Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Week in Review (September 23, 2023)

1. The big news this past week is the official publication of Explanatory Notes on the Sermon of Hebrews. This was with Cascade Publishing, an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers. It is my first time publishing with them, although I do have a second contract for an inductive Bible study textbook with them that is 3/4 done.

It is aimed at a church audience so it doesn't have a lot of footnotes. Thanks to Amy Peeler for writing a little blurb for the back. I did a little book for Seedbed on Hebrews and did the notes for the CEB Study Bible on Hebrews, but this book would capture my understandings the best so far in one place.

2. It was also my birthday this past week. I repeat what everyone says in this stretch of life and beyond. "How did I get this old?" Even since high school, the passage of time has always been a mystery to me. Every morning as I walked across the breezeway at Fort Lauderdale High School, I wondered how I managed to get from the previous day to the next one. Now I seem to have tunneled to the future in my late 50s.

I don't feel mature enough to be this old.

3. I have been providing feedback for a revision of The Passion Translation. This last week and some change, I compared its Gospel of Mark to the Greek. I find this version of Mark to do a pretty good job of making clear what is happening in the text. Matthew seemed a little more out there than Mark. My biggest critique is the assumption that the Syriac translation of the Gospels somehow has a more direct route to the original. Rather, the Syriac is probably a translation from the Greek.

When I put my marketing hat on, however, this is a great advantage. I think Brian Simmons genuinely thinks that the Peshitta is a window to Jesus and the original wording. This not only gives readers a sense of uncovering secrets to the text, but it also validates the added material that is in the King James Version. That makes the paraphrase very marketable to a certain audience, I would say.

4. I've mentioned that am exploring a new writing journey. Last week's catalog of my self-published books was getting ready. What I think I need to launch the new project, perhaps, is a bundle of my books to sell. One would be a free e-book. Then the other three would be a special deal. If you want to give me advice, I'll take it!

I'm currently playing with the idea of a Christmas special:

Then in the next two months, I would write two more in the Gabriel's Diaries series with somewhat of an affinity to Christmas:

  • The Intertestament: Gabriel's Diaries -- In this novel, Gabriel would narrate the intertestamental period in preparation for Jesus. It would speculate on the origins of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and tell a story of the origins of the Apocrypha. 
  • The Book of Daniel: Gabriel's Diaries -- I have some wild stuff in mind for this one!
What do you think? Would you get on a mailing list for this sort of bundle?

5. Thanks for reading! I hope you all have a good week!

Saturday, September 16, 2023

My Independently Published Book Catalog

I have two sets of books that I have written. First, there are the books I have published with established publishers. These range from Cambridge to Westminster John Knox. I have a book coming out soon with Cascade. My general goal is to publish a book a year the old-fashioned way. These are the ones I put on my C.V. and that have the more extensive footnotes. I think I'm around 31 books in this category.

Then there are the self-published ones. Unless you're N.T. Wright or a small handful of authors, you can't always get a publisher. And normal publishing is slow. I'm sure it has hurt my reputation, but woe is me if I publish not my thoughts.

I also wanted to see if they could be a revenue source. Only a few select individuals can make significant amounts on officially published books. And I did make a little money when my NT Survey was part of the adult program at IWU in the 2000s. Over 10,000 copies sold. In the heyday, IWU automatically shipped new copies to students. It was a nice check every year. At its peak, it was maybe a seventh of what I was earning with my day job. 

I have yet to make more than a few hundred dollars a year on self-published books. I am strategizing and learning. Stay tuned. At the same time, I'm not sure I've ever cataloged my "independently published" books. That is a significant failing on my part. They are not widely known. I hope to have a Shopify store up in the next month or two. 

But for the moment, here is a catalog of the books I have self-published.

1. Who Decides What the Bible Means? (2006, 2018)
This was my first self-published book, back before CreateSpace and KDP. Keith Drury put me on to Lulu Publishing. I had first submitted it as a part of a contest to WJK. Got an interesting eyebrow-raised response. Waited a year on Abingdon to respond. In the meantime, they published a similar book by a more famous author. I always found that sequence suspicious. I think the book would have done well with Abingdon if they had gone with it.

"Walk down the typical city street in America and you will see church after church, all with different beliefs. What is even more intriguing is the fact that most of them claim to get their beliefs from the Bible. Who decides which interpretation is right In this book, Ken Schenck explores why Christians believe so many different things about the Bible and suggests the best way for Christians to use the Bible with integrity."

2. The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Why Does God Allow It? (2012)
This was my first with CreateSpace when it was a distinct element in Amazon's network. This was exciting--to be able to publish directly to Amazon. Since I don't have a silver bullet on the problem of evil, not least, this book never made the rounds.

"Those who believe God is loving and good have always wrestled with the question of why he allows evil and suffering to continue in the world. This short book presents some of the best suggestions."

3. The True Wesleyan (2012)
Named after an early Wesleyan Methodist magazine, my goal in this short work was to capture what was distinctive about the Wesleyan Church's identity. I was Dean of Wesley Seminary at the time and still had hopes to see the Wesleyan Church be a thought leader. I saw such great potential.

I suspect some of this book would be more controversial now than it was then since the frog has been boiling in the kettle in the broader culture. But I still think it is a good presentation of some of the strongest potential contributions of the Wesleyan Church to the church and world today.

"A brief overview of the historic strengths of the Wesleyan tradition, including its optimism about what God wants to do in the world and its focus on the heart."

4. Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology I: The Word of God: Summary and Evaluation (2013)
I thought I might catch some spillover traffic from individuals going to buy his infamous theology book. I do still get a regular trickle on this one, although it's hard to beat Amazon's algorithmic filters.

"Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology is widely influential. It is well laid out, easy to understand, and has components that make working through it a spiritual experience. The problem is that it is wrong at a number of fundamental points. This is the first of seven booklets summarizing and evaluating Grudem's theology. This first booklet evaluates his theology of Scripture, whose underlying problem is that it is riddled with anachronistic thinking. Grudem neither fully knows how to read the books of the Bible in context, nor is aware of how fundamentalist Reformed influences have skewed his interpretations of Scripture."

5. Explanatory Notes on Galatians (2013)
The next month after I self-published the book on Grudem, I self-published the first in my "Explanatory Notes" series. I had long been inspired by Wesley's Explanatory Notes that he wrote during a year when he was sick. I have all sorts of fragments of these on this blog. My goal was and I suppose still is eventually to publish these notes on the whole Bible. The thought was to keep myself motivated by doing it in atoms, then molecules. I have several of these in various stages of production, now linked to my weekly podcast, "Through the Bible in Ten+ Years."

6. God and Creation: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2015)
As I was finishing up as Dean of Wesley, I blogged through Wesleyan (Church) theology systematically. I used short articles with one-sentence theses to capture our shortened spans of attention. I tried to make it fit what I take to be the pragmatic potential of our tradition. And of course, I engaged Scripture extensively. It was not until this year (2023) that I finally published all the pieces of what was originally a blog series.

"This book explores the classical topics of Christian theology in relation to God and creation from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective."

7. Six Years a Dean: Reflections on the Founding of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University (2017)
I wrote this about a year after I left the seminary to go back to the undergraduate school of ministry. The historian in me wanted to preserve the founding of Wesley Seminary because I thought God had done something pretty spectacular and exciting. It still has a strong Hispanic MDIV program going, but it seems to me that it has generally lost its original flavor.  

"The founding of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University was an adventure in academic innovation and entrepreneurship. This book gives over six years' worth of reflections by the founding Dean."

8. Gabriel's Diary: The Incarnation (2017)
This was the very first novel I ever finished. I have over fifty more that I started over the years, going back even to before my England days. The goal was to tell the story of the Bible from Gabriel's perspective. Writing in novel form allows not only speculation but going well beyond. The goal was eventually to have a compilation volume going from creation to Revelation. I did three of five proposed volumes, but lack of interest killed my motivation.

"Gabriel is the archangel God uses more than any other to communicate with the universe. In this first of several entries into his diary, Gabriel recounts the coming of the Logos to the Earth as Jesus the Christ."

9. Gabriel's Diary: The Enthronement (2018)
The second installment looked at Jesus' earthly ministry, death, and resurrection.

"In the first installment of his diary, the archangel Gabriel shared his reflections on Jesus' incarnation as a child. In this second volume, he shares the story of Jesus' earthly ministry, death, and resurrection."

10. Gabriel's Diary: The Creation (2018)
I sensed a little interest in the first two volumes. There didn't seem any interest at all in this third volume, although I was very excited about it. I thought this might be an experimental niche volume for nerds interested in cosmological physics and science. It also was a chance to explore whether it was possible to integrate evolution with the biblical narrative and Christian theology. The result had a C.S. Lewis feel of a sort. But the book has been a dud so far as far as sales. The cover didn't help.

What I've realized is that it is almost impossible anymore to sell books on Amazon without a lot of work and investment. I'm currently studying how to do it. I may resurrect this series in a new form. For example, "The Story of Romans: Gabriel's Diaries."

"This third novella in the Gabriel series has Gabriel recount the creation of the universe up to the fall of humanity in the rainforest of Eden. The account implicitly speculates how the perspectives of modern science might cohere with Scripture and Christian theology."

11. Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory: Schenck Notes (2018)
Similar to the book on Grudem, I thought I might capture a niche of people trying to understand this classic philosophical, hermeneutical work. I thought I might do my own "Cliff Notes" on key biblical and philosophical writings. I had blogged through this book, so it also fits in the category of taking material I had blogged and translating it into book form."

"Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory is a classic in hermeneutics. These Schenck notes walk through the text, breaking it down so it can be understood and connected to related works."

12. A Horse Strangely Warmed: The Life of John Wesley as Told by His Horses (2019)
I don't know what I was thinking. I just had a funny thought one day. Tell the story of Wesley from the standpoint of his horses. This is my fourth novel finished. How one laugh sustained me to finish this book I don't know. Very unusual. It took a bit of research, since I'm not a Wesley expert. I have memories of writing it in my office at IWU in the library. I thought it might be popular with Methodists and Wesley fans. It does have a prancing of sales from time to time but never a gallop.

"See the ministry of John Wesley as seen through his horses--Maggot, Holey, Sophy, Grace, Georgy, and Charlie."

13. Explanatory Notes on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (2020)
After a seven-year hiatus, I took some of the explanatory notes from my blog and published another volume of the Explanatory Notes series. Three out of Paul's 13 down, 10 to go. I have plenty of fragments wanting to be filled out. For example, I think I have all of Philippians lying here on this blog somewhere.

"In the spirit of John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, Ken Schenck translates 1 and 2 Thessalonians verse by verse. The book gives general insights into the original meaning of Paul's earliest letter, as well as plenty of speculation about the setting of Paul's most mysterious letter."

14. God with Ten Words (2021)
I was also excited about this one. It attempted to capture some key insights into Christian beliefs about God in ten words. Simple, I thought. What I have learned is that, as much of a reach as I have, I will never be able to make substantial revenue off of my current social media network. Self-published authors have to market to 10,000s and spend $100s a day to find and maintain an audience.

"It is common to speak of the attributes or characteristics of God. This book picks ten key characteristics of God and explores them both biblically and theologically. God is mystery, love, power, knowledge, presence, Immanuel, good, parent, justice, and savior."

15. Profound Spiritual Reflections (or not) (2022)
I did make a good first round of sales on this one. Many of my students from the 2000s bought this compilation of Deep Thoughts as a good memory from their time at IWU. Dave Mason brought them back by having me give them at Silver Lake camp in Ontario.

