About December 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in December 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2005 is the previous archive.

January 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

December 2005 Archives

December 2, 2005

Walter Brueggemann

I know a few of you will be jealous, but you should know it really, really was a very hard set up---got into the loading dock, swiveled the blasted carts of books through the too narrow kitchen doors, upa coupla elevators and into the well-appointed ballroom of a swanky regional hotel where we shoved tables and crawled on our knees on the carpet til our hands were brush-burned, looking for just the right arrangement of space, bookselling space.

We had a bit of help for a bit (thanks, again, to Derek and Pierce) but then even Beth had to leave---still settling the "estate" (which means cleaning out her girlhood home of a lifetime of memories after her father's death last summer)--so I set up books by myself from late afternoon til well after 3:00 am. An hour's drive home, picking more titles (like we had room for any more on the umpteen tables we already had jammed with books) and then hurried back the next morning, putting on my tie in the rear-view mirror during rush hour traffic. I say all this--conjuring up images of me sweating, back-hurting, emotionally-drained and fretting everthing there is to fret when setting up a large book display for a pack of pastors with high expectations and diverse reading habits--to try to get your sympathy. Bookselling Hearts & Minds style is very labor intensive and I am too often nearly brain-dead by the end of the set up, when the crowds show.

( And where do the books on black feminist liturgy go, anyway---with other books on women, or with liturgy, or with racial diversty? And those pesky books with dual topics---The OLd Testament and the Significance of Jesus, say, or the new Richard Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as the Interpreter of Israel's Scripture: with Old Testament or New? And then there's the Wendell Berry (with world hunger books and consumerism or with worldview and social ethics?) And where in the world do you even put G.K. Chesterton---not exactly theology, now, but almost... and how big of a stack of the new N.T. Wright should I build, knowing that some in this group think he is too fundamentalist. (Ha, just last week, in this blog, I was reminded that some find him too liberal!) Ahh, I fret at these working gigs. I fret a lot.)

I say all this, as I say, to garner sympathy. Because as we used the calculator and wrote up invoices and swiped credit cards, and re-set shuffled books back up on their little bookstands, and tried to serve the gathered participants well, showing this and fetching that, explaining why I trust John Stott and not John Spong, apologizing for bringing the wrong thing or why we ran out of the right thing, during all this, we got to hear Walt Brueggemann deliever five majestic lectures, and preach at two eucharistic services. Brueggeman on the Bible. ("I really don't have any ideas as a teacher," he modestly began, "all I've got are texts.")


All he has are texts. Texts that speak volumes. Texts that, in his able hands, were well told. Prophets, laws, poems, subversive stories kept alive by Jewish folk who were scheming an alternative world, living counter-cultural lives, upsetting the Empire, trusting God, for crying out loud. He challenged us with the victory dance of Miriam--he invited us to pick up our tambourines!---and the post-exilic prophets upsetting the Torah interpretation that was bent on exclusion and judgement; he spent two lectures upon texts about the encoded Sabbath laws and Jubilee, calling for a work-stoppage, a routine time of saying no to the consumption rat-race, laws and codes and prophetic rejoinders all reminding us that the creation is built for beauty, for abundance, for sustainance, and that God--thank you very much--can take care of business without our frantic book lugging and sweating. We have good news to offer the poor, of course (well, maybe not of course in some churches) but we have good news for those in the upper class rat race, too, who are, in their quiet times, and surely in their night dreams, admit "I can't keep this up much longer." He preached and lectured and explained and hoped and dreamed with us all that God in Christ could, through us and the Holy Spirit of God, take steps in helping our churches live into these mighty stories, not in boring, wooden obedience, but in delightful and free imagination. To call people out of death and into life. To live in and share God's fidelity.

It was an awesome, awesome couple of days.

I, of course, had to stand up and speak about a few of his books. I am glad I noted his very famous and often-cited The Prophetic Imagination and the lesser known but equally important, The Hopeful Imagination which are two of the most amazing of Brueggemann's many works and books that I would list among my most treasured. (Pete Steen, a college mentor, threw a photocopied edition of The Land at me in about 1976 saying that with my interest in ecology and world hunger I should read it, so that is still a favorite.) Of course Professor Brueggemann has worked well with the psalms of lament, a theme I've posted about before and his Message of the Psalms is very useful. And he writes about preaching (the book Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles is one I should have highlighted more, since it fit his theme, and he was talking to pastors who have to preach; and his well-known homiletics book, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclaimationis classic.) He is a major, major scholar, and yet he preaches quite a lot, serving the church as much as the academy, so he has collections of sermons and of beautiful, evocative prayers( Insribing the Text may be the finest such collection although The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power & Weakness is a fabulous paperback, well worth pondering.) He continues to do anthologies and collections of scholarly articles and academic commentaries. His powerful, small introduction to Bible study is one of my favorites, simply called The Bible Makes Sense.

Brueggemann is not a typical theological liberal who distrusts the Bible, spends great energy explaining why it isn't reliable and who deconstructs the truthfulness of it all, relativizing it's role among us. Yet, he is not a typical evangelical, either. (As a theologically orthodox Protestant, I don't even want to hear him expound on his understanding of how revelation happens and the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible.) But he preaches like no other; his books have meant more to me than any other books about the Bible and, although at times he troubles me, I find that when reading his work I must pay attention to it all (as I did this summer when I re-read Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Ideology and found myself underlining nearly every paragraph on almost every page. I came home from the coffee shop, some mornings, with tear stains on my glasses and ink on my hands.) I had been working through his construal of the ways in which authentic praise---at least praise of the true Biblical God, the one whose mighty deeds in history include setting the captives free, the One whose true story is rooted in the real accounts of slaves being liberated from Pharoah--is the sustainance for all faithful social reform and that any praise that isn't rooted in that tradition of Moses, is essentially false. (Brueggemann didn't get this from Marx, if you wondered, but in the texts of the Scriptures.) Some of the Psalms, he shows, functioned to authorize an on-going prophetic faithfulness, keeping the story alive, making room to host God's own presence in the real messiness of human history and politics. (Interestingly, he speculates that some Psalms were extracted from that history of God's covanantal dealings with His poor, and thereby became royal justification for David's power and the hegemony of one power-hungry view. Sounds familiar, today, eh?)

All the fine-tuned conservative writers who have taught me (well) to have high, high regard for the authority of the Biblical text, simply do not preach like Brueggemann. He regularly admits to the ambiguities and interpretive differences, and is aware of postmodern thinking (see his brief but generative Texts Under Negotiation) but, again, he is not a relativist; he doesn't think that no one is right and that it doesn't really matter. He cares deeply for making legitimate claims upon these texts, interpreting them correctly. Or, I might say, allowing them to interpret us.

He will say, after pouring his heart for 10 minutes on a certain Hebrew phrase or the history of a certain turn of rhetoric in Isaiah: "Well, you know, it's only a poem, for God's sake." And then he asks us to stake our lives upon it. There among the invoices and book lists in the back of the hall, I could hardly contain myself. He asked us to believe this stuff. I shake my head even now...

I count it a privelege to serve the pastors gathered to hear brother Walter, and thank them. I pray for him, that he might grow in his own fidelity, and I pray for them, as leaders in the Episcopal church, that they, too, might take heed, shepherding well their flocks, into the radically-counter-cultural vision that these Spirited texts call us to. And I pray for us, glad and nervous, that we have such opportunity to sells books at such very important gatherings. I thank not only the Diocese leadership, but Dr. B for his kindness to Beth and I, and for his own prophetic imagination, that stirred so many.


December 3, 2005

Brueggemann, dayenu and the blood on the books

I apologize for straining your patience and eyesight with the length of my last post. I just had to tell you about the Brueggemann event with my Episcopal friends, and highlight just a few of his many books. He really is an extraordinary speaker and often, a very engaging writer. I think those in mainline churches with more liberal sensibilities need to hear his insistence that we be people of the Book. More conservative folk will scratch their head at how he routinely presumes critical scholarship--- that there were three Isaiahs, that the Pentateuch was written after the exile, that redactors added in or re-wrote stuff. Still, he has very high regard for the shape of the canon and all of us need his radical opening up of these texts, especially in their socio-political context.


***

I was selling books once at a Bread for the World galaÑBFW is a faith-based lobbying group trying to protect (at least) and expand (please, God) social programs and federal budget commitments to the poorÑand there were some big-wigs from Washington there, folks from the World Bank, the head of the Department of Agriculture, a few Bishops, denominational execs. I didnÕt know Brueggemann at the time, and was unprepared for his passion and power as he preached after the banquet. There were long lines of people at the book display and I was nearly overwhelmed (doing that event by myself is still one of our more memorable gaffs.) I had cut my finger quite badly on a sharp metal bookend and was bleeding a bit, blood literally dripping down my sleeve as I held my tissued finger high as I rang the cash register. Except for one dear nurse who ran out to a local pharmacy and brought back bandages, nobody in this good crowd of socially-aware activists said a word. I was in distress, wiping little droplets of blood off the book jackets. Not a word of concern from anybody.

After a busy half-hour or so of my one-handed changing-making fiasco, the event was over. The crowds were gone, the hangers-on were getting autographs as somebody was ushering Dr. Brueggemann out, to some private reception on Capitol Hill or in the White House (as I said, this was a few years back.)

Walt made a big point to his handlers that he wanted to go back and thank the bookseller. He gave me the big thumbs up, offered his thanks for doing the heavy lifting, and thenÑyou guessed itÑsaid, ÒMan, youÕre bleeding! What did you do to your finger? Are you gonna be all right?Ó

Brueggemann had preached about trusting God in this age of scarcity where we fret and fight over resources guided by an ideology and a globalized commitment to economic progress, using Isaiah, Moses and Wendell Berry, naming the anxiety that such scrambling produces. He powerfully taught us a Hebrew wordÑdayenu-- about GodÕs abundance, the gift of brimming shalom that comes from the memory of the manna texts, and we cried it out over and overÉ

And then he illustrated his keen care for the hurting in this simple little act of kindness. One need not agree with all his hermeneutical moves, his unique interpretations of Scripture, let alone his theology or politics. But, I want to say again: he is the real deal. I hope you read last nightÕs blog; if you started it and your eyes got droopy, please try again. I didnÕt begin to do him justice and at least knowing about the books I described is important.

A version of the sermon Dr. Brueggemann preached at that Bread for the World meeting, by the way, is found in an anthology of his pieces. The chapter is called ÒThe Truth of Abundance: Relearning DeyenuÓ in The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant (Fortress; $18.00.) Another version of that message as I remember it is ÒThe Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of ScarcityÓ included in a similarly great collection, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World (Fortress; $17.00.)

