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According to John: He Who Follows Me … Will Have the Light of Life

My Bible study tonight done via Google Hangouts on Air, will be on the topic in the title. I’m going to be following up from my discussion of vocabulary last week in looking at the words “light” and “life” in the gospel of John and how they relate to our understanding of the book’s message.

Here’s the YouTube viewer:

Sending out Rejections

As an editor and publisher, I often have the joy of telling an author that their work will become available to the public, because I have decided to invest in it and publish it. That’s very enjoyable.

Then there are the times that I have to reject manuscripts. There are more of these than acceptances. Often I hope that some other editor will decide that the manuscript is worth publishing. Today I sent a rejection notice out for a book with which I agreed almost totally, but which simply seemed to be repeating things that had already been said. Another was simply longer than the subject matter, and readers, would bear.

As one who has written many, many superfluous words, and who can’t even claim to have discarded them gracefully, I want to tell these authors to stick with it. Don’t let a rejection stop you. Many books, and not a few bestsellers have been rejected by publishers.

I try to explain my decision in reasonable detail. If you get a note that gives you advice, take it seriously. Don’t follow it slavishly. I know it’s a shock, but editors are not always right. Another editor may disagree. Give your manuscript a serious look, add some more polish, fix any problems you find, and send it to someone else.

If the editor who rejected your manuscript suggested it might be acceptable with a few changes, then by all means consider making the changes and submitting the manuscript again.

I would like to address one other class of authors, those who don’t read the submission standards. If you’re one of those, you need to take finding a publisher at least as seriously as you took producing your masterpiece. When an editor receives either a generic submission, or one that shows the author clearly did not read what information was available, he or she will often just reject the manuscript out of hand.

As a writer, you don’t just write. You have to market. If you don’t, you might as well not have written.

Would I Publish a Creationist Book?

creation-5I’ve been promoting the creation book set from my company, Energion Publications. The authors of this set of books all support the theory of evolution. In fact, the contribution made by these books, I think, is that they are talking about how we should live in light of a belief that the “how” of creation, at least with respect to life, is by means of biological evolution. (This could have been a post over on the Energion company site, but since it’s also so much about my own beliefs, I thought I’d post it here.)

Here’s a clip:

Herold Weiss is a biblical scholar and is talking about creation and creationism from the biblical and theological point of view. It was his book Creation in Scripture that got the book set started.

“For creationism I have no use.” I publish that. I’m also a known advocate of excluding creationism from the public school classroom. I’m a board member of Florida Citizens for Science. So we know where I stand on the issue. I’m a theistic evolutionist, though I don’t like that term.

So would I publish a creationist book?

Short answer: Yes.

Now for the longer answer.

I’m often asked this question by people who wonder just how far to the liberal side of the spectrum I’ll go in terms of publishing. In this case, considering how strongly I’m identified with one side of the issue, we have the opposite question.

The easy way to figure out the general answer to this question is to read the company’s short doctrinal statement. As you read that statement, remember several things:

  • Energion Publications is not a church. Nobody is asked to sign or affirm this statement
  • We judge manuscripts, not authors. I have been asked about things an author said on his web site and whether they “fit.” That’s not my concern.
  • There are many issues of definition in even that short doctrinal statement. For example, amongst our authors we have quite a number of definitions of what the word “inspired” means with relation to scripture.
  • It does provide a general guide to let us focus on an audience

Having said that, if a book falls within that statement, we’ll consider it. Does creationism fall within those parameters? Absolutely.

So the longer answer is again, yes. But remember that this openness to publish covers a large number of other issues as well.

Why are all our books on creation written by those who accept theistic evolution? Again, a simple answer. Those are the ones that were submitted and accepted.

Aha! A snag! What our hypothetical questioner would probably like to know is whether this manuscript, the one he or she has in hand, expending from days to decades, would be considered for publication and what its chances would be. Would the fact that I have a firm position on the issue prejudice me against that manuscript?

Without doubt my beliefs influence what I do. But one of my beliefs is that the best thing to do with theological disagreements is to discuss them, entering into genuine dialogue. I consider creationism to be a very live theological debate and one on which we should be having dialogue in the church. I think actual dialogue on this subject is rather rare, but I’m ready to promote it.

In fact, I see myself as a publisher in the role of an advocate for advocacy. So if I publish a book on creationism I will also put every effort into marketing it.

That doesn’t mean that I will bend over backwards to accept the first manuscript on the topic that I get. I have been studying this subject since I first learned to read, and so I have a very good feel for the literature.

Let me provide an example. Dr. Kurt Wise, who earned his PhD under Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard, is a creationist. He wrote the book Faith, Form, and Time. The link provided is to my review. It’s a good book. I disagree with practically every word in it. I don’t see those two statements as contradictory. I consider it the best statement of a Christian creationism as is available for a popular audience. Wise starts from the premise that Genesis teaches a young earth and a literal creation week, so we must follow from that point and discover the science that proves God right. I disagree with that premise.

