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Choose Your Shape!

Choose Your Shape!

Well, perhaps, “choosing” should be “recognizing.” Weird? Doesn’t make sense? Read on!

In the late 1990s I participated in a program here in Escambia County called CommUNITY Dialogues, led by a creative and interesting communications specialist (and I had not, up to that time, used “creative” or “interesting” with regard to such people!) named Dr. Dolly Berthelot.

It was a great program, and I learned a great deal. The reason I’m writing about it, however, is that it was the first diversity training program I’d experienced that I considered personally valuable.

While I valued and value diversity, I felt that many interfaith and diversity programs negated their own value by asking people to give up their own beliefs on entry. The result was a debate largely centered around whether divesting oneself of one’s own “diverse” views was a good idea or not.

What Dr. Dolly did was invite us to explore our beliefs and those of others and to look at ways in which we could understand one another and work together by celebrating and taking advantage of our differences. I have always believed that this would be valuable, but in my experience people of strong convictions tend toward excluding others, and those advocating diversity want to diminish the value of one’s own values.

You may, in fact, decide to change your belief on some topic as a result of dialogue, but eliminating the differences before they are experienced and understood is, in my view, suboptimal. (I like that word!)

I say all of this to bring us to the present, and some of the work of Dr. Dolly Berthelot. I publish her book PERFECTLY SQUARE, and I have spent some time looking at a training program she has developed, SELFSHAPES. She has developed a simple quiz based on this program, and I have implemented it on our web site.

I’m not going to discuss it in detail here, because it is best experienced first. I have commented before that I have found things I’ve learned about human nature, including sociology and psychology, and definitely about different personality characteristics more helpful in Bible study and teaching than learning biblical languages. (I in no way regret learning the languages. I say this to emphasize the extreme value of learning to understand people for biblical studies and theology.)

And, of course, for life.

So head on over to the Energion Publications retail site and check out the quiz. It’s called Dr. Dolly’s SELFSHAPES. There are no pop-ups, and very little advertising. At the end we offer you the opportunity to share on social media and to sign up for an e-newsletter to keep up with developments.


Why I Publish Books by and for Seventh-day Adventists

Why I Publish Books by and for Seventh-day Adventists

This may seem like a simple question. A better one might be, “Why not?”

Some Prefatory Remarks

sda booksSeventh-day Adventists (SDAs) are often misunderstood, which complicates the issue. If I had transferred my membership from a Presbyterian church, for example, to a United Methodist congregation, it’s unlikely anyone would ask me why I maintain relationships with Presbyterians. As an ex-SDA, however, I’m often asked questions like the one I’m trying to answer right now. SDAs ask me how I could possibly leave the church. At an SDA church where one of my authors was speaking, a young man exclaimed to me, “How could you possibly have difficulties with SDA doctrine?” If you want to understand why I left the SDA church or how I feel about it, you might try reading The Joys and Sorrows of Being ex-SDA.

Here’s my key point: While I disagree with the Seventh-day Adventist Church on a number of doctrinal points, especially on issues of prophecy and some applications of the (otherwise valuable) term “remnant people,” I still regard them as brothers and sisters in Christ, in the same way and on the same basis that I regard fellow Methodists, or members of Presbyterian, Baptist, Assemblies, United Church of Christ, independent, or any other Christian congregation. I have disagreements on doctrine with pretty much everyone I know (often including yesterday’s version of myself), and that doesn’t make me deny Christian fellowship.

But there are always those other questions about SDAs. They’re different, yes, but they’re more different in weirder ways than others. Which reminds me of the church Staff-Parish Relations committee that decided that an SDA speaker, who had also spoken at continuing education events for pastors at the conference level, could not be allowed to speak at their church. Having read something about Latter Day Saints, they were certain they didn’t want an SDA to speak. Surely we should stick to Methodist speakers.

