"Attainments are like the manna given to the Israelites in the desert -- good only for the day."

- Dallas Willard
Greatest American Novel?

This topic came up tonight at dinner and someone suggested I ask the blogosphere.

What do you consider to be the greatest American novel, and why?

Put your thoughts in the comments thread. Thanks!

Otherworld Free

The first book I ever wrote, lo, a long fifteen years ago, in the days when dinosaurs walked the earth, has finally seen the light of day. Admit it: You felt something different had happened in the world this week, yes? It's 'cause my novel Otherworld came out.

Otherworld is a supernatural thriller in the genre of Christian fiction that does not involve any Amish people. It is mainly about a magazine reporter in Houston whose life starts falling apart and how he gets caught up in the charismatic orbit of a college professor who claims to interact with travelers from another dimension. It sounds science-fiction-y, but it's really not. It's gritty and fantastical and dark and mythic. And it's got serial killers and demons. Otherworld is kind of an X-Files meets The Exorcist meets The Master.

Anyhoo, it released this week as part of David C Cook's Digital First campaign. A print edition will be available for order from every major bookseller in the next few days, but for now you can download the e-book for every major platform, and you should do it today (12th) or tomorrow (13th) because for these two days it's available FREE. I'm not making that up. Download it free today and tomorrow. (For instance, for Kindle at Amazon.)

After that it will be on sale for a little while but not for as cheap as free.

This is my first literary baby, newly revised and spit-shined. I hope you enjoy it.

"Soaked with the Sense of Exile"

“We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’. ”

- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 110

[h/t Dr. Chuck DeGroat]

The 1960 Revision of the Hobbit

I didn't even know this existed. Evidently Tolkien attempted to revise the Hobbit in 1960, to bring its tone more in line with the Lord of the Rings.

Bruce Charlton of the Notions Club Papers doesn't mince words:

I have been reading the begun but (thankfully) nowhere near finished 1960 revision of The Hobbit which was done by JRR Tolkien, and is published in Part Two of The History of the Hobbit edited by John D Ratliff.

The draft consists of replacement passages amounting to some 30 pages and taking Bilbo and the Dwarves as far as arriving in Rivendell.

The idea of the revision was to bring the Hobbit into line with Lord of the Rings in both a factual and tonal sense. This was a deeply flawed motivation, especially when applied to a first rank classic of children's literature, and could hardly fail to damage the book.

What resulted is rather horrible to read, at least it is horrible for anyone who loves Tolkien and who recognizes The Hobbit's special quality.

The very life has been drained from the Hobbit - its spark, verve, spontaneity are extinguished, smothered - its humour (in the old sense of humour - when a 'humorous' man was one of vivid and distinctive character).

The much derided avuncular asides are gone, but so is the vitality.

The failure of the 1960 Hobbit betrays its misguided purpose, just as the vampiric bureaucratic prose of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (the one recommended by the modern Church of England) betrays Christianity - the hobbit, for all its flaws, is essentially a perfect book ^ (just as the Authorized Version is a perfect translation of the Bible) - and if you revise perfection there can be only one outcome.
I'd love to get a look at that and am thinking of checking out The History of the Hobbit.

As a bonus, later in the post Charlton derides the new ordering of the Chronicles of Narnia in this way: "The re-ordering of the Narnia books was an act of literary vandalism of major proportions. The only consolation is that most kids seem to be ignoring it, in practice." (Emphasis his)

The Friendship of Tolkien and Lewis

Professor Christopher Mitchell of Wheaton College speaks on the dynamics of the friendship between C. S. Lewis and J.R. R. Tolkien. It's an hour long, but definitely worth watching.



Marius and Eponine

I read this beautiful, haunting, troubling passage a few nights ago. Don't read if you don't want to be let in on a major Les Miserables spoiler.

As Marius was withdrawing, after concluding his inspection, he heard his name pronounced feebly in the darkness.

"Monsieur Marius!"

He started, for he recognized the voice which had called to him two hours before through the gate in the Rue Plumet.

