Reflections on Jesus, Evangelism, and Crossing Religious Barriers

May 22nd, 2014

Lion of Babylon by Davis BunnJohn writes:

I have recently discovered and read with much interest and a great deal of enjoyment several of your books. I was taken in particular with Lion of Babylon.

It seems to me that your key message here, or at least the message that I took home, was the desirability of all of usChristian, Jew, Muslim, whateverto concentrate on our “friendship” with Jesus, a spirit common to many religions, rather than on our belonging to any particular church or specific religion. This concept resonated deeply with meBUT, and there is always a but, how do I put this into practice? Here and now? In my own community, parish, diocese, city, before even thinking about the state, the nation, the world?

At present my starting upon such a task seems stymied by one major factor. Today, at least here in Australia, the notion of “finding Jesus,” or any other such equivalent, is always greeted with scorn and derision. I need first to break that mould, but so far I have no idea as to how. Might I be so bold as to ask if you have encountered the same problem? Have you any thoughts as to how to overcome that stifling psychological block? The rewards would be immense and far-reaching.

Dear John,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and challenging note. I will attempt to respond in the spirit with which you have written.

First, the moral of the book, Lion of Babylon: There is a growing controversy within the evangelical community over what form ‘coming to Jesus’ must take, especially as it applies to communities of other belief systems. This formed the crux of my story. I wanted to show a world where Christians are in the minority, and our confrontational missionary system—whereby the penitents are required to ‘give up’ or ‘renounce’ before they can know Jesus, has resulted in relatively small numbers of people coming to life-affirming faith, and doing so mostly from the margins. This means that the vast majority of people who fervently follow another faith are simply discounted, or considered lost, or however you want to say it, basically they are not touched. I, and a growing number of younger evangelicals, find this simply unacceptable.

There is a second system, which the hardliners reject outright. In this, Jesus is introduced without any connection to the earthly religious system. It is simply Jesus. No denomination, no church, no organization, nothing. Jesus. It is NOT Jesus as a friend.

This note of yours was on this point in error. But how do you approach a concept that is wrapped in two thousand years of hostility with a person who is devoutly following a different faith? By introducing the points where there is harmony. And this lies at the crux, the very vortex, of why so many hardliners simply cannot accept what is happening. Because to speak to the issue of harmony, you must first accept that the other belief system has merit. You cannot denounce them as followers of some dark path and then turn around and say, ‘But really, you have some merit to your concept of divine truth.’

Do you see? You must first accept that the divine truth is to some degree present in their faith system. And this means, you must understand enough of their system to actually speak from knowing.

The basic concept of Jesus at this point is very simple, and equally controversial. You are in effect saying that all systems of faith have some truth. But—and here is the very big but—all other systems hold one trait in common. It is man who does the work. Man strives to lift himself up.

With Jesus, God has reached down, and is doing the heavy lifting.

This one truth, this one concept of eternal salvation, is open to all people, so long as you begin from the point of respect, harmony, friendship, peace, and an open hand.

It is NOT Jesus as friend.

But to arrive at a point where the concept of salvation is acceptable, you must approach this first as the friend. Do you see the difference? You are the open hand. Not Jesus. The transition comes when two things happen. First, they accept that you hold a difference because of what Jesus has done in your life. And second, when they move from reading about Jesus to experiencing the Holy Spirit’s gift. When the breath of God moves over their heart, then it is time for you to move forward.

Whether you are dealing with a different faith system, or New Age practitioners, or simply a community dominated by post-modern attitudes towards faith in general, the attitude must be the same. Unless you begin with an attitude of respect and understanding, in other words, unless you accept that there is a genuine fragment of truth and resonating significance to their interpretation of life, you will always face the barrier of scorn. Why should they respond to you any differently than how you in your heart see them? They are not lost. They are not scorned by God. They reject this outright.

And unless you begin by first accepting the validity of their viewpoint, you might as well be talking Arabic. The only people who will listen to what you have to say are those who have already rejected their former system. And this means, reducing your contact with the world to the margins.

As for what you can do in your own corner of the globe, let me share two things. First, we have found ourselves increasingly engaged in dialogue with fervent Muslims over what this book signifies. Most of it begins as an argument, and why not, since it’s all we as a faith have been doing for fifteen centuries. But it doesn’t have to end there.

Second, groups of readers have begun reaching out to the immigrant populations in their respective cities. The most remarkable success has been seen with the Somali population in Minnesota. I am amazed to even be writing this, but it is indeed happening.

‘The Turning': Recommended for Book Clubs

May 20th, 2014

The Turning 300Two of today’s reader reviewers recommend The Turning for a book club discussion. You’ll hear from Sherry Bibb, Nadia Wiro, and Edward Arrington.

