About April 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in April 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2006 is the previous archive.

May 2006 is the next archive.

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

April 2006 Archives

April 1, 2006

School(s) for Conversion

Okay, folks. I've blogged (and linked you to a big 'ol rambling review I did) about Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution where he invites us to, in response to the grace of Jesus, care more for the poor, nurture the prophetic imagination, and engage in subversive stunts to expose the dead-end bankruptcy of the secular American Empire. Then I wrote about a wonderful memoir of a friend of Shane's, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a very decent fellow who was, as he puts it, Born Again in Babylon. In that moving reflection, he tells of being a Capitol Hill page, on his way to the Naval Academy and his eventual embrace of radical faith, his journey with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) to be a peacemaking witness in Iraq, and how he and his wife helped form an urban, intentional community--a Baptist Catholic Worker--in North Carolina.

I don't desire my book review blog here to be a site for fisty-cuffs, yet I am a bit surprised that nobody commented on these extraordinary books which make such expansive claims that we should all live like Jesus. Although I suggested, from my Reformed worldview, that the personalism and anti-institutional tone of much of this tradition is inadequate for serious and sustainable social change, I nonetheless celebrated this faithful younger generation who is trying to embody meaningful discipleship in community, standing against the idols and ideologies of our culture. When I write, as I sometimes do, about being "neither left nor right" I am mostly thinking of "third way" alternative political parties---Kuyper in Holland and his formation of distinctively Christian social institutions has been one of my influences, you know--but Shane or Jonathan would more likely take this phrase to mean standing up to protest the war-making of both the Democrats and the Republicans and rejecting power by sharing life with the powerless. With Dorothy Day, St. Francis or Mother Theresa, they might be less inclined to use the "leaven in the loaf" metaphor from Jesus as justifcation for radical witness within middle class structures, jobs, organizations and institutions, but might more likely call us to be a "city on a hill" showing the way out of exile.

So it should come as no surprise that the community which Jonathan & his wife helped start (Rutba House--learn about the reference in my previous post) gathered a gang of somewhat like minded folk to create discussion and then put out a book on what community looks like and how such communities can be agents of the counter-cultural values of God's movement.

The very title, School(s) for Conversion speaks much---our gathering to live in community to be and do "church" is a school which trains us to be Christian. (Certainly, it can be said, that any good worshiping body does this, as we enact rituals and pay attention to liturgical practice. Where else in our culture do we hear about being peacemakers and then rehearse it---"passing the peace" most churches call it---so that we might be trained in such nonviolence? Where else do we eat a meal together---communion!---and learn of the relationship between for and grace?)

The subtitle is of course a thorny one, for me--my monthly reviews occasionally lament the ways in which churches of various stripes have disempowered lay people and kept back the vision of vocation and calling, nearly implying that the reign of God is not about the Kingdom ("creation restored") but the institutional church. I think the Bible rejects any such dualisms and I am quick to fret about such things. So anything that seems to retreat from culture, or stand apart from it, or that suggests that praying is more important than working (as most of us rightfully or wrongfully imagine when the word "monk" is used) smacks to me of a piety that is not faithful. I don't like the desert fathers, no matter how trendy dear Henri Nouwan made them. (They left their children for God's sake! They deserted their homes, their businesses, their congregations! So they could find God! Talk about gnosticism! Ugh!)

Still, this gang of writers convened by Rutba House represents various kinds of experiments at relevant alternative communities and since we've engaged in some of this "living together in a world falling apart" ourselves, I want to take it seriously. And you know what? This is a wonderful, wonderful collection of essays, delightful, visionary, prophetic, practical and helpful. I'll explain why in my next post.

School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism edited by The Rutba House (Cascade Books) $22.00

April 4, 2006

C.S. Lewis on the poor

I had the wonderful privelege of preaching yesterday at New Life PCA church here in South York, and was warmly welcomed and well hosted. A cool and welcoming place, this is a congregation that has had good and forthright conversations about holding together those with differing political and cultural views; they are eager to reach out in creative ways into the broader community. Good stuff. When their pastor--who is in a singing combo called Plan B (for those who have ears to hear)--explained that he is preaching in Luke, and asked me to speak on the Year of Jubilee (cancel the debt on the day of atonement!) which shows up in Isaiah 61, the text Jesus uses for his first sermon (Luke 4), well, I almost wet myself. I love showing those connections between Older & Newer portions of Scripture and called my message "Jesus' Inaugural Address: Echoes of Jubilee." In Him it has happened, the year of the Lord, the annointed Kingdom, has come. Good news for the poor, and anybody poor in spirit enough to know they need release. We are now to be people of Jubilee, living into God's Kingdom of peaceful, restorative, social policy and annoucing Christ-given grace.

For those drawn to reflection before the service, this C.S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity was in the bulletin:

Charity---giving to the poor---is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.

April 5, 2006

12 Marks of the New Monasticism

Last week, I was raving about this collection of essays, called together by the good folks at Rutba House, an intentional community living among the poor and serving together in incarnational, radical discipleship. They noticed that different kinds of folks are talking about community these days, and wanted to bring together various voices to ponder some common insights and principles. They invited some folks from the Emergent conversation, the Catholic Worker movement, Richard Foster's Renovare ministry, which offered insights about the broad contemplative traditions that so many are reclaiming. The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) founded by John Perkins reminded the gathered folk of their longstanding committment to the "3 R's" (Relocation, Redistribution, Reconciliation.) My goodness, what a wonderful set of different traditions all insisting on community, work with the marginalized, prayerful attention to being church for the world. Here are the marks they came up with, which are explored wonderfully in School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism.

Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

Hospitality to the stranger.

Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

Humble submission to Christ's body, the church.

Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

Support for celibate singles alongside monogameous married couples and their children.

Geographical proximity to commuity members who share a common rule of life.

