Category: Books

Words for Pastors

Be cautious lest, “The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.”

Eugene Peterson, Practicing Resurrection


It doesn’t take long, after experiencing a major storm in leadership, for you to begin to wonder if you need to abandon ship. Whether its seventy-foot waves or just an extremely slow leak in nice weather, there are times when walking away from the community to which God has called you to minister seems to be safer than staying put.

Clay Werner, On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor


See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed t yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a Saviour, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits.

Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

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!


How (Not) to Be Secular [video]

This is a fascinating account of our present secular experience that resonates, clarifies, and inspires.

Interesting Books I’m Reading this Month

Summer lists are rolling out, so I thought I’d throw out some titles I’m enjoying this month. Last week, I posted books on 1 Corinthians, so I won’t relist those here.

Original Sin

This is a cultural history of human nature, not humanity’s first sin, as Alan Jacobs emphasizes. It’s a fascinating read. So far he’s culling from Greek mythology, Bibilcal stories, anthropological case studies, and theology.

Sabbath as Resistance

Americans can’t read and reflect enough on the sabbath. Once a cultural fixation, the sabbath has largely left the Christian field of view. Bruggeman argues that it is “the most difficult and most important” of the Ten Commandments. The Preface is worth the book, where he makes a distinction between the Adamic man–who creates through work, and the Mosaic man–who cultivates reflection and worship through inaction and devotion.

Most of us have an “under-developed” Mosaic man, sucked into production and consumption by work and play, we no longer know how to resist the flow of consumerism and capitalism, and are losing our distinctive, sabbath identity as Christians.

Most of us have an “under-developed” Mosaic man, sucked into production and consumption by work and play, we no longer know how to resist the flow of consumerism and capitalist, and are losing our distinctive, sabbath identity as Christians. Church attendance, alone, is a sign enough of that, but the signs run much deeper and further.

Apostles of Reason

Based on the recommendations, I’m expecting a lot out of this analysis of the 20th century culture wars and how American Evangelicalism is really a struggle for authority in a faith that advocates both faith and reason.

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment

George Marsden is back at it, drawing ideological conclusions as he deftly sweeps in and out of decades of American history. Probably the shorter version of Apostles of Reason, but I’ll have to read that to find out for sure. I liked his observation about how America jettisons God in the 50s and 60s, while keeping God’s values of human freedom, self-determination, and equal rights. If you boot God, its harder to make a case for these values.

Jettison God and it’s hard to keep God’s values of human freedom, self-determination, and equal rights.

Soul Keeping

This book is an entirely different pace than the rest of the titles above, but touches on similar themes to Bruggeman and Jacobs. It’s very accessible exploration on the meaning of the soul, how we’ve neglected it, and what to do about it. Lots of Dallas Willard and story-telling in here. The closing description of Peter’s harbinger in the Gospel of John has stuck with me: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

When you’re young, you go where you want to, but when you’re old, you learn to go where God wants you to, and you embrace the cross-shaped life.

Called to be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity

I really enjoy the balance, clarity, and pull of Gordon Smith’s writing. His book, Transforming Conversion, was great. Here he argues maturity is a vital dimension of the church’s teaching that often goes neglected. He writes:

“Congregations that do not pursue with passion and vigor a dynamic maturity in Christ are surely as fraudulent as a hospital that is not passionate and vigorous in its pursuit of healing and holiness.”

Stew on that one for a while.