A Modern-Day David and Goliath Story

By Sherry Bibb, Tea and Poetry blog

What do you get when a money-driven corporate conglomerate is opposed by a small band of Christians united in their supernatural call and conviction to fully obey the prompting of God? This modern-day David and Goliath story is Davis Bunn’s newest thought-provoking novel.

A young ambitious advertising executive seizes his chance to play in the big leagues and impress his media mogul bosses with a stunningly comprehensive strategy to shape societal trends by exploiting hopelessness. But God is at work. Five individuals in different parts of the country hear God’s call to specific action. Their obedience to the first step leads them to an unexpected divine appointment where the five “accidentally” meet one another.

As the newest media barrage is made public these five lives merge and take a turn to stand against manufactured hopelessness with the message of true hope. The story builds slowly and becomes riveting as the conflict between good and evil escalates. I found the ending to be somewhat anticlimactic, but that too is more like real life.

The story has elements that are very relevant to society today and would make for wonderful family or book club discussion. For example, two questions that came to mind 1) With all of the outcry against “corporate greed” why are we unconcerned about entertainment corporations? It is a terrible thing when retirement funds are mismanaged and stolen, but do we care when the virtues and values of a generation are systematically stolen and replaced reaping terrible consequences in society? 2) How can I impact those around me by conscientious obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the clear message of Scripture?

The Turning is a compelling story and a worthwhile read.

I’ve recommended it for a summer book club discussion

By Nadia Wiro, Amazon

The Turning was my first Davis Bunn read. I’m not normally drawn to Christian fiction. But, Bunn’s characters are contemporary “real” people. Real, self-focused people who aren’t sure of their life’s purpose and who struggle both to hear God’s voice and then to respond to a call for action.

Is hope dead? That theme is what Trent Cooper, an advertising hot shot, wants society to subscribe to. His entire life’s dream and his livelihood are on the line for you to agree with his campaign against hope! But other major characters are thrown together to disprove that philosophy. Convinced otherwise, at first timidly, then full throttle, they are propelled to dissuade you from buying into Trent’s advertising ploy in support of his dead hope philosophy.

Bunn developed very distinct characters with their individual flaws and set of challenges, and each had his or her own specific incident that required a decision of “turning.” Then he threw the characters together for interaction within a joint mission. Once the characters were developed and I could keep them straight, I was drawn in to see how they would relate to each other and how the conflict of views with Trent’s campaign against hope would be resolved. Would there be a convincing argument for hope?

My first Bunn book, but I’ve already recommended it for a summer book club discussion.

If You Heard God Speak, Would You Take The Turning?

By Edward Arrington, Amazon

The message was unexpected but instantly recognizable. A voice resonated from a distance and somehow from within. Against all earthly logic, it carried a divine command. And five very different people knew they were summoned to obey. Their actions were demanding, but not particularly grand. Only later would they see a pattern emerge – one that links their tasks together and comes to challenge the cultural direction of the nation. They realize that one small personal response unveiled a new realm of moral responsibility. And this affirmation of everyday hope captures the attention of millions.

Even as they are being brought together, they have no idea evil forces are being set into motion that will seek to undermine their every effort to proclaim God’s message, forces that declare “hope is dead”. Worldly power and greed are at stake. Malicious elements align themselves to cast doubt on whether we can really believe that God speaks to people today. They work feverishly to dismiss all such superstitions and delusions. They attempt to cast them as misguided individuals who should not be allowed to cast our society back into the Dark Ages.

The public debate and media frenzy place an unprecedented spotlight on knowing and doing God’s will. The five encounter threats, but try to remain steadfast in their faith. Had God indeed imparted wisdom on selected individuals? Is this sweep of events part of his divine purpose? The movement may herald a profound renewal – one that some are calling The Turning…

Who were the five people to whom God spoke? They were people just like us: people who had made choices in the past that affected their daily lives. They were imperfect, flawed Christians living with the pain, struggles, and fears that were the consequences of their failures. Not a one of them felt worthy to be used of God in any special way. However, they were obedient to take the first step, The Turning. Others were willing to stand with them and see them through the difficulties that lay ahead as they sought to fulfill the mission set before them.

Davis Bunn weaves an amazing story of God using a small group of individuals to face off against the “Goliath” of worldly power and money to bring about His purposes. In a very believable plot, one that I could see unfolding in my mind’s eye, they face one difficult situation after another depending completely on God’s guidance. A real key message is that none of them has all the answers. One man is chosen as the spokesperson but God does not speak only to him. He works through them all in different ways using their unique abilities and talents. Were they tempted to give up? You bet. They quickly learned they could accomplish far more as they pulled together than they could do individually.

