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The answer to that question, it appears, depends on what side of the aisle you fall — author or reader.

So I was following an author for a spell, keeping an eye on the release of their first novel. Within a week they were pushing 20 reviews. All five-star. And all, notoriously, brief. This hinted at the possibility that these reviews were actually paid for, part of the marketing strategy to boost early sales of the book. I surmised this because

  1. The bulk of the reviews were one paragraph and very generic. A punchy caption followed by stuff like, “This book was a page-turner!” “Couldn’t put it down!” and “Can’t wait for the next!” With minimal specifics about the actual story.
  2. The reviewers had very few, if any, others reviews. The idea being, they didn’t do book reviews very often. This was a short-term gig.

After concluding that the author was paying for reviews, it turned me off. I never purchased the book as a result.

Was I being unreasonable?

There is significant debate among indie authors about the possible benefits and/or ethics behind purchasing reviews. On the “pro” side are those who argue that indie authors are already at a disadvantage against trade-pubbed authors who have trade pubbed books reviewed by trade media via ad dollars. Besides, many businesses, not just authors but restaurants, travel agencies, etc., already purchase positive reviews as a matter of course. On the “con” side are those who argue that impartial reviews are ethically sound, that authors should not stoop to the level of crass business, and that a good book should be able to sell itself apart from artificial hype.

In an increasingly competitive market, I can understand why an author would pay for bulk reviews. No. This isn’t something I’m planning on doing any time soon. Nevertheless, from my vantage point, “fake” reviews don’t seem to hurt many book’s sales… unless it’s to fellow authors like myself.

I could be wrong, but basic readers — as opposed to writers who are paying attention to books in their genre, publishing practices, and market specifics — don’t seem to pay too much attention to other reviews. At least, they don’t seem to be asking, “Is this review fake?” If the average reader is looking at reviews at all, it is generically – “How many five-star reviews does this book have?” Meaning that paid-for reviews could be the perfect advertising tool. Why should the author wait for a glowing, detailed, five-star review to arrive — IF it arrives at all — when she can pay for a dozen splashy five-star snippets on release day?

Either way, I never bought the aforementioned book. Apparently, that hasn’t hurt its sales. Or stopped the brief, generic, five-star reviews from rolling in. Which brings me back to my initial question: Do paid-for reviews hurt authors? Unless you’re one of those nit-picky, attempting-to-be-ethical, non-businessy, novelists like me, the answer seems to be “no.”

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One of the most influential books I’ve ever read remains John Wimber’s Power Evangelism. Wimber’s thesis was pretty simple: Signs and Power-Evangelismwonders, spiritual phenomenon, miracles, and “power encounters” are essential to the Church’s health and the expansion of the kingdom of God. Sure, Wimber went off the deep end once in a while (see: the Laughing Revival). Nevertheless, in my opinion, that perspective remains as lucid a paradigm for understanding and critiquing the Western Church as anything.

After defining Materialism, Wimber writes:

Christians cannot hold a philosophy of materialism and retain a Christian worldview. Materialism warps our thinking, softening convictions about the supernatural world of angels and demons, heaven and hell, Christ and Antichrist. We often live as though the material world is more real than the spiritual, as though material cause and effect explains all of what happens to us. (bold mine)

The Western church, asserts Wimber, is deeply influenced by a philosophy of materialism and rationalism. Unlike the Eastern Christians of the first century who believed in demons, angels, miracles, prophecies and the like, the Western church, other than her Charismatic and Pentecostal brethren, have all but explained away such supernatural phenomenon.

  • Exorcisms are now seen as barbaric.
  • Mental illness is now seen as entirely chemical, emotional, and/or biological.
  • Tongues and prophecies are explained away as part of a fading dispensation.
  • Bodily resurrections never happen, nor are they expected to.
  • Biblical miracles are now classified as myths or simply framed as figments of the ancient author’s imagination.

