About November 2007

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

October 2007 is the previous archive.

December 2007 is the next archive.

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

November 2007 Archives

November 8, 2007

Redeeming Law

redeeming law.jpg It has been a while since I've posted because Beth and I have been on the first of what is the most brisk whirlwind bookselling tour we've seen in years.  Last week, among some other good stuff, we had the great privilege of setting up a large book room for the renowned professional group for Christian lawyers, judges and law students, the Christian Legal Society.  CLS has made it possible to be their "bookstore in residence" during their annual conferences and this year---in a swanky place with beachy weather in Western Florida---we had the opportunity to recommend books to all kinds of CLS members.  Their speakers included the famous (for the filibuster against him when appointed to a federal judgeship by President Bush) and wonderful Christian gentleman, Judge Charles Pickering (read the 60 Minutes interview with him here), blogger extraordinaire and author Hugh Hewett, (he plugged his book Blog, which we highly recommend, and gave a remarkable speech against theological inquisition in the public square) and the dynamic (and I mean dynamic) John Lynch, who co-wrote TrueFaced which NavPress ($11.99) put our a few years back.  It is a marvelous book on God's grace, and the interpersonal implications of living out of the confidence of God's mercy, and not out of our own need to please God or prove anything. It makes a great small group study, and now that we've met him, we are all the more convinced it is important stuff.  His mentor and colleague, Bill Thrall, joined us as well. Mr. Thrall, as you may know, co-wrote TrueFaced and one of our favorite leadership books ever, The Ascent of a Leader (Jossey-Bass $25) 

With these kind of keynote speeches, the jurists, legal scholars, judges, lawyers, mediators, first amendment activists and law students----hey to that gang from Pepperdine we shared a hot tub with at 2 am---had plenty to inspire them, but much of their time was spent in serious workshops and seminars.  And book-buying.  It isn't every day we get to schmooze over thoughtful Christian books with culture-formers and justice-seekers and peace-makers like these very sharp Christian leaders. It was a bit intimidating, and very exciting for us. We wanted our larger circle of BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds friends to know our whereabouts, and to rejoice that serious Christian books are made available in the most remarkable places. (The load-out and drive back was exhausting, and we've got several other large gigs in the next weeks, include a drive back to FL for the big Ivy Jungle event). Pray for our stamina, and the van's endurance, please.)

And we must say this:  every field, academic discipline or job area should be so fortunate as to have a single must-read, absolutely foundational, solid and interesting book as do these CLS folks.  Our friend (he's posted here once or twice) Michael P. Schutt, has recently had published his major work, Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (IVP; $24)  a readable, insightful, introduction to the field of law, trying to develop, out of a coherent Christian worldview, a Godly perspsective on jurisprudence, a Christian philosophy of law that could fund and equip the practices of being a uniquely Christian attorney.  I found the book fascinating (I'm not quite done, for the record)---and nobody in my life has ever suggested I was smart enough to go to law school---so I would like to commend it far and near.  At least anyone interested in current affairs, government, public life or politics could enjoy it, and benefit quite a bit.  Mike is a winsome and fine writer (and a heck of a funny guy) who has done for the field of law what every field needs: write the classic, basic, must-have, go-to book on developing a Christian perspective on the calling of that career.  I can't say enough about this (without doing a true review, which I'm hardly qualified to do, and which I needn't do here.)  CLS is behind this book big-time, and Mike will be out and about (like at Jubilee 2008.)  His creds are impressive, his spirit right, his scholarship impressive.  What more can I say?  Know anybody you can buy this book for?  Know any church or community libraries that might benefit from having this around?  I know it is a bit of a stretch, being rather specific, as it is.  But come on, folks.  This is the kind of book you won't find many places, the exact kind of a book we are thrilled to tell you about.  Check it out. Forward this on to somebody you know. 

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November 10, 2007

Slower, Longer, Smarter

open book pic.jpgI rarely use this blog to link people to other places, unless it is to inform you further about an author I'm citing, or an organization that needs promotion, within the context of my mini-reviews.  There is so much good stuff out there, one could easily spend hours and hours each day reading it all.  And this is pretty great, even if it distracts serious books buyers, at times. But I try to stick to my main task of alerting you to books we're selling here at the shop.

This article, though, which came to my attention while snooping around the website of Mars Hill Audio, written by Hearts & Minds friend Ken Myers, is so well written, so rich, so provocative, that I really thought our friends would enjoy it.  Sorry I'm not touting a book this time. And Ken's voice, of course, is different than my own (I hear the collective sighs of relief all over cyberspace---a guest columnist at BookNotes!)  I think I will cite this piece in a talk I'm doing in a few days at the Pennsylvania State Pastor's conference, where we are selling books.  Along with some other good folk, I'll get to be Calvin College prof, media guru, and important writer himself, author Dr. Quentin Schultze. 