Care for the plot of God's earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

The School(s) for Conversion chapters explore each of these, with different authors, of course, writing each one. There is a good degree of diversity, here, but they strive to offer this vision for those longing for a better form of living out fidelity in our times. I've noted some concerns I have, in my initial review of Shane's book last week (he is one of the authors here) and also in my posting the other day about this book. Anyone else have any initial thoughts? I might suggest, though, that after weighing in, that many of us give this book a chance to perculate in our lives, that we prayerfully discern if we might be drawn to such steps towards similiar experiments. Is there someone (anyone?) you can talk to about these yearnings? Are you in some kind of small group, book club, fellowship or Sunday school class? I think this book--even if it miss certain features or asserts biases that some might not find essential---is one of the most important books of recent years. It is rare I say this, but, truly, there is nothing like it on the market! Thanks be to God that a book like this was put out, and let us hope it stirs up many to deeper consideration of the nature of our church life and the meaning of discipleship and spirituality and community and service.

For more info, visit www.newmonasticism.org. Then come back to Hearts & Minds and support our efforts to promote books that you most likely won't find at your typical bookstore. Thanks.

School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks for a New Monasticism Edited by The Rutba House (Cascade Books) $22.00

April 11, 2006

New England Road Trip: Books & Authors & Music, oh my.

Last week had us picking and boxing, listing and lugging, loading and driving, all the way to New England, north of Boston. We were honored to be chosen as bookseller for a heavy conference for Christian schoolteachers, mostly high school instructors, on making the notion of worldview come alive across the curriculum. The conference, sponsored by the very wonderful and altogether exceptional Lexington Christian Academy, invited their participants to think how to cultivate inquiry, setting a tone to get students to think deeply and ask good questions, cherishing God's world in such a way as to learn in wonder. We sold plenty of books and got tons of good feedback, meeting teachers from across the nation. Thanks to LCA for having us play a part, and thanks to Kim W. for allowing me to stretch my book minutes a bit beyond---all right, a lot beyond---the one minute allotted. It is fun, I must say, to get applause for doing my animated info-merical schtick. I do hope everyone knew it was utterly sincere.

A few highlights:

David Naugle, worldview guru, and author of the spectacular tour de force Worldviews: The History of an Idea cited in his keynote address our friend Sam Van EmanÕs little book, On Earth as It Is In Advertising: From Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope and worked with his simulated gospel (Ôsim-gospelÓ) lingo to reflect on what might be considered sim- education. Naugle is a brilliant thinker, a very kind man, and a good teacher himself. (And we heard what book he is working on next!) Of course, he bought some books to lug back to Texas! I even got to tell people that Jim SireÕs 2005 book Naming the Elephant is nearly dedicated to Naugle and that in the forward Sire thanks David for inspiring him to revisit the question of what a worldview is, how worldviews actually work, and why worldview studies are so very important to pursue. His talk, by the way, is on his website, which you should visit regularly.

Nancy Pearcey gave a very helpful plenary speech, pretty much a summary of her main thesis, written in a compelling manner in the Gold Medallion book, Total Truth. She summarizes SchaefferÕs upper-story/lower-story dichotomy and uses Dooyeweerdian methodology, nearly, to offer a full-orbed view of truth. It was a good experience hearing her again, and we thank her for her important words. I announced that she was Fran & Edith Schaeffer for the 21st century, and I donÕt think I exaggerate. Check out info about the book here. I suppose it was self-indulgent, but I had a chance to again thank her and celebrate her naming us in her first book, The Soul of Science, an act of encouragement that we still recall gladly.

David Smith, gentle British scholar, now at Calvin College, is working on a number of projects, including some stuff to show how learning international languages can be an act of justice and peace; it isnÕt everyday that one meets a careful scholar with such great passions for make the world right; to have solid theology and Godly piety and be at the top of his craft, thinking and teaching in such remarkable ways is a joy to behold. David co-authored the only book we know about teaching foreign language in a principled and healing way, The Gift of the Stranger and he also wrote an argument for teaching Christianly in a book we are imported from across the big pond: The Bible and The Task of Teaching. It, too, is an extraordinary and thoughtful work, rooted in his deeply wholistic, Christian approach. Both of these books are hard to find and we have them here.

DavidÕs story of coming to faith years ago even while sensing that the evangelical subculture didnÕt seem to offer much in the way of scholarly resources or visions was incredibly rewarding for me to hear. He shared that he picked up some books---he called the book display guy from England who sold him the right stuff at some conference somewhere my counterpart---and the lights came on for him: he had no idea that a tradition existed of serious academic renewal developed in light of Biblical perspectives and Christian conviction. But that one purchase years ago from an ad hoc bookseller, made the difference! Yeah---a bookseller at an off-site book table sold this young believer a book so many years ago and it set him on a direction where he is now himself a leader in the reformation of scholarship.

This is why we do what we do, driving all day and setting up all night, I said to my traveling assistant, Rainman Gus. Indeed. I hope you who read this now feel somehow a part of this story, too, this movement, this book-informed move to live out radical faithfulness...

Other authors and friends were there: Jim Skillen and Andy Crouch are older and newer friends and their work is respected. Check out their respective websites for thrilling insight and wonderful writing. And some brand new friends, too: what a joy to meet the author of a memoir I had packed, The House Where Hardest Things Happened: A Memoir About Belonging by Kate Young CaleyÉ I had no idea she worked at LCA and it was a thrill to meet her and chat about her writing and good care for indie bookstores. Thanks, Kate. Lots of good conversations, talking about books, answering questions, inviting shoppers to email us later. And, for the record, I suppose I verged on embarrassing myself by arguing with a Harvard physics prof. Not a smart move, some might say.

We saw snow in Massachusetts, visited great bookstores in Cambridge, ate sweet potato fries in some place Gus said was famous, and---get this!---stopped in a church basement on the way home and caught a remarkable show of guitar genius and Hearts & Minds friend, Brooks Williams.

