About March 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in March 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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March 2007 Archives

March 1, 2007

Understanding the Hard Texts of the Bible: An essay on books about Reading Scripture Faithfully

As I sometimes do on my BookNotes blog, I share with others a list of books I do for a particular customer. I have had some good conversations with a very bright young student, one who has been criticized for citing the Bible in a college paper. A well-intended professor raised some challenging questions about the reliability of the Scriptures, raising in the student's mind a question that many of us, surely, ponder, often. It is the question of how to best understand and interpret the Scriptures. What to do, the student asked me, about the texts of violence, the indications that the God of the Bible is harsh and capricious or that a Scriptural view would bolster a conservative state (anti-women, pro-slavery, etc.) One doesn't need to have as simple-minded view as Richard Dawkins, whose latest book catalogues this caricature, nor be as unbelieving as, say, John Spong, who has yet another book out. Still, the questions are real ones, so I wrote a long, long letter. And, to guide those interested towards some helpful resources, I did a book essay for the inquirer. It is neither complete nor adequate, but there is so much good stuff here that I couldn't wait to share it with others. Please email us if you have similar questions or concerns. This is dangerous territory for those of us who hold to the historic view of the authority of the Bible. I trust that these resources will strengthen us as we "trust and obey" and make a winsome apologetic not only to young students like the one that emailed me, but like the professor, who may or may not have studied much in this field.

So, here is an edited version of some of what I wrote.

I am so very sorry not to have replied again sooner. We had some of the busiest times of our year, here, traveling, and setting up large displays at out of town conferences. And some illness and other writing deadlines. And, I suppose, I kept hoping that I would be struck with some bolt of genius, some new take on your very important question.

I'll write a few lines, but I really think this: if you are serious about this topic, you could do no better than to buy a couple of books and make it a priority to read, pray, discuss and practice some of the stuff that faithful Christians and thinkers have given us. My ramblings pale in insignificance in comparison to the very useful resources that we have here in the shop. I'd love to talk further face to face if you want. It would be fun to gather a small handful and do a presentation over coffee, show some books, discuss the questions that you all have. Let me know if we can do anything further, but remember that I'm no expert. And we do have a pretty wide variety of books, so we could select some that seem right for you..

And, a final introductory note: I am still a bit frustrated with what I took to be the tone of your professor's remarks. The ethics of how teachers can best probe their students without condescension or religious bigotry is a hard one. Knowing your professor, as I do makes me feel a bit better as I know him as a good and caring man. Still, I have heard so many stories of students who are bullied by teachers who themselves may or may not know the serious work that undergirds a certain field (say, Biblical studies, or the philosophy of religion.) Just yesterday I did a blog post about the way in which some mainstream scholars---who ought to know better---caricature the intelligent design movement, misrepresenting it in ways that indicate they've not really grappled with the research or convictions. I tried to be generous and critical, a balance I don't always display"¦. Ahhh, to be kind above all things, even as we stand for truth as we understand it. I hope you're able to respond well to your teacher's accusations over the years, standing like so many Biblical heroes, with generosity and commitment and knowledge.


And so few book suggestions and my rambling thoughts:

1. I think that the best way to get at the authority of the Bible and your own understanding of that is to read several good books that take the classic view, argue well for them. The old art-school adage about modern art, that you must "know the rules before you break them" holds much wisdom. The question of how these stories and poems and historical chronicles and parables and letters are the Word of God is a complicated one, but it is at the heart of the Christian faith. (In your church, as they read from the Scriptures, does the reader say something like "Listen to the Word of God" or "This is the Word of God?" Or do they say, as is the fashion some places, not listen to but "Listen for the Word of God" (as if it might be there, it might not be. Yuck!) If we fudge or overly-qualify the historic understanding, unsure of whether God has revealed God's truth to us, then we surely must be agnostic about most things. How do we know anything about God or God's plan or the meaning of our lives if the Creator hasn't shown us? I love the old Francis Schaeffer title, He is there and He Is Not Silent. Revelation---the Divine Word---comes most clearly in the Person of Jesus Christ (the "living Word") but we only know this because it is explained in the Bible itself, right? Jesus claimed it about Himself, of course, but that is only reliable if you've accepted the reliability of the gospel accounts and the New Testament documents. With the silly and trendy stories about the oddball Gnostic gospels and gospels of Judas, etc, these days, it is imperative that Christians think through their trust in the authenticity and reliability of the documents that make up the Bible. My man N.T. Wright, by the way, has a new little book on all of that, starting with the alleged Gospel of Judas and pondering our interest in and the historical credibility of these Gnostic treatments. One of his impressive thoughts is that they never took hold because they are just so darn weird. And boring. They surely don't present the flesh and blood, holy and human Story of the complex Christ of Matthew Mark Luke & John, or as explored by the New Testament writers. But I digress…


Try The New Testament: Is It Reliable? by Paul Barnett and The Old Testament Documents, Are they Reliable and Relevant? by Walter Kaiser. Both are readable, basic, but very compelling and marshal mountains of evidence and argument for a high trust in these texts. There are considerably more academic volumes out there, some which are critical of the texts, some which are not. Some of those who set out to dismantle our trust in the reliability of the manuscripts (Bart Ehrman has such a popular book, a former evangelical who lost his faith over the inconsistencies in the various manuscripts) know that they have themselves been critiqued as not all that convincing (and sometimes, not all that honest.)

The view that presumes that the critics of traditional faith are right and smart and enlightened, and that those who hold the classic, orthodox views, are well-intended, but not aware of the scholarly issues, is just ill-informed bigotry. I've heard professors hold forth on the reliability of the Gnostic manuscripts and the errors of the synoptic gospels when it became evident they really had never read both sides, or the best of both sides. Reading widely is important, but don't let the secularists or those with anti-evangelical dogma sway you from thinking for yourself. Oddly, these free-thinking critics quite often want you to tow their line, being all enlightened against the reliability of the Bible, but if you research it yourself they deem you fundamentalist, instead of applauding your critical thinking. Odd, how this has become politicized and the hostility to traditional faith a mark of the bold, modern scholar. C.S. Lewis faced this at Oxford (although when he went to Cambridge he was deeply respected.) I have found that most professors aren't that hostile to a Christian worldview, but across the curriculum, young scholars will have to learn not only how to integrate their faith and their studies, but know how to stand up for their views with winsome and well-informed confidence.

You mentioned R.C. Sproul's book on the Bible, Knowing Scripture. (He has recently published a more academic one on the reformation doctrine of "sola scriptura" called, obviously, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine by the way.) Knowing Scripture is a great introduction, and he is very sharp. In a way, he was one of my mentors in college---we drove to a "rap-session" on these things once a week that he offered in his study center, and I've heard him lecture or preach plenty of times. Very important, classic and very logical.

Still, there are others who may be a bit less strict and willing to hold a bit more of the mystery of it all. N.T. Wright is one of the more important Biblical scholars and Christian writers of our day--a five-volume work he is doing on first century understandings of Jesus is simply magisterial, historically, theologically, and Biblically. He has more accessible works, too, that summarize his extraordinary research (like, say, The Challenge of Jesus.) (I can send you an awesome online paper he wrote on C.S. Lewis, whose work was very influential in his early days as a New Testament scholar, although he now re-reads Lewis with a bit of ambivalence.) Anyway, Wright has a recently published little paperback that attempts to get at what we mean by the authority of the Bible, how best to interpret it, and how it functions in the life of discipleship. It is called The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God--Getting Beyond the Bible Wars. He is fully solid, but eager to explore new ways of describing this stuff, and attempts to draw a balanced and vibrant approach around these loaded questions. Political and theological liberals tend to have a "lower" view of the ultimate finality of the Biblical revelation (except when it talks about social justice, say) and political and theological conservatives tend to have a "higher" view of the Scriptures (except, maybe when it speaks of peace and justice, which, until recently, they've tended to ignore or minimize.) Wright is a third way between the standard, polarized liberals vs. conservatives and offers a faithful and insightful approach to the significant role of the Bible as God's Word.

We just got a DVD into the store, a six-session teaching program with the very wise, thoughtful, balanced and altogether helpful evangelical statesman, John Stott. It is called John Stott on the Bible and the Christian Life: Six Sessions on Authority, Interpretation and Use of the Scripture . I wish every small group Bible study or adult Sunday school class would drop whatever they are doing, and buy this little gem from us. So much trouble could be averted if we at least knew this basic kind of stuff.

Rev. Stott also has a fabulous through-the-Bible in a year devotional (Through the Bible Through the Year) that is lovely--hardback, ribbon marker, the whole nice bit. (Baker; $19.99--a great price for this full-color, handsome volume, by the way.) It makes a great gift, and is a treasure to spend time in each day. I think Stott is really to be trusted, solid where it most counts, and, happily, open-minded and gracious, and truly interested in cultural and social reformation; he so "gets" ---heck, he taught many of us to "get"-- the need to responsibly engage the world and the Word, living out vibrant faith in the real world. Any of his many commentaries are worth having, too.

And, while I am giving a few suggestions on how the Bible is used, I cannot say enough---for serious students, those drawn to the complexities of this, or theological scholars---about a book compiled by an acquaintance of ours, Justin S. Holcomb. He has put together a reader with important essays about how different theologians have viewed this matter over the span of church history. Just for instance, he's got Rusty Reno on Origen and Michael Horton on the reformation; here you can read John Franke on 19th century views, and Michael Highton on Hans Frei. Each of the four main sections has an introductory piece, and then several representative essays on certain theologians. Christian Theologies of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction is published by New York University Press ($23.95) and is highly regarded. That an evangelical from the Religious Studies department at University of Virginia has given us such a thoughtful overview is noteable. These names may not mean much to you yet, but trust me that this is top-shelf, ecumenical stuff. It is a good resource compilation for any who want to dig that deep"¦

2. Another matter of great concern, besides the basic question of how to understand the role of the Bible and what we mean by it's reliability and trustworthiness and authority, is the question of how best to read it. Even before the awkward questions of how to deal with the hard passages, the perplexing stuff, the war, and violence against women and judgement and such, we at least have to have certain dispositions and skills to read the overview of the story. Here, evangelicals in the past have been less than helpful as they so quickly wanted to assert the ultimate meaning of the text as God's Word (properly so, in my view) by digging in to some exact meaning in any given text or verse or phrase (or word!) Anyone who teaches on this, though, knows that context is the basis for any text, and without the Big Picture, the inductive study of any out-of-context or abstracted passage can lead to mere moralism or legalistic and simplistic "applications" of "truths."