There are two forms of ignorance here. 1) There’s ignorance of precisely who SDAs are and what they believe, and 2) There’s the ignorance of just how much weirdness we have in mainline denominations. If I need to find a crazy speaker, but am limited to those who are United Methodists, I will have no difficulty at all!

What I Publish

So what does this have to do with publishing?

Very little, actually. It’s just that people expect it to.

I frequently have to remind people that I am a Christian publisher, publishing books selected for a Christian audience. That doesn’t mean that all our readers are Christians. What’s more, it doesn’t mean that all our authors are Christians. In a blog post titled Why Did You Publish THAT Manuscript? (on the Energion blog), I noted that “We judge manuscripts and not authors here at Energion Publications.”

To me that is a rather obvious point, but it has raised questions. In order to guarantee the publishing of Christian authors only I would have to first define the boundaries of Christianity, and then make myself the judge of whether someone had met those criteria or managed to fall within those boundaries. I can do that for myself with regard to organizations and systems. It’s a simple matter of definitions and categorization. To do it with persons would be problematic. In fact, I personally simply accept anyone’s self-confession of what their religious view is.

Further, as publishers have discovered before, it’s much more difficult to determine whether a person is a good person than it is to determine whether a manuscript is a good manuscript. I choose to deal with manuscripts.

Seventh-day Adventists

I think my earlier remarks largely answer the question. When a manuscript by an SDA author seems to me to be of interest to my audience, an audience which definitely does include SDAs, I’ll publish it, always provided it meets other necessary criteria. I avoid publishing books that are of interest to only one denomination, for example.

Here are some specific points:

  • Am I on a mission to convert SDAs and get them out of the SDA church? No. I have no intention of persuading anyone to leave their denomination. In fact, I will state that if you’re leaving any church, including the SDA church, because of anger at the organization, you’re going to find plenty of imperfections wherever you go. If you leave a church congregation or a denomination, do so for positive reasons. I may disagree with some doctrines of the SDA church, and so I moved to an organization that is more doctrinally compatible with my views, but I applaud and highly value the SDA educational and health systems. I also value much of the theological work done by SDAs over the years. I can both disagree with, and value, ideas.
  • What about the seventh day Sabbath? I consider the Sabbath a part of one’s approach to worship and a spiritual practice. Where I have seen it carried out as a spiritual practice, I find the seventh day Sabbath valuable. As with any other activity, it can be converted into a legalistic “work,” but the key here is “any other activity.” Because keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath stands out as unusual, people take it as extraordinary evidence of legalism. But it’s simply one more practice that can be positive or negative. I have said before that I miss the Sabbath as practiced in SDA circles. I have other means of seeing sacred time, but there’s nothing that quite matches taking sacred time together with a community.
  • Don’t SDAs think they’re the only true Christians? Some of them do. So do one or two Methodists. I think this is a problem for the SDA church partly because of teaching about God’s remnant people. But I have no problem with SDAs as a group over it. Most SDAs that I encounter treat me as a fellow-Christian even though I have left the church. There are occasional folks who treat me as an apostate. I believe that could be solved if there were no people in the SDA church. As things are, we’re stuck with it.
  • But SDAs don’t believe we go to heaven when we die! Indeed they don’t. Neither do I. I think the Bible is actually quite unclear about what happens after death, but the balance, I believe, favors soul sleep and a resurrection. I just don’t happen to think it matters. Arguing about this is very time-bound thinking. If I die and go to heaven immediately, there will be one breath here and next (breath? who knows?) on the other side. If I die and sleep with God until the resurrection, there will be one breath here, and the next (whatever!) on the other side. I won’t know the difference. (I publish several books related to this: Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide, From Here to Eternity, Journey to the Undiscovered Country, and the forthcoming Death, Immortality, and Resurrection. The first and last are by Edward W. H. Vick, an SDA author.)
  • SDAs believe in Ellen G. White, a false prophetess. Got you now! Ellen White did indeed have a great deal to do with the founding of the SDA church, though I find her own view of herself and her mission refreshingly humble. I also find a number of her writings to be excellent devotional works (Steps to Christ, Desire of Ages, etc.). We have a voluminous collection of her writings, including letters that she wrote over a long life. The SDA church has had some struggles over how to view her and her relationship to the Bible. Bluntly, however, I’ve found traditions in local congregations of the United Methodist Church that have more sacred standing, in practice, than her writings do in the SDA church. I would say, rather, that the church as a whole, and the modern Charismatic and Pentecostal movements in particular, would do well to learn from the SDA experience. Speaking of which, I’m in the process of releasing Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers by Alden Thompson. He deals with issues of Ellen White in connection with discussing biblical inspiration in a work that I think the wider church would do well to study.
  • How do I deal with SDA authors in my catalog and marketing? Like any other author. I’ll advertise their books for their own denomination, but also present them to others for their wider value. And just like any other author, SDAs may write something that’s addressed more to their own church than to others. In that case, they will be more likely to publish within the denomination, again just like any other author might. I neither emphasize nor do I conceal the denominational connections of my authors.
  • Do my SDA authors quote Ellen White in their works? Yes, and no. I tell them to quote Ellen White as they normally would and if it’s necessary, we will add an explanatory note to the book so that others can understand and still benefit. This is a function of the level of controversy surrounding her work, rather than any judgment of it that I might make. Because there is controversy, explanation is helpful. On the other hand, when addressing the larger Christian community, SDA authors often feel it’s best to make their points without reference to an SDA specific source.
  • Are you trying to provoke dissent in the SDA church? No more so than in any other church. I do have some books in my catalog that have gone out of print from SDA publishing houses. The level of controversy in the SDA church has nothing to do with my decision. I still judge the book, not the author, and certainly not any former publisher. But beware! I’m not the arbiter of truth, and certainly not the arbiter of SDA doctrine. If you don’t want your beliefs challenged, then it’s my hope that my books are not for you!


