About December 2007

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

November 2007 is the previous archive.

January 2008 is the next archive.

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

December 2007 Archives

December 1, 2007

Our two best Advent books---one free

god with us.jpgThere is no doubt that this new book is the best of the recent crop of Advent devotionals, and we are eager to tell you about it.  Who doesn't appreciate the time to slow down amidst the shopping craziness, to recapture some of the spiritual themes of waiting, repenting, longing for justice and re-committing to the incarnational ways of Christ's Kingdom?  Advent, as we all surely know, isn't quite the same as the ubiquitous countdown of the "shopping days until Christmas" schtick.  It is a profound time, even a dark time.  Careful religious reading for spiritual formation should be an essential practice to keep us on the journey.

And so, we announce God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, recently published by Paraclete Press (regularly priced at $26.95---but see our special price and bonus gift, below.)  Expertly edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe, this is a reader's delight: it includes contributions such as a very moving forward by Eugene Peterson, reflections by esteemed poet/mystic Scott Cairns, pieces by spiritual writer Emilie Griffin (do you know her books on prayer?), memoirist Kathleen Norris, the poet and writer Luci Shaw, the Catholic theologian and journalist, Richard John Neuhaus.  Wow.

This is a very handsome volume, illustrated with gentle art in subtle tones.  The rich, glossy paper gives it a certain quality that helps you realize--incarnationally?--that what you hold in your hands is not only beautiful, but good.  Mr. Pennoyer works in Canada as the co-founder of the Centre for Cultural Renewal and has directed a project of exhibitions around the themes of incarnation.  Mr. Wolfe is the renowned editor of Image, the impressive monthly journal on the arts and creative writing, It should come as no surprise, then, that this is one artsy presentation, a delicious book to behold, with only the very best writers. I hope you agree that it seems very, very right to have such an attractive volume for such an important use.

I like the copy on the dust jacket, which invites us to "put first things first, and seek silence, if only for a few precious minutes a day.  Now, ever more intently, we are to watch and listen for God."  It continues,
"God With Us is a companion for those who want to experience Christmas as the early Christians once did, set in the larger context of Advent and Epiphany.  Through daily meditations, Scripture, prayer, illuminating history and fine art, we experience what saints have glimpsed through the ages---the wonder of God made flesh."

We would like to offer an incentive to purchase this lovely and helpful book, and we will make an offer that we think is a perfect supplement to this handsome volume.  If you order this, we will send along, at no cost to you, a book we currently sell for $6.95, my absolute favorite daily devotional for Advent, the quite handsome paperback, The Advent of Justice (published by Dordt College Press.)  It was written with serious attention to the pertinent Hebrew Scriptures, the seasonal texts which are set in an era of political turmoil, national exile, international injustice and looming war.  Nobody has plumbed these powerful Bible passages for the season as have our H&M friends who have done this devotional collection, Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark VanderVennan and Richard Middleton.  You should know their names as they've all done books I've touted here; this is a greatest hits of good authors, each doing small daily readings with extraordinary insight and real contemporary power.

Advent of Justice will keep your thinking about the season rooted in the unfolding Biblical story, and remind you of texts and teachings that will shape you--in fidelty and hope-- long after the Advent season has passed.  We sell this book every year, and this year, we're willing to give it away, to compliment the lovely God With Us Advent devotional collection, which we are offering at a sale price, too.  Together, they will truly make a difference in your life, or will bless those with whom you might share these as an early Advent gift.  Enjoy!

Advent of Justice
with purchase of
God With Us
on sale for $25


December 3, 2007

a few more comments on God With Us

John the Baptist.jpgNativity.jpgI posted the other day on the lovely, lovely new book published by Paraclete, an Advent devotional called God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe. I could have written a longer review, naming its lavish quality, how much art there is--surprising stuff, interesting works, a wide range of styles and artists from various ages, including works that capture the essential human condition.  (That is, they are not all Biblical scenes.)  With a classy ribbon marker, it really is handsome.  I wanted you to know it is a very nice volume.

I thought I'd try to quote some from the fairly significant introduction by Peterson;  you may know that I like his writing style, and his Reformed vision that it is this Earth that is good, this creation that was so lovingly created is entered into by Jesus, is redeemed, thereby affirming our essential humanness and daily stuff, ahhhh, this is rich stuff.  I couldn't find a simple paragraph, as each one builds on the next.  It is vintage-style Eugene, and I'm trying even now to quote him for an essay I have to write for our local paper.  Anyway, that is just the beginning.

If you long to know more about the more liturgical styles of worship, the spirituality that is attentive to the seasons and rhythms of the church calendar, this is really nice.  As devotional literature, I'm finding it well worth pondering, and I keep carrying it around to different parts of the house (as do my wife and oldest daughter.)  We wanted to again tell you how great this book is.

The blog special is still in effect; check out the last post for the discounted price, and the  great free book offer.

Another thing I'll add, and it is also a great, great option for your holiday gift buying and personal enjoyment.  The very esteemed and smart young guys who call themselves Jars of Clay have a new Christmas recording out, Christimas Songs.  They've won Grammy's and stand out among their CCM peers as one of the best bands playing today, musically, artistically, lyrically.  We respect them immensely and really enjoy their music. I've prayed for them as they've been in the studio last year doing this, and feel connected to this...that they thank, again, in the liner notes our friend Steve Garber is indicative of something important, and some 6 degree thing...

The new Christmas disc is their signature style, very contemporary, edgy just a bit, acoustic rock.  If you've enjoyed their praise and hymns projects, Christmas Songs is a CD you will surely want to get.  They do some great old time Christmas songs, some rare, very interesting ones, a few new ones, and even redeem what I've sometimes said was my least favorite Christmas pop song ever.  Only this band can do that, and Jars has the spiritual and intellectual and social insight to know what a project like this is all about.  They've done a companion, small hardback book, too, with matching cover, called Peace is Here.  Proceeds, you should know, go to their extraordinary Blood:Water Mission.  More on that, later...

Jars of Clay Christmas.jpg
Jars of Clay
Christmas Songs

December 5, 2007

Indelible Grace V Wake Thy Slumbering Children

Wake Thy Slumbering Children.jpgI don't have time now to describe this in great length, nor review it giving it the justice it deserves.  The new, fifth, Indelible Grace recording is now out, and we are thrilled to be stocking it.  I have listened to it repeatedly this week, and, I am not ashamed to say it moved me to tears, driving down Route 74.  The piece that so moved me---lovely, austere, almost, is a slow piano-based version of an old Fanny Crosby song, "O Heart Bereaved and Lonely."  This time of year, especially, there is a lot of grieving to be done, and it is hard, for so many reasons, in December.   I'll bet you, like me, know somebody who needs permission to mourn, in Christ, with hope, this season, and several of the tender, utterly faith-filled songs on the album could help. 

Indelible Grace, for those who don't know, was the brainchild of the fabulous PCA college pastor, musician, engineer, artist (and mean dobro player) Kevin Twit.  The band (which is a patched together variety of good folks, some known, like, say, Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb, or Caedmon's Call vocalist, Andrew Orsenga, and others less known) does old hymns, set to new tunes.  They've got a mostly acoustic, Americana roots-rock sort of feel, although this album has more groove than the other four, I think.  One or two songs get the blues thang goin' and it is really very effective.  I don't know if MixMaster Twit was listening to Nothin' But a Burning Light-era Cockburn, masterly produced by T-Bone Burnett, but there is some of that vibe there on a few tracks.  I'm tellin' ya, this is cool stuff, and the recording sound/texture stands out as very warm, honest, not so popping perfect that it feels mass produced.  I don't know how they did it, technically, but it is good.