Only, the voice now seemed to be nothing more than a breath.

He looked about him, but saw no one.

Marius thought he had been mistaken, that it was an illusion added by his mind to the extraordinary realities which were clashing around him. He advanced a step, in order to quit the distant recess where the barricade lay.

"Monsieur Marius!" repeated the voice.

This time he could not doubt that he had heard it distinctly; he looked and saw nothing.

"At your feet," said the voice.

He bent down, and saw in the darkness a form which was dragging itself towards him.

It was crawling along the pavement. It was this that had spoken to him.

The fire-pot allowed him to distinguish a blouse, torn trousers of coarse velvet, bare feet, and something which resembled a pool of blood. Marius indistinctly made out a pale head which was lifted towards him and which was saying to him:—

"You do not recognize me?"

"No."

"Eponine."

Marius bent hastily down. It was, in fact, that unhappy child. She was dressed in men's clothes.

"How come you here? What are you doing here?"

"I am dying," said she.

There are words and incidents which arouse dejected beings. Marius cried out with a start:—

"You are wounded! Wait, I will carry you into the room! They will attend to you there. Is it serious? How must I take hold of you in order not to hurt you? Where do you suffer? Help! My God! But why did you come hither?"

And he tried to pass his arm under her, in order to raise her.

She uttered a feeble cry.

"Have I hurt you?" asked Marius.

"A little."

"But I only touched your hand."

She raised her hand to Marius, and in the middle of that hand Marius saw a black hole.

"What is the matter with your hand?" said he.

"It is pierced."

"Pierced?"

"Yes."

"What with?"

"A bullet."

"How?"

"Did you see a gun aimed at you?"

"Yes, and a hand stopping it."

"It was mine."

Marius was seized with a shudder.

"What madness! Poor child! But so much the better, if that is all, it is nothing, let me carry you to a bed. They will dress your wound; one does not die of a pierced hand."

She murmured:—

"The bullet traversed my hand, but it came out through my back. It is useless to remove me from this spot. I will tell you how you can care for me better than any surgeon. Sit down near me on this stone."

He obeyed; she laid her head on Marius' knees, and, without looking at him, she said:—

"Oh! How good this is! How comfortable this is! There; I no longer suffer."

She remained silent for a moment, then she turned her face with an effort, and looked at Marius.

"Do you know what, Monsieur Marius? It puzzled me because you entered that garden; it was stupid, because it was I who showed you that house; and then, I ought to have said to myself that a young man like you—"

She paused, and overstepping the sombre transitions that undoubtedly existed in her mind, she resumed with a heartrending smile:—

"You thought me ugly, didn't you?"

She continued:—

"You see, you are lost! Now, no one can get out of the barricade. It was I who led you here, by the way! You are going to die, I count upon that. And yet, when I saw them taking aim at you, I put my hand on the muzzle of the gun. How queer it is! But it was because I wanted to die before you. When I received that bullet, I dragged myself here, no one saw me, no one picked me up, I was waiting for you, I said: 'So he is not coming!' Oh, if you only knew. I bit my blouse, I suffered so! Now I am well. Do you remember the day I entered your chamber and when I looked at myself in your mirror, and the day when I came to you on the boulevard near the washerwomen? How the birds sang! That was a long time ago. You gave me a hundred sous, and I said to you: 'I don't want your money.' I hope you picked up your coin? You are not rich. I did not think to tell you to pick it up. The sun was shining bright, and it was not cold. Do you remember, Monsieur Marius? Oh! How happy I am! Every one is going to die."

She had a mad, grave, and heart-breaking air. Her torn blouse disclosed her bare throat.

As she talked, she pressed her pierced hand to her breast, where there was another hole, and whence there spurted from moment to moment a stream of blood, like a jet of wine from an open bung-hole.

Marius gazed at this unfortunate creature with profound compassion.

"Oh!" she resumed, "it is coming again, I am stifling!"

She caught up her blouse and bit it, and her limbs stiffened on the pavement.

