Month: August 2014

Writing & Designing a Book

Marshall McLuhan is often quoted for his aphorism: “The medium is the message.” Ironically, his point is often overlooked in publishing where shoddy book covers, gimmicky titles, and predictable layouts abound. Unfortunately, a lot of publishers place little value on cover design, book layout, and electronic book presentation. Within the digital age, a book has an electronic extension that surfaces ubiquitously, making impressions across the Net, and all kinds of digital platforms. You might say the cover, and overall creative input, is amplified through the inter webs.


While the Christian publishing world often trails behind leading secular publishers, I am grateful to have a publisher who recognizes the value of not only writing but also designing a good book. HarperCollins/Zondervan has bent over backwards to work with me in making sure the medium of my two most recent books also convey my message. How have they done this?

Book Covers

We all know people do judge a book by its cover. Fortunately, I have had a significant, shaping voice in everything materially created from cover to text to layout, poor souls! I asked up front for significant input on book cover and design. Here’s how it made a difference with Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. We went through the typical process of the publisher generating cover options based on input, but they also agreed to take design options from a local design firm in Austin.



I wanted something clean, creative, and theologically significant. It all came together beautifully. Here’s the thinking behind the design:

  • The wings are a subtle representation of the Spirit
  • The horizontal line represents the earth, and behest the grave
  • The meshed overlap represents Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and evil
  • The overal motion represents Jesus descent, incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection

Ptarmak is a leading brand, packaging, designer in Austin. Ben Hansen, a friend, mobilizes an incredible team there. Luke was my designer. I sat down with him and got to share the vision, my creative and theological values, and then they set him loose! He’s a great guy. I got to build a bit of relationship going local,  bumping into the Ptarmak guys around town, and dropping in to bring them Amy’s ice-cream, to celebrate publication, and distribute copies to the team.

Book Layout

On The Unbelievable Gospel, I went to Electrik. They don’t typically do this sort of thing, but hey, they believed in the project. Brendan Pittman read the book, caught the vision, and created the icons you see up top. They represent the three sections of the book. You can read more about that at I’m thrilled to say that he’s working on a digital experience to pair with the book and it launches September 1.

Zondervan took Brendan’s work and willingly incorporated it into the book layout. We went a couple rounds before settling on the final form. I’m happy they let me push the envelope. You’ll see some atypical things going on inside the book when it arrives. As a benefit, I’ve developed a relationship with Brendan and see him as a real partner in this effort.

You’ll be the judge of this creative effort, but it’s my sincere desire to collaborate with others to publish great content and great delivery. Perhaps this will catch on. I know there are lots of folks doing similar things. I drew inspiration from Moody Publishers & Mark Sayers book Facing Leviathan. Let’s overturn the banal design beast, and generate more content with thoughtful, creative medium to boot!


Competing Visions of Church

People’s visions of church differ. When I first moved to Austin I asked people what they thought about church and if Austin needed another one. Some said, “Only if it does good.” Others said, “No way; we’ve got enough bigots.”

A Massive Vision of Church

Christians are also divided on their visions of church: “more community, better music, less preaching, more social justice” Paul trifles with our visions of church when he says: “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Co 3:16). God’s vision of the church is holy community, a distinct, interdependent people that stick out in the culture. This distinct flavor is the result of being holy, “set apart” to God, as opposed to being set apart to our own vision of church or set apart to our personal freedoms. God has a collective holiness at the center of his vision. The implications of this vision are huge.

Individuals Apart vs. Saints Together

Paul can’t conceive of a disembodied Christ, of stray Christians disconnected from one another. Which means loving Jesus but not the church severs the head from the body. Christians who complain about the church, gossip, judge, and quarrel are like cutters, who cause self-injury to the Body. So if your vision of church doesn’t include being holy together, which builds up the body, then it’s not God’s church you’re day dreaming about.

We all possess alternate, broken views of church. If you have church background, you can name off the things you don’t like about your church experience, probably more than the benefits. Why? It’s highly likely that you care more about your views on the church than embodying God’s view of the church—holy temple, where his Spirit dwells, where people live who are just as deserving of forgiveness and grace as you are because of Christ. Even if you’re part of a Christ-centered, missional church, you would be naive to think that your old, individualistic, default visions have dissipated.

Gut Check Your Church Vision

We often act like individuals apart instead of saints together when divide the church by:

  • Attending church gatherings only when our preferred preacher is speaking
  • Just “catching the podcast at home” (as if church is mere information)
  • Refusing to pursue the holy joy of others in your community, especially different or difficult people
  • Forming judgmental opinions on the style of music, personality of a leader, or philosophy of ministry.

When we dwell on minors instead of majoring on Christ crucified we act like “Individuals Apart” not saints together. We build a vision of church around ourselves, not Jesus. We miss out on Jesus’ grand, temple-vision of church and diminish its witness to the world.