December 4, 2005

a few random books: spirituality, art, human things, and unrequited love

While we have been out and about (please read our last few posts) new books keep stacking up by the computer. We are pleased to tell you about some random, but oh-so-good, new titles.

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (IVP) $16.00 This books is worth twice the price as it is a treasure-trove jam-packed with ideas, resources, discussion guides, reflective experiences on a large variety of classic diciplines. From fasting to solitude, contemplation to lectio divina and much more, this helps us through these life-giving practices. Calhoun works with our dear friend and highly regarded author Ruth Haley Barton (author of Invitation to Solitude and Silence) and combines an evangelical theological rigor with an ecumenical and broad awareness of the best resources on spiritual formation. An invaluable resource for individuals, spiritual directors or small groups.

Art and the Christian Mind: The Life and Work of H.R. Rookmaaker Laurel Gasque (Crossway) $16.99 On occasion, readers have told us that they appreciate our reviews of books about the arts and our blog posts and website bibliographies on faith and the arts. Many of the best writers make references to the significant work and lovely insight of this great 20th century Dutchman. Rookmaaker was friendly with the heavyweight Kuyperian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, and took much of the insight gleaned from his association with reformational philosophy, and shared it during visits with Philadelphia-area, blue-collar, post-fundamentalist Francis Schaeffer, who had moved to Europe in despair of his insular fightin' fundy irrelevance, longing to relate to counter-cultural students of the 60's who were asking the big questions, and finding little accepatance in the traditional churches. Schaeffer's L'Abrai movement (which Rookmaaker and his dear wife Anky) took up in Holland, continues to be a resource for cultural engagement, serious, applied theology and shaping a uniquely Christian worldview. Rookmaaker, then, is an important person in both the L'Abrai story generally, and in the renewed interest in the Christian and the arts specifically.

Laurel Gasque is a cultural historian living in British Columbia and artist herself who is on the board of the spectacular Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion. She has researched well for this biography, and it is evident she has great sympathy for Rookmaaker's vision. We announced at our website a couple of years ago that a British publisher has reprinted the complete collected works of Professor Rookmaaker and that we are pleased to stock them. We are even more pleased that this little volume can serve as a wonderful introduction to the life and ministry of one of the more important Reformed thinkers of the 20th century.

Rallying the Really Human Things: The Moral Imagination in politics, literature, and everyday life Vigen Guroian (ISI Books) $25.00 Although I have known his name for years---Guroian is an Easter Orthodox theologian and cultural critic (he teaches at Loyola College in MD) who has written widely; we have stocked his books on and off for years and read him sometimes in First Things. (I just love his little pocket-sized memoir on the spirituality of gardening, surely one of the more lovely books in that growing genre.)

This handsome hardcover is a collection on "Christian humanism"--- a marvelous anthology of pieces, inviting deep reflection on matters as diverse as the fiction of Flannery O' Connor and the quest for international human rights. Several of the core chapters revolve around themes of literature, children's books (he has an earlier, marvelous book entitled Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination) and the significance of serious ficiton. (Ahh--one chapter is called "Why Should Businessmen Read Great Literature?") I have not read most of these, yet, and will dip into them on occasion. I am sure I will love his stuff on family life, children and hoping for a restoration of humane and workable values around issues of sexuality (his chapter "Dorm Brothel" is a walk through the creepy territory of I Am Charlotte Simons, with some help from Walker Percy.) Anybody who can write about St. John Chrysotom, a "non-liberal" view of nationalism, and fairy tales in the same book may be the brillant incarnation of C.S. Lewis. (Or, as Ralph Wood has said, he may be our very own modern-day G.K. Chesterton!) Rallying the Really Human Things promises to be an altogether rewarding read, challanging both liberal and conservative sentiments, with insight and wit.


Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love Laura A. Smit (Baker Academic) $18.99 I have been wanting to blog about this unbelievable book for a month or so. A while back I posted about a book which is a collection of (mosty) progressive Calvinist theologians reflecting on the movement known as radical orthodoxy (one obscure tradition writing on an even more obscure tradition, I think I said; that post oddly generated more interest than nearly anything I've written and has been linked here and there in the blogosphere.) Well, Ms Smit--the dean of chapel at Calvin College and an assistant professor of theology there--was a contributor to that wild, astute volume. So she is known in her field of serious theological and cultural reflection.

Here she writes compellingly about something that few (if any) theologians have written on: the matter of a broken heart. Our buddy and tremendously observant writer Lauren Winner has the first blurb on the back: "Simply smashing! Witty, intricate, and smart---this is the most important, thought-provoking book I have read this year." If you know anything about Lauren's serious reading habits you know this is one heck of a quote.

There is, as many of us know too well, a deep sorrow that plagues those heart-broken over unrequited love. (The phrase sounds victorian; how else, though to say it?) This stuff is common in romance novels and contemporary film, but, as The Library Journal observes, it "has rarely been touched in nonfiction writings and even less often by ethicists or theologians."

A few months back on our monthly webpage column I did an annotated listing of books that might be called "self-help" or "personal growth" books that I hoped would be seen as thoughtful, helpful, not cheesy nor predictable. Even those with deeper reading dispositions, I figured, need sometimes to know about helpful books on getting by, finding wholeness and healing, coping with ordinary losses and stresses. I wished I had had this book then---it is certainly a meaty and profound study, yet, at it's kind heart, is a book about breaking up and being hurt in romantic relationships that don't work out. This is a one-of-a-kind title. Kudos to Ms Smit for applying her serious theolgoical mind to such an aching, common experience. And thanks to Baker Publishing Group for bringing these kinds of books out. It is my fear that it will not sell in the academic market (it is about romance for crying out loud) yet will be seen as too scholarly for your typical hurtin' heart. Let us hope it does not fall through the cracks in the market.

December 6, 2005

short post: new Indelible Grace CD

Indelible Grace IV, called Beams of Heaven, has now been released, and we have them in stock. Indelible Grace, I hope you know, is a remarkable project started a few years ago by Kevin Twit and his comrades in Reformed University Fellowship who had thought long and hard about contemporary worship, good theology, classic hymns and how to get the rich, narrative doctrinally-mature hymns better known to today's praise & worship crowd.

Kevin is a smart guy and an excellent musician (does Berklee School of Music mean anything?) He gathered some roots-type, neo-folk singer/songwriters, mostly from Nashville, picked up some edgy guitars, some light percussion and a whole lot of acoustic stuff---sharp mandolin and lush violins--and set out to write some new tunes for some of the better old, old hymns.

After recording the underground classic, (that would be the first Indelible Grace) Kevin wrote some very thoughtful articles about their project---why postmoderns need songs about lament, need narrative, need theology, and some guidelines for picking worship music and such---and compiled very moving stories about the composers of the orginal lyrics, hymnwriters such as William Cowper orHoratius Bonar. These are all available for free at the website (click on extras to find the articles.) They have downloads of stuff,sample songs, lyrics, guitar charts, ways to make overheads, a massive songbook and all kinds of goodies at their site. We'd highly recommend checking it out.

They continued to recruit guest singers--former vocalist for Caedmon's Call's, Derek Webb often appears, for instance, and put out now four albums. The second was called Pilgrim Days and the third For All The Saints. The brand new one, as I've said, is called Beams of Heaven.
You've just got to hear this stuff to believe it.

After visiting their site, please come back to us to buy the albums: we've got all four (and Matt Smith's and comopany's very acoustic and very cool Christmas CD, Your King Has Come as well.) Thank God for this extraordinary project, for the ways in which many, many younger folks and campus ministry groups have resonated with their spared-down sound and rich, wordy, and substantial lyrics. We are honored to be among the first retails shops to carry it, and happy to do what we can to spread the word. May we make the suggestion that you buy a few to give a way to those who might find them helpful?

I could be wrong, but the way these recordings have had a word of mouth popularity has caused somewhat of a buzz in the CCM subculture. It has been one of the reasons--he speculates boldly--why so many cool Christian rock bands are doing hymns albums, now. Indelible Grace, though, stands in the classic tradition of re-writing contemporary tunes for the old lyrics. With a few exceptions, you understand, you will not recognize the tune. The words will sink deep into your heart and mind, though, and if you grew up hearing these songs, and don't hear them much anymore, the words will be a solace to your soul.

December 10, 2005

Advent of Justice

Wednesday we spent all day packing and loading the van to get to Antiochian Village in Western PA for a book set up for a several day event with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. A few guys helped me load in about midnight, and I set up---with a little help from Tim B from Messiah, who was out there early--til about 6 am the next morning. Thursday and Friday brought plenty of good conversations, some hefty book sales, some significant reports of books used in ministry and good book clubs and Bible studies that we have resourced, and some fun, funny, times. While a couple of new parents on staff of the CCO browsed our book room, they left their babies in look-alike carriers in a row in front of the cash register, as I was wheeling and dealing, offering discounts and give-aways and such. Somebody quipped "And yes, today's special: with any hardback purchase you can have the baby of your choice!" It still cracks me up...


The wise and gentle and powerful African American preacher Anthony Carter, author of On Being Black and Reformed spoke, inviting CCO to dig deeper into their Calvinist roots, relying on God's sovereign grace and the creedal tradition of the Reformation in order to root well their equally important efforts to work on ethnic diversity, racial reconciliation and becoming advocates for social justice. Carter was too young to have worked with the civil rights movement, so is a new generation of black leader, and his trust in the providence of God and desire to glorify Christ was palpable. His impeccable theological standards made him a very, very compelling speaker as he invited us to learn or remember the hidden history of minorities within the dominant culture. Although passionate about preaching reconciliation, and doing God's work in God's ways, he advised that we allow God's Spirit to guide us into our own needed repentence before crusading on social issues. (That is a strategy, by the way, which, on the face of it, is nearly self evident; on the other hand, I detected a frustrating invidualism and pietism there that didn't sound like the broad and socially engaged Calvinism I know.) I got to do some book plugs and promoted the obvious--John Perkins, Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King, Carl Ellis and the like. Do you know Randy Woodley's Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Diversity? Or More Than Equals by Perkins & Rice? Or Barbara Salter McNeil's The Heart of Racial Justice? These are the kind of resources this CCO group uses. It is a serious privilege to hang out with those who have radically gospel-based theology and equally radical commitments to cultural diversity and racial justice.



