The Upcoming, Exciting, Unusual Event

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On Sunday I announced to the church that on January 8 we host an event we call “Underground Church.” Inspired by the way persecuted Christian meet around the world, and stealing the idea from David Platt’s Radical, we will meet from 6pm to 12am (or longer) with only focus: scripture. We will read and discuss scripture. There will not be games, food, childcare, music, guest speakers, special offerings, videos, workbooks, or anything else. Just people, bibles, and a lot of reading and discussing. If that doesn’t strike you as the least bit interesting, that is alright by me. This is not something to come to just to show your commitment to our church, or because you think you have to attend. However, if you are reading this and thinking, “That might be something good,” then I hope to see you there.

The real question is why?

There are a few possible answers that might come to mind:

A) We will develop a heart for the persecuted church
B) I read it in a popular book and want to imitate a popular pastor/author
C) We need it.

I suppose by calling it “Underground Church” and thinking about the persecuted Christians that hunger for God’s word then we might spur some thought toward those less fortunate. I’m not sure that would be too successful. Maybe for a few hours we’d think about it, but then we’d feel relief as we return to our comforts and freedom. I don’t think pretending to be less fortunate will help. I do however think that praying for the entire world, country by country, might have some heart changing effects, and I encourage you to do so.

It is true that this idea comes directly from David Platt’s Radical. I think this is an amazing book and I encourage everyone to read it. However, that isn’t why we are doing this event. In all honesty, if I were to try to imitate David Platt, I’ve gone pretty far already. He and I both attended the same seminary. He and I both have sons adopted from Kazakhstan. He and I both named said son, Caleb. I am older than David Platt by a few years though. Maybe he’s trying to imitate me? Seriously, the idea of copying famous pastors and books is common among Christians. Experiencing God made us all take long walks with Jesus. Purpose Driven Church had us all write mission statements and compare our churches to baseball fields. So naturally, Radical might have us all hosting uncomfortable, long sessions of Bible reading. It is a fair concern, but no, it isn’t why we are doing this.

The real reason we are doing this is: we need it. Scripture has become little more than a footnote in most churches. Sunday School classes are taught around quarterlies that contain a whole lot of what the author says and only snippets of scripture. Worship favors simplistic music rather than scripture reading. And sadly, many pastors only read a passage of scripture but spend the remaining time stating their opinion or telling stories. Before long, we have entire churches full of people that know the Bible is important but have no idea what it says. It really is time that we get back to understanding scripture. If I could get just a few people to spend some solid time reading scripture, maybe it would start something. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a hunger for more. And then maybe, we’ll become a church that not only hungers for God’s word, and not only begins to know God’s word, but begins to share and live out the good news found in God’s word.

It’s a crazy idea but I’m willing to give it a shot.

How about you?

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No, Time, It Isn’t About Book Banning

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Is Banning a Pro-pedophile book, the right answer?

This is the question posed by Time Magazine and it represents some fundamental flaws in some of the discussion regarding #BoycottAmazon.

First of all, is anyone trying to ban a book?

It is not antithetical to Free Speech for a company to be selective about what it promotes and sells. If I write a lengthy blog regarding my navel (I might!), the first amendment protects me from the government that might prevent me from publishing or possibly punish me for publishing. Further, being in a free country, I have a right to distribute my navel contemplation article however I am able. I assume, however, that should I submit such an article to Time Magazine, they would most likely reject it. Is that a free speech issue? No.

As a private company, Time has the right to publish whatever it wants. An author may write whatever he or she wants, a publisher may publish whatever it wants, a store may sell whatever it wants, and a consumer may purchase whatever he or she wants. Ah, freedom!

So, why, when consumers use a company’s expressed values as a deciding factor for where thy shop do we suddenly have a “Free Speech” issue?

The folly reminds me of the apostate minister in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Having lived in hell, the man takes his chance to visit Heaven where he is invited to stay. The man is most concerned with philosophy and theology. In fact, he has a group that meets each week in hell and discusses all kinds of questions. He is appalled when he learns that Heaven offers truth for he has long dismissed truth as an ideal. For him, the question is more important than the answer.