"Life is serious. These thoughts are not. Amid the insanity of life and current events, these thoughts will hopefully brighten your day."

16. Profound Halloween/Reformation Day Reflections (or not) (2022)
I wondered if a follow-up edition focused on Halloween and Reformation Day might be a hit as well. Not so much. It was the memory of earlier days that sold the first more than the jokes themselves, it seems. Volumes I pondered on Christmas, July 4, and beyond have not materialized.

"The Reformation was serious. Halloween and these (not so) profound reflections are not. Amid the frivolity of Halloween and the never-ending splintering of Christianity, these thoughts are meant to brighten your day."

17. Christ and Salvation: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2022)
In 2022 I resolved to finish editing the systematic theology I had blogged through several years previous and publish it. After God and Creation, the next block of material was on Christology and soteriology. Seven years later.

"This book explores the classical topics of Christian theology in relation to Christ and salvation from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective."

18. Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Birth (2022)
Following the same idea I had used for Gabriel's Diaries a few years earlier, I resolved to have Explanatory Notes on key passages in the Gospels ready for Christmas and Easter. I needed to be a little earlier, but managed to publish this one December 16, barely in time for Christmas.

"This book is part of a number of "Explanatory Notes" I have published on the New Testament. This one looks at the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, as well as the Prologue in the Gospel of John. We go verse by verse through the biblical text, with a special view to the original meaning, but also to theological and practical significance."

19. The Spirit and the Church: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2022)
The third and final volume of the systematic theology portion of my blogging was done, published on Christmas Day. Since this is the area where I think Wesleyans are the most distinctive theologically, I was especially proud of this one. 

"This book explores classical topics of Christian theology in relation to the Holy Spirit and the Church from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective."

20. Christian Ethics: Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections (2023)
The fourth part of the theology series was on ethics. I published it as a separate volume. It uses the Ten Commandments as the framework and, again, I was very happy to see this volume get into print. In these volatile times, I tried to represent the current sense of the Wesleyan Church while engaging in broader dialogs.

"This book explores the key topics of Christian ethics from a Wesleyan-Arminian perspective. The basic structure of the book follows the Ten Commandments but views them through the lens of the New Testament, especially the twin commands to love God and love neighbor."

21. Wesleyan-Arminian Reflections on Christian Theology and Ethics (2023)
This is the only hardback I have ever self-published. It is the compilation of all four theology and ethics volumes in one. It's a big book, the longest I've ever self-published, well over 700 pages.

"This is a compilation volume bringing together in one place four smaller volumes that are already available in paperback. These were 1) God and Creation, 2) Christ and Salvation, 3) The Spirit and the Church, and 4) Christian Ethics. This hardback volume brings all four of those "Wesleyan-Arminian reflections" in one place."

22. A Wesleyan-Arminian Systematic Theology (2023)
It seemed to me that the big hardback was a bit cumbersome and that a more desirable package would be the three theology volumes together, so I published the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pieces together soon thereafter. I might be most proud of this volume of any book I've self-published. The Wesleyan Church and its forebears have not produced much along these lines. Luther Lee wrote one in 1859. That's about it.

Now, whether it likes it or not, the Wesleyan Church has a systematic theology. I think the fact that it's self-published, along with the style in which it was written, fits some of the pioneering spirit of the Wesleyans this last century and a half. The style and spirit fits with the original founding of Wesley Seminary. It fits the spirit of IWU's ministry department in the 2000s, IMO.

"This volume brings together in one place the three theology volumes of the Wesleyan-Arminian theology series. These were 1) God and Creation, 2) Christ and Salvation, and 3) The Spirit and the Church."

23. Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Resurrection (2023)
Soon it was Lent, and I did my best to publish Explanatory Notes on the resurrection narratives before Easter. I had initially wanted to do all the passion narratives as well, but it was just too much. Perhaps before Easter next year.

"As part of the Explanatory on the New Testament series, this book provides Explanatory Notes on the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels, with some additional material from Acts and 1 Corinthians. We go verse by verse through the biblical texts, with a special view to the original meaning, but also to theological and practical significance.."

Much more of this series to come. I suspect that, when I have enough to start bundling, I will get more interest.

24. Chats about God: A Novel Seeking Faith (2023)
This was my first color book and my fifth novel. Late 2022 and early 2023 saw the advent of ChatGPT. I suppose our reactions to such things are somewhat predictable. As someone who likes innovation, I was excited. I actually used some early AI image generation in it. Midjourney would knock the socks off it now.

It actually gave me good motivation to write a novel idea I had toyed with for a few years--processing faith with an "objective" AI. I thought curiosity would get me sales on this one. But very little. 

"In this novel, a young college student works through his faith questions by dialoguing with "Chat," a voice-activated artificial intelligence, and a small group of friends that call themselves the Seekers. One by one, he looks at the various arguments and objections to the existence of God. In the end, he concludes that Christian faith is reasonable and that God reaches out to each one of us in the hope that we will move toward him."

25. Plato's Republic: with Condescending Remarks (2023)
Convinced AI was a path to crank out some things, I returned to the same genre as I had done with Grudem and Ricoeur. But now, I thought, Chat could instantly generate the summaries that I had painstakingly generated by blogging before. I had ChatGPT generate summaries of Plato's Republic, book by book. Then I "trashed" Plato thereafter. Not a single sale as far as I know.

One challenge is that Chat is not always right. Sometimes it just makes stuff up. I ended up doing a lot more checking and editing of its summaries than I had hoped. In the end, the absence of interest and my inability to pierce Amazon's algorithms killed my enthusiasm. On my hard drive is a half-finished expansion of this idea to Plato's other treatises. I still hope to do versions of this on Augustine and beyond.