Speaking of which: I did not stand up and shout about this small Advent meditation book and I should have; I can't believe I haven't blogged about it sooner. The Advent of Justice is always the holiday book we tout the most. It is thoroughly rooted in the longing for liberation described in the Bible during the period of exile of the Old Testament Hebrews, and works well with the social context of the seasonal readings from Isaiah and the prophets. It is therefore truly solid, liturgically and theologically, for the Advent season and not the least bit sentimental. (Okay, put some sweet instrumental CD like The Gift by Tingstadt and Rumble on if you want sentimental.) The four authors are all dear freinds, and among those whom I admire most: Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennan and Richard Middleton. They put these seasonal reflections together as a gift for the Citizens for Public Justice (a faith-based, progressive social ministry in Canada) a few years back and it has subsequently been re-issued each year by Dordt College Press. It is, I believe, the best and most Biblical Advent devotional I've ever used, and I dip into it each year. It reminds us that these religious holidays of ours can best be understood when framed by the socio-political understandings of the orginal. This book, Advent of Justice, does this with care and brillance.

Oh come, oh come Immanuel...yes, come Lord Jesus! This time of longing for Christ's regime can be deepened and more properly understood by using this brief, inexpensive devotional. It is not too late to order it.

On Being Black and Reformed Anthony Carter (Presbyterian & Reformed ) $9.99


Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennan, Richard Middleton with illustrations by Willam Hart (Dordt College Press) $6.95

December 15, 2005

Wholistic ministry for your church

A good friend, a pastor of a church in another state, was wisely wanting to work through a book this coming year with the deacons in his congregation. He had hoped to use the now out of print Cup of Water, Bread of Life by Ronald Sider, and emailed me for advice. Ron, of course, is well respected in these parts for his clear and fully Biblical call to be multi-faceted and equally commited to social action, verbal evangelism, political advocacy and vibrant spirituality, all rooted in an open-minded but orthodox theology.

So here are some books I recommended to this pastor, knowing a bit of what he had hoped for (something brief, not to demanding, something that could be done each month over a year.) This list isn't exhaustive, but it does offer some suggestions that would be readable and useful for his group. Please read along as we make some recommendations. If you want, send the list to the leadership of your church. What kind of books do they read?

...There may be some other options, but I haven't exactly thought of just the right thing for your setting. Some are too academic, some too simplistic, some too evangelical, some kinda weird; some are more political or only about urban outreach and others are more about lay counseling (Stephen's Ministry kind of things.) I am sure you know the dilemmas...There are some I like, though, a lot, actually, and given what you've said, they may work well for your leaders. Thanks so much for asking. It is a pleasure to serve you in this way---let us know what we might do further.

Doing Evangelism Jesus' Way: How Christians Demonstrate the Good News Ron Sider (Evangel Press) $12.95 This may be as close to the one you wanted as anything out there. Great sermons from Ron on wholistic service, peace, justice, service, holiness and so forth. Seven fairly short chapters, good stories, a compelling call to living radically, sharing good news and good works. The deeper (and very important) work behind all this is what used to be entitled One Sided Christianity and has been re-released as Good News and Good Works which, although a bit more serious, is still one of my all time favorite books.
Living Like Jesus: Eleven Essentials for Growing a Genuine Faith Ron Sider (Baker) $12.99 You may know this by its previous title, Genuine Christianity where Sider gives his list of the traits of growing faith, the stuff Christians are committed to. It is just a delight to see a chapter on working for social justice next to one on having strong marriages and high sexual ethics; a great chapter on prayer next to a chapter on ecological concern; a teaching on servanthood next to a lesson on the Christian mind. He calls for radical action infused with grace. Whole-life discipleship made commonplace for everyone. This surely has Ron's special emphasis on concern for the poor and forming churches that stand for justice, but it really is a book on basic, Christian growth, wholistically expressed. Fabulous. Eleven chapters, plus a very moving introduction.
God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World Greg Paul (Shaw) $10.99 My, my, what fine writing, as this guy tells of being Christ to others, and seeing Christ in others, set in his inner city mission in Toronto. Powerful stories, compelling teaching, wonderful book. Seven or eight short chapters, easily read and discussed.
Radical Outreach: The Recovery of Apostolic Ministry and Evangelism George Hunter (Abingdon) $18.00 You probably know Hunter's very good and really helpful other books on evangelism; this tells how the contemporary church can reclaim its ancient witness through hands-on ministries with the unchurched. Fabulous analysis, lots of stories, a good mixture of inspiration, history, Biblical study and wise coaching. Eleven chapters, although a few (well, most) are pretty thorough. Fascinating.
Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road Tim Keller (Presbyterian & Reformed) $10.99 What a wonderful and solid study of mercy, the need for mercy ministries, and how to mobilize a church around social outreach. Keller, of course, is a very popular and innovative PCA pastor in Manhattan, who has done very effective ministry in many settings. This is a must-have handbook for any church wanting to expand the ministry into community involvement.
Standing in the Margin: How Your Congregation Can Minister With the Poor (and perhaps recover its soul in the process) Mary Alice Mulligan & Rufus Burrow (Pilgrim) $16.00 Although there are six chapters, it is arranged to be used in 12 small group sessions, With a powerful little forward by David Buttrick, this book helps define what is meant by the margin, how to be more inclusive, seems to share a liberationist vibe, and calls on the church to stand with the marginalized in ways that is more than mere charity. Very provocative.
Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development John Perkins (Baker) $12.99 This is one of those extraordinarily popular books that has been so influential in the lives of many evangelical (mostly) to help them actually see how to do wholistic ministry, respecting the dignity of the poor, understanding the call to racial reconciliation and leadership development among the disadvantaged. A wonderful rich book by a true hero.
Help: The Original Human Dilemma Garret Keizer (Harper) $14.95 This may be a bit more serious and thorough-going reflection that you had in mind, but with your literary background (am I remembering correctly?) you might find this masterful writing both tender and thoughtful. Keizer writes in the Christian Century sometimes and is highly regarded in mainline ecumenical circles. His excellent and helpful earlier book that got a lot of attention a few years back--also a deep reflection well worthy of a slow reading--was Anger. His absolutely lovely meditation on the call and vocation of pastoring is beautiful and brief, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees. I think he lives in Vermont...
Yours Are the Hands of Christ: The Practice of Faith James Howell (Upper Room) $9.95 Again, this is a rather reflective and spiritually enriching meditation on the image of "hands" and what it means that we are to service Christ well. It really is a fine reflection on the ministry of Christ, what it means to partake in His journey, and how to be like Him. Twelve very nice chapters.

Churches That Make A Difference: Reaching Your Community With Good Words and Good News Ronald J. Sider, Heidi Unruh, Philip Olson (Baker) $19.99 While this may be more than my friend's deacons might want to tackle, it is the definitive book on how effective wholistic ministry can be done, based on good case studies. I have blogged before on the new Oxford University Press book by Ron & Heidi that more academically studies these wholistic outreaches of these diverse churches. That scholarly work is called Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding The Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry. It sure would be great if some of the church folk reading this got their people reading Churhes That Make a DIfference. Or any of the other great books listed above. It is a good time of year to be thinking about study groups for next year. Maybe these kind of resources would help keep your care-givers alert to those with the most serious needs.


Not long ago was the feast day of Saint Nicholas, after all. He knew what Christmas was all about, eh? Do we?

December 19, 2005

Narnian book reviews at the website

I have been meaning to announce here the monthly website article listing our picks for the best new books from the batch of C.S. Lewis and Narnia releases. We read quite a few this fall, and give our reports; one friend (okay, it was a friend) said that ours was more intersting than the good survey in Christianity Today. The author of that one may be more reliable, I'd say, but it may be worth your time to check out the November article over at our website, www.heartsandmindsbooks.com.

Here is how that big 'ol annotated list begins:

C. S. Lewis, we find, is an author that is widely known (well, not to one lady we met at a conference this fall who asked if he would be coming to the event) but not as widely studied as we might expect. In the new, informal and very heartfelt biography of Jack (as he liked to be called), JackÕs Life, by his stepson Douglas Gresham, Gresham writes, "Éif you are someone who reads, then the chances are that you have read something by C. S. Lewis, and if you havenÕt, then you have a great feast of reading before you." Very true; very true!
Click here to read the actual recommendations.

(Better do it soon, since the year-end Hearts & Minds awards and honors will be posted there soon...)

December 23, 2005

Christian Zionism?

As the date to celebrate Christmas draws near, and as our Advent texts help us ponder the remarkable promises of Hebrew prophets, we think of that horrific period of exile, and the extraordinary hope offered by these passionate poets like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekial, dreamed up in times of oppression and hardship. Walt Brueggemann's The Hopeful Imagination offers insight into the pathos of those post-exilic prophets who, through grief, renewed a subversive hope. I've told you before how that theme sounds out in the best Advent devotional we most often recommend (see my comments from a few posts ago), Advent of Justice by Walsh, Middleton, VanderVennen and Keesmaat (Dordt College Press.) And so, care for the politics of the Middle East, the questions of how Advent longing stirs within us a hope for the world made better, and--of course!--the ways the Baby King of Bethlehem fulfills this Jewish expectation and hope are floating around my sad heart this season. O Come, O Come Immanuel, indeed. It reminds me of the need for "comfort and joy."

And so, with that little reminder as background, it seems appropriate today to note quickly two books that have come in here at the shop in recent weeks, books that explore the complex and painful politics of Israel and Palestine and, specifically, how evangelical Christians have perhaps too quickly thrown their tradition and weight behind the nation of Israel, even when it does wrong. These books make one wonder what Amos or Jeremiah (or King Jesus Himself) might say about this.

The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend by Timothy P. Webber (Baker) $24.99 is a serious hardcover that offers excellent and important religious history, illuminating how certain end-times beliefs shape fundamentalists view of current events. This is a well-researched historical and theological analysis of the evangelical attachment to Israel and its roots in premillennial dispensationalist theology. As Donald Wagner writes, "With the ascendancy of the Christian Right in the United States and its significant role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, Weber's book is a must read..." From the current popularity of the Left Behind novels to certain efforts to increase military aid to Israel, this is a timely and careful work. It may not immediately seems like a holiday title, but if we are to, with God's own help, see even a bit of "peace on Earth" it will be, in part, due to historic evangelicals re-evaluating their understanding of Middle Eastern politics.


Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? Stephen Sizer (IVP) $29.00 This thick paperback, written by the Chairman of the International Bible Society (UK) is a grand and important study brimming with insight and hope. This really opens our eyes to how this ideological theology can oppress and hurt. Anyone interested in peace, social justice or the integrity of Christian mission must grapple with this serious critique. With rave reviews from the likes of Colin Chapman, Don Wagner, Garth Hewitt (from the Amos Trust in England, a former folk singer turned activist) and Wheaton College's Gary Burge, this clearly is an important, evangelical text. As John Stott puts it, "I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer's ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very timely." So timely, that I thought I'd tell you about it tonight.