At that moment the young cock's crow executed by little Gavroche resounded through the barricade.

The child had mounted a table to load his gun, and was singing gayly the song then so popular:—

"En voyant Lafayette,
Le gendarme répète:—
Sauvons nous! sauvons nous!
sauvons nous!"


Eponine raised herself and listened; then she murmured:—

"It is he."

And turning to Marius:—

"My brother is here. He must not see me. He would scold me."

"Your brother?" inquired Marius, who was meditating in the most bitter and sorrowful depths of his heart on the duties to the Thenardiers which his father had bequeathed to him; "who is your brother?"

"That little fellow."

"The one who is singing?"

"Yes."

Marius made a movement.

"Oh! don't go away," said she, "it will not be long now."

She was sitting almost upright, but her voice was very low and broken by hiccoughs.

At intervals, the death rattle interrupted her. She put her face as near that of Marius as possible. She added with a strange expression:—

"Listen, I do not wish to play you a trick. I have a letter in my pocket for you. I was told to put it in the post. I kept it. I did not want to have it reach you. But perhaps you will be angry with me for it when we meet again presently? Take your letter."

She grasped Marius' hand convulsively with her pierced hand, but she no longer seemed to feel her sufferings. She put Marius' hand in the pocket of her blouse. There, in fact, Marius felt a paper.

"Take it," said she.

Marius took the letter.

She made a sign of satisfaction and contentment.

"Now, for my trouble, promise me—"

And she stopped.

"What?" asked Marius.

"Promise me!"

"I promise."

"Promise to give me a kiss on my brow when I am dead.—I shall feel it."

She dropped her head again on Marius' knees, and her eyelids closed. He thought the poor soul had departed. Eponine remained motionless. All at once, at the very moment when Marius fancied her asleep forever, she slowly opened her eyes in which appeared the sombre profundity of death, and said to him in a tone whose sweetness seemed already to proceed from another world:—

"And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you."

She tried to smile once more and expired.

From Les Miserables, Book XIV, Chapter VI — The Agony of Death after the Agony of Life

Would Piper and Keller Have Been Friends With C.S. Lewis?

As a follow up to the comments thread on the Oompa Loompa post below, here's a very interesting conversation between Keller and Piper regarding C.S. Lewis:



Diabolical Ventriloquism

A 1-Sentence Summary of Each of Screwtape’s Letters

[H/T John Piper]

Ayn Rand Really Hated C.S. Lewis

Now and then I've posted with alarm about how some otherwise Christian people revere Ayn Rand. I suppose they do this because their views line up with her political and economic theories.

I don't know if Rand is still the darling of libertarians, but if so, here's one more reason to avoid her: Ayn Rand hated C.S. Lewis

Ayn Rand was no fan of C.S. Lewis. She called the famous apologist an “abysmal bastard,” a “monstrosity,” a “cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-meta­physical mediocrity,” a “pickpocket of concepts,” and a “G_d-d_mn, beaten mystic.” (I suspect Lewis would have particularly relished the last of these.)

These insults and more can be found in her marginal notes on a copy of Lewis’ Abolition of Man, as printed in Ayn Rand’s Marginalia: Her critical comments on the writings of over 20 authors, edited by Robert Mayhew. Excerpts appear below, with Lewis’ writing (complete with Rand’s highlighting and underlining) on the left and Rand’s notes on the right.
Go ahead and read the rest, if you must. There are a lot more quotes of her trashing Lewis' writings. She sounds like a nutcase to me. Considering the fact that two of my daughter's closest friends abandoned their faith in Jesus as seniors in high school after being sucked in by The Fountainhead, I've got no patience for people who talk about her in hushed, reverent tones. It's not worth clinging to this (ahem) philosopher. My son once put a young, misguided Randian in his place who was going on about the glories of Rand's Objectivism at a college seminar. I'm a proud dad.