But of course the Bible is a long, sweeping narrative. Liberal literary critics are helpful in reminding us of this, although they too often want to therefore tear it apart, break it down, placing one story over and against another, one writer pitted against another. Where some evangelicals minimize the flow of the big story, some historical critics tend to erode the God-given meaning of a text as it gets lost in the big determination of what writer, what style, what century, is it true, is it this or that. In a lovely little book on the Bible, William Willimon (until recently the chaplain at Duke) has suggested that that would be like evaluating Shakespeare solely on the accuracy with which his plays depict the British monarchy.
Sometimes liberal higher critics can't see God's forest from the trees.
So the goal is, I think, to see any given text in it's situatedness in the grand story of the whole Bible (the meta-narrative, as it has come to be called) and find it's meaning in its place in the history of redemption. That implies that the one big unfolding story of the Bible hangs together, has some detours and mystifying aspects, but illustrates what scholars have come to call "progressive revelation." God unfolds history for better or for worse, and tells the tale of His plan of redemption by choosing a nation, which develops into a monarchy, gets into trouble, divides, fights, is sent into exile, has renewed hope, realizes its great need for a rescuer, ends up under the boot heel of the Roman Empire and finally sees a Messiah come to form a counter-cultural community for the common good. Along the way there are mystic visions and poems, kings and historians, social prophets and those who had oracles from God, some that thought they spoke for God (but clearly didn't) and the whole messy, Divine-Human saga is worked out in a Christo-centric way that points us to the fulfillment of the drama, the second to last climatic act, the coming of Jesus. (Of course the final act is His final return to bring consummation and conclusion and final Victory to the whole story.) Even the early church unfolding and expanding (fulfilling the promises of Genesis that God's covenant community would be in touch with God in such a way as to be a missionary blessing to the nations) to the whole known world (Paul even wanted to get to Spain, but died in Rome before he pushed into Western Europe) is part of this historically-redemptive way of reading the trajectory of the Bible. The Big Picture/Meta-Narrative context is the first way to understand anything in the story. (By the way, the most doctrinal and intellectually abstract part of the Bible, the New Testament letters, are themselves truly narratively based. (Even Romans, arguably the most sustained intellectual section in all of scripture, is based on the Jewish-Gentile argument due to the exclusion of the Jews out of Rome and the Gentile Christians taking over the Roman congregation, and then the Jews coming back a decade later"¦Paul's passion to understand theologically the ethnic reconciliation between Jewish and Gentiles followers of Jesus is the background context for the detailed doctrinal teaching in the letters!)

So: a sensitivity to narrative, the inter-locking Big Picture based on the notion of progressive revelation that understands the unfolding trajectory of God's plan being worked out in real human history is a helpful framework for understanding the context of any given text. Easier said than done, perhaps, and it doesn't solve the ethical quandaries of how to apply, now, laws or mandates from previous eras of the Biblical narrative, but it at least gives us an approach that both honors the flow of the narrative (instead of abstracting each Bible story or book out of it's place in the drama) and allows for some realization that the way we obey and stand under the authority of a text may change. (This is obvious, say, in the way in which the trajectory of the good news moves from Israel and a Jewish religion to the gentile nations. The way Older Testament dietary regulations are set aside in the new covenant epoch, and how older institutions of war and slavery are re-framed by the nonviolent Jesus and the inclusive church.)

The best book on this, without being overly didactic about it, that captures this inter-woven flow of the promise and deliverance in the history of redemption is The Drama of Scripture: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

The good guys who put this book together have a website that is really worthy browsing through. There are plenty of good online resources, but theirs is one of the best for this big picture perspective on the historical-redemptive view of progressive revelation.They even have a slide show highlighting their summary of the Biblical story. I especially like that they have compiled a half a dozen or so articles in pdf files that you can copy, good pieces by Goheen, Wright, Newbegin. These are really, really good and can be found at www.biblicaltheology.ca/bluearticles.htm. Another really fascinating little book is personal favorite by art historian and Bible scholar, Calvin Seerveld, who looks at one particular Bible story (the talking donkey in the Balaam story in Numbers) and shows how various critics, preachers or commentaries would view it. The liberal critical one, the fundamentalist moralistic one, the super-dogmatic doctrinal one. Each has some good insights how to get at and open up a passages, but each miss something essential about the basic place of this story in the bigger plot of Old Testament history. SO he does his own fourth interpretation of the text, illustrating the fruit that can come from this kind of narrative approach to Bible study. It is called Reading the Bible to Hear God Speak and is really a sweet little book.

One of the very first books I ever gave to our mutual friend Brian was When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem by Richard Mouw, which is a study of one chapter from Isaiah, a chapter that has huge eschatological overtones. Written by Richard Mouw president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a well respected ecumenical voice. Here, he explores the bigger meaning of a fairly obscure text, by placing it in its bigger role in the overarching narrative of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. That is, God made the world good, it went really bad, God enters into covenant and promise to heal the mess, and promises, finally, to someday make good on that promise. This one story about a ship and what it carried in Isaiah unlocks much when it is seen in it's place (as a prophecy) within the history of redemption. It avoids a wooden literalism that tries to force some unnatural meaning on a text on one hand, and a deconstructing, unbelieving criticism that doesn't trust the text on the other and it shows how to appreciate an Isaiah prophecy by looking to creation and forward to new creation. What a great book!

Yet one more book that really unlocks this whole broad approach--with a very high regard for the Bible as God's Word but an eye to the unfolding narrative approach, is called Far As the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael D. Williams. Whom I'm told is a wild guy who rides a motorcycle and teaches Reformed theology. This is a fabulous book and reading something like this alongside your own Bible reading, or in your project of trying to figure out how to best read the Bible, would be an immense benefit. Like my favorite Drama of Scripture some of it will seem rather typical. This doesn't change the text or do anything all that unusual, really. But then, a certain phrase or explanation or link of a passage to an idea or another text, and the lights come on. This really is a vitally exciting and enriching and "new" way to get into the big picture of the whole story of the whole people of God. The rediscovery of this approach is one of the great things happening in the world of Biblical scholarship today.

One of the ways to get this big overview of the flow of the Bible story, a way that is interesting and exciting (even if not adequate on its own) is to read the fun second volume in Brian McLaren's controversial trilogy of novels about a pastor who, grappling with postmodernism and a dry, legalistic evangelical congregation, devises (with the help of an emerging po-mo Episcopal science teacher), what the novel calls "A New Kind of Christian." The first novel is called just that. Interestingly, the second volume, my favorite of the three, asks (well, the character asks) if one wants to be such a new kind of faithful follower of Christ's way in the postmodern world, which values narrative and not inert, theological facts, how do we then appropriate and honor the Bible? Well, as the fiction unfolds in this novel, The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian the characters just about explode with enthusiasm and intrigue as they are captured by the Word in a way that has integrity, honors the diversity of the kind of stories in the Bible, mostly by discovering the interconnectedness of the unfolding drama. To learn in a very clever way the major "acts" and key moments in the Biblical story, and how contemporary Christians can live into that, and become part of that, is an exciting thing, indeed. To read it as a novel is truly pleasant, and, like the characters in The Story... you, too, can thrill with a new kind of discovery that is pregnant with implications for living the Christian life. It isn't a commentary or book on hermeneutics, and won't answer your specific questions about how to understand some of the confusing teachings in the Bible, but it sure will, as we like to say, "put it in perspective." It would be a great book to read in some summer book club, and talk about together. A novel about how to read the Bible; how cool is that?!

One small sub-set of thinking about this fruitful way of looking at the big picture---the context of the unfolding plan of promise & deliverance, the historical-redemptive approach, a narrative view, whatever you want to call it--is the way in which some authors see much of the Older Testament have signs and symbols (types) of Christ. This is easier to do with passages that are clear messianic prophecies, of course, but there are other inter-textual connections. Some may be a bit forced, but the wiser ones do a provocative job helping us see how certain images in the Hebrew world (blood sacrifices, say, of an unblemished lamb) reach their fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ. How can we see the entrance into the promised land (where there is battle against evil, an epic kind of journey into shalom, and final security) is somehow an archetype pointing towards our understanding of our entrance into the Kingdom of God, the spiritual warfare against evil, and the final victory of Paradise regained. This, obviously, doesn't answer the specific questions you asked about, for instance, why the Canannite genocide happened, but it is at least one way of seeing some connection and continuity between older parts of the Story and the later parts. Which is to say, the connection between the Older and Newer Testaments. One book I like about that is called Finding Christ in the Old Testament by Chris Wright (he has an equally nice one called Finding the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Edmund Clowney wrote a gem of a book with case studies of texts to read in a Christ-centered way, entitled The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. Later, he wrote one for preachers (or anybody wanting to plumb this further called Preaching Christ Throughout the Old Testament.) We import another one like this from England that we like, too, which is really simple and clear (the title is from the phrase of the disciples when in Acts we are told that Jesus taught them about himself in the law and the prophets.) It is called Their Hearts Burned: Walking With Jesus Along the Emmaus Road: An Excursion Through the Old Testament by Kevin O'Donnell and is a fine little resource on how Christ indeed shows up all over the Bible, and is the heart of the Story.