Wimber goes on to use the Western church’s drift into rationalism and materialism as evidence of a coming decline. We are drifting further from the real world, the supernatural world, and significant impact therein. The result is a rather powerless religion, one that relies on rhetoric and intellectual persuasion but lacks experiential dynamic. But this also explained, said Wimber, the startling growth of third world churches. Many of those cultures are steeped in an animistic worldview or one that already embraces the concept of spirits, visions, dreams, and miracles. They can embrace the non-materialistic, eastern worldview of Scripture with relative ease. Which led to the prediction among many missiologists at the time that Third World countries would be the most fertile breeding grounds for revival, not the Western Church with its intractable rationalism.

The-Reason-for-GodPower Evangelism was written in 1986 — almost 30 years ago. It has been fascinating watching those predictions come to pass. In his recent book, The Reason for God, Pastor Tim Keller talks about the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. For instance, in 1900, Christians comprised just 9% of the African population and were outnumbered by Muslims four to one. Today, Christians comprise 44% of the population, passing the number of Muslims as far back as the 1960′s. Keller asks the obvious:

Why has Christianity grown so explosively in these places? African scholar Lamin Sanneh gives a most intriguing answer. Africans, he said, had a long tradition of belief in a supernatural world of good and evil spirits. When Africans began to read the Bible in their own languages many began to see in Christ the final solution to their own historic longings and aspirations as Africans.

…Sanneh argues that secularism with its anti-supernaturalism and individualism is much more destructive of local cultures and “African-ness” than Christianity is. In the Bible, Africans read of Jesus’s power over supernatural and spiritual evil and of his triumph over it on the cross. When Africans become Christians, their African-ness is converted, completed, and resolved, not replaced with European-ness or something else. Through Christianity, Africans get distance enough to critique their traditions yet still inhabit them.

Keller is speaking to Christianity’s adaptive power. Yet he touches upon a similar theme as Wimber’s, that “secularism with its anti-supernaturalism” are hostile to a biblical worldview. Christianity more easily adapts in Third World cultures, in part, because of those cultures’ “long tradition of belief in a supernatural world of good and evil spirits.” The biblical worldview consisting of angels, demons, visions, signs, and wonders, resonates with the world so many non-Westerners inhabit.

Not long ago, I had an online exchange with a popular progressive pastor and author who flat-out denied specific miracles recorded in the Bible, like Jonah and the whale, Jesus walking on water, and such. From my experience, one of the predominant characteristics of the postmodern church and religious progressives is their emphasis upon rationalism and materialism, their rejection of supernaturalism in favor of medicine or science. While such a view may bolster kudos from academics and rationalists, it also requires a rather serious break from the world according to Scripture.

As C.S. Lewis put it in The Screwtape Letters,

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

I am not on the Bash the Church bandwagon and not impressed by many who gleefully proclaim the American Church’s demise. Nevertheless, if there is any truth to the waning of the Western Church, I think it lies partly here, in our embrace of materialism and rationalism, our slow abandonment of a supernatural worldview. We have succumbed to one of Lewis’ proposed errors by scoffing at “devils” while hailing the “materialist.”

 

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An interesting discussion arose on Facebook a couple weekends back surrounding the following status update posted by Patrick Watts.

FB-16

In context, Watts was blurbing comments made at a Lifeway event by another speaker. After some criticism, he went on to expound:

This was in the middle of talking about loving your wife as Christ loved the church. He was pointing out how husbands have ignored their responsibility for spiritual leadership in their household. While it is true that the relationship between your wife and Christ is solely hers, most men assume that the only choices are to oppose it or support it, but we tend to forget that the other option is to abdicate it and assume that it is someone else’s responsibility, when it should be an essential part of the lifelong commitment that you make in marriage.

I understood what he was getting at the first time and interpreted the sound bite how it was initially intended. Nevertheless, Watts was banged on pretty good, both in that thread and elsewhere. His challengers’ main beef went something like this:

A wife can handle her own spiritual development and doesn’t need her husband to do so. Thank you very much.