For many, the idea is more important than the action. Time Magazine seems to think so

So while a guide to pro-pedophilia is horrifying, of course, Clark-Flory makes the good point that rather than continue to vilify those with this psychiatric disorder — or the books they write — it might do more good for both pedophiles and their victims if we focus on encouraging treatment rather than ignoring the existence of these ideas.

Pursue ideas rather than action. Respect ideas at the point of defending actions. The idea is the thing; the action suggested by the idea is secondary. This is why this discussion about Amazon’s pro-pedophilia values is being sidetracked by talk of book banning.

Of course, if Time really believed that rejection of a thought was tantamount to censorship, then they would publish every thought ever put to paper. They don’t. Consumers would buy every idea published. We don’t.

Publishers and distributors, like consumers, make value decisions all the time. And the controversy surrounding Amazon is about values. Remember, Amazon does restrict material all the time. Yet, of all the material that they deem “inappropriate,” The Pedophile’s Guide was defended as appropriate. So, no, I am not trying to ban a book. I am simply choosing to spend my money with companies that don’t defend reprehensible values. After all, values, like ideas, lead to actions, and actions are something we have to live with.

The Strange Day of #BoycottAmazon (and why I care)

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Thursday, November 11 may come to be known as the day of the Amazon.com boycott. That day is not over, so I may be speaking to soon, and the calls for boycott actually began on November 10, so I may be inaccurate in calling it today, but I stand by it. The number of sources reporting on the controversy peaked around noon. At that time #BoycottAmazon was hot on twitter. Its all starting to ease off now.

It has been a strange boycott. First, the timing has been off. As the threat of boycott mounted the controversial title was removed, thus the actual rallying cries for the boycott came after headlines began to read, “Amazon pulls pedophile e-book.” This has lead to a lot of confusion between those that were calling for boycott, those celebrating victory, and those wondering if it was actually resolved. The confusion seems to be the reason the cause is losing steam.

The other odd factor is the possible resolution of the matter. Just as many people were learning of the controversy, the book was no longer for sale. Did Amazon remove the book? Headlines suggest they did. Reuters reports they did, although strangely in the report has to acknowledge that Amazon has made no comment since the earlier defense of the book. People, including news agencies, seem to be assuming that just because the book is unavailable that this implies action on the part of Amazon. It doesn’t. There are a number of reasons that this book is unavailable apart from a decision on the part of Amazon to remove it.

Earlier today, Amazon customer service replied to my open letter with “The book is no longer for sale.” That statement does not imply any action on the part of Amazon.com. I have asked for clarification, but just like the big guys report, Amazon is, as of yet, silent.

So what do I want and why do I care?

I am aware that any boycott selects one problem and ignores a hundred others. That’s not a logical argument against boycotting. It is just a fact that should spur me to do something when I can and how I can. I chose to get involved in this boycott for a number of reasons. I wanted to do something about a reprehensible “guide.” I wanted to clarify what we mean when we say “Freedom of Speech.” I wanted to hold a company accountable to ITS OWN STANDARDS when it tried to offer a defense that ignored them. All of that may seem strange for this blog. After all, normally this blog is used to discuss the Gospel of Jesus Christ or to review books along those lines. It still is. You see, I don’t want to do good in the world so that I might be good and righteous. I don’t have a chance at accomplishing that goal. I want to do good in this world because in spite of myself, I have been considered righteous because of Christ work at the cross. It is the gospel that compels me to do what I can, when I can for the glory of God.

I hope to do that with all of my life. I do that differently though. I cannot join every internet cause. I cannot pound the streets for every campaign. I cannot give to every good work. But, I can do what I can, when I can. God gives me various resources and opportunities, and I must use them for His Glory.

This situation hits home. I use Amazon.com extensively. I buy a lot of books there. I used to sell books there. I review books there and maintain a list of books I want to buy there. I know and use Amazon. I also desire to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Fortunately, I am not a victim of sexual abuse. I am a victim of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of one junior high teacher. I know what it is to be powerless in situations like this and I want to help. So for me, I knew I had knowledge to bring to the situation and as a pastor who keeps a blog, I had means to get the word out to the people who listen.

What do I want? I want a clear statement from Amazon regarding what they think is “appropriate” (that’s their word for what they will or will not sell) regarding pedophilia. Once I have that statement, I can decide as a consumer where I will buy books in the future. I intend to wait, demand, and report such a statement, even if that means hanging around long after #AmazonBoycott is trendy.

