#BookReview: Tongue Tied by Sara Wenger Shenk

Interesting Counter And Companion To Learning To Speak God From Scratch By Jonathan Merritt. Having now completed ARC readings of both of these books about Christians speaking about their religion, I can definitely see why Merritt’s work is quoted so often in the first part of this work. Whereas Merritt spends much of the back part of his book looking at individual words heard nearly every time Christians speak, Shenk spends more of her time looking at *how* Christians speak. Their tones, their mannerisms, the very way we speak religion as a social construct. Which is a very interesting dichotomy when Merritt’s work is also something you’ve considered. But be forewarned: Shenk *does* come from a “progressive”/ leftist background, so there is quite a bit of “white man evil!!!!” and other standard leftist tropes here, and even a degree of radicalism not even any vegan I’ve ever encountered professes as it relates to her eating habits (discussed in a late chapter). However, whereas Merritt’s work could strike some as being a tad too conservative – he comes from a background where his dad was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention during his later teens/ the early George W Bush years, including 9/11 – the dichotomy continues here with Shenk’s leftist background. Which is yet another reason the two books are so intertwined to me, and why they balance each other so well in my mind. Beyond the leftist drivel (and hypocrisies), Shenk makes a lot of genuinely great points and has a truly solid discussion about the need for Christians to reconsider exactly how we speak religion both within our communities and to the larger world, and indeed *that* we need to be more proactive in doing so. Ultimately, the reduced star here isn’t over Shenk’s beyond-the-scope-of-this-narrative commentary, but because she, as so many others in this genre, prooftexts. In one case late in the text, *literally the next paragraph after decrying the practice*. Still, on the beyond-the-narrative-scope stuff here, the book is very much YMMV level – the more partisan you are either direction, the more you’ll love or hate that part of the book. On the actual thesis of the book, the book is enlightening in areas and thought provoking, at minimum, in many others. And thus, very much recommended.

This review of Tongue Tied by Sara Wenger Shenk was originally written on December 23, 2020.

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:
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Featured New Release of the Week: Learning to Speak God from Scratch by Jonathan Merritt

This week, we return to a book we featured in #HypeTrain last month – Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch.

This time though, I want to take a bit of a different tack on my writing regarding this book. You see, I was recently reminded of a quote from Jonathan’s dad, former Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. James Merritt, that I had heard about a year ish before I found how awesome Jonathan himself was when I read his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own. This particular line actually speaks to the discussion Jonathan has in Learning to Speak God From Scratch, and is:

The Church can influence the nation more through supplication than the Congress can through legislation.

Now, Jonathan doesn’t discuss the word “supplication” in this book. But this is where it gets interesting… because he *does* discuss “prayer“, and Merriam-Webster definessupplication” as “to make a humble entreaty; especially : to pray to God“. So “supplication” is just fancy Christian speak for… prayer.

Another term Dr. Merritt likes to use in his sermons is “justification“. Again, Jonathan never has a chapter devoted to that particular word. But “justificationmeansthe act, process, or state of being justified by God“, and Jonathan *does* devote chapters to words like “God“, “Sin“, “Lost“, and “Confession“.

Still another term you’ll often hear Jonathan’s dad use is “sanctification“. And yet again, Jonathan never uses that word as the basis of a chapter in this book. But it meansthe state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion“, and Jonathan devotes chapters to words like “Grace“, “Mystery“, “Brokenness“, and “Neighbor“.

Indeed, the entire point of this experiment in learning to speak God from scratch is to take the everyday Christian terms like “lost” and “creed” and “pride” and use them to unpack their truths and help us understand better both these words themselves and the more theologically-oriented “cation” words. And in so doing, Jonathan has created quite possibly one of the defining works in seeking to bridge the conversation gap between Christians and non-Christians.
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#HypeTrain: Jonathan Merritt’s Learning To Speak God From Scratch

Earlier this year – back in February or so – Jonathan Merritt told his social media followers that his new book was on pre-order already and would be released in a few months. I’ve been a fan of Jonathan’s since his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own, so there was no question – I immediately pre-ordered the book. Didn’t even have to know anything about it other than he wrote it.

I actually recently had a chance to actually read the book as an ARC, and – to steal part of the title of his 2014 book – it was “Better Than I Imagined“.

The setup was a familiar tale of a kid from the suburban South moving to the Big Apple… and realizing he couldn’t communicate with anyone using the words he had grown up using and had been using as a professional in his field for several years. One of those timeless tales, really.

But that doesn’t even get to the good stuff, and fortunately the setup, while interesting, mostly is there to explain what comes next.

For the rest of the book, Merritt takes words that are heard in nearly any and every Southern/ Evangelical Christian conversation and dissects them down to the message they are really trying to convey, then looks at how we can convey that message better in some way. And just as with his other books, once he gets to this part of the book is where he really shines.

Various words will mean more or less to various readers, but I found a few truly profound.

When discussing PAIN, for example, Merritt reveals his own battle with chronic pain and how it has both shaped and transformed him in unexpected ways. When discussing CONFESSION, Merritt speaks to a controversy that erupted around the time of the publication of his last book and what he now thinks about it.

When discussing BLESSED, Merritt takes aim at #HollowHashtags, and when discussing NEIGHBOR, he connects Fred Rogers to the current refugee crises.

But for me, the most transformative word Merritt discusses in the entire book is also the last word he discusses in the book, and one of the ones far too many Christians use to cause the most harm: LOST. Merritt’s words here are truly profound, more needed for the American Church than anything I have ever heard his former Southern Baptist Convention President father say in any sermon. And not to be spoiled in a blog post a month before release day.

To find out what Merritt the Younger* has to say about Learning To Speak God – words like PAIN, BLESSED, NEIGHBOR, LOST, SIN, PRIDE, SAINT, CONFESSION, GRACE, BROKENNESS, and even GOD – From Scratch, you can pre-order the book from your favorite bookstore by visiting SpeakGodBook.com. If you speak God at all, from any angle and from any belief, this is truly a book not to be missed.
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