Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: The Book

A Gospel Worth Sharing

In advance of the release of Something Worth Living For Matthew Barrett and Credo blog asked me to write a series of blog posts touching upon the value of a catechism. With their permission I am reposting these here for those who did not see them there.

Imagine an evangelistic conversation that goes something like this:

“Man, I just don’t know why I get out of bed any more.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, the world is such a mess and I feel such stress at work and at home.”
“Wow, I get it! It’s the same with me. Life is so confusing. But God has given me a way to see a path through it all, at least.”
“Yes. I suppose. But that religious stuff never made sense to me.”
“I know. But I’d love to talk about that. Have you heard of the 107 spiritual laws?”

Clearly there was a good reason that Bill Bright chose just four spiritual truths to make his evangelistic appeal. And yet, every time Christians encourage non-Christians to consider Christianity, they are inviting them to embrace something larger than can be expressed in four, or eight or ten statements. In a day when the very word “God” is understood, if at all, with rambling diversity, the way we communicate the gospel requires breadth and clarity. And though I’m not suggesting we see the Westminster Shorter Catechism and its 107 questions and answers as a gospel tract, the theology it unfolds is, in its heart and essence, the gospel. It is not simply a tool by which others come to know religious stuff. It is a doorway inviting them, and ourselves, to come to know, and to love, God.

As any good presentation of the gospel will do, the Catechism begins with the questions people themselves are asking. People wonder why they exist. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What’s it all about? That is, the Catechism begins, “What is the chief end of man?” People have tried money and sex and everything else Solomon bemoans as meaningless. The question, “What is there worth living for?” is an urgent question for all, Christian and non-Christian.

Of course, the answer the Catechism gives, that we are to live “. . . to glorify God and enjoy him forever” challenges our treasured human self-centeredness, among other things. The Catechism grounds this claim in the fact that there is a God who has spoken. This God has given us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments a call and reason to glorify and enjoy him, and a rule by which we are guided in our response.

Many, of course, struggle to believe the Bible, even those sitting in our pews. And yet Christianity is a complete package. To believe in God is to believe that he is and that he has spoken. We believe the Bible because it is the word of God, and we know God by the word he has given. These things are to be taken as a whole.

And so the Catechism invites us to understand the two primary things the Bible teaches: what we are to know about God set side by side with the response God expects of us. To put it another way, the Catechism outlines how we are loved by God and how we love him in return.

Questions 4-38 introduce us to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are shown our sin in all its misery and God’s wonderful provision of a redeemer. The redeemer’s person and work is shown and the fruit of his work outlined. That is, we are shown why people need salvation and how God provides it. This is how God loves us.

Then beginning with question 39 we are shown how one responds to this provision. We learn of the law God has given, of the nature of faith and repentance, and of the value of the church and her sacraments and of prayer. Here we are shown, in response to who God is and what he has done, how we live for his glory and enjoy him forever. This is how we love God.

The Catechism, in other words, paints the full gospel picture by which we can tell the whole truth to a world aimlessly trying to find its way. It reveals the beauty of the gospel, something we all need to hear.

French Philosopher Blaise Pascal noted that in persuading others of religion we must “. . . make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Penses, 12). The Catechism makes all of us once again wish that Christianity were true, especially those of us who have lost sight of the beauty of salvation and the hope of our “full enjoying of God to all eternity.” (Q/A 38)

It gives us a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It reminds us that we have something worth living for. It is a gospel worth knowing, and sharing.

A Faith Worth Learning

In advance of the release of Something Worth Living For Matthew Barrett and Credo blog asked me to write a series of blog posts touching upon the value of a catechism. With their permission I am reposting these here for those who did not see them there.

Charlie Mora was one of the finest and most solid men with whom I’ve ever served in the church. He was an elder in the congregation to which I was called out of seminary and he taught me how to be a pastor. But as a commercial fisherman with no more than a high school education, Charlie was an unlikely mentor.

As a young man, during a downturn in the fishing industry, Charlie moved from Cortez, Florida to New Jersey to find work. There he met Marge. He was so taken by this young woman that he was willing to attend her small Orthodox Presbyterian Church in order to date her. There Charlie heard the gospel. As he fell in love with Marge, he came to love Jesus as well.