The best point, though, is the sheer profundity of the lyrics of these old songs. The new tunes are really fabulous, fun, most designed for sing-along, and yet they are sometimes movingly powerful.  But the words, ah, these words.  I usually love contemporary praise and worship stuff, I often really do, but there just isn't this kind of lyrical artisty and solid theology around these days.  One need not read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death to know that intelligent writing, poetry, lyric and theological literacy among common folk has drifted in the last century, and that (some) older songs are carried with a richness of prose and a spiritual maturity that is just dazzling.  And so, we are understandably moved.  It is why the first four Indelible recordings have such a cult-following;  younger folks are longing for serious stories, mature lyric, honest faith and room to lament.  Kevin and others of the I.Grace movement have written about the need for hymns and their motivation to re-tool them for postmodern times, and it makes wonderful reading.  Hearing any of the albums is that much more meaningful, knowing how seriously they take it all. 

And, it isn't just that they are recapturing older songs for rich lyrics, but because some of the ancient hymns captured what they believe needs to be said and sung: a Christ-centeredness,  finding great joy in the Cross and its work, a gladness about salvation through grace, an emphasis on the majesty and sovereignty of God, a glorious vision of the rescued world, an honesty about the human condition, the mystical mercies of God.  Not all old songs are right on;  they pick the good ones, and the blessing is ours.  Thanks much to Kevin, Matthew Smith, and the others who work hard, musically and theologically, to do this great stuff. Check out their website for stories of the original hymn-writers (whose lives were often dreadfully sad), an open forum on these concerns, and for clips, downloadable stuff, guitar chords, etc.  Especially see the articles listed under "resources."  Wow.

If you'd like, skip back to read the review here I did when Mr. Smith did his solo project, All I Owe, last spring.  He has a cool Christmas album, too, very acoustic guitar driven, standard tunes for the most part. 

Order here, asap, or call 717.246.3333.
 We sell 'em each for $15.00

December 8, 2007

Unusual Advent and Christmas books for young and old

Some holiday books are almost boring, or overly sentimental.  Saccharine sweet, cozy.  And some others are, well, downright weird.  Happily, there are options.  There are really creative and artful tellings of the tale, that avoid schlock or shock.  You have read about our favorite devotionals this year, but here are some others, perhaps a bit off the beaten path, but truly fascinating and edifying.

christmas with Bonhoeffer.JPGChristmas With Deitrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg Fortress) $11.99  Bonhoeffer shows how the birth of a child brings about the transformation of all things; one of the great Christian leaders and thinkers of the Hitler resistance, this new rendering of the sparse text is on full color paper, in a very handsome, warm attractive hardback.  The graphic design is stellar, the prose solid and thoughtful.

Sermons for Advent and the Christmas Season Bernard of Clairvaux (Cistercian Publications) $24.95.  One of the most important medieval writers, it is fascinating to dip into the best Christian thinking about the holidays, long before contemporary understandings took hold.  By the way, we stock a similar volume of sermons by Augustine of Hippo, and a great paperback called  Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel: Ancient Sermons and Hymns for Contemporary Christian Inspiration edited by John Witvliet and David Vroege (Baker; $12.99) which, besides one entry from Calvin and one from Luther, are all pre-reformation readings.

Advent and Christmas Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton  (Liguori) $9.95  Last year we sold others in this lovely little series, Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri Nouwan and Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Thomas Merton.  Chesterton's smart "New War on Christmas" (1925) is worth the price of the book.  He reminds us, as only he would, that "you cannot suddenly be frivolous [on Christmas day] unless you believe there is a serious reason for being frivolous."

Cloth for the Cradle: Worship Resources and readings for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany  Iona Community Wild Goose Worship Group (GIA) $ 15.95  We carry some other stuff by John Bell and the feisty, artistic, contemplative, justice-seeking gang at Iona.  Good for worship planning, although some use it just for personal devotions, even if most are designed for participative worship.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation Luci Shaw (Eerdmans) $15.00 There are lots of poetry collections out there, but Luci's is one of our favorites.  With blurbs on the back from the likes of Scott Cairns, Julia Kasdorf and Jack Leax, this deserves to be taken seriously.  A nice paperback, the poems tell not only of the Advent waiting, annoucements, nativity and birth, but of the life and teachings, friends and enemies, death and resurrection of Christ, as well.  Much here would be useful year "Ëœround, but most are for the upcoming season.

Magi: A Novel Daniel Gilbert (Paraclete) $17.95  We have a fondness for Paraclete's nice fiction, and the deep blues and browns on the cover this novella speak of the richness of the story, the fictionalized account of one Ramates, one of the Magi, on his darkest day, and into his quest to discover the truth of the ancient prophecy.

Star of Wonder  Leena Lane & Elena Baboni (Abingdon) $14  This children's Bible story book is oversized, delightful, the artwork whimsical without being cute; seriously artistic without being (too) weird.  It tells the full story pretty directly, but it reads well out loud. 

the nativity vivas.JPGThe Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas (Voyager) $7  We are so glad this is now out in paperback;  it was an ALA Notable Children's Book, and has won awards from a variety of the best children's lit journals.  The text is the King James Version, and the heartwarming, unusual and playful watercolor illustrations are spectacular.  This is the most pregnant Mary ever drawn, and the third-world peasant look is most likely pretty accurate.  The angel of the Lord with her big "Ëœol wings and untied army boots is mind-blowing, allusive in oodles of ways.

Angels Among Us  Leena Lane & Elena Baboni (Eerdmans) $17  Baboni, the illustrator, lives in Italy and her day job includes restoring ancient Master's paintings, so she is well schooled in the arts.  Here, various Bible stories of angels are retold, with powerful, contemporary, slightly askew visuals, making this a powerful reflection, appealing to younger or somewhat older children.  The unusual illustrations keep one on one's toes while reading about such remarkable episodes from redemptive history.

christmas in the trenches.JPGChristmas in the Trenches  John McCutcheon & Henri Sorensen (Peachtree) $18.95  One of the best publishers of illustrated children's books offers a beautifully told--told by a grandpa--- and gorgeously illustrated telling of the night during World War I when soldiers stopped fighting to sing Stille Nacht, and Silent Night, in two languages, together.  The well-loved folk-song story of it is sung by John McCutcheon on a CD.  (You should know him for his various hammer dulcimer albums and renown in the folk music world.)  This is a grand story, one of hope, humanity, peacemaking and yet a bit sad.  After that moment, how did they go back to the killing the next day?

A Northern Nativity  William Kurelek  (Tundra Books) $9.95  Kurelek was a renowned Canadian artist (who fell out of favor in the late 70s when he did a series of anti-abortion paintings.)  Here, he tells, in lovely lyrical prose, of his Depression-era childhood in the far north, and what it would be like to have Jesus born into that world of indigenous fisher folk, Amish buggies, lumberjacks, cowboys and igloos and boxcars.  What a mystical and moving vision of incarnation and cultural contextualization.
Snow Angels CD  Over the Rhine (RedEye) $16.95  Well, what does one say about the husband and wife duo known for smoky vocals, exceptionally artistic lyrics, playing and production, and amazing, moving pop ballads and blues?  This is a ton of fun, really, really sexy, with a couple of overtly redemptive carols and a lot of wintertime cheer, pop music for grown-ups.  Nearly a continuation of their recent Trumpet Child, which some folks in the know are calling the best album of 2007. 