Do you know Bruce Cockburn's amazing folkie Christmas album, Bruce Cockburn? We still have some in stock, even though it has gone out of print. Some of the minor key arrangements, and slight inflections make it laden with pathos and relevance; those that know him for his social justice advocacy, his environmental songs and his anti-war stuff may hear these songs for all their worth; his arrangements and context make me just love these holiday favorites. And, while I'm talking Christmas music to listen to while reading about social justice, do you know The Band's lovely and moving ballad "Christmas Must Be Tonight"? It is covered on the powerful new Carolyn Arends Christmas album--The Irrational Season. [You should know that that line is swiped from a much-loved poem by Madeline L'Engle.] Something about that song, and one on the Cockburn album, remind us that the ripples from Bethlehem have come down to us today. Thanks be to God.

And, speaking of social justice (but not Christmas) the brand new recording by former Caedmon's Call frontman Derek Webb is now out. I will blog about The Mockingbird later. It is doubtlessly the most overt record about social justice done on a CCM record label. This is stunning, faithful stuff and we will be promoting it in the new year. Just the thought of that will help us have a Merry Christmas.

December 24, 2005

O Holy Night

I am amazed at how often people note that they didn't know about the third verse of the powerful song, O Holy Night. Sentimentality and the wonderful romance of the holiday has nearly gutted the radical edge of the coming Kingdom of God.

Written in the years as the abolitionist movement was heating up, it is solid gospel. Let us pray that those of us who sing this tonight will be graced to hear it well, and allow it to work God's ways in us.

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, O praise His name forever!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!

December 28, 2005

Years-End Best Books Awards from Hearts & Minds: Break Out the Spinny Tin Things


It was just a few posts ago that we referred you to the recent Hearts & Minds website that listed, in our November monthly column, our description of the best of the landslide of Narnia-related books. I have no cynicism about this recent publishing trend and many of these Lewis bios and Narnia studies are really quite good. We hope that we helped renew your interest in Kilny stuff and trust it was worth reading. Maybe your gang should host some post-movie LWW discussion groups or book clubs, using one or two of these as a resource.

NOW, we are very pleased to announce the Hearts & Minds End of the Year Best Book Awards. Check it out to see our website's December column and see my picks for everything from the Best Really Big Fat Book I Read This Year (and it wasn't 1776 which was almost fat enough to count, but I haven't read yet anyway) to a celebration of the year's best re-issues; I awarded some odd little picks about good books with bad covers, and named some of our favorite novels. Of course, there is "the" best book of the year; couldn't name just one, natch, so there are a couple of runners up (or should that be runner-ups?) There's even an Half-hearted Award for a popular topic about which I had huge ambivalence.

It is almost time to break out the spinny tin things you swing around and shake on New Year's eve, or those little horns that uncurl those annoying paper tongues. You can warm 'em up here by tooting along for these H & M award winners. It may not be the New York Times or Christianity Today, but we are confident we have honored some truly important books. Anybody find any glaring misses? Want to add your favs? Come on, readers! What would you list?

December 1, 2005

Hearts & Minds Best Book Awards 2005


Year-End Picks: profound, winsome, interesting and odd

I will admit forthrightly: these are as idiosyncratic as ever. I really am sincere about wanting to award most of these fine books, and a few truly are profound, deserving of more acclaim than our little shop can bestow. Others are, well, just some really great books I want to mention in some significant capacity before year’s end. And a few are eccentric releases that deserve, uh, something. And we can offer that, at least. So here goes, the years best. Not sure what they are the best of, but we will make it up as we go along. And, like the Academy Awards, we hold a few really great categories till near the end.

BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Okay. This is serious. I have thought long and hard about this, talked with book people I admire, and it wasn’t too difficult. These really are some of my favorite books of the year, deserving of my pick for the best releases in many a year.

Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology

Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $25.00 I reviewed it pretty thoroughly earlier in the year—scroll on back and read my comments if you haven’t heard how great this is. It very well could be the book of his career and it is surely our choice for one of the very best of the year. And—you heard it hear! — the next in his on-going series is going to be out next month. We’re told it will be called Eat This Book which is, as you may guess, about the role and authority of Scripture.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity
Lauren Winner (Brazos) $17.99 I cannot tell you how I enjoy this young woman’s mature writing; you may know we have hosted her here a time or two, as she has read excerpts from her delightful and absorbing memoir, Girl Meets God and the follow-up collection of pieces about Jewish spiritual practices, Mudhouse Sabbath. Here, she tackles one of the most important topics of our time, and pulls it off with flying colors. From the striking cover art to the delicious prose to the theological depth to her notable candor, this is all a book should be. Smart and well-written, rooting her understanding of sexuality in the basics of spiritual formation and the practices of discipleship lived in ordinary Christian living. Enjoy and learn!


BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR RUNNER UPS:

There have to be a batch of winners, like the Academy Awards, so I will soon list some very specific categories. But a few just deserve to be mentioned here in the beginning, before the commercials and popcorn breaks. Here are some really excellent choices that we want to honor.

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation

William Placher, editor (Eerdmans) $24.00 [paperback] or $38.00 [hardcover] I am so glad I hyped this on a previous monthly column, as it truly is being cited as one of the more notable releases in years. Placher wisely pulled together primary source writings on career, calling, vocation, and work from throughout the centuries. What a splendid resource! I am told there is a workbook or student apparatus of some sort coming as a follow-up to this 400-plus page tome. Eerdmans has long been a booster for the Christian mind, faithful engagement with culture, developing a Biblical worldview, and here they have given us a gift of unspeakable depth. Kudos.


To Be Told: Know Your Story-Shape Your Future Dan Allender (Waterbrook) $19.99 An easy to read yet very meaningful book about "co-authoring your future" which begins with "reading your past." With a high view of the sovereignty of God and the important of sovereign grace underscoring the unfolding of your life narrative, this helps you understand what God has already written in your script, and how to write well the rest of your life's story. God is your Author and he is showing you how to follow him into the future.

Head, Hearts & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action

Dennis P. Hollinger (IVP) $13.00 Dennis was the former chaplain at Messiah College, and before that a co-pastor of a joint Reformed-Mennonite congregation near Capitol Hill in inner city Washington. This great book studies the imbalances and inadequacies (and dysfunction and distortions) that arise when one’s experience of the faith is exclusively mediated by intellect, emotion, or action. And, brilliantly, how each of these proper functions is only fully opened up in concert with the others. (That is, one can’t really do if one doesn’t understand, but understanding isn’t full with feelings; feelings are deepened by action etc. etc.) This holistic study of multi-faceted Christian discipleship has more balance and wisdom than a shelf-full of popular inspirational bestsellers. With back cover endorsements by Mark Noll, Marva Dawn, and Richard Mouw, you know this is a book to take seriously. Good discussion questions make it ideal for group use and communal conversation.


The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence Richard Lischer (Eerdmans) $18.00 This not a huge book, but the impact has already been immense. One pastor friend to whom I recommended it said it was the best book on preaching he had read in over 20 years! A few years back, Lischer had written a delightful memoir of his fist small-town pastorate which we loved (Open Secrets) and he has compiled a great collection of some of the best insights about preaching (The Company of Preachers.) Here, we have the written version of his lectures in the prestigious Beecher lectureships at Yale. He asks if something like words---sermons, even---can truly make a difference. I tell you, it is extraordinary. I had to rub my eyes. I had to feel my heart. I literally had to catch my breath. What a great, great book. One good writer, Heidi Neumark, who herself has a powerful memoir of her work in an inner city Bronx church, says, "Lischer’s book...sustains and forms, lifting a powerful language of hope above the vitriol that marks far too much religious conversation." This is a great word about words, rooted in The Word. Highly recommended for preachers or listeners, disciples or seekers.

BEST REALLY BIG FAT BOOK I READ THIS YEAR

Oh The Glory of It All
Sean Wilsey (Penguin Press) $25.95 I sped through this huge memoir, unable to put it down for almost 500 pages. A riveting, sad, funny, vulgar, honest, and finally redemptive message of a very lost lad, growing up in the 70’s a very famous San Francisco family, his experiences with parental narcissism (to put it mildly) his horrific experiences in harsh boarding schools and the bizarre world of recovery camps. Energetic and hipster author Dave Eggers hooked me with this on the back: "Holy moley this is a great read---probably the most compulsively readable book I’ve picked up in years. At one point I had to burn the second half of it so I didn’t distract myself from my own dumb deadlines." I would like to award Eggers something for his use of "holy moley" in a blurb, but that is another matter. I am glad Sean Wilsey survived this life and I am grateful for his candid recording of it all.


BEST MEMOIRS

Do You Hear What I Hear? Religious Calling, the Priesthood, and My Father
Minna Proctor (Viking) $25.95 A non-believing young woman learns that her father wants to become an Episcopal priest. Huh? She realizes she needs to explore what this whole notion of calling is about, if it can possibly be real. What a wonderfully written, caring story of father-daughter, faith-development and the implication of a universe where God calls and gives holy vocations. Fascinating!

Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church
James M. Ault, Jr. (Vintage) $15.00 Perhaps this could be called an ethnographic study, but it unfolds like a well written memoir; the excellent author is a very liberal sociologist with a background in new left politics, who wanted to understand the religious right, and—imagine!— gets to know some bone fide fundamentalists. You must know this was difficult for him (would they trust him? Would his dissertation colleagues approve of his desire to truly appreciate those he was studying? Would he be caught in the middle?) This story of his several year immersion in their good, Baptist church is told with a huge heart and notable insight. Very well done.


Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $24.95 You hopefully know her splendid conversion narrative,Traveling Mercies. Here, she ponders mid-life, worries about the right-wing politics sweeping the nation, explores her faith and shares honest struggles about remaining faithful and centered. A few of these pages are truly so luminous and well crafted that it hurts. I gave up trying to read a few pages out loud during talks or sermons because I just get to choked up by the sheer beauty of her writing. Even more spicy language than her other books, and more lefty politics. If either offend you, hold your breath and dive in anyway. A great book.

Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans
Thomas Lynch (Norton) $24.95 I don’t care what Lynch writes about, he gets an award. He is, as Bret Lott says, "one of the most important writers in the English language" and why another writer says "Lynch is one of our indispensable essayists, a master of skeptical realism and tragicomical relief." From his first love of language and words to his reconnection with Ireland, this is a great and grand story, full of charm, insight, and kindnesses.


