The 5 Solas — Part 1: Sola Scriptura!

Standing With Luther for the Authority of the Bible...

On April 18, 1521, Martin Luther stood, sweating from a fever, in a large hall in the German city of Worms.

Luther was on trial for heresy—for insisting that Scripture alone, sola Scriptura, was to be regarded as the supreme authority in matters of faith and practice. He argued that the traditions of men cannot supersede the authority of the Word of God. The penalty, should Luther be found guilty, was that he would be burned at the stake.

He stood before Charles V, the 21-year-old emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The hall was so densely packed people could hardly move. Everyone except the emperor was standing. The smoke from hundreds of candles had been rising for hours into a thick cloud. The air was stifling. Tempers were frayed. The future of the church and Luther’s life hung in the balance.

The big question before this gathering was one of authority. Two traditions were at war in Worms. Tradition 1 (first—3rd century A.D.) held that the Bible was the authoritative doctrinal norm for the church. The Scripture was to be interpreted in and by the church within the context of the regula fidei (“rule of faith”), yet neither the church nor the regula fidei were considered second, supplementary sources of revelation. The church was the interpreter of the divine revelation in Scripture, but only Scripture was the Word of God.

Whispers of a second tradition arose in the fourth century, when politics, power, and money had begun to gain increasing influence in the Roman church.  Basil and Augustine suggested the idea for tradition (that is, the long-held interpretation of the church fathers) as a second source of revelation that supplements biblical revelation. It might be brought alongside, but it could not supersede the authority of Scripture. Still, “Tradition 2” was only an idea, not doctrine and it wasn’t widespread.

Tradition 1—the position of the early church—continued to hold sway throughout most of the Middle Ages.

The beginnings of a strong movement toward Tradition 2 did not begin in earnest until the twelfth century, and it wasn’t until the fourteenth century under William of Ockham, that  the two-source view of revelation really gained traction.

From that point forward, Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 duked it out, all the way to the Reformation, which arguably began in 1517 when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, challenging the abuses of Roman authority. By this time Tradition 2 had come to supersede (not simply to supplement) the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice.

Truth is often the victim when money and politics come into play.

It wasn’t the authority Luther was challenging per se. It was the basis upon which the authority was exercised: the traditions of men vs. Scripture.

Thank God for Martin Luther and his unflagging loyalty to the Word of God as the supreme authority in matters of faith a practice.

“Here I stand,” he said to the emperor and all assembled. “I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

For more on Luther and the Reformation: my novel, Storm, recreates the events in Luther’s life from 1505—1525.

Waking Up Slowly – a Review by a Fellow Phubberite

Dave Burchett's new book will give you paws...

So my buddy, Dave Burchett texts me a few days ago:

Dave: “Hey Reg, how about you write an excellent endorsement for my new book, Waking Up Slowly?” Or words to that effect. It was a setup.

Me (not knowing what the book is about): “Yo, Dave—love to, bud, but man, I’m just so (you know what’s coming)—BUSY!”

So, after letting him know what a sacrifice it would be for me to SPEND TIME reading and then blurbing his book, and how he would owe me big time, he sends me the book and I start power-reading (ie., turn on the fan and let the pages fly).

Then, some of the words catch my eye and I slow down. Because that’s what Waking Up Slowly is about: slowing down, being fully present in any given moment, cultivating your friendships. Unplugging. And yes, there are dogs. Dave’s dogs: wunderhounds! I turned off the fan.

I could hear Dave chortling in the background because he knew I’d be totally busted when I caught the drift of his book, which is really a few gulps of cold water on a Dallas day in August masquerading as something to read.

I’ll extend the drinking analogy in a minute. First, I want to encourage those of you who may have encountered this “slow down, you move too fast, got to make the morning last” mantra (thanks S&G for Feelin’ Groovy) in other times and places: this one is different. Waking Up Slowly is better. Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (for which she won the 1975 Pulitzer for General Non-fiction, by the way) comes close, but there’s only one chapter devoted to slowing down. I don’t know—maybe she was feeling a bit rushed.