The article about reading, Slower, Longer, Smarter, starts like this:

Many years ago, when working at National Public Radio, I talked with a friend who had left NPR to work in the news department at ABC. During the conversation, he remarked that the biggest difference between his old colleagues and his new ones was that reporters and producers at NPR regularly read books, while the people at ABC generally didn't. He said this somewhat wistfully, suggesting that he missed the conversations and arguments that are nourished by a shared experience of the focused and sustained attentiveness that books make possible. Books, like music, are ways of ordering our experience of time and intellect. They encourage habits of mind that are quite different from those typical among people whose reading is enabled most often by a device appropriately called a "browser."

Read the rest of it (it isn't long) here.  If you are a book lover, are concerned about the state of reading in our times,  you will be glad you did.  If you don't subscribe to this well-produced, exceptionally thoughtful "audio magazine", you should consider it.

November 19, 2007

Brand New Books

What a whirl-wind few weeks, taking our book van from the Christian Legal Society Florida event, selling books at a student gathering at Penn State, setting up for the Pennsylvania Council of Church's annual State Pastor's Conference and heading back to Florida to the bi-annual campus ministry national networking conference, Ivy Jungle.  Sorry I've been unable to post much about new books here at BookNotes.

It is always frustrating to me---amusingly so---that great new books arrive right after we do these gigs.  To wit, I will do a brief list of books I wished had been released a few days earlier so I could have shown them at these events.

Just a few days after the State Pastor's conference some books arrived that I would have loved to have promoted there.  Here's two:

The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor John Stott (IVP) $17  One could hardly name an elder statesmen of broadly-defined evangelical faith than Father John Stott, rector of All Souls Church in London, who has more stature or influence in our lifetime.  His many books nurtured a generation of young, thoughtful evangelicals---like Tim Keller, say, who offers a glowing tribute on the back cover---to preach the gospel with clarity, obedience, grace, and relevance.  This may be his swan song, a generous and sweeping book, offering his vision for ministry in the 21st century.  Inspiring, historic, lovely. If you know any pastors, this would be a great gift.

Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music
  Jeremy S. Begbie  (Baker Academic) $22.99  If this book were twice the price it would be worth it, I'm sure.  Weighing in at over 400 pages, this is the call of the famous classical musician to thoughtful engagement in the world of music.  He judiciously develops a theology of sound,  a rigorous and deep aesthetic theory that funds Christian thinking about the world of music.  How many books sport lengthy endorsements from N.T. Wright, Nicholas Wolterstorff, John Witvliet, and Rowan Williams?  No one is better suited to explore a theology of music, and anyone interested in contemporary culture,  music, artistic engagement, or worship will want to become familiar with Begbie's masterpiece.  I think if I had had this at the Pastor's event I not only would have mentioned it, but would have suggested it as a gift for choir directors and music ministers and church libraries.  It is a book that ought to be known.

And, so,  off I went, directly from the Pastor's conference, to the Ivy Jungle event in Orlando.  Thanks to Guster for driving the van, and Bogey-man and Beck for helping sell books.  What an event, with wonderfully committed campus pastors learning from the likes of Os Guinness, Lauren Winner, York Moore, and Gabe Lyons of UnChristian.  We enjoyed seeing Mark Pinsky (Gospel According to the Simpsons) again, and hanging out with several other good folks, singer-song-writer Justin McRoberts, authors and higher education leaders.  Sure enough, as I returned home, I saw new books that came while I was gone.  Had they arrived here earlier, I would have taken them to Ivy Jungle, for sure.  For instance, these two:

The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship edited by Robert Woods & Brian Walrath (Abingdon) $18  Here, a handful of  evangelical scholars reflect seriously on various aspects of contemporary praise and worship songs.  This may be the most serious study yet done on recent songs of this nature, and while the authors are not uniformly opposed they are serious-minded critics, bringing theological substance to bear on the actual words, and the theological ethos, and the unintended consequences of the current generation of praise songs.  A brief forward by Richard Mouw--who says he's a "switch hitter when it comes to worship music"---sets the stage for this fascinating ad important critique. message in the music.jpgwideopenspaces.jpgresounding.jpgliving church.jpgMany in our mainline churches (like the State Pastor's gang) need this as much as collegiate ministers, and may be more likely to appreciate it.  Which is why I really, really wish I could have taken it to Ivy Jungle.

Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-By-Number Christianity Jim Palmer (Nelson) $13.99  Many readers of BookNotes will recall us raving about Palmer's moving memoir Divine Nobodies which told stories of unlikely folks--unchuched folks--who showed him truths about God.  We loved that book and it's Blue Like Jazz writing style and edgy, authentic honesty made it very popular among young adults.  This sophomore release is less memoiristic, more of a sustained argument.  I've had an advanced copy for a while, and have been telling folks about it.  Here's what Shane Claiborne wrote of it: "Jim knows the mess of the world.  Jim knows the mess of the church.  And he still has the audacity to believe that love wins. Here he has created a book that cannot help but leave you feeling closer to God, with a smile that isn't just for Sunday mornings, and filled with the hope that another world is possible."  