On a somewhat related note, another hero of many conservatives is Glenn Beck. I lost all use for him after his misguided, jingoistic attempts to paint soccer lovers in this country as un-American. It's bad form, but I'll quote a portion of what I wrote then:
I'm reminded of one time when I was talking to a friend of mine at church, one who was generally very critical of a lot of things (and entering his Calvin Cage-Phase, by the way). I mentioned something about soccer, and he rolled his eyes and said "third world sport" and then started complaining about immigration or something. That had a different "feel", and it wasn't even subtle. It wasn't "I think soccer's dumb". It was UGLY XENOPHOBIC AMERICAN.

So, Glenn Beck, go take a flying leap.
Yeah, and take Ayn Rand with you.

Why C.S. Lewis Didn't Write for Christianity Today

Evidently, he was asked to.

"I wish your project heartily well," wrote C.S. Lewis to Christianity Today, "but can't write you articles." Carl F.H. Henry, founding editor of the magazine, had invited Lewis in 1955 to contribute to the magazine's first issue. Lewis declined. Henry, was not, as the saying goes, "A day late and a dollar short." He was over a decade late, and no dollar amount would have mattered as Lewis gave the lion's share of his royalties to charity.

There was a time when Lewis would have said yes: when Nazi soldiers marched into Poland and threatened the stability of the world. Adolph Hitler's influence on C.S. Lewis' apologetics is an irrefutable fact. The Führer's evil campaign paved the way for the clear speaking Lewis to engage listeners through the British Broadcast Service. Even as bombs fell over London, Lewis' baritone voice could be heard on radios across Europe. His evangelistic approach was tailor-made for men at war.

Thus, Mere Christianity was born in the fullness of time. This classic work, though published in 1952, was taken from the transcripts of his broadcasts from the early 1940s. By the time the book was available in print, Lewis was already changing his approach. As Solomon said, "There is a time for war and a time for peace." Lewis modified his methods for both.

"But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world," Lewis later said of the power of fiction to present truth, "Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?" Lewis thought so. And thus, his writing career focused on smuggling theology behind enemy lines. The enemies Lewis now faced were comfort and post-war apathy: He would strike at their imagination.

It would be easy for a young apologist to miss the brilliance of Lewis's creativity. Our day is marked by both war and peace, calling for a multifaceted and flexible line of attack. Herein the life and witness of Lewis provides many examples for evangelists today. While Lewis' articulation of the gospel took different paths, they all led to Christ. In so doing, he was able to take aim of both the head and the heart.

A "C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" must embody his apologetics in war and peace. As Lewis told one group of youth workers shortly before the end of World War II, "That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments … from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself." If Lewis was falling back from his arguments, it could only mean one thing: Aslan was on the move.
This article got me thinking: which approach (or perhaps which mixture of approaches) is most needed now?

Should Have Been #1, But Oh Well

This morning John Piper tweeted a Desiring God blog post by Tom Reinke, Top 12 books of 2012.

As I was perusing the list, I thought, It'd be wrong for Jared's book not to be on the list. Sure enough, here's number 10:

10. Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Crossway). Few young authors can drive the gospel into the modern life like Jared Wilson, and in 2012 he released what I think is his best book yet — Gospel Deeps. The title is taken from the writings of Puritan Thomas Goodwin (+10 points). This book, like its author, is endlessly tweetable: “If holiness makes you a sourpuss, you’re doing it wrong.” “If Christ is true, then boredom is a sin.” “We are saved from God to God by God through God for God. The godhead works in concert so that salvation will engulf you in God.” Any church with one of those removable letter signs will find all sorts of inspiration from this book. This is a serious book about the depths of grace in Christ, and it’s an edifying and enjoyable book on the rich delight of the gospel. Slowly reading through it two times are sweet memories I take from 2012.


That's what I'm talkin' about!

Why Christians Shouldn't Be Ayn Rand Fans

I already knew this when I saw two of my daughter's best friends in high school drift away from the Lord after reading The Fountainhead. I am a conservative in philosophy and voting patterns, but I get troubled by some of the Rand fanboy action going on in the (currently stalled) conservative movement.