A more contemporary, antiseptic version can be found in Sherry Turkle’s, Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in a Digital Age; however, Ms. Turkle is an MIT Professor, and an excellent clinical writer, but she’s no Dave Burchett when it comes to life-on-life, and being able to express her research in a way that will satisfy your thirst.

Which brings me back to my water analogy.

Waking Up Slowly is like that old dented, 5-gallon water tin Mr. Robins used to bring to Little League practice in the middle of summer. You’d wear yourself out for a couple of hours, playing on a rocky, dusty infield, getting dinged by bad hops and swallowing a cubic yard of dust—and you’d be eyeing that water tin the whole time. But you had to wait ‘til after practice to get a drink. Then, oh, the taste of that water!

Sometimes our Christian life is like practice on a dusty backlot on a blistering summer afternoon. You love the game, but it can leave you parched. Dave’s book is waiting for you over there behind the backstop. And you don’t have to wait until practice is over to take a drink!

BTW, you’ll have to read the book to get the “Phubberite” allusion in the Blog Title.


Headline: Transition!

Finding Comfort and Joy on the Back Page

On the cusp of our front page presidential transition, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on a back page transition that’s happening in my hometown of Oakville down in South Texas.

We used to know it as “Billie June’s Cafe.” The short, low-roofed building stood just across Highway 59 from the First Baptist Church of Oakville. Sometimes Dad would herd Mom, Debbie and me over to Billie June’s after church to order a hamburger or whatever was least expensive on the menu. This was the late fifties, and we were still saddled with the tail end of a drought that had started in 1952 and that dried up bank accounts as well as the land. The proprietors were Billie June and her husband, Lonnie. I remember Billie June wore the reddest lipstick I had ever seen, and Lonnie was the chef. The counter had those silver stools with red sparkly tops that spun. Side booths were equipped with small silver jukeboxes that carried the latest western hits and a few Elvis songs. It cost a dime to play a song, but Dad said we couldn’t play any songs since the Mafia collected all the money from those jukeboxes and used it to commit “nefarious” crimes.

‘”How often do they come to collect the money,” I asked.

“Once a week, I imagine,” Dad said.

I’m imagining gangsters in dark suits and fedoras carting off heavy dime-filled sacks of loot as I flip through the songs and artists: Jambalaya, Hound Dog, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams. “What do they do with the money?”

“I don’t really know. Nefarious things.”

“Can we come see them?”

“They come at night. That’s how they work. Eat your hamburger, Reg.”

“Hey Dad, look—they’ve got Marty Robbins. Streets of Laredo.” It was dad’s favorite song.

But Dad wouldn’t budge. Not once did we ever contribute to the Mafia’s warchest by paying to hear Marty or Elvis or Conway. Not when we had a perfectly good AM radio sitting on the kitchen counter.

Years later, Lonnie got an offer from a fancy hotel in Corpus and he and Billie June packed up and took off for the big city. Not too long after, Billie June’s morphed into Van’s Barbecue.

Van’s serves up some of the best BBQ in Texas this side of Lockhart (Blacks) to a clientele that ranges from visitors like President George W. Bush, to a host of Country Western stars, and pro-wrestlers (autographed pictures festoon the walls). Then there are the regulars—ranchers and cattlemen who occupy the long table most early mornings to catch up on what happened overnight in Live Oak County and any news regarding the Cowboys or the local high school teams. These are the best folks in the world. They always greet me with a “Hey, Reg” when I walk in the door. They are real.

But now Van’s is going away. Well, not for good. Some nice foreigners bought out the owner and they are building a “new and improved” Van’s along with a big gas station and a country store. While they haven’t said so in so many words, I get the impression from my one 5-minute conversation with the new owner that he wants to “make Van’s great again.”

Now to the casual observer, that might not seem like too much of a stretch. There isn’t a lot about Van’s to recommend it in terms of modern accoutrements. But what makes Van’s Van’s isn’t the building, or the rudimentary toilet (there’s a cast iron bathtub in case you need it), or even the food, as good as it is. It is, of course, the people. Generations of cowboys, cattlemen and farmers come and go, slowly, at an Oakville pace, and they maintain a dignity and a rooted joy in living that is the happy effect of divine providence.

The greatness of Van’s—and of our great nation—will, undoubtedly continue in the “new and improved” iteration, currently under construction. But it will owe any future greatness to the blessing of God and the character of the its patrons.

