British minister Graham P. Taylor knows evil when he sees it. A veteran of numerous exorcisms, and an expert on New Age philosophy and occult activity, Taylor is the Anglican vicar of Cloughton near Whitby on the picturesque Yorkshire coast of England--a Mecca for those with a penchant for witchcraft and the paranormal.
But Taylor was unprepared for the success of his first novel, Shadowmancer, a supernatural thriller set in 18th century England. He originally self-published the book with Mount Publishing in 2002, selling his motorcycle to pay for the first printing of 1,000 books.
After Faber and Faber re-published the book in 2003, Taylor found himself in the middle of a media frenzy, securing the No. 2 position on the United Kingdom's best-seller list (behind the fifth "Harry Potter" book) and landing a multi-book publishing contract. He is currently working on the sequel, Wormwood, slated for a U.S. release in September.
"People write about God being dead, God being senile. I write about God being real," says Taylor of Shadowmancer.
The book follows the adventures of 13-year-old Thomas Barrick and his friend Kate Coglund as they battle a notoriously evil vicar named Obadiah Demurral. The young protagonist meets a whole cast of characters, including the kind-hearted "boggles," a Christ figure named Raphah, mermaid-like creatures called seloth and various human archetypes who are either evil, atheistic or, at best, amoral.
Yet, even with the creative allegory and mystical adventures in well-detailed locations, all the spiritual ambiguity leads to some startling Christ-conversions, some serious faith questions and true-to-life occult confrontations.
Partnering with Penguin Group (USA) Inc. to reach Christian readers in the United States, Charisma House published the book in April 2004 amid yet another Harry Potter firestorm that started with a new summer movie and continues with the release of J.K. Rowling's sixth book.
Interestingly enough, Graham (as he is more commonly known) is not a big fan of the bespectacled wizard-in-training. "If you compared me to Mark Twain or Robert Lewis Stevenson, I'd be much more pleased," he said during a recent interview with Ministries Today.
Taylor admits that the "Harry Potter" books are well-written. "I don't think J.K. Rowling has a satanic bone in her body. But the books come from a New Age perspective that says, 'God and I are one,' or 'I am my own God.' "
"I never set out to write Shadowmancer as a Christian book," Taylor explains, noting that he had only initially targeted Christian publishers. "The book was written from my own experiences. When I come into contact with spiritual forces, I turn to Jesus for spiritual cleansing and deliverance, so it only came naturally that my characters would have some of the same experiences."
Yet, Taylor seems unfazed by all the media attention. A slightly eccentric Renaissance man, Taylor has worked as a rock 'n' roll publicist, policeman and currently devotes much of his time to his local church position.
Of course, with the obvious Harry Potter similarities, church leaders in the United States may wonder about the spiritual foundation. The Faber and Faber version of the book includes a vague book-flap description about a power that could overthrow God himself, but Taylor dismisses any criticism.
"The Christian critics are people who have not read the book," he says. "To see the light at its brightest it has to be surrounded by darkness. Darkness is presented as a reality and the Light is shown to be all powerful and glorious."
Best Seats in the House
How to find a church chair that's a perfect fit for your church 'body.'
Just as multipurpose rooms have replaced the sanctuary in many churches, chairs have replaced the ubiquitous pew. So, we at Ministries Today decided to find out firsthand what options exist for a church thinking of updating its sanctuary with chairs or outfitting its new auditorium with high-tech seating.
Of course, with all the church-chair options, it may seem like you're shopping for cereal at Super Wal-Mart, not looking for new church seating. And, as one company representative told us, if you buy the wrong church chair, you'll probably have to look at it every Sunday for decades to come.
So, the goal is to determine why you want to introduce new seating in your church, and then match the chair with the most common use. But, never fear. We sat in, stood on and essentially heaped abuse on several models from several different companies. Here's what we discovered:
Some chairs are exceptionally light and work well when you'll be clearing the room repeatedly for youth-group events and kids' night. Others are designed for "place them and forget them" durability, but won't work for frequent stacking and unstacking.
All four companies that sent us chairs--Bertolini, Church Chair, Church Plaza and North American Seating--provide plenty of church-seating options, and their products passed with flying colors in terms of quality construction, durability and cushions that work well for hour-long services.
The First Impressions Pew Stacker 5000 from Bertolini was among the stacking chairs that we tested. The thick tan upholstery was stylish and durable enough to withstand a few coffee spills and Kool-Aid accidents. While its 1010 heavy-gauge cold-rolled steel-frame construction made the chair heavier than some, and it stood up well to our standing up on it.