For the record, I’m not a huge fan of Lifeway and believe their ultra-conservative approach to art, culture, and religion has a stranglehold of sorts on the evangelical community. One only need revisit the Blindside debacle to catch a glimpse of the “militant isolationism” inherent in much of evangelical culture, which Lifeway enables. Part of that, from my perspective, consists of a fairly staunch patriarchy (i.e., men are the “prophet, priest, and king” of their home). Watts’ FB update, whether intended, evoked some of that sentiment. And thus the pushback.

Despite feeling outside the Lifeway target audience and denouncing the heavy-handed, even heretical, patriarchy wielded by some Fundamentalist-type groups, I find myself stuck in the middle of this discussion. So I wanted to share some of the reasons I think both sides have a point.

For over a decade as a pastor, I was privileged to counsel married couples at various stages of growth and togetherness and/or separation. I quickly learned that one party’s spirituality did not always guarantee the spirituality of the other. In some cases, it even made it worse! I can recite dozens of examples of men who, in an attempt to lead spiritually (whether that effort was tactful, clumsy, or totally forced), did not always see the “results” they expected. Of course, some of that came from wrong expectations of what “spiritual growth” was supposed to look like. I mean, if baking bread and making babies was a husband’s idea of a “godly wife”, then it was his expectations which needed changed, not his wife’s spirituality. The opposite was also true: some of the most godly women I knew were married to spiritual doofuses. Point being, there was just way too many different personalities, scenarios, and factors in a marriage to be able to corroborate the following formula:

  • Spiritually deficient husband = spiritually deficient wife
  • Spiritually healthy husband = spiritually healthy wife

Another takeaway from my pastoral years: Men DO tend to abdicate spiritual leadership to their wives. Some trace this all the way back to the Garden of Eden and Adam’s “following” Eve into sin. As a result, they suggest, men have inherited a tendency to cede spiritual leadership (and women have a tendency to take it). Of course, this all assumes that men have spiritual leadership TO abdicate, which I’ll get to in a sec. Whatever the case, if my experience was any gauge,

  1. Women were usually more spiritually involved in the life of their families than were their husbands, and
  2. They wanted their husbands to join in and assume the reins of leadership.

What inevitably resulted was a large contingent of “spiritually single wives and moms.” As a result, praying for spiritually AWOL husbands and fathers became a regular occurrence in the life of our church, far more than the reverse (praying for AWOL wives and moms). Again, this was my experience. My relationship with other pastors and churches seemed to confirm these observations.

So I’m definitely approaching this with preconceived ideas based off anecdotal evidence. There simply isn’t a formula for spiritual growth, especially as it relates to the role spouses play in each others’ growth. Secondly, husbands generally DO need to step up their spiritual leadership of the home and/or relationship with their wife.

All that said, I agree with the GENERAL PRINCIPLE that husbands are responsible for their wife’s spirituality. Here’s some things that DOESN’T mean:

  • This doesn’t mean that a wife does not have a totally unique,  independent relationship with God.
  • This doesn’t mean that a husband usurps or supplants Christ’s relationship with his wife.
  • This doesn’t mean that the husband (or men in general) are superior to the wife (or women in general).
  • This doesn’t mean that the wife has less of the Holy Spirit than her husband.
  • This doesn’t mean that a wife is responsible FIRST to her husband, and THEN to Christ.

I’ve found that most people who hedge at the above assertion often conflate it to include one of these misconceptions. By saying that the husband is responsible for his wife’s spirituality, I’m simply appealing to the more traditional interpretation of gender roles in marriage and that God has called the man into a role of “headship.” I am NOT inferring that a wife requires her husband to have a healthy spiritual life, that she can’t hear the Holy Spirit without her husband’s cooperation, or that she is somehow stymied by a spiritually delinquent spouse.

While this position grates against much contemporary thought, it has significant biblical precedent. In the context of discussing head coverings during worship, the apostle Paul wrote,

“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:3).

Paul appeals to a clear order or hierarchy. Which he does a second time:

“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (I Cor. 11:8-9).