I highly recommend this book because it delivers a powerful message of God using His people to change lives for His glory. Davis Bunn helps the reader grapple with the question: What would I do if God spoke to me like this?

Reader Question: What is Your Research Process?

May 15th, 2014

Lion of Babylon by Davis BunnCaroline writes:

On the second-to-last day of a writer’s conference, when I couldn’t stand any more conversation about writing style, the writer’s “platform,” or how to talk to an agent or editor, I holed up in the café with a bowl of ice cream and a book I hoped would be good enough to allow me to “escape” the chaos of the conference. The book was Lion of Babylon, and it perfectly served its purpose. Thank you.

Later in the day, when I was back to thinking about the details of writing, I realized that I had a question for you: I wanted to ask you about the research that goes into writing a story like Lion of Babylon.

I’m curious about the Bunn process of researching a story. I want be a good writer, and one of the ways I improve is by learning from those who are further along on the writing journey.

Dear Caroline,

The crucial issue with research is not to see this as the goal. Too often early books are marred by efforts to make the experts feel the research was solid. Your job, first and foremost, is to entertain.

My technique is to spend my outlining time–and a book that is to be researched requires a solid outline to keep you on track–determining the questions that really must be answered in order to tell the story.

Then I look for JUST ONE ANSWER. It is not necessary for you to find THE answer. The further back you go in time, the more experts will argue with one another over what is and is not the correct answer to any question.

You need to look for authors who will offer not just information, but an emotional spark. It is not data alone that you require. You need to have people who make the issue or the era live for you at an emotional level. Because that is your key aim in your story. To bring life to the page.

When God Calls the Unlikely

May 13th, 2014

The Turning 300Today’s reader reviews of The Turning are by Amanda Brogan, Crystal Kupper, and Mary Dushel.

Calling the Unlikely

By Amanda Brogan, Walking the Narrow Way blog

Perhaps you’ve heard the voice before. That inexplicable urging deep within your heart and soul, not audible but just as clear as if it had been shouted to you from a bullhorn. The voice of a Divine Storyteller, nudging you to follow a path you never would have expected.

It is this kind of Divine calling that Davis Bunn writes about in his new “devotional fiction” novel The Turning.

A brooding businessman from Cleveland. A snobby choir leader from Baltimore. A beautiful young oriental woman torn between two major life decisions, and an Arab learning the Christian faith. Each one hears the same message from God. Each must face a unique task. Each must take a monumental step toward forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion … spiritual obedience.

Feeling God call them to New York, these spiritual misfits band together under the leadership of a well-known Christian author to battle a rising cultural enemy.

I love the fact that each of the protagonists is introduced as someone who we normally would not look to for spiritual guidance. Each character has baggage, yet God does not wait till their baggage is gone to call them. He calls them with dirty lives, and offers them progressive steps of obedience to follow. Yet with each step, hearts are rearranged, maturity deepens, and the characters begin to take bigger and bolder steps of faith.

Davis shows us through these characters that we don’t have to be spiritual giants for Christ to call us. We simply need to be open to hearing His voice. He’ll meet us in that spot where calling and action collide.

Interesting, relevant read

By Crystal Kupper, on her blog

I had just slogged through two really awful books (coincidentally, both for my local book club) and I was very ready for a change. Thankfully, The Turning restored me to my normal love of turning pages gently instead of phwapping them shut in frustration.

Of Bunn’s recent works, this is definitely one of his best. I really enjoyed the character development, especially the insight into the antagonist, and was quite sad when the book ended. That’s the only reason I took off a star; I wanted more!

Hope is [Not] Dead

By Mary Dushel, Goodreads

“The fastest growing profit center within the entertainment industry is dystopia… The Generation Xers and the Millennials fundamentally disagree with the assumption that tomorrow is a better day. They reject the notion that the future holds greater promise.”

“Hope is dead.”

And, I promise, from there the book gets better.

These quotes are the beginnings of a marketing campaign that becomes the focus of Davis Bunn’s lastest novel, The Turning. The story begins with one of the country’s largest entertainment corporations planning this “hopeless” marketing strategy, including movies, books, music. But God has taken exception to this campaign and has decided to meet it head on. Five people are chosen and spoken to, directly, by God and sent to make the point that as long as God is alive and well and risen, hope cannot be dead.

This book is a well-written, fast-paced story. I found the characters to be nicely developed. I read books for their characters and I judge most books based on whether I would like to know the characters. These characters seemed real to me. They were multi-dimensional. The evil corporate types were not pure evil, but rather, though certainly ambitious, showed some level of humanity.

