The Christian publishing industry is at a crossroads. As Tim Challies recently mentioned in The Power Over Christian Publishing We’ve Given To Amazon, the validity of a book is measured by its presence on Amazon. This means that Amazon ultimately controls the promotion (or absence) of orthodox Christian doctrine.
The problem is not Amazon, folks. The problem is us.
We want 1) free books 2) popular books 3) famous teachers 4) free shipping.
Wanting to watch our budget is by no means bad. But at
what cost do we get free books and free shipping? Wanting ‘vetted’ teachers is
not bad, but distinguishing between vetted and worldy-popular is a challenge.
Christians are often “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Without proper shepherding, we follow what tickles our ears.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim 4:3).
Few people really think about the subject of “historical theology,” but there is a current that pushes us this way and that. And this wave tends toward heresy. Tends toward compromise. Tends to push us away from the truths of Christ and what he did into the much-more-tasty ideas that fuel the wisdom of this age. The True Church has always been pushing back.
So if Amazon controls the CURRENT, and Amazon isn’t concerned to keep God’s Church on the ‘straight and narrow,’ as Tim Challies says, we need to rethink the way we publish books. I thought about this all night, as this conflict has always been a big issue for me. Our discussion is timely and necessary. And we need to promote this dialogue.
What are we willing to do to keep TRUTH in front of the church?
Honestly, it is a lot to ask of anyone to give up free books and free shipping. “Pay for shipping! I’ve got Amazon Prime!”
Whew. But this is one simple step we can make. They are not free. Someone is paying.
Another simple step is knowing FACTS. In Amazon’s model, authors (using any other small press but Creative space) lose 99% of their royalties for all paperback books sold on Amazon. In other words, all their work goes into Amazon’s coffers. What do they get out of it? Hopefully a review. Hopefully more books sold. Hopefully SPIN.
That, my friends, is where the free shipping comes from.
In this new model Amazon has fostered– print-on-demand and ebook– the only profit an author makes is through the sale of ebooks (40% of the take goes to the author). New authors, and indie authors pay a lot just to be seen on Amazon. So your purchasing a book on Amazon increases the book’s popularity, but Amazon gets paid for what the author has written.
In the Bible, this is one of those “unjust weights and
measures” that God speaks of. But why would an author do this? Because “if your
book is not on Amazon it is not really a book.”
Even I look on Amazon to see if a book is valid. It’s what we do. What Amazon has taught us to do.
Tim’s article challenges this thinking.
A Truly Christian Publishing Model
So we need ANOTHER PLAN. One that promotes truth, one that enables the author to eat.
Ideally, good authors will be fully supported and can write and give the books out for free.This is a perfect world.
I am so thankful for John Piper’s Model of this “not peddling the Word of God.” But other authors aren’t at that point yet. John Piper has a built-in audience and salary, so he can “afford” to give his books away. His whole life philosophy requires this of him. But he still sells his hardcover books on Amazon! That’s where the action is.
Other authors have started a “pay what you can” for their books. And this can work, too. But using this concept, I’m going to suggest another model.
What we want is
books in our hands
not to pay a lot for them, &
the author to be paid.
The way we can do this is by cutting out the excesses and putting the risk onto the person who wants the free stuff.
First, let’s look at the two popular publishing models today. Then I’ll suggest a third model that pushes us toward that “ideal” of free books (for readers) and grassroots promotion (for authors).
Current model 1)
BIG BOOK PUBLISHERS
1* Write a book
2* (Beta readers)
3* Find an agent
4* Edit the book
5* Agent finds a publisher
6* Publish & Promote (publisher takes big or small risk, book is ‘found’ on Amazon)
Promotion: Publisher’s connections and efforts, social media, ‘platform’ and ‘followers’ needed
Everyone is used to this system, since printing became industry.
Mass printing costs less than print-on-demand.
Christian books are vetted by the big publisher.
Big publishers have ‘validity.’
Big Publishers have capital they can invest with measured risks.
Author can only be published if they pump popularity. Like running for election in High school office.
Publisher’s fear: lots of books sitting around if bad investment, tied to publisher’s whims, rights are fully publishers.
Amazon and publishers share control of your visibility,
High kindle price (the market wants to pay less than $5 for an ebook),
Big Publishers will vet what the predict will sell, not what is orthodox. (Small publishers can be more particular and discerning.)
Small presses scramble to make ends meet, cannot afford to take many risks, so have a small number of books published per year.
