty of time in Christian Education. I went to a Christian Elementary School. I graduated from a Christian High School. I went to a Christian University. Heck, I went to two Christian Universities and a seminary. I know that world pretty well, and I know that many of you do, too.

Many of you attended Christian schools and/or send your children to Christian schools. There are a variety of reasons for doing so, but here's what I'm interested in today:

How is "Christian" education different from regular education?

Unstoppable: The Reading List

Some of you asked about this, so I wanted to let you know the books I've been reading to get a handle on the Book of Acts for this upcoming series. Feel free to chime in and let me know of books I missed. The Message of Acts: The Spirit, The Church, and the World (Bible Speaks Today) by John R.W. Stott

Acts (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) by I. Howard Marshall

Falling in Love with Jesus' People: Studies in the Book of Acts by Rubel Shelly

Paul on Trial: The Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity by John W. Mauck

"Acts" by Conrad Gempf in The New Bible Commentary (IVP -- 21st Century Edition) eds. G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France

Acts (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) by Jaroslav Pelikan

Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) by Ajith Fernando

Okay, I got a little "link-happy" today. It started innocently enough: I was going to link you to Conrad's blog because he's kind of a friend and fellow-blogger. Then I remembered that Rubel Shelly is kind of a friend (although he never remembers me). So, I figured I'd link to his website, which has all sorts of helpful items. Then I found John Stott's website, and it all went downhill from there.

Anyway, you can see from the reading list that I've got a little diversity but not too much. I wanted a good commentary written by a woman, so I ordered Beverly Gaventa's. I also had to order Jervell -- the others I had in my library already -- except for Pelikan, which I found at a local bookstore. I'm hoping they arrive before I head to California Monday; they'll give me something good for the airplane.

I've got some non-American scholars (Stott, Marshall, Fernando and...what do you consider yourself, Conrad?), a non-evangelical (Pelikan and his wife had been received into the Orthodox Church of America before he wrote his commentary), a preacher (Shelly) and an attorney (Mauck).

I'm not sure I have the bandwidth to add anything at this point, but -- if I could add something to the list, what should it be?

Follow up question (written after going back and reading this post): On a scale of 1-10, how much of a preacher nerd am I?