"In this first of the "with condescending remarks" series, ChatGPT summarizes the ten books of Plato's Republic (as well as Plato's life and broader thinking). Then I provide condescending remarks of superior intelligence putting that Plato in his place. Yes, yes, I know, the Republic is allegedly the most influential book of philosophy of all time."

26. A Pastor's Brief Guide to Business (2023)
Again, I had what I thought was an exciting idea. Use ChatGPT to write brief guides to various topics. "A Pastor's Brief Guide to Science," "A Pastor's Brief Guide to Philosophy," etc. This book is spectacular, in my opinion. I sent some copies out. I took out some small paid ads on Facebook and Amazon. Nothing. I've come to realize the amount I spent was not nearly enough to pierce the odds.

"This book overviews the main topics of business in summary fashion as a potential help for pastors and churchpeople who may have little knowledge or training in this area."

27. Teología Sistemática: Reflexiones Arminiano-Wesleyanas (2023)
This is my first self-published work in another language. When I first published the systematic theology, one comment was to remember the need in Spanish. Indeed, after I published the Spanish version, someone reminded me about the frustration we had in the seminary when Grudem was mostly what was available for theology in Spanish. This one might have some legs. The question mark of course is how good the translation is. I used three different tools to translate it. These tools are clearly getting better and better, but they're not perfect.

"Este volumen es un tratamiento sistemático de la teología cristiana desde una perspectiva wesleyana-arminiana, lo que lo convierte en uno de los pocos tratamientos de este tipo en español. Bajo los títulos generales del estudio de Dios Padre, Cristo y el Espíritu Santo, este libro también presenta las doctrinas de la creación, el pecado, la expiación, la salvación, la Iglesia y los sacramentos.".

I've gotten better and better with the covers. I'd like to think I've become a better writer. I think all the reasoning behind the book ideas were sound. I think the product is good enough. I simply have lacked the right marketing approach and spend. Nevertheless, "a writer writes," whether she or he has an audience or not.

Much more in the works, both fragments on my drives and ideas in my head. There are whole books sitting here on this blog (e.g., the equivalent of a pastoral leadership book and almost an entire pastor's brief guide to biblical scholarship). We'll see what pops out over the next year.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

The Week in Review (September 9, 2023)

Happy birthday to my son Thomas today! Stefanie's birthday was yesterday, and Sophie's birthday is tomorrow. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may!

1. I self-published my systematic theology book in Spanish! It is the first book I have self-published in another language. It will be obvious that I used tools that are available. At first, I did copy and paste from a mix of Google Translate and ChatGPT. However, I soon realized that there was a much simpler way. After a couple months doing about 25% of the book with the tedious copy-paste method, the rest was translated in almost an instant. Duh.

Is it any good? Great question, and I plan to give a few free copies to individuals who would want to check it out anyway. My spot checks tell me it isn't bad, although native speakers always say that these automated tools don't produce good translations. I initially had the title wrong I realized so that would have been embarrassing. I am a little worried about the first part, since I ran it through a translator after it had been through a translator. I am so slow sometimes. It drives me crazy.

Now that I know the process, I will probably translate the ethics part of this series in the next couple weeks. I now could do this into many languages, so speak up if you have a wish.

2. I started taking a marketing course for independent publishers. They marketed to me over a period of time. I explored. I watched. Their marketing to me was effective. What they said resonated both with my own experience and limited knowledge. We'll see what happens. I'm keeping my day job for the time being.

3. I continue to add materials to the Romans course I created on Udemy. This week I added a 30+ minute video on Romans 1 and Homosexuality. I was thinking perhaps I would add a "faith of Jesus Christ" video next. The whole of Romans is already there. These are supplemental. 

Not a lot of takers for that course. I have well over 100 takers for my Hebrew course using Jonah. It's always fascinating what sticks and what doesn't. My YouTube videos on the Hebrew of Ruth have gained a strong audience too. Hebrew is clearly popular! Meanwhile, my Greek videos on Philippians do not attract much attention. You just never know, it seems most of the time.

Thanks for feedback on titles for a Romans book. I'm still leaning toward something like, "Hidden Surprises in Romans" or "Hidden Nuggets in Romans" or "Surprised by Romans." What do you think?

I have a vision for a numbered list. Two- to three-page entries on topics like, "It's a real letter, not a theology textbook" and "Jesus had faith too." Feedback welcome. 

4. My wife Angie has been sick this week and missed most of work. Although the test was negative, we've wondered if she has had COVID. I had it a couple months ago. She seems to have lost her sense of smell. It went into her chest, and she has coughed a lot. In general, it followed the same path mine did. Thankfully, she seems to be coming out of it, and her oxygen is good.

5. I finished the raw version of another online course this week. This one is an introduction to the Bible and none other than Jim Lo is the featured professor. The trailer is on this page if you scroll down.

One of my co-workers created some awesome images for one assignment in the algebra course using Midjourney. The tools are amazing. I may try to create a video today using Pictory. We'll see how it turns out.

That's probably enough for now. I realize these are somewhat narcissistic. Think of it as my journal.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

The Week in Review (September 2, 2023)

1. The weeks pass by one after the other. I regularly reflect on the fact that I have rarely stopped to enjoy them or "smell the roses." There's always a project I'm behind on, always something I feel like I should be working on. My wife Angie has occasionally helped with that, especially for our children growing up. I am a candidate for one of those people who wakes up one morning and realizes their whole life is gone and what have they really done to enjoy it?

This Labor Day weekend we will be socializing twice, once with family and once with friends. It pains me greatly. There's so much I want to do with this precious extra time. Stolen by extroverts! It feels like I am being robbed of my time off. But that is my personality and my issue.

I'm not opposed to a life of leisure. I would love to be such an accomplished writer that I could teach a couple classes a week on whatever subject I choose in whatever way I choose. Then spend much of my time at some coffee shop in Hilton Head writing whatever I choose. That's not a life I deserve nor am ever likely to have. 