We would be pleased if you ordered any of these, or any other books or music you may need. 

December 10, 2007

Christmas and the Redemption of Stuff

My column in theYork Sunday News hasn't been posted at their website yet, so I thought I would impose upon your good graces and have you read the whole thing here.  It was longer, and this is the cut-down edition that appeared in the paper.  With a word limit, one cuts some of the colorful turns of phrases, then the adjectives, and deletes the cumbersome qualifications that create nuance.  So here ya go, my blunt celebration of materialism.

I doubt if many BookNotes readers will find the implications I draw from a theology of incarnation too disagreeable, but if you want to explore this affirmation of creation, which serves as a foundation for the celebration of (rather than the negation of) creaturely life and cultural renewal, check out our often recommended Creation Regained by Al Wolters, say, or one of the best books on the New Earth, a brief but potent reflection from Isaiah, When the Kings Go Marching In by Richard Mouw, or even Ron Sider's excellent Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger where, in a book on economic justice, global poverty and simple lifestyles, he makes a ringing endorsement of this world as God's good creation.  No strains of gnosticism there, or other-worldy piety, thanks be to God. A lovely, lovely new set of reflections are found in Shauna Niequist's Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life.  These books each insist on just living and care for the social fabric, but also are joyful about the created realities of the world, human endeavors, culture, beauty and such. 

And so, think this stuff through these next weeks.  For instance, in that great Isaac Watts hymn, does the line go "born to raise the sons of Earth" or "born to raise us from the Earth"?  Hear, hear for the former, despite the masculine language.  Thumbs down for the later, no matter how well-intentioned some revisionist hymnals.  "The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes"?  Hold your nose and cough loudly and tell your children that sometimes even our most lovely church traditions are, well, dead-wrong.  Be sure to ponder the implications of lines like the one about the redemptive blessings extending "Far as the curse is found..."  Joy to the world, indeed!

Anyway, here is my call to celebrate the materiality of Christmas, even as we resist crass Xmas commercialization.  Was I tacky or self-indulgent to invite people, as they ponder the ethical implications of shopping justly, to support indie stores and artisans?  Are we being somehow righteous in the call to the small-mart revolution, or just self-righteous?  Small stores can be complicit in sweatshops, and large stores surely do large charitable donations,  so I realize it isn't simple.  Small may be beautiful, as Schumacher wrote so many years ago, but it ain't easy.  And so, I write this as much to continue a conversation with myself.

Simply Enough.gifBe sure to see the details after the column: We've got the new DVD by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo that will surely add some spice to this conversation.  Simply Enough is billed as "Straight Talk from Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne on Simple, Just Living."  Serious stuff presented with great and zany passion.

So, from The York Sunday News, December 9, 2007


As sure as autumn arrives, the chorus starts, one I've joined for years, lamenting the early appearance of Christmas merchandise at the mall.  Decades ago, griping about the commercialization of Christmas felt subversive; we pitted the peasant Jesus who disdained materialism against the merchants of cool and their environmentally-damaging, soul-deadening  junk..

Our culture continues its dive into greed and overspending, driven by relentless media images of the good life---defined as wealth, sex appeal, success.  Remember when our President solemnly advised, after the 9-11 attacks,  "Go shopping"?  The critique of Xmas commerce may be commonplace, but it is urgent.

Nevertheless, it's time to speak in favor of materialism.  Not the sort trumpeted by Trump, but a wholesome version based on theological affirmations of, well, stuff.  This world, the Christmas story assures us, is good.  It was into this world that God came, in Jesus.  We remember the stuff of the story---manger, stars, camels, kings, and, supremely, the baby, who made the stuff, after all.  By entering this world, Christ honors it.  Growing up here, He died for the world he so loves, rising to reign over, to be precise, the stuff.  The Christmas story reminds us that there is a Savior with dirty feet, who rescues the Earth upon which he trod.

In a new Advent book, God With Us, Presbyterian writer Eugene Peterson explores how the particularity of incarnation should inform our "everydayness."  Some eccentric stories circulate that imply that Jesus wasn't fully human, that it is better to be spiritual than physical, that disdain the everyday stuff of life.  Some faiths believe this, but not Biblical folk.  Peterson insists "Christmas forces us to deal with all the mess of our humanity in the context of God who has already entered that mess in the glorious birth of Jesus." 

So, let's hear it for a little bit of shopping and revelry.  Let's not be scrooges about the materiality of our seasonal customs.  The Bethlehem baby grew up, you'll recall, and earned a reputation for being a party-er.

Serious Jews, it seems, have less difficulty with this than some church people.  The Hebrew Scriptures are so earthy and Jewish faith practices are so often physical---keeping kosher, sitting shiva---that their faith is understood in bodily terms, down-to-Earth.  This is, Christmas teaching insists, a good thing. 

Jesus was, after all, Jewish, as were his mother and stepfather.  His own development included apprenticing at a working trade and learning to walk the ways of faithfulness, day by day.

We dare not pretend that Jesus was angelic, not a real baby, who grew up to be a real man.  He was not beyond the messiness of real life.  Christian disciples follow this Messiah into the marketplace and we ought not eschew the sensual stuff of real life.  Jesus is born into this messy stable, and it is our glad duty to figure out how to honor Him in all aspects of ordinary life.

So, this year, wrap your gifts with a little extra flourish---God loves the colors, and smiles on generosity.  Enjoy green wreathes and boughs; God gets the credit for thinking up something as cool as pine trees.  String lights all over, recalling that Jesus is called "the light of the world."  If you get to kiss your sweetie under the mistletoe, recall that it was God who created those romantic possibilities; if you don't have a sweetheart, take courage, since Jesus Himself grew up single.  Cheer for your football team with gusto, knowing that recreation and play, too, are part of God's intent for the world.  Those who are grieving may find consolation in the great sadnesses that surround the Biblical story.

    Think about your shopping choices, too.  For God's sake, avoid stuff that harms people or our community.  (Shame on those who commemorate the Prince of Peace by buying war toys or violent computer games.)  Join the small-mart revolution and spend some dough with independent shops and artisans who care about you and your neighborhood.  God cares about our local economy and His heart breaks as we build commerce around big box establishments that may rely on sweatshops and global injustices.  Incarnational principles can inform the way we think about consumer culture, and the holiday rush is a perfect time to ponder the ethics of our marketplace choices.

It is easy to bemoan the commercialization of holidays.  It may take imagination, but Christmas theology equips us to explore practices that unite the so-called sacred and secular ---"let heaven and nature sing!"  Let's shop as if stuff really mattered---where it comes from, who sells it, for what purposes.  Let's infuse our holiday habits with holiness.
Since Christmas teaches incarnation---God joining the material world--- we can act in ways that show what difference it all means.  From spending wisely and sharing extravagantly, to shopping justly and cultivating hospitality, may this season be a time to celebrate God's redemption of the stuff of our lives. 

Thanks for reading.  What do you think?  In a world of homelessness, poverty and so many good agencies that need our donations, is it right to talk about redemptive materialism?  Is shopping justly even a possibility in these next weeks? Can celebrating the glories of incarnation be an excuse for self-indulgence?  There are plenty of websites and resources to join you in your struggle for faithfulness these days, and we'd recommend a visit to the Advent Conspiracy (replace consumption with compassion) or the interesting blog Subversive Influence and his Advent blogging project on the Daily Offices. The Presbyterian Church has an Advent webpage called "Enough for Everyone" with oodles of great suggestions.  My friend Joel has a blog called Know Justice, Be Justice and he has a great video link, and some thoughtful conversations called "the stuff on stuff."  And I can give one more push for the powerful Bible-based Advent devotional The Advent of Justice, which frames the concerns for new lifestyles of justice and shalom in the Biblical promises of redemption and restoration. Browse back a few entries for some further description of that important little study.