Here's a Rand quote from our friend Phil over at the excellent Brandywine Books: Why Christians Should Stay Away from Ayn Rand. This is from an interview she did with Playboy:

Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice.
The cross is a scandal, isn't it? So glad Christ sacrificed for non-ideal people like me.

168

168.

That's how many hours are in a week. It doesn't matter if you're Bill Gates, President Obama, or a burger-flippin' teenager -- we all only have 168 hours per week.

I'm 36 years old. I've got a growing family (5 kids and the best wife ever!), a great job, a side business, 35 chickens, friends I like to spend time with, a newly begun ministry at church, and an insatiable desire to read. The more and more responsibility I get, the more I realize what a precious gift time actually is, and how easy it is to squander it. In fact, the most egregious sin in my life right now may be the way I routinely waste hours and hours of precious, God-given, irreversible time.

In Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper calls TV “The Great Life Waster.” Is he wrong? I haven't read any Ray Bradbury, but according to a recent New York Times piece, Bradbury's nearly 60-year-old classic Fahrenheit 451 was, to say the least, prescient:

Most of all, Mr. Bradbury knew how the future would feel: louder, faster, stupider, meaner, increasingly inane and violent. Collective cultural amnesia, anhedonia, isolation. The hysterical censoriousness of political correctness. Teenagers killing one another for kicks. Grown-ups reading comic books. A postliterate populace. “I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths,” says the fire captain in “Fahrenheit,” written in 1953. “No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” Civilization drowned out and obliterated by electronic chatter. The book’s protagonist, Guy Montag, secretly trying to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes on a train, finally leaps up screaming, maddened by an incessant jingle for “Denham’s Dentifrice.” A man is arrested for walking on a residential street. Everyone locked indoors at night, immersed in the social lives of imaginary friends and families on TV, while the government bombs someone on the other side of the planet. Does any of this sound familiar?


Not only is all of the above “vanity” (to borrow a word from the Preacher of Ecclesiastes), it's a case study in a society that values banality, superficiality, and, of course, a cultural zeitgeist that nurtures a deep lack of respect for a most precious non-renewable resource: time. Is the world of “Fahrenheit” much different from modern day America?

Of course, TV isn't a bogeyman. Wisely (and sparingly) used, TV can actually be a source of education, real information, and God-honoring entertainment. The same can be said for other time-wasting outlets: the Internet, smart phones, video games, pop fiction, magazines, etc.

I'm not an expert on this topic, but I'd like to suggest a few ideas on how to make the most of the time God has given us:

- Go to bed at a decent hour. Nothing good or productive happens after midnight. Back when I was a porn addict, 99% of my licentious surfing was done under the cover of darkness.

- Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. As antithetical as it may sound, skimping on sleep is one of the worst ways to waste time. God designed our bodies to need 7 to 8 hours of sleep on a consistent, nightly basis.

- Get up early and spend time in prayer and Bible reading. I typically get up about 6 to 6:15 a.m., and my time with Jesus in the morning is, without doubt, my favorite time of the day.

- Schedule your time. I'm horrible at this. I detest schedules and feel like a schedule is a slave master. I'm learning, though, that the best thinkers and most effective people in the world use schedules.

- Turn off the TV. Make it a point to keep the TV off for a week. In that time, seek God, pray, spend time with family and friends. You'll become addicted to real life, and TV will begin to sound like noise.

- Think about your funeral. Think about how you want to be remembered when you're six feet under. Do you want to be remembered as the gal who never met a sitcom she didn't like? As the guy who watched every inning of every MLB baseball season? (The incomparable Stephen Covey calls this, “Beginning with the end in mind.”)

- Ask yourself, “How can I glorify God today?” Just asking the question opens up a range of seemingly infinite possibilities.

Now go forth and live life.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Book Recommendations?