November 21, 2007

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Commentary on the NT Use of OT.jpgThere has, fortunately, been much attention in recent years, to an integrated perspective on the unfolding narrative of Scriptures, and many have written about the unity of the Testaments.  The Unfolding Drama of Scripture: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen does this as well as any Bible introduction we've seen, and it has become our biggest seller in the Biblical studies category.

One aspect of this emphasis is seen in the interest of reading Hebrew Scripture stories in a Christo-centric way; while this can be overdone, the historical-redemptive hermeneutic has been a God-send, freeing Bible readers from moralism and what Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen calls "proof-text poker" by placing any ancient episode within the broader canonical context and the ultimate Messianic trajectory.  Samples of this for ordinary Bible readers include, for instance, the marvelous books by Iain M. Duguid, and the series offered by P&R called "The Gospel in the Old Testament."  Great stuff, inspiring, useful, provocative, and laden with mature insight.  There are even books on how to preach in this way, owing much to the innovative work of the late Edmund Clowney.

A related theme is the fascinating work being done on how the New Testament writers used the Old, helping contemporary readers pick up echoes of Older Testament teachings as they appear in the first-century texts.  An extraordinary, serious collection of essays on this is called Hearing the Old Testament in the New, edited by Stanley Porter (Eerdmans; $29.00) which we highly recommend it for deeper thinkers.  (The chapter by Sylvia Keesmat, co-author of Hearts & Minds favorite, Colossians Remixed, itself a major, creative contribution to this project, is worthy of being read and re-read!) 

And now comes, from the amazingly impressive folks at Baker Academic, a defining moment in recent Biblical scholarship, the release of a volume so unique and innovative that one can only thank God that such thinking is being done.  We are proud to announce and promote the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament edited by G.K. Beale & D.A. Carson.  ($54.99.) 

With rave endorsements from scholars as diverse as Richard Bauckham (University of St. Andrews), Karen Jobes  (Wheaton College), Scott Hahn (Franciscan University of Steubenville), and Thomas R. Schreiner (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) you can see that this has a conservative tone, and yet is notably ecumenical.  It is written by more than a dozen internationally known, top-tier scholars.  We couldn't be more thrilled with the judicious and intelligent efforts that obviously went into this 1200+ page volume.  It is a landmark, the most important reference work of the year, and an indication of wholistic and wise thinking in recent New Testament studies.  We think many of you will want to have it for reference use, and it would make a fabulous, perhaps unexpected, gift for anyone you know who loves the Bible.  

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November 24, 2007

Selling Books with Rob Bell: The Gods Are Not Angry Tour

Everything Is Spiritual.jpgLast evening I drove to Washington DC, to an auditorium where we once heard Bruce Cockburn blazing against the nearby IMF,  to sell books at a Rob Bell speaking event.  Apparently, at each stop on his "The God's Are Not Angry" tour he gets local booksellers who have some affinity for his work to set up a display and sell his books and Noomas.  (Yes, Number 18, Name, is now out, and, if you care, Trees is still my favorite.  We sell 'em all for $10.)  From the very first, we've been supportive of these well-made, edgy, creative and mostly quite solid 13 minute teaching parables. I'm not the hugest fan of SexGod, although it is worth reading, and younger friends love it.  I like Velvet Elvis a lot (and the audio CD is him reading it, very well, unabridged.)  The last few chapters are brillant, rejecting the sacred-secular split in ways that shows God's redemptive care for everything.  Everythingggg.  Some like his design, and appreciate his intense, postmodern ethos.  I'm glad for what he does...and we've got the books on sale.  Send us an email and get 20% off on either book.

So, there we were, me and my volunteer helper Guster and his wife with the cool Jedediah hat, making change and talking up Bell.  What a privilege to be asked to do this.  We found the portions of his talk that we heard to be very moving, inviting listeners into a lifestyle of trust of God's mercy, living into a way of life that isn't trying to prove or earn God love, because in His grace, He already does. 

There may be some fine-tuned bones to pick with Bell's show, and other bloggers have pointed out certain theological concerns.  I don't quite know what to think about that---this was just one lecture, and, well, even Jesus told stories, sometimes (say, the Prodigal Son) that didn't include the full gospel presentation (there is no cross or atonement even mentioned in that one, told by the Master.)  So I don't want to critique Rob's full theology based on one performance art/lecture/sermon.  (When some otherwise wise writers make these Big Declarations about what Rob does and doesn't believe about complex theological formulations, based on one lecture, I just want to holler. What's wrong with those guys?) 

I am eager to keep the conversation about proper doctrine front and center, though;  I will be blogging soon about the new John Piper critique of N.T. Wright's views of justification by faith, The Future of Justification,  which I'm about half-way through.   So that is important. At his local church where he pastors, Bell has hosted folks who know Wright, like our pals Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, for instance, so we're glad for his ministry.   We thought it was a great evening, and we were happy to be a part of it.  It was fun seeing some old friends in the crowd---from across the theological spectrum, I might add, which was sweet.  And some customer friends from the York area, who drove down for the night.  Ahhhh, nice to have home-town folks see us in action out of town.  And we did work really hard, helping get his resources out, and helping him set up the autographing session afterwards.  He treated us really well, sharing his appreciation, which not every rock star does.  (We sold a bunch of books for a well-known theologian who is critical of Bell, by the way, earlier this year, and he didn't even say hello to us, let alone thank us for the all nighter we pulled setting up his big 'ol display.  That doesn't prove anything theologically, of course, I'm just saying.)