Please check out, and bookmark, the regularly updated site from our old friends at Alternatives for Simple Living, who produced the new Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne Simple Enough DVD.  It offers six sessions (Lifestyle, Food, Celebrations, Stuff, Money, Justice) each about 12 minutes or so with a great discussion/action guide.  There is also more than a half hour of extra bonus footage---from Papa Fest, the wonderful Shane story of gathering shoes at Willow Creek, some commercials, some conversation on "cultural goals" and footage of Tony getting arrested in civil disobedience.   It sells usually for $17 and we are offering it for $15.  Trying to make it simple for ya.


December 13, 2007

The Bible and the University (Volume 8 in the Scripture & Hermeneutics Series)

Bible in the University.jpgThe Scripture & Hermeneutics Series which Zondervan has valiantly been releasing over the past several years, has published a new volume that I've been wanting to write about.  Granted, the academic level and specific topics make this a touch eccentric; this time of year I should be plugging the latest best sellers.  There are some swell, ordinary books I'd love to promote, and hope that you'll consider ordering here for any of your bookish gift-giving needs.  But this is too good to wait any longer.  Who knows, maybe some BookNotes readers will want to put it on their little list to Santa.

The Bible and the University edited by David Lyle Jeffrey & C. Stephen Evans (Zondervan; $34.95) is volume 8 in this series, the last, by the way, of an on-going international, interdisciplinary, academic project.  The important series has been overseen by Craig G. Bartholomew and Anthony C.Thiselton, if that gives you a sense of the solid and heady tone.  We've especially enjoyed some of our neo-Calvinist friends who end up in some of them---Al Wolters, for instance, a scholar from whom I am always on the lookout for new work, or Eastern University's Ray Van Leeuwen, whose piece on language in the second volume is brilliant, although the series is happily quite ecumenical.  Joel Green from Asbury (United Methodist), for instance, co-edited the Luke volume and Mary Healy, a lay Roman Catholic woman, co-edited several, including the one called Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation.  Brevard Childs attended one of their events and wrote a chapter, and Walt Bruggemann has contributed. Christopher Seitz has worked with them and, of course, Kevin VanHoozer.  N.T. Wright, natch. And some surprising folk: Jean Vanier?  Alvin Plantinga?  The Center for Public Justice's James Skillen has a very important critique of Richard Hays in volume 3, which was a remarkable interaction with the political theology of Oliver O'Donovan. That one is entitled A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically and was packed with insightful, serious essays---good for this next year, obviously.   Last year volume 6 came out, which was a fascinating collection called Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation; earlier this year volume 7 released, a gathering of pieces on the notion of the canon, and how the overview of the canon helps us do interpretation. (Tremper Longman on wisdom, for instance, and Gordon Wenham on Psalm, all seen within the context of the history of redemption.)   Great, diverse authors, doing Very Important Work.

The Bible and the University has gotten endorsements from folks as diverse as Stanley Hauerwas, Richard John Neuhaus, and Mark A. Noll.  There's some heavy hitting going on just on the back-jacket blurbs!   Mark Noll concludes his rave review, noting, ""¦.  as the final volume in a very important series, this book offers an unusually compelling wealth of information, assessment, encouragement, and admonition both for a better understanding of Scripture and for its deployment in the contemporary world."  Any serious book that helps that---understanding and deploying the Bible--- ought to be on our radar screens, eh?  Know any libraries, at least, you could donate this, or others in the series, to?  Any church resource centers?  Campus ministry offices?  To struggle with how the Bible has been understood, used, ignored or honored in American higher education is itself quite a story, and some of these dense chapters are very, very interesting.

Take, for instance, the opening salvo, a lucid introduction by David Lyle Jeffrey's exploring how authority works, being shaped by wisdom and Book.  Later, this theme is somewhat picked up by Dallas Willard on his excellent, philosophical piece on knowing, and the role of the Bible in knowledge.  Al Wolters has a splendid chapter No Longer Queen: The Theological Disciplines and Her Sisters.  Glen Olson has a chapter called The Spiritual Sense(s) Today and Robert Roberts--an excellent scholar and deeply thoughtful spiritual writer---has a chapter on psychology and the New Testament.  Although it is serious scholarship, David I. Smith has an extraordinary chapter that teachers should read, called Biblical Imagery and Educational Imagination: Comenius and the Garden of Delight. Smith is a Brit who co-wrote a fabulous book on the Biblical themes of hospitality to strangers as a key insight for learning about foreign language study.  We carry his weighty The Role of the Bible in Education, too, which we import from the Kuyers Institute in England.  Good stuff to find this great piece here.

Other chapters are quite detailed: Scott Hahn has a piece on the exegesis of Pope Benedict, as a way into the critique of historical criticism, offering up a thoughtful ecclesial locus as an alternative for faithful interpretation.
Byron Johnson directs a serious research program at Baylor, and serves as a Fellow of the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton.  He argues for the need for empirical data on American Biblical literacy, and explores the question what difference all this makes; his work with at-risk youth makes his appeal especially poignant.  Lawyers, legal scholars, law students or professors know the name Robert F. Cochran, Jr., and here he writes a fabulous overview of questions of the Bible and Biblical authority in his approach to jurisprudence and legal studies.  Similarly, Roger Lundin is a major figure in the studies of literature, and the historical development of American lit.  His chapter, As If God Were Dead looks at questions of Biblical authority in Emerson, Melville and Emily Dickinson. Wow.

And there are others, including a powerful closing piece by C. Stephen Evans.  If you are familiar with, say, Books and Culture, or the Christian Scholars Review, you will know many of these contributors.  To find them in one volume makes for a great way to dip into the various intellectual leaders of evangelicalism; to see them explore how the Bible has or hasn't been used in the university---the breeding-ground for intelligentsia and societal gate-keepers of Western culture---is certainly urgent for any of us that long for long-term, radical social reformation. That they explore this not only for the sake of the university, or for gospel impact in the culture, but as a part of this multi-book project to help us interpret wisely, to read well, the think faithfully about God's word, well, maybe this is the sort of book we should be promoting this Christmas.

Click here to get to the project's page, and by clicking on the covers you can find the chapters and authors for each volume.  What a stellar gathering of some of the most thoughtful Biblical scholars of our time. We stock them all.
The Bible in the University
$10 off


Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA 17313    717.246.3333

December 15, 2007

New monthly review column: What about The Golden Compass?

Yes, I've finally added a new monthly review, just like I used to. You can find my lengthy review article over at theGolden_Compass.jpg website by clicking here.

Be warned:  I called this column this time "A Long Answer to a Good Question" and I offer the questions about Philip Pullman's well-written, anti-Christian fantasy Dark Materials novels and the Golden Compass movie as a case study of the stages of reading and the sorts of questions we need to have resolved prior to coming to a conclusion about any particular cultural artifact, controversial policy question, book, movie, TV show, rock album, political program or what have you.  I offer a ramble through some of our favorite books that are helpful, generally speaking, about wise cultural discernment, from worldview books to stuff about cultural engagement, from resources on the arts to learning a bit about literary criticism and film studies, to, finally, a few good books from wise perspectives about the controversial Pullman anti-God novels and movie.  Not only do I describe a bunch of books, there are some great web links to connect you to some other folks, too, that write about culture, the arts, and such.