I believe, by the way, that this could be fun and fruitful ground---if done in trust and an open mind---for interfaith dialogue as Bible-believing Christian enter into conversations with Jewish believers. Jews, of course, would take offense to this reading New Testament convictions back into their Hebrew Scriptures, but it is simply impossible to not do so. Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, was an educated Rabbi, as was the Pharisee and brilliant church-planter, Paul of Tarsus. The echoes of the Old Testament are seen on nearly every page of the New, and it is of great interest to contemporary scholars to work on that. It could be done, in the wrong hands, to reinforce a sad and sometimes brutal anti-Semitism, and that, too, needs to be discussed. Liberal critics will raise that concern, and we should hear them (as we would if they complain that the Bible seems to oppress women or have a bias against Palestinian land claims.) Still, I think the clear Jewishness of the Christian message is a helpful thing, and a good "plank" in our campaign to read the Bible properly, on it's own terms, for the sake of God's glory and a just world.

I know I am saying more than you may ever care to know, and noting too many books, but I have to list another author that means much to many of us as we struggle for a faithful approach to the Word. Graeme Goldsworthy has written bunches of scholarly and semi-scholarly books, and one that I think should be well-known is According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. It is called "an introductory Biblical theology" so you are told at the outset that it not just reading the Bible for sheer Bible knowledge or for some kind of neutral literary appreciation. Like other faithful Bible interpreters, he is trying to do theology, construct a world and worldview that is rooted in this grand story, this progressive revelation where God's plan for a King and Kingdom is slowly made reality, and narrated in the Scriptures. It is daunting, just based on the massive diversity and complexity of the Bible's many portions, to get a grasp on the unity of its message. This story of salvation history, though, is the key that Goldsworthy unpacks. Like the others I've mentioned, it not only functions as a very thoughtful Bible overview, but has within it, a method; a hermeneutic, a process and philosophy of interpretation. It should come as no surprise that he has written on this, exactly, too. His brand new one is called Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations And Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation which is not just a masterful interpretation of specific texts, but a deeper understanding of how to do that kind of interpretation. It is a serious collection of erudite essays, but, finally, is a guide to how to read the Bible faithfully and fruitfully.

Here is what Kevin VanHoozer, one of the most important philosophers of hermeneutics these days, says of it,

"The focus of Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics is not word studies, but Word study: a sustained reflection on the priority and centrality of the good news concerning Jesus Christ as the distinct way that Scripture interprets Scripture and, indeed, all of reality. Goldsworthy's attention to the role of biblical theology in biblical interpretation is particularly welcome, providing a refreshing contrast to what often gets produced by the contemporary hermeneutics industry"¦"


I am not sure exactly who is he talking about there, but it makes me want to get on board!

I hope you can see that each of the sorts of books I've recommended are the "next step" towards answering, or providing a framework for possibly answering, the questions your professor raised. His scribbled challenge to you in the margins of your paper may have been terse and a bit smug, but, as we've discussed before, they are fair and proper. To answer these major skeptical questions about the Bible, especially the rather unsavory parts, will demand this kind of thoughtful foundation and wise approach. With these kind of working assumptions about the Bible, and standing in this kind of intellectual tradition, we can eventually learn, as Goldsworthy and others show us, how to handle the Word properly, how to respond to various parts of the story, and how to relate our high, evangelical regard for the classic doctrine of the reliability and authority of the Scriptures, to these age-old, powerful questions. Sorry to delay an answer, but these questions will be with us for all of our lives, so a long project of studying the Scriptures, rooted in a faithful hermeneutic, will give you the tools you need for a lifetime of helpful apologetics and testimony.

And, one more thing, about this. We do stand in a tradition; these Christo-centric, Kingdom-of-God oriented, historically-redemptive preachers and teachers are mostly Reformed evangelicals and are working hard to develop a particular school of thought. Nobody just looks at the text raw, as if they have the unbiased perfect take on it. That is the nature of interpretation, and the postmodern folks have reminded us that nobody is pure, naïve or neutral. So we might as well admit to the perspectives and presuppositions we bring to our task.

(Aside: I know this is getting a bit tangential, but these hermenutical questions are so important. This suggestion that everyone is biased and that we have this human propensity to interpret is most helpfully explained for those with some philosophical interest, by James K.A. Smith in his splendid The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic. Smith, a post-modern philosophy prof at Calvin College, shows how even ancient theologians like Augustine remind us of this, and that our subjective perspectives aren't due to our fallen nature, but are built into the human condition in creation. Great stuff!)

One very helpful book that gets at this a bit is a recent collection of essays that try to show how conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics can agree much on how to handle the texts of Scripture. See, for instance,
Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together edited by Charles Colson & Richard John Neuhaus. These articles reflect on the role of the Bible within either the evangelical camp or the Catholic church, but also have pieces on how tradition influences our readings, how the various schools of thoughts within our tradition are influential. Actually, one of the classic rifts has been about this very thing ("Scripture Alone") and this is an important contribution to how both communions handle Scripture.

3. Here, finally, are a few quick suggestions about books that may be helpful in answering specific hard questions; how do we handle certain hard-to-stomach texts? I do not want to take the easier way out that the more liberal Christians do---they may just say that these texts are unhelpful and rule them out. This erodes any ultimate authority of the canon, and is not what the church has traditionally held. So what to say?

Maybe as I describe a few books that I've used it will help illustrate the kinds of interpretive moves some scholars make to help bring insight to the questions"¦

Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation by Willard M. Swartley. It admirably demonstrates how to take seriously various kinds of texts, and how to understand them. It shows how to understand the historical context and social location, and to see what other Scriptures then teach even about that. For instance, a careful reading of the episodes of Solomon's era with the temple, you come to see that he oppressed the poor to make it, and lived in glory and depression. Ecclesiastics came out of that sad era when he trusted wealth and military power. We ought to see that period in the broader flow of Israel's history, and "read" or value it the way other texts tell us to! So here, Swartley explores how these four topics are explore through-out the Bible, the clear and the not-so-clear, the positive and the negative, and tries to come up with a coherent plan of how to see the trajectory toward God's ultimate Kingdom ways. It doesn't answer every odd question, but it does give long case studies that are very instructive. At the very least, it painstakingly demolishes simplistic accusations that the Old Testament endorses all war and authorizes religious violence.

One of the authors that has helped me most over the past two decades as I've read and re-read him, and sought him out, and studied his strengths and, perhaps, disconcerting weaknesses, is Walter Brueggemann, perhaps the most widely read Old Testament scholar of the last 100 years. He has an uncanny ability to see through the possible pretenses and biases in a text and yet show how it is God's Word, part of the canon, chosen by the people of God to be an authoritative text, and, then, what it might be as we literally stake our lives on these befuddling stories and counter-stories. One of the books I have come to really appreciate (although it took be three times through it until I really got it, I think) is called Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology. It is a fascinating, close reading of how Israel's praises were sometimes, well, like our own flag-waving and patriotic songfests, an example of self-justifying civil religion. Some of the Psalms function this way, it seems, and he shows how, yes, even in Bible times, religion can serve as a cover up and justification for "idolatry and ideology." We know this since a good chunk of the Biblical witness tells us so---just think of the prophets. "Don't say that we have God on our side" Jeremiah warned. ("Don't chant, in liturgical fashion "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord..." thinking that makes your injustice tolerable", is closer to what he said, and we get the point, or at least we should, if we ever sing "God Bless America" and the like.) There was no immunity to ideology just because they were part of the covenant community, and other texts deconstruct the ones that moved Israel in that unrighteous, hardened direction. Israel's Praise is a satisfying study in it's own right on the overall vocation of praise---it moved me to tears over eggs at a local diner on morning a year ago---but it is also a good tool to help us do this kind of careful study to see which texts need to be corrected and informed by other texts. This is complicated business, but Brueggemann's mostly reliable and faithful efforts can be at least a part of the answer to your tough questions about interpreting confusing and violent stories. Another one, nearly a contemporary classic, is The Prophetic Imagination which I have often recommended (with some degree of trepidation) in these pages. Again, with a slow and careful study, this evocative and nearly poetic scholarship has unlocked insights that are helpful----did you know that lament and tears are a part of the subversive power of the Biblical prophets. Those who cry out "no!" in anguish are part of the story, you know, and learning how best to interpret their passions, concerns, oracles and politics is important. Brueggy's The Prophetic Imagination and the sequel, about the post-exilic prophets, The Hopeful Imagination are among my all time favorite books.

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis William Webb This is a pretty complex book, with what some take to be a fairly controversial approach. I am not sure I'd recommend it fully, but a few friends I admire love it. He's an original thinker, and uses some creative hermeneutical thinking to at least show the plausibility of what these texts could mean, and how to best find meaning emerge for us today. He ends up not unlike the earlier collection, insisting that slavery is now wrong, women are to be fully involved in all roles of church leadership, but that homosexual practices is still considered improper. So the method he uses helps see contemporary ethical issues in light of ancient texts, without either applying them literally and yet also without ruling them as out of date or marginal. Certainly a provocative read if you're up for it.

The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story Frank Anthony Spina What a fascinating study of how the notion of inclusion often trumps (upon careful study) the themes of exclusion. Grace abounds in surprising ways. Learning to "see" this stuff in the Bible is an art and takes years of disciplined work, but can open up new horizons of how to answer the harder questions.

Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives Phyllis Trible There are some incredibly gruesome stories, often that include violence against women. Trible looks at them fearlessly and picks up in some an interesting rhetorical device, a point of view in the telling of the episode, that actually deconstructs the violence, that offers an insight or moral to the story that makes it plausible to think that God is on the side of the one who suffers, that the horrific incident is not finally what it seems.

Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be: Biblical Faith for a Postmodern Culture Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton This book is initially about postmodern thinking and the cultural shift away from the hubris of modern science and technology and power. They maintain, though, that for the Bible to be heard and appreciated as good news for postmoderns (who are suspicious of meta-narratives and any big truth claims) the Story of the Bible has to be explained in a way that attends to the accusations of it being pushy, violent and crusading. Hence, they have to spend a lot of time explaining the "texts of terror" and ask how to proclaim the unfolding Story even as we admit that some chapters of the Story are pretty violent. They ultimately show how certain themes and truths trump other themes and truths as the story unfolds. It is a provocative and revolutionary hermeneutic, rooted in a deep awareness of the harshest criticism of our time. Extraordinary and a must read for both its cultural disconnect and its creative fidelity in attempting to read the Bible faithfully.

Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat After the call to a broad vision of progressive revelation and a re-evaluation of the violent texts that they worked on in Truth Is Stranger many folks asked them how they would do a systematic Bible study of a given book of the Bible in light of their postmodern views. This is truly one of the most thoughtful and provocative commentaries I've ever read, complete with internal arguments, digressions into contemporary politics, fictional dialogues and contemporary postmodern studies. Basically, though, it is a study of the book of Colossians, showing it's grand place in the history of redemption, the echoes of Hebrew Scripture, and the ways a proper, creative appropriation of that book could literally change the world. It did once, while under the oppression of the Roman Empire, and could have similar impact under the current worldly regimes. Endorsements from N.T. Wright & Brueggeman indicate that it is a world class work and a must read.

Yahweh Is A Warrior: A Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel Millar Lind A Mennonite pacifist theologian looks at war in the Old Testament, and makes a compelling argument for how to understand "war by miracle" and the eventual anti-military message at the heart of most of the battles, until, finally, how the military is seen as an idol to be resisted (and swords beaten into plowshares.") Jesus, of course, finally brings this to ultimate fulfillment with his commitment to nonviolence, the final expression of what was slowly unfolded all along.

God Is A Warrior Tremper Longman An evangelical writer of incredible insight offers a somewhat different take than Lind, but still offers a way to understand the violence of a Holy God as it unfolds in the history of redemption. One very good example of a reasonable, orthodox and yet creative approach to these complicated matters. Tremper is no pacifist, but I deeply appreciate his helpful insight.

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views of God and Canannite Genocide edited by Stanley Grundrey Here four different evangelical writers talk about their sense of the continuity or discontinuity between the violence in Joshua and the teachings of peacemaking in the New Testament. An excellent view of how different Bible scholars can disagree and offer creative solutions to this particular problem of Biblical interpretation. As in the other books in this series each author not only makes their case but is then critiqued by the other contributors. Very useful, even if it makes your head spin.

* * *


Allow me to offer a few final remarks, suggestions about an author writes in a somewhat different tone. Eugene Peterson is a wise and seasoned pastor, whose love for the original languages of the Scriptures and his nearly desperate desire to have the ordinary folk in his congregation pick up on the life-changing nuanced of the Biblical text, led him to paraphrase the Bible in what became known as The Message. Peterson himself loves literature---he reads and writes about poetry and serious novels alongside essays on Greek and Calvin and Corinthians. I want to tell you just a bit about a few of his many books that I think would be helpful.

Firstly, The Message is worth having in part because it is so fresh, interesting, and different and is rooted in Peterson's serious attention to the original languages. As book lovers, we are thrilled to hear him talk, as he sometimes does, about participles and dialects and grammar. He loves words, and loves The Word. I think reading him regularly is not only good for the soul, but good for your practiced habits of reading, especially reading the Bible. I can hardly think of anyone else one could make a lifetime of studying. I will never forget the first time I first read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (on the Psalms of Ascent) or his book of reflections on Jeremiah (Run With the Horses) or my favorite of these sorts, Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon Us From Self to Community. He is especially beloved by working pastors, for his set of four paperbacks on "vocational holiness" which call ministers to the primal work of teaching the Bible, prayer, and building up their congregations in the habits of faithful spirituality. Many of us who are not pastors read them, as well, and we commend them to anyone who wants to learn about faith, work, formation and integrity.

The Message may be what he is most known for, though. Not only is The Message a fun and fresh paraphrase, the introductions to each book of the Bible that are included are themselves well worth reading, time and again. I have told the publisher that Peterson ought to do a Bible handbook, since the introductions to each section of The Message are so memorable and insightful. As much as I rave, above, about books like The Drama of Scripture Peterson's overviews are a themselves steeped well in the point of each book, and often highlights something of the redemptive message of each. Interestingly, he had a hand in putting together a devotional resource, a way to read The Message that is entitled The Message Remix: Pause which includes a reading for each day which includes both and Older and Newer Testament passage. That these are not chosen randomly, but theologically, tying together these varied texts, is itself a stroke of genius. It is a good way to get into the Bible in a daily way, and nearly always helps us see the unity of the Scriptures. And that, these days, is very important.

Peterson's most recent three books are extraordinary. They are so steeped in the Bible's own worldview, so clarifying and insightful, that they are, I'd say, some of the best Christian spiritual literature written in our lifetime. The three are Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eat This Book, and The Jesus Way. Although all three are excellent (and will be followed by two more over the next two years) the second, Eat This Book, is actually about the need to hear God speak in quiet and gentle ways as we prayerfully, slowly, regularly, imbibe---eat and digest!---the texts that given to us.

I'm not sure that reading Peterson will answer the tough questions you wrote about. I am not sure that his work, alone, explains the hermenutical insights that help us figure out how to handle the harder portions of Scripture, the "texts of terror" or the kinds of things so provocatively addressed in books like Colossians Remixed. But I am confident that without this regular, spiritually mature and attentive natural reading of the Bible itself, our deeper answers and apologetics about the authority of the Bible and creative interpretations will not bear much fruit. So, as the Spirit once said so long ago, tolle legge, tolle legge---take up and read!

March 2, 2007

Frederick Buechner

What to say, what to say? This is nearly a publishing event, and we are ebullient to tell of it. (Okay, I used the thesarus for once; excited just didn't do this great wordsmith justice.) Dale Brown is the genius behind the extraodinary Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, held every other year, which brings together the most remarkable array of writers, mostly those working allusively out of a faith tradition. I still remember hearing Katherine Paterson there, and Updike. Here, Professor Brown has given us a great gift, the first major (and happily altogether succesful) study of the work of Frederick Buechner, whom he has enticed to come to Calvin more than once. Entitled The Book of Buechner: A Journey Through His Writings (fans will hear the allusion, already in the title), it was just released by Westminister/John Knox ($24.95) in a sturdy, nicely-made hardback. Mr. Buechner himself wrote the forward, an honor that is telling, I think, that he respects Brown so. It covers the entire body of his work--the memoirs, of course, the theology, the sermons, the fiction (yes, the fiction!!) Not every writer deserves such a serious and thorough retrospective, and not every such study can be as inspiring as this one. This is a great match, author and subject.

Here is what the incredibly well-read and very thoughtful Lauren Winner writes on the dust jacket: "This book is, quite simply, a remarkable accomplishment. Readers could not ask for a better engagement with the life and work of one of America's most important, beloved, and versatile writers. Dale Brown probes, questions, illuminates. Perhaps most important, he will doubtless inspire readers to return to their shelves and pull down their favorite Buechner volumes once again."

Do you have a favorite Buechner book? Why not post something here, for those who may not know? Or maybe even to start a friendly debate. Anybody up for a Buechner broil?

For the unintitiated, the daily devotional Listening to Your Life is a fabulous way to dip into his many books, with daily, brief, excerpts of all his varied work. (Harper; $14.95.) I am partial to the third in his four-part memoir (although Telling the Truth, the first I ever read, is still a favorite. Many think his novel Godric (which was nominated for a Pulitzer) is his finest. For anyone who knows even a bit of his long career, this new study will be a must-read.


The Book of Buechner: A Journey Through His Writings Dale Brown (WJK) $24.95

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March 7, 2007

John Haught, mainline Protestants, and the Science of Intelligent Design

Some readers have told me that they enjoy hearing about our different book displays, the places we go, the people we meet. Although I hope to inform BookNotes readers of books for sale here at the shop, it is good to know that many of you feel a part of our itinerant ministry of promoting broad thinking Christian literature. We are glad you are part of the bigger picture of our experience here, and grateful for your interest and support.
And so I give this report from one of the several places weÕve been in the last week. Every year, the prestigious Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg offers to the Central Pennsylvania community what they call their Winter Seminar. It is nearly always a person of great note---from Marcus Borg to Phyllis Tickle, Walter Brueggemann to Jack Rogers. We have been privileged to sell books at these important events, and their gift of hosting important speakers which represent the best of mainline, liberal Protestantism, and the nice hospitality they offerÑto the speakers, the guests, and to us from the bookstore---is always a pleasure to behold. As those that know us well may imagine, we are both happy to offer resources to our fellow Presbyterian (USA) friends, and eager to hear these speakers from a theological tradition that is not precisely our own, and, yet, we come away deeply ambivalent. As an evangelical with high regard for traditional orthodoxy, it is always perplexing to me how leaders in the Protestant mainline can re-invent doctrinal views that have held for centuries, as if they are re-formulating a minor matter. And yet, I find the spiritual openness and genuine sense of fidelity and doxology, at least at Pine Street, to be inspiring and interesting. I may be more provoked than some who attend these kinds of events but there are none more gratified for being nurtured into a provocative faith. We enjoy our ecumenical partners, and especially enjoy our friends in Harrisburg.

And so, this year, the Winter Seminar lecturer was the very informative, wonderfully humble, excellent communicator and world-renowned Catholic theologian, Dr. John Haught. Dr. Haught is known as a creative thinker, informed much by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the subsequent liberal process theologians, yet remaining largely orthodox within a broadly Catholic framework and is an expert on theistic evolution. His work on faith and science at the Georgetown Center for the Study of Science and Religion is renowned, and it was an honor to meet him, a delight to hear him, and we were happy to sell a bunch of his books, the rigorous ones, such as God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Westview; $29.99) and the more introductory ones, such as Responses to 101 Questions About God and Evolution (Paulist; $12.99.) I thank the team at Pine Street for again allowing us to add a bit of value to their good event by displaying such a wide variety of books.