New Van’s Under Construction

Reflections on the First Person

Why I'm Grateful for the Transition to the Plural



A few months ago my dear friend and acting mentor, Mrs. Mary Ann Pawlik, invited me to perform a first person drama in the newly restored West Theater in George West, Texas.

I decided to write a new piece for the performance: Joseph, the husband of Mary. As usual, I presented in first person, relating the story from Joseph’s perspective. I wore costume and makeup and recreated his character based on my research. Doing a performance in first person provides something unique for the performer and for the audience. As an actor, I get to imagine what it must have been like for this young, blue-collar worker to try to grasp the fact that the love of his life was going to give birth to God in the flesh.

Similarly, when I present in first person, the audience gets to share in Joseph’s experience in a more personal way than it would if the story were related in the third person. The third provides a more objective, distant point of view. The first person POV, on the other hand, is more subjective. The audience views a first person performance can see the parallels with the character more readily.

And there’s biblical warrant for using the first person POV. The apostle Paul uses the first person POV in several places in his letter to the Romans (2:1-5, 17-29; 3:1-9; 3:27-4:2; 7:7-8:2) to help his readers enter into his persuasive argument more immediately.

So, as far as it goes, the first person is, I believe, an effective tool for an actor. I say “as far as it goes” because the first person is limited to the reflections of an individual. So, the audience tends to hear the first person singular “I” a lot. Hopefully, they infer a connection with a person from whom they are separated by time and space. Still, the first person does build a bridge to the audience.

But it’s in crossing that bridge that the real magic happens.

It’s in the transition from the singular to the plural — when the actor interacts with those he loves after the event. When I came down off the stage after the performance and went out into the lobby — actually, I started greeting people in the aisles — the first person singular became the first person plural. “I” became “we” in the context of a community of friends.

I still had the form (makeup and costume) of Joseph, but I was really, and had always been, Reg.

At this Christmas season, I’m grateful that the Lord Jesus Christ didn’t stay up on the heavenly stage, a divine object of worship.

But not personal.

On that first Christmas morning, the Son of God got personal. He came down into the audience. He lived out his life in the form of a bondservant, but He never stopped being God. He touched us, embraced us, and invites us to experience His life — not vicariously, but in reality. Here. Now.

By His grace we are saved.

By His grace we say, Merry Christmas!.


For God's Uncommon Grace


I’ll bet you “say grace” most of the time before a meal, right? Especially at Thanksgiving.

But what do you think about when you “say grace?” What kind of grace do you have in mind?

There’s more than one variety of grace, you know. Now, I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of what some call “special grace.” In “special grace” (also called “irresistible” grace) the Holy Spirit of God continues to apply pressure to the resisting will of the non-Christian until He overwhelms it. But to me this makes God a bit of a spiritual bully, willing to take a crowbar to my rusted soul to make me turn to His indomitable will. He will not drag anyone kicking and screaming into heaven. He will allow the rich young man to turn away (Matthew 19:16-30).

“Common grace,” on the other hand, is tolerated by many Christians as a kind of pitiable stepchild of special grace. “Common” grace is thus often understood negatively, that is, in terms of what it cannot do. Common grace cannot save an unregenerate person.

But what we should emphasize about common grace is the undeserved provision of an antidote to the infection of sin that quarantines us from God and alienates us from one another. The divine initiative evident in “common” grace fails to amaze because we tend to measure the extraordinary character of this brand of grace by the standard of its effect (salvation) rather than the fact that it is ready to hand, and, incredible as it sounds, available for all humanity.

Also, the unfortunate adjective “common” dilutes our appreciation for His grace. “Common” (contra “special”) suggests that which is vulgar, unrefined, unsophisticated. But every demonstration of His grace, no matter how seemingly low-born, should inspire wonder and humility (Job 7:17; Psalm 8:4).

So, I am thankful for His grace. Period. Because we are all recipients of His uncommon grace.

This Thanksgiving, look for evidence of His grace. It’s everywhere.

