Tod Bolsinger and Show Time:
Interview and Excerpts
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2004 by Mark D. Roberts
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Show Time: An Interview with Tod Bolsinger
Posted at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, October 29, 2004
Today’s post is an interview with Tod Bolsinger. His second book has just been published, and I thought my readers would appreciate learning about it “from the horse’s mouth,” as it were. The book is: Show Time: Living Down Hypocrisy by Living Out the Faith (Baker, 2004). In addition to being an author, Tod is the Senior Pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church in Southern California. He is also an adjunct professor of practical theology for Fuller Theological Seminary. His previous book, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian, was the focus of a previous interview I did with Tod. He also is a new blogger. His daily posts are excellent. You should check them out.
MDR: So, Tod, a second book. And so soon. Way to go! Tell us, why did you write Show Time?
The Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger (yes, with one 'd').
Tod: Theologian Hans Küng reportedly used to tell his divinity students that while they may be experts in Christian theology, lay people are experts in living the Christian life. This book is my attempt as a pastor and theologian to communicate with real-life experts (like many of your website readers) about how to live out a positively contagious vision of the Christian life. It is a critique of Christianity that doesn’t “walk the talk,” a buoyant celebration of some rare but magnificent Christians who do, and biblical instruction in taking steps toward a faith that shows the good news of Christ. It is from start to finish a book for “everyday believers.”
MDR: Now you’re especially concerned about the problem of hypocrisy in the church, right?
Tod: Yes. As I wrote in the introduction, “This book was born of the pain of Christians who have had to ‘live down’ the inconsistent lives of other believers. . . . So much of the hypocrisy of the church results from our tendency to wear two faces: our church face and our real face. Sooner or later, the real face takes over.”
MDR: Now you’re the author of this book, but you’ve said it’s really more of a communal project.
Tod: Indeed. Part of my genuine excitement for this book is that it is the product of a community endeavor. It began as sermons given to San Clemente Presbyterian Church. I developed the series in response to some questionnaires filled out by my congregation, whereby they indicated that they wanted some sermons that “applied Christianity to everyday living.” My sermons were then rewritten for my Wednesday morning men’s small group, who gave me not only ample feedback but in some cases blunt correction. The whole series was then completely overhauled numerous more times through frank conversations with Christian men and women who cared more about what Christianity should mean in the real world than my pride as an author. Finally, a group of professionals in Los Angeles used the book and gave me some additional input.
What you have, then, is the result of many caring people who want their lives and their churches to demonstrate the good news of Jesus in an increasingly effective way. The book is arranged in readable chapters with discussion questions and includes many stories about Christians living out the faith.
MDR: So are you going to share any of the big bucks you make from this book with all of your co-authors? Okay, just kidding. More seriously, though, you say this book is for “everyday Christians.” What can these folks expect to get out of Show Time.
Tod: First and foremost, understanding. This book doesn’t sugarcoat how hard it is to live out our faith each day. Together we look at both the call of the New Testament to “let our lights shine” but we also look at how often all of us, including pastors like you and me, Mark, fall short.
MDR: Ah, yeah, well, okay, I guess so. Can we change the subject now?
Tod: The second thing that I wanted to offer everyday Christians, is good, practical, tried and true wisdom. Not just my “advice” but true wisdom from the word of God that helps us grow, step-by-step in a pattern of biblical character formation.
MDR: So you’re helping people to live out their faith in the real world where they live. Sounds good. But this suggests a question. Why is it so hard for us Christians today to live out our faith?
I’ll give you some time to think about this, Tod, since I’m going to take a blog break now. We can continue the conversation tomorrow, if that’s okay with you.
Tod: Yes, great.
MDR: So come back tomorrow for part 2 of my interview with Tod Bolsinger, author of Show Time.
Show Time: An Interview with Tod Bolsinger (Part 2)
Posted at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 30, 2004
This is part 2 of my interview with Tod Bolsinger, author of the newly released Show Time. In part 1, Tod explained that he wrote this book to help “everyday Christians” live out their faith in the real world. This suggested the question: Why is it so hard for us Christians to live out our faith?
MDR: So, Tod, back to where we left off yesterday. Why, do you think, it’s hard for us to live out our faith each day?