We did a blurb on BrooksÕ new CD, Blues & Ballads, on the bookstore website last month, and seeing him play live not only reminded me how much we love this performer, but how glad we are to stock his albums. He played with Paul Asbell, himself a Middlebury College musicologist and legendary blues producer (yeah---he's worked with or produced everybody from Muddy Waters to LightninÕ Hopkins, and played with guys like B.B. King, Curtis Mayfield and, and, Brooks Williams!) They told tons of stories about the music they played, taught us a bit about the blues and early jazz, and showed an glorious joy in playing so well for the delighted crowd. This was an awesome night of up-close live and loose music, called a Òguitar summitÓ on the coffeehouse poster. Gus got brown rice Japanese tea and I got fair trade coffee, we hugged Brooks, who weÕve hosted here, but never seen on his home turf, and started home at midnight, which seemed like a bluesy thing to do, but was probably just stupid, arriving bleary-eyed in time to participate in our church service Sunday morning. And then collapsed into bed.

The LCA conference and bookselling road trip couldnÕt have happened without Scott ÒGusÓ Calgaro and I thank him here for his able assistance and storytelling and overall good direction, except when walking near Harvard Yard. And thanks again to the authors and book-lovers who support our work. Perhaps like in the story David Smith told, or the others that could also be told, these packages of print and paper will find their way into someone's heart, and change their world. Exhausted and sore as I am, late as it is, I thank God. Man, I love this job.

I hope you know we value your support, helping us keep this retail thing viable. Thanks.

April 13, 2006

quick annoucement: Jamie Smith's new book is here

More later--I'm at work, but had to tell somebody. The long-awaited book by pentecostal philosopher and Calvin professor, James K.A. Smith, with the fascinating sub-title "Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church" is now here. Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism? is part of a new series that Mr. Smith is going to edit issued by the good folks at Baker Academic ("The Church and Postmodern Culture.") I've been working through my advance copy and can't wait to tell you more about it, but, for now, tell anybody whose having any kind of emergent conversation (pro or con) anybody that cares about Christian philosophy, and anyone who desires the church to be in interaction with the issues of the day: this is a must-read. More later.

Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church James K.A. Smith (Baker) $17.99

April 15, 2006

Holy Saturday reading

Since I am working today, I cannot sip tea and read and pray. But, later, I hope to re-read some in one of my all time favorite books, a collection of sermons by the ever-elequent Episcopal preacher, Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death. Published by Eerdmans a few years back, it has meant much to me and her use of paintings and sculptures depicting Christ's entry into and victory over death makes it especially interesting and a lovely book to own. These sermons for Holy Week and Easter are passionate, moving, nuanced, theologically rich, edifying. Along with numerous rave reviewers, we commend it to you. I haven't read her little book on the seven last words from the cross, although I had intended to.

Her other sermon collections are wonderful, too--- The Gospel and the New York Times and Help My Unbelief as is her major work on Tolkein, The Battle for Middle Earth.

I would be remiss not to mention the thick book--I think the only book---on Holy Saturday, Between Cross and Resurrection by Alan E. Lewis (also published by Eerdmans). When somebody like the esteemed theologian Thomas Torrence says it is one of the best books he's ever read, one must take notice. That the beloved Princeton professor was dying of cancer as he wrote gives an extra poignancy to this serious scholarship. I wanted you to know of it.

April 17, 2006

Wendell Berry poem, Practice Resurrection

The line, "Practice Resurrection," used by more than one preacher yesterday, is happily popular now because of the wonderful recent book by Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life. (I will be helping teach at Sunday school class on this book for the next few weeks, so I may write more about it.)

Peterson, a pastor who cares about words and loves poetry, has cited this Wendell Berry poem in the past. So have Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat (in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire.)

The poem is actually called Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front and was published in the early 70's in The Country of Marriage. It is now available in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

Read the poem here.

Comments anyone?

April 18, 2006

Resurrection of Jesus: The Crossan-Wright Dialogue

We sometimes joke in our shop that we have "something to offend everyone." Well, this could raise the eyebrows of some, but we think it is an important and helpful book, one we are eager to promote. It is a collection of essays around the core pieces, which are the lectures give in a debate on the bodily resurrection between John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright. Readers of my reviews will know of our admiration for Tom Wright. His insistence not only on the orthodox and historic formulation of the resurrection, and his insight that this is the beginning of the new creation, is rich and necessary. I haven't studied Crossan in depth (although I have looked at his recent book on Holy week that he did with Marcus Borg.) I am inclined to not waste time reading stuff which deconstructs the most essential of doctrines, and find such stuff to be harmful to the church. My people in the mainline have been there, done that.

Yet, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue edited by Robert Stewart (Fortress $18.00) is a fascinating volume, and lays out very important conversations in a helpful manner. If the resurrection is central to Christian vitality and God-honoring fidelity as the church has traditionally said, then it is surely worth knowing why some believers want to reconstrue it and how to respond to that claim; it is important to know the lay of the land on this central doctrine and see how thoughtful and good folks debate it. You may not be clear in your own mind where to stand on this matter or you may have your mind and heart well rooted; either way, it is wise to know of this area of discourse and it is good to learn about the topic.

That the book is a dialogue is evident and fair. Most of the book isn't by Wright or Crossan, though, but various authors---William Lane Craig or Craig Evans or Ted Peters or Alan Segal or Gary Habermas---add their evaluations of the discussion and help us highlight points of agreement and explore various implications. What the resurrection means is what is at stake, of course, and these popular and lively scholars give us serious stuff to think about.

After the Wright/Crossan dialogue chapter, several of these semi-scholarly pieces shed light on their discussion. Robert Stewart has a chapter "The Hermeneutics of Resurrection: How N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan Read the Resurrection Narratives." Gary Habermas puts it in historical perspective in a helpful piece called "Mapping the Recent Trend toward Bodily Resurrection Appearances of Jesus in Light of Other Prominent Critical Positions" where he tells of his survey over recent years of over 2000 scholarly articles on this topic, and the trend he's observed. R. Douglas Geivett has a chapter entitled "The Epistemology of Resurrection Belief" and the old debate about faith vs history is discussed throughout.