One great aspect of being a small part of this cool tour is that we got early access to the just-released DVD of last years excellent tour lecture, called "Everything Is Spiritual."  I think this DVD (an hour and a half or so)  will be released into bookstores in early 2008, but now they are only available from Flannel productions, but we now have 'em, the ones we didn't sell at the gig.  We asked if we could just keep them (we've paid for them already, of course) and they gave us the green light.  We may be the first shop in the country to sell 'em, and we have them on sale for $17.  Want to order one?  They'd make awesome cool Christmas gifts, too, of course, for somebody who likes powerful communicators, contemporary teachings about a Christian worldview, or anyone who likes the Noomas

 Everything is Spiritual DVD
sale price

November 29, 2007

The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World: Electronic Culture and the Gathered People of God

Welcome back, dear readers, to yet another installment of what is feeling like the travelogue of the Hearts & Minds book van.  We just got back from several days at an old Catholic retreat center, the location for an annual retreat of Episcopalian clergy.  These priests are good to us, and some have become real friends; we are grateful that they allow me to talk about books and the spiritual disciplines of reading widely, and we're glad they found at least some stuff they thought useful from our huge book display.  We've got about a ton of books (literally) to unpack and restock, so the gig isn't over yet"¦and, of course, we are thrilled with our extended holiday shopping hours.  Happy holiday shopping season!

The speaker for the Episopal event is a guy I've long admired, a fella I've been with before, Tex Sample.  Tex is a southern boy, a country music scholar of sorts, a funny and deadly serious classic liberal Christian in the historic Protestant tradition.  Yet, despite his fascination with that old boy Wittgenstein and his familiarity with populist, neo-Marxist critics and the aesthetics of, say, Susan Langer, he's eager to learn about new ways of multi-sensory worship, ways to make the current fascination with all things media both more theologically grounded and more culturally relevant.  I'd say he's nearly a cross between a big 'ol Mississippi gator and the suave style of his upscale, preacher pal Leonard Sweet.  And I'd hope Tex would think that a compliment.  "Shit, boy," I can imagine him saying, "that ain't nothin' bad."  He's a good and honest representative of his hard-livin', blue collar (sometimes bootleggin') relatives and loved ones who hail from a primarily oral culture that he has often written about. (Irony of ironies, eh? See his Ministry in an Oral Culture: Living With Will Rogers, Uncle Remus and Minnie Pearl.) A recent book illustrates this long-standing concern, and expands his earlier works on this topic; see his new Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus: Doing Ministry with Working Class Whites (Abingdon; $16.95.) It is a substantial and important work.

 Sample, though, has taught serious, social, missional theology and media studies stuff at northern seminaries and in church workshops all over the world, translating his pre-literate oral cultural practices into the ways of higher academia and mainline church life.  He tells tales of his years in semi-pro baseball, illustrates his points with stories of industrial trades, tells ribald tales of down-home stuff that would make my mama blush (although apparently not his) and yet is utterly committed to probing the deeper philosophical nuances that shape our understanding of God's concerns for the arts, light, movement, signs, signifiers, screens and worship.  That he is interested in innovative and varied manifestations of full-bodied, multi-sensory worship is evident, and he has written two books about it.  I cannot guess what our Philadelphia area priests thought about all this, but I was, as the other time I was with him, utterly intrigued and entertained and provoked by Dr. Tex.  We appreciated his support of our work, and I am going to re-read his books, now, for sure.  And pass a few on to friends who ought to be paying more attention to this deeper version of what some have blandly called contemporary worship.

Since I have plenty of these two books around, still,  I'll offer a great, great special.
 Buy both for just $25, which makes one full price, but the other, just three bucks. 

tex sample 1.jpgThe Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World: Electronic Culture and the Gathered People of God regularly $18  This one covers some fascinating social history, great example of how experience is socially constructed (oh, his stuff on the rise of soul music and early Elvis) and how to be immersed in indigenous cultural practices and maintain a prophetic social critique.  This is basic material for his project, told with a fascinating edge, material that it good to know and is sure to shake you up a bit.  Highly recommended.

And, the more recent book, that he says is everything he's learned since this first one came out a decade ago, Powerful Persuasion: Multi-Media Witness in Christian Worship regularly $22.  These are provocative, rich, thoughtful chapters, and include fascinating  tex 2.jpgbibliographic references and some practical ways to follow up in your own congregation.  Powerful Persuasion includes stuff on lighting, dance, and other special concerns for those wishing to create liturgical experiences that are truly full-bodied, and not just rock music and words on screens. 

