Tracie Peterson: Inspired and Inspiring

In the past two decades, Tracie Peterson has written 95 books. The Kansas native says that her passion for writing popular historical, Christian-themed novels began when she was quite young, when her mother urged her to write instead of fidgeting in church. “When I was as little as four years old, my mom would give me a pen and paper and tell me to write a story to keep me busy,” Peterson says. “She would [have me] tell her the story after church. It birthed in me the desire to be a storyteller.”

As Peterson’s faith in God developed, so did her ability as a writer. Her first novel, A Place to Belong (Barbour/Heartsong Presents) was published in 1993. After the book was published, she was voted Favorite Author of the Year by Heartsong readers for the next three years in a row. “I realized little by little that words are very powerful, and taking those words to encourage people rather than tear them apart was the desire of my heart,” she says. “In that desire I felt like I could really serve God.”

Barbour and Heartsong also asked her to oversee acquisitions for three years. “That taught me to appreciate my editors, and it taught me the working details of what goes into making a book, the team effort involved in getting something published,” she says. “Authors can get an attitude of us-against-them when it comes to publishers, but learning how authors and editors can work together taught me to look at my work in a different way, and to make that work as solid as possible before it ever goes to the publisher.”

In 1995, Peterson started co-writing the Ribbons West series with author Judith Pella; the first book released in 1997. The coauthors followed up with the Ribbons of Steel series, with the first book published in 1999. Peterson eventually ended up publishing exclusively with Bethany House. Her new book, Touching the Sky (Bethany House), is the second volume in her Land of the Lone Star series and centers on a family of Union supporters in Corpus Christi, Tex., shortly after the end of the Civil War.

Peterson’s compassion for new writers has motivated her to offer advice as a seasoned author who has also worked as a publisher. Twelve years ago, Peterson helped found the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Association, which now has nearly 3,000 members. She has won a number of awards for her work, but none was quite as special to her as the association’s 2011 Career Achievement Award. “Lifetime achievement from that group really touched me, because those are my peers. I have been blessed by them and inspired by them,” she says.—J. Victoria Sanders

Angela Hunt: Prolific Pragmatist

When Angela Hunt started writing magazine articles and catalogue copy in 1983, her goal was purely pragmatic: she wanted a job that allowed her to stay at home with the kids. One hundred and fourteen books later, even Hunt couldn’t have dreamed where her pragmatism would lead.

Hunt’s secret to managing a heavy publication schedule is simple: “I attribute it all to a slight case of OCD,” she says. “It’s hard for me to let go of something once I’ve started a project.” Her upcoming release from Howard Books, Five Miles South of Peculiar, and last year’s The Fine Art of Insincerity (also from Howard), both feature different sets of three sisters as the main characters. As one of three sisters herself, Hunt says, “I understand those dynamics pretty well, at least from an elder sister’s perspective.”

Five Miles South of Peculiar brings a message of reconciliation and forgiveness. “I’m always amazed when I hear about people who have borne a grudge for decades,” she says. “Life’s too short to carry such burdens.”

As a pragmatist, Hunt says the most difficult thing to do when she wrote Five Miles South of Peculiar was to get in the heads of her characters. “It’s hard for me to drown myself in emotion.” Writing about her four-footed furry characters was easy. Five Miles South of Peculiar features the Leonberger breed of dogs, which “just might be the next breed in my future,” Hunt says. “I think dogs are one of the best gifts God ever gave man. Time spent playing with puppies is never wasted.” She and her husband have two mastiffs, Charley and Babe, and now she’s taken up dog photography.

Since her first book in 1987, Hunt has witnessed the changes wrought by social media, and she maintains an active presence on Facebook. “My social pages have more information about dogs and daily life than they do about the writing, though I do squeeze that in every now and then,” says Hunt. “The writing life is actually boring—which is probably why there are no reality shows featuring novelists.”—Cindy Crosby

Marcus Borg: Reordering the New Testament

The New Testament does not begin with the Gospels and end with Revelation, according to Marcus Borg, whose new book, Evolution of the Word (HarperOne), presents the biblical documents in the order in which they were originally written. “Biblical scholars agree that the New Testament begins with the seven letters of Paul, which were written in the 50s,” says Borg. He adds that the first Gospel was Mark, not Matthew, and Revelation was one of the middle documents written, not the final one.

This should come as no surprise to many seminary and divinity students who have been studying the chronological order for years, says Borg. He hopes Evolution will speak to all curious Christians. “The chronological New Testament helps readers understand the evolution of the meaning and significance of Jesus within the Christ communities that produced the New Testament documents.” These small communities were scattered throughout the Roman Empire before any of the documents were written, and the Gospels were not the source of Christianity but the outcome, says Borg. “The New Testament and early Christianity were a product of a developing tradition about Jesus in the decades after his death.”

