Pagan Christianity?

Bashing the church has become very fashionable, and I'm not talking about "outsiders" doing the bashing. That's a given, and it shouldn't worry us. One of the last things Jesus told his disciples was that the world would hate them.  Human nature being what it is, people tend to bash what they hate.

The kind of church bashing I'm referring to is coming from those who go to church--or at least used to. The most vivid example has come in the form of a book with the rather startling title, Pagan Christianity? The question mark at the end of the title would appear to hedge the adjective somewhat, but you don't have to read too far into the book to figure out that the authors, Frank Viola and George Barna, believe the current church is based more on pagan practices and traditions than on the practices of the first-century church, which they believe is the true model for the way church ought to be.

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God and the Astronomer

Robert Jastrow, the renowned astrophysicist who played a major role in the development of NASA's lunar and solar system exploration, died on February 8 at the age of 82. Jastrow became a household name during the 1960s, when America and the Soviets were racing to be the first to land a man on the moon. He was a frequent guest on CBS and NBC, explaining in layman's terms the physics of spacecraft, as well as the intricacies of the solar system. Jastrow also wrote several best-selling books, including his seminal work, God and the Astronomers.

Although he was a self-professed agnostic, Jastrow was open to the possibility that the universe had a creator, or at the very least, a first cause. "When a scientist writes about God," Jastrow said, "his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers." Never one to worry about labels, Jastrow thought deeply about God. His most serious public reflection came in 1992, when God and the Astronomers was first pubished. In the first chapter of the book, approporiately titled, "In the Beginning," Jastrow wrote:

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I Can't Stand Christians Who Think Science Is the Enemy

In the interest of full disclosure--and at the risk of shameless self-promotion--you need to know that the title of this blog is also the title of a chapter in the new book, I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand, which I co-wrote with my intrepid writing partner, Bruce Bickel. In this candid dialog about the Christian community, we focus on well-meaning but misguided believers who take some parts of the Bible to ridiculous extremes while ignoring other parts.

There is perhaps no section of the Bible that has been exploited to "ridiculous extremes" than the first two chapters of Genesis. I present as Exhibit A the current efforts of Answers in Genesis to "defeat the enemy" of evolution in Great Britain, the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham, is a Kentucky-based organization whose mission it is to interpret the "evidence" of science so that it matches the biblical account of creation. For the folks at Answers in Genesis, this means interpreting scientific evidence to fit within the framework of the "young earth creation" model, which holds that God created the universe in six literal days a few thousand years ago.

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Oprah Speaks and America Reads

So Oprah, America's pastor, has selected the next book for her book club: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Saying she is "over the moon excited" about the book, Oprah describes A New Earth as an extenson of her life's mission, "to lead people to their higher selves." To make sure she actually does lead (evidently it's not enough just to watch her on television), Oprah has announced that the book will be the subject of her "first worldwide interactive class," a free ten-week course she will co-teach with Tolle on live Mondays at 9 pm EST beginning March 3.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Hey, this isn't The Good Earth by Pearl Buck (a past selection). This is A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. If you haven't heard of this German spiritual teacher, now's the time to do a little research. You can start by nosing around Tolle's website, which will enlighten you to his spiritual journey and teachings. Here's just a sampling of what you'll find. These are actual quotes posted on the site. They pretty much speak for themselves:

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I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand

Here is a podcast of a radio interview I did with M88, a Christian, non-commercial radio station that plays rock and pop music and occasionally does interviews on interesting topics. They thought "I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand" (the newest book from me and Bruce Bickel, my writing partner) was interesting. The host, who simply goes by "Yo," asked a bunch of great questions, including this one: How can we (meaning me and my writing partner, Bruce Bickel) be so critical of other Christians when Jesus told us to love one another. I could tell you now, but that would ruin the experience of listening to the podcast.