Charlie was hungry to learn about this new faith, but the church had no adult classes for men like him. And so Charlie, revealing a deep humility that would stay with him his entire life, asked if he could attend the youth class. There, huddled in a room with teenagers, Charlie learned the theology of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He emerged with a broad, deep, and profound love for God which would later have such a profound impact on me.

Charlie’s story reveals the beauty and mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. It also reminds us of the power of a well ordered, systematic teaching of the Christian faith. That is, it points to the value of a catechism.

A what?

A catechism is an ancient pedagogical tool that systematically presents a broad body of knowledge in small interrelated units. Using a question and answer format, catechisms have been written to serve well-seasoned theological meat in bite sized pieces for those hungry to know God and his ways. Particularly, the theology of the Protestant Reformation rode across Europe and sailed into North America in vessels of beautifully crafted and carefully framed catechisms by which one generation instructed the next. One of these, the last and most concise of these, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, was used to pass this faith worth learning on to my friend Charlie.

Published in 1647, the Westminster Shorter Catechism has had a wide influence. It was the product of 120 seventeenth-century theologians and pastors from England, Ireland, and Scotland meeting in assembly in Westminster Abbey in London (hence the name) over a period of four years. The products of committees and assemblies are usually bland. Not this one. The Westminster Assembly found a way to distill essential theological truth into memorably precise and matchlessly profound language. Its words have become widely known even to those unable to name their source. That our chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever” and that “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” are ideas that have lodged in the hearts of many even outside those Reformed and Presbyterian Churches which claim the Catechism as one of their confessional documents.

Of course, the very idea of theology is daunting to many Christians. The word conjures images of big books and fine and incomprehensible distinctions. Theology is imagined to be something boringly peripheral to the living of a full life. But a moment’s reflection suggests that we all embrace a theology of some sort. It may be poorly developed and it may be absolutely wrong, but we have a theology. And too often the theology we are give is couched in negative terms.

The acquisition of theological knowledge in our day is often erratic, spotty, and cloaked in controversy. We learn a bit about eschatology to counter the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come knocking at our door. We ponder how to understand God’s law only because we want to find a way to better argue our case against big government on Facebook. Rarely do Christians enjoy, and I choose that word purposely, the opportunity to consider a positive presentation of the beauty and breadth and practical relevance of our historic Christian faith. The Catechism offers that opportunity.

There are many Charlies in our churches, people curious about Christianity and hungry for some guidance. The Catechism is a good place to begin to satisfy that curiosity. To support this process is why I’ve written Something Worth Living For.

As pastors and churches we may not be able to help our Charlies fall in love with our Marges, but we certainly can use the rich tools of our heritage to help them fall in love with Jesus

Something Worth Living For

It’s been a long time coming. Today, my book Something Worth Living For is released. In honor of that event, I created a fun little video which I hope you enjoy. After watching, go buy the book! It is certified to fit in most standard Christmas stockings. Here are some good places to buy:

Christianbook.com – $9.99
PCABookstore.com – $10.39
Bookshop.org – $11.95

Now, for the special event: Ta-da!!

On Being Enough

Last Tuesday evening, various family members gathered around our kitchen table as I opened a package with the ceremony ordinarily reserved for birthdays. The package from Christian Focus Publications contained a book that was mine in a way no other book has ever been. It was The Book. The one I had written.

I began writing The Book on January 5, 2018. After writing and revising for two years, I set aside to revisit in a couple month’s time. Over that time I had collected a few encouraging preliminary endorsements and four solid rejections from publishers. The rejections had been as expected as the endorsements surprising.

My plan was to continue to seek a publisher through April and after that to consider other options. But no matter where it went from there, on that day in December, I was okay with the state of it. To have written it was sufficient satisfaction. I needed no more affirmation. And that sense of contentment was surprising to me.