I publish SDAs in the same way and on the same basis as I publish anyone else. It’s that simple (he says 1600 words later)!

From My Editing Work: The Bible Comes Alive

From My Editing Work: The Bible Comes Alive

From page xvii of Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide by Bruce Epperly —

When we encounter scripture with heart, mind, and hands, the Bible comes alive and changes our lives and communities.  We become the Galatians of our time, reveling in Christian freedom and living in the Spirit.  We discover that God’s liberating Word, incarnate in the crucified and risen Christ, challenges everything that gets in the way of spiritual freedom and faithful discipleship.

Sounds like fun!

Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide

Revising my Hebrews Study Guide

Revising my Hebrews Study Guide

I keep thinking I’ll get more regular about updating this blog (or my other two), but things remain hectic around here. If you’ve been watching the announcements from my company, Energion Publications, you have seen some of what my wife and I, along with our team of authors and contractors are working on at the moment. (Note that this is more about my work than directly about Bible study. You can consider it a commercial break with a personal touch.)

But just in case I might run out of things to do, I’m adding another task: revising my study guide for the book of Hebrews. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, and the motivation came at the beginning of this year.

My Sunday School class completed our study of the book of Ephesians and decided they’d like to do the book of Hebrews next. I had the choice between using the current guide again, or going ahead and doing the revisions I’ve felt were needed for a few years now. So I’ve been working on the revisions and trying some of them out on the class.

I started the Participatory Study Series with this guide, working from my notes from previous times I had taught through this important book. Hebrews has a special place in the development of my personal theology. I actually started with Ezekiel, moved to Hebrews, and finished with Leviticus. But I keep coming back to all three. I’ve made the rounds several times since I published the guide. There’s a lot of meat involved in studying ideas like priesthood, sacrifice, faithfulness, grace, and many more that come from those. So I have a few thoughts to add.

I also found myself dissatisfied with my outline and even more dissatisfied with my translation. The new guide will not include a translation. Considering other additions, it will simply make the book too big. I might publish it separately along with notes that are cut from the guide itself. As I write about these passages, I find myself using way more words than are likely to be useful in a study guide.