RISK: On the publishers, taken for what WILL sell not what SHOULD sell. Most authors can’t make the cut.
Current model 2)
1* Write a book
2* Edit the book (author investment)
3* Use Beta readers to fine-tune
4* Set up a launch team
5* Publish (no investment)
Purchased by: Kindle/ Kindle
available on author website
print on demand company)
6* Promote (investment of author, ‘found’ on Amazon)
Financing: 100% author
Profit: shared with
Amazon, author gets minimal profit on print books
Promotion: Social media,
platform & followers
Can afford to offer free, 99c, and $3.99 books.
Higher profit for author, quicker turn-around,
If you are a good writer, you will get traction,
Your book is seen as ‘valid’ because you’re on Amazon.
Negatives: Amazon gets 99% of the profit on print books, Amazon gets 40%-60% profit on ebooks. All effort and risk is on the author. But most of the benefits go to Amazon. Amazon has control of your visibility. Heavily using Amazon’s new publishing formula, books not eligible for most awards.
RISK: On the author, taken for what HAS sold not what SHOULD sell. Most authors pay the piper so they can be seen.
–>Both of these systems have a risk system that functions solely on POPULARITY rather than TRUTH. The RISK spins on the producer.
My suggestion 3)
1* Write a book
2* Edit the book
Investors Set up financiers
(ie: Patreon-monthly/Go Fund Me-one-time)
-All risk is on the backs of financiers
-Promotion fees and editing fees are included in financial project
-Investors who promote book are rewarded with benefits
Small Christian publishers (threatened and
limited by Amazon/Big publishers) find their new authors from this
clearinghouse of *financed* projects, low investment; they provide ISBN, Ingram,
validity, books are eligible for awards
Promotion Network** promotes the
books with the author.
4* Use Beta readers to fine-tune (directing them to Funnel)
5* Set up a launch team (using Funnel)
Promotion: Social media,
platform, word-of-mouth, Funnel, Goodreads
Benefits for investors include more than a book, but a relationship with the author and other goodies;
Readers can earn free books (goal of readers!) by promoting books they like;
Christians can know where the “new Christian bookstore” is.
Reviews can include a check-off regarding orthodoxy;
ebooks are sold from author’s website,
good books will naturally surface
Naturally filters out those who want popularity over truth
Will take some time at the start-up for buy-in.
Need to pull in influencers, get small publishers on board.
Will increase the output of small presses (time-wise);
filtering out heresy is job of small-presses;
ebooks still on Kindle platform;
need shipping included in price of book (free-shipping);
RISK: On the CONSUMER, taken for what THEY WANT to buy, filtered by what SHOULD sell. Authors invest their time in the writing. Publishers risk is offset by the consumer’s investment.
If we are concerned about the orthodoxy of a book (non-fiction or fiction), which is the point of this entire discussion, we need to include this factor. We need to not be “cross-over” or to dilute our message so we will be acceptable to “more people.” Cross-over is, in my opinion, discussed clearly in Revelation 3:16.
Soli Deo Gloria
Instead, as Christian authors we have, as our first priority, the responsibility to be found holy and blameless in our choices and deeds. Living and working for God’s glory alone. The SOLI in Soli Deo Gloria.
I struggle with this in my craft. When I see how “they say”
I’m supposed to promote myself in order to sell my books, I can’t do it. I can’t
promote me. I can’t build that platform in any way but the slow and steady. I’m
not into promoting me. I’ll say all sorts of things to promote Christ. But that
platform is not one I want to stand on. So I’ll tell my own network of friends
and family about my plans and my books, and they’ll tell theirs if they want, and
I keep going forward.
This system we’re envisioning needs to be God-honoring in its approach. Then it will succeed. It needs to be one that values and promotes TRUTH. It needs to be one that values and promotes HUMILITY. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
The up-is-down of spiritual physics is predictable. Pushing UP your own self will end with you DOWN on your face in shame, but pushing UP God’s glory will keep you DOWN in grateful praise and gratefulness– all things where they should be.
So the promotion network will function within the acceptable means of Christian life.
Word of mouth. (The most effective means in the end).
The Funnel team pays for the book-and-goodies based on the initial project proposal. Investment is an acceptable vehicle according to the Bible.
The Truthfulness and God-honoring quality of the fiction or non-fiction will be measured by the ratings.
Honor and integrity: People who rate will also be clearly identified by the books they’ve recommended and by their faith statement.