Some of you have covered this "long already" (as the Pennsylvania Dutch say.) Some may not need to know this much. But for some of us, this broader constellation of concerns---can you say Da-Vinci-Code?---will continue to be important and we will need to be skilled in graceful conversation about Biblical truth. This is one volume that covers some of this ground. It isn't the final word, but it is a good discussion to follow. Happy Eastertide!

April 19, 2006

April website column: Practicing Congregation

As I hope you know, I do an extended essay at the Hearts & Minds website each month, a column which reviews a particular book or two, or sometimes lists a batch. After some hopefully helpful words on our struggle as booksellers to be both committed to the local church and be known for selling books that are not often available in many other Christian bookstores, we summarized our broad interests in various aspects of God's Kingdom. We want to be known for selling books that relate faith and all of life---that would be our Kingdom vision, Christian worldview, whole-life discipleship, rejection of neo-Platonic dualism, culture-is-not-optional, Christian faith is wide-as-life perspective talkin' here---but we also, it seems hardly necessary to say, stock books about the church.*

This month, we list seven of the best new crop of books about congregational life.

We love the church. We sell books about church life, worship, pastoral care, Christian education and all that parish management, body-life, local congregational stuff. We most often review books about culture, philosophy, social change or spiritual formation, so we thought it high-time to post on some new books about nurturing vibrant congregations. Read it here.

*There is conversation over at Comment about whether this cosmic worldview stuff---the legacy of Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, and the movement surrounding the work of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, now sometimes called neo-Calvinism---in its passion to raise a Godly witness in and for the world, neglects the church, or is somehow uninvolved in church. Please note that my April column was written before Mr. Knauss posted his blistering critique, although my ramblings may seem a response to his concern. I do not know if he is correct, really, but I believe that in principle, the neo-Calvinist worldview is thoroughly commited to solid worship, vibrant church life, good preaching, and caring congregational community. Those that introduced me to this tradition (from the late Francis Schaeffer and Peter Steen, to Al Wolters and Jim Skillen) certainly were/are active in their churches and hold the local body in high regard. Many of us who promote the Lordship of Christ in culture do so in our churches, since we are believe that church revival is essential for cultural reformation.

April 26, 2006

Garber & Guinness...and me

Last week saw us pulling another all-nighter to set up a display for the staff of the CCO, and then, a day and a half later, speeding our way to DC to set up another gig, which Beth had begun, arriving in a big rented van. The CCO's strategic work on college campuses is remarkable and serving them is among our favorite tasks; their zesty staff order tons of books from us. So many good friends, there, asking good, good questions about helping students, nurturing academic faithfulness, equipping collegiates to live out faith in their colleges and universities. Most of our readers know this, but it isn't an easy or simple matter to live profoundly Christian lives in the complex institutions and unique places and sub-cultures of our world. It is exhausting to be called to minister on campus, to those who have so very much going on--academics, vocational questions, family-life, finances, sexuality issues; you know Charlotte Simmons and Goat and Smashed and The Freefall of the American University and on and on. The post-modern university is certainly a vital mission field and campus para-church groups like the CCO play a significant role helping young adults connect their deepest convicitions and their vocation as students. We think, by the way, that the CCO's practice of partnering with local congregations is unique and important (recall this month's website column about the centrality of the instiutional church for cultural renewal.) We hope our books play a part in helping campus chaplains, youth workers and others involved in such important places of ministry. Please help us spread the word of how we can serve organizations, churches, ministries and such. We always come back from CCO staff training events wondering how we can help promote campus discipleship.

Steve Garber, truly one of my best friends and most faithful cheerleaders, wrote several years back a book that, I would imagine you know by now, is a Hearts & Minds favorite. Not only am I briefly interviewed in it, it is a book that I've reviewed for two different national magazines. The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior in the University Years is elequant and sturdy, deep and deeply moving. It is one of my all time favorite books and deserves to be read, and re-read. (I am not the only one to say this, by the way, that it gets richer with repeated readings.) Garber is respected and admired by a handful of celebrities, yes, but more so by long lines of ordinary students with whom he has walked through life. Week after week, he calls people to think deeply about their lives, to ponder how our characters are formed and how our communities of faith can be places which nurture public responsiblities. Read about his networking work and some of his finely-crafted essays here. He talks the talk of "Christian worldview" and lives it out in helpful, caring, sustainable ways. He holds up real examples--- common folks he knows, novelists like Wendell Berry, historic heroes like William Wilberforce---and shows us what faithfulness looks like.

(If you haven't please read my review of his book here. And forward them off to sombody you know who works at a college, or is in a college setting.)

Dr. Os Guinness, born in China, is older than Steve, a bit more internationally known (how many people do you know who are invited to talk about modernity and the challanges of ethical responisilibilities before prestigious communist dinners in China's capitol city?) Like Garber, Guinness spent some significant time with Francis & Edith Schaeffer, the late-60's evangelical apologists who God sent to a Swiss chalet to hang out with disillusioned seekers who passed through in those turbulent years. He studies history and culture, leadership and sociology. He, too, has learned deeply from the life-long campaigns of William Wilberforce. Guinness went on to work for the BBC, some important think-tanks in Washington DC, and founded the "university without walls" called The Trinity Forum. We've had him here in the York area a time or two and we've raved about his important books over and over again on the website at our monthly book review column. His many books include the brief, but powerful Fit Bodies, Fat Minds on why evangelicals have not developed a propensity for serious thinking; The Time for Truth, on the debate about truth in a world of spin, hype and postmodern reformulations; Prophetic Untimeliness challanges the idols of "relevance" and shows how cultural accomodation afflicts evangelicals (think of the shallower end of the mega-churches) and mainline folks alike. (Read my review here.)