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November 1, 2007

What to Think About the Golden Compass: A Long Answer to a Good Question


There has been much discussion about the book trilogy His Dark Material by Philip Pullman and new film based on the first book, The Golden Compass.  We have long defended Harry Potter, as you can imagine, and, also as you can imagine, took some serious hits, especially here in the bookshop.  Still, there are so many books that argue for reading that kind of fantasy, and the seriously Christian insights in Potter that we've boldly placed each volume on our counter as they've arrived over the years.  Making a statement, inviting conversation, causing trouble, having fun.  Harry Potter is not of the devil, and we've assured customers who worry that if there was truly an affirmation of the occult, we would not be cavalier about that at all.  And so, we've promoted Rowling and her Potter series.

But Pullman and his Dark Materials?  Well, we've stocked his trilogy over the years too---our best friends were reading the first one, The Golden Compass, out loud to their and our family during a vacation get-away when it first came out, and we were struck by the exciting story, provocative message, the truly extraordinary writing, and, yes, the anti-Christian vibe.  There is no doubt that they are, as the author has himself said, "anti-Narnian" and that the next two releases became even more troubling as the authors worldview---freedom comes from killing God----is woven into the stunning stories.

I needn't argue here for a thoughtfully Christian response, although Jeffrey Overstreet does one of the best jobs here.  (His book on film and his collection of movie reviews, by the way, is really worth having; more on that below.)  Some young friends have, unwisely, I think, advocated boycotting the whole Golden Compass film business, and we've had some conversations over at Facebook.  A few customers have asked for resources to figure this one out.  To be sure, this isn't like Potter where the critics are flat-out wrong.  Pullman is thoroughly anti-Christian and he is proud of it.

Here are a few bookish ideas--starting very broadly as we unpeel the layers of this kind of onion--- that may be helpful as you talk about this with your friends, neighbors and church.  Forgive us for offering a very long answer to a very good question.  Think of this tutorial perhaps not only as an answer to this quandary, but as a case study.

First, any conversation around what novels, film or art is appropriate for followers of Jesus, who trying to live Scripturally-shaped lives, might best be framed by a proper perspective generally about culture and the relationship of Christian faith to the world in which we live.  This is a constant theme here at Hearts & Minds so I won't list again the books on a basic Christian worldview or the ways in which Christ's Kingdom has "this-worldly" implications.  My Christmas column from our local newspaper, shown at the BookNotes blog, here, gets at some of that. Another thing to remember is that it may be a bit unclear for folks like me to talk about the Biblical mandate to be engaged in culture.  Firstly, that doesn't mean to be engaged "to" culture---we are not to be wedded to any worldly ideology or established way of doing things.  (Thanks to Ken Meyers for the good quip.)

  More germane, though, for our readers, is the insight from Cal Seerveld that "culture is not optional."  That is, we are made by God as cultural beings, and it is an impossibility to act in ways that are not cultural.  Our friends at *cino take this is their motto, and it guides them as they do their marvelous lit mag that invites normative reflections on just how to be engaged in culture in redemptive ways.  Their current (and quite fabulous) catapult e-zine, in fact, is about the arts, so would be a fabulous part of the background reading around these themes.

 Still, you should be reminded of the great book on common grace by Richard Mouw called---do you know the hymn text?---He Shines in All That's Fair (Eerdmans; $14.) Does God smile at human culture?  Do the good things of human fruitfulness please Him?  What about the less than righteous creations and dysfunctional institutions?  In a fallen world, how do we appreciate, appropriate, and/or resist the artifacts, cultural habits, and ethos of idolatrous culture around us?  Was Francis Schaeffer correct when he noted that even pagan artists and storytellers and professors can be doing the Lord's work, insofar as they raise the right questions, and expose the emptiness of some bankrupt answers? 

A favorite author of ours is T.M. Moore, who works with a mentoring program affiliated with Prison Fellowship that nurtures leaders in this way of thinking called The Centurion Program.  (He wrote a fine book on the need for a creational theology, and other on popular culture, among others on church renewal and spirituality.)  As he guides thoughtful Centurions to take up their calling in this world, with cultural discernment and wisdom for social innovation and reformation, he has drawn on sources historic and ecumenical.  I just love his 2007 paperback Culture Matters: A Call for a Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement (Baker; $16.95.)  He has chapters on how others in the past have navigated this terrain---St. Augustine, St. Patrick and the rise of Celtic art, Calvin and his work in starting theological education, Abraham Kuyper whose renown for all things reformational has shaped us, here, and the contemporary Eastern European poet and Nobel Laureate, Czeslaw Milosz.  This book is very interesting (including features like an interview with guitarist Phil Keaggy) makes specific suggestions for reaching a consensus about cultural renewal and we think it is an important little book.