The other factor that is leading me to revise this guide is the changes I have made in the nature of the series itself, based on suggestions and input from the authors of the continuing volumes. When I initially published it, To the Hebrews: A Participatory Study Guide was only the fourth book Energion had in print. I made it a series because I planned to publish a guide on Revelation, and possibly my general notes on Bible study.

Then Geoffrey Lentz suggested that he write a study guide to the Gospel According to Luke. Geoffrey is a former student (from his youth group days), and is now Dr. Geoffrey Lentz and pastor of First United Methodist Church of Port Saint Jo, Florida. But Geoffrey had some ideas to improve the method I was teaching. That resulted in our co-authored book Learning and Living Scripture.

From there Dr. Bob Cornwall (Ephesians) and Dr. Bruce Epperly (Philippians) each wrote a study guide and each contributed to the shape that the series is now taking.

As a result, I feel the need to improve the original guide so it can catch up with its successors. Besides removing the translation and updating the outline this will include:

  1. Improving the reading lists. Unlike the other guides, I will still have my three reading lists: Reading, Extra Reading, Advanced.
  2. Adding a discussion of each lesson, rather than just having exercises and pointing to sources.
  3. Making the exercises more generic, so that people can use different sources more easily.
  4. Including opening and closing prayers for those who like to have a printed group prayer for study. I will be using a Psalm as the prayer to open and close each session.

I will be writing a few notes as I have time, but this is keeping me fairly busy. I am certainly enjoying my time spent with this important book.



Not Only a Father

Not Only a Father

Tim Bulkeley is trying to generate some discussion of his book Not Only a Father. I’m a little late to the game, as many other bloggers have already linked, but I’ve been busy trying to shepherd six books through the release process. But though late, here I am.

There are two things that excite me about this book. The first is technical. Tim is presenting the book online with the option to enter comments and create discussion. I plan to do so as I manage to read the book. I encourage you to go and do likewise!

The second thing that excites me is the topic. I have a little history with this topic, ever since a doctor of my acquaintance said in a sermon that God actually had the various human organs. By virtue of that point, she believed that God must actually be male. This is, of course, an extreme view.

Very recently, however, I heard a new associate minister in a church use “father-mother God” in prayer, and there was an audible gasp in the congregation. Similarly I was strongly questioned over using “like a hen gathers her chicks” in a communion liturgy. The fact that the phrase comes from Scripture had no impact.

So I’m looking forward to continuing to read and interact with this book.


Book Review: She’s Got Issues by Nicole Unice

Book Review: She’s Got Issues by Nicole Unice

Note: You may be asking why a guy is reviewing this book. The reason is that I’m not. This post is a guest post from my wife Jody, who decided to review this book after seeing on the list from Tyndale Blog Network. I am crossposting it her from her Jody Along the Path blog as the Tyndale folk expect it to appear on my blog.

Maybe we know we often create our own messes, so we assume we should clean them up. – Nicole Unice from She’s Got Issues (ISBN#: 1414365101)

Wife, mother, ministry leader, and counselor, Nicole Unice brings her giftings, knowledge, and life experiences into a book that will peel you like an onion and reveal the source of your issues. It did mine.

I frankly did not think I needed Mrs. Unice’s help. I am very aware of my issues but I also thought they were my “messes” and mine to clean up. And I have tried to do so for many years. It hasn’t been working very well for me so to continue with my present plan would seem like a definition in insanity.

Whether through simple assessment questions or group discussion or her astute observations, the author took this “control freak” and spoke straight truth to me, much like I suspect Jesus did when He met various people along the path, looked straight into their hearts and answered, not the question they asked, but the question they needed to have answered.

I laughed as I identified with many of those whose stories are related in this book which only made me dig in to learn what I could do to make a change in my life and come out in a different place than where I have been landing.

Great book and I highly recommend it for all my fellow control-freaks!