If you can send me a manuscript that is as good as that one (good luck!) I’m bound to publish it. And there are lots of other manuscripts that would be good. For example, looked at from the point of systematic theology, how does a young earth or a literal creation week (or both) fit into a doctrinal pattern? What other pillars of the faith lean on those concepts? One could write some excellent systematic theology in that area, and consequently argue with our existing volume, Creation: The Christian Doctrine, which argues that those are not important. It happens I agree with the latter book, but that won’t prevent me publishing a rebuttal!

Now if I had a category for science, which I don’t, I would require that material in it be reviewed by qualified scientists. That would be another matter. I don’t think modern creationism has yet earned a place at the scientific table, and I’m not the one to offer that place. It must be offered by scientists who are active in their disciplines. I’d have a team of them as readers if I were a science publisher. But the biblical, religious, and theological debate is very relevant and active.

For those who are interested, I didn’t become convinced that the earth wasn’t young or that the creation week wasn’t literal by studying biology. In fact, I never took a college course in biology. I’m not going to judge one’s biological pretensions. Well, unless they violate elementary principles, that is. It was through study of the scriptural material that I became convinced it was not possible that God was intended to provide either the “how” of creation or the timeline of earth’s history.

There’s a great deal of open territory for studying biblical studies and theology involved in that!

I can’t help but finish with some pictures that illustrate how thoroughly indoctrinated a creationist I was. These are pictures of the “Eden to Eden Timeline.” You can see in the second image that we were taught that the date of creation was 3957 BC, a correction of the more common 4004 BC. Students added pictures and colored maps as we worked our way through the Bible, entirely guided by this timeline.

Eden to Eden Timeline

The title indicates the topic. It starts with creation and ends with recreation. Everything is on a timeline, though the time of the final events is left open.

Eden to Eden Timline - Antediluvian Period

You can see the date of creation represented here and also the proposed date for the end of this period with the flood.

Timeline - Antediluvian period

This shows how the timeline spread out. I did this outside by the fence, so it’s a bit scraggly. In our classroom we had the whole thing stretched out around the wall. Click on it for high resolution.

Football: I suspect God was indifferent to the ultimate outcome

Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with JobBruce Epperly, author of the recently released book Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job, questions the view that God determines the outcome of football games (or, I suspect, any other sport), rewarding the faithful and punishing the unfaithful. The title to this post includes his money quote from his post, Is God a Seahawks Fan?. Here’s the full paragraph:

I am sure that God was present on the playing field but not as a miracle worker or team mascot; God was there urging the players to achieve their best as team members, to be sportsmanlike, and to remain healthy amid a rough and tumble game. I suspect God was indifferent to the ultimate outcome.

I found this post refreshing. God is involved, but God isn’t there to make your team win–or lose. He’s there with each person.

Sunday Fish Stories

Yesterday was a great Sunday for me, though I still feel as though my previous week never really ended!

There are times when I feel that I heard precisely the right message for the time and place, not just for me, but for all there. There’s kind of a sense with a congregation hearing what they need to hear, or so I imagine at least. Yesterday at First UMC Pensacola was like that as Dr. Wesley Wachob told fish stories. He did this thing with Louis Armstrong’s Jonah and the Whale and really had the congregation going. The idea was “fish that are called to fish.” He ended briefly with the gospel message as Jesus calls disciples away from their fishing nets (Mark 1:14-20), but he spent most of his time in Jonah.

Here’s the Louis Armstrong song with some humorous animation I found on YouTube:

 

In the evening we hosted quite a number of teenagers in our home. I think the count was 14, but I lost track. They were lively, energetic, and very smart. It was fun talking with teenagers about the meaning of the tabernacle, the temple, and sacrifices. And I wasn’t even the one to introduce it; they did!

I believe we generally underestimate our young people and don’t treat them like significant persons, called and gifted by God, and capable of thinking. Sometimes this is because they don’t act like we do when they think something is important. They can shift topics in an instant, and it can be hard to follow, but it’s also worth it.

We need to get our young people involved and active earlier. They have a great deal to contribute.

Follow-up on According to John: Making Himself Equal with God

There are a number of points I need to write about to follow up on my hangout from last Thursday night, but first, here’s the YouTube video of the event.

I would like to remind you that you can ask questions or comment during the event using the Google Hangouts Q&A feature. Normally I’m also watching my Twitter (@hneufeld) and will see any Tweets @hneufeld. If you comment on something here and I can find a place for it in the next event, I will refer to it.

I plan to follow up before Thursday with posts on the language of the trinity, and biblical inspiration.

In the meantime, Bob Cornwall has written an interesting post on the language of the trinity. Check it out!

Book Extract: Interpreting Experience

The following is an extract from Philosophy for Believers by Edward W. H. Vick, pp. 122-123. I’m the publisher. I was reading this section as I was thinking about my study in According to John tonight (Jan. 22, 2015). How does experience relate to the development of religions doctrine?

8   Experience and Interpretation

Question: How shall we decide between interpretations of something that happened, whether unique public experiences e.g. a thunderstorm, or private ones e.g. visions, inner voices?