But (and I hope you knew this was coming) I would have wished that Dr. Haught would have spent a bit more time explaining his critique of Intelligent Design. He was, after all, the star witness of the ACLUÕs case against the Dover School Board (near us, here) that ruled against reading a short statement saying that that Darwinist views of evolution are contested, and other views can be found in the school library. (Gadzooks, no! We canÕt tell kids that there are different views out there, for heavenÕs sake. Not in a science class of all places! Yikes! Call the cops!) That the good Dr. Haught caricatured the ID case was evident to the few of use in the room that cared about such things. That nobody but one (a friend I brought) asked even anything approximating a hard question gave me pause. Why, in mainline liberal circles, are the audiences so docile, so agreeable to anything that hammers the conservatives? (It was the same way when Borg denied the bodily resurrection a few years back, an event after which I came back, counted our money, and cried. Nobody, and I mean nobody, raised an eyebrow, let alone a hand in comment!)

To wit: I recommend Dr. HaughtÕs books where he takes the time to explore matters in greater detail. There are many theistic evolutionists out there, and he is one of the more thoughtful ones (despite the fascination with ChardinÕs rather goofy Omega Point evolution of the cosmos stuff.) For instance, see his Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect of Religion in an Age of Evolution (Westview; $24.99.) This seriously illustrates his mature critique of naturalism and the ways in which religious faith can illustrate deeper truths about the universe than can a dogmatic and reductionistic Darwinism.

Still, despite his vivid critique of secular naturalistic ideology which undergirds much of the mainstream of science these days, and the confusion in many popular writings between science and the philosophy of science, he continual fell back into the typical framing of the matter as if it is a contest between religion and science, rather than different worldviews and presuppositions which lead to different philosophies of science. He admitted that there is never a pure science since all human theorizing is colored by the worldviewish convictions of the scientists (think of Kuhn and Polanyi, at least, Kuyper and Dooyeweerd if you can, and Roy ClouserÕs, Myth of Religious Neutrality if you havenÕt.) And yet, having admitted to that, he fell back time and again into talking about ÒScienceÓ (as if that was a neutral given, as if all true scientists agreed on a particular worldview) and ÒfaithÓ (as in Òover and against science.Ó) That a Ph.D. and world-renowned theologian who works in this field hasnÕt quite rooted this dualistic and unhelpful framework from his approach was frustrating; Oh, how I wish I could have him, and those listening and nodding in approval, read the last chapter of Creation Regained: The Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview where Al WolterÕs gives us the Òstructure and directionÓ insight about not confusing the worldviewish and philosophical direction of a sphere's unfolding with the sphere itself. Or, to get at it a different way, how I wish non-evangelicals who seem unware of this important body of work, would grapple with the history of the fact/value split as illustrated and explained by Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From It's Cultural Captivity that gets at the root of the rise of this odd way of talking about truth and religion, as if public truth (science) and private, subjective truth (religion) were two different things. Leslie Newbegin similiarly ponders that, but Pearcey is the one to read first.

To make the point that Dr. HaughtÕs testimony at the famous Dover trial can be contested, and the JudgeÕs rulings were roundly illogical, despite what Professor Haught casually asserted, I would recommend these three resources. What is plain is that very, very smart folks have huge, huge disagreements with the Darwinist hegemony, and that Dr. HaughtÕs Harrisburg lectures, as pleasant and appealing as they were, clearly only skimmed the surface of what is surely one of the most important controversies of our time. For another view, please call us and order one or all of these:


Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs Dover Decision David Dewolf, John West, Casey Luskin and Jonathan Witt (Discovery Institute) $14.99 This is a must-read for anyone interested in the case, the legalities of the matter of the most reasonable definitions of science, religion, etc. A rare book, we are delighted to stock it, even though nobody much cares. It really is a very interesting read, though, and important.

Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design Thomas Woodward (Baker) $14.99
One reviewer wrote, ÒThe controversy over Darwinism and ID signals a major scientific and social revolution. Everyone who wants to understand it should read this timely and well-written book.Ó Michael Behe writes on the back ÒTalking the reader behind the headlines, Woodward---the premier historian of the ID movement---analyses crucial developments of the past decade.Ó

Bill Dembski writes in the foreword:

ÉIt is fitting that (I met Woodward) at a lecture by Alvin Plantinga, since Plantinga is not just one of the most highly regarded philosophers of our era; he is also one who has written sympathetically about the intellectual project of Intelligent Design. In this context, he can be viewed as a symbol of the spiraling rhetorical nightmare faced by neo-Darwinism in the high university world. The nightmare is not simply the result of political pressure that Darwinists are experiencing. Rather it is that the Darwinian account of evolution on which they are pinning their hopes is imploding.
Woodward himself makes a good point in his introduction:

We have moved light-years beyond the stereotyped Inherit the Wind clash between dogmatic religion and enlightened science, which etched a fictional rendering of the Scopes trial onto our consciousness. Now it's no longer William Jennings Bryan against Clarence Darrow---it's no longer religion versus science. Today it is ID biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University versus Kenneth Miller, Darwinian biologist at Brown University. Now it is ID theorist Scott Minnich, who teaches microbiology at the University of Idaho and publishes his research on the flagellum, engaged in intense discussion with Robert Pennock, a Darwinian philosophy professor who teaches at Michigan State and has published critiques of ID. Whether anyone likes it or not, it is no longer science versus religion, it is now science versus science.
The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design William A. Dembski (IVP) $16.00 This paperback price is a great buy given how much is packed into this dense 300+ page volume. Dembski responds to all the basic questions, the critic's accusations and the claims of those who think the ID movement unacceptable. He writes clearly and at some length. Read it for yourself, especially if you are taken with some of the popular level critique.

***

Science & Grace: GodÕs Reign in the Natural Sciences Tim Morris & Don Petcher (Crossway) $17.99 Not an ID book, but a great example of how to back up, get the big picture, taking the best Biblical hermeneutics and the best philosophy of science, in light of Christian truth claims and thoughtful wholistic engagement with contemporary philosophy to come up with a radically Christian perspective on science. Morris spoke at Jubilee this past year (see last weekÕs posts) and we were duly impressed. One reviewer called it Òan extraordinarily important book filled with paradigm shifting ideas.Ó

If one were to read up on the sciences, seeking a solid, Christ-honoring, Biblically-informed and reformationally-rooted vision of the high calling and limits of science in GodÕs world, one could hardly do better than Science & Grace. This is the kind of foundational book we should be reading even as we engage the broad cosmological questions of Teilhard or the details of educational policy as misunderstood by Judge Jones. I sure hope our BookNotes readers agree---this is an important matter to think through, and most of us simply haven't read much on either side. The journalists and judges, and, sadly, theologians and preachers, too often, haven't either. Might we challenge you to dig in this year, and read up in this arena?

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March 12, 2007

Fight Breaks Out at BookNotes (and I love it)

IÕve tried, on occasion, to get folks to post comments on my BookNotes blog, and rarely have many readers chimed in. (I've heard that it is a little tedious to get a blogger account, but with tenacity, it does finally work, and then you are free to post. Just make up your own password, you know.) Even my invitation to argue about your favorite, or not so favorite, Frederick Buechner books failed. Denise, Godblessher, wrote a lovely post and IÕd suggest you skim back and hear from a good reader and good writer (sheÕll be famous some day) her quick comments on Rev. B.

And so, I must admit, I was a little surprised at the frenzy of posts---now past 35 (many from me in response)---responding to my recommendation of some books on Intelligent Design. A few complimented me on what they thought was a balanced and honest account of the ambiguity I often feel when out selling books, which was the important first part of my last entry. We are so happy to partner with many different kind of churches and many different kind of Christian (or non-Christian) groups, and, on a good day, feel at home and happy to be so wildly ecumenical. Sometimes, though, I feel like that motherless child in the old black spiritual. No real home, not fitting in fully---certainly not with those that presume a giant divide between a caricatured ÒliberalÓ and ÒconservativeÓ position (in politics, theology or cultural engagement) as so many do. And so, I shared some joy at the good graces shown by friends at a nearby church who brought in the prominent evolutionist theologian, Dr. John Haught. As I noted, his reputation as a good presenter and fine Christian gentleman was exceeded, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with him. And we made a little money selling books, which, for those of you who know our work and care about Hearts & Minds surely know, that is part of the mix of all this, too. This is how we make our living, such as it is.

But yet. Haught short-sheeted the ID folks in my opinion, so I noted a couple of books that interested folks ought to know about. The rare study of Judge JonesÕs legal ruling in the Dover case. A history of the ID debate from a pro-ID view, that I think would be a great introduction. I noted that the book of rebuttals to the various charges against ID written by William Dembski is now out in paperback. Stepping back, then, from the ID debate, I told of what I think is my favorite book on a Christian view of science, Science & Grace: God's Reign in the Natural Sciences written by Tim Morris & Don Petcher (Crossway; $17.99.) And, of course, I alluded to Kuhn, Polanyi, Newbegin and Dooyeweerd, who help us get at what Roy Clouser calls "the myth of religious neutrality."

Well, the comments flew. Back and forth, back and forth. So this is what those who comment on the fast discourse on the Internet are talking about. In between other work and play, a handful of us had a round-robin debate that lasted two days. I think you ought to click on the comment section and read through these charges and counter-charges. I think the gang deserves not only applause for their efforts, but good marks on keeping it mostly constructive. The boys played fair, and I am glad. Thank you all very much.

And thanks, too, for those that offered links to articles or noted books and authors. Follow them up, and I am sure you will be impressed.

And so---hereÕs something to kick off another round. Listed below are a couple of books that I want to note about scholarship and science. Less about the particulars of the evolution question, and more about what it means to do uniquely Christian scholarship, or what George Marsden called---quoting a sarcastic line in a review in the New York Times---ÒThe Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.Ó His book by that title, by the way, was one I mentioned in one of the comments in the conversation.