Dick Staub did a spectacular book this year, released in hardcover, called The Culturally Savvy Christian that bears a long sub-title: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite  (Jossey-Bass; $21.95.)  That authors like N.T. Wright insist that it is urgent ("for our times---and for our health") may illustrate its significance.  (What other book sports endorsements from Martin Marty and Makoto Fujimura, and the late, great Dwight Ozard?)  Whether it is Potter or Pullman or Pirates of the Caribbean en our front-line conversations about movies and books and art will be shaped by our deepest convictions about culture, society, the work of God in the world and the like.  I've gone through much of this book for a second time and want to shout about how good it is, how well written, and truly insightful.  If you know anybody who has thought about this stuff a little bit, but needs more, or anybody who is deep in the trenches, this book could be a Godsend.  Spread the word!

Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture William D. Romonowski (Brazos; $19.99) This is still the definitive book on thinking about popular culture from a uniquely Christian worldview; I mention it at this foundational level because it is about so much more than just movies and rock music.  Bill's exploration on what culture is, and a theologically rich take on the task of human flourishing, and engagement with cultural development, is right on, and helpful for anyone, in any endeavor.  When the first edition came out, it was truly a pioneering voice, and Bill has worked on this stuff----reading widely, speaking all over, being involved in music and film projects---for decades, now.  If this newly updated edition isn't on your bookshelf, I would say forthrightly that you are remiss!  This really is a great book, thoughtful, involved, deep, and wise, and very useful to loan out to those who haven't heard of this kind of expression of faith in culture.  Plus, he's an old housemate, and I'm mentioned in it, so for crying out loud, order a couple from us.  Please?

Once one has this worldviewish, creation-restored, Kingdom-of-God, socially-reforming, in-but-not-of, missional vision, and has well under the belt some fluency in thinking faithfully about culture and cultural engagement, then, it seems to me, the next layer that we must know well would be some basic stuff about the arts.  We should be able to explain to friends and foe why people made in God's image care about creativity and imagination, and how the aesthetic dimension of life---and, specifically, the arts--- is important to shape our thinking about stuff like R-rated movies or anti-Christian children's novels.

We've offered a listing and description of some of our favorite books on the arts at our website bibliography "Books by Vocation."  This is a great, starter list, but there are so very many more.  Of course we've often said that Rainbows for the Fallen World by Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press; $25) is one of my all-time favorite books, and his sequel to that, Bearing Fresh Olives Leaves (Toronto Tuppence Press; $35) is a must for any serious thinker about the arts.  The updated version of his first book on these themes, lectures given in the late 60s and still powerful today, is called A Christian Critique of Art and Literature and it is still in print (Dordt College Press; $15.)  Aesthetic life is part of life; God calls us to live embodied in a world of color, sound, taste, sight, culture, art.  How can we be a bit intentional about that, reading up and learning together to discern how our discipleship might inform that side of life? 

More recently, we've been very happy to promote Luci Shaw's new book, a fabulous, gentle, winsome call to a richer aesthetic life entitled Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity and Faith (Word; $19.99.)  What a great gift this would be, a delicious read to encourage us all.

Madeline L'Engle, Luci's very good friend, is a writer whose memoirs, novels, juvenile fantasy, essays and Biblical reflections have stood the test of time and have been nearly iconic for many of us who hold up a high standard for Christian contributions to the culture.  We commend books like the handsome hardcover The Rock That Is Higher (Shaw Publishers; $14.99) which is about how story conveys truth, but her classic in this arena is----and it may be our biggest seller in this category---- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. (There are two editions of this, same book, a hardback published by Shaw and a paperback by North Point Press; both are $13.99.)  I don't know how many spiritually sensitive, young artists I know who have been nurtured by this--- it is very useful, thoughtfully provocative, and inspiring.

New this year also is a great introductory essay, a brief and handsome little paperback, was written by Philip Ryken called Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (P&R; $5.99.)  It stands alongside of Francis Schaeffer's fabulous two-chapter paperback, Art and the Bible (IVP; $8) as a perfect, brief starter for the integration of faith and the arts.  The new paperback edition of that, by the way, has a sweet forward by Michael Card, who himself has written a fine book called Scribbles in the Sand: Christ and Creativity (IVP; $13.)  Any of these will help shape our view of life, our evaluative grid, and will help inform our perception of how to react to the artifacts---books, TV, media, advertising, schools, politicians---all around us.  No point in jumping into specific debates about Pullman, say, without some solid footing to think about the broader questions and concerns.

My sense is that many of us do dive into debates and conversations about watching movies, critiquing cultural phenomenon, boycotting stuff, and we haven't done the homework, the uniquely Christian thinking, that such evaluations necessitate.  So I again implore you to buy books about the formation of a Christian worldview, the nurturing of the Christian mind, and to read some of these books on cultural engagement and, specifically, some stuff on the arts.

No better friend to the Christian artist community in the publishing world can be found than Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books.  As I've exclaimed often, Ned's work in stewarding a small, indie publishing venture is inspiring, and he has contributed several essential volumes for anyone interested in the inter-face of faith and art.  Ned was recently interviewed by Leanne Martin, who offers a fabulous blog called "Christians in the Arts" where she has done interviews with a host of remarkable Christian in this field.  Check out Ned's brief story, telling of his work at Square Halo, his reading suggestions, and why all of this matters.