In Paul’s day, veils were used to signify the woman’s subordinate relationship to men, particularly of wives to husbands. Apparently, some of the women in the Corinthian church were praying without veils, and Paul’s corrective is a reminder about the created order. It was the principle of women’s subordination to men, not necessarily the symbol of that particular subordination, that Paul appears to be addressing. Anyway, there’s lots of interpretative juggling used in attempt to get around what it seems obvious these verses are saying. Taken at face value, they build on a concept that goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis, that of “Federal Headship.” So when the apostle Paul addresses husbands thus –

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” (Eph. 5:25-27).

– he is in fact appealing to something that is not just a cultural construct (hierarchy appeared pre-Fall in the created order), but a spiritual reality. Ultimately, the Bible tells us that sin came through “one man,” Adam (Rom. 5:12) — “man” as in “male/husband.” Even though Eve also sinned and was cursed, Adam appears the fountainhead (or leaky faucet) through which sin came. This is an example of Federal Headship.

Not only did the buck stop with Adam, Eve was the first victim of Adam’s failed headship.

Which is why Christ is portrayed as “the Last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45) whose sacrificial living and dying resulted in the sanctification of His Bride. This is the same imagery the apostle Paul is invoking in his marriage analogy.

  • The First Adam defiled his bride through his sin.
  • The Last Adam sanctified His Bride through obedience.

In this sense, I’d say that the husband is responsible for his wife’s spirituality in the same way Adam was responsible for his wife’s. In the end, she suffered because he did not lead and/or obey.

Please note, I’m simply extrapolating what I believe flows naturally from a Federal Headship idea. Many good Christians see it otherwise. What I find fascinating is that people’s opinions on this subject tend to divide along complementarian / egalitarian lines.

  • Complementarian: The husband is ultimately responsible for his wife’s spirituality.
  • Egalitarian: Spouses are entirely responsible for their OWN spirituality.

Perhaps there’s a third level in there, something along the lines of

  • Spouses are responsible for their partner’s spirituality AS NEEDED.

I tend to think of this as “Joint Sanctification.” Let me give you an example. Scripture teaches that the wife can “sanctify” her husband. In addressing the subject of “unequally yoked” marriages (where a believer is married to an unbeliever), the apostle Paul writes,

“And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (I Cor. 7:13-14 NIV bold mine).

Here, the Bible says the wife can sometimes act as the Federal Head, incurring blessing upon others in the family who don’t deserve it (in this case, the unbelieving husband). I’m not sure all this means, if it just applies to unequally yoked marriages or has broader application. The idea is that in various situations, the husband OR the wife can be a sanctifying agent upon their spouse and household. In other words, gender is not the issue as much as spirituality.

Throughout our 30+ years of marriage, my wife Lisa has often been the primary spiritual leader of our family. Whether it was because of my stubbornness, blindness, laziness, or spiritual density, she has acted as the Federal Head, praying down blessing where none was deserved. I have been sanctified by her many, many times. My guess is that many husbands would admit the same thing.

All that to say, I sort of find myself in the middle of this issue, seeing something along the lines of Joint Sanctification. Generally speaking, I believe that men are called into spiritual headship over their families and households, and that God will hold them to greater account than their spouse. However, there appears to be lots of room in Scripture. There’s many biblical accounts of God using women to lead men and, in the case of marriage, there’s even evidence that the wife may be the primary spiritual leader, or at least co-leaders (see: Priscilla and Aquila). I know this position is a bit squishy. But I’d like to know your thoughts, where you think I might be getting it wrong or right.

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Apparently, that’s the going argument among many professing Christians. They say, “The Bible is not the full revelation of God. Jesus is!”

Sounds good, right?

This approach could be described as a “Christ-centered hermeneutic,” meaning that we should read Scripture through the lens of Christ. To which I wholly agree. But then there’s the Red-Letter Christian camp which takes this a step further by emphasizing the words of Christ (those highlighted in red) above other Scripture, at least when they’re not debating which words deserve to be Christ’s. Like the Jesus Seminar, “a group of self-described scholars who have determined Jesus probably only said 20% of the quotes attributed to him by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.”