His most recent two books have been a wonderfully-written study of the search for the meaning in life, The Long Journey Home which is a thoughtful guide to the three primary "families of faiths" (the secularist, the Eastern, and the Judeo-Christian) and the most recent study of the problem of evil, Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror (Read my review here.) Now out in paperback, Unspeakable is, I believe, one of the most important books to be written in recent years, and should be on the reading list of anybody that carries the burdens of the world with them. That we live in an age of perhaps the worst human trafficking in human history.

The classic, though, is The Call: Finding and Fulfilling Your Live's Grand Purpose and it is one of my all time favorite books. Long before Rick Warren popularized the human quest for purpose, Guinness wrote elegantly and radically about the forgotten Christian doctrine of calling and vocation.

We spent a few hours with Os as he spoke before the gathered crowd hosted by the C.S. Lewis Institute, another important ministry that we are proud to serve. They have brought in fabulous speakers to the Washington DC area over the years---from N.T. Wright and Alister McGrath to Lewis experts, to apologists like Ravi Zacharias. They have asked us to set up book displays and promote the books of Lewis, and others, at their events, and it is a wonderful privelege. Thanks especially to Jim Eckert, one of their great volunteers, who always helps us.

As you may be able to tell from the photo, after four hard days of book lugging and book promoting, with Garber & Guinness, I've got a lump in my throat, a haze in my brain, and a squirrely look on my face. It should be noted that, as the shot is snapped, we were starting to pack up, Beth is most likely balancing the credit card stuff, the book display is being torn down, boxes are in the background, and my very smart and very strong helper, Matt Lyke, is doing the dirty work.

You can see him bending over in the back, while I posed with the honored guest. I've considered asking Os if schmoozing is a noble calling, a vocare. That people like Matt and Scott help Beth and I, and that our store staff back in Dallastown hold down the proverbial fort, and that authors like these two have befriended our little efforts, makes the hustle worthwhile.

Kudos to Garber & Guinness, for their brillant and passionate presentations, pouring themselves out to stimulate others in deeper discipleship. If you follow what we do here, if you care about our views of good books, please take some solid advice: read their books!

At the service of one of our favorite authors!

Hard at work. I'm not that smart, of course, to teach Os anything. I think I was just reading the back cover. Caveat emptor.

April 28, 2006

(Eugene) Peterson's Field Guide to the Resurrection

I couldn't resist the cheap pun, that I've used too many times for other of his rich books; Petersen's Field Guides to Pastoral Ministry or Petersen's Field Guide to the Psalms. I know, it makes you smile, maybe, but only once. Many know the original Peterson field guides---birds, bugs, rocks, flowers. Every family should have a couple, and Reverend Peterson, himself a hiker and birder, would say so too.

Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life
isn't exactly a field guide. It isn't quick facts and figures, stats and pictures. But it does give the lay of the land, offering glimpses into a life lived with God, explained by a seasoned and discerning guide. I am teaching a Sunday school class on the book and find that nearly every single page is underlined, dog-earred; it looks shabby with coffee-stained and hand-torn napkin bookmarks and a couple post-it notes peaking out. So much of this is great stuff. It is rich, solid, provocative, elequant--in Peterson's rather slow, down-to-Earth, no-nonsense manner. Like The Message he uses common phrases, not at all purple. This is, as said the other day, sturdy. Just like the resurrection he describes.

I can't tell you how I've enjoyed this book---I've listened to the taped lectures from which the book was drawn several times and read the book twice, at least. Now, after Easter, would be an excellent time to use it in your devotional reading or in a small group.

Living the Resurrection makes a bold claim about how attentiveness to the bodily resurrection forms us in ways that help us live, really live---"before God in the land of the living" as the death-conscious, troubled Psalm 116 puts it. It is all about the spirituality of the ordinary, and how astonishment and amazement form the foundation for being open to the presence of God. There are three long chapters:

Resurrection Wonder
Resurrection Meals
Resurrection Friends

I do not criticize when I say that this book feels somewhat like a large and important parenthesis to Peterson's majesterial Christ Plays in 10,000 Places, a book we were happy to name an H&M Book of the Year last year. It is arranged somewhat similiarly, with good theological anyalsis, guidance for spirituality in ways that are not overly flamboyant or manuevered (let alone manufactured), and important attention to the cultural practices that erode or deconstruct Christian spirituality. Resurrection wonder, meals and friendship must be reclaimed from an inhospitable culture that, in its speed and mastery, slides us away from an awareness of good creation and Christ-bought redemption. It is a wise and helpful approach.

Take a good look at the cover, too. Nice touch, eh?

Living The Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life Eugene H. Peterson (NavPress) $16.99

April 30, 2006

Food & Faith

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My pastor preached yesterday morning on the well-known passage in Luke 24, after the even more well-known Emmaus Road passage, about Jesus proving He wasn't a ghost by asking for food. This became a springboard for wonderful ruminations on the physicality of the new creation, the earthiness of the New Earth, the joys of food and of communal eating and feasting in the Bible (as it will be in Kingdom come.) It doesn't take too much imagination, I hope, to know what comes next: if Christ is bringing redemption to our mortal bodies and if all of life is being restored until that final consumation of all things---heaven and Earth as one---then we've got obligations now to live faithfully in anticipation of that restored cosmos. To be specific, Rev. Morgon reminded us of the joys of daily meals, the wisdom of good nutrition, the ethics of just agriculture and the politics of world hunger. My, my, you can imagine how thrilled I was. Not only did some members comment afterwards that their appetites were stoked, I would hope that our appetites---in the classic sense of spiritual formation, what we hunger for, long for, desire---were made more aligned with the will of God.

You can guess that Dr. Morgan has been reading Eugene Peterson. (Scroll down to my previous post to see my rave of Living the Resurrection which has a splendid chapter on meals.)