2. I finished the first draft of a College Algebra course this week and handed it off to a real mathematician to proof, edit, and perfect. I created about 190 pages of course materials. It could be quite interesting for such a class. I'm very interested to see student response. It should be available to take September 18, especially but not exclusively for high school students, at a very good price.

I'd like to publish things on the side related to my course-creation work. I was thinking about something like Algebra: A Picture Book for this one. We'll see.

3. The fall college season has largely begun. There are winners and losers. Having once aspired to be a college president, I watch these things and try to analyze the reasons.

Asbury College and Seminary are way up. The college is very predictable. The revival was bound to push them up. The seminary apparently also has some great things going on behind the scenes. I think it may have its largest enrollment ever. I predicted they would go down because of the Global Methodist Church not requiring seminary, but they have found some very clever ways to counteract whatever impact that decision might have. One is to offer the third year free if you pay for the first two.

Taylor is a winner in enrollment for fall. They continue the formula of outstanding academics with solid orthodoxy. Warner is a winner in Florida. Don't know all the details, but the president is very entrepreneurial. He actually has an arm tattoo with Warner's logo on it, so I assume he plans to retire from there.

In Wesleyan circles, Houghton and OKWU would seem to be winners. I don't know if Houghton benefited much from Alliance closing. I understand that Tim Fuller had been helping them refine a PELL strategy before he died. When I was there, they had been at 260 incoming class for a couple years. They seem to have transcended that number by a smidge. 

I don't know if the crisis over pronouns in emails benefited them. It may have. They were actually in the New York Times over it. Without any details, my guess is that its enrollment impact was probably a wash. That is to say, I would guess the loss and gain from the publicity probably evened out. But I welcome correction by those who would actually know. I can imagine they received some donations from it and probably also lost some donors too.

I continue to mull over the reasons why other colleges are down. The answer that comes most to mind is an ambiguous brand proposition. What is the compelling reason that would lead someone to you? I posted that question on Facebook. Had a response I really liked: "Good friends, good teachers, good chapel, good God!"

There are several schools where I find myself asking, "Why would anyone come to you?" Let me translate the response above into questions:

  • Is there a vibe of excitement from your students and alumni? Does the campus buzz when students step foot on it? Is the admissions office humming with smiling, positive students who love the school?
  • Do alumni have such great memories that their kids will find it infectious? Do the kids of your alumni grow up thinking, "I want to go there too one day like Dad and Mom?"
  • Do you have exciting teachers? This relates to the previous question. "Be sure you take a class with Wilbur Williams." Solid teachers are important but a dime a dozen. Do you have a great "faculty zoo," with lots of really interesting looking animals?
  • For a Christian college, what is the spiritual atmosphere of the campus? Is the campus full of haters or lovers? Is the Holy Spirit palpable on campus?   

4. I have been slowly using tools to translate my systematic theology into Spanish. Imagine my surprise when I found a button in Word that does it instantaneously. Felt pretty stupid for as many weeks as I've been copying and pasting back and forth. The footnotes didn't pull over, but the end is now in sight. I may have it published by next weekend now.

5. I've only had three takers for my Romans course on Udemy. I took out a Facebook ad a couple days ago to promote it. I don't know if I've ever gotten a single sale from taking out a Facebook or Amazon ad. Seems pretty much like a waste of time. I am tempted to take a course by an organization called AMMO that's allegedly about optimizing the marketing and directly selling your books, but of course I'm afraid I'd just be throwing good money down the drain. Anyone heard of it?

6. My wife is tired of me product testing with her. "What do you think of this?" She did enjoy some writing I read to her this week on "Growing Up Wesleyan." It might offend some, however, so once again don't know if it will see the light of day until I die. And of course then it won't be relevant. :-)

She thinks "Stuff You Didn't Know about Romans" is more likely to sell than Explanatory Notes or "The Story of Romans." An alternative title might be, "Top Ten Surprises in Romans." What do you think?

Signing off from another week... 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Week in Review (August 26, 2023)

I'm tempted to put "same old, same old" down for this week.

The main different thing that I did this week was to launch a course on Romans on Udemy. Following Scot McKnight, to a large extent, it moves backward from the end to the front. I will be holding live Q&A sessions roughly every other week for anyone in the course who is interested. The course costs no more than $24 for permanent access to the content, and I'll be adding more material over time. Udemy also has regular sales for anyone with patience.

I did buckle down to continue reading Matthew Thiessen's Jesus and the Forces of Death. I have a first blog post in mid-stream that I hoped to post this past Wednesday, but work has been keeping me quite busy. If you know anyone who wants one of these courses, including philosophy that I'm teaching, it's a rolling start they can sign up for at any time. I can probably get you a sweet deal for a high school student to pay $300 plus materials and maybe even for a college student just to pay $600.

I have a number of ongoing projects, as usual. If any of them sound interesting you could nudge me to focus more on one or the other. On Sundays, I focus on Bible and theology in one way or another. My Explanatory Notes haven't sold well, but they are also in bits and pieces. Just as my Systematic Theology is probably my best self-published book, I suspect if I ever finished the whole New Testament, it might sell. I continue to inch forward with a Spanish translation of the theology book, using tools. We'll see how good that turns out to be.

I've wondered if a different format might be more appealing rather than the old verse-by-verse approach. Some alternative formats (feel free to weigh in) are 1) Stuff You Didn't Know About Acts, 2) The Story of Romans, or 3) A Devotional Guide to Revelation. My YouTube post on "Top Ten Surprising Things About Romans" had more traffic than usual for me. Any thoughts?

Another project is, Growing Up Wesleyan. I've been trying to write something along these lines for decades. The goal is to reflect on my own pilgrimage. I've had other titles but this one has gone farther than others. At the very least, I want to leave it for my children.