The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $13.99 This is not due out until this summer, but I couldnÕt resist taunting it. IÕve been friends with these guys for years, both have long affiliations with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) and, although not Dutch Reformed, have that Abraham Kuyper worldview thing going on: what does it mean to honor the Lordship of Christ as a young collegiate, especially in oneÕs classroom work? How do we bring our Christian discipleship into the world of studies, papers, labs and profs? If Marsden is right, that the world may see our efforts to integrate faith and learning in a radically wholistic way, to be ÒoutrageousÓ, how do we prepare students for this grand, exciting, and perhaps controversial calling? With blurbs on the back from Steve Garber, George Marsden, Walt Mueller, Quentin Schultze, David Naugle, Kara Powell, and some bookseller guy from Pennsylvania, it sure looks impressive. Know any graduating high-school students who will need their first taste of principled Christian scholarship as they head of to Babylon U? For those who want to promote it among colleges, churches, campus ministry groups, or other key places, let us know---weÕve got a small amount of free samples of one chapter, if youÕd find it helpful to see it now. Fun, funny, and very important! Cool cover, too. Watch for more info in a few months, or pre-order it now.


The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate Del Ratzsch (IVP) $18.00
Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective Del Ratzch (IVP) $15.00
I do not know anyone writing in this field that is as respected, citing by a wide variety of Christians, and whose insights are as needed as Dr. RatzchÕs. Science and ItÕs Limits used to be called The Philosophy of Science but IVP changed the title and cover a few years ago. I think this is the kind of book that lays the groundwork for fruitful dialogue and pushes us towards not just working wisely in this particular conversation, but towards a God-honoring, normative and appropriate perspective on science. The first is, obviously, a bit more about the particular debate (written, by the way, before ID was really on the map) and the second, an essential guide to what science is and is not, what it does and doesnÕt do. Surprisingly complex and surprisingly satisfying to see it explained with such cogency. A must-read.


Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect edited by Dorothy F. Chappell & E. David Cook (with a forward by Owen Gingerich) (Zondervan) $24.99 At the Jubilee conference a year ago, we featured this, and noted that every academic discipline should be so fortunate as to have a handbook like this. A thorough collection of semi-scholarly, introductory articles (mostly by professors of Wheaton or Calvin), this shows the ways in which faith makes a difference for scholarship, what some of the key issues are in various disciplines, and offers a Christian perspective in their specialty area. Here are chapters ranging from engineering to geology, chemistry to mathematics, computer science to physics, pharmaceuticals to agriculture, astronomy to bioengineering. This is an honest, fair, thoughtful, delightful book that just makes my heart swell, knowing there are things like this for science majors, fans of Science Digest and The Discovery Channel, or practitioners that actually work in the field, but havenÕt taken the opportunity to think through the implications of their Sunday faith for their Monday work. Oh how I wish every church library would stock a book like this, and how we would push beyond the Dover debates and into this worldviewish, multi-disciplinary project of thinking Christianly in the sciences. There are some great opening chapters on the philosophy of science, a historical chapter, and a fine piece by editor Dorothy Chappell called ÒHow Does Society Interact With Science?Ó By the way, one great piece is on theology and its implications for science, written by Hearts & Minds friend, Vincent Bacote. That the great Mennonite historian of science from Harvard, Dr. Owen Gingerich, wrote the forward is, well, a sweet bit of icing on a very good cake.


Is Religion Dangerous? Keith Ward (Eerdmans) $16.00 This is a bit far afield, but with the rise of a new and angry form of atheism on the rise, the accusations against religious faith, and its role in culture, are also on the rise. Here, Keith Ward, a liberally minded British Anglican (professor of Divinity at Gresham College in London) takes on this accusation. From the ways the faith has been seen as oppressive to women, to the violence caused by some readings of religion, to, yes, the ways in which the faith and science debate have developed, Ward is helpfully fair and logical. He walks readers through idea after idea, taking on some assumptions and ways of construing things that are in need of clarity. Is religion the Òroot of all evilÓ as Darwinist guru Richard Dawkins insists?

Thinkers like Richard Dawkins hold that, while materialism is based on painstaking research and rational thought, religious views are based on Ôblind faith,Õ some sort of leap in the darkÉWhat are we to say about this? Has Dawkins never read any philosophy? Is he not aware of the weaknesses of materialism?ÉDoes he really think that Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel were all unthinking simpletons?
The Times Literary Supplement has called this ÒA beautifully argued bookÉ"The Daily Telegraph notes that ÒWard is successful in demonstrating that critics of religion are often guilty of conflating the worst with the best in order to dismiss the whole.Ó Now that is a memorable phrase, eh? Their reviewer continues, ÒIt will be interesting to see whether the moderate and humane tone of this book makes an impact at a time when the voices that are most clearly heard are those that shout the loudest."

How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce (ACTA) $19.99 One of my best friends is a baseball nut, and a statistician and heÕs told me about this guy. I donÕt care for math, and not much more for professional baseball, but now that weÕve turned the clocks forward, and spring is in the air, it is time for all good patriots to think about the great American past-time. And, that past-time, it seems, has not been the same since a sports statistician discovered new stuff about the interface of math and baseball. Anybody who is anybody in sports journalism knows about this guy. Time magazine named him one of the Ò100 Most Influential People in the World.Ó Maybe that will generate an argument or two.

Hey, what bookstore do you know that mixes ID, Mennonite scientists, and books about baseball? Happy reading.

March 14, 2007

On the Move: Love is on the move, mercy is on the move, God is on the move

I try to be patient with my friends and colleagues in the Christian bookstore business, and I sometimes get a bit defensive when smart and edgy folks dismiss the mom and pop shops that sell the Jesus junk and too little serious literature. Most of them, the "Christian store" owners, are good, good people, working hard with little financial security.

But I do get on my high horse sometimes, and rightfully so. There is so much dumbness, so much that is tacky and weird, in the material culture of the evangelical scene. And, the ethos of the "Christian Booksellers Association" industry, while improving, still allows for such perverse silliness---golf balls with Bible verses sold with the serious claim that they can be evangelistic if lost ones are found, the new line of Christian breath mints (yes, once again, they are called Testa-Mints; I couldn't make that up), tee shirts which rip off well known ad campaigns (as if that is oh-so-clever) and more bad books than even our most jaded cynic can imagine. We were considering stocking the laminated Bible that you can take in a Christian hot tub, though, but decided to pass...

Sometimes I write letters, scold sales reps (why, oh why, would anybody publish the nonsense in that Stephen Baldwin book, where he affirms anti-intellectualism? And why would an otherwise reliable publisher allow him to do a forward for a book for college students?) I had a protest piece published in our trade journal not too long ago when they awarded the Left Behind novels (less than stellar writing lined with even less than stellar theology) for their significant cultural impact. Yes, they've made an impact all right, with cultural creatives and literary critics mocking us worse than our captors in Psalm 137. God's people at least didn't deserve that taunting.

But I digress, with my little CBA industry rant. My point today is, well, my point is that you can fight back. A case of colossal stupidity has once again emerged from the belly of the CBA beast. I'll tell you about it shortly.

First, this great news: the brand new book by u2 frontman, Bono, published by the nervy folks at Nelson-Word (perhaps atoning for some really dumb books in their publishing past) has just been released. It is called On The Move (W Publishing Group; $12.99) and it is a significant collection of photographs of Bono's first trip to Ethiopia, and a brief chronical of his later work in Africa. These black and white photos, some not seen before, were taken by Bono himself (with shots of him by Kevin Davies.) The text of this small gift book is the much-publicized National Prayer Breakfast speech which Bono delivered last January. It has been widely circulated, and is a powerful, passionate, obviously Christian and serious call to faith, action, obedience and justice. The speech is accentuated with these powerful pictures, giving it an edgy, pomo artsy feel. For more traditional readers, the speech text is reproduced in the back in straight-line paragraphs. It really is worth reading, and this book is really worth having. You could use it nearly as a lectio devino meditation, using the pictures of gloriously human African kids as icons. And you can read the speech in one sitting, using the full edition in the back pages.

Here's the thing that irks me. Some stores are refusing to carry it. Sales representatives are being criticized, the W publishing group being chastised, for daring to carry a book by this renegade Christian rock star. Forget that the book carries a glowing endorsement by Billy Graham! Forget that all the proceeds go to fight AIDS in Africa! You know what Stephen Baldwin says about that nonsense.

So, my sales rep thanked me for buying a bundle. To hear that some stores haven't taken any, that some are mad about it, that some sales reps in some parts of the country have not only found the product ignored, but condemned, well, that just makes me wanna holler.

My plan? Let's sell a bunch of these. Let's show 'em that we care, that some stores are happy to support this (supposedly controversial) project, and will do well by them. Let's make sure that the next publisher that wants to do something like this doesn't back off because CBA stores didn't sell enough of On The Move. I went out on a limb and ordered more than I should have. I believe in this little book and I believe that our circle of friends and customers will know what to do with it.

I don't know how long we can do this, but for now, I offer this: buy two, get one free.

You can keep one, give one as a gift to a friend, and donate one to a library, resource center, youth group, coffee shop, beauty salon, or other give-away spot. What do you say?

The speech is worth reading and pondering. It is worth sharing and discussing. The pictures are excellent, the project very cool, the packaging exciting and artistically moving, DATA and the ONE campaign very reliable. Mostly, it is about showing God's love in compassionate and just ways. It is about a man who leverages his celebrity for the poor, and a publisher willing to get the evangelical community on board. I want to move these, and will give some away. You've got to help us, though. Buy two, get one free.

AND: while supplies last, I will do this. Buy two, get one free, AND I will include a book about Christain faith and poverty, some kind of pro-justice, faith-based paperback. I've got tons of this stuff around here, and will give some away, to anybody who takes us up on this offer. Just let us know you want the blog special. We offer some free stuff and you can take it from there.