An Open Letter to Amazon.Com

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This is unusual for me. I do not normally board the boycott bandwagon. I have long since realized that if I limit my patronage to stores that only match my beliefs and morals, I would shop in a very small space. However, I cannot fathom your recent defense of the e-book, The Pedophile’s Guide. I have been your loyal customer for many years, and I have also been a third party seller on your site. I am very familiar with your policies and as such, now realize that pedophilia is apparently something you value.

That is a strong accusation to make. After all, you have issued a statement to suggest that this is not the case, but you are high bound by other values. You claim that “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.” This came as news to me. Being a former third party seller I knew there was quite a list of items that you do not allow. In fact, in your selling policies, under Prohibited Content, you state, “If we determine that the content of a product detail page or listing is prohibited, potentially illegal, or inappropriate, we may summarily remove or alter it. Amazon.com reserves the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate.” Looking at your statement defending this e-book, and knowing your stated policies, it is clear that even though you believe it to be censorship, you do remove listings based on what you judge to be “appropriate.” Thus, you choose not to remove The Pedophile’s Guide because you believe it to be appropriate.

Your store is not a free for all. It is not a place where one can buy anything and everything because there are items that you, as a company, have chosen not to sell. By your own words, you sell only what you deem appropriate.

I cannot in good conscience continue to patronize a business that has deemed pedophilia to be appropriate.

I am going to watch your actions over the next few days. I expect that you will most likely pull the e-book and clarify your company’s values. However, should you refuse to do so, I will no longer shop at your site, I will remove my wish list from your site, and I will remove ever link from my blog to your products.

I have always thought well of your company. You offer a good selection and good service. I hope you will examine your company values.

Sincerely,
Aaron Davis

Update: The controversial title is no longer offered on Amazon.com, though Amazon has not issued a statement addressing this move.

Update #2: I have received a response from Amazon.com, simply stating that the book is “no longer for sale.”
Thank you, Amazon.com!

Update #3: I may have issued my “Thank you” too soon. It is unclear as to whether or not Amazon actually pulled the book. In saying “no longer for sale” Amazon is not implying any action on their part.

Book Review: Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Gospel For Muslims

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I was not sure what to expect when I picked up Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Gospel For Muslims. I think I expected apologetics. I wanted ammunition for good Christian – Muslim arguments. That expectation had always kept me from reading the book, actually. I didn’t feel it would be very practical. I live and serve in rural Missouri. There are no Muslims in my town, and any passing through probably don’t stop. I assumed that this book might be practical for someone else, but not for me.

I was wrong. Oh, was I ever wrong.

Let me say from the start that this is not an apologetics book. Anyabwile makes that clear from the introduction. The Gospel is the Gospel, thus there does not need to be a special presentation for this group or that group.

I once had the privilege to hear Anyabwile preach. His gentle demeanor impressed me, especially how it stands in sharp contrast to his own claims of once being an angry, racist, hateful man. He discusses his past a bit in this book. He refers to his anger, his conversion to Islam, and his conversion to Christianity. If nothing else, he is perfectly qualified to speak to the issue of evangelism to Muslims and is a testimony worth remembering.

Part one of this book focuses on the Gospel message itself: Who is God,? What is sin? Who is Jesus and what did He do? With each point, there is common ground, but Anyabwile is careful to point out the irreconcilable differences. These are the points that must be made.

The second part of the book is about the witness. Here, Anyabwile emphasizes those things that we too often forget. He reminds the witness to lean on the Holy Spirit, use the Bible, practice hospitality, and yes, even be ready to suffer for the name of Jesus.

Though the book contains very practical insight for sharing the Gospel with Muslims, I found that it is equally relevant for sharing the Gospel with any religious person. Far too often, I view witnessing to a person of another faith as a necessary battle. The only method considered is well-rehearsed arguments and counter-arguments. Too often, what is left out is the Gospel itself, both in word and spirit. This book reminds me that I need to focus more on presenting the Good News of Christ than I do on winning an argument and that by a Gospel-centered life, I can have opportunities for such conversations.

The information is helpful, but the gentle, humble spirit of Thabiti Anyabwile’s teaching is essential. I recommend this book side by side with J. Mack Stiles’ Marks of the Messenger, as must reads for evangelism.