Here’s one place I recently found His uncommon grace:

A reunion of old friends in the West Theater in George West, Texas following my performance of “Joseph: Adopted.” Jeff and D’Anna, thanks for your musical talent and for sharing the stage with me. Many of the folks there I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. Some, like John Ed Holland and Frank Sales were my teachers. Some, like Cindy and Tracy Smith, and Sharon Isley were my high school friends, grown dearer over the years. Willie James and I played sports together. Willie is an encourager. Mackie Garcia walked off the graduation stage and stepped into 2016, looking and sounding exactly the same — exuberant, joyful — as when we were both 17.

And Mrs. Pawlik, my drama and English teacher for 6 of my 12 years of school, and the one responsible for inviting me to this gig — an emissary of God’s love, creativity, and faith. She models the godly artist and continues to provide a model for what a teacher should be.

This Thanksgiving, I invite you to look around before you say grace. You won’t have to look far to see it — God’s grace that is.

And wherever you find it, you will discover it to be uncommon indeed.

For that, we can all say grace.

And, “amen.”




Relax and smile. It's done. Get some Ben & Jerry's!

Rosalyn & Evan

OK, so you voted. Or not. Either way, it’s a done deal.

No recounts. No more debates. Time to sit by an autumn fire and enjoy a good book — or a short blog by your old buddy here.

Just the other day Evan was reading a poem titled, I Must Remember from Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. By the way, he’s 3, so “reading” is a relative term — the relative in this case being his mom, our daughter, Rosalyn.

The poem has a picture of a very fat man that really made an impression on Evan. He stared at the picture and then at his mom and said, “His tummy is so big!”

“Yes,” Rosalyn said, “it is.”

Evan looked down. “And my tummy is little.”


“Littlewunstu!” Evan said.

“Littlewunstu? What’s that?” Ros asked.

“Littlewunstu from from the Jesus song.”

“What Jesus song”

Evan starts to sing:

Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Littlewunstu Him belong…”

Then he stopped and smiled.

So did Mommy, and Lolly, and PoP!

It’s nice to be reminded during these days of political sturm und drang that God is in control after the last ballot is cast.

That peace can be our portion as we trust in Him with childlike faith.

And that Littlewunsto Him belong.

OK, time for the Ben & Jerry’s. Try Everything But Th… 

It won’t leave you with a little tummy, but it’ll start you singing!

Connecting the Dots: Part 4

5 W's and an H

Last time out we considered the five senses as unique elements or “pearls” on strings that spread out from our nucleus word, “Heaven.” As we dove into the sense end of the pool we immersed our imaginations in images — what does heaven look like, sound like, taste like, feel like, smell like?

Now we are ready to round out our clustering exercise with six more pearls that will enhance and help add unity to the clustering process. As you consider each of these pearls, you will discover what Gabrielle Rico calls a “trial web shift” in her excellent book, Writing the Natural Way. A pattern will begin to emerge from your cluster as you consider these new elements because they are the building blocks of narrative.

So, take up your pencil and add these five new pearls: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and the inimitable How. It should look something like this:


Who — When you ask “who” of the nucleus word, “heaven,” you can come up with a LOT of answers. Think of how you want to frame the question more specifically: “If heaven were a “who” then who would it be?”; “Who will I meet in heaven?”; “Who definitely won’t be in heaven?”; Who(m) do I most look forward to seeing again in heaven?” See? There are lots of ways to cast the “who” question. Same goes for each of the other pearls!

What —  “What is heaven like?”; “What will be there?”: “What will we do in heaven for all eternity?”

When —  “When will I go to heaven?”; “When as a time construct — do we experience time in heaven, and if so, how will it pass?”; “Is eternity just a really long time/when?”; “Was there ever a time when heaven wasn’t?”

Where — “Where is heaven?”; “Where is heaven not?”; “Is heaven a real place, like earth or is it somehow more real than my senses can comprehend this side of eternity?”

Why — “Why is heaven there in the first place?”; “Why should God let me into heaven?”; “Why would I be kept out of heaven?”

How — “How did heaven come to be?”; “How do we get to heaven?”; “How do we travel around in heaven?”; “How will we look, sound, smell” — uh-oh, we’re slipping back into the senses!

Once you have had a chance to explore even a few of the questions that will spring from these new pearls, you will find a story taking shape.