Tod: Well, three things immediately come to mind, Mark. First, our own human nature. We tend to “go along to get along.” It is not enough to say with dogged determination, “Today I will make a difference for Christ in the world.” We need the life-transforming grace of Christ, operating in our lives.
Second, we live in a culture that attacks and seduces true expressions of character and integrity at every turn. Temptations to sin, rampant materialism, a lack of shared values, and cynicism that anyone can live noble and virtuous lives leaves most us feeling as if the best we can do is hide our hypocrisy and hope that God will somehow shine through our broken lives. We need to believe that we can learn to live better.
Cool cover, I think. Notice the foreword by Lloyd Ogilve, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate. Not too shabby!
MDR: Now, having read your last book, It Takes a Church, I can probably guess your next point. We can’t live better if we’re disconnected from the church, right?
Tod: Exactly. One of the greatest reasons we struggle to live out our faith is that we often try to do it alone, without genuine community. Christian character is a result of the Holy Spirit at work in the regenerated believer who lives and grows within a community of believers who seek to live out the gospel each day. Without the moral discourse, mutual accountability, gracious forgiveness, and continual support of a community of character, all of us will eventually allow the stresses of our culture to shape us in the image of the age.
MDR: So, will this book help us to overcome these problems?
Tod: I hope so. That’s the point. Show Time is meant to be a direct response to all three of those challenges. First, it calls us to truly embrace the life-transforming grace of Jesus Christ that was offered to a flawed fisherman named Peter and is offered to flawed people like you and me.
MDR: There you go again, assuming that I’m flawed. Have you been talking to my wife? Oh well, I suppose you’re right.
Tod: No doubt about it, I’m afraid. Anyway, back to what I was saying. Show Time is a series of word studies that offers us a step-by-step virtue list that holds up the very best character qualities that every culture aspires to attain and equips us to express them through genuine Christian living each day.
MDR: A virtue list? What, did you make this up yourself?
Tod: No. It comes right from the pages of Scripture, from the first chapter of 2 Peter.
MDR: What about the need for community?
Tod: I have meant for Show Time to be read with friends. It is intentionally formatted for small groups or prayer partners to read and discuss. Each chapter offers questions for discussion. My hope is that in boardrooms, meeting rooms, classrooms and kitchen tables small groups of Christian friends will read the wisdom of 2 Peter 1:3-10 and learn to live down hypocrisy by living out the faith.
MDR: Anything else you want to tell us about the book?
Tod: It’s got a lot of cool stories. Really. I love stories and I fill the book with them. Stories of “everyday Christians” who are living out the faith; stories about fishing and hiking; stories about Cal Ripken and Dave Wottle (remember him?), stories from movies and great books. I hope it is not only challenging, but a fun read as well.
MDR: Well, just so long as you don’t include any stories about me and my flaws. Seriously though, you’re a great story teller. I’m sure these illustrations will make Show Time come alive.
Say, I’ve got an idea. How about if I include some excerpts of Show Time in my blog. This will help folks get a feel for your writing. (And, frankly, I think it will help them buy your book!) Will you help me find some suitable excerpts for my readers?
Tod: Sure. That would be great.
MDR: Stay tuned for some excerpts from Show Time by Tod Bolsinger. You’ll be glad you did. I expect I’ll put them up next weekend. But, if you become impatient, you can always buy your own copy today. If you buy it from Amazon, notice who’s got the first review of the book! I do think Show Time is a great tool, not only for individuals, but also for adults groups of various kinds.
Show Time: A Teaser
Posted at 10:00 p.m. on Friday, November 5, 2004
Last weekend I posted an interview with Tod Bolsinger, author of the great new book Show Time: Living Down Hypocrisy by Living Out the Faith (Baker, 2004). Tod, in addition to being an engaging author, is the Senior Pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church, an adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary (where Tod got his Ph.D.), and an up-and-coming blogger.
At the close of my interview, I asked Tod if I might post some portions of Show Time for my blog readers. He agreed. So the bulk of today’s post consists of two excerpts from this book. When you read these, I think you’ll want to find out what else Tod has to say. No better way than buying Show Time for yourself and your friends.