Hypothetical Case Studies
Christian Cookbook (NF)
So let’s take some new author named Joanne Peterson. She’s written a non-fiction book: Cooking for Church Potlucks. The value of her book will be measured by her being able to gain supporters. She does the hard-work of promoting before publishing, getting a strong team of risk-takers who will put in $5 or more to her project and get an ebook out of it, to join the beta team or launch team. A hard copy will be sent according to their contributions, if the book is published (risk). They read the book, rate it and categorize it according to its take on TRUTH. It can fail here if it’s poorly done. They’re out $5, they’ve only risked that much.
At the point she has gained enough momentum for an initial
print run, she’ll present herself to a Christian publisher who is interested in
these things (or the publisher will be alerted through the Funnel system).
Even Cookbooks can be self-serving or God-honoring. The
publisher vets it to see if it matches their standards. The publisher does an
initial run, pays the investors their goodies. Arranges other publicity as it
desires. But uses the invested money. So it’s not a “vanity press,” it’s a
The ratings will draw people looking for books. Physical and
online promotions will draw people to the book. Cost of print book includes
After a reader has promoted this book significantly, they
are eligible for bonus points in the system, discounts toward the author’s “next
book.” This promotes the patronage system, where an artist is supported by
people who believe in the effectiveness of their ministry for the glory of God.
The author can cash out or redeposit their profits to fast
forward promotion of their next project. Otherwise, the publisher arranges the
royalties, factoring in the investments.
Heretical Novel (F)
Johnny Franko has written a cross-over novel that is compelling
but does not hold an orthodox view of Christ.
The value of his book will also be measured by his being
able to gain supporters. He does the hard-work of promoting before publishing,
getting a strong team of risk-takers who will put in $5 or more to his project
and get an ebook out of it.
They join his beta team or launch team with the promise of a
hard copy for their efforts if it is published. They read the book and it
starts to slip because of its language and view of Christ. It fails here because
according to the Funnel readers it’s not appropriate for the Christian audience.
They’re out $5, they’ve only risked that much, got the book but have kept
others from the error. This launch team implodes.
Even if he gains enough momentum for an initial print run, no
Christian publisher will take it because the reviews have alerted them. He
eventually cashes out with the money he made.
Uninformed reviewers who like heresy. Pirate small presses willing to promote lies for profit.
How to weed these out means Funnel needs a board of directors (as a non-profit), or an alert-system where a reader is categorized by the type of book they like. (Goodreads does this anyway. You can see what books a person reads and know their take on life.)
I suspect a system like this, that steps out of Amazon, will not attract those who only want to promote themselves. It’s too much work, and isn’t public enough. You are judged for what you say, which goes against the wisdom of this world.
It will attract those who are more discerning, and if the system is promoted among those who are concerned, the TRUTH-FACTOR will “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12) which is valued by Scriptural principles.
I live in a Muslim country. I’m used to being the minority and functioning in a world within a world. As Christians, we ALL live in an embassy in enemy territory being assaulted by war. We’re distinct and separate. “Set apart.” In ALL ways we need to be holy. To NEVER bend to the pollution of idolatry.
James 6:10 says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
To be faithful followers, we are expected to keep ourselves from that pursuit of money. From “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16). In business as well, we can’t look for loopholes–and assume our profit-making is not required to hold to these same principles. As authors we are required to keep that higher standard.
So let us change the Christian book industry.
This are my suggestions. May God use these ideas as he sees fit. Meanwhile, I’m aiming toward pursuing that ideal where truth can be free and can take flight naturally.
I am in the process of writing a very fun sci-fi suspense trilogy. I call it Pogland. Fun and challenging and time-consuming (which is why I’ve been off of social media).
If you know me, you know I have some strong views on the role theology needs to play in fiction. I came across a Christian sci-fi/fantasy: “How to write and be published” video this morning which at first I was thrilled about, but soon found to be very disturbing.
I was flabbergasted! What a role money plays in the Christian publishing industry!
Now I understand not everyone can write just to write, or write what needs to be available. Or publish just any book. Publishing comes down to the bottom line, profit.
On a secular forum board recently a writer posted that they were nervous about having to write a sex scene for the very first time. Instead of just saying nothing, I replied. I suggested that he didn’t actually need to bend to the bandwagon. If he’d never felt the need to write such a scene before, he could still write an excellent book without it. And even appeal to a larger audience because he didn’t.
As a Christian, by my comment I meant so much more. But secular fiction is moved by secular values. And he wants to write what sells.
