A recent blog interview with Brian Feinblum of the BookMarketingBuzzBlog.com gave me an opportunity to talk about what I’m doing with my writing. Brian asked the questions (in bold), and I answered. That interview follows:
1. With over 25 years in the ministry, how has that experience enlightened your writings? I began writing as an effort to make my preaching more clear and better understood. Early on, some of the people who heard my preaching didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to say. Others, often the less formally educated, had no problems with it. And I found that when I preached extemporaneously I had so many thoughts that it was difficult to make them comprehensible to anyone. I knew what I was saying, but I’ve always been concerned about big ideas, and big ideas are so—well—big. So, I began using a manuscript in order to contain and channel my preaching in the hope of greater clarity for the audience. Before long, I discovered that those who understood me, tended to be actively involved in Bible study, and those who didn’t understand me, weren’t so involved.
The Bible teaches some things that are difficult to learn—like humility, service and sacrifice. People have always had difficulty learning these things, as is evidenced by various Bible stories. And my observation of the churches I served was that these were precisely the things that were needed by my congregants. But the very things that people need most to learn are often the very things that they most resist learning. (Of course, the reason that people need to learn particular things is often because they have resisted learning those very things.)
Another observation drawn from leading Bible studies myself is that people don’t know or understand the Bible very well, even those who study it regularly. But at the same time, everyone seems to think that they understand what it says—especially those who don’t actually study it! It’s a curiosity. About the only thing that people can agree on regarding the Bible is that if you don’t agree with them, you’re wrong.
So, I began preaching expositionally from a manuscript in the 1990s—working through various books of the Bible, section by section. I then reworked those manuscripts a bit for wider consumption, and began publishing them. For the last few years I have been just writing.
2. What have many of your books been about? All of my books are about how to read the Bible. I write about biblical perspective. The Bible is actually a rather large and formidable book that has a lot of complex ideas in it. And a lot of very smart people have spent lifetimes mining it for truth—and it has continuously provided ore needed for problems and circumstances of the day. This has shown me that biblical wisdom and understanding are not a matter of learning static doctrines, but that biblical doctrine itself is dynamic. The ancients said it was alive, that the Holy Spirit inhabits God’s Word. And that is what I have found. It speaks to the needs of the day. And the needs of our day grow increasingly complex.
Most Christians are covenantally or ideologically constrained to conform their understanding of the Bible to a prescribed set or pattern of beliefs. And I understand and appreciate that to an extent. I do that myself. But for whatever reason, I have found problems and inconsistencies with every historical theological position I have ever held. Yet, I continue to cling to the complete veracity of the Bible, the reality of God and the love of Jesus Christ.
This has led me to understand that the revelation of Jesus Christ is progressive, developmental, living. I continue to grow, and history continues to unfold, and Jesus Christ is always in the thick of it. Jesus is always greater than history’s theological formulations. As I grow, I find the Bible to be both deeper and greater than I previously thought, and deeper and greater than previous historical codifications have expressed. Yet, those historical theologies are not wrong. They served a need in their time. But they are inadequate today. Every generation says this same thing! And rightly so.
This has brought me to the conclusion that biblical truth is not a static set of doctrines, but is alive. Biblical truth is more like a trajectory than a static point or a line. Don’t confuse the progressive revelation of Jesus Christ in history with progressivism. They are worlds apart. What I have found is that the more we know, the better we can see the reality of Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible. While Biblical truth provides a consistent beacon throughout the ages, interpretation and codification of that truth comprise an historical trajectory in that the revelation of Jesus Christ unfolds cumulatively. As each generation claims Christ for themselves, those claims issue from the tracks left by previous generations, extending the way, the truth and the life that will ultimately reach its completion in the full manifestation of Jesus Christ in glory.
