Featured New Release Of The Week: Character Still Counts by James Merritt

This week we are looking at a book of nuanced fire from a former Southern Baptist Convention President. This week we are looking at Character Still Counts by James Merritt.

Outside of my own pastors over the years, there is no single preacher I’ve listened to more over the years than Dr. James Merritt. Among those preachers I don’t personally know, he is easily the singular one I respect the most. I grew up listening to Dr. Merritt’s sermons on TV as our family was getting ready for church, and I’ve been known to download his sermons from time to time in the years since. Nearly a decade ago when I listened to him for the first time in roughly that long, I discovered that this man who had been the SBC President at the time of the 9/11 attacks and was known to be quite cozy with then-President George W. Bush had mellowed quite a bit and had developed quite a bit of nuance to his preaching.

This level of nuance continues into this book, where Merritt makes it quite clear that we are all in the same boat, no matter our stage or position in life. In speaking of integrity, Merritt does not negate his own by taking partisan sides and instead condemns the adulteries of both former US President Bill Clinton and current US President Donald Trump in the same breath. He uses jokes and anecdotes both to illustrate his points and to provide a bit of levity in the midst of some at times very hard hitting passages where he is pulling no punches… even while his fist is wrapped in a velvet glove.

One geek out moment for me, and a moment that had to be very cool for his son, was when Dr. Merritt actually quoted and cited his son Jonathan’s most recent book Learning To Speak God From Scratch at one point. Behind the scenes, Jonathan has had a bit of a situation that caused a fair amount of drama in some circles, and this moment was a very blatant case of the father publicly standing beside the son. Truly, it nearly brought tears to my eyes, and I only know the very barest of hints of the details of the overall situation. (Indeed, 90%+ of what I know comes from when Jonathan himself addresses it in Scratch.) While not a “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased” level moment, it was instead a very subtle yet public simply stepping up beside the son and making it clear that the son has the father’s support. In a book all about character it was an excellent display of the father’s character and faith in the son’s character.

On the whole an excellent book, no matter whether you agree with Merritt’s own conservative evangelical American Christian mindset or not. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:

Nuanced Fire. This book is typical of Merritt the Elder’s style of truly nuanced fire – he will not back down on what he believes, but he absolutely understands nuance where applicable. In this discussion of character, he does not negate his own integrity by taking partisan sides, yet speaks to character as the Bible describes it. And when that means mentioning a certain 1990s era US President’s affairs, Merritt the Elder in the very same breath also mentions the sitting US President’s affairs. Full of jokes and various stories – as well as Scripture references – this is as easy to read as listening to one of his sermons either live or (as I often did growing up) on TV. While I don’t agree politically or theologically with absolutely everything here, really the main reason for the 4* rating is the constant use of prooftexting – citing Bible verses out of context. Were it not for my personal crusade against the practice, this would easily be a 5* read. Very much recommended, whether or not you normally agree with Merritt the Elder’s own conservative evangelical American Christian mindset.

*A note on “Merritt the Elder”: One of Dr. Merritt’s sons, Jonathan, is also a Christian Living writer now and has written nearly a handful of books over the last decade or so – and serves as his father’s agent and editor on this project. I grew up outside Atlanta listening to Dr. Merritt’s sermons on TV as we got ready for church, and began reading Jonathan’s books with his 2012 release A Faith Of Our Own. To separate the two and as an homage to the Pliny’s, I use “the Elder” or “the Younger” and have since I first read Jonathan’s works.

2 Replies to “Featured New Release Of The Week: Character Still Counts by James Merritt”

  1. Though we have never met Im honored and humbled at your kind words and gracious review. I would love your feedback on my proof texting and verses taken out of context. That is never my intent though I’m sure we all do it at one time or another. Thanks again for reading it and pray I will by God’s Grace and Power always display Christlike character.

    1. First, thank you Dr. Merritt for stopping by. It truly is an honor.

      Just doing a brief scan of the book again – I read it and wrote this post two months ago, about a week or so before Christmas 2019 – the first instance actually comes in the introduction, three paragraphs under the heading “Low character comes at a high cost”:

      Solomon, a wise king who lived thousands of years ago, said, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). A good name cannot be nought, stolen, or even inherited. It can only be earned by character.

      The entire chapter can be read here, and there are actually several such quotes popular within the Baptist variant of American Christendom (admittedly the only variant I am intimately familiar with) within this passage. But ok, Proverbs itself might not be the best argument here, as it is really just… a collection of proverbs. 😀

      In Chapter 1, you cite Daniel 6, but here you’re actually doing it right and showing the entire situation, at least through this particular passage.

      In Chapter 2, you use Samuel as a model, and here you show the highlights essential to your point and gloss over many details – not a particularly egregious example of prooftexting, as I’ve seen much, much worse from other authors, but it is a concrete example. First you use 1 Samuel 3:11-20 to show young Samuel, then you flashforward to when Samuel is an old man (by the standards of that time at least) to 1 Samuel 12:1-5, but then skip to vs 24-25. Here in particular, some of the intervening verses could be a bit troublesome and begins to show the issues with prooftexting. This is the entire chapter of 1 Samuel 12, so readers here can see the text in question for themselves. Among the more troublesome aspects here are Samuel’s comments to the gathered Israelites that “if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors” (v15). You and I both know many a Baptist preacher that has used those particular words out of context to disastrous results. Of course, he also notes that “Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king” (v17, referring to the events of 1 Samuel 8, which many Baptist preachers these days routinely ignore. You summarize the verses in question, but here is one case where seeing the exact language (at least its English translation) adds quite a bit of needed insight.

      Again, I need to stress that you’re one of the better ones I’ve seen about employing the practice, in that you tend to at least give mostly accurate summaries of the surrounding context. I’ve sat through many a sermon and even read a few books where every bit of that context was stripped away, and that is what has led to my own personal crusade against this practice of prooftexting.

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