I hope some of these books are familiar to you, and I hope a few might be ordered from us.  Any thoughts?

December 18, 2007

Devotionals for Younger Teens

The other day a customer asked about some suggestions for their younger teenage girl and after chatting a bit, I sent them a list of recommended books.  Yesterday, an older brother of a middle school fella asked for some ideas.  Again, there were so many that I could suggest, but none, really, that was the perfect thing.  So much, as I suggested to each of them, depends on the particular kid, their interests, academic level, developmental stage, interest in their own faith development and such.

I've got plenty of academic resources for serious youth workers or parents, and other resources on nurturing the faith of teenagers, for parents, youth leaders, or mentors.  The request, though, was for short devotionals, for thoughtful, somewhat dedicated younger youth.  Hmmm...

Here are my two little lists, offered to those particular customers, who had told me more about the youngster in their life, and their particular interests and hopes for the book.  Here's what I came up with, for starters.  Thought somebody out there might like to see them, or add others.


Love This.jpgLove This: Leaning to Make it a Way of Life, Not Just a Word  Andy Braner (invert) $12.99  I love this as it invites youth to see how to love others. Some chapters are fairly routine, others get into their perceptions and possibly ministry with often needy groups---homeless folks, homosexuals, etc.  Very nice Bible studies with excellent application to real life.
Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ Dallas Willard and Randy Frazee (think) $9.99  The extraordinary work by Dallas Willard (Renovation of the Heart) put into an interactive journal for youth.  All about becoming more Christ-like by submitting to His spirit to change us---from the inside out.  Great, but a bit demanding, more as a book to think through together than little devotions.
Stories for the Extreme Teens Hearts  compiled by Alice Gray (Multnomah) $12.99  Sort of like "Chicken Soup for the Soul" this is a great collection of stories of real teens, who say "yes" to God.  Many of the entries are drawn from other books, good excerpts from here and there.  Most readings conclude with a Scripture next, or something to thing about.
My Time With God for Students (Nelson) $14.99  The passage of the day is actually written out, with a reflection, questions, closing prayer, etc.  Pretty cool, for a whole year, in the easy-to-read NCV.
Devotions for the Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton (Word) $13.99  Many young girls look up to this blond, brave and very determined teen (who lost her arm, but still surfs competitively as a 16 year old.)  Here, she offers her bits of insights for daily living, with a closing verse at the end of each reading. Pretty fun stuff.
What's A Girl To Do? Finding Faith in Everyday Life  Dristi Holl Zondervan) $9.99  This is a 90 day reading from the FaithGirlz series, which were designed for middle schoolers.  This might be a bit youngish for your daughter, but it is very cool, very relevant, and nicely done.  We've liked the juvenile novels and daily living guides they've done, and here they've given the book a slightly more mature look, but still for 12-14 year olds, I'd say.  Nice.
Burn This Book: Ignite a New Life With God  Garth Heckman (refuge) $10.99  This uses the burn and ignite and be on fire metaphors through-out (my son would have liked that in his younger highschool days!)  The author invites kids to really get committed, to allow God to burn away the "wood, hay, and stubble" of their lives (I Corinthians 3:12-13.)  The discussion questions are called "kindling starters."


Live Like a Jesus Freak: Spend Today as if it were your Last DC Talk (Albury) 12.99  A very cool, textured brown paperback, with rough-cut think cream paper, this looks a bit like an old journal, and it is a call to radical Christ-following commitment, with a reminder of how others have done this through the ages.  Pretty handsome, kinda cool, fairly serious, and even if dc Talk are not longer at the top of the charts, they've pretty solid guys. 
Dirty Faith: Becoming the Hands and Fee of Jesus  Audio Adrenaline (think) $12.99  It doesn't matter if Audio is not so popular as a band anymore, this is a great book about actually following Jesus, serving Him in daily ways, and with concern for the needy, poor, lost, etc.  Has a great, hard, missional feel to it, using the Message paraphrase.  I'm very impressed with this simple call to make a difference by being Christ's agents.
My Faith  Kurt Johnston & Mark Oestreicher (invert) $9.99  This is from a recent line of books for middle schoolers put out by youth specialty.  There is one on family, one on friends, one on school, this one on faith.  Pretty darn nice, designed for middle school kids.
2:52 Devotions to Take You Deeper Ed Strauss (Zonderkidz) $9.99  This is a devotional that goes along with the whole 2:52 line (Jesus grew "smarter, stronger, deeper, cooler" as they paraphrase Luke 2:52 in the series tagline.)  On the back it says these are "A Daily Dose of Wisdom to Help a Boy Grow Strong in Spirit" and it isdevotions to take you deeper.jpg perfect for this age group.  I think these are solid, interesting, kinda edgy, to retain the interest of younger boys.  A 90-day devotional, highly recommended. 
Burn This Book: Ignite a New Life WIth God  Garth Heckman (refuge) $10.99  This comes with a parental advisory label on the front, indicating that the chiled just may burn this thing;  the ignite and burn and get on fire metaphor is carried on relentlessly (and they really do advise you to burn the book, in kind of a closure ritual, indicating your going to live it out, and not keep it abstract, on paper.)  There are 30 Devotions, some further stuff called "Fire Facts" relevant quotes, "fire starter" discussion/reflection questions.  Beside the getting fired up image, it is a study of i Corinthians 3:12-134, about God burning away the wood, hay, stuble, etc... When my son was younger, this would have been about the only thing he'd read.  Even now, if it involves blowing stuff up (he's 20, on a road trip to Chatanooga tonight, in fact, to go rock climbing) he just might be interested.
How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig  Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (illustrated by Slug Signorino)  $9.95  This is a bit dated---a long, horizontal book with cartoons---as it came out about 20 years ago.  It was written by Francis Schaeffer's daughter, for middle school kids;  very sharp, on the meaning of life, the nature of truth, how we know stuff, how to resist the dehumanization that comes from American culture and the tendencies to not take character fromation seriously.  This is the closest thing to "worldview" formation and apologetics that is youth-friendly, fun, goofy, and really, really important.  Not a devotional, but a surprising book, I think, and some folks think it is fabulous, still.


Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA 17313  717.246.3333

December 19, 2007

Two Incredible Books for Students and Youth Workers

The other day I listed some fairly ordinary, thoughtful, nice books that were devotional in nature, for younger high schools kids. We have a large selection of books for kids and teens, so do let us know if we might help you further.

You know---please say you know this---that we have announced that this summer a book came out written by two of my very best friends, designed for older high school students or collegiates, on taking one's faith to college.  It is THE best gift to give a Christian college student, or an open-minded seeker and is called The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos; $13.95.) 
Trust me, there is nothing like it in print, and it is fun, funny, and very solid in how it invites serious discipleship, theOutrageous Idea.jpg development of the Christian mind, a reason for being in college that is something other than the American dream. the deep integration of faith and learning.  Taking faith to college is essential; taking faith into the college classroom, thinking in outrageously creative and normative ways, seeking God's Kingdom, even amidst classes and papers, sports teams and bull sessions, homework and research, well, this is the book that can provide meaning, purpose, challenge, joy and and integral spirituality for students.  I'll bet you can think of somebody that would find this book to be a true gift.  Maybe you could offer it as a 12-day of Christmas gift or New Year's present before students go back to school for the Winter Semester. Go to www.academicfaithfulness.com to learn more. 

deep justice.jpgAnother book I really would love to get some early enthusiasm about is a brand new youth ministry book (that would also be good, by the way, for college ministry groups) that just came out.  It is a book--again, this is just extraordinary---that would not have been published even a decade ago.  Thank goodness, the stuff we've worked and prayed for, including a reformation of the religious publishing world, is coming to pass.  Get this:
Deep Justice in a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them is written by Chap Clark & Kara E. Powell, two of the sharpest folk in youth ministry circles these days.  It is published by Youth Specialties ($18.99) who has long offered some pretty good resources for youth workers, Sunday school teachers, parents and others who work with teens.  This places them, in my view, into a whole new league.  "Don't waste another minute doing mediocre service" it shouts on the back, and it offers research, insights and practical ideas that can go beyond simply trying to motivate your kids to care about others, but can help them learn the deeper structural injustices about why people are oppressed and hurting in the first place.