The characters who were doing God’s work were also multi-faceted. This task was not coming easily for any of them. They lamented what was given up for this task; they showed fear of being able to handle what was being asked of them. It felt like how I would react if something of this magnitude was asked of me.

The best part of this book is that it leaves you thinking.

Would I be able to drop everything and embark on such a mission, if asked?

Am I, as a consumer, contributing to this bleak outlook that is so prevalent today?

What can I do to help change things?

All worth thinking about.

Evangelical Protestants Have Lost Touch with the Contemplative Aspects of Their Faith

May 7th, 2014

I received an email from Mary, who listened to my audio devotional titled, “Our Protestant Heritage.” She brings up a critical question that I’d like to respond to publicly.

Mary writes, “I don’t have a Protestant heritage. I have a Catholic heritage. I thought the devotional made it sound like my faith didn’t count. But I love Jesus, talk to Him personally, daily; I read the scriptures; I tithe and I listen to God. I felt as if your characterization was exclusionary. I don’t understand it. So I stopped reading the book, The Turning, for a long time. I picked the book back up and finished it on Easter. It was wonderful. But I haven’t figured out how to process this Protestant discussion.”

The Turning By Davis BunnMy response:

I have wanted to address this very issue since completing The Turning and the accompanying devotional lessons, but I was not sure how. Mary’s email, in truth, was an answer to a prayer.

Let me begin by saying that I am married to a Catholic, a wonderful woman who has taught me more about faith than any person alive. My mother and my sister have both converted to Catholicism. I have recently been asked to write a series for the largest Catholic publisher in the United States.

But this particular book, and the devotional lessons, were written for a conservative U.S. Christian publisher. And the reason why I felt called to write on this subject, the one specific intent above all others, was because far too many evangelical Protestants have lost all touch with the contemplative aspects of our faith and our Christian heritage.

Too often these days, such people see the whole issue of spiritual contemplation as being a Catholic concept. And this simply is wrong. It hurts me to hear it referred to in this way from the pulpit, because it reflects a ‘majority opinion’ within many churches that does not jibe with who we are, and what has formed a foundation of our Christian heritage from the very beginning.

This devotional lesson is first and foremost aimed at the Protestant believer who has most likely never had contact with the message of contemplation. In order to break through this barrier, it was necessary to specifically address their incorrect assumption that the discipline of attentiveness is Catholic in nature.

First of all, the majority of lessons that shape Christian contemplation predate what we today refer to as the Catholic church. I suppose the better way to speak of this is by referring to today’s structure as the Roman church, as opposed to the Eastern church or Orthodox church.

The Age of the SpiritIf you are interested in how this issue specifically relates to the discipline of contemplation, may I suggest you read a truly wonderful book, The Age of the Spirit, by Phyllis Tickle, former Senior Religion Editor of Publishers Weekly.

In any case, the whole concept of Christian contemplation is grounded in the Old Testament, and given its first formal shape in the time of persecution during the second and third centuries.

But what is far more vital for today’s Protestant audience, the people who, in my opinion, need these lessons the most, is that the discipline of attentiveness – what today is referred to in the Catholic community as contemplation – was a vital component of the Protestant movement from the very beginning.

That is why I wrote the second lesson as I did. My intention was never to exclude the Catholics. In later lessons more than half the examples I used in describing life-changing revelations came from Catholic believers.

There are any number of wonderful texts from Catholic sources, including many contemporary writers, about the wonders of spiritual silence. And yet these are simply not known or discussed in many Protestant churches. It is tragic and unnecessary, in my opinion.

Their walk would be richer for including this. Mine certainly has been. And in order to reach these people, I addressed their incorrect assumptions at the starting gate. The founders of the Protestant denominations both practiced contemplative prayer and urged it among their followers.

We should all do so today, and learn to listen better.

Radio Interview: Writing and the Spiritual Life

May 5th, 2014

I was recently a guest on Moody Radio’s Midday Connection show. The hosts and I discussed how God has worked in my life to prepare me for a career in writing. I hope you’ll be encouraged to learn that “overnight success” is highly overrated. Rather, hard and discipline in your craft can pay off.

Click here to listen to the show:

Midday Connection – Moody Radio

Learn more about Midday Connection and listen to their many amazing broadcasts.

Listening Through the Hard Times: Audio Devotional #13, ‘The Turning’

May 2nd, 2014

The Turning 300During this audio devotional series, we’re reflecting on turning from our stale, ineffective ways of connecting with God to new ways.

This is particularly challenging when we’re hurting or facing challenges without any ready answer. How does the practice of daily listening help us in those times?