I'd like some recommendations on books dealing with entrepreneurship and/or leadership. I'd like to hear about paradigm-changing books – stuff that has changed your life. Either from a Christian or non-Christian point-of-view is fine, because, as Justin Martyr said, “All truth wherever it is found belongs to us as Christians.”

Thanks you!

Author Seeking Illustrator

I'm looking for a talented illustrator for potential collaboration on a children's book for publication.

Story is urban-set and will be a simple gospel-shaped un-tidy tale of heartwarming awesomeness.

I am specifically looking for illustration style along the lines of Maurice Sendak, Pauline Baynes, or Wes Anderson films. Vivid, simple, whimsical, retro vibe. Please no anime or cartoons or computer-generated graphics.

If this might be you, email me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com and please have samples you can message me or direct me to online.

'I'm Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey'

Nancy Leigh DeMoss linked to the above article on Twitter this morning.

The only thing I know about the book is it's been #1 in the Kindle store for a few weeks now, usurping The Hunger Games a while back.

After perusing the linked article, I read the synopsis of the book on Amazon.com.

"Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving ..."

Mkay.

"...the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever."

I'll bet.

6 Steps to Turning Sermon Transcripts into Books

Today Justin Taylor highlighted a two year-old post from Phil Johnson, in which Johnson responds to a question about the process of turning a preacher's sermons into a polished book manuscript. Justin called Phil's post a "reality check," and it is. There is good, hard advice there to anyone interested in what it might take to do this sort of editorial work. But as one of the commenters in that old post pointed out, Phil didn't exactly answer the question: How does it work? So I'll be your huckleberry.

Over the last 6-7 years, I have worked on numerous book projects for pastors, some you're familiar with and some you aren't. I'm not new to the work. (Matt was just the first guy to put my name on the cover; I've never ever asked for that recognition.) I have worked on bad books and good books -- which is to say, I've worked with bad sermons and good sermons. So the level of work it takes sometimes to turn a sermon transcript (the word-for-word script of what a preacher said from the pulpit) into a book chapter (a polished work of composition suitable for submission to a publisher) changes from project to project, but the process itself is fairly standard. Here's sort of how it breaks down.

1. Know what good writing sounds like and how to produce it. This is the first hardest step, and there are a billion little details involved in getting there. Lots of guys write books who have no business doing it. And anybody with a basic grasp of grammar -- and plenty of people who don't -- can take a transcript and noodle it around to look like a book chapter. But it will sound less resonant than the original sermon, not more. I call this the "toaster manualization" of Christian literature. You know, when you pick up a book by a famous Christian preacher and it doesn't sound much like their preaching? And in fact, it doesn't sound like a particularly interesting book at all? And you're like, but I love this guy's preaching! Why is this book so . . . bland? It's because some guy with good technical writing skills but little familiarization with the white-hot furnace of essential speech (to paraphrase Lewis, natch) has hammered the sword into a ploughshare. That's why. He made a toaster manual. If that's you, you can probably eke out a good living doing it. That's the good news. But if that's not you, or if that's you and you stared at my toaster manual lines like a dog at himself in a mirror, it'd be equally awesome if you decided to do something else. We don't need any more toaster manuals.

Pardon the manifesto. Ahem.

2. Underneath the ability to write well, however, is the foundation of good mechanics. Could you turn out a decent toaster manual, if you had to? Know yeself some grammer, duh. Are your word processor's spell and grammar check functions your first line of defense? Then this work is not for you. If you're a good writer, you can fudge on this a little bit. For instance, I like to make words up. And play with sentence fragments. Et cetera. If you happen to be an excellent writer, you can even convince the publisher's editor(s) that that's okay. It's art, for Pete's sake! But as my 11th grade English teacher Mrs. Woolley once taught us when we objected to Faulkner's getting away with all the same stuff she marked up with her red pen on our papers, once you know what you're doing, you can not do it now and then. But you gotta know the laws before you can play around with them. And knowing them means knowing which ones not to play with. Like, for instance: Its/it's. Their/there/they're. What commas do. What semicolons do. What exclamation points do. (That last one was a trick question. Don't use exclamation points!)