Reflections Over the Long Haul: A Memoir Robert McAfee Brown (Westminster John Knox) $24.95 Brown was a man of his times, a bold and thoughtful Christian representing the best of the liberal social gospel traditions of the 20th century, and here he tells of his immersion in all sorts of church-related organizations, theological projects, ecumenical ministries and some of the most dramatic and prophetic movements of our time. Nobel prize winner and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel writes, "I shall miss him every day while writing every page. I have rarely met a man of such faith, integrity, and compassion. As a teacher, in influenced generations. As a friend, he was the best one can dream of. As a Jew, I saw in him the nobility of what Christianity has to offer." Agree with Brown or not, this is an autobiography well worth reading, at times thrilling, often quite moving, always important.


BEST SHORT LENGTH MEMOIR

Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the UnEarthing of the Self Beth Kephart (New World Library) $17.00 Well, what else to call this lovely, lovely small book of meditations, set, literally, in a garden where the author visits regularly in mid-life. I blogged about this and was proud of our description of her good work. We recommend all of her other memoirs, all of which are longer than this brief gift book.

Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith & Citizenship Diana Butler Bass (Jossey Bass) $23.95 This short memoir feels a bit like another long chapter in her excellent Strength for the Journey which so finely told of her spiritual growth as she joined various sorts of mainline parishes. Here, she grapples with the big questions of peace and justice, worries about flags and patriotism in the church, and finally leaves the Episcopal parish for which she worked, to join a smaller, multi-ethnic, church in a poor section of town. Very moving, clear, theologically honest. I wish all church leaders had such concerns and cares.

To Baghdad and Beyond: How I Got Born Again in Babylon

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Cascade) $16.00 A riveting tale of a seeking evangelical and his journey on a peace mission to war-torn Iraq. With a powerful forward by Tony Campolo and a poetic endorsement by Dan Berrigan, you can see that this radical move to nonviolence and peacemaking is quite a story! With Christian Peacemaker Teams recently in the news, this deserves to be honored not only for a quality and rare story, but for sheer timeliness.

HOORAY FOR BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS

Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books
Maureen Corrigan (Random House) $24.95 Not a few customers told us about hearing this on NPR (the author is the book review editor for Fresh Air ) and we were glad we had it in stock...a fine memoir of a book lover and one of the best in this ever-increasing genre. Wonderful!

God Between the Covers: Finding Faith Through Reading

Marcie Ford (Crossroad) $19.95 We loved her autobiographical Memoir of a Misfit and here she explains what books she has read, describes the importance of them, shares her take on each. And, we are pleased to say, she has very good taste. Buy this and then check off the one’s you want to get.


BEST BOOKS ABOUT CONGREGATIONAL LIFE

The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church

Diana Butler Bass (Alban Institute) $17.00 With a forward by Loren Mead and an afterward by Brian McLaren, this sensible guide to renewal in mainline churches is so refreshing, so powerful, so balanced, so helpful, that I want everyone to know about it. And that is happening (a bit) since it is one of Alban’s top sellers!) Ms Bass will be working this territory further, with two new releases coming next year on practices of mainline churches and the indications of health in ordinary congregations.) She found some interesting data in her several years' research and has been on the road looking, listening, and sharing this good news. Maybe you saw her on the cover of Sojourners last month. (I love Lauren Winner᾿s enthusiastic blurb on the back where she suggests that "this is not your parent’s Protestant Mainline…To the story of mainline transformation, Bass brings her scholarly authority, her pilgrim’s passion, and her lively prose. This is an eye-opening book, a buoyant book." Yes, if there was an award for buoyancy, this would win hands down. Thanks be to God.


School(s) for Conversions: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism

edited by Ruba House (Cascade) $22.00 A radical, intentional community (The Ruba House in Durham N.C.) called together friends with whom they’ve networked who, in their various ways, have attempted to newly live out old spiritual disciplines, to discern and writing a book together. Here, you can find the spiritual marks of the churches that these communities are living; you can listen in to the passionate journey and costly discipleship of not only Catholic Worker radical traditionalists, but pomo emergent folk, Renovare adherents and scholars from the Ekklasia movement. Chapters are written by inner city and anti-poverty activists (like Shane Claiborne, whose new book is coming soon, by the way) and Chris Rice (who had experience with John Perkins' VOC ministry) while others focus on different angles. For instance, see Norman Wirzba’s excellent chapter, whose good work on local economies has been influence by Wendell Berry and other new agronomists. Practical questions about the authority of the church over house-churches and the role of gender, marriage, singleness and children show that these are living matters, rooted in actual places who are working out these matters with great care. For anyone interested in intentional community or who wonders what prophetic lifestyles look like, this is a book unlike any on the market.

No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in the Church
John Burke (Zondervan) $16.99 The radical and non-compromising principles of the above counter-cultural faith communities notwithstanding, the necessary practice of faithful congregations has to be hospitality and a welcoming ethos. How do we live this out in our places of worship? This author invites us, especially those with fairly traditional theology, to make sure we are creating spaces of inclusion, care, friendship, and grace.
Here is what Brian McLaren — whose insight about books is a true gift to the publishing world these days — claims about it: "Here are three reasons to buy, read, and widely distribute John Burke’s wonderful new book. First, Chapter 7 alone is worth twice the price of the book. Second, so are Chapters 8 and 9. Third, we need thousands of churches to follow the example of Gateway Community Church in creating a grace-and-gospel-friendly church culture. This book is a treasure---fresh, intelligent, practical, deep, and wise."

Maybe Brian deserves an award for most compelling blurb of the year. And that ain’t no joke. This is a great book.

Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Power, Presence and Purpose N. Graham Standish (Alban Institute) $18.00 Graham is a deep, contemplative director, and a rather light-hearted pastor of a growing Presbyterian Church and here he does what he does in his other good books — bring together a whole bunch of insight from a variety of traditions and offer the eclectic mix in a coherent and workable framework. Graham’s book, which tells the story of his congregation’s spirituality and subsequent health, is getting some good press, he has a nifty, new website, and of the many, many books on helping God’s Spirit bring renewal to our congregations, this is one that we want to celebrate. Let’s hear it for breaking the stereotypes (liberal/conservative, contemplative/active, liturgical/seeker-sensitive) and see how authentic faithfulness and robust reliance on Christ’s presence can lead to healthy, visionary parishes.

HIGH HONORS FOR NOTABLE BIBLICAL STUDIES

Brazos Theological Commentaries: Acts

Jaroslav Pelikan (Brazos) $29.99 This favorite publisher of ours deserves kudos for nearly everything they do. They have announced a prodigious plan for a 40-volume set of commentaries, and the first has just been released. What a breath-taking collection of proposed authors. What a grand way to kick it off with this.


Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1
Richard Middleton (Brazos) $21.99 When I reviewed this earlier this year I noted that it was one of the more academic books I’ve waded through in a while, and well worth the effort. This is a book like no other; several important scholars have suggested that it is the definitive study (certainly in English, perhaps ever!) of this all-important topic. We know and like Richard, respect his on-the-streets sensibilities and here see his excellent scholarly depth. What a book!

The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in Biblical Story
Craig Bartholomew & Michael W. Goheen (Baker) $19.99 I have been saying that this is doubtlessly the best Biblical overview of which I know. Sensitive to worldview issues, clear and at times extraordinarily insightful. A must-read.

Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption
Michael D. Williams (Presbyterian & Reformed) $17.99 I’d vote for this on the title alone. I’m told this PCA Bible scholar has a shaved head and some body piercings. Bible study ain’t what it used to be, eh? This is a splendid, readable, orthodox and generative book which illustrates the historical redemptive hermeneutic and, I think, absolutely thrilling.


Paul: In Fresh Perspective N. T. Wright (Fortress) $25.00 What can I say? Wright is certainly one of the Bible scholars of our time, and his views of Paul have been a bit debated (too conservative for some, too unclear for others.) Any new book of this author who cares so deeply about faithfulness in our time, loves the church, and knows the Bible so well deserves to be touted; I blogged about this book the day it came! I want to more than blog, I want to award it a big ’ol H&M prize! Of course, he wins real prizes all over the world. We just need you to know that we agree---he deserves them. Read this one, and then pick up his new The Last Word on the role and authority of Scripture, which also arrived in late 2005.


SPECIAL AWARD FOR THE WORST COVER AND MOST CONFUSING TITLE ON A TRULY EXCELLENT BOOK WHICH IS KIND OF BIBLICAL STUDIES, SORT OF MEMOIR, AND SOME DEGREE OF CULTURAL CRITICISM

Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America

Chris Hedges (The Free Press) $24.00 I blogged about it late last summer, ran an excerpt, told about how incredibly powerful I found it, featured it in the store and still hardly sold any. I think the only folks to buy it were those who had been blown away by his remarkable War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, (a book that ought to be required reading for anyone with any sort of patriotic stickers on their vehicles.) This free-wheeling and politically liberal and eloquent reflection on the ethics of the commandments, written by a man whose heart-rending journey away from Christian faith is told here, is some of the most thought-provoking and oddly endearing literature I have read in years. Maybe they'll change the bizarro cover and leave out the mixed message sub-title (it really is not about the church/state debates about the hanging of the commandments in courtrooms or any such thing which is what many people presume.) If these were the academy awards Whoppi or Robin or somebody would make some joke about this, show the trailer and folks would be in awe and swear they have to go see it.


HONORABLE MENTION FOR MOST SUPRISING COMBO OF AUTHORS

Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith

George McGovern & Bob Dole & (Fortress) $12.00 Let those two names sink in a minute. And then give cheers for those two wings working side by side to get this plane to fly. The world hunger crisis is way too critical to be weighed down in partisan nonsense, and this book’s existence is a signpost of the Kingdom of God and offers insights the church can provide and proposals we can all work for. (Endorsements include evangelicals, Jewish rabbis, mainline denominational execs, scholars, activists.)


BOOKS WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH SO WE GIVE‛EM A WELL-DESERVED SHOUT OUT HERE AWARD

Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise
Robert Inchausti (Brazos) $19.99 What a great, great piece of work. The author, who I met briefly this fall, has written very lucid and helpful biographies of a collection of feisty Christian authors and activists, showing how their vision could fund Christian imagination and prophetic practices today. Who wouldn’t benefit from a well-written excursion into the land of G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, Jacque Ellul, Wendell Berry, Martin Luther King, Ivan Illich…from Blake to Kerouac, this book surprises, offers grand insight and lively appropriation. Well deserving of serious promotion, if we could just figure out how to do it.
Tell your friends it won a H&M award! Let’s get this book known, read, and celebrated!