Recently I’ve pondered the seemingly contradictory notions of contentment and ambition. I did desire that the book be published. I felt that it could benefit others. I wanted it to be out there in the world and I wanted it to be successful. I had ambitions for the book, a desire for readers. No comedian wants to tell jokes to an empty room. Rare is the musician who does not want others to hear her music. As one who has written, I of course wanted it to be read (which you can do by pre-ordering here). And yet I was content that something now existed that had not existed before. I was happy with it in itself. My contentment was not dependent on a publisher’s validation or a reader saying, “Wow!”

Anne Lamott in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, speaks about how students in her writing workshops tend to have too many questions about publishing and not enough about writing. Certainly knowledge of how publishing works is important, but far more important is contentment with writing itself. She makes this point over and over again:

Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it will probably not make you any richer.

Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird, 185

She recalls an incident after she had published her first book. She had been invited to speak at a charity event, and somehow her name was repeatedly omitted from the publicity announcements. She was miffed, and frustrated, and hurt. But only for a time.

I remembered that if I wasn’t enough before being asked to participate in this prestigious event, then participating wasn’t going to make me enough. Being enough was going to have to be an inside job.

Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird, 220

Contentment is an inside job. So for me, having finished the book was gratifying in a way that was unusual for me. It was done and there did not have to be any more for me to be okay.

But then there was more.

In January, Christian Focus Publications (bless their hearts!) agreed to take the work to publication. And after months of revising, editing, discussing, marketing, and waiting, on Tuesday I, with those closest to me, laid eyes on The Book itself. To see it as a completed object was surreal and gratifying. All I could do was stare.

Unlike Bird by Bird my book does not and will never have “National Bestseller” stamped across the top. It does not and will never have “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize” or “Now a Major Motion Picture” embossed anywhere on the cover. When it is released to the wild on November 6, it will go where God carries it. Some readers will like it; some will hate it.

But I keep coming back to this: If I was not enough before being published, being published is not going to make me enough.

Being enough is an inside job. It always will be. For me. For you.

Where to Get The Book

My wise friend Lee asked on Twitter the following question:

“Can we order from somewhere other than the monopoly responsible for killing 90% of local bookstores?”

Lee, who was asking about my book Something Worth Living For, is opinionated as well as wise, as that tweet suggests. On this we are in agreement. I have gone on record (you can follow the argument beginning here) that I am engaged in a one person boycott of Amazon. Partly this is to preserve the existence and prosperity of local bookshops. And partly this is due to Amazon’s cavalier policy toward counterfeiting. I have not bought a book from Amazon for a year, other than to use gift cards given to me specifically for that purpose, and will never do so again if I can help it.

And yet as a writer, one whose own book will soon sit upon a virtual Amazon shelf, I’m aware of the power of that monopoly to sell books. Most who buy my book will buy it from Amazon. I direct people to Amazon because that will be the easiest source for most people. But for those willing to take a little bit more effort, I would be pleased if you would buy it elsewhere. (In fact, I think you should buy a copy from every source!) For example, other large, online retailers like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million are currently offering it for pre-order.

They are options. But there are others.

1) Ask for it at your local bookseller. If I’m not mistaken, the book will be available through normal channels of distribution and any local book seller should be able to get it. I love to encourage people to patronize their local bookshops and this is an opportunity to do so. This could have the benefit of drawing attention to the book and encouraging that store to stock it. And this will bring it to the attention of a wider public.

2) When I was researching online book buying options, I loved my experience with Hearts and Minds Bookstore, a Pennsylvania Christian bookseller with a vibrant online presence. If I were to order online, this would be among my first choices. Their catalog is selective and they do not currently carry it (something I will soon work to change). If others were to ask for it, the attention there would be appreciated. I bet they could get it and be persuaded to carry it.

3) If you want to pre-order and still support local bookstores, I encourage you to pre-order it from Bookshop.org. Not only does this online site return a percentage of sales income back to local bookshops, it is the only place online currently offering Something Worth Living For at a discount. This is a great source for books for those who do not have access to a local bookshop.

4) Currently one cannot pre-order from the Christian Focus web site, but when the book is released that will be possible, and CFP will be offering significant discounts on quantity purchases.