Even If It's Not Your Fault, It Is Your Problem

An advertisement for the provacative new book, unChristian, by David Kinnaman, says this: Christianity has an image problem. If that's the case--and there's good reason to believe that's true--then I have a suggestion. We need to give Christianity an image makeover. And I know just the people to do it: the customer service pros at the Walt Disney Company.

Years ago when I was running our family's Christian bookstores, I attended a seminar at the Disney Institute in Orlando so I could learn how to better serve our customers. It was a great experience and very practical. I took what I learned back to our stores and noticed an increase in sales in just a few months, all because we followed Disney's advice.

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Learning From a Cheapskate

I was watching the Today Show the other day, and on comes this guy by the name of Jeff Yeager. Matt Lauer, who was doing the interview, has dubbed Yeager "the ultimate cheapskate." Indeed, that's the name of a new book he has written. Mr. Lauer was very respectful and seemingly quite taken with Mr. Yeager and his sometimes amusing eccentricities when it comes to saving a buck. (One amusing/disgusting example that stuck out was Yeager's advice to take the barf bags from the airplane when you fly, because "they make great sandwich bags.")

I have to admit that I was impressed with the interview and the almost childlike innocence that Mr. Yeager displayed. This was no schtick. The guy actually lives his life in such a way that frugality is a virtue, not an oddity. Maybe I was ready to hear his advice, because I've been doing some thinking lately about the state of the economy, my own included. There's a lot of gloom out there, some of it coming from people who have heretofore been optimistic about America's economic condition.

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Resolved to Forgive

Ask anyone what they are resolving to do this year, and more than likely they're not going to say, "I'm going to be more forgiving." It's much easier to respond to such a question with "I'm going to lose weight" or "my goal is to get out of debt," because that's what people expect you to say (unless you're rich and thin). Besides, who's going to hold you accountable for your resolution if it's the same as everyone else's?

But try telling your friends or your spouse or your kids that you're determined to forgive more, and you'll probably get a funny look in response, as if you're expecting them to do something that needs your forgiveness. The point of forgiveness, of course, is not to anticipate just who it is who will wrong you, but to make it a part of your life, so that when the bad stuff happens, you are ready to forgive the perpetrator and let it go.

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What America Is Reading Tells a Story

There are many ways to take the pulse of American culture. You can watch television talk shows and see what people are talking about. You can scan the bestselling songs on iTunes and hear what people are listening to. You can wander through your local mall and just watch people. Or you can do like I do and go to and look through the Top 100 books.

Now, I realize that fewer people are reading books these days, especially people under 35. They much prefer to access content online. That's okay with me. In fact, I think it's the future of reading, which is why I'm a big fan of Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Not only is Bezos the number one bookseller in the world, but he is leading the charge when it comes to electronic books. His Kindle device may not be the category killer that the iPod has been, but it's pretty close. Even now, when you go to Amazon to order a book, there's a good chance that the book you want is available on Kindle for about one-third the list price of the hardcover. For example, the number two book on Amazon's Top 100 (this list is updated hourly, so your results may vary) is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The book lists for $25.95, and is available from Amazon for $14.27. By comparison, the Kindle edition is $9.99. Not bad.

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The Indestructible Book

The numbers are in, and we have a winner. For the 551st year in a row, the Bible is the number one selling book in the world. More than 25 million copies of the Bible were sold in the U.S. alone in 2007, easily thumping the closest competitor, the latest Harry Potter book, which sold 14 million. Selling Bibles is big business in America. More than $770 million worth of the Good Book were sold in a dizzying variety of shapes, sizes, colors, editions, and translations. In America, having access to a Bible--a Bible custom fit to your preferences and personality--is a given. That isn't the case many other countries, where having even a portion of the Scriptures is a luxury. In other parts of the world, being caught with a Bible is a crime.

It's hard to understand why governments would fear this book. It doesn't call for the overthrow of those in power. The central character of its 66 books doesn't advocate violence. If anything, the Bible says we are to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. On the surface, there's not a subversive word among its more than 31,000 verses.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.