Here’s (most of) a finished cluster by one of my current Creative Writing students, Jonathan Campoverde (used with permission):


And here’s the brief piece that flowed from his cluster: the lead question which lead to his nucleus word was, “What am I?” FYI, DYH stands for “Directing Your Hand” and is a part of every writing exercise. See if you can trace themes from his cluster through his writing exercise. Remember, you don’t have to try to shove every element/pearl into your finished piece. You’re looking for patterns.


Jon is one of our outstanding students here at DTS, and I can’t even claim him as an official Media Arts student. He’s in New Testament! I’m just saying — art abounds here at DTS!

That’s it for clustering. I hope you find it helpful and maybe a little stretching!

Keep writing!


Connecting the Dots: Part 3

Using the 5 Senses to Overcome Writer's Block

Last week we explored Line, Color, Texture, and Mass as elements of clustering that will help us think of our nucleus word (heaven) in new and different ways.

This week we want to focus on the five senses: See, Hear, Taste, Touch, Smell. There’s going to be a bit of overlap between what your right brain generates here and the pearls it generated when you spun out Line, Color, Texture, and Mass last week. That’s Okay — in fact, it’s good! But resist the temptation to make too many connections between the overlapping “pearls” at this point. Each string needs to be pure, and for now, considered by itself.

Let’s stick with our nucleus word of “heaven.” I’m going to add a new string to my already-existing cluster. The pearl at the end of that string is going to have the word, “See.” Here’s what it will look like with your five new “pearls” in place:


See — 83% of everything you learn in your life you learn by seeing. Ask yourself, “what does heaven look like? When I think of heaven, what do I see?” Try to isolate the other senses and just focus on a vision of heaven.

Hear —  11% you learn by hearing. If heaven were reduced to a sound, what would that sound be? Would it be a sound from nature, a musical instrument, a machine? Try to pretend that the other senses do not exist and all you have available to you is the sense of hearing.

Smell — 3.5%. This one is fun! If all of the other senses were nonfunctional, what would the aroma of heaven be to you? Explore different categories. It could be a food, a flower, a perfume. Anything that has a scent.

Touch — 1.5%. Wow! We only learn 1.5% of all that we know through the sense of touch. That’s not to say touch is unimportant, only that it doesn’t account for much in terms of our being able to interpret and learn from our environment (remember the illustration of the two blind men and the elephant, one feeling it’s trunk and the other it’s tail, and coming up with radically different “interpretations” of what an elephant is). Of course “Touch” will overlap with “Texture” from our last exercise. That’s okay. If you could write reach out and touch heaven right now, what would it feel like?

Taste — 1%. We don’t learn much through taste. 99% of all that you know will NOT come via your taste buds. Still, it’s fascinating to think about what heaven might taste like, especially if all of the other senses are muted.


Spend a few minutes exploring each of the five senses. Again, isolate each sense. Pretend that the other senses are nonfunctional.

You are creating quite a string of “pearls.” Each one could constitute a nucleus all on its own! You might come up with a striking simile related to just one of the senses. The ultimate goal here is not to try to shoehorn in all of the senses to any given writing project, but to open you up to the possibilities contained in the senses as we explore them discreetly, and then in combination with one another.

Happy clustering!

Connecting the Dots: Part 2

Clustering using Line, Color, Texture, and Mass

Heaven? Nope, Just Down at The Ranch with Evan


Last week we explored the essentials of clustering as taught by Dr. Rico in, Writing the Natural Way.

This week I want to expand on the basic idea of clustering to include some new elements for your consideration. This is pretty much a right brain exercise, and, as such, it will require you to keep your left brain in timeout for a bit longer.

The four elements that we want to add to the initial cluster are these: 1) line, 2) color, 3) texture, 4) mass.

Each of these should begin a new string emanating from the nucleus word at the center of the cluster.

Here’s how it works: draw four lines out from the nucleus word. We will call each one of these extended lines a string. Each element on the string is a “pearl.”

Now draw a circle at the end of the first line/string, and inside that circle write the word, “line.” That’s the first pearl on that string. Then draw a three more circles at the ends of each of the other strings and write the words, “color,” “texture,” and “mass” in each one.