3. Take the transcript and delete any "church business" or prayers that appear in the introduction or conclusion. You may have to also delete the entire introduction and conclusion, because preachers don't often introduce or conclude sermons the way book chapters are introduced and concluded. The guys who tend to manuscript their sermons often do; but most guys don't. If the transcriber is a legalist, you'll also have to delete a bunch of "uh"'s and "um"'s. But most transcribers know not to include those.

4. Listen to the actual message, perhaps several times, to get an ear for the fellow's voice. This is less necessary if you're already familiar with his preaching voice. As an example, I only listened to a couple of the audio versions of the messages Matt preached that became The Explicit Gospel. I've been listening to Matt's preaching for several years now, so I hear him when I read him already. And some of the material in the book, as others have noted, is not new to those who are familiar with the theme of his ministry. A couple of other guys I worked for I had never heard or even heard of, so it was a lot more work. But knowing the preacher's voice will help you find the holy grail of this entire process: making the sermon read like a quality book while simultaneously sounding like the preacher, not the editor. So find some fairie dust or scrounge up some magic beans if you need to, but get into the preacher's voice as best you can.

5. Know what to add and what to subtract. We're talking editing now. Many good sermons have decent illustrations but books require better ones. And documented ones. This is probably the chief work of actual writing I do. There is also the fleshing out of existing points and the shaving down of unnecessary tangents. Preaching and writing are related arts, but they are also quite different. What may fly from the pulpit may not from the page, and vice versa of course. Sometimes you've got an extraordinary bit of preaching that sings extra well from the page -- I felt that Matt's "Jesus wants the rose" bit was like that. I didn't want to mess with that too much. It was near-perfect as it was, plus it had the added benefit of being so iconic, so widely-recognized that to mess with it seemed anathema. This is why it's an art, not a science. But you will also need to know the science of research. Sermons don't often come with documented quotes or lengthy passages from secondary sources. In most respects, this process is about making the sermon better -- not as a sermon, but as a message. You're allowed more length, so there's more room to develop engaging narratives in illustrations, defend claims with research, do more exegesis, and the like. You also have to work at weaving into every chapter a continuity that often doesn't exist in individual sermons, even if they're in the same series. Many times, the preacher's attempts at creating continuity between sermons in a series are just plain clunky in a book. The continuity is more explicit in a sermon; in a book you want to get into the "narrative" of the work. Even non-fiction books tell a story. That's what you want to find and ride like a hawk on thermal wind. When you get better at this, you can take a 4-page sermon transcript and a 14-page sermon transcript and turn them both into subsequent 20-page book chapters without losing the preacher's voice or adding too much of your own.

6. Don't ghostwrite unless you want to feel dead inside. I define ghostwriting as actually writing a book or most of a book for somebody who then contributes little more than their name to the project. Ew. If you're fine with ghostwriting, you're probably already dead inside.

That's a start, practically speaking. Go revisit Johnson's piece for the Scared Straight version. Phil says this work is "literally harder" than writing your own material from scratch. That isn't always true in my experience, but it is at least equally hard. And many times, the actual physical labor in this work is less time-consuming than writing my own stuff, but the emotional toll is heavier. As a writer, it is wearying trying to write in someone else's voice.

Three Men I Love ...

... though I've never met them.

1. C.S. Lewis. I feel like the man is my brother. When I read his work, I'm mentally transferred to the man's family room, pipe in hand, shoes kicked off, ready to bask in his intelligent warmth. I truly feel love for Lewis -- a strange, beautiful feeling.

2. John Piper. Here's another man who I love dearly, though I've only known him through his sermons and writings. If Lewis is like a brother to me, Piper is like a father. His wisdom resonates through my soul, and his prophetic voice convicts me and forces me to cheer, because the world -- especially the Christian world -- needs prophets like John Piper.