Click here to listen to my 2-minute audio devotional:
Listening Through the Hard Times: Audio Devotional #13, ‘The Turning’

Subscribe to my blog and receive my latest audio devotion via email — I’ll be posting a new audio devotional several times each week.

You can download all 40 devotions at TheTurningBook.com

Reader Mailbag: Praise for ‘Unlimited’

May 1st, 2014

Unlimited by Davis BunnRose Mary writes:

Unlimited is an awesome book, Mr. Bunn. Unlimited made me feel as if I were on a mission trip. I cried more than once as this book stirs the emotions. Keep up the good work.

I order all my books from Christianbook.com and they have a search option, which allows one to see the latest publications. I had just finished Strait of Hormuz when up popped Unlimited. I am so glad you such a prolific author. Hope I don’t have to wait long to see your name again.

Dear Rose Mary,

Thank you so much for the beautiful words about Unlimited. The fact that this touched your mission-oriented heart means a great deal. This was my first such work, and I really did feel that it stretched me, not only because I knew so little about the border country at the outset.

Preparing Ourselves to Receive: Audio Devotional #12, ‘The Turning’

April 30th, 2014

The Turning 300

“There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets.” – Daniel 2:28

In the moments when God speaks, the biblical prophets reveal to us that this is an opportunity for us, like them, to glimpse around the bend of time.

Click here to listen to my 2-minute audio devotional:
Preparing Ourselves to Receive: Audio Devotional #12, ‘The Turning’

Subscribe to my blog and receive my latest audio devotion via email — I’ll be posting a new audio devotional several times each week.

You can download all 40 devotions at TheTurningBook.com

One of Davis Bunn’s Best Novels… or Not.

April 29th, 2014

The Turning 300One difficult thing all published writers must learn to accept graciously is criticism of our work.

Today’s reader reviews of The Turning serve as a point/counterpoint. One reader saw flaws in the character development and point of view, whereas another reader connected strongly with the characters.

I appreciate both reviews, which are so thoughtfully written.

Point

By Diana Savage, Heartlifters blog

When I received a complimentary copy of Davis Bunn’s The Turning from River North Fiction in exchange for my honest review, I looked forward to reading the novel. The author has written many books, he has an excellent reputation, and he teaches creative writing at the University of Oxford.

Sure enough, I found Bunn’s sensory descriptions to be outstanding. I was awestruck by how deftly he described characters experiencing God’s intense presence. Many of the story’s events and references mirror contemporary headlines, making the book feel up to the minute. Suspense begins immediately on page 1, the conflict is compelling, and the tension ramps to fever pitch at frequent intervals. Sounds like a recipe for a topnotch thriller, doesn’t it?

Actually, I was disappointed. The author opens the book with a character who later becomes an antagonist, thus weakening the story’s impact by dividing readers’ emotions. He quickly introduces too many viewpoint characters to keep track of without flipping back to previous passages. And sometimes viewpoint characters “talk around” key elements to keep them hidden from us while we’re still in their heads.

In spite of these problems, the book has much to recommend it. I especially appreciate the story’s powerful takeaway message. Readers who prefer a plot-driven novel with a good takeaway and who don’t mind viewpoint difficulties will enjoy The Turning.

Counterpoint

By Jasmine Augustine, Montana Made blog

I think this book just might be Davis Bunn’s most powerful novel yet. You will be shaken out of your complacency and convicted to take that step forward to your own turning, and into the next thing God has planned for you. The impossible will seem possible.

Powerful, thought provoking, exciting, with a diverse and wonderful cast of characters. The five people chosen by God to bring the Church, the U.S., and even the world, a message of hope and God’s love, couldn’t be any different from each other if they had come from different countries. Each of them has a role to play, each must step out of their comfort zone, each must take a step of faith and give up things that they hold dear, and each of them must listen to the voice and promptings of the One who called them.

I think my favorite line from the book is when Ruth, the wife of a late-evangelist, says that God does not call the equipped, He equips those He calls. What a powerful piece of truth! Those words really hit me when I read them, and it made me wonder how God is using each of my experiences to shape and equip me to follow His plan.

The Turning is one of those books where you read a chapter or two and then you walk away to think about it, digest it, and maybe let it even change you. When Davis Bunn called this devotional fiction I think he used/coined the correct term. The way you read it does remind me much of reading a devotional, each section must be pondered before you can return for more.

But before you think this book is dry and boring, it’s not. The Turning IS a novel and it DOES tell a story, a good story. There is action, betrayal, danger, angels in disguise, a little romance, politics, and all the things we have come to expect in a typical Davis Bunn novel.