Think about medicine. People used to think a lot of things about the body and how to treat it medically. But today modern medicine has revealed a world of astounding complexity within the body. Think about astronomy and the levels of vast complexity that have been revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Think about particle physics and the advances made through the electron microscope. The same thing is true about the Bible, especially when seen with trinitarian eyes and ears that hear. Science and the tools of science have opened up a previously unknown world of fantastic complexity. Yet, God knew all of this when Genesis was written, and when Jesus walked on earth. And God also knew that we would discover all of these things. Indeed He planned for it. He knew it then, we are just beginning to learn it now. God has always known these things from the beginning. Because the Bible is true and God is God, it cannot be otherwise.
Anyway, my writing began in earnest with the story of Jesus in Mark (Marking God’s Word—Understanding Jesus). In Mark I saw that people always had a lot of trouble understanding what Jesus was talking about. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus may be the most misunderstood person in history. But this isn’t a new insight, it’s actually quite old. I followed that with the story of Paul (Acts of Faith—Kingdom Advancement), who picked up and built on the message of Jesus. And, sure enough, Paul was equally misunderstood by just about everyone, too! Paul was run out of town on a proverbial rail more than a few times.
Then I noticed that the contemporary American church and its context have a lot in common with the Corinthian church, which was successful, rich and influential. Yet, Paul called the Corinthian leaders foolish. So, I worked through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (Arsy Varsy—Reclaiming The Gospel in First Corinthians, and Varsy Arsy—Proclaiming The Gospel in Second Corinthians) in the hope of helping people today get a better, deeper understanding of the Christian message, the one that had been so misunderstood by those who listened to Jesus and Paul.
In the process I began to understand and apply what I call presuppositional trinitarianism to my reading of the Bible. That’s a fancy title that simply means that I assume the reality of the Holy Spirit and work with that reality in my reading of Scripture and in my life. The fancy title suggests that there is a deeper philosophical perspective that animates simple fidelity to the Spirit. This has given me a perspective from which to understand Scripture more fully—even more scientifically, in the sense that scientific knowledge is accumulated by systematic study and organized by general principles.
And this new (to me) perspective has both revealed and planted another theme in my books. That theme is sustainable development. I have come to see that the Bible is primarily a book about sustainable development in the kingdom of God. It’s not rocket science, and is quite simple, really. It begins with the understanding that science and technology developed in Christendom (Europe), not in India, not in China, not in Africa, not in the Middle East. Why? Because Trinitarian Christianity laid the foundations for it. The central foundation that led to the development of science and technology is the doctrine of the Trinity. Understanding how Christianity and the Trinity are related to science requires enduring a long, detailed, historical and philosophical explanation, of which I am not the author. There are many books involved, and I have footnoted a few of them as they have applied to my own work. The central insight is that modern science and technology are the fruit of Trinitarian Christianity, not the only fruit, but their significance cannot be underestimated.
I found much of this in Peter’s letters (Peter’s Vision of Christ’s Purpose in First Peter and Peter’s Vision of The End in Second Peter), as he wrote about God’s vision of the end times. Peter’s vision of the end times is not a vision of the destruction of the world, but is a vision of the achievement of God’s ultimate purpose for the world.
This line of thinking was then greatly stimulated in me by the work of Edward Beecher (1803-1895), a son of Lyman Beecher. I discovered two of Edward Beecher’s books by happenstance (Conflict of Ages—The Great Debate of the Moral Relations of God and Man , and Concord Of Ages—The Individual And Organic Harmony Of God And Man , forthcoming). They have been all but forgotten—rather, ignored—by history. So, I edited them and am bringing them back to the table for further discussion. They will be released in a few months. (I’m currently soliciting reviews and endorsements, by the way.)