You and your friends are given a sheet of paper on which a lot of lines have been drawn. You are each asked what it is you see in the jumble. Replies will be different. One will see a horse drinking. Another will see cloud formation. Yet another will see the lines as a jumble of graffiti. We see things differently.

There has been murder in the town. Those people who are aware of it will have very different experiences. The relative, the detective, the editor of the sensational newspaper, each has his different view point of the event based on his unique experience of the event. Since they each experience the same event in different ways, let us call the phenomenon ‘experiencing as’. One experiences it as a personal loss, another as a case for investigation, another as the prospect of sensational front page headline and report.

Now think of different ways of experiencing the same events. As the Chaldeans approached Jerusalem and threatened its destruction, the Jews in the city experienced it as intense fear of coming catastrophe. The prophet experienced the events as the prospective judgment of God on the city. The Chaldean soldier experienced it as prospect for slaughter and booty. The experiences are different because each brings their own immediate background into the process of interpreting the meaning of the event.

So there is an analogy between ‘seeing-as’ and ‘experiencing-as’. Believers see the world as a world where God is present. Non-believers see the world as a series of purely natural events. We must consider that (a) there can be alternative characterisations of the event of ‘seeing’, ‘experiencing’. (b) Something more than the fact that I experience X as Y is required to establish the validity of my interpretation. For when I try to establish my belief in its significance I must explain both what the experience was and in addition contend that it has the significance I give it. This means that I must make explanations, use arguments, give reasons. When others have similar experiences to mine and do not interpret them as I do, it appears that it is the argument I produce to support my interpretation that is the important thing. So the notion of the existence of God can collapse into something that looks like the notion of being convinced by an argument. But the argument is to be seen as the instrument leading to an interpretation. That interpretation makes possible the belief in and so the assertion of the reality of God. It also, when articulated, enables the believer to give some account of his belief.

My Lazy Version Workspace

I’m doing a considerable amount of correction work that requires two monitors, and I didn’t want to spend the hours at my desk or worktable. Thus:

lazy_work_setup

It’s good to be my own boss!

The Ethics of Publishing

One of our authors sent me a link to Christianity Today’s article Is Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller List Wrong?

In the interest of honesty—and that’s what this is really about—let me note that I’m not playing in the same league as the folks referenced in this article as a publisher. I do work with publicity campaigns. I do market books. But the best I’ve done is to get a book temporarily onto the Amazon.com bestseller list for a very narrow category. That wasn’t even my goal in those few cases, but it happened. So I should be clear that few temptations of the level described here are ever presented to me. Nobody has offered to put one of my books on the New York Times bestseller list, and the costs involved simply reinforce what I already said: As a publishing enterprise, I’m not in this league.

But the ethics of the situation seems rather simple to me. It doesn’t matter what the “everyone” is doing in the industry. It doesn’t matter if it’s standard practice. The tobacco companies had “standard practice,” and while it was legal at the time, it wasn’t ethical. It doesn’t even matter if the New York Times bestseller list is a game. What matters to me, and what should matter to any Christian writer or publisher, is whether our own actions are true and honest. We don’t live according to other peoples’ standards.

When you write publicity copy, there’s always the possibility that one can disagree on what is honest. What does “the best book on ____” mean? I have even seen such hyperbolic claims in the prefaces to Bible translations. I try to avoid that kind of statement, both because of the question of truthfulness, but also from consideration for my own credibility. Even if I think I’ve found the best book on a subject, such subjective judgements are empty claims at best. I should think what I publish is good, but I can say that without resorting to empty statements or falsehoods. Even though we can disagree, I think that in most cases we do know what is right and wrong, and we know when we are rationalizing the thing we want to do.

Ethicists have to study questionable instances in order to develop the proper principles. People in those equivocal situations need that kind of nuance. Rationalizers do the same thing, but for a different reason. They want to make simple look questionable. If you can make a truly simple decision look doubtful, that gives you cover.

As Christians we should instead be looking for “whatever is true, whatever is honorable” (Phil. 4:8). When we find we have strayed off the path, we need to acknowledge and correct the error. I confess it would be nice to be a large enough player in the industry to have to worry about these things. I hope that if that happens, I will be able to uphold the appropriate standards, by God’s grace.

 

Energion Google Hangout on Air Tonight – Creation and Christianity

creation-5Tonight at 7:00 pm central time for the weekly Energion Google Hangout on Air I’ll be moderating a panel of four authors. You can find the event information on our Google+ page.

The participants are:

This event is not a debate about creation and evolution. While I vary the content from hangout to hangout, I avoid outright debates. Each of these authors accepts the theory of evolution but also believes that God is the creator. Dr. Herold Weiss started the series, which also includes Creation: The Christian Doctrine by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick, who is unavailable for this panel. What I have asked them to do for this panel is talk about how their beliefs about creation impact the way the read scripture, teach, worship, and live.

The YouTube embed to view the event is below. If you want to ask questions of the panel using the Q&A App, you’ll need to sign into Google+. There should be a link on the YouTube viewer at the time the event starts for you to do so.