It’s the same for “Christian” fiction. Christian fiction is moved by Christian dysfunctions.
Now it might be true that dysfunctional marriages lead Christian women to escape into “Christian” romantic fiction. But that’s not always the case. Strong Christians read and write Christian romance novels.
But theirs is not the common denominator in Christian fiction. The common denominator is a dummied-down nominal Christianity. That’s where the money is.
For people who don’t want to grow in their faith through their time in fiction.
For people who don’t want to be challenged in their free time.
For people who want only to be entertained.
Dysfunctional faith leads people to escape into borderline fiction.
Dysfunctional faith will earn a writer money. Take Love Comes Softly as an example. It’s a great series, but it’s great in a “it’s not dirty” kind of way. It’s wholesome. But is that what we should be doing? Is that ALL we should be doing?
Just writing Little House on the Prairie Christianity? Wholesome fiction, get-away, beach-reads? Escaping from this world and its duties fiction?
Case in point, alcohol is a gift from God.
The book of Proverbs and the gospels show us that wine is a gift for man to enable them to get a buzz, a bit of euphoria. That buzz helps us get through the low times of life, through the busy, hectic times of life. I live in Europe where the view on alcohol is not burdened by the judgmentalism of the Prohibition movement.
But while alcohol is a gift from God, we see as early as Noah’s time, that getting drunk is shameful. Too much alcohol is a sin. Elders and deacons and their wives are measured by this. And their standards are our standards. Not just “if” you want to be in leadership, their standards are the bare-minimum for the mature faith.
So too much alcohol–too much of this world–is a sin. Just as too much reading or too much entertainment is a sin. If it produces nothing but entertainment, it’s overdosing on buzz.
Do I have a Bible verse to back up this rant?
Yes. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Sins of omission.
How is reading frivolous wholesome fiction a sin of omission?
Because you have not used those hours of your life for the betterment of your relationship with God, or the betterment of the world.
It’s like sleeping your life away, and while sleep is necessary, and we can even say rest is necessary, oversleeping is a waste of the most precious resource we have: Time.
On the interview I mentioned earlier, the publisher said they are not looking for books with overt Christian message, but only those with a hidden Christian message. They intend to be cross-over books. As an example, she says, read any of Christ’s parables.
We don’t want Christian words, she says, we don’t want Christian messages. No conversions. No preaching. We want…good wins over evil, and be kind to others. Oh, and werewolves and vampires are okay, as long as they are the bad guys.
I couldn’t watch the rest of the interview.
I asked my husband, why is it that they want books that do not grow the reader in their faith through fiction? Why do they want hidden faith, covert messages?
Money, he said. That’s where the money is. It’s how the market of Christian fiction has to function.
And so we come to the faith porn industry. To make money, Christians sell out message for money.
Well I suggest that when Christianity loses its message, it ceases to be Christianity. “Authors have to make a living,” they may say. So they prostitute the name of Christ, and promote a lie.
When the message is traded out for things that are universally acceptable, like “good wins over evil,” it takes the beautiful name of Christ and drags it into the dregs of common-ism. It makes light of the cross. It should cease to use the name of Christ in its label and should be honest and upfront. It is moralistic worldly wisdom. Humanism.
To use the parables of Christ as an example of how to hide the message forgets the very cut-throat effect of his parables.
I am the good shepherd, read the message: “I myself am Yahweh of Ezekiel 34!” This parable sorted people into two groups: lovers and haters.
A certain man built his house on sand, another on rock, read the message: “My words are equal to the entire Law and the Prophets, if you reject me you reject God himself.” This parable sorted people into two groups: lovers and haters.
The prodigal son looked at the pigs around him and fled home, read the message: “You religious leaders have no compassion for the lost.” This parable sorted people into two groups: lovers and haters.
The parables are not happy wholesome secret messages. They are cut-throat. They divide between self-righteous God-haters and trembling beggars kneeling before God. Separation filters, each of them. Sorting people. Left and right, like sheep and goats.
Yes, we need more Christian science fiction and fantasy. But not by circumcising the gospel out of it.
I’m not saying I’m the best author who knows how to do this perfectly. I am not. I tried with Trunk of Scrolls, and for what it is I think my story’s beautiful.
But I have a vision, “I have a dream,” you could say, that Christian fiction would be a way for Christians to use their down time to be entertained into new growth in their faith. New avenues they hadn’t considered. New insights into the beauty of Christ.
