19 January, 2022

Illinois Preacher Explores Pandemic, Isolation, and God’s Presence in New Book

by | 12 November, 2021 | 0 comments

By Jim Nieman

Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Bob Beckman—like so many others—was trying to make sense of it all. Unlike most everyone else, however, Beckman recorded his thoughts in a form that eventually became a book, Presence in Solitude: The Pastoral Promise of the Pandemic.

Beckman, affectionately known as “Bob the Preacher,” serves as preaching minister with First Christian Church in Grayville, Ill. He set out to explore “how the church did” during the pandemic, and through the process of studying Scripture recognized that solitude and isolation are familiar concepts in the New Testament.

“Early in the process [of writing the book], the publisher . . . asked me for a seven-word summary of the project,” Beckman tells Christian Standard. “What I said then is, I still think, the best assessment: ‘You are not the first, you are not the last, you are not the only’ one to experience some kind of forced solitude.”

The book takes readers “on a brief journey through the New Testament with others who were seemingly alone in grace circumstances,” according to its back cover.

Beckman examines five New Testament stories of solitude—three stories are about Jesus, one is about Paul and Silas in jail, and the fifth is about John on Patmos.

“Jesus, Paul, and John did not see their circumstances as defining them, delimiting them, or holding them back,” Beckman says. “Like them, we can choose to see God in difficulties to realize his presence in solitude.”

“Even during the most difficult times, there are opportunities for growth if we will only seize them. . . . People are only as alone as they really want to be.”

Living in an out-of-the-way small town like Grayville, Beckman says, he was able to adhere to his normal early morning routine during the pandemic—arriving at the church building early each day to pray and study Scripture.

But so much else underwent change. He writes in the book’s Prologue: “Guys like me have had to learn how to be producers and content creators so that we might stream worship online and provide fresh content for new communication mediums. We had to become even more capable of using the telephone, text, chat, and Zoom—not as useful adjuncts to ‘real ministry’ but as essential tools. It has been exhausting, exhilarating, and expansive. . . .”

Beckman is happy to report that his Illinois congregation has not experienced some of the conflict others have.

“I think that too many churches and individual Christians are continuing to filter the experience [of COVID-19] through nonbiblical categories. Many people continue to behave as if New Testament instructions about Christian conduct are optional when we are under duress, when in fact, most of those instructions were specifically written to address trying circumstances.”

Beckman says this book—his first—should benefit any concerned believer. He adds, “I hope it encourages preachers to faithfully exegete and apply Scripture in the everyday context of preaching and teaching.”

_ _ _

Presence in Solitude: The Pastoral Promise of the Pandemic is published by Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf & Stock. It is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.

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Christian Standard

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