Show Time excerpt: Talk is Cheap…
“Sometimes, I think Christians should just shut up.” He wasn’t mad, just resigned. He said it with more of a sigh than spite. Mick is a committed Christian, a successful contractor, and a good friend. We were talking about the difficulties of living out the Christian faith in the world and had already run through the usual litany of challenges: bias against religion, ethical relativism, temptations to cut corners. But then Mick surprised me. “You know, Tod, my biggest problem with telling people that I am a Christian is other Christians.”
Mick added that his non-Christian partner once told him, “Whenever someone tells me he is a Christian in the middle of a business deal, I guard my wallet. You want me to take your faith seriously, but I keep running into Christians who preach Jesus but don’t live like him.”
Mick’s wife, Shari, a pharmaceutical sales rep, chimed in. “Whenever a new person joins our group on the sales team and tells people that he or she is a Christian, every one looks at me. They ask, ‘Is she legit or is this just another one of those Bible thumpers?’ Everybody has a story of some Christian who crammed Jesus down their throats and yet couldn’t do the job.”
If you’re like my friends, you may be a bit gun shy when it comes to talking about your faith. You want your words about Jesus to be taken seriously, yet you know that not everyone who talks about Jesus is worth listening to. You want to be different from those who spend more time talking about their faith than living it. You want your life to preach the gospel before you’ve ever said a word. After all, talk is cheap, and more people should take the words of St. Francis to heart: “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.”
Yes, "Tod" has only one 'd.' This is fine unless you speak German.
MDR note: Can’t you relate to this? I know I can. And don’t you just love the quote from St. Francis: “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.” One of the things I love about Tod’s writing is his use of quotations from spiritual classics.
Show Time excerpt: Where have all the good Christians gone?
In an interview in Vanity Fair, humorist Garrison Keillor sounded a note of disillusionment that is all too common these days when he said, “My generation strikes me as self-absorbed. You hear them at the grocery store deliberating over the balsamic vinegar and the olive oils…and you think, ‘These people probably subscribe to an olive-oil magazine called ‘New Dimension.’ They are people with too much money and very little character, people who are all sensibility and no sense, all nostalgia and no history, the people my Aunt Eleanor used to call a $10 haircut on a 59-cent head—people I would call yuppie swine.”
Like Garrison Keillor, I believe that many of us fear that our children are doomed to self-absorbed childishness. We look at the famous and see few heroes about, few lives worth emulating. We are beginning to weary at the waste of powerful leaders whose personal peccadilloes have become the punch line for another late-night monologue. Behind all of Jay Leno’s smirks there is a hunger to see the genuine article. To see someone who is really good. As much as we all made fun of the “goody-two-shoes” in the classroom growing up, I believe that today we are looking for them.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, even a hardened cynic like David Letterman was moved to tears when he spoke of the moral example demonstrated by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, “If you don’t know how to behave,” Letterman said on a broadcast that was notable for its appropriate lack of levity, “all you had to do at any moment was look at the mayor. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage.”
After that crisis, we were all looking for someone to look up to, for someone to emulate. And I believe that this is a great opportunity for the church if we have effective faith. Almost 50 years ago, Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote words that are even more accurate today:
“If Christianity is what it claims to be, then it should be producing a type and order of life which is quite exceptional. If therefore, we are to meet the challenge of the modern world we must be living the Christian life; and the question arises how we are to do so.”
This is exactly the same question that this passage in 2 Peter 1:3-10 aims to address: A Christian faith that makes a difference in the world by producing people of character. And the first step for doing so is to be genuinely changed because we have been saved. (Not in order to be saved. This is a very important distinction!) This is why after recounting the power and promises available to believers so that they might “escape the corruption that is in the world,” Peter charges us, For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness…
In this one phrase we learn that if our lives are going to speak to people and make a difference in the real world, they must express faith through goodness. Or to be even more accurate in translation, the passage should read to express your faith with virtue. The first lesson could be given in a quick synopsis: Faith for the real world produces virtue.
MDR Wrap Up: Show Time is not merely Tod’s wisdom for Christian living. It is a Bible study on 2 Peter 1:3-10. Tod shows how this text, properly understood, helps us to live in the world so that we might “show” the reality of the gospel.
I think these excerpts prove that Tod is a captivating writer who talks plainly about the issues we care about today. Last week I bought one of Tod’s books (in addition to the review copy I was sent) in order to have it on hand to give to a friend. I’d urge you to do the same.