I know it’s not only me who talks with others about these things. Bringing Heaven’s eternal conversations into the here-and-now.
I know what it’s like to build faith in someone face to face. Can’t we make the Christian fiction industry into THAT kind of thing?
So I’m starting a list of writers whose works are not ashamed of the Christian message and promoting true Christ-loving life. Please post the names of this caliber of author below along with titles you recommend, and add a blurb about why you think this qualifies.
“I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” Jewel the Unicorn in C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. Psalm 19:1-4
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:10-11
“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” Psalm 45:1
My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:1-4**
Gospels & Acts
“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.” And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Matthew 13:51-52
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“’Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.'” Luke 12:22-31
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:11
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.” Ephesians 6:7
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:5**
OT Psalms & Proverbs
“I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” Psalm 16:3
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Psalm 32:8
“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” Psalm 34:19
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9
The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.” Proverbs 18:4
OT, Pentateuch, Historical & Prophetical**
“The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.” Deuteronomy 28:12
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8**
I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow ofmy hand— I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”Isaiah 51:16**
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book.’” Jeremiah 30:2**
**Exegetical note: BEWARE:
Spreading the gospel–which God has given–by means of our writing is a valid application of these verses. But…
Thinking that our writing in itself IS the “word of God” is a dangerous heresy. The only Word from God is the Truth of Scripture. Likewise, the truth of our words must match the integrity of our life, the gospel lived out of faithful living. As we teach, so must we live.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Ezekiel 33:31
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. Isaiah 59:21
My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. Psalm 49:3
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Book Review: We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels
There are two things I look for in Christian fiction. One is creativity, the second is meaning. We Hope for Better Things debut novel by Erin Bartels gives you both. Erin Bartels is wife of Zachary Bartels, author of Playing Saint and All Souls Day.
I started the We Hope for Better Things in the late afternoon Thursday and could not put it down until I finished the last word at the crack of dawn Friday. I kept telling myself, “stop after this chapter” but low and behold I needed to know just a little bit more, just a little bit more. It was a very compelling story with colorful characters I enjoyed getting to know.
Firstly, the creativity. Three time periods of Detroit are woven together: modern day, the late sixties during the riots, and the 1850s. Each of the settings has a multi-racial couple trying to cross the racial divide. The way these three lives are intertwined and fold in on themselves is beautifully crafted.
Every time the scene changed to a new time period I marveled at the skill, the way the story arcs matched each other, the way the stories piggy-backed on the same themes. Erin Bartels crafted a lovely tale of passion about visionaries living ahead of their time.
On the negative side, though, is a missing bit in this creativity. The text is very compelling, as I said. It is tightly written which keeps you in the midst of the action. This makes you unable to put it down. But the problem with this tightness is it’s brusque, not matching the content. The book is literary fiction but written as mass market action fiction. Considering the heaviness of the content, I felt it needed a bit more poetry and feeling. A bit more lightness and beauty. My opinion; it did not detract from it being a great story.
Secondly, meaning. The theme of the book is we are all made in the image of God, no matter our color. The author writes in an afterward that the Black Lives Matter movement happened concurrently to the writing of this, so it’s a timely book for today’s social climate. Social justice is an issue very close to the heart of God, though social justice and biracial relationships are not a uniquely Christian message. God put compassion and empathy as core to universal conscience. We are made in the image of God, regardless of our skincolor. But ultimately this intrinsic value of humanity is bound to the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ. The three stories worked together to tell a bigger story, an epic saga, of the American people moving from fear of to love of racial differences. So it challenges the tensions of today, still hoping for better things.
My second dislike, though, was tied to this meaning. As Christians we have a duty to say something more than the rest of the world says. Sadly, this story was not uniquely Christian. It was published by Revell (Baker) and by a Christian (pastor’s wife). However, I kept hoping for that something else, which was missing.
Our Christian message is a bit more than social justice. It’s that the intrinsic value of humanity in the eyes of God compelled him to do more than just make us love each other. It compelled the Incarnation and the Atonement. Yes, there was prayer and God-honor in the book. There was church, but not much. But there was no risk for our message. Christ was missing.
C.S. Lewis wrote about this in Mere Christianity:
“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters.
“Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
As a Christian author I personally “hope for better things” in the Christian industry. I want Christian writers to go that step further. That the reader is changed and grown spiritually, that they know God better, after having read a book–even fiction. To be fair, I rarely find a book that does this. But it’s what the Bible expects of us, in all areas of life (ie: Col 3:16, Titus 2:15, Isaiah 2:3, Rom 12:6-8). Don’t waste their life: encourage, exhort, build up, prod toward greater things in Christ.