Again, the idea of sustainable development that is biblical, in contrast to the United Nations’ version, begins with the understanding that science and technology are the fruit of Christianity. Why? Because the development of Christian character by a significant population allowed—even stimulated—their development. Science begins with taxonomy, categorizing one’s environment. Adam was involved in taxonomy as he named the animals, which began the ticking of the science clock. Technology is the application of science. And both science and technology require good, reliable data. In turn, reliable data collection requires honesty, integrity and consistency. Without scientists and technicians who manifest these character qualities, collected data will not be accurate. Cultural corruption corrupts scientific data because it corrupts character. And without accurate data, science and technology are hamstrung. And once developed, science and technology require people who demonstrate honesty, integrity and consistency for their continuation and maintenance. Conversely, without these character qualities scientific data become corrupt and science and technology will suffer.
Adequate supplies of food, medicine and shelter in today’s world are dependent upon science and technology. Without science and technology the production of adequate food, medicine and shelter for the world’s current population would not be possible. In our current situation the deterioration of science and technology could lead to a collapse of various social supports that depend upon science and technology. Without these Christian character qualities, that collapse could eventually fall to pre-modern levels, which would involve a serious reduction in population. The cure or fix for this impending problem is the continued development of Christian character—humility, honesty, integrity, consistency, service and sacrifice—broadly in society.
But over the past 50 or more years, there has been a systematic effort to eliminate traditional Christianity from the support structures of American civil society. Why? Because the traditional explanation and traditions of Christianity have been judged to be inadequate to the needs and the crises of contemporary society. However, the fault is not to be attributed to the Bible. It is to be attributed to the various versions of Christianity that have developed since the first Great Awakening (1700s), or perhaps the Reformation (1500s), or maybe Constantine (300s). Beecher provides a stunning analysis of this issue, if you want the details.
I have been working to establish a theological argument or perspective that is able to support this thesis because I believe that this is the core problem that we face in the twenty-first century.
3. What do you find rewarding and challenging about writing? At this point, the only reward I am familiar with is the personal satisfaction of doing what I can to help solve the problems of the world. I do not harbor any illusions that I have the answers to the problems of the world, but I do know that I know the One who does. In fact, the Bible was written precisely to provide guidance for times like this. This isn’t the first time that humanity has been worried about collapse. It’s a recurring issue, i.e., the Trojan War, Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx, the Club of Rome, etc. The good news is that social collapse is not the only option regarding large populations. You might argue that the world has never seen anything like the current historical era. And that’s true to an extent, but our contemporary situation is only different in extent, not in kind. To date, my greatest book related challenge has been marketing, or getting people, or the “right” people, to read, review and interact with my books. And yet, I haven’t really put much time or energy into marketing because all of the efforts I have made to date have not been successful. And it takes me away from writing, I’m not finished yet.
4. Do you have any advice for struggling writers? I suppose that there are two kinds of struggling writers: those who struggle to write, and those who struggle to be discovered. Regarding the first: I suspect that if writing is a struggle to produce, it will be a struggle to read. The best advice I have heard about the art of writing is: If you don’t have anything of significance to say, or don’t know what you have to say, you probably ought to do something else. And regarding the second: Yea! It’s tough. I feel their pain.
5. Where do you see book publishing heading? I only know what others have said. However, I do know about the revolution that computers have made in the print industry because I personally produce and publish all of my own books. The Publish on Demand and eBook technologies will continue to revolutionize the industry. There is a danger of domination and control by too few people. It’s really a problem of corporate gigantism, which effects nearly every aspect of society. The ongoing publishing revolution is producing the problem of getting discovered. It is far easier to find a proverbial needle in a haystack today than to find an undiscovered writer who is worth much salt. Part of the problem is that those who get the most attention are those who appeal to popular tastes. But those who appeal to popular tastes are seldom worth much in the long run. Sure, popular writers sell books. But they don’t actually do much for the craft, or for the world. Rumor has it that there was a day when publishers protected readers by adhering to literary principles. But that day is long gone as publishers increasingly protect only their own bottom lines—for the shareholders, of course. Increasingly, publishing is about money. But that’s no surprise, so is writing, education, law, religion, entertainment, food service, research, transportation, health care, government, etc. I suspect that serious commitment to genuine diversity will require abandoning gigantic corporations because their existence tends to thwart genuine diversity.