At $35, the 5000 is more expensive than its lighter and less-padded cousins, but our testers noted that it may be just the ticket for congregations who appreciate comfort and don't plan to do a lot of seat rearranging.
The Celebration Stackable from Church Plaza boasts a dual-layer foam cushion and a lumbar support. At $30 for the basic model with a wood seat base, another $2 buys you a more comfortable webbed base. More difficult than choosing the chair may be picking a fabric from among the 40-plus standard colors and the countless custom options.
Church Plaza also offers less expensive models, such as the utilitarian--yet well-padded--Fellowship Stackable, starting at $27.90. But keep in mind that more expensive chairs such as the Celebration Stackable also may be accessorized with options such as underseat book racks, communion cup holders, book pouches and card pockets, whereas low-end chairs do not offer such optional upgrades.
With its 18-gauge alloy steel frame, testers thought that North American Seating's $30 Premier B-222 would hold up well to constant stacking and unstacking. Although it was somewhat more bulky than the other models tested, the B-222 offers several unique add-ons, including a flexible backrest and a bolster to more effectively cushion the shoulders and upper back.
Church Chair offers numerous unique designs, including a double-wide bench-style, stackable seat more than 40 inches wide and numerous models with wooden armrests and styled backs, such as the Grand Design Plush.
While each stackable chair we tested offered differing features and options, several common denominators surfaced:
All four companies offer a substantial warranty of some type, depending on the type of chair--from a five-year warranty on fabrics to a limited lifetime warranty on the frame, foam and metal components.
They all offer similar chairs within the $30 to $35 range, with countless configurations of fabric and frame colors.
And they all allow prospective buyers to test a chair themselves before making a decision to buy a certain model.
Churches considering more permanent seating solutions should consider the theater seating offered by companies such as Sanctuary Seating Systems, a division of Bertolini. The Chino, Calif.-based company designs and manufacture theater seating especially for the church-sanctuary setting.
A far cry from the disruptive theater-style seats of yesteryear, Bertolini has developed a virtually silent "gravity-lift" mechanism that contains no springs to eventually wear out or squeak.
In addition to the superior comfort afforded by theater seating, congregations may find that their sanctuaries' capacities are increased up to 20 percent more than that of traditional pews or stackable chairs.
Plus, with wood accents on the aisles, a church may choose to maintain the traditional look of pews, but benefit from the comfort and increased capacity of theater seats.
For more information on the companies that participated in our chair survey, visit or call:
Bertolini Inc., 1-800-647-7725
Church Chair, 1-800-331-5411
Church Plaza, 1-800-927-6775
North American Seating
Sanctuary Seating's Affinity
Gravity-Lift Sanctuary Seat
The Glorious Disturbance:
Understanding and Receiving the Baptism With the Spirit
By Ernest B. Gentile (Baker/Chosen)
Pastor and author Ernest B. Gentile doesn't confine his study of Spirit baptism to scholarly inquiry--although he does that well. He explores the practical aspects of Pentecostal experience, including answers to 13 objections critics raise and the place of tongues as evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Using Jesus as the model of a "Spirit filled" person, Gentile describes the purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. He then explores the various instances of Spirit baptism in Acts and how Luke's narrative provides a pattern for modern believers.
Readers will find helpful the charts and diagrams that he uses to reinforce his discussion, as well as an appendix that describes various churches' views of the Holy Spirit. Solidly biblical and well-researched, Gentile interacts with most of the relevant scholarly literature on the topic but injects it with a pastoral perspective.
Twelve Lies You Hear in Church
By Tom Riter
Tom Riter doesn't take the typical what-we-love-to-hate-about-the-church tack in his new book Twelve Lies You Hear in Church. Instead, he challenges an excuse-laden version of Christianity, tackling misconceptions such as, "I believe in Jesus, and that's enough;" "Little sins aren't really that bad;" and "I'll never be a Billy Graham."
But lest you think Riter is planting seeds of legalism, he attacks the Pharisee in all of us and lays an ax to the root of lies such as, "We must be perfect" and "Only good things happen to good people." Written in a conversational, yet confrontational style, Twelve Lies would be especially helpful as a group-discussion launcher for thinking teens or an antidote for new believers navigating the minefields of post-modern Christianity.