And so: for those interested in this good topic, we recommend the very useful collection, Food and Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread edited by Michael Shut (published by Living the Good News; $14.95.) This is an edited volume with essays from the likes of M.K.F. Fischer, Wendell Berry, Norman Wirzba and John Robbins which includes an extensive study guide for small groups. What a good array of writers are in here! Although it can be enjoyed without it, the companion volume is similiarly arranged and equally lovely, and challanging. It is called Simple Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perpsective which is more generally about ecological lifestyles, good stewardship and the spirituality of home economics. Both are wonderfully practical resources to follow up on Peterson's chapter abour resurrection meals. Or, if you were as fortunate as those of us at FPC in York, a good follow up to an important sermon.

April 1, 2006

Practicing Congregations: New Books on Church Renewal

I was raised in a church-going family, for which I am forever grateful. I am thankful to God that my parents where active in Grace EUB in Hanover, Pennsylvania; similarly, my wife’s parents were both leaders of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Highspire, Pennsylvania. In my Pittsburgh years as a young man, I was on staff of a Presbyterian church, having the privilege of working with extraordinary pastors and mentors I still think of often. I am happy to say, without blush, as the saying goes, "some of my best friends" are pastors. In our daily grind here at the bookstore, we sell books and supplies to congregational leaders, consult with Christian educators, and hang out with church folk of all stripes. We hope our store is seen as a good place to help congregations. From our love of kids books that can be used in spiritual formation to our hopes for helping churches become more intentional about community, from our huge section of books about liturgy and worship to a hefty youth ministry selection, we would never want to be seen as disinterested in churches or their programs. We have a high ecclesiology and, to be candid, recognize that congregations are among out best customers.

For the record, it concerns me that some of my younger friends are not in love with the church. (And it perplexes me that apparently a lot of people support the weirdness in the new George Barna book, Revolution, which seems to minimize the role of the church.) While bigger books may be necessary to counter this foolishness, at least Joshua Harris’ very small book, Stop Dating the Church can be given out to teens and collegiates; Philip Yancey’s little classic The Church, Why Bother? is a must-read. And few weeks go by where we don’t mention to somebody Marva Dawn’s great book Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be Church. (Her book on children in the church, Is It a Lost Cause: Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children is a handy way into a radical ecclesiology where all are embraced, including parents and kids.) We absolutely love John Stackhouse’s great little collection of short pieces on church, simply called The Church (and once again want to remind you of his chapter on why congregations should support indie booksellers. Hear, hear!) All of these are easy to read and delightfully solid. One friend recommends Peter Scassero’s The Emotionally Healthy Church (the title alone is worth pondering) which reminds me of the delightful and convicting book, No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come As You Are Culture in Your Church by John Burke. I’ve said for decades that my favorite book on the church is Howard Snyder’s classic Community of the King, which explore themes I will note below.

Still, it is true that our bookstore (like most general-market bookstores) stock more than just books about church life and I don’t often review books on this topic here. I don’t need to fully re-hash our H&M song about God s reign being embodied by folks who have discovered the spirituality of the ordinary and who, captured by the vision of calling, live out the implications of the Lordship of Christ across the whole of life, even in public life. Twenty-plus years of promoting "whole life discipleship" and the "transforming vision" of a Christian worldview, calling for Christ-honoring cultural reformation and just social transformation, and it is still typical for days and days to go by without having anyone---local customers or emailers---ask about a Christian view of work, politics, art, technology, business or science. Even obvious Biblical concerns that seem to fall a bit outside of the typical terrain of most Christian Retailers, like God’s concern for the poor, or Christ’s call to be peacemakers, or the vexing matters of racial justice or world missions---are rarely inquired after. Oddly, though, except at some Christian ed conferences or the occasional pastor’s retreat, we rarely sell books on congregational life and church stuff, either. It seems pretty evident that more personalistic pietism, inner issues, and self-help inspirational guides trump concern for both public life and church life. Given the way the sacred versus secular dualism deforms our worldview, causing us to think that God disapproves of typical, mundane or worldly issues but favors what most people see as "religious life"---see Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth for one good study of how this works, if you are unfamiliar with this analysis--- one would think that at least churchy stuff would still be of interest. Apparently not.

I don’t mean to back off our big hope of being a bookstore that is more like a typical bookstore than a church supply house or "Christian Retailer." We still want to sell books on science and sex, literature and liturgy, ecology and engineering, work and war, politics and poetry, but I want to write again, now, about new books on church life. The Kingdom of God is more than the church but, as I sometimes diagram it, the local church is surely the hub of a Kingdom wheel. The broad circumference of the wheel may be God’s Kingdom coming on Earth, the renewal of all creation, and the various spokes delineate various spheres being touched by Christ’s redemption---economics, politics, family life, education, science, media. But at the center of the Kingdom, the scattered laity are gathered, nurtured by word and sacrament and called into life together. We are, as Yoder or Barth put it, firstly against the world so we may be for the world. Robust and vibrant congregational life is essential for Kingdom living, even if our time in the sanctuary and parish hall doesn’t exhaust our Kingdom duties. This is best expressed, I think, in The Community of the King by Howard Snyder. Re-issued a few years ago by Inter-Varsity Press, it should be in every church library and well-used by anyone who wants to get at the relationship between church and kingdom.

And, so, for the sake of the restoration of the whole creation, here are seven important new books on the local congregation and how best to be effective and faithful in our churches. There are oodles of books for parish life, many quite helpful, but I’m quite taken by these. You ought to read some of this kind of writing every so often (if you are a congregational leader, you need to study up; if you aren’t, all the more reason why you should learn and be motivated by this whole field of research. Perhaps God will call you to a season of working for congregational renewal wherever you attend.) Buy‛em for your pastor, at least…

The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church Diana Butler Bass (Alban Institute) $17.00 I’ve mentioned this book before, and have raved about her good memoirs, Strength for the Journey and Broken We Kneel. She is a wonderful and important writer and we are pleased to know her a bit. As Loren Mead writes in his forward, "The Practicing Congregation explodes the simplicity of the liberal-conservative polarization we have lived with for decades, and proposes new ways of configuring the dynamics that drive religious life among us today and that are shaping our institutional frameworks…Bass gives us new categories…In the push-and-pull-of the power of tradition and the impulse for change, she suggests that perhaps there are congregations attempting to move beyond’establishment’ to’intentionality.’" Yes, she is a scholar of this field, and has done the serious research, and knows the nomenclature. But she is also a graceful writer and thinker, and this is truly a wonderful little book. She has a major new book coming in the fall of 2006 from Harper, which will follow up these themes even more.