I am sure there are others.

So, yes, please, order the book, buy the book, purchase multiple copies of the book, from your local bookshop if you can, but elsewhere if that is what you do. As for Amazon, we cannot kill the Beast, but we can defund it a bit. And yet, I understand that Amazon is an option and for most, the easiest (which is why my wife has not joined me on my boycot).

At the end of the day, a book sold on Amazon is a book sold.

And while you are placing an order for Something Worth Living For, consider checking out A Living Hope: A Study of 1 Peter, written by Lee’s wife Sarah. He’d probably be happy even if you bought it from Amazon.

What’s Next after The Book?

Previous posts have left some asking, “So what is this NEXT BOOK of which you speak?”

I’m glad you asked.

I’ve considered several ideas for books and sketched out a couple. One, though, has actually been written (previously mentioned here). It is a memoir of my stumbling into being a pastor. It is a story with many delights and dark shadows. That I once told my wife that I would never be a pastor is a fun story, and there is delight in telling of the people whom God used to shape my direction. But for the story to be true, I need to explore the shadows. My theology was precariously moored and easily hijacked. My character, tending too easily toward anger and a need to please, was a struggle too easily downplayed.

The subtitle undergoes frequent revision.

So yes – delight and shadows. Both most be told if the story is to be true, and I want this one to be true. Pastoral memoirs, in my experience, too easily detail the right and minimize the wrong. Both must be shown if we are to see the hand of a faithful God through it all.

The resulting self-portrait is not particularly flattering. That is okay, though, for the real story is one of a remarkable work of God’s kindness. He pulled the curtains back, exposing the darkness in the shadows. He showed me a way and led me into a much better place. That is the story I really want to tell.

I’ve titled the book A Reformed Pastor. One can read various connotations into that title and I invite you to do so. I am reformed in more ways than one. To see how God has done this in my life is not a story just for other pastors.

It feels pretentious to write a book about myself. Mary Karr is quoted as saying somewhere that when she was a child, she read books so she would not feel so alone. I’ve written this one so that others would not feel alone.

I began writing this memoir nearly five years ago in a four hundred page burst. After shortening it to a more realistic three hundred pages, I laid it aside to work on what became Something Worth Living For. As that is poised to debut, I’ve returned my attention here.

There are people out there, I suppose, with pristinely organized minds who can get stuff from their head onto paper pretty much ready to be seen by a broader world. That is not me. Revision is my friend. Each revision forces me to think more carefully about what I need to say about my life. Each revision I hate just a little bit less than the one that came before. And so, after seven such revisions – I am not a writer easily satisfied – it stands at a new and hopefully improved 76,000 words.

Soon I’ll declare this book finished and will begin the search for an agent or publisher willing to run with it. If it gets published, that will be a wonder. But my life has been full of such wonders. The publication of Something Worth Living For is but one, and so I am encouraged to try. James Montgomery Boice in 2000, speaking of the sovereignty of God in the light of his cancer diagnosis, asked a question that has resonated with me ever since. “Who knows what God will do?”

Indeed. Who knows? I will work to get the story out there, and who knows what God will do. If the book comes to be, maybe others might no longer feel so much alone.

Five Ways to Help Birth Book #2

As I mentioned in my last post, with most of my work on Something Worth Living For complete, I now find myself a marketeer

And for this, I need your help. Seriously.

Of course, I need your help getting Something Worth Living For into the hands of those it is intended to help. Earlier this year I shared a portion of the book with a young woman in her early twenties who later wrote me, “I’ve wanted to weep reading because the tone is so gentle, loving and pastoral” and “I didn’t think it was possible to have a theologically conservative document that wasn’t blatantly polemic.” I believe there are others like her. If the book sells well by finding its way into the hands of such people, then I will be grateful. You can help see that that happens.

But I have other motives for wanting sales to be good. Good sales mean a larger platform, and a larger platform increases the possibility that there might be another book.

Publishers need authors to help promote books more than they did in the past. Sales outlets have declined and self-publishing has mushroomed. Publishers must now depend more heavily on an author’s ability to sell his book.