Show Time: Another Teaser
Posted at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 6, 2004
Yesterday I put up a couple of excerpts from Tod Bolsinger’s new book, Show Time: Living Down Hypocrisy by Living Out the Faith (Baker, 2004). This was a follow up to the interview I did with Tod last weekend. Today I’m going to post two more excerpts from Show Time. I know you’ll enjoy them.
Show Time excerpt: No Nagging Required
Are you familiar with the comic strip “Broom Hilda”? Broom Hilda is an ugly yet somehow lovable witch. Her friend Irwin, is a troll whose innocence and naiveté make him truly endearing. One day Broom Hilda asks her friend, “Irwin, what would be the best way to make the world a better place?"
Irwin thinks for a moment and replies, “Start with yourself! Give up your bad habits and evil pleasures. Then when you’re good, you’ll stand as a shining example to others!”
Broom Hilda swiftly responds, “What’s the second best way?”
When our text urges us to support our faith with goodness, it is giving us the same advice as Irwin. Effective faith does not begin with trying to get others to be good, but to be better people ourselves. It doesn’t begin with nagging others, but with our bringing forth the kind of virtuous living that is commendable to all people.
Broom Hilda, in the flesh, well, sort of.
One of the most interesting things in [2 Peter 1:3-10] is the author’s choice of a word for “goodness”. He doesn’t choose the usual word that immediately signifies to God’s people religious goodness, or goodness that comes through obedience to God. Instead he uses a word that shows up only one other time in New Testament character lists (Phil 4:8). It is a more “secular” word, a philosophical word, the classic Greek word for virtue, arete.
In other words—and this is very important—we are to live lives that even those who don’t believe in God will say is a commendable way of living. We need to live lives that even an unbeliever would respect. This is why I translate this phrase as “from your faith, produce virtue that is commendable by the world’s best standards”
Again, the word “virtue” in Latin comes from the word virtus, where we get the word, virility. It means literally, manliness, and implies a kind of potency for living that inspires life as it is meant to be lived. Peter is saying that the church, the people of faith, should demonstrate to the world how all humans are meant to live.
Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. In their study of American Christianity, George Gallup, Jr. and Jim Castelli identify what could be called an “Ethics Gap” in the church, the discrepancy between Christians’ degree of stated convictions and our consistency in living them out. They write, “While religion is highly popular in America, it is to a large extent superficial; it does not change people’s lives to the degree one would expect from their level of professed faith.”
To give just one example, according to one study by a Christian researcher in 1999, evangelical Christians now have a slightly higher rate of divorce than non-Christians. We who think of commitment, vows and covenant relationships as part of the life of faith, are just simply not living as commendably as we would hope.
In Jesus’ own teaching, (see for example the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10) he often would goad religious people by holding up the example of those unbelievers who were by their actions a better example than believers. While the religious leaders argued about who was worthy of one’s care and concern (“Who is my neighbor?”) the despised, mixed race and theologically heterodox Samaritan acted with the kind of compassion and personal care that leads Jesus to conclude in Luke 10:37, “Go and do likewise.”
Throughout the New Testament, Christians are exhorted to commendable living:
Live such good lives among the pagans that they will see your good deeds…and glorify God. (1 Peter 2:12, NIV).
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:4, NRSV)
||Now let’s be clear, this desired goodness doesn’t come over night and books written and sermons preached won’t instantly produce it. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis compares becoming virtuous to becoming an athlete. He writes that even a bad tennis player might make a good shot now and then by sheer luck. But a truly good player is someone who has practiced making good shots for years: “Whose eye, muscles and nerves have been so trained…that they can now be relied on.” In the same way, someone who perseveres in doing what is right develops a reliable character. They live commendably regularly and over time demonstrate Christ’s goodness to a watching world.
Tod doesn't spend too much time practicing his tennis stroke these days, but he does practice his casting. Here he's mastering the Snake River in Idaho.
MDR Conclusion: Tod has a unique way of combining careful biblical interpretation, insights from classic Christian writers, and popular application. Show Time, apart from being insightful and challenging, is an enjoyable read. It’s full of lots of fascinating stories, well-narrated. So, if you’re looking for biblical wisdom on how to live in the real world, and if you’d like to get that wisdom in a compelling package, then buy a copy of Show Time.