I teach Science and Scripture for Houghton in late fall. I have a Udemy course in mid-progress for it. I also have a lingering contract for an Inductive Bible Study textbook. I have a Udemy course in mid-progress for it as well. I have about 10/14 chapters written. Since I'm not at a school, not sure how much use the book will get.

My YouTube watch time has gone down consistently over the last two months even though I have almost 11,000 subscribers. I wonder if I'm being eaten alive by AI-generated stuff. This is an area I need to grow in. I'm a master of ChatGPT, but not of visual AI. I need to find the time to learn more about how to generate AI videos.

Hebrew remains my strongest market. My Udemy course has had an additional 16 enrollments this month. I am going a verse through Ruth each week on YouTube, which also gets good viewing for me.

Well, that's a lot for not having anything to say. Have a great next week!

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Week in Review (August 19, 2023)

This week flew by. Four big moments. I preached last Sunday at College Wesleyan Church. I flew on a private plane to Missouri and back on Wednesday. I finished the draft of some algebra course materials for an algebra course. And by God's grace, I was able to check the box on a major stressor on Friday.

1. You can see the general outline of the sermon in the previous post. You can even watch one of the services here. Preaching is sometimes a surreal experience to me. Last week was that way. It was like I was hit by a car and was in shock. I wasn't quite sure what had happened afterward.

2. Flying to Missouri was fun. It was a business trip. Our Campus dual enrollment business is ramping up! Our first partner in this initiative is Oklahoma Baptist. Lots of Christian high schools are signing up and their students are signing up. Many of these students will only pay $300 for a 3-hour course.

This is flowing because we are more or less running it. Colleges are so inefficient, so full of friction, so un-business savvy, so unable to get out of their own way that they make things incredibly difficult. I was on the phone with a homeschool parent amazed at how easy it was to register. She couldn't believe it. A lot of this is a testament to our partnering school. 

This is going to snowball. We've always had a product the student wants. Colleges just don't want to give it to them. Now we've found a path to get it to them. I've predicted for two years that there will eventually be an Amazon tipping point. We're not there yet.

3. One of the courses that is getting a lot of traction is College Algebra. We have found an optimized formula for creating courses, and it seems to be working. I was excited at the subject matter expert who is teaching this class for us. For the moment, I am doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes grunt work to ramp up these sorts of classes more quickly. I actually created about 100 pages of raw material to be processed for this class. I'm looking forward to doing more, given my interest in just about any subject. 

Biology is on the docket this fall. If demand continues, I can see myself creating the raw material for calculus, chemistry, and physics online to be handed off to a subject matter expert for perfecting. What fun that would be! With algebra, I created "Conic Land," a section of a math amusement park where the rides are modeled on conic sections--parabolas, circles, ellipses, and hyperbolas. I thought about writing, Algebra: The Novel.

4. The Lord seems to get me through puzzles I don't always know how to solve. I used to trust that everything would work out. I used to trust in my own ability to come up with a solution. "I'll figure something out." But God doesn't rescue every situation. Romans 8:28 is about the eschaton and it's corporate, not necessarily about individual lives on earth. One of the hard even if obvious lessons of the last few years is that I'm not as smart as I'd like to think. I can't figure out a lot of important things.

Having said all that, hitherto hath the Lord helped. Yesterday was another day of thanksgiving, and I am grateful to the Lord yet again. 

5. I lay awake last night trying to figure out what project to work on. My problem is always that I have too many. Hardly anyone buys the books I self-publish. Which book that no one reads should I finish next? 

I should launch a Romans course on Udemy later today. 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sermon Starters: Funky Justice

August 13, 2023
College Wesleyan Church

Text: Micah 6:1-8

Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix-- Bad guys come after Harry. He uses his wand. He gets notice he is being expelled. His uncle exclaims, "Justice."

We cannot help but insert our assumptions into the text. We have these "dictionaries" in our heads. We cannot help but use them. Study helps refine them. The Spirit works with them.

The word justice is one of those instances where we have certain ideas about what it means and what it is. But if we listen to the Old Testament, it pushes us to refine our understanding a bit.

1. Justice is something you do.
  • It's not blogging, for us introverts. It's about getting out there.
  • "O man" -- It is both individual and corporate. Biblical language typically has a corporate emphasis, but it is also an accumulation of what we do as individuals.
  • I appreciate that CWC does justice. Invitation to prey on my guilt.
  • Illustration: Thinking about getting a metal chicken versus getting one
2. Justice has two sides.
  • Yes, there is justice for the offender. Micah 2 -- The heads of Israel seize land and houses they want. They have the power to do what they want.
  • Punish, yes. But more importantly, stop them.
  • Injustice is hurting people, not breaking rules. Cultures make up so many rules -- no elbows on the table. Don't end a sentence with a preposition. Even the sin of serving other gods involved hurting other people (e.g., child sacrifice).
  • Biblical justice seems even more concerned with those who are oppressed than with the oppressor. This is common failing--thinking more about the abuser than the victim.
  • Restoring those off-track--widows, orphans, the poor, the stranger
  • "Judge with true justice and mercy and compassion. Let each do to his brother and do not oppress widow and orphan and alien and poor. Do not plan evil in your hearts each against his brother" (Zech. 7:9-10).
  • Notice the related terms that pop up both in Micah and Zechariah--hesed, compassion. Hesed is hard to translate--lovingkindness, faithfulness, sticking with someone until they are rescued
  • This was the heart of Jesus' ministry as well. In the Gospels, he spends very little of his time getting people saved spiritually. Instead, he heals, casts out demons, and restores the "lost sheep" (Luke 15). 
3. Sacrifice is easy.
  • Like buying flowers on your anniversary
  • Rules are easy.
  • Rituals are easy.
  • I grew up with an anti-Catholic vibe. Kind of made fun of "vain repetitions." But have our own.
  • Micah -- the heads and priests thought, just some more sacrifices
  • Take more insulin before going on a drinking binge
4. This is the Year of the Lord's Favor
  • Jesus's inaugural address in Luke 4 ends with "proclaim year of Lord's favor"
  • Doesn't always feel like it, but then again, Luke was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed, after elite Jews had been marched through the streets of Rome and put to death. My worst day is better than that!
  • My wife has a saying, "It's a great, great day if you make it that way." Or to put it biblically, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."
  • The Beatitudes -- we are blessed. Sometimes we feel it now, but we will certainly feel it then.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Week in Review (August 12, 2023)

Here are some brief thoughts on this last week.