So not only does Jesus trump Scripture, for some, we must decide which Scriptures attributed to Jesus trump other Scriptures.

Whew!

Anyway, this sentiment is really popular nowadays. Take for instance this comment I recently found on Facebook in a thread about the dangers of “biblicism,” being too literal in our reading of the Bible:

FB-17Once again, “hold[ing] everything up to the light of Christ” is a very sound means of biblical interpretation. It’s the first half of that perspective that is troubling, the one which suggests that “the most important question we can ask is not ‘is there Biblical support for this…’”

And this is where I find the “Jesus Trumps the Bible” crowd a bit rickety.

Of course we must concede that some people DO miss Jesus for the Scriptures. To the religious authorities of His day, Christ said:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn. 5:39 NIV).

Some missed the Word for the words. They deified Scripture, elevating it above the Person who actually spoke it. As some do today. But if you look carefully, that verse actually affirms the authority of Scripture for “it is Scripture that testifies of Him.” And since the New Testament had yet to be written, Jesus could only be talking about the Old, the non-red letter edition. So while Christ IS charging them to interpret Scripture through the revelation of Himself, He is not downgrading that revelation as secondary to Him. In fact, He is elevating it.

Suggesting that Jesus trumps Scripture still requires an interpretation of Scripture and the Jesus found in it. And therein lies the rub. Having a Christ-centered hermeneutic is great… provided that the Christ you’re centered on is the biblical one.

And this is the problem I have with the “Jesus trumps the Bible” perspective. By placing Jesus AGAINST Scripture we can conveniently minimize the Scripture we disagree with. If we’re honest, some of the most difficult and troubling parts of the Bible are the words of Jesus Himself. By staunchly proclaiming that “The Bible is the not the full revelation of God. Jesus is!” not only to we diminish the Scripture He said testified of Him, we conveniently limit the Jesus of Scripture to a god of our own making.

 

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Blog Hop Tour

by Mike Duran · 3 comments

So there’s a “Blog Hop” tour going around among some writer friends in which we all answer the same four questions about our latest release and other writing related stuff. Thanks to novelist Kerry Neitz for thinking to include me. Kerry is a computer nerd who writes unique speculative fiction tales like A Star Curiously Singing (part of he Dark Trench  saga) and the wildly controversial Amish Vampires in Space. Okay. Now on to the questions!

1) What am I working on?

At the moment, I’m tidying up my first Urban Fantasy novel, preparing it for publication later this year. It’s entitled The Ghost Box and is the first in a series of novels surrounding Reagan Moon, paranormal reporter and reluctant cosmic do-gooder. Reagan is a bona fide skeptic who is forced to investigate the murder of his girlfriend, leading him on a mind-blowing (literal) quest to stop the christening of a massive ghost box, an inter-dimensional transport to Hades in downtown Los Angeles. There’s monsters, the lightning rod of the Tower of Babel, a bumbling guardian angel, one of the Hydra triplets, an extraterrestrial midget, and a ninja changeling. Did I miss something? Yeah. I kinda wanted to throw the kitchen sink at the story and had a lot of fun doing so. The Ghost Box was probably the most enjoyable writing project I’ve worked on in the last decade, and I’m hoping it shows.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hm. When writing in a genre, being too different potentially puts you outside the target audience. For the genre writer, there’s often a fine balance between touching upon expected tropes and adding flares of originality. I think I accomplished both in my upcoming novel.