In Pursuit of His Glory:
My 25 Years at Westminster Chapel
By R.T. Kendall (Charisma House)
Most pastors would love the opportunity to be mentored by a great preacher. In his formative years of ministry at Westminster Chapel, R.T. Kendall sat at the feet of his renowned predecessor British expositor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
In his new book Kendall shares insights gleaned from this experience and the 25 years of leadership that followed. Few people stand in the position of Kendall: one foot firmly grounded in the scholarly--and sometimes stodgy--tradition of British evangelicalism, and another dipped in the wild and wooly flow of the modern charismatic movement.
Readers will be especially challenged by the author's willingness to bring his church into an experience of the fullness of the Spirit, while holding fast to his reformed theology and commitment to expository preaching.
Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium
By Alvin L. Reid (Kregel)
Youth are not merely a mission field--they are a mission force. This is the contention of Alvin Reid's new book, in which he argues that the current generation of young people possesses the potential of leadership and initiative that may dwarf our expectations for them. "It's time to jettison our recreational Christianity for the radical New Testament kind," he writes.
Reid provides the reader with a brief orientation of postmodern youth culture and encourages church leaders to conduct a self-evaluation of their youth programs to determine whether they are challenging youth spiritually to live up to their potential.
The author questions contemporary expectations of youth, such as "Young people today will not listen to a message for longer than 17 minutes" and suggests that the generation of youth that experienced the Columbine massacre and 9/11 may be ready to put their lives on the line for the kingdom.
How to Stay Christian in College
By J. Budziszewski (TH1NK/NavPress)
Sending high school seniors to a secular university doesn't have to be the equivalent of putting a toddler in a den of lions. Budziszewski--a former atheist and political radical--has written an engaging guide to keeping the faith during the college years that makes a perfect gift for the graduating senior.
The author challenges young readers to articulate their Christian worldview--and understand the worldviews competing for their allegiance outside the church. Hypothetical dialogues with hostile professors and skeptical roommates coach readers on how to stick up for their values.
Especially helpful is the section on "campus myths," in which the author prepares readers for the thought patterns common on college campuses, and includes candid discussions on sexual purity and moral relativism.
By Kirbyjon Caldwell and Walt Kallestad (Waterbrook)
Pastors Kirbyjon Caldwell and Walt Kallestad have teamed up with Paul Sorensen to write a book for leaders who want to move their churches' ministries outside the sanctuary and into their communities.
"We have been pastors for a combined 60 years, and we know from hard experience that 'church as usual' is guaranteed to fail," they write. "The role of the church has been so narrowly defined and lived out that too many churches have lost touch with the communities they are supposed to minister to."
Caldwell, possibly most well-known for his benediction at the inauguration of President George W. Bush, is pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, and Kallestad ministers at Community Church of Joy in Phoenix. Both have turned small parishes into mission-driven megachurches with enormous services designed to reach out to their communities.
Caldwell sums up entrepreneurial faith as "all about confronting challenges and obstacles and believing that God is bigger than anything that tries to oppose His work." The authors' advice covers many different topics, including building and maintaining a leadership team, fighting off attacks from enemies (both spiritual and physical) and keeping focused on God's vision. The book also includes appendices with examples of different types of business proposals.
Finding God in the Questions
By Dr. Timothy Johnson (InterVarsity)
An ordained minister and well-known medical editor for ABC News, Timothy Johnson discusses his personal journey of faith in Finding God in the Questions.
With the same keen mind accustomed to medical and scientific examination, Johnson explores the question of God's existence and the significance of the person of Jesus. He delves into the issue of intelligent design of the universe and, more personally, grapples with the implications of faith in God.
The book examines how Johnson came to ABC News, his struggles with faith and why he chooses to believe. "My path of faith has wandered through both doubt and belief, often at the same time," he writes.
At times, Finding God in the Questions may raise its own questions. For example, Johnson is anticipating some eyebrow-raising when he writes that he no longer likes to call himself "Christian," preferring the label "follower of Jesus." Johnson looks back to the first disciples as an example of true faith, peeling away layers of doctrines and creeds to find basic Christian faith.
"My own belief is that the relationship to God through Jesus should be experimental, not intellectual primarily, and that's the way it was for the very first believers. ... ," he writes.
"I think so many people have been turned off by even giving Jesus a consideration because we've said to them in essence, you've got to believe all of this intellectual stuff before you're a Christian. I think it's the other way around."
Christine D. Johnson