1. Been some crazy weeks. My organization, Campus Edu, has really hit its stride. We built some beautiful courses, and now we are getting them to people who want them. 

The challenge to the start-up I'm part of has never been what we are creating. When we first showed off the online courses we had created with partner schools, students loved them. I remember showing them off in the student center at one college. There was great interest among students. The institution itself effectively kiboshed it.

The challenge has always been institutional friction rather than market demand, for predictable reasons. Roadblocks. "Oh, that's not going to count for what you need." "You can do it but you'll have to transfer it back in from elsewhere." The normal friction of the academy weighs down many an initiative until they collapse and die. I also get the fear of self-cannibalization.

Accordingly, we have been working more intentionally on the high school space. Colleges are bleeding credits to things like dual credit, dual enrollment, and early college. With colleges losing as much as two years of a student to these factors, colleges should be digging into the high school market. Why yield that space to the local community college?

It's happening.

2. I was looking at some pictures of the fires in Hawaii. Very sad. The realities of climate change will become more and more apparent. I'm part of the problem. I would love to get a hybrid or electric vehicle, but it just doesn't fit my budget. So I can't really point the finger at anyone. I am everyman.

I was sad to see one college close its sustainability program. But Christian colleges are all swinging to the right at the moment. The result of practically every Christian college presidential search I know in the last two years has, more than anything else, been a swing to the right.

I'm watching to see whether it helps enrollment. There are two lines of thought. Is the most likely new student for a Christian college more socially conservative or progressive? I suspect that, in general, that age demographic is more progressive now in the US. However, it may very well be that this demographic is more conservative in terms of the most likely Christian college recruitee. We'll see if this approach to college presidencies yields enrollment fruit.

However, my understanding on the question of sustainability is that the age demographic is pretty consistently in favor of sustainability across left and right. I see it as an area that colleges might profitably explore as a recruitment strategy. 

3. For the last few weeks, I've been creating a Udemy course on Romans. My plan is to open it up next weekend, Saturday August 19, 2023. I still have a few more videos to make, but I'm close. It will be about 11 hours of video, and I'll add other features over time.

I hope any readers are having a good day as you read this.


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Looking over ChatGPT's shoulder

Had a bizarre thought today, the kind you would expect from me. I am now using ChatGPT extensively for research. It has to be double-checked for sure. It occurred to me that my son watches videos of people playing video games. I thought it might just be strange enough that some people might bizarrely enjoy watching me to research in relation to my projects and curiosities. I thought maybe even I could have ChatGPT write a book and anyone who wanted could watch some of it.

In the category of, "Why not experiment?" here is a first, 3-minute venture:

Walter Brueggemann and Lawrence Kohlberg

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Week in Review (July 22, 2023)

It's been another week that flashed by. Not sure I have much of great interest to share. I spent a good bit of time in the second half of the week putting flesh on the "Basic Christian Beliefs" micro-course built around video that Chris Bounds has done with Campus/Kingswood. I think it will be a fairly interesting micro-course that will be available for free through Kingswood Learn. I continue to work on a College Algebra class too.

As far as my own goals, I've tried to put a pulse through my weekly projects. Some of them are long-term and slow-going (Linear Algebra, Quantum Mechanics). I suppose I'll mention that I am about halfway through building a Romans course for Udemy. I've done over two hours of video for it so far. My wife Angie has been out of town this week, so I can make more noise in the house than usual. I had hoped to finish the essential course before she gets back.

Tomorrow I'll finish my podcast series on "A Brief Guide to Wesleyan Holiness." But the writing up of it is only in fragments. It was my goal to publish it this month. It could happen.

I'll leave it at that. I came out of COVID this week. Managed to resume running yesterday and today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Origins of Evil

I've been working in the "innards" of a micro-course for Kingswood Learn featuring Chris Bounds: "Basic Christian Beliefs." This site with free resources for the church is going to be spectacular, by the way! Look it up. Working on the course made me think of a book I published.

It's been a few years since I self-published The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Why Does God Allow It? in 2012. I don't know that my thoughts have particularly changed much in the last 11 years. My presentation has likely improved and sharpened.

Some of my thoughts are just the same old same old:

  • Augustine, blah, blah, blah -- Free will is better than being robots. But if you give an Adam a free will, he might just use it. Bam. Evil.
  • Irenaeus, blah, blah, blah -- Without suffering and resistance, we would get morally flabby. C. S. Lewis and the problem of pain (not sure if I mention Lewis much)
So the book didn't have "Wow, all my questions are finally answered!" dynamic. Frankly, I'm not sure if I've ever sold a single copy!
So none of that material is new. Where I am unusual is in what I might call a contextualist approach to evil. Augustine and Lewis are still Platonists. They tend to treat good as a thing.

For me, good is an adjective, not a noun. It describes certain intentions and the actions that follow. I thus disagree with Augustine both in his thinking that evil is a "privation" of the good or a twisting of the good. Both assume that good is a thing.

Here's the Table of Contents:

1. Where Was God?
2. Questionable Explanations
3. What Is Evil?
4. Pain Is Not Evil.
5. What Is Sin?
6. Does God Tempt?
7. God and Catastrophes
8. What Did God Create Evil?
9. Why Does God Allow It?

Back to work...