Ways of Knowing, In Concert
edited by John Kok (Dordt College Press) $19.00 I know, I know, epistemology isn’t the hottest topic and it is nearly silly for us, an ordinary kind of mom-and-pop bookstore to promote such an odd collection. But wait---this is extraordinary stuff, a remarkable collection on how we know things, in ways that are other than exclusively rational. I need not remind my readers that the Hebrew word for knowing is yada which is the same word for sexual intercourse, which is to say that deep knowledge of something, in the Bible, is often more than the rationalistic description where you give intellectual assent to something. We commonly say we know something "my heart." Chapters here include fascinating pieces on how engineers know, how relationships shape our knowing, how ethnicity effects perception, reflections on the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, articles on faculty knowing to carnal knowledge. A big honorable mention, here. If only I knew how to sell this thing and could do it. I know this much: this is not just for philosophy majors or those inclined to read scholarly stuff. This is a truly great book and should be better known.

BEST COLLECTIONS OF ESSAYS

Who buys essays? Few of our customers, I’m afraid... (Thanks, though, Pastor Tom!) This is a classic and grand genre, and perfect for short reads, devotional settings, something to carry when waiting for the car to get fixed or in the doctor’s office. (Beats getting sucked into People now does’ 1t it?) Here are some truly deserving ones.

The Best Christian Writing 2006 series editor: John Wilson. Introduced by Mark Noo (Jossey-Bass) $17.95 We are happy to announce that some H&M fans are in here, and some of our favorite, thoughtful Christian writers--- Lauren Winner, Daniel Taylor, Virginia Stem Owens, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Richard Mouw, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Bill McKibben, Richard Lischer, Gregory Wolfe. Some are less known, but good friends: Paul Marshall and Gideon Strauss. This should be widely bought and widely distributed.

The Best Catholic Writing 2006

Brian Doyle, editor (Loyola Press) $14.95 I will tell you what: this fabulous collection of various articles, essays, homilies, meditations, and reflection pieces is a treasure to behold. And the forward by Doyle is so joyous and well written that it is worth the price of the book to experience it. Yeeaahhh! I would genuflect if I knew it wouldn’t offend anyone…get this book!

Spirited Men: Story, Soul & Substance
Brian Doyle (Cowley) $14.95 Mr. D. is truly becoming one of our finest essayist; a master of the short form. (He edits a fine literary journal called The Portland Review, which is well worth tracking down.) Here, he ponders the role of men and has essays about various sorts of good guys: from Plutarch to Van Morrison to James Joyce. If your tempted to fall for the silliness of Wild At Heart, get this quick. For another riveting read of Doyle’s pick up his odd little story The Wet Engine, which is about the human heart or his collection of pieces called Leaping.

Off Main Street: Barnstormers, Prophets & Gatemouth’s Gator

Michael Perry (Harper) $13.95 I blogged about this for several days in July as I read it in my father-in-law’s hospital room. What a well-written, funny and finally inspiring collection of pieces about blue-collar life, small town culture and the work of this writer/EMT. His popular Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren At a Time was wonderful. This one was release in paperback this year, and I sure discovered him this year, so it counts. Award that boy with some kinda truck-drivin’ hat or somethin …

The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays
Wendell Berry (Shoemaker & Hoard) $24.00 How can I not mention this new gathering of various essays, articles, literary observations, political rants and farm-related stories. Esteemed by many as one of America’s great living treasures, this new anthology is more of the same, which is to say thought-provoking, clear-headed, stubborn and prophetic writing. One chapter that I mentioned in the blog post is on horse-drawn logging, which I found fascinating, and the one of his understanding of faith that had been excerpted in The Christian Century. Kudos, as always, for this fine Kentucky writer, presented, here, in a very handsome hardcover.

Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World
Kathleen Dean Moore (Lyons Press) $14.00 Can I mention this because I read it this year? I know I’m cheating, since it wasn’t released in ’05, but I just have to once again highlight this excellent nature writer who is so glorious, rich, thoughtful, fun and good as a writer that I want to list her in every bibliography I make, take her books to every book display, regardless of topic. If you don’t recall, she is a philosopher by trade, a camper/hiker/boater/outdoors woman par excellance. She writes like a dream, draws extraordinary connections between the glories of creation and the more mundane duties of daily life. My, my, my. Read her stuff, and you will forgive me for listing an older work in this new list. In fact, I predict you will want to tell others about her too!

FUNNIEST TITLE

Born Again and Again: Surprising Gifts of a Fundamentalist Childhood

Jon Sweeney (Paraclete) $19.95 A fine memoir by the author of The Lure of Saints.


Sinning Like a Christian
William Willimon (Abingdon) $11.00 Any time Pastor Will, now a Bishop, does a new book, it is worth celebrating. This title (on the seven deadlies) deserves some kind of honor, no? Give one to your most unrepentant friend.


Velvet Elvis
Rob Bell (Zondervan) Yes, there really is a book called Velvet Elvis. Think about how tacky those kinds of paintings are. Think of what we’ve done to Jesus. How can we get back to the real, deal, the original, the dangerous rocker, and quite copying a schmaltzy copy of the fat Elvis? And that is just part of this great collection of ponderings by the buy behind the fabulous Nooma videos. That the book is all white, nearly plain, like the Beatle’s White album is pretty cool, too.


Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunset’s and Sushi David Crowder (think) $9.99 This eccentric little meditation on the habit of reading/praying the psalms by a leading and very cool contemporary worship recording artist is funny as all get out. And, there are nuns’ habits portrayed throughout, and an appendix on the Nun-zilla action figure, which I know is real (thanks to Gordon.) Yet, goofy or not, he knows more than most of these guys who stand up front and gush about God, and we should be glad for such thoughtfulness. Read it and smile. You will know God better.


Change Your Underwear Twice a Week: Lessons from the Golden Age of Classroom Filmstrips Danny Gregory (Artisan) $18.95 Just what it says, this handbook to documentaries of the late 50’s and 60’s covers all the key educational film slips we baby boomers used to be forced to endure. This is more than nostalgia, perhaps not quite serious, social history. A fun window into, well, all that really important stuff. Like, "Bugs Are Not Your Friends" and the one called "Let’s Meet Meat." Just wait for the "ding" before you move to the next page…


Purse-Driven Life: Is It Really All About Me? and Purse-Driven Christmas: So What Did You Get Me? Anita Renfroe (NavPress) $12.99 Okay, the titles are a cheeky take-off of Mr. Warren’s mega-seller, and, boy, is she a funny gal. And, frankly, pretty insightful. This is more than cheap, in-house, evangelical humor, but a lighthearted and witty, sassy, even (so the back cover says--the first time I’ve ever seen that as a description of an inspirational book) reflection on our materialism, self-centeredness and stress.

The Perfect Program and other fairy tales---Confessions of a well-intentioned youth worker David Chow (think) $12.99 Well, the title itself isn’t hilarious, until you see the book cover. There is a close up of an exceptionally intent guy in a business-like, long-sleeve dress white shirt, down on his knee, ironing his perfect lawn. That it is a jibe against over-programming youth ministry and a celebration of the move away from perfectionism and programmatic vision makes it a very important little book. But the cover is a hoot and a half. A guy ironing his lawn.

BEST TITLE

Ahh, this is really hard. There are some splendid ways to play with words to convey the idea of your book. A few are pretty clever but it is a sad thing when the title itself is the only great thing about a book. Here is one whose insight and importance deserve honor, and whose mature and clear writing matches the title.

Talking the Walk: Letting Christian Language Live Again

Marva Dawn (Brazos) $22.99 With heavy-weight writers lined up to give blurbs, a new book by Marva is always cause for celebration. Here, she plays on that commonplace where we are instructed to "walk the talk" and suggests that we first need to recovery how to talk the walk. This is basically arranged like an alphabet book (think Buechner or Norris) where she ponders words that have been debased and phrases that are losing meaning in our shared Christian discourse. Very important and pretty darn fun. Read it and learn to talk. Then walk.


WEIRDEST COVER ON A REALLY GOOD BOOK

Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture

Terry Mattingly (W Publishing Group) $12.99 This collection of essays is a fine example of the excellent and balanced insight of Mr. Mattingly, known for his syndicated column on faith and contemporary culture. Older book buyers complained about the odd scribbled words—Johnny Cash, The Simpsons, U2, The Matrix, etc---surrounding a very tacky Catholic stature of Mary. Just because it is weird-looking doesn’t mean it’s bad. Very interesting and helpful essays by one of our better cultural critics.


On Paradise Drive: How We Live (and always have) In The Future Tense
David Brook (Simon & Schuster) $14.00 Again, this 2005 release proves that one cannot judge a book by it’s very odd cover. While the artwork adorning his similar, brilliant, gotta-have Bobos in Paradise was brilliant and much loved for its spoofy genius, this paperback cover is just weird. A wagon train in suburbia? Just because it is weird-looking doesn’t mean it’s bad, but in this case it is (the cover, that is.) Still, you’ve got to read this bit of "comic sociology." One of my favorite books in recent years!

RAUNCHY FOR A REASON

I Am Charlotte Simmons
Thomas Wolfe (Picador) $15.00 I can call this a 2005 release as it is now out in paperback. A much-discussed and often-reviewed novel set in a fictional Ivy League college in Pennsylvania. Sex, drugs, and high achievement haunt today’s college crowd, and this, I’m told, gets it right. Read the excellent review by former Duke chaplain---who hosted the famous author on campus—Willimon Willimon, in The Christian Century earlier this year.

The Evil B.B. Chow and other Stories
Steve Almond (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) $22.95 I didn’t know if I should honor a book that has so much explicit material in it. Still, Almond is a truly spectacular writer (if you’ve followed this column you know how we raved and continue to rave, about his memoir Candyfreak.) Almond did another collection of sexy short stories that was just too offensive to my heart and mind. But this quirky new collection is high quality lit, amazingly written, charming, funny, interesting, brilliant, meaningful and, despite way too much libido in the characters---man, I don’t know anybody like that! —it is one of the books I liked the most this year.

POP CULTURE HONORABLE MENTIONS

Each year, these days, there are excellent studies and provocative survey’s of this intersection between God and popular culture, between faith and entertainment, exploring how a Christian worldview can help us assess and access the popular arts. Here are just a few that deserve good awards.

Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film
Robert K. Johnston (Baker) $17.99 Bible study or film studies? Yes, it is both. Faith and culture are complexly intertwined and Johnston does us well in unpacking ways very edgy and modern films get at the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes.

On Earth As It Is In Advertising: Moving From Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope
Sam Van Eman (Brazos) $14.99 Those who follow our blog will know I’ve posted about this dear man and his insightful book and his passionate mission. This really is the only book of its kind---it deserves a special medal just for that! What a critical and important topic to address from a solid Christian perspective. We can be glad Sam has not only a critical eye for the idols that drive the consumerism in the stories told in most advertising, but also gives us wise counsel on how to "be in the world but not of it." A great example of profound stuff delivered in readable, fun ways.


Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective
Robert Vagacs (Cascade) $15.00 This guy knows U2 better than nearly anyone I’ve read and he knows the Christian story as revealed in Scripture. What a powerful and insightful combo! Vagacs studied under Brian Walsh, who wrote a moving and valuable forward that brought tears to my eyes. Even if you aren’t a big U2 fan, this is well worth reading and is a great example of Christ-honoring, Biblically-radical artistic analysis.

A Song to Sing, A Life to Life: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice
Don Saliers & Emily Saliers (Jossey-Bass) $21.95 You have most likely heard of this series of books spinning off the important collection Practicing Our Faith. From Sabbath practices to a book about speech, these are serious reflections on ordinary stuff. This one is co-written by a lovely father-daughter team. Don Saliers is known as a renowned churchman, an organist and seminary professor of liturgy and music; his daughter is a world-famous rock star, one half of the duo, The Indigo Girls. Here they hold up the significance of music and ponder the different roles and different gifts various types of music can be in our lives. Wonderful! (On line, you can find a lecture they do together "Between Saturday Night and Sunday morning.") Great stuff.


A HALF-HEARTED AWARD FOR THE BOOKS and TOPIC I WAS MOST AMBIVALENT ABOUT

Becoming Conversant With Emergent: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications
D. A. Carson (Zondervan) $14.99 I wrote about this at some length, and then never typed it, let alone published it. There are good critiques (and some knee-jerk less than helpful critiques) and some quite positive reviews on the internet of this much-debated paperback. I applaud Dr. Carson for wanting to honor the emergent gang by evaluating their conversation*, and I truly affirm his concern that any renewal group (especially a postmodern one that prides itself in coloring outside the lines) be clear about it’s fundamental doctrines and approach to Scripture. Still, too much of it seemed somehow harsh (even as he said he didn’t intend to be) and too little genuinely helpful. Carson says he thinks he’d like to talk with Brian McLaren, that McLaren seems like a truly nice fellow. Rather than write a book about him, he should have called him up and gone out for a cold one.

*Doesn’t this phrase sum up much of it: the all-over-the-map emergent movement calls itself only a conversation, itself an indication and embodiment of their post-modern vibe. Carson, ever the straight guy modernist, evaluates the convo, but fails to join it. He doesn’t seem to know how to pick up the phone and call up Brian or the others, yet lobs this systematic critique against them, and wonders why they don’t get it. These two different generations of evangelical leaders are speaking past each other, and the debate about this book, which could have been a conversation, but ended up being a bit less than that, is a part an example of this cultural divide.

The new Truth & The New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church
by R. Scott Smith (Crossway; $14.99) at least boasts a friendly blurb from Tony Jones on the back, and it is written in a gracious tone, for which it deserves some kind of award, even if it is one of those they don’t show on the big night on TV.** Although I remain ambivalent and a bit unsure of all of this, the book deserves a mention.

**Yet, one of the blurbs on the back endorsing this says that Smith is "uniquely suited to enter the Emergent conversation"… And what is it that makes him so suited? He is "an analytic philosopher with a razor-sharp mind"… It doesn’t take a postmodernist to ask why an analytic philosopher qualifies him; the gospel, we all know, is foolishness to the Greeks, anyway, so his philosophical tradition is more of a burden, methinks, than a qualifier. And that "razor-sharp" thing kind of creeps me out, like he’s going to cut somebody up. Haven’t these modernist critics learned anything about how to talk like a Christian? Or how to relate with those in the counter-cultural pomos? Why did the book publisher allow such an obvious foix paus on the jacket? Geesh.

The Godly and impressive Dr. David Wells’s Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World

(Eerdmans; $25.00) is so erudite and thoughtful that it is a true academic joy to read. And he has contributed so much in his magisterial three volume—now four volume—series on the shifts in culture and the subsequent eroding of evangelical truth, that he must be read and taken very seriously. But still, I worry that he, too, hasn’t adequately connected with those about whom he frets. (He takes a footnoted swipe against my pals Walsh & Keesmaat which I wish he would have explored in greater detail. Smith, however, doesn’t even mention the essential Truth is Stranger Than It Used To Be let alone Colossians Remixed.) And so, a big fat ambiguous award to these important books and this whole shooting match, which seems a bit too alarmed at times and the claims and critiques too ambitious and yet finally inadequate for the important matters they legitimately raise…

BEST BOOK ON MARRIAGE AND FAMILY

Marriage Made in Eden: A Pre-Modern Perspective for a Post-Christian World
Alice P. Matthews & M. Gay Hubbard (Baker) $16.99 I have a friend who called me up just to tell me how this book helped him in so many ways---from the lucid explanation of the shift to a postmodern culture to the ways gender can be understood in healthy ways, to the beauty of a thoroughly Biblical worldview which shapes this helpful guide. His remarks reminded me of what is so unique about this book, the combination of serious cultural studies, the absence of a cheesy or moralistic tone, and the ways these mature authors can offer very practical help without being simplistic. This is the kind of self-help book that many of us long for.


Getting Marriage Right: Realistic Counsel for Saving and Strengthening Relationships David P. Gushee (Baker) $14.99 What a mature and solid word! Here is what Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen of Eastern University says, "The marriage education movement has long been in need of a brief, theologically-grounded text on marriage which is broadly researched and at the same time gracefully written. David Gushee’s book has accomplished all of these goals and more." Exceptional, and deserving of a H&M award!

BEST BOOK ABOUT CHILDREN

Okay, it may seem like an arbitrary category. And so it is. Still, there have been a good number of serious books lately about the role of children in our lives and churches; there are plenty of very useful parenting self-help books, but none stand out as exceptional or as books we’ve gushed over. The following, though, is extraordinary and worthy of and award of merit.

Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community

Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, Linda Cannell (Eerdmans) $20.00 Written mostly for Christian educators, this imagines the faith journey with children as a pilgrimage and anyone willing to work through this hefty volume will come away deepened in their commitments to the whole people of God---including kids! What a wise, diverse, thoughtful and engaging collection. Very impressive.


Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood
Joyce Ann Mercer (Chalice Press) $29.99 Even a bit more academic, perhaps, than the thick Eerdmans one listed above, this study is rich and skillful. Blurbs on the back include raves by James Fowler, Letty Russell from Yale and Mary Moore from Candler.

BEST BOOK ON PERSONAL ISSUES

A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out To God in the Lost Language of Lament
Michael Card (NavPress) $13.99 There have been a few very good books on this topic that have come out lately—some too academic, some only a study of the Psalms of lament. Here, this thoughtful and poetic author gives us meaty comments, caring insight, good reflection, and very practical help in time of trouble. Read our review from earlier in the year and see more of why we esteem this book so very much.

BEST BOOK ON PERSONAL ISSUES RUNNER UPS

Wanting to Be Her: Body Image Secrets Victoria Won’t Tell You

Michelle Graham (IVP) $12.00 This book on body image is the best thing we’ve seen, and is very, very helpful. InterVarsity Press has long been able to write basic kinds of books on psychology and self-help topics with Biblical insight, readability, and zest. This is just the right kind of book---interesting, honest, thoughtful and helpful. Excellent.


Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love

Laura A. Smit (Baker Academic) $18.99 I blogged about this, raving about the thoughtful and deep theological insight offered to this book about having a broken heart. Ms Smit is a Reformed philosopher and works as campus chaplain at Calvin College; her community of worldviewish scholars and her relationship with young students have given her academic and pastoral resources for knowing how to reflect deeply on this hard territory. What an amazing book!

Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness
Marc Ian Barasch (Rodale) $24.95 This exceptionally handsome hardcover—my pick for one of the best designed books of the year—is a thoughtful, touching, well-written and deep study of what constitutes compassion and how to nurture it.
Desmond Tutu raves "…it ought to be a compulsory read for all." And Arianna Huffington nicely says it is "something refreshingly real, beyond right or left, just straight to the center of the human heart." Not sure what category to place this wise book in, but wherever you shelve it, it ought to be award winning!

BEST REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT TO READ SCHOLARLY BOOKS THAT I’D STUDY IF I HAD THE SMARTS AND TIME

The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth
David Bentley Hart $35.00 I seem to think—you may not want to trust me on this, though—that this is one of the most talked about theological books in years, and although it released a year or so ago, it is was released in 2005 in paperback. The author, an Orthodox theologian who writes serious pieces for First Things in his free time, is said to be a writer of great clarity and that in this well-argued book about how God draws us to Himself through His beauty, he is stunning. I believe‛em. Hence, our award.

Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant and Participation
edited by James K. A. Smith and James Olthius (Baker) $24.99 I blogged about this, with considerable gusto, even though I had only skimmed a handful of chapters, and got a number of very interested replies and a handful of orders. I’ve got friends (well, they may disown me now that I’ve come clean about my shallow tastes) in here and I esteem them highly. At my earlier review at the BookNotes blog, I think I suggested that this is a book from an obscure tradition interacting with an even more obscure tradition. Which makes for a very interesting book. And one we think deserves some kind of year-end award.

Introduction to Philosophy Dirk H.T. Vollenhoven (Dordt College Press) $16.00 This book tightly shows what is considered "reformational" philosophy, written by the heady brother-in-law of famed Calvinist philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. I’ve read the afterward by Cal Seerveld and he makes it clear how important this is. Know also of this year’s other Vollenhoven releases put out by Dordt Press, the Dutch-English bi-lingual edition of the much-acclaimed Isagoge Philosophiae
($36.00.) and Vollenhoven’s Problem-Historical Method: Introduction and Explorations
written as an intro to Prof. V by K. Bril ($14.00.) Dutch Christian philosophy, anyone?

BEST RE-ISSUES OF PREVIOUSLY OUT OF PRINT BOOKS

Hip, hip who-ray for these kind of publishers who see the need to bring back some sadly missing titles. Here are a few of our favorites that deserve extra mention. This alone makes 2005 a good publishing year!

Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom
Stanley Grenz (Eerdmans) $14.00 I don’t recall that Peterson had the forward to the old edition, and his remarks about the importance of this solid study make it that much more worthwhile. Excellent.

Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life
John Piper (Crossways) $14.99 This was originally called A Godward Life part 2 and has now been expanded into this fabulous, Christ-honoring, God-glorifying collection of daily devotionals.

The Call To Conversion

Jim Wallis (Harper SanFransico) $13.95 I used to say this was one of my top three or four books in my life but it has been so long unavailable that I even quite quoting it in talks and sermons. It has been considerably revised, especially the out of date chapters on the politics of poverty and the one on militarism and the call to peacemaking. Wallis sounds like his old self, here, preaching like an evangelical, insisting that faith in Christ is very personal but never private. I’ve been praying (and nagging publishers) to get this back in print for years. Kudos all around.