Inconsistencies are also more apparent in the reordering. “In Paul’s early letters, women were equal to men. In later letters attributed to Paul, but not written by him, women are subordinated to men. In John’s Gospel, written in the 90s, Jesus speaks about himself as God’s Son, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life and so forth; in Mark, the first Gospel to be written, he does not.”

A well-known progressive Christian, Borg says moderate Protestant churches and progressive Christians should be “very open” to Evolution, but those committed to biblical literalism will not. “They will see this as just another piece of liberal scholarship.” He adds, “They will object to the affirmation that some of the documents were not written by the authors whose names they bear. For example, most modern scholars think six of the 13 letters assigned to Paul were not written by him. They would also date much of the New Testament earlier.”

Borg describes progressive Christianity as “rejecting Bible inerrancy and literalism and affirming religious pluralism—that the enduring religious traditions of the world are all valid responses to God.” Progressives support the ordination of women and the full status of gays and lesbians within the church. They also tend to be politically to the left, says Borg, “because of the realization of just how political the Bible really is. The political passion of the Bible is largely about economic fairness and peace.”—Karen Jones

Bryan Clay: Unlikely Olympian

Bryan Clay’s life is a testament to the power of other people’s prayers.

In his new memoir, Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold (Thomas Nelson), Clay tells the story of a defiant youth who grew up in Hawaii as the son of a Japanese mother and an African-American father. After his parents divorced, turning to sports helped quell some of the anger that made him start beating up kids at school and going to classes drunk from the seventh grade into high school.

His eventual victories as an athlete and as a man, Clay says, came from his mother’s continued insistence that God intended for him to become an Olympian. A college girlfriend also persuaded him to surrender his destiny to Jesus.

Clay is one of the most unlikely decathletes in Olympic Games history, just five feet 10 inches tall and a little over 175 pounds, in a sport where the average height is well above six feet and athletes weigh more than 195 pounds. “My background gave me no hope of being a professional athlete.... Perhaps the reason I became a two-time Olympic medalist was because what my mom says was true,” he writes in the book. “God had a plan for me, and He was not going to let me screw it up.”

And without his relationship with the love of his life, Clay might never have become an Olympic champion. “My wife, who was my girlfriend at a pivotal time in my life, is a big part of my story,” Clay says. “My wife makes me better. In college, when she spurred on the life-changing decisions I had to make, that was a huge turning point.”

As a biracial Hawaii native who identifies as Christian, he draws questions about similarities between his life and that of President Obama, though he says he knows very little about the president.

“I’m sure there are similarities in terms of what we’ve faced in trying to reach a goal or a dream,” Clay says from his current home in California, where, when he’s not competing in track and field around the world, he lives with his wife, Sarah, and their two children. He wants to break the world record in his sport and is looking forward to Olympic trials for the London Games.

As he works toward building his legacy as a world-class athlete, Clay relies on a community of people praying avidly for his success. He meets weekly with his pastor for coffee, and regularly with a group of like-minded men he can talk to about any struggles or doubts. “They’re people who will hold me accountable,” he says. “It’s important to surround yourself with people who are striving to do great things. Iron sharpens iron.”—J. Victoria Sanders

Gary Chapman: Twenty Years of Love Language

Gary Chapman discovered the mystery of love languages three decades ago, when he was afraid he’d married the wrong woman. The 74-year-old senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., has worked at the same church for 41 years.

His experiences as a pastor led Chapman to extend his ministry to counseling. He heard similar themes over and over—that some people responded to acts of service, others to touch. Over time he noticed that the things people yearned for in love could fall into five categories. The result was one of the world’s best-known relationship books, The 5 Love Languages, which turns 20 years old this year. The book has sold more than seven million copies and been translated into 36 languages.

The 5 Love Languages originated with Chapman’s perception of peoples’ relationship dilemmas, but also his own struggles to be a better husband to his wife, Karolyn. “Long before I knew the love languages, I just said to God, ‘I don’t know what else to do,’ ” Chapman says. “God said to me, through this image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, that I didn’t have the attitude of Christ. I just started asking Karolyn how I could help her and be a better husband. Essentially, she was teaching me how to love her.”

The knowledge that we all communicate love and affection in different ways was a crucial concept when the book was published in 1992, and Chapman says it still is. “Our society places tremendous importance on the ‘in love’ experience, which is euphoric. All of us come down off the euphoric high, which is why we have to learn love languages so that we can continue to communicate.”

The 5 Love Languages allows Chapman to “help a lot of people I would never have time to see in my office.” Chapman also has developed Love Language books for children, teens, and singles. The last book in the series was The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Northfield, 2011). Now he has coauthored A Perfect Pet for Peyton: A 5 Love Languages Discovery Book (with Rick Osborne; Moody), a children’s book treating some of the same themes.

In addition to speaking and writing, Chapman continues to do crisis counseling in his church community. “I still counsel people because I want to stay in touch with pain and reality.” —J. Victoria Sanders