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Week in Review (July 15, 2023)

It's been a completely boring week except for the fact that I came back from Canada with COVID. I had some symptoms I didn't think much of Sunday at the end of the drive back. But I was coughing enough by Tuesday to check. I never had a fever and have had no trouble with the cough after Tuesday night. If I understand the protocols, I'm now in the wear-a-mask stage. I've been on my own upstairs this week and no one else is sick thankfully. I went to a burial service Monday so am very thankful no one with whom I came into contact there is sick. Second time to have it (to my knowledge).

The Lord has been good to me this week. I've seen the way forward on some long-term stressors. I had a goal of using some of my venues to build an extra-funding stream, but I've actually seen almost all my markers go down since I formulated my plan. :-) I wonder if AI is cutting into my YouTube audience. For all the pushing I've done with self-publication, my sales are a trickle, barely existent. My Hebrew Udemy course is doing well, but I wonder if the Udemy market will thrive as AI continues to ramp up. 

On Thursday I jotted down thirty book projects that I've been actively working on or contemplating in these last weeks. I've decided I just need to do them whether anyone buys them or not. I've also thought that I may need to stop thinking about my contacts from the past as my book market. My YouTube and Udemy audiences are not personal contacts. They're from completely outside my world. I wonder if I should transition thinking about my book market in the same way. 

I don't know what that looks like. One night this week when I was having trouble sleeping, I set up a website through WIX. However, it's nothing like what I wanted. If you want a laugh, go to  I wanted to use the site as a bookstore front for all my self-published books on Amazon. I wish I could blame COVID fog, but it didn't turn out anything like what I was trying to do. A little funny. I've got to figure out how to pull out all the wires and relaunch the thing.

In my work, I've been doing some instructional design on a College Algebra course. One of the fun aspects of my job is that I can create foundations in almost any discipline. Then a specialist can take it home. I do know algebra. It's been fun writing materials for the course. I was tempted even to do a Udemy course on the side in Algebra 1. But my voice isn't really suitable for long-term recording right now. Perhaps that is the Lord stopping me. Too many other projects anyway.

I suspect that, before this year is done, I will finally have the chance to build the foundations for online courses in biology, chemistry, calculus, and physics too, a dream come true. I almost get angry when I think of how I begged Houghton and SWU to innovate with me to put these sorts of courses on the Campus platform. IWU was dismissive too. 

So in the words of Thanos, "Fine. I'll do it myself." 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Reviewing a translation of Matthew

Thanks to Jerry Pattengale, I have a side project for the next few months. My job is to examine a particular translation for theological and other bias. Should be fun.

The task begins with Matthew. So the work of mine that I want to feature this week is my Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Birth. The book does commentary on the birth stories in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. It also has John 1. 

Matthew is the most Jew-oriented Gospel in my view. I suspect Mark, Luke, and John were all written primarily to Gentile audiences. (John could be an exception, but I currently doubt it.) Matthew is the most apocalyptic Gospel. It is the most concerned with the Law. It is the harshest toward the Pharisees (a.k.a., the competition). Still, it has the Great Commission, so it fully embraces the Gentile mission as well.

The journey of life continues...

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Sermon Starters: Our Annoying God

Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp
July 9, 2023

Scripture: Jonah 3:6-4:2

  • Children's church: I feel like I only got the first two, maybe three chapters of Jonah
  • Overview the story
I. Jonah is not really the good guy.
  • Popular preacher, no doubt
  • crowd pleaser
  • Nineveh was really bad -- Assyria (destroyed northern kingdom) -- THE AUDIENCE KNOWS THIS FACT!
  • It's a warning to us.
2. God found the one thing.
  • What’s your one thing? Following God requires total allegiance. Used to be getting called to Africa as a missionary.
  • President Lewis talked about cracks in the foundation.
  • If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, then he’s not Lord at all.
3. He’s both sons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son
  • You know the story (recap)
  • He’s the Prodigal that the Father welcomes back.
  • He’s also the elder brother who hates that God forgives.
II. The bad guys are really the good guys.
a. The sailors
  • They don’t know much. They just know that some God is upset. They are seekers. They want to honor God. 
  • Who do you think God was more pleased with?
b. The Ninevites
  • Their repentance seems more genuine than Jonah’s. 
  • Who do you think God was more pleased with?
III. God is the best "guy."
  • (Not literally, of course)
  • Jonah 4:2 – the creed of the OT
  • What a parent! Gives him shade for a bit. Then pushes him to move on. Plant and cattle
  • He does not want anyone to perish. We only perish at our own choosing.
Where are you in the story?
  • Are you running from God?
  • Are you withholding something from God?
  • Are you a seeker?
  • Are you throwing a tantrum?
  • God is gracious and compassionate

Saturday, July 08, 2023

The Week in Review (July 8, 2023)

1. I spent the week at Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp in Ontario. I was the Bible teacher, and we made our way through Romans "backward," following the lead of Scot McKnight. It was undoubtedly my best experience yet teaching through Romans. It was a great group, real "Bereans," all eager to engage.

God is really using Dave and Lynette Mason in a mighty and magical way there. There's always something new. Record number of people on the grounds. Record One Day Give ($85,000 and growing). The secret sauce? They just love on people. They just worship and fellowship together. It's like Antioch before people came up from HQ.

It was good to reconnect with Wayne and Monica Lewis, president of Houghton and his wife. This year had some unexpected turbulence at Houghton, but they seem to have come out of it well. After his evening services, you wouldn't have known he doesn't preach for a living! 

2. I haven't had much time this week to think of much more than Romans and my day job this week. I may do some recordings on Romans, but my weekly podcast currently has a couple other items on the list in front. I may postpone one of them if I am in a Romans-creating groove.

3. I think I'll leave it at that. On the whole, this stretch of Canada is a peaceful place. I've had my poutine, so with maple syrup in hand, it's back home again in Indiana.