3. Bono. I dare say he's the greatest poet of his generation. His voice, mind, and pen have provided the soundtrack for my life. He's not a moral giant and he's not a preacher, but in his own realm his voice is prophetic. I love him like a brother, and hope to meet him one day.

For all of the men mentioned above, the feeling I have for them really is love. That's what makes them more than just, in my mind, good writers, preachers, or musicians. They're like dear friends.

The Best Uses Of Leisure Time

1. Spending quality time with family, close friends, or the Son of God.

2. Reading. It's by far the best use of non-relational leisure time. Drop the video game controller. Turn off the boob tube. Pick up a piece of literature. :-)

From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books.
-- Benjamin Franklin

3. Playing chess.

A Review of Daddy Dates by Greg Wright

Four daughters, one clueless dad, and his quest to win their hearts.

"Let's be honest. I am completely unqualified to write an advice book.Thus begins the prologue to Daddy Dates, and it is in this vein that Greg Wright launches into his book. While I may differ with him on his qualifications, I like the tone. He is not a person who would normally be writing an advice book. Greg Wright is a professional coach, speaker, and - from all indications - all around regular guy from Austin. But in my opinion he is imminently qualified to have written this book because he's a dad who obviously loves his four daughters dearly.

This book had me at hello, mainly because I'm a huge fan of what we also in my family call "Daddy dates". I'm a dad of two daughters and two sons. Though both my daughters are out of the house now - one is married and one is away at college - I have treasured memories of many, many Daddy dates with Molly and Bethany.

Wright gets the importance of dating your daughters. The epiphany came to him, as he writes in his chapter "the tree and me", early on. As he sat under a tree, trying to make sense of his mission as a dad of four daughters, he began thinking about what he did when he met his wife.

And then it struck me that when I met my wife, I didn't know anything about her either, but I was lovestruck and did what a guy does when he thinks she's "the one." I made it my mission to find out what she liked so I could be her hero. (Or at least have a shot at being one.) I decided to discover who she really was and what she loved and feared and wanted in life. I pursued knowing her with gusto and wound up with the woman who gave me the greatest gifts of my life.
This book is a chronicle of Wright's pursuit to really know his daughters. He is a creative guy, and obviously one who thrives on relationships, but the book is not a systematic approach to dating your daughter. In fact, though he offers many very good and creative ideas that any dad who is in earnest about this can use to build a better relationship with his daughters, Wright continues to reinforce the basics:
So here's the core list. Do call her up and formally ask for the date. Do hold the door for her. Do tell her she looks nice. Do have her choose the music in the car. Do give her a flower. Do talk to her. But more important, listen and ask follow up questions and share some personal - but appropriate - things about yourself.

And snap a few photos once in a while. You don't want to forget how she smiled at her daddy, especially in a pretty red dress with roses on it.

- From the chapter "good to go"
Later, in the chapter "tweening", he writes:
The whole point of a Daddy Date is not so she'll experience your world, but so you will experience hers. If she hates bowling, then don't take her any place with ten pins and bad chili. If she doesn't like wings, don't go to Pluckers. If she doesn't dig your music, then don't play it.

You can torture the family with all that stuff in a group.
The book is a quick read, often funny, and, though it is organized, sort of, into, chapters that progress through the eras of a daughter's life, it is casual and conversational in tone. You can read it in a day.

If you're the dad of a daughter, you should read it. This book resonated well with me. Greg Wright knows what he's talking about, not because he's read research on this subject, but because he's lived it. I've seen it myself; as someone who has worked with students for many years, I can tell you that there is a tremendous - and heartbreaking - difference between a girl whose father not only loves her, but knows her and has pursued that knowledge and has cherished and protected and honored her, versus the girl who has been denied that type of father.

I highly recommend Daddy Dates.
It took me awhile to realize that parenting isn't a business, though, and after I drafted pages and pages of lofty language, I finally drilled my Dad Mission Statement down to three simple words.

Don't screw up.

Yeah, that works.

- final paragraph of the chapter "the tree and me"

[Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Daddy Dates for review from Greg Wright's publicity assistant]

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