Of course my favorite book of Square Halo's---soon enough to be touted as one of the premier books to be released in 2007---is the glorious It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (edited by Ned Bustard; Square Halo; $24.)  Please go back to my blogged review to see why this book is so useful, and why we need to raise the bar in our conversations about these matters.  I am positive that if we raised a generation of younger Christians reading Square Halo books, our response to things like the call to boycott the Golden Compass movie would be much more faithful and wise.  I am aware that if you are a parent wondering if you should allow your younger ones to see this, reading Dick Staub and Ned Bustard and Calvin Seerveld won't immediately solve your problem.  Nonetheless, without this kind of broad framework, built brick by brick with these Biblically-informed, culturally-aware, open-minded and spiritually-astute books, we just won't be the kind of "salt and light and leaven" disciples of Jesus we are called to be. 

Okay, we are nearly there: soon some suggestions for books about Pullman and The Golden Compass.  But first, yet another foundational layer of our proverbial onion: to get at a faithful response to any particular work of literature or film, we should, well, know something about a Christian understanding of film and literature.

Here are a couple that could be useful.  Since you are reading this, I presume you care about books and literature, novels and the printed page.  And if you are alive in the 21st century, you simply must care about film. 

Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective Leland Ryken (Wipf & Stock; $22)  How wonderful to see this old chestnut re-issued for a new generation of thoughtful book lovers.  Wheaton's Professor Ryken is one of the foremost evangelical scholars in the humanities in the last 50 years, and this book is a gem.

From Achilles to Christ: Why Christian Should Read the Pagan Classics Louis Markos (IVP; $24) One can learn quite a bit about Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides or Virgil in this, but, for our purposes, it is also a magnificent case study in why people of devout religious faith should engage pagan literature.  The author wrote a very, very good book on C.S. Lewis (Lewis Agonistes: How Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World) and this book is a deeper indication of his learned views.  Speaking of Lewis, I suspect you know his great collection, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature (Harcourt; $13) and his Of Other Words: Essays and Stories (Harcourt; $13) is another important classic in this field.

From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth & Fantasy  Matthew Dickerson & David O'Hara (Brazos; $19.99)  This is doubtlessly the best book of its kind.  Drawing from a viewpoint informed by Lewis & Tolkien, these authors give us here brilliant scholarship on ancient myth and fun stuff on our contemporary epics.  Wow.  (By the way, if you've read Dickerson's Following Gandolf and recall his section on how it is informed by Beowulf, you'll get some of the genius of this book.)  They look at all kinds of stuff, with excellent sections on Homer, or MacDonald, and, yes, on Mr. Pullman.  Wow-o-wow, this is faithful scholarship at its best, offered up in service of the people of God, learning to enjoy and be discerning.

Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak About Their Writing and Their Faith  edited by Jennifer L. Holberg (Eerdmans; $16) Well, before we go off angry about this or that writer, or suspicious of this or that bookstore that sells those authors or books, or before we make over-blown accusations about who is or isn't faithful in their literature or film, it would do us well to walk along-side of serous writers as they do their work.  Ms Holberg, English professor at Calvin College, does just this, inviting us into conversations with authors (some Christians, some not quite, some clearly not) who have much to say about how faith does or doesn't inform their work.  This is a fun book, with interviews with the likes of Anne Lamott or Paul Schrader, and essays from David James Duncan, Ron Hanson, Madeleine L'Engle, Jan Karon and many others.

Again, we have stocked books of this sort since our earliest days, and it is remarkable how many folks comment that most "Christian bookstores" don't have a film or media or pop culture section.  Call us or write if you want some older classics in this field.  The previously mentioned Eyes Wide Open by Romanowski remains a foundational text, and the newer edition includes some new material on recent films.  If you don't have that, start there.

The Gospel According to Hollywood Greg Garrett (WJK; $16.95) We've appreciated Garrett's novels, his early work on The Matrix, and his excellent memoir, Crossing Myself.  Here, we have one of the best, serious, fun, and thoughtful recent overviews of the worldviews of Hollywood, deeply discerned, seriously written.  A must for movie buffs, and very insightful for the casual fan.

Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies Jeffrey Overstreet (Gospel Light; $17.99)  This is one of the best books on the topic, and includes some of the best film reviews we know about; Jeff is a professional film reviewer (his own website is www.lookingcloser.org) and his writes provocative pieces  for Christianity Today on line.  What a fine companion to have, a wise Christian brother, artfully helping us see and understand.  (Mr. Overstreet, by the way, has also written a fine fantasy novel that came out this fall, Auralia's Colors.  If you like good writing, a blazing story, amazing characters, and a very well reviewed fantasy experience, check it out.  It is the first in a projected trilogy.)

Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes Through the Lens of Contemporary Film Robert K. Johnston (Baker; $17.99) Those interested in creatively engaging the art of movies, from a Christian view, will know Johnston's several books.  This one is truly amazing, as he explores some of the more edgy recent films (American Beauty, Monster's Ball,  Magnolia, About Schmidt, etc) and relates them to the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes.  An exceptional book, thoughtful, deep, careful, serious about film and Word.  Wow.

Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture edited by Spencer Lewerenz & Barbara Nicolosi (Baker; $14.99) Applause, applause, again, to Baker Books for releasing these kinds of contemporary reflections on faith and film.  Here, as I said above regarding contemporary authors, you have the chance to peer over the shoulders of followers of Christ who happen to live and work in Hollywood.  They speak of their ups and downs, tells stories of their efforts within the movie industry, and offer advice for film buffs and aspiring actors, writers or filmmakers.  These media professionals have much to teach us, and it is fascinating to listen in on their sense of God's presence in city of Angels.

Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline edited by Robert K. Johnston (Baker; $24.99) More than a dozen scholars who regularly write or teach about the relationship of theology and film are gathered here, each offering a contribution to how the discipline is emerging, and how best to nurture thoughtful Christian engagement in the arena of film studies.  This is a mature and top-notch text, important for anyone who intends to follow this dynamic emerging field.

At last.  We've suggested educating yourself, your family, your faith community, your neighbors, in the contours of a Christian world-and-life-perspective; from that foundational imaginative vision we can make meaning out of society, culture, history: we need a Christian basis for thinking about culture.  Out of such a view we then can meaningfully and faithful reflect on theories and notions, habits and practices, dispositions and insights about approaching the creative artifacts of the entertainment industry: from TV shows to computer games, from novels to films, CDs to gameshows, we can study and learn and evaluate appropriately the nuances of the story and it's impact.  (This is where so many jump to, pronouncing this or that in black and white tones, boycotting or endorsing, with little background of a Christian foundation or even knowledge about the artifact or issue being debates.)  But, with the kinds of resources we've suggested, we will be better equipped to offer Godly and wise leadership in conversations and social initiatives around controversial media or entertainment matters.  And so, finally, you may want to read up on Pullman's worldview, and use some books about his powerful and influential writing.

Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Philip Pullman's Trilogy, His Dark Materials Tony Watkins (IVP; $15)  This is perhaps the best, most thoughtful, solid evangelical study of the trilogy, the author's worldview, and the ways in which we can both appreciate and rightfully be concerned.  Highly recommended.

The Devil's Account: Philip Pullman & Christianity Hugh Rayment-Pickard (DLT; $14) Imported from England, written by an Anglican parish priest with a PhD in philosophy.  A very thoughtful and helpful overview.  This guy has enthusiastically read all of Pullman's other works, and is intrigued by his deep commitment to being an atheistic apologist.

Shedding Light on His Dark Materials
Kurt Bruner & Jim Ware (SaltRiver; $14.99)  This is the third of basic, small hardbacks this good duo has done (they've previously collaborated on an introduction to the religious themes in Lord of the Rings, and another on Narnia.)  Happily, they appreciate Pullmans good, Oxford-based writing, yet they show the stark difference in worldview between Lewis & Tolkien and Pullman.  Still, they reflect on some of the deeper themes, offering a reasonable response, and celebrate spiritual themes that appear, perhaps even in spite of Mr. Pullman's efforts to keep them out.  Very nicely done.

Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials  Donna Freitas & Jason King (Jossey-Bass; $17.95)  This will be a much-talked about book, a creative and thoughtful read, well done in every way.  Lauren Winner writes on the back, "Pullman emerges not as the atheist he always said he was, but as an unwitting witness to a divine force that longs to be with creation.  It will not only change how you read Pullman---it may change how you think about your own story, too."  Fun, feisty, helpful, and, well, maybe even right. 

Navigating the Golden Compass: Religion, Science and Daemonology in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials  Glen Yeffeth (Benbella Books; $17.95)  Just so you know that evangelical Christians aren't the only ones attempting to discern what to make of Mr. Pullman's deep philosophy, atheism, magic and revulsion against the church.  Several thoughtful authors, including well-known novelist Michael Chabon, scientists and philosophers weigh in with their critical evaluations.

There are just bunches of resources on the web for film reviews, thoughtful Christian cultural engagement, and places for open discussion.  I really want to remind you of two, two staffed by very good friends, reliable and like-minded folks.  Any friends of Hearts & Minds or readers of the BookNotes blog should also tune in to these:

Critique magazine, is a journal for Christian discernment, published by Ransom Fellowship.  Their website is spectacularly chock-full of movie and music reviews, articles, essays and useful teaching tools to help you grow in Biblical faithfulness.  www.ransomfellowship.org

And, for those interested in youth ministry, parents, teachers or those who care about teen culture, our favorite resource is doubtlessly the good folks at the center for parent and youth understanding.  In fact, they've got a brief review of The Golden Compass in their current issue of their online journal, Engage.  They are really good at helping youth think through this in-the-world-but-not-of-it  worldview perspective on pop culture.