There’s a couple of elements in The Ghost Box that I hope separate it from others in its genre. For one, there’s lots of noir elements; Reagan Moon is sort of a mash-up between Sam Spade and Constantine. Also, I noodle a lot with religious tropes and symbolism. I am fascinated by the convergence of science and spirituality, quantum theory and the Nature of Everything. Much of The Ghost Box is an exploration of the nature of the world around us, the seen and the unseen, and the grand destinies that each of us struggle to apprehend. Or completely jettison.  And, oh, one other difference — there’s no hunky vampires or werewolves. Thank God.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’m one of those folks that finds fiction writing cathartic. So rather than banging my head against a wall or over-paying a professional therapist to listen to me rehash my bad childhood and regrets, I write. But even more to the point, I think stories have the ability to kindle our imaginations and speak to greater realities than our own. The “real world” often drains us of imagination, of life. I write because I want to connect with — and help others connect with — deeper emotions and realities, whether it’s the horrors of a world in darkness or the glories of a world yet unseen. Speculative fiction is the perfect vehicle for this kind of aim. Of course, having fun along the way helps. So in a way, I write what I write to both entertain and stir the intellectual soup.

4) How does my writing process work?

Well, I just think and think until great drops of blood appear on my forehead. Really, I’m one of those writers who can’t get serious about a project until certain elements are in place. Kind of like a kid who wants to build a Lego skyscraper, I will not even attempt it until I know I have enough pieces. Because of this, a lot of my pre-writing is collecting “pieces,” sub-plots and characters and story elements that will be parts of this skyscraper. It also helps that I’m an insomniac. Waking at ungodly hours to write is actually a blessing in disguise. Either way, waiting for inspiration to strike is not my style. Which always leaves me in some stage of building the aforementioned Lego skyscraper.devourer-of-souls-cover1

Okay. Well, that was fun. Thanks for the tag, Kerry!

I’ve invited Jill Domschot and Kevin Lucia to participate in this tour and encourage readers to check them out next Monday, August 11th. Jill is the author of Anna and the Dragon, while Kevin’s latest release is Devourer of Souls. Looking forward to hearing from both of them.

 

 

 

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“Booked”: A Spiritual Memoir for Book Lovers

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I’ve never really wanted to read Jane Eyre. Until now. Jane Eyre is just one of several pieces of classic literature that Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University, uses to chronicle her own journey of self-discovery — a journey of self-discovery through literature. In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Madame […]

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When Bad People Make Good Art

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“We’re all like the moon,” quipped Twain. “We each have a dark side.” Despite our luminescence, even the most acclaimed among us has a barren backside. Perhaps this is why public moonings have replaced public floggings as our chastisement of choice. The recent revelation of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s history of child abuse  left many reeling. […]

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Why Do Evangelical Fiction Readers Tolerate Violence But Not Profanity?

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A grisly death occurs near the end of my first novel The Resurrection which leaves a bad guy a bubbling heap of intestinal lard. During the final edits, feeling relatively self-conscious about this over-the-top retribution, I suggested to my editor that I tone that scene down, make it less gruesome. She replied, “I’d leave it […]

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How Much “Failure” Can We Tolerate in a Pastor?

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I’m an ex-pastor. Ugh. I hate that term. No, I didn’t have an affair with the church secretary or get caught pilfering funds from the ice cream social. I was a young, untrained, inexperienced Christian who was launched, probably prematurely, into the ministry. As a five year-old Christian, father of four, with zero trade skills, […]

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How Autobiographical Is Your Fiction?

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“All fiction is largely autobiographical…”                                             — P.D. James I suppose the question facing a lot of novelists is not IF your story should be autobiographical, but HOW autobiographical your story should be? It’s no secret that novelists assemble their stories from the stuff of experience, drawing from the places they’ve lived, the people they’ve […]

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How Important Is a Good Cover to Novel Sales?

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I spoke with a writer friend who recently returned from a book festival. He had his own booth to sell his books and commented on the different ways people decide if a book is for them. There are five types of book buyers from his observation. The “back of the book” readers who consider the […]

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Staying Out of the “Ideological Silo”

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I found Pew Research Center’s most recent study Political Polarization in the American Public quite fascinating. It’s a lengthy, graphic-laden piece about “How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life.” There’s much to think about regarding the findings. The overall gist is that, politically speaking, America has grown even more […]

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