"The poor and oppressed" is a commonly used phrase in Scripture, and as Ron Sider (see, for instance, one of the most important books in religious publishing in the 20th century, the must-read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger) has taught, the Bible insists that  God's people, shaped by His heart and worldview, speak up as advocates for structural change, social reformation and political renewal on behalf of those who have little voice or acess to power.  As social justice ministries are increasingly being discovered within evangelical circles (in ways the religious right never imagined) and as a wholistic, Kingdom-vision for youth ministry takes hold, we will increasingly need books like this.  I can name a handful of youth ministry books published in the last 30 years that are truly benchmarkers (for instance the now-classic The God-Bearing Life by Kendra Creasy Dean which spawned books like this year's excellent Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation by Mike King.)  Deep Justice may be one of those.

There are significant contributions to this book, and you may know some of the stellar cast who helped with it:  Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Lisa Thompson, John Perkins, Rudy Carrasco and others.  This is a truly amazing collection, and the authors have assembly what is surely a must-have book for anyone who works with youth, is intersted in social justice in the church, or helps with short term missions or social action.  Yeeaaah.

By the way, although you needn't read it first, in a sense this is a follow-up to the very good Deep Ministry in a Shallow World (Youth Specialties; $18.99) that Kara and Chap co-wrote last year.  Doesn't the title alone call you to think more deeply about the ways in which we nurture our youth, and what sort of youth groups, teen fellowships and college ministry programs we promote?  Again, we are so grateful that these kinds of resources are available, and that our readers may be able to help us get the word out to those who need to know.  Why not forward this BookNotes to the youth worker or volunteer at your church?  Thanks. 

20% off
any of the books mentioned today

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA 17313   717.246.3333

December 21, 2007

Eyes to See: A great new short story collection

eyes to see.JPGDo you know anyone that would love a great, classy gift, a hardback anthology of a good handful of some of the best short stories of the ages, written with a view to give argument for and texture to the Christian gospel?  Do you know any lit lovers who would appreciate a slightly late gift, brand spanking new, though, a book that will most likely be missed in the already-in-progress Best of the Year lists?  This is what they call a sleeper, and we want to wake book lovers up to it.  Wouldn't you like to kick back some holiday day next week and spend some graced time with excellent writing and tall tales, created by true masters of the craft?

Eyes To See is edited by contemporary novelist Bret Lott and described on the spectacularly inviting cover as "a collection of enduring stories that challenge and inspire."  Kudos to Nelson (a publisher I roundly criticized a month or so ago in the blog) for offering this wonderful gathering of our best authors.

 It sells for $22.95, but we have a blog special price of $20.00.  We will pay your shipping costs, too.  Merry Christmas!

Here's what's included:

"The Blue Cross" by G. K. Chesterton
"A Father's Story" by Andre Dubus
"The Final Martyrs" by Shusaku Endo
"The Christmas Wife" Helen Norris
"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
"What Men Live By" by Leo Tolstoy
"The Widow's Mite" by Anthony Trollope
"The Story of the Other Wise Man" by Henry Van Dyke
"Silent Passangers" by Larry Woiwode

There is a very nice introduction here by Mr. Lott, and a one-page bio of each of the chosen authors.  The typeface is nice, the hardback binding makes it something nicer than the cheap paperbacks to which anthologies so often get relegated.  I predict that as this volume becomes known, new book groups will blossom.  Perhaps you should start one.  If you do let us know.  The staff of Hearts & Minds would be thrilled to learn of new reading clubs formed, all because we give this a much-deserved shout out.  Happy holidays, and happy reading.

free shipping
Eyes to See

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA 17313   717.246.3333

December 27, 2007

Who Stole My Church?: a new book by Gordon MacDonald

I have long admired Gordon MacDonald, and read most of his clear-headed, balanced, passionate, thoughtful bookswho stole my church.JPG on organizing one's life for Christian growth and solid discipleship.  He is honest, straight-forward, mature, and, although pleasant, utterly no-nonsense.  He's forward thinking and pastoral, but what you see is what you get.  He's not interested in hipster glitz or po-mo edginess, fads or fashions.  He's trying to help church folk get serious, learn skills of maturity, developing into people of strong character who can withstand the hard times of real life. (His last book was on resilience and was very useful.)   He wants to make a difference for God, and he understands much about how to do that.  I enjoy and respect him.

His new book draws on years of pastoral experience and---a bit surprisingly---is written as a novel, in a clever first person narrative.  The book, Who Stole My Church? offers this on the front cover: "What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century."  (Nelson; $21.99.)  Although not just about church conflict, the story unfolds about a fairly typical, evangelically-minded congregation in New England (he swears it is not one he has pastored, nor are the characters based on real-life people) who have "builder" generation folk perplexed and frustrated by younger members who are making changes in the congregational ethos, spiritual sensibilities and mission of their church.  I believe, young or old, progressive or traditionalist, you will find this to be a helpful exploration of being church in our times.  I hear of church conflict around these themes---folks pushing too hard for change, folks resisting change, earnest folks trying to discern what sort of change is most appropriate---nearly every single day here in the shop.  Before I even started reading, I said right out loud: "Man, I wished I could have had this ten years ago" and proceeded to list a few friends, family members and churches who needed someone wise to walk through this stuff with them.

From the Preface:

The title of this book, Who Stole My Church?, springs from a conversation a few years ago with a distraught man who felt betrayed by the church he had invested in for most of his adult years.  From his perspective everything had changed---overnight, he said---into something that made him feel like a stranger in the place he'd always thought of as his spiritual home.

I listened to him describe what sounded like ecclesiastical carnage. Programs had been dumped, traditional music trashed, preaching styles and topics revolutionized, symbols of reverence (appropriate clothing, crosses, communion tables, and pulpits come to mind) thrust aside.

His anguish (and his anger) began with a young pastor who had been appointed with a challenge from the church's leadership to "stir things up with a new vision."...

...According to my friend, most of the church members---in particularly the older generation---had no idea what they were getting themselves into when all the growth talk began.  Who would protest against, he asked, the idea of finding fresh ways to evangelize the unchurched?  But what people expected was merely a fresh voice in the pulpit and a program or two imported from more successful churches.

Here's what I heard him saying.  What he and his fellow church members had not anticipated was a total shift in the church's culture, a reinvention of ways to love God and serve people.  What they did no see coming was a reshuffling of the church's priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the primary target audience.  In summary: virtually everything in the life of their church under new leadership became focused on reaching people who were not yet there.

It was during that part of the conversation that my lunch partner finally said, "Our church has been stolen out from under us.  It's been hijacked."  His solution to the problem?  To leave and search for another church that "appreciated" the older and better church ways his generation was familiar and comfortable with.