Bass is convinced that older visions of the spiritual life within authentic congregations can be revived/rediscovered in the mainline churches, and shows how it is happening. She tells of the intentional practices that are seen in (and are themselves helping to shape) robust congregations. This is not a new program or trendy plan. It is a rich and thoughtful invitation to consider how classic disciplines and practices can shape our lives. Rich books like this call forth rich blurbs, and the raves on this one have been significant. Listen to Lauren Winner: "…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. It tells a new story, and anyone interested in the present or future of the Christian church should read it."

Or, as Tim Shapiro (director of a church researching center) says, "Bass describes a stunning congregational design that draws from a time-honored sketch…plans drawn long ago need not be discarded. They can be built upon. This excellent book shows how."

From working in soup kitchens to walking labyrinths, discovering renewed interest in liturgy or being more intentional about community, spiritual practices such as these are common to the most vibrant mainline churches. (Interestingly, Diana quipped at a conference last fall, that, without the tattoos and body piercings, these are not all that dissimilar to the ways of church being explored among the postmodern emergent communities.) This is a wonderful witness against the rather flat and cliched notions found in the popular press about the demise of the mainline churches. It is a very important book.

From Nomads to Pilgrims: Stories from Practicing Congregations edited by Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking (Alban Institute) $18.00 Bass has been directing the Project on Congregational Intentional Practice, a Lilly Endowment funded study of mainline Protestant vitality and this collection tells of some of the churches she visited, each in the words of one of their own church leaders. Drawing on various denominations, these narratives are provocative, insightful, exciting, humbling…Each tells of how they live out classic disciplines and show the kind of vision for renewed congregational life described in The Practicing Congregation. Most of the chapters tell of a particular strength of a particular congregation, although these helpful glimpses illustrate that real churches rarely have "easy answers" or "miracle cures." From a chapter on "Taking Risks" to one on "Engaging Creativity," from "Enlarging Hospitality" to "Saying Yes & Saying No", these are useful testimonials, making a very helpful set of stories.

Here is what Diana wrote in a concluding essay: Although the pastors sharing these stories had never met, we noticed that certain common themes were threaded throughout their accounts of congregational change. In every case, leaders practiced discernment by paying attention to cultural change, listening to the voices of the congregation, and relating the biblical story of God’s call to the gathered community. The practice of hospitality looms large in the narratives as congregations pondered the question of how to welcome an array of strangers in their midst. In addition, emotive and participatory worship practices emerge as key to vital faith communities. The triad of those practices---discernment, hospitality, and worship---laid the foundation of congregational spiritual depth and vitality. Through the essays, we heard what we as researchers had already witnessed in our study: intentional engagement with Christian tradition as embodied in faith practices fostered a renewed sense of identity and mission in congregations. At first, we called such churches "practicing congregations," but increasingly, we have come to think of them as "pilgrimage congregations," communities of Christian practice moving towards the ultimate goal of knowing God.  She continues to tell of the ways these congregations touched the lives of spiritual nomads, enfolding them into communities of pilgrimage. Although I could say it of many of the chapters, this piece alone is nearly worth the price of the whole book.

Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power N. Graham Standish (Alban Institute) $18.00 Graham is a friend of H&M and we are glad to commend his newest book, as we have his others. He is a contributor to the above-mentioned From Nomads to Pilgrims where he tells of his work at Calvin Presbyterian Church just west of Pittsburgh. His earlier books are about spirituality and formation, a field in which he is well known. With mystics like Kent Groff offering endorsements, you might imagine that this is a book for those who want congregations to be sacred schools for some kind of old monasticism. Well, yes, but mostly no. As the sub-title puts it, Rev. Standish shows how a rather ordinary congregation can develop robust purpose, through the power and presence of God s Spirit in their midst. As in his ministry, Graham happily draws from sources from across the theological spectrum (I don’t know if this is the first Alban book to cite Catholic scholar Adrian Van Kaam; I suspect it is the first to draw favorably from The Purpose Driven Life or Henry Blackaby or Corrie Ten Boom.) Fluent in approaches as diverse as "Natural Church Development" and the team-based work of George Cladis, he is, still, at heart, a poet and mystic. (Ahh, anybody that quotes Annie Dillard next to this stuff is himself surely a blessed writer!) McLaren calls this book "a masterpiece. " Pastor of a large Presbyterian church, Stan Ott writes a sweet forward. Diana Butler Bass writes that he "points the way of hope. " With this many different folks affirming it, you don t have to take our word for it. This book is a blessing.

What s Theology Got To Do With It? Convictions, Vitality and the Church Anthony B. Robinson (Alban Institute) $18.00 It is well known that most theologically conservative churches emphasize basic theological education; as many commonly put it, with thanks to Paul Little, they want their members to "know what you believe and why you believe it. " Earlier on the day I wrote this, I showed a new book on a classic theological writer to two different mainline pastors (in the tradition of this theologian.) Both rolled their eyes, suggesting that such academic stuff would never fly in their congregations. (They brush off these serious books within their own tradition even as they look down their noses at our local evangelical community church which easily orders twice as many books from us as do both their mainline churches combined. In my experience, the ethos of learning is vibrant in most evangelical churches while it is not in most mainline churches.) I don’t think this episode was merely incidental: my mainline pastor friends need Tony Robinson’s new book! And they need it now!