We Hope for Better Thingswill definitely be a book well-loved by Michiganders for decades to come. It is their history, their lives, their heart. I enjoyed the journey with the characters, learning about history while appreciating the tensions, sorrows, and regrets. I always measure Christian fiction by this: is the reader better off after reading this book? In the case of We Hope for Better Things, the answer is a resounding YES.
The reader has been changed. The journey has not been a mere emotional merry-go-round, but was purposeful. We come out the other end of reading it thinking about ourselves, measuring our own racially-charged biases, wanting “better things” for ourselves and our family in this world. So this is why I whole-heartedly recommend We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels.
Mental problems are probably the most feared type of issue Christians face. Yes, we’re afraid of hunger and pain. But God will provide and God will comfort, and eventually these kinds of sufferings will be solved. But problems like we see in Broken Pieces are the ones nobody would choose. It doesn’t easily fit into our understanding of the victorious Christian life. Simonetta Carr’s Christian biographies for young readers first brought me into her reading circle. But this book, a cross-section of her personal life, brought me into her life.
The story is a life crisis with the following characters 1) a teenage Christian young man who comes down with sudden schizophrenia his first months at college, 2) his Christian mom and dad who want to honor God with every breath as they pursue every means of help for their son 3) a group of elders at a reformed Church who likewise have to balance the young man’s sinful choices with his mental circumstances. The third element was especially impactful for me.
As a pastor’s wife, I’ve seen my share of people with mental problems come in and out of the church door. In our experience, people with this disease have hunted us down, stalked us, and threatened us, and one even killed the girl who broke up with him. Their parents have come to us and either told us to leave them alone “this is not a real conversion,” or have warned us, or have blessed our efforts to make their son feel accepted.
It is never easy to know how to protect the flock while loving the sick person—especially one who refuses to take his medication—which is very common. But compassion is difficult to muster when faced with the threats.
This book should be read by every man who desires to pastor a church and by everyone who desires to be a functioning part of their church. We need to understand in order to help. In order for the church to help both them and their families, we need to see it “happening” from inside a Christian family. This is what Simonetta Carr is able to do in her present-tense narrative.
We see that life is made of those little faith-spun choices, where we aren’t sure if we’re doing the right thing but we trust in the sovereignty of God who is bigger than our mistakes. We see that God has given us our “burden that is not too much to bear” so that we can prove faithful in that. Simonetta Carr’s example of a faith-driven life is inspirational, empowering, and reassuring. We’re all tromping down this same path in a broken heartache world.
Because mental issues are so fearsome, it seems people with these sicknesses are pushed away for “someone else” to deal with.
Thankfully, medication and counseling can help. The last chapters of her book deal with practical helps for those struggling with these issues. But since laws allow for autonomy of people over 18, and 18 is the age when this disease begins to hit, often the sick person is not enabled to will themselves toward healing.
While there is no hard and fast rule or steps to fix it that can be presented to church leaders, this book is a helpful model of how to face this as a church body. Reformed faith in practice.
What is this thing called schizophrenia, nobody knows. But what is a Christian to do? How can a Christian BE schizophrenic? And how can the church contribute to healing, both for the sick person and for his or her family? These are the questions that are analyzed in this book.
Broken Pieces is a story, but it’s more than a story. It’s is A CASE STUDY OF FAITH IN THE TRENCHES, of the Church in the trenches of this horribly broken world.
Please read this book. There are many families hiding their “shameful” struggles with mental illness who need the support of Christ-followers who care enough to face the bias and fear. Once you read this book, you will gain compassion for them, for what they’re going through. You can be the one that makes a difference in their battlefield of the mind.
I’ve been studying how to best use multimedia for instruction, in preparation for some videos I am making on the Principles of the Prophets.
As I’ve researched this, I came across some very good resources and wanted to share them with people who likewise want to use multimedia EFFECTIVELY in the context of teaching, in the classroom and online.
I hope this is helpful and promotes good practices for retaining of the important material you want to teach, and you want your student to remember long-term.
This infographic shows best practices, based on dozens of experiments and documented with this RESEARCH on how the brain learns through multimedia assets.
“It is the folly of most men, to mind and pursue that which is for the body and for time only, more than that for the soul and eternity.” Matthew Henry
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’
And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”