God is not silent on the subject... Bono

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March 16, 2007

A new edition of Fabric of Faithfulness

I have been wanting to tell my blog friends about the February column over at the website, which, as you can see here, is mostly about William Wilberforce. I hope the Wilberforce movie, Amazing Grace, is still around your town, or coming to your town, and I hope you like the essay I wrote for the local paper, which I reprint there at the website, and the follow-up bibliography. (Look closely for the free book offer!) Why not send it out to somebody you know?

My good friend Steve Garber remains not only a faithful bud and Hearts & Minds booster, but remains an author that we should read and re-read. I've linked to his essays at his website, before, and in the February website column, I tell of the new edition of Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior. I hate to sound like such a groupie, but I truly think the remarkable forward and the exquistely inspirational afterward that are added to the new edition make it worth having, even if you have the old one. (The new cover is an improvement, too, eh?) Please check out my hat-tipping and all that. It is a book I enjoy writing about, and there are reasons I wrote about it in the Wilberforce review. Steve has been shown interest in Wilby for years, and has been a friend and encourager to some of the key players who cooked up the idea for the film. So I'm not being dramatic or trying to connect dots that aren't there.

The picture, by the way, is of Steve at Jubilee '07, in front of 2200 college students, telling of how a Wilberforce weekend impacted his life, decades ago, in Pittsburgh. I was honored to introduce him at Jubilee. He then interviewed Mark Rogers, a significant Senate staffer, who is now doing PR work for Amazing Grace and is one of the most important guys relating faith and art and culture and policy in North America today, and Isaac Slade, frontman of the band, The Fray. Garber always brings others into the conversation.

Perhaps it was from his time with Francis Schaeffer, or from taking in the novels and short-stories of Wendell Berry, or from his long study of the dualisms that plague our worldviews, but his motto these days is "come and see." That is, his pedagogy is embodied, and he spends much time highlighting the work of others, showing how the gospel can be lived out in meaningful ways. Fabric...of course is loaded with stories, so even as he researched it, he was wanting to tell about the lives of others. It is an important emphasis, though, which I believe you see even more strongly in the new essays in the book; he doesn't want the spotlight on himself, but on those who are engaging in life-long, good work for God's glory.

Do check out the February review. The March one will be up soon, too, so don't wait.

March 21, 2007

Consumed, Deep Economy and another free Bono offer

In my last blog I told of our special offer as we promoted On the Move, the speech that rock star Bono gave to the National Prayer Breakfast. As you can see by browsing the comment section, it created some discussion, and some links were offered for those who want a dissenting opinion of Bono's policy proposals to "make poverty history." Thanks for those that ordered the books from us. The offer for the free one, and another free book, too, to go with it, is still on.

Two new books came in the other day, and given this bit of discourse, I thought I'd note them. (We stock more books on international justice and globalization and third world poverty and wholistic Christian missions than most bookstores.) These both look very, very good and I think would be helpful for many of our readers.
First, let me mention the new hardback by Benjamin R. Barber, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (Norton; $26.95.)


In this powerful and disturbing critique, Benjamin Barber takes dead aim at a fudamental fallacy of our time: the equation of capitalism and democracy. Perceptively exploring the puerility of market culture, Consumed insists on the crucial distinction between consumers and citizens. No one who cares about the future of our public life can afford to ignore this book.
Jackson Lears
editor in chief Raritan
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future is the new book by the excellent writer, hiker, reporter and enviromental activist, Bill McKibben (Times Books; $25.00.) We really have appreciated his many books (The Age of Missing Information was fabulous, and The End of Nature highly, highly regarded. And his one on Job is back out again, too.) Some have likened him to Wendell Berry. Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore's Dilemma (did you see our note about it as a Year's Best in our end of the year list at the website?) has written,

The cult of growth and globalization has seldom been so effectively challanged as by Bill McKibben in Deep Economy. But this bracing tonic of a book also throws the bright light of McKibben's matchless journalism on the vibrant local economies now springing up like mushrooms in the shadow of globalization. Deep Economy fills you with hope and a sense of fresh possibility.
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March 26, 2007

FREE BOOK OFFER: Everyday Theology & Praying at Burger King

One of the catagories of books we promote here at Hearts & Minds bookstore is that broad topic of the relationship of Christ and cultural engagement. One aspect of that is precisely the question of how we ought to most fruitfully and faithfully think about cultural artifcates, patterns and trends. For those of us who are seriously Christian, we want our deepest convictions about life, truth, God, the nature of people, the structures of society and the values of the good life to be brought to bear in the very way we think about culture. Many books explore those themes in specific areas--film, rock music, advertising and the like.

Some are very, very important to help us get a good foundation, and you know I often cite the excellent, and recently updated and expanded Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture by my old college bud, Bill Romanowski (Brazos; $17.99.) This is both easy to read and exceptionally insightful; it is Biblically and theologically astute, and very fluent in the latest discourse in the field. It is fun and serious. I might also say--a tiny bit proudly, I'll admit--that Bill has been talking about this stuff his entire adult life, and was mentored as a young Christian in the early 70's by those who knew Francis Schaeffer and Calvin Seerveld and Hans Rookmaaker. Very early books on faith and culture by mainline Protestant scholars, too, were on his agenda, and I might suggest that he was a bit of a pioneer in a field that is really blossoming these days. He even got his name on a hardback scholarly book on the use of rock sountracks in film back in the day when that was notable.



But, now, as I say, this is a field that is coming into its own. The brand new Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson and Michael J. Sleasman (Baker Academic; $23.95) is an edited volume of highest calibre, with serious essays on a variety of texts and topics which asks how they can be understood from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. That this was edited by the very well-known scholar of Biblical hermenutics, Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD from Cambridge, now a theology prof at Trinity) is fascinating, too. On the back cover, it says this, "Generally speaking, students, theologians, pastors and church leaders are well-trained in the task of biblical exegesis. Where many fall short, however, is in the area of cultural exegesis---reading and interpreting the texts and trends produced by our culture, which can have a profound influence on the way we understand the world and practice our faith." Everyday theology may or may not be the right phrase to describe this project, but if you have theological questions about ordinary stuff---MySpace and cityscapes, rap music and Martha Stewart---this is a wonderful collection. It not only includes case studies, but the cumulative effect is to show us how to invoke a practice of thoughtfulness, to graft us into a tradition, however evolving, in thinking Christianly about popular culture and the postmodern world in which we live.

Chapters include a fine introduction by Vanhoozer on what he means by "everyday theology" in which he takes steps towards a theory of cultural interpretation. The large middle section includes chapters which show us the art of reading cultural texts, with pieces like "The Gospel According To Safeway: The Checkout Line and the Good Life", "Despair and Redemption: A Theological Account of Eminem" or "Between City and Steeple: Looking at MegaChurch Architecture." Other pieces include an important essay on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a study of hope in Ridely Scott's film, Gladiator.

The third section of Everyday Theology include a handful of chapters on how to interpret cultural trends--from "The Business of Busyness" to a good one on the blogosphere. The chapter on the trend of designing fantasy funerals is fascinating--- that the author doesn't cite the Christian undertaker and exquisite poet, Thomas Lynch, is a large oversite, but there you have it---this stuff needs to be discussed and argued about. Most of us, at least those of us who are middle aged and younger, talk about this stuff all the time, anyway. This will help us do so in an honorable and useful way that honors God and brings--hopefully--insights of blessings for our families and neighbors.

That the editors have put together for reflection sidebars and book links and a few other useful resources is nice, making it more user-friendly. Still, it will be a hard-sell, I'm afraid, to get people to buy and use a book this diverse and unique. I hope our Hearts & Minds friends, who experience some joy in thinking about these very things, and reading books about all kinds of stuff, will agree that this really could be an amazing book to have. Kudos to Baker for their good work in this field.

* * *


Few authors have been as level-headed, clear, principled and graceful in their relating the Lordship of Christ and the sovereignty of God to the issues of the day as Fuller Seminary president and philosophy prof, Richard J. Mouw. I will write more about him soon, but for now, I offer this: his collection of short pieces, some previously published in his column at beliefnet or in Christianity Today, called Praying At Burger King (Eerdmans; $10.00) will be sent ABSOLUTELY FREE if you buy the above listed book. Mouw--who carries an endorsement on the back of the Everyday Theology book---would be a perfect, easy-to-read, nearly devotional guide to read alongside the heavy stuff in the cultural exegesis book. Mouw is known as a deep thinker, but in these brief pieces he offers lively stories and fun anecdotes about ordinary stuff. As one reviewer put it, "Mouw has the knack for spotting the theologically sublime in the simple things and the profound in the quirky events of life."

Here is why Michael Card wrote about it

Blake spoke of seeing 'the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.' This is exactly what Richard Mouw has done for us. Whether it is Machiavelli of McDonald's, Martin Luther King of Burger King, Santa Claus or Sister Helen, Mouw helps us to hope that this is indeed a heaven-invaded world."
Read Mouw, on us. And then you will want to--need to---go deeper in. That is where you pick up the one to deepen your skills doing "Everyday Theology."

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March 28, 2007

Another free book offer: Mouw & Staub

A few days ago we offered here a deal with included a free copy of the new Richard Mouw book, his collection of short essays, gathered under the title Praying At Burger King. I think the book needs a subtitle, but how to say it? You know in the 1700's book titles where a mile long (just look inside the cover flap of William Wilberforce's Real Christianity and get a load of that.) So, how about "Essays by the kind and brilliant Richard Mouw where he, drawing upon his neo-Calvinist roots, but with ecumenical sensibilities, delightfully, and for our profit, shows what a Christian worldview really looks like in writings on everything from the glorious details of Christian doctrine to how to think about Santa Clause, to how to treat farm animals (and yes, one of the best pieces really is called When Chickens Strut Their Stuff"? No? How about: "Living faithfully in God's world, in the complex details of everyday life, written thoughtfully and graciously in ways that will really make you smile"? Or, how about "Even though this is a really weird cover, the book is really, really, good, trust me."? I don't know why the publishers didn't work a little harder to make this look like the extraordinary collection it is, with a compelling subtitle Any one of these meditations could be fodder for thoughtful reflection, even to be read as a daily devotional. Having them around is a great resource, and I've already found myself telling people about any number of them.

