Baker Book House at the 2016 Church Ministries Conference in Grand Rapids

This weekend, staring today, we are delighted to host a table at the 2016 Church Ministries Conference here in Grand Rapids. This is one of our favorite annual conferences and we’ve developed some very strong relationships with people that we only see during this conference. This year’s conference theme is “Behold Our God.” The keynote speakers are Dr. Paul Nyquist, President of the Moody Bible Institute and Dr. Windred Neely, Professor of Pastoral Studies, Moody Bible Institute.

If you’re attending the conference we would love for you to stop by our table and say hi. Hosting the table will be Chris (our fiction buyer), Bob (our church relations coordinator) and our new assistant manager, Darron. Missing this year will be Louis (our former academic buyer) who regrets not being there but will have his hands full in California at the Society for Pentecostals conference. So, if you happen to be at that conference be sure to stop by his table and wish him well. He’d love to see you.


What do Scholars think of “Foxes Book of Martyrs”?

It’s been years since I’ve read the classic Foxes Book of Martyrs. In a recent interview with Bryan Litfin the subject of this book came up and I found his response very interesting. Here’s what he said:

“Unfortunately, that famous book is not the one you want to get if you want to understand ancient martyrdom, or even the martyrdoms of its primary period (the English Reformation). The work is widely recognized by scholars as offering a very one-sided presentation of its subjects. It was written for the purpose of arguing against the Roman Catholic Church and it spares no excesses in its attempt at driving home its point. Though enormously popular ever since its publication in the 1500s, it’s basically worthless as an accurate source for the martyrs of the ancient church. All scholars know this.”

Bryan’s newest book is called After Acts (Moody Press) and it treats the lives of the apostles after what is recorded in the book of Acts. In August Baker Academic will release the second edition of his Getting to Know the Church Fathers.

Bryan M. Litfin (PhD, University of Virginia) is professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of several books, including Early Christian Martyr Stories, and has written numerous scholarly articles and essays.

Cover Art


Beware of Fool’s Gold in “Golden Nuggets” From the Greek

We’ve all heard some “golden nuggets” from the Greek (or Hebrew) given by pastors or found in study guides or commentaries. We should be careful that the gold in the golden nugget is not fool’s gold. Consider this discussion in Rodney Decker’s work Reading Koine Greek (Baker Academic).

“We refer to the person/thing to whom or for whom the action of the verb is done as the indirect object. This is usually one word and most commonly occurs (in English) between the verb and the direct object. For example,

Meghan threw Liam an apple.

In this sentence we say ‘Liam’ is the indirect object, because he receives the action (and the apple also). The subject of this sentence (the doer of the action) is ‘Meghan.’ The direct object is ‘apple,’ since this is what is thrown. Consider a variation of this example:

Meghan threw an apple to Liam.

This second sentence says the exact same thing but uses a prepositional phrase (‘to Liam’) instead of an indirect object. English does not have a separate case for the indirect object; Greek does.”

But the inspiration for my thought about “fool’s gold” came from the footnote to this text. Decker continues,

“Would you agree that English is sometimes weird? It can say the same thing two different ways with no difference in meaning. Actually, that is very normal. It is the same way in Greek. Do not try to make every little difference in Greek the basis for some special nuance—a ‘golden nugget.’ As you hear people talking about the Greek NT (whether commentators, preachers, or Bible study leaders), it is often a safe rule of thumb that their reliable knowledge of Greek is inversely proportionate to the number of ‘golden nuggets’ that they find in the text.” (p. 47n.5)

Reading Koine Greek


The Shift to Preference Driven Church

In his new book, I Will, (B&H Publishing Group) Thom Rainer charts some of the reasons for what he terms the “terrible shift to the preference driven church.” These are some challenging words.

“I can’t put a specific date on it. Smarter people than I have tried to explain it. Somewhere in the twentieth century, believers, particularly in America, began to shift from an attitude of self-sacrificing service to God and worship of God, to consumer-focused, self-serving attitudes.

It has been a terrible shift.

Some blame it on the secularization of our culture. Others point to the degradation of theology in our churches. Still others say local church leaders themselves have taken on corporate models and turned our churches into consumer-focused organizations.

There is probably some truth in all three explanations. But there is one thing we can say with certainty: the focus in too many of our church worship services is not on God. We are focused on our own selves, our own needs, and our own preferences. See if some of these comments from church members hit home. They come straight from my blog at

That music is not the style I’m accustomed to hearing. If they don’t change things, I’m leaving this church. Wars over worship styles have taken their toll on many of our congregations. Churches have split. Members have stop attending. Church business meetings have turned into verbal brawls. Pastors and worship leaders have been forced out of their jobs.

No, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have our own preferences about worship and music styles. And we should certainly be given freedom to provide input about those matters. But I know the lack of civility, the harsh words, and divided churches cannot be ascribed to worship. Those are sinful and self-serving behaviors.

I don’t like the pastor’s preaching. Okay, let me be clear here. You certainly should expect your pastor to preach the Word. But preference-driven church members have different agendas. They want the sermon to be their preferred length. They want their pastor to emulate the latest and most popular podcast preacher. Indeed, many church members would like to assign their own texts and topics to be preached each week. Their agenda is not about worshipping God when the Word of God is preached. To the contrary, their agenda is about themselves. Their focus has turned from God to self. They are not worshipping God with fellow believers.

I am not comfortable in the worship services. ‘Someone is sitting in my pew.’ ‘The cushions on the chair are not comfortable.’ ‘I don’t like the times of the services.’ ‘The music is too loud.’ ‘We have to sit too close together.’

You get the picture. The time of corporate worship is about me, myself, and I. It is about my needs, my preferences, and my wants. It’s hard to find God in this scenario. It is all about us. It’s not all about God.” (pp. 30-32)

I Will is a hardcover with 128 pages and sells for $12.99.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the largest Christian resource companies in the world. Also a respected pastor and researcher, he has written more than twenty books and coauthored the No. 1 best seller Simple Church. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons, several grandchildren, and live in Nashville, Tennessee.

I will

My Last Day

After 15 wonderful years in Christian retail I am finally moving on to a new chapter in my life. Starting Monday I will be a publicist for Baker Academic and Brazos Press. I’ve learned a lot while in the retail environment. I never planned on being in retail. But I caught the retail bug while working at various retail stores while in seminary. That sounds strange to say–especially for someone who was planning on teaching–but it’s true. I enjoy the pleasure of meeting new people every day and having a contingent of regular customers who have become staples in my life. My position as a buyer for Bibles and academic books has been incredibly fulfilling. It’s no secret that my favorite imprint is Baker Academic and Brazos Press. To have a closer connection to that amazing staff is a privilege I eagerly await. Part of my responsibility will be to maintain the Brazos blog. Come visit me from time to time and see what’s new from Brazos Press.

My appreciation for Christian fiction and music

I started with Baker as a cashier working at the store in Holland, Michigan. The only remaining staff person from that store now works by my side here at the Grand Rapids store–Chris, our fiction buyer. She delights in telling people that she got me to cross over to “the dark side.” It’s true. I’ve never been a fan of fiction but she introduced me to Steven James and I was immediately hooked. Yes, it’s only one author but it was a step in the right direction as far as she was concerned. Her job was done. Thank you Chris for all that you’ve taught me. I’m a better person because of our friendship.

Prior to Baker I rarely listened to “Christian” music. But I’ve developed a strong liking for two artists: Matthew West and Jimmy Wayne. I have had the pleasure of meeting both of them. If they ever come to the store I’ll be in the front row.

Books, Bibles and Trends

During my first training session in the Holland store my trainer said in passing “We can’t seem to keep this book on the shelf.” The book she was referring to was The Prayer of Jabez. As I reflect on that I think of the books/trends I’ve seen come and go. I’ve seen Left Behind get left behind. The “Emerging Church” emerged and has now wilted. I’ve seen the birth of a few Bible translations (English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard, Modern English Version, Common English Bible and the new Passion Translation) and the death of at least one (TNIV, although some have argued it was reincarnated in the 2011 NIV). More than a few study Bibles and devotional Bibles have been introduced into the market. They include (in no particular order) The Archeological Study Bible, The ESV Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The NLT Study Bible, The NIV First-Century Bible, The NIV Essentials Study Bible, The CEB Study Bible, The Chronological Study Bible, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Reformation Study Bible, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible and soon we will see The NIV Zondervan Study Bible. We also saw the introduction of the Waterproof Bible. When it first came out I took one and put in a fishbowl full of water. It stayed there for two months. I still have it today and it looks like brand new. They hold up quite well.

Industry changes

I’ve watched the industry change in dramatic ways. Hundreds of bookstores have closed including a few chains. Family Christian stores is on life support. The publishing landscape has changed as well. In my time Baker Publishing Group acquired Bethany House and made a sizeable acquisition from both Hendrickson Publishers and Regal Books. HarperCollins bought Zondervan and then later Thomas Nelson. Random House purchased Multnomah. When I first started field reps (vendor reps that would actually visit a store) were numerous. Now there are only handful. Speaking of field reps I want to give a shout out to two who have been with me the longest: Larry Avery (HarperCollins Christian Publishing) and Jerry Gortmaker (Noble Marketing). Both have taught me so much about being a buyer and understanding the nuances of the industry. Thank you!