This is done through an author’s network — his ‘platform.’ For some Christian authors, a large, visible ministry generates an automatic platform. For others, good looks and charm go a long way toward attracting a following. And of course, controversy always helps. Being a combatant in an online fight is guaranteed to gain one followers.

But being “a parson, sober and rather dull, no doubt,” (my favored descriptor from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country) and therefore lacking the above, I need much help from you, my current readers and friends. What kind of help? Consider the following:

1) Subscribe to this blog

To the right of this post is a widget inviting you to ‘subscribe.’ Doing so is painless and only means that a notice of each blog post will show up in your inbox. This helps me put a number to those who have some interest in what I write, and publishers like numbers.

2) Buy The book

This is obvious, I suppose, but after receiving and reading it, then . . .

3) Post reviews on Amazon.

No matter where you buy the book, reviews on Amazon have a long-lasting impact. Posting a review quickly after the book is released boosts its presence and hence its sales. Again, numbers matter.

4) Promote The book

Use your networks. Tell people about it on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. For ease, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and re-post my posts.

5) Encourage reviews of The book

If you have a favorite blogger or source of book news, encourage them to review the book, or tell me who they are, and I’ll encourage them to do so.

Gideon chased an army with three-hundred men and some pots and torches. My motives are far less ambitious. I simply need to stir up sufficient notice for an agent or publisher to ask, “What else do you have?” To this end your help is greatly needed, and appreciated.

What’s Up with The Book?

Several times recently I’ve been asked, “What’s going on with The Book?”

The question brings a huge smile to my face (behind my mask, of course) and places the asker in danger of having to listen to me talk far beyond where he or she intended.

Yes, The Book, Something Worth Living For: God, the World, Yourself, and the Shorter Catechism, is still in process. The fact that I keep capitalizing The Book shows what a big deal this is for me. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about it here.)

I was pleased in January to have finished something I had set out a couple of years before to do. To then have a publisher (Christian Focus Publications or CFP) agree to invest its own resources into perfecting, printing, and distributing it was, while deeply desired, surreal.

Since then, I’ve worked through the text two or three times. I first significantly reworked the manuscript for initial submission to CFP. Then an editor went through it with me, bringing better order, and a more personal feel, to the whole. Family references became specific. ‘My daughter,’ for example, became ‘Jerusha’ and ‘my wife’ became ‘Barb.’ Then, after the manuscript passed through two CFP proofreaders, Barb and I read through the whole and submitted to CFP 14 pages of suggested corrections and changes. Through it all Christian Focus has been wonderful to work with.

Meanwhile, both I and CFP sought endorsements. I have been moved simply by the fact that people would be willing to read it with an eye toward lending support. Words like ‘thoughtfully applied’ (Mark Johnston / Bethel Presbyterian Church, Wales), ‘centered in Christ and the gospel of saving and transforming grace’ (Mark Dalbey / Covenant Seminary, St. Louis), and ‘pastoral entryway to Christianity’ (Michael Allen / Reformed Seminary, Orlando) touch upon the heart I sought to bring to this. That others sensed that is gratifying. So are words like ‘highly recommended’ (Craig Carter / Tyndale University, Toronto), ‘important work’ (Ray Cortese / Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, Florida), and ‘a welcome tool’ (Michael Haykin / Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville).

Though we are told metaphorically to never judge a book by its cover, we all do. My kids weighed in (heavily!) on CFP’s first proposal. In the end, the publisher has dressed The Book nicely, preparing it to be seen in public

And public it is becoming. Sites like Amazon and other retailers now list the book, albeit with some missing and inaccurate info (soon to be corrected). Some have already pre-ordered it. (Hint, hint . . . .)

Having signed off on the cover (proudly accompanying this post) and the manuscript, I am now mostly a spectator as The Book heads off to the printer to prepare for its November release.

And so I must transition from author to marketeer. I am writing articles for another blog (not this one!) and plotting ways to help the book get noticed. Shortly I’ll loop you readers into how you can help, for your help I will need.

Thanks for your interest and encouragement.

I’m still smiling. Behind my mask.

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