Here’s a graphic that illustrates what it should look like using “Heaven” as a nucleus word:


Each new element will engender a host of other ideas — song fragments, pictures, quotes from old movies, and other sensate images. Here’s how these new elements of line, color, texture, and mass influence your writing.

Line — the shape of the drawn line suggests several things. “Heaven’s” line suggests to me an upward, slingshot movement. My writing is going to reflect, at least in part, this kinetic, ascending kind of structure and language.

Color — every person who can sense color brings baggage to the table when it comes to relating color to abstract concepts such as “heaven,” We may have been influenced by songs or biblical narratives that mention “streets of gold.” We may have seen paintings that depict heaven as golden-hued. But I may explore other colors, like the “cobalt blue” suggested in my cluster above. I bring a wagonload of positive associations to my vision of heaven as cobalt blue. This isn’t to say that you have to make everything (or anything) blue, or gold in your piece. But thinking of heaven in terms of gold, or blue or (fill in the blank with your color), will influence your word choice — simply because specific colors mean so much to each of us.

Texture — to me “heaven” makes me think of golden burnished leather. That image in itself is so rich. It has color, and an aroma as well as the texture of supple leather, which I love. The more multi-sensory the image, the better.

Mass — “heaven” to me is as light as a small child. Evan in my arms is, I think, a foretaste of the mass, the weight, of heaven.

Line, color, texture, mass —four doors that will open onto worlds of connections. Push into specificity. Refuse to be satisfied with a generic “pearl.” Try your best to make each string end with something tangible.

Then, look for those unexpected connections!

And write!

Connecting the Dots: Part 1

Clustering as a Way Out of Writer's Block


I grew up on a ranch, miles away from any city illumination that would bleach out the starlight. The Milky Way stretched out like a cloud beyond the local shimmerings of blood-red Mars and his legions. Even as a child, I felt incredibly small.

And lost.

My dad helped. He pointed out patterns in the stars—constellations. Learning to recognize Orion and the Great Bear, and  to connect those pictures with the stories that leant them “a local habitation” helped me organize the galaxy. Simply connecting the dots — learning to recognize patterns in the stars gave me a sense of control. Order (albeit artificial and imposed) displaced an uneasy feeling of chaos. That’s what I found in the constellations — clusters of meaning.

Sometimes when you’re writing, you feel like the ideas are out there, but they are remote, as distant as the stars, and you can’t grasp them. They splay across your imagination scattered, unfocused, and unconnected — an arbitrary spray of thoughts like glitter spilled onto black velvet. You feel confused, frustrated at your inability to lock something down, to discern a pattern in the confusion. That blank page/computer screen is a wall that no battering ram of words can crack. The wall has a name: writer’s block.


Gabrielle Rico offers a solution to writer’s block that I have been using for years. Her approach, contained in her classic Writing the Natural Way, is called clustering.

“A non-linear brainstorming process, clustering makes the Design mind’s interior, invisible associations visible on a page. Clustering becomes a self-organizing process as words and phrases are spilled onto the page around a center. The Sign mind begins to see pattern and meaning, and the writing flows naturally into a vignette.”

The first word (Rico calls it the nucleus) is the ideational big bang that creates a creative event horizon for the galaxy of ideas that will spring from it. As you look at the simple clusters on Rico’s website, consider expanding yours to include snippets from songs, quotes from movies, a half-remembered stanza from a childhood poem. The key to the initial phase of effective clustering is variety — allowing your non-linear “right brain” free rein.

Get ready — the words, the images that will proceed from the nucleus idea refuse to march in tight left-brain ranks. They are not orderly, at least not in a conventional sense. Instead, they erupt from their confining stall like a bucking bronco, untamed, wild. Trust this impulsive burst. Don’t inhibit, don’t bridle, don’t edit.

Just ride, and hold on.

Be forewarned, as you cluster your left-brain logical side is going to resist: “Quit goofing around — you’re wasting time. This is stupid. And dangerous. And it doesn’t make sense!” But that’s to be expected because your right brain is speaking a language that is foreign to your left brain. It’s the language of unbridled creativity.

So, put your left brain in time out. We will invite him back later.

For the moment, it’s time to play.