Through Painted Deserts: Light, God & Beauty on the Open Road
Donald Miller (Nelson) $13.99 Let me brag just a little here as we honor Word and Miller for getting this out in a great new cover with a brand new title. We reviewed Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance back before our book review column was on line, but published in hard copy. I mostly raved about this quirky college guy who had the smarts to play off of the Zen book by Pirsig and could tell of his travels around the West talking about God, calling and women. Now that he is the big burrito in edgy evangelical publishing (you’ve got to read Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What if you haven’t) we are delighted to acclaim it once again. Very, very, cool, sort of like Anne Lamott in reverse. In January 2006 Miller’s three books will come out in CD, and I would guess they will be fabulous to "read" in audio format. Can’t wait.


War and Christian Ethics
Arthur Holmes (Baker) $27.99 This is the best collection of church history stuff, primary source material and original writings about war and peace. Three new pieces have been added, reflecting three important views from recent writers. The book is, understandably, weighted with just war theorists, but has adequate excerpts from pacifists and others and stands as the definitive collection of this sort.

Rainbows for the Fallen World
Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press) $22.00 I reviewed this a great length, listing reasons why it is so important and one of my all time favorite books.

Are Women Human? Dorothy L. Sayers (Eerdmans) $9.00 Dorothy Sayers! At long last, this brief and level headed book, by a member of the Oxford Inklings, is back in print. First published in this small paperback in 1971, it is taken from a larger collection of pieces released in 1947. The phrase on the front cover says "Astute and witty essays on the role of women in society."

A special award of merit for the republishing work of Wipf & Stock who are now bringing out the complete backlist of radical Episcopalian lawyer and lay theologian William Stringfellow. Hat tips!

BEST COFFEE TABLE ART BOOKS

Faith + Vision: Twenty-Five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts edited by Sandra Bowden & Cameron Anderson (Square Halo) $49.99 This is a spectacular collection of the great work of contemporary Christian painters sculptors, weavers--- artists who are members of "Christians in the Visual Arts.") Go to Square Halo’s website to see samples of this marvelous gift (and to see my endorsing book blurb, too! What an honor!) Hats off to Square Halo for their consistent commitment to offering books relating faith to art.

The Next Generations: Contemporary Expressions of Faith
Patricia C. Pongracz & Wayne Roosa (Eerdmans) $60.00 A new museum in lower Manhattan---MOBIA (Museum of Biblical Art)---hosted a wildly popular and prestigious show this year that illustrated modern artists whose work is somehow inspired by the Bible. Some of these artists are known (members of CIVA, for stance) and others are new to most readers. This book shows off their work, describes the artists and the juried show, and make an excellent introduction to a new generation of Christians working in modern mediums. Breath-taking!

A Broken Beauty
edited by Ted Prescott (Eerdmans) $35.00 This astute collection of a few essays, reproduced in high quality on glossy paper, with plenty of illustrations and art reproductions, makes the case that the human —broken by sin—still bears the image of God and we still hunger for beauty. These paintings and essays help us appreciate deeply the quandary of the human condition. Mr. Prescott teaches art at Messiah College and is a renowned and innovative modern artists. He obviously is quite a scholar, as well. This remarkable work surely deserves acclaim and we are happy to award it so.


NOVELS, NOVELS, NOVELS

Gilead Marilynn Robinson (Farra, Strauss & Giroux) $23.00 Won the Pulitzer Prize, so now its Hearts & Minds award will make it really famous. A stunning, careful, slow story with glorious prose, written in the form of a letter from a pastor to his young sun. The word of mouth buzz on this is remarkable and if you haven’t heard of it, you must not have fiction-loving friends. Wonderful and highly, highly recommended.

Hannah Coulter
Wendell Berry (Shoemaker & Hoard) $14.00 If you’ve read any of Berry’s Port Williams stories, you may have noticed the Coulter family. (They figure in his masterpiece Jayber Crow,

too.) A lovely, slow story, setting, of course, in olden Kentucky, with concerns about family, integrity, land.

The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin) $14.00 Selected by the Good Morning America’s "Read This" Book Club, discussed in all sorts of venues, and well-loved here at the shop. We adore her clean prose, her caring views, her openness to spirituality. Kidd, you may know, used to see herself as an evangelical and wrote beautiful and faithful inspirational books, but her journey has taken her towards a less orthodox faith. This Southern tale of motherless daughters and coming of age may reveal some of her struggle, and it is absolutely a book worth savoring.


You Shall Know Our Velocity!
Dave Eggers (Vintage) $14.00 Re-issued in paperback, this follow up to the spectacular and heartbreaking A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, this novel, about two very distressed Gen X guys speeding around the world trying to give money away, is hilarious, fascinating, compelling, if disturbingly vulgar. The New York Times Book Review of the hardcover called it "Entirely honorable…Egger’s frisbee sentences sail, spin, hover, circle and come back to the reader like gifts of gravity and grace." Amen. I think.

The Known World
Edward Jones (Amistad) $13.95 This, the author’s first novel, notably earned him the Pulitzer Prize a year ago for the hardcover. It is a dense, difficult work about black slaveholders, considered by some a modern masterpiece.


Catherine’s Wheels
Leif Peterson (Waterbrook) $13.95 A well-written first novel about some down and out guys with some hard past, a mysterious young girl. Oddly, this book is being withdrawn from the evangelical publisher (still haven’t figured out exactly why) as they feel it may not be suitable for the so-called CBA market. Peterson (Eugene’s son) has been hard at work on this for years and it is upsetting to see his novel jettisoned before the book had a chance to be well-known. Several of us have read it and thought it more than worthy!

YEAR’S BEST IN-STORE AUTHOR APPEARANCE

Lauren Winner Spring 2005
She is a delightful and honest reader; afterwards there was plenty of good conversation and some hard questions. She buys a lot of books, too. She read and autographed Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity and then relented and did some stuff from Mudhouse Sabbath. We love this writer and her good work!

YEAR’S BEST GUEST LECTURER

Os Guinness Fall 2005
Dr. Guinness believes in our work and is exceptionally gracious to lecture here in York, and we not only had a great turn-out, sharp questions, a nice array of food and flowers, but he and his wife visited a local Irish pub with a gang of students, where we name-dropped his famous brewery heritage till we got free stuff. The very next day he flew to Cairo to lecture; God bless him for an excellent presentation based on the important book, UnSpeakable: Facing Up To Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror.

YEAR’S BEST SELLING BOOK AT A CONFERENCE

Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy Mark Nepo, editor (Jossey-Bass) $24.95 I blogged about this remarkable gathering at the National Press Club where we heard contributors to this book offer insight about how spirituality and serious values can help restore the best of our American heritage and renew our public life to greater integrity and justice. What a day, hearing Parker Palmer, Robert Inchausti, Vincent Harding, Huston Smith, and others.

BEST TREND IN BOOKS THAT I FIRST COMPLAINED ABOUT BUT REALIZE THAT WE ARE TRULY BLESSED TO BE A PART OF

What ever could I be talking about, but books about Narnia! Join the renaissance of C.S. Lewisy books. Buy all things Narnian. This really is exciting, and the array of titles out there (reviewed at our website last month) offers plenty of choices for all sorts of levels, interests, tastes, or concerns. Make a New Year’s resolution: read more Jack.


RED WHITE & BLUE AWARD FOR BEST BOOKS ON POLITICS & CIVIC LIFE

There have been such a great batch of books on current affairs--about the war, faith & politics, the environment. I would like to list more, but here are a couple that stand out as very, very helpful and worth honoring. Each tend towards our hunch that we ought not be aligned with any particular ideology and that Christian faithfulness in this arena would look a bit unlike the standard options.

Toward An Evangelical Public Policy: political Strategies for the Health of the Nation Edited by Ronald J. Sider & Diane Knippers (Baker) $24.99 Arriving early in the year, this compilation of essays emerged from the conversations within the National Association of Evangelicals on the need for a more coherent public philosophy that would sustain the development of a uniquely Biblical vision of civic life. Ron, as you may know, is seen as liberal, politically, by some (he thinks he is just being Biblical with significant concern for the poor alongside a consistent ethic of life) and the late Ms Knippers was a voice for a thoughtful and moderate kind of conservatism. Together, they chaired a thoughtful, diverse committee and issued this excellent book. We highly esteem most of the authors, know a few of them personally, and find this to be one of the best compilations of it's kind out there. (It covers everything from family policy to war & peace; from medical ethics to environmental concerns, with authors such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Paul Marshall, David Gushee, Glen Stassen, Mark Rodgers…) It also has some more foundational pieces, including some helpful contributions by non-evangelicals such as mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics.) If a purchase of such a book is a vote in the marketplace, I'd use the old Chicago line: vote early and often!

Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers Alan Storkey (Baker Academic) $24.99 I described this in an earlier column as "N.T. Wright meets John Howard Yoder" and I was trying to be clever. It is true that it is as much Biblical research as political philosophy, which is one of the reasons we want to award it. Storkey listens well to the Gospels and draws on his neo-Calvinist worldview to draw forth principles for creative citizenship and political action. With rave reviews from important thinkers like former Dutch parliamentarian Bob Goudzwaard and State Congressman Stephen Monsma, it becomes clear how important this is.

Democracy’s Edge: Choosing To Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life Frances Moore Lappe (Jossey-Bass) $24.95 Lappe became renowned for helping catapult America into newer, healthier eating habits with her famous Diet for a Small Planet and then worked to become one of the leading voices in helping us understand the real causes and injustices behind world poverty and global hunger. Ms Lappe here gives us an extraordinary, broad, usable model for making our democracy more vibrant, citizens more involved, and those who care about a better world more involved in practical ways to shape political life. I loved her previous book, Hope’s Edge and this is a robust invitation to serious civic organizing.

SPECIAL NON-AWARD: THE MOST OVER-LOOKED TOPIC IN BOOK BUYING IN CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA

Our far-away readers from cyberspace might not know, but we are a stone’s through from Dover, PA, where there has been an ACLU lawsuit against a school district that mandated a one-minute statement be read allowing that not everyone agrees with Darwin’s views and that there is a book in the school library about intelligent design. The lawsuit, which commanded worldwide attention, heard in the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, gave plenty of opportunity for comment and columns, debates and hate mail, all about this thing called ID. We saw no peak in sales and it is evident that many, many, many (many!) writers—pro and con—have not read a page by Behe, Dembski and Co. Can we give an award for failure? If so, this is notable. We stock more of these books than most places. Maybe everybody bought‛em elsewhere but, giving the terribly misinformed discourse in the papers (and even among the school board members themselves, by the way) I think not.