Dr. Mouw is a scholar that I've respected for decades. (Click here for a listing and description of his books, but please come back to finish my post!) One of the reasons is because he was one of the first Dutch Calvinist philosophers who showed nterest in the Mennonite tradition, knew the radical young evangelicals who formed what later became known as Sojourners and interacted with the work of activist theologians like William Stringfellow. In fact, you can read here, in his Mouw's Musings blog, a beautiful reflection which mentions his dialogues with John Howard Yoder. More to the point, though, this wonderful brief posting (which I really hope you read), illustrates some of what he will be talking about at the Abraham Kuyper lectures at Princeton Seminary this weekend. (Ahh, it breaks my heart not to be there, with friends like Gideon Strauss and Ron Sider and Al Wolters lined up as respondents to Mouw's call for full-orbed faith in the tradition of the great Dutch public theologian and statesman.) Mouw writes in his blog post, "Calvinism and Sewage" of how some Mennonite townspeople who held small elected offices in their township, asked him to address them on how his Calvinist heritage could help them be more informed as Christian civic leaders. They felt like the anti-institutional, and finally, anti-cultural tone of much of what they heard at their church didn't equip them to think well about daily service of this sort. Mouw is candid (not proud) of the best of his Reformed heritage and yet not mean at all, and often very enthusiastic about insights from other traditions. And, of course, to make his point, Mouw tells the story I often tell, of Calvin's work on Geneva's sewer systems even as he was writing his magisterial theological work. Read Richard on it, and pray for his lectures this weekend at Princeton.

While I'm on the free book kick, here is a link to some of his posts, a few of which can be found in Praying at Burger King. Browse around here at his archive from beliefnet for a few minutes and I trust you fill find why I find his short reflections so appealing, and why we are eager to promote this little book.

And, lastly, while I am on this theme which I introduced by telling you about Vanhoozer's book on cultural exegesis, Everyday Theology I've been itching all day to get time to tell you about the marvelous new book by Dick Staub. It is called (and this one does have a sub-title) The Culturally-Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite (Jossey-Bass; $21.95.) Those who attended the spectacular arts conference in NYC last month (IAM) heard Staub interview the architect who is redesigning the WTC as well as his interview of world famous painter Mako Fujimura, and his conversations with Karen Goodwin, who brought Les Mis to Broadway. That these thoughtful and culturally-engaged Christian folks are making a difference is evident. Staub chronicles this sort of work, and the theological vision beneath it, and celebrates God's work these days in this time of renewal. That he invites us all to deepen our faith in ways that will help produce a generation who can be artistic salt and light is thrilling, and is exactly what needs to be said. With a forward by N.T. Wright, and wonderfully mature and thoughtful and surprising leads and excurcions, this books moves us out of the less than adequate ideas and impulses that the church has produced, and calls us to more faithful, relevant and lasting forms of witness and mission. I will surely speak more of this very useful book soon. I've had an advanced reading copy for a while, but didn't want to say anything until it arrived and I knew I could actually sell it. It is now here, and we are running a special.

So, a blog special, again. Buy Staub for $2 off the regular price AND, get Mouw free. Although Richard Mouw's work stands on its own and is a wonderfully enjoyable and spiritually enriching short collection, it would be perfect to read in tandem with something like The Culturally Savvy Christian. We package them together, and you save $12.00. As you can see, I want to generate interest in this stuff. I am sure it is that important. Thanks for caring, for showing interest in what has be so influential to us, and for being a part of our efforts here at Hearts & Minds. We are grateful.


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March 31, 2007

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Revised & Expanded)

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (edited by Ned Bustard) and published by Square Halo Books, is one of the few books that I can say with confidence is one of the best we have had the privilege of carrying in our 25 years here at Hearts & Minds. It is a collection of great essays, and seems to be the perfect book for anyone who needs an introduction to thinking faithfully about the arts from a Christian perspective, or that needs more maturity after having read a bit of the classic stuff for starters (Art and the Bible by Schaeffer, say, or Art for God's Sake by Ryken or Walking on Water by L'Engle.) With pieces from working artists like Mary McCleary, Ed Knippers, Karen Mulder, Ted Prescott and others, it is the best collection of its kind in print. And it has just been re-issued in a significantly expanded edition.

Edited by our Lancaster friend Ned Bustard, this collection includes pieces about aesthetics and the arts (like, say, a serious chapter by Adrienne Chaplin called Transfigured on proper notions of beauty, or one by Tim Keller called Glory, on why we need artists) but most are actually about how to do creative, faithful, thoughtful, artwork. (Some chapters are on light, color, truthfulness, and a very creative one on collaboration.) Whether one is an artist, a supporter of artists, or who believes that Christian conviction should lead to engagement with the broader culture (as we've argued here the last few posts) this book simply cannot be beat. We are truly grateful for it's wise presence and happy to be among the few stores to stock and promote it with vigor.

Still, one of the best books we've ever stocked? Yep, it is on our very short list. Let me tell you why I make that audacious claim. It is one of our favs firstly, as I've noted, because it is so very, very good. Important content nicely written with exceptional insight. Further, I like some other stuff about it, stuff that you might want to hear about, since it helps you, blog reader, know a bit about us and what we care about here.

Also:

1. It is lovingly produced, more carefully than most books, I assure you, with color and graphic design and type font and subtitles and such, all by hand by Ned. Ned and his family run a home-based business doing graphic design, and also manage Square Halo Books, which is what some might call a niche press, as they specialize in books on the arts. And, they are Central Pennsylvania, nearly neighbors. We aren't close enough to see each other much, but they do shop here, bringing us samples and tee shirts and greeting from their friends in the art world.

It isn't everybody who knows the leaders in CIVA and gets to edit the work of Mako Fujimuro or Sandra Bowden or Image editor Gregory Wolfe. We love supporting a creative little business that has done such significant networking and publishing among this cadre of underground heroes. I like the rare mixture of hominess and edginess the Bustards live, and it may have something to do with their being Reformed and artistic. Whatever, we love them as they incarnate their solid, stylish book.

2. As I've said, it is lovingly produced, but that ain't all. Although it matters to me that an artifact is made by folks with love in their hearts, if the product isn't that good, good intentions melt away pretty quickly. It Was Good really is an excellent product, a book that looks and feels good and whose content is superlative. It is well written, and this new, expanded edition, is better edited, somewhat re-arranged, and has several new chapters. (Not all publishers really change much when they re-issued a revision. This truly is an expanded version, and the new chapters are remarkable and the older ones touched up.) I know I said it about Fabric of Faithfulness a few posts back, because of the two new parts, but I must say it again here: this newly edited and seriously enhanced edition is so much better than the older version, you should consider getting the new one even if you have the first. Some customers know I sometimes talk people out of buying new books. This isn't one of those times.

3. Square Halo is, in fact, small and indie, and although I wish they had better distribution, and wish they were massively sold through chains and such---we really do want to get the word out, and are glad when good books are well known---there is something cool about being in on something that is such a well-kept secret. I guess the Bustards, and their friends who own Square Halo, and we here at Hearts & Minds, have some sort of a similar view (although I shouldn't speak for them.) We trust that whatever good we are attempting will blossom some how. Or not, Lord willing. Remember that old book of Tom Sine's called The Mustard Seed Conspiracy? That is it: we do our mustard-seed thing and hope for the best. If it blossoms into a big ol' tree that is a spot of healing for creation, thanks be to God. If not, I suppose all the marketing in the world isn't really going to help much.

Maybe I am just using sanctimony to cover for my lazy lack of ability to "ramp it up" and "take it to the next level." But I've read enough Jacque Ellul and Wendell Berry to know the dangers of a manufactured progress that finally is harmful and inauthentic. So, along with mustard-seed projects like classy little Square Halo, we try to make a living, and make a difference. We love selling a book like this because it is a symbol of what we are about, here. If you like us, buy this book. (If you like them, buy it from us.) I suppose it is a bit snide, but if you want Left Behind or The Secret or DVD's of last season's The Apprentice you can go to amazon, since these are the shallow fruits of a mass-produced consumer culture, anyway. It Was Good with its muted but generous color, with fine reproductions throughout, printed on non-tree paper, and its genuine and smart writers and it's righteous vision of a society made whole needs to be hand-sold by staff at a place that cares. Weeeeeee-ah. I say without any false humility that some days I wonder if we are worthy to sell a book like this.

4. It is fun. Joyful. Exciting. This really is nifty stuff: James Romaine riffing on his scholarly work on the Sistine Chapel to open us up to the meaning of creativity? Recording artist, producer and mentor Charlie Peacock on "telling a good story with your life" even as he writes in a contribution called Making Art Like a True Artist? This is great work, energetic and very interesting. Just the artwork shown is fascinating, with Ned's surprising choices of all kinds of (mostly modern) illuminations to accompany the text. I just love books like this, and I hope you do to!

5. Excellent endorsements. I know that sometime authors toss off superlatives as favors to publishers and the business of blurbing can make anybody wonder. But nobody needs to endorse a quiet book from Square Halo; this isn't Tom Clancey or Rick Warren, you know. No, each of the folks who gave endorsements did so, I am sure, out of deep satisfaction in lending their name to a brilliant book, and because they truly believed in the content. From Steve Garber to Luci Shaw, Ken Meyers to Denis Haack, these are folks whose cultural vision has integrity and who we trust. That the book has endorsements from prestigious scholars such as David J. Goa shows further it's reliable importance in the broader cultural scene. That is it cited in good books (like, for instance, The Culturally Savvy Christian about which I posted the other day) is pretty great, too. Maybe only booksellers or editors think like this, but I feel like we are in on something when we have a title like this. Won't you join us?


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It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God
edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99

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