We sold bunches of Tony Robinson’s Transforming Congregations (perhaps our best selling in this category last year) and we are excited about his new commentary on Acts, Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day, both published by Eerdmans. What s Theology Got To Do With It? though, is very, very important, and does what needs doing: it offers for parish study a primer on grand theological matters. It not only maintains that vital congregations must be theologically literate, but shows how pastors can take up their calling to lead theological conversations, helping congregations become authentic "learning communities." This is nearly a one-of-a-kind resource (complete with thoughtful questions for reflection or discussion.) Why we haven’t seen a book like this before is beyond me, and many will be grateful to have just such a guide. Designed mostly for mainline churches, it seems to me that those from other traditions could benefit as well. Clearly, good theologizing is part of the task of the mature church, and serious Christian leaders will need to be gentle but firm in moving in this way. Robinson is an imprint ally for your work.

The Missional Church Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk (Jossey-Basss) $23.95 Roxburgh has been a major leader in the movement recently calling for a "missional church. " Helping church to be about the reign of God, creating discussion about how modernist and liberal theology and a Christendom model of culture has sidelined the mainline, this movement has been fresh, innovative, culturally savvy, and very important.

If any movement or school of thought is helping renew the typical mainline congregation, deepen the evangelical church, or provide focus for the emergent congregation, it is this missional stuff. Darryl Gruder wrote the seminal book, The Missional Church, which has been followed by a couple volumes (including some from the "Gospel and Our Culture Network," the most recent of which is the very helpful collection of stories of missional churches, Treasures in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness edited by Lois Barrett.)

I admit to being a bit skeptical about this new leadership book. Can such a guide even begin to get at the theological maturity and cultural discernment that has followed Gruder’s work? Can influences from Polanyi to Newbegin, MacIntyre to Hauerwas, neo-Calvinism to rediscovered Anabaptism, postmodern concerns, and critiques of globalization--- can this diverse missional stew be the basis for thinking about leadership? You read the book and tell me. I think this is essential stuff, smart and visionary. As Sharon Parks put it in her own new book (about the innovative and effective teaching work of Ron Heifetz at Harvard "leadership can be taught." Let’s hope missional leadership can be taught, that strategic change can happen as congregations see themselves taking up God’s purposes in the world. If it can be, Roxburgh and Romanuk will have helped show us the way.

The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism and Other Modern Maladies David E. Fitch (Baker) $14.99 This book covers more ground than some titles twice the price. I haven t fully finished this yet, but it has surely created much pondering and conversation around here. Large on the back of the book, and large over the whole project, is "toward a postmodern evangelical ecclesiology. " Dr. Fitch is indeed a bone fide evangelical, working as a church planter in the C&MA denomination. He also is widely read, rooted in classic, older theology, moving his thinking along the lines (at least) of the missional church folk, influenced a bit by postmodern emergent folks, and perhaps similar to "radical orthodoxy. " Insisting that evangelicalism itself, with its ethos of choice and change, and its penchant for techniques, has eroded its own authority, he thinks that contemporary renewal movements need to reclaim the centrality of the local congregation. His scholarly assessments---more like highbrow rants, which is befitting such a prophetic book---run towards a recovery of traditional practices and deeper and more artistic liturgy and more intentional body life.

Pastor Fitch bravely tilts at a lot of windmills, aiming at how modernist consumerism has enthroned "the individual" making older notions of authority and tradition and place nearly incomprehensible to contemporary folks. He does a good job, mostly (although his jibe against Ron Sider being too capitalist would be lost on most folks, especially folks that actually are involved in actual service to and with the poor.) I liked his powerful critique of the "triumph of the therapeutic" which his blasts; again, I wonder how real, deeply Christian counselors, will respond.

That evangelicals have been particularly complicit in endorsing spiffy modernity and its erosion of a Christian worldview should give mainline Protestants no room to be glib, since liberal theology is a grand exercise in capitulation to the spirit of the age. Perhaps a casual reading of Fitch may cause us to wonder why we not all ought to be Roman or Orthodox. No matter what tradition or denomination, we are all in this 21st century world, so for us to be more discerning in our adopting modern methods, and to lament our relinquishing important church doctrines and functions, will surely be an important part of the conversations in renewing vital churches. Serious, thoughtful, imaginative, The Great Giveaway provides a good summary of what many are saying these days, and reminds us of the need to say in ever more accessible ways. Read, especially in tangent with the punchy, Biblical exegesis of a book like Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, this anti-modernist analysis may help us truly be what we are called to be.

Who Are You To Say? Establishing Pastoral Authority in Matters of Faith Dale Rosenberger (Brazos) $16.99 My goodness, a book that truly covers new ground, a title unlike anything I’ve seen in 25 years or more. (Any old-time bookman or bookwomen want to correct me on this?) "The issue of legitimate pastoral author, " Anthony Robinson writes, "is right at the center of so many crucial matters: pastoral identity, preaching and teaching, church leadership, and the witness of the church in this culture and this time. " Marva Dawn calls this book "brilliantly relevant" and Martin Copenhaver says "…this important book (is) full of insight, passion, and wit…" Rosenberger is a UCC pastor and he places gospel values and gospel ways right into this discussion; not unlike the above mentioned book, he asks not what is relevant or modern or customary or popular, but asks how the Triune God of Biblical revelation informs us. Bracing and provocative, practical and timely, I am amazed this book isn t being talked about all over town. Rev. Rosenberger’s call to root our understanding of our churches, our structures, our relationships, and our views of pastoral authority within the unfolding Biblical story is, of course, what must be said. That he says it so well, and brings in so many different topics and excursions, makes this a wonderful book to work through, alone, among friends, or, dare I say it, with your pastor. Who says so? I do for one. Thanks for allowing me to do so, knowing that some readers take our suggestions warmly. I do not take this writerly authority lightly.