As I recall the conversation, my friend was less than delighted when he discovered that I wasn't completely sympathetic to his cause.  I tried to find a kind way to say, "get used to it," but I wasn't very successful.
MacDonald continues on explaining the situation in many churches these days, and his concerns for all parties involved---"the dear people in the pews"--- who are called by God to be agents of change for the sake of contextualized and effective ministry.  He continues, about the crafting of the book, 

My first attempt at writing about church change was abortive.  I could not escape the feeling that I was writing one more dull book on an overworked subject.  So I restarted my project, but in a way I'd never tried before.  I decieded to create an imaginary New England church in which there was a small collection of average people who were bumping up against change issues and resisting them.
Once I set these people in motion, I asked myself:  If I were to enter the story as I really am, what would I say to them?  How might I engage with them and persuade them to take a fresh look at the realities in our world that do indeed require a new kind of church?
My imagined people are all in their fifties and sixties.  They are from the so-called builder and boomer generations, people who were once very much at the center of their churches and have now relinquished control and influence to others younger than they are.  Once I had them all in their proper places in my mind, it was as if they took over the story and began to tell it for me.  I just had to do the typing.
And then, this:

My hope for this book is that it would spark dialogue among people of all generations who love the church.  I would be grateful if the book would convince younger generations of church leaders to be more sensitive to the older generation and their thoughts.  Conversely, I have a passion that older Christians would be led---if they read this book---to understand why many things about the way we have made church work must change and reflect new realities.
To that end, there is a good study guide/group discussion resource in the back.  And, to that end, we will sell it at nearly 25% off, bringing the price down to $16.95  I'm sure some of our BookNotes fans should read this.  Others, at least, know somebody who would find it helpful.  Let's work together and get the word out about this balanced, caring, thoughtful and contemporary parable.

Who Stole My Church?

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313  717.246.3333

December 29, 2007

Radio Interview: The Most Significant Books of 2007

radio.jpgSometimes I get asked to do radio or TV interviews, speaking about books or opining about the state of religious publishing, or telling about authors we like.  Recently a very wonderful opportunity came up, a call from one Johnny Price, of the Caleb Group, to talk about the most significant books of 2007.  Along with some fabulous folks talking about TV, music, film, and theater, I will "appear" this Sunday night (December 30) on the Caleb Group's radio talk show--The Intersection: Where Ideas and Perspectives Cross Paths--out of WOLT FM in Greenville SC.

We taped the interview last night.  Whew; significant books?  Not my own favs or stuff I think folks ought to read, but bell-weather titles that are significant? Oh my, what to say?  Time didn't allow us to de-construct important marketing schemes (scams?) like The Secret, which were sadly significant this year.  Or talk about the emergent conversation which, like it or not, is very significant.  Or the batch of anti-Christian right books which are less significant than their authors think they are.

We did talk about some important memoirs, the deaths of Vonnegut and L'Engle, and, I hope interestingly, the lack of consensus on what constitutes a great novel.  I named a couple of fun books, and another book which may be one of the most important academic studies written in years.

Anyway, if you'd like to listen in, it is streaming at the radio station's website.  Check it out here.

My own big ol annual lists, to be published over at the website, will appear before too long.  Keep your eyes peeled.   The below picture is swiped from Paper Cuts: A Blog About Books that comes from the New York Times.  These are their picks for the top ten books of 2007.  Really, really astute folks can name some of them.  Not me.
Answers can be found, here.
The Ten Best Books NYTimes.jpg

December 1, 2007

Best Books of the Year 2007 part 1

Well, friends, here it is. I'm writing this in January '08 but posting it here in the traditional "end of the year" spot.  Better late than never, they say.  Thanks for sharing your interest in our work here; that you care enough to read my ramblings and reflections on the year's best books, well, I'm beyond flattered.  I think we, together, are generating discussions and forging a movement of thoughtful, faithful readers, those wanting to read widely, but with firm conviction, eager to learn, but not so open-minded as to have no lasting views.  You probably have heard of G.K. Chesterton's famous quip about the point of an open mind being, like an open mouth,  to come down on something solid and chew.  So, may these books help you on your journey.  They certainly are, as I say each year, idiosyncratic, and terribly quirky, mostly likely reflecting my own reading interests this past year.  Happy to have you check 'em out and, I hope, purchase at least a few, maybe even give a few away, or blog about "Ëœem yourselves.  These are, after all, our picks for the Very Best of a Very Good Year.

And, a year's end word of thanks to all who have posted comments our the BookNotes blog, who have forwarded my reviews to others, who have sent us orders, or encouraging notes.  With the mass marketing of a-zon et al on the one hand, and the silly dumbing down of religious publishing on the other, with Wal-Mart driven price frenzy and publishers who market their stuff--unfairly I think---directly to you, skipping the local merchant, it is a hard and discouraging arena to serve.  We are so grateful for your support.  To paraphrase what Brooks Williams says about live music, if there no readers, they'd be no booksellers; we want to promote interesting, helpful books, and serve you, our circle of friends and fellow-readers, and if we don't do that, we have no raison d' etre. (not to mention any espirit de corps, preventing us from doing the carpe diem thing.) 

Our staff here does a stellar job, if I do say so myself, caring about our mail order customers and friends, even as we juggle the needs and joys of our local customers and friends.  Without (co-owner and dearly beloved) Beth, and mainstains Amy, Patty, & Kimberly, Diana doing the shipping & Robin cookin' the books; without the book luggin; help of Brian and the van drivin' help of Scott, and the webpage help of Rob at *cino--we just wouldn't be much of anything.  This writer thanks one and all.

And so, ta daaa.  The envelopes please.


The Way of Jesus: A Conversation in the Ways Jesus is the Way 
Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $22  This is the extraordinarily written, amazingly insightful, third in this rich, thoughtful, dense series of his spiritual theology books.  It is hard to explain why I so love this book, although there is this hint:  I have read it slowly, a page or so a day, for the better part of the year. It makes the case that Christian faith is not abstract, but is a way.  And ways and means must be consistent.  Between the lines are huge criticisms of the ways in which the modern church---I think he means mostly evangelical mega-church wannabees, but if the shoe fits, wear it---has allowed worldly techniques, methods, expectations and goals to distort our experience of the slow, serious work of a Holy God who has revealed Himself through the odd array of characters and episodes in redemption history.  True to form, this is profound theology, offering a rich sort of spirituality, based, of course, on Scriptural text upon text upon text.  He focuses on lessons learns, about the ways of God and the Way of God, from selected Biblical characters.  The final portion examines leadership in light of Jesus' way and ways.  If you don't have Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places or Eat This Book you owe it to yourself.  This third one, though, as the others, can stand alone.  Just read it slowly.

Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life  Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $26.95  We've long enjoyed Kingsolver's novels and short stories and many of her essays (she has two collections) are tremendously interesting, wonderfully-written, and very important. I couldn't wait for this long-awaited first full-length non-fiction memoir.  As you most likely know, she tells the story of them leaving the South West (the first few pages are so gloriously written and fun that I dare you to put the book down) to move to an Appalachian farmstead.  She and her family had decided to live closer to the land, and experiment with eating only foods that are locally grown, available in season, in perfect ecological balance with time and place.  Most of us cannot live like this, but her ruminations are wise and gloriously shared.

Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't )  Michael J. Gerson (HarperOne) $26.95  It  isn't every day that a Republican close assistant to President Bush gets extolled by Jim Wallis of Sojourners; not every day that highly regarded conservative speech writer take his party to task for such important matters. Mr. Gerson has deep concerns for the poor, is insistent that the Republicans must recapture this Biblically-demanded moral high ground, and here offers his eloquant story of crafting some of Mr. Bush's finest speeches, and his journey to frustration and protest of the current administration.  Agree or not---and most likely, few will agree with him on everything---this is one of the best insider's tales, a fine call to think faithfully about public life, and an example of his efforts to be the Biblical salt and light within the highest possible levels of government service.


The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students 
Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos) $13.95  Most significant?  A small paperback for teenagers?  I have been thinking about this constantly for weeks, wanting to name this book, but somehow fearing my more academically-oriented readers may not take it seriously.  Here is my thinking: there is hardly anything more urgent than for Christians to learn to live out the implications of their faith in every area of life.  This is particularly pressing around issues of calling and vocation, the integration of faith and work, all the multi-dimensional aspects of what is often implied by the call to develop the Christian mind and a Biblically-shaped worldview.  Indeed, to live Christianly, to make a different in the culture---for the sake of our neighbors, for the glory of God---we must think Christianly.  Our "non-conformity" (Romans 12:1-2) must include our resistance to idea and ideologies that are not consistent with a Christian take on the meaning of life and the structures of God's world.  This means we must thinking about the stuff of life, the things we believe about what we do, even in the workworld, and must help college students learn from a Christian perspective.  As young adults take up their callings in the world, they must learn to discern, being "in the world by not of it" particularly in their majors and eventual careers.

Outrageous Idea
, as I said in the blog when I first prompted it, is both fun and funny. We couldn't be more impressed.  It is serious, well-written, charming and challenging.  It does this job---explaining the contours and the importance of a Christian vision of life and learning---as well as any book in print.

I suppose I should confess that the authors are among my best friends, and they have been very, very supportive of our efforts here.  Still, that is in many ways beside the point: this book deserves to be acclaimed as it will change the lives of those who take it seriously, and could revolutionize the way young adult ministry, campus work, and even high school fellowship groups.  It will focus our gaze upon the biggest things of God's Kingdom, the deepest matters of life, and will clarify just what is expected of mature disciples in these days. 

In this fallen and dangerous world, social innovations are urgently needed.  We need hope.  God is raising up a generation of young folks who very much want to relate their faith to every area of life, their personal and public lives.  Hopeful and helpful cultural reformation will come not only from well-intended prayers or more passionate worship;  it will not come from proper doctrine or just more passionate commitment.  The fruit of these traits--as described in Outrageous Idea...---will be maximized as the ways of God's people are directed toward faithful living based on faithful thinking.  Few, if any, call students to take their faith into the classroom, to capture ideas for God's sake, to this outrageous idea of making a difference in the years of higher education, for the sake of the world. 

This little book is unlike any other, and will make a difference, underscoring a movement of thoughtful Christians relating vocation and calling, work and career, God's ways in the real world.  It may be outrageous to say this, but this thin, fun book, may be one of the most important books of the decade.


The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible  A.J. Jacobs  (Simon & Schuster) $25  This may have been the book I most enjoyed this year.  Do you know A.J. Jacobs?  He wrote the marvelous, funny and surprisingly popular odd little memoir called The Know It All about his effort to read Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover.

 Here, he reads the Bible, make a list of all the does and don'ts, and follows them.  He's a skeptical Jew, at best, and writes for Esquire,. which makes for some hilarious stories of him interviewing sexy women celebrities, while attempting not to lust.  He travels to Amish communities, hangs out with the Hasids of Crown Heights, goes to Israel, visits the Creationism Museum, attends a snake handling service and reports on the Biblical pacifism of Sojourners. He learns ancient pray practices and reports well as a seeker, immersing himself in the process, and yet candid about his own lack of feeling God's presence.  He learns about dietary restrictions and why even the most conservative Jews don't believe animal sacrifices are to be done, now.  There's a great scene with a shatnez tester (look it up!) as he works through his "Top Ten Most Perplexing" commands.  His wife playfully subverts some of his resolve not to touch her when she's menstruating.   Interestingly, he comes to enjoy having a wild untrimmed beard, puts tassels on his clothing, finds it possible to receive the grace of being thankful for all things, and truly struggles to love others. 

There are criticism I might make of the book, and certainly some things I wish he would have done in this year-long foray.  He attends to questions of hermeneutics, in passing,;  much of his point is that everyone "picks and chooses" what part of the Bible we try to obey.  Still, how many funny books are there that even begin to tackle this thorny thing?  His wife and new baby provide a bit of grounding, and by the end, I was shedding tears for their extraordinary year's project, wishing him well on his quest, and praying for his whole crazy extended family.  What a story!


It Was Good:  Making Art to the Glory of God
  Ned Bustard (Square Halo Press) $24.99  This really does deserve a top-shelf  "Book of the Year" award as it is such a new edition: expanded, with new typesetting,  tons of new art, several new chapters, even done with new non-tree paper.  This isn't just the best re-issue of an older book, not just the most important anthology for artists and those interested in Christian cultural renewal.  This is an important book for us all, for learning to see God's world in ways that are consistent with God's own character: God is a creator.  God created us in His image.  God's world is colorful, literally and figuratively.  Redemption brings, if I might cite Cal Seerveld's books, rainbows for a fallen world and Christ comes--and we must come--bearing fresh olive leaves for our needy neighbors.  This book, edited lovingly and released to great acclaim among those who knew, should be in every bookstore in America, in on your bookshelf.


A Secular Age  Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press) $39.95  At nearly 900 pages, this hefty baby deserves every accolade it has received, I'd guess.  It won the 2007 Templeton Award, and that is pretty awesome.  It is a serious study of the history and rise of secularity, a summation of Dr. Taylor's very, very important philosophical career, and what many are calling the most significant study of secularization we've yet seen.  How many books---even in the field of high-octane philosophy---has blurbs by Alasdair  MacIntyre?  This book is very, very important, striking and learned.

And the second part of the award?  Check this out, a blurb by the influential and wise Robert Bellah: "This is one of the most important books written in my lifetime."  Wow; even if he's wrong by half, this would be one of the most important books of the last 40 years!  And this, by MacIntyre: "There is no book remotely like this.  It will be essential reading."  No other books comes close for an award about the blurbs, eh??


Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths Paul-Gordon Chandler (Cowley) $19.95  Talk about a story of ups and downs, of spiritual seekings, of evangelical faith and missional contextualization!  This is the story of Mashar Mallouhi;  his wife is the author of Waging Peace on Islam which IVP published a few years back.  With endorsements from Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, David Neff, Philip Jenkins and a forward by Desmond Tutu, this explores Mallouhi's journey into Christian faith, and his efforts to be faithful in the midst of a Muslim Middle Eastern setting.


Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony Richard Bauckham (Eerdmans) $32  University of Cambridge's Graham Stanton suggests that Bauckham's latest book "shakes the foundations of a century of scholarly study of the Gospels.  There are surprises on every page.  A wealth of new insights will provoke lively discussion for a long time to come."  N.T.Wright says that it is "a remarkable piece of detective work, resulting in a fresh and vivid approach to dozens, perhaps hundreds of well-known problems and passages." 


Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics Richard Burridge (Eerdmans) $35 This major new work has been called monumental, rare, wide-ranging.  Burridge, Dean of the King's College in London, and with special familiarity with South African theology, offers a narrative-biographical approach.  This is, obviously, a study of Biblical ethics, but it is also an argument about the relationship of the life of Jesus and how that influenced the rest of the New