Some favorite events.

We’ve hosted a lot of events over the years. We have worked hard at making Baker Book House more than a bookstore. We are a resource for the community to come together and engage with each other and to discuss the pressing issues of our culture.

There are two events that stand out for me: William Lane Craig and Fr. Robert Barron. As different as these authors are a common thread is the way in which they incorporate philosophy into their vocations. Craig with theology and apologetics and Barron with theology and culture. Both have been a huge influence in my intellectual life. Close behind these two was our forum on homosexuality (featuring Justin Lee and Wesley Hill). We took a risk with this one but we knew that many in the church were struggling with how to talk with loved ones who either identifed themselves as gay or were dealing with same-sex attraction. The event focused on the importance of dialogue. The question at hand was a simple one: how do two people who have firmly-held convictions on the subject talk to each other? It was not a time for persuasion but rather a model of tolerance and dialogue. Most people got it. Some didn’t. Other favorites would include Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, John Walton, Norman Geisler, Kevin DeYoung, Michael Wittmer, Steven James, Michael Horton, Richard Foster, and John Dickson. Of course there’s always a story about the one that got away. I had Bart Ehrman booked and ready to go but it didn’t work out. I found him to be gracious and more than willing to come to the store. Our plans were to have him along with Craig Evans talk about Ehrman’s new book How Jesus Became God. Both men were excited about the possibility. I think that would have been a great event.

Book Tables

Doing book tables was a regular part of my job. As I look back I figure I’ve done over 200 book tables. Most of them were in churches but I’ve also done them in seminaries, hotel ballrooms, a couple of  high schools, a movie theater, a civic center, a college gym and one pub. One of my most awkward tables was when I did my first all women’s conference. The church had converted all the restrooms to ladies’ rooms. When nature called I scrambled to find a restroom that was allocated for my gender. Fortunately for me they had one (though it was outside in another building). Since that time whenever I did a women’s conference (and there were more) that was my first question. The record for fewest books sold at a table–one.

Future of this blog

I didn’t start this blog. It kind of landed in my lap after a coworker started it and then left two weeks later for a job with Zondervan. I had no idea what I was doing. Over the years I’ve made it into something that I hope has served some purpose. I’ve received lots of compliments and have a small following. Thanks to all of you who have helped me find my way and provided comments. Special thanks to my friend Paul Adams who helped me on several occasions to tweak or repair the blog as needed. Without his help there would be no blog. Not a healthy one at least. Any imperfections remain my own. My replacement (who has not been named by the time I wrote this post) will take over the responsibilities of the blog. I’ve scheduled several posts through the last half of July and August to help him/her along. Most of those are notices of forthcoming titles. The Spring 2016 list from Baker Academic and Brazos Press is especially strong. I think you’ll find many of them quite interesting.

Final thoughts

I love my job. I love the people I’ve worked with both past and present. They have shaped me in more ways than they will ever know. For the purpose of this blog I’ve referred to them as “staff” but they are so much more. They are friends. Some of them walked with me through one of the darkest times of my life–the death of my son. They carried me when I felt I couldn’t go on. They cried with me in quiet moments. They pushed me forward knowing I could go further than I thought I could. But far outnumbering the tears of sorrow was the laughter we shared. Our lunch conversations would range from our favorite TV shows to the history of the birth control pill. We covered it all.

It’s a job I leave with memories I will cherish and friends I know I can count on whenever I need them. The best thing about this new chapter of my life is that I will stay with Baker. This is a company like few others (and I’ve had plenty of jobs). Though I never met the founder, Herman Baker, I’ve worked closely with his son, Rich, and his grandson, Dwight (the current president). I can testify that it is a company that cares about every facet of the business especially the people. You could say I’m moving from one hand to the other. Today I’m in the left hand. Monday I’ll be in the right. Different hands, same heart.

What is “Exegesis?”

Last week a customer asked me what “exegesis” was. It’s a good question. I was looking through The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology (Eerdmans) and I liked his definition.

“Exegesis refers to the process of interpreting and expounding a text, usually a biblical text. It is distinguished from hermeneutics, which raises wider multidisciplinary issues about the nature, theory, and practice of interpretation. Usually exegesis involves (i) textual criticism, or establishing a valid text from among a multiplicity of ancient manuscripts; (ii) lexical research into the meaning of the words of text in question; (iii) grammar and syntax, which are used in the construction of sentences; (iv) an examination of historical context, which often also demands historical reconstruction; (v) an assessment of literary genre and its function; (vi) the exposition and often also the practical application of the text; and (vii) the appropriation of the text, which some would see as part of (vi).”

“Traditionally, much of the time taken on exegesis in university departments of theology and religion, and especially in seminaries or schools devoted to training for ministry, rests on the belief that all these stages remain necessary for the understanding of revelation and for preaching and teaching. But today the task of detailed exegesis is sometimes crowded out because more fashionable areas put intense pressure on the syllabus. Exegesis presupposes careful translation; but some universities and seminaries devoted less time to the learning of Hebrew and Greek than they did formerly. In the history of the church, Origen is regarded as a systematic exegete as well as a theologian, and Chrysostom’s commentaries are often still used. Luther was a professor of biblical studies, and Calvin is often regarded as the first ‘modern’ exegete, especially in his numerous commentaries.” (pp. 316-17)

Thiselton companion


The Reading Habits of an Academic Book Buyer (That’s Me)

The other day someone asked me “What are you reading?” I get the question a lot and many times, for as much as I’m reading, I draw a blank. I have to stop and think hard about what’s on my reading list. Prior to my current occupation I would read thoroughly through whatever subject was of interest to me. I would chase down hard-to-find books and journal articles. Now all of that has changed. At times I feel like I’m drinking from a fire hydrant.

I offer the following short account of my current reading.

Some time ago (about 2 months) I starting Gary Anderson’s book Sin: a History (Yale University Press). I love it. But it suffered the fate of many books I start—something else came along and pressed it to the back burner. I found it on my desk last night and my book mark shows I stopped on page 145. Fifty-seven pages shy of the end. I know I will finish it but not right now. I’m 217 pages (128 pages to go) into Frederica Mathewes-Green’s book Welcome to the Orthodox Church (Paraclete Press). I’ve read 108 pages of Reclaiming Pietism by Roger Olson and Christian Collins (78 pages till the end, Eerdmans) I started reading The Way of the Wesleys by John Tyson (Eerdmans) but didn’t advance very far so it is definitely on the back burner. I’m half way through This Strange and Sacred Scripture by Matthew Richard Schlimm (Baker Academic).

I’ve read, and finished, Chris Castaldo’s new book Talking with Catholics about the Gospel (Zondervan). I’ve been planning to write a review but have not gotten very far. Reviews are hard work for me. They don’t come easy and so I have to have a lot of time set aside just to do one. That’s why you don’t see many book reviews in the traditional form on this blog. I post a lot of first impressions and provide quotes to let my readers have a taste of what a book is about. It’s intended to whet the appetite and quicken an interest. I’ve read three chapters of Greg Allison’s Roman Catholic Theology and Practice (Crossway). I’m 150 pages into The Quest for the Historical Adam by William VanDoodewaard (Reformation Heritage Books).

I’m in and out of four commentaries: The Gospel of John by Francis Martin and William Wright, Revelation by Peter Williamson, 2 Corinthians by George Guthrie (all three Baker Academic) and 2 Samuel by Robert Barron (Brazos Press).

Since Fr. Barron is coming to our store in July I’m giving his works priority. Aside from his 2 Samuel commentary, I’m reading his newest book Seeds of the Word (Word on Fire) which is wonderfully insightful and fun to read. I’ve got two coworkers pretty excited about it. One of them has made it his “staff pick” for May. Yesterday I received two more titles by Fr. Barron which I ordered and hope to start this weekend: And Now I See (The Crossroad Publishing Company) and The Strangest Way (Orbis Books). I’ve read bits and pieces of Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Crossway) I’ve enjoyed some of the essays from John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings (P&R). I probably won’t finish this one but will use it as a reference work. I’ve dabbled here and there in Tim Staples’ new work Behold Your Mother (Catholic Answers Press). A former coworker of mine who now works at another book store acquired for me Garry Wills’ new book The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Frances (Viking Penguin). I’ve only had time to glance at it.

Of course this week I started browsing Harold Netland’s Christianity and Religious Diversity (Baker Academic). Last night I read the Introduction to Stanley Porter’s Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament (Baker Academic). This book will require every brain cell I have to work through. It will be demanding but I know the labor will be worth it. Given the slower pace I will have to take with this I suspect I’ll be working on this one for the better part of a year–or more. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple but you get the picture. It’s a mess!

I do most of my reading on the weekend (10-12 hours time permitting). I usually read three to four nights during the week for a couple of hours. What I read depends on what I’m in the mood for. I’ll read for as long as I can in a book and then when I feel the need for a change I’ll switch to another. The variety makes it easier for me to keep going. I don’t read much at work but can sometimes carve out some time to browse through some of the newest books.

So if you see me and ask “What are you reading?” and I get a slightly glazed look in my eyes I’m simply running through my mind the rolodex of books on my desk trying to bring one of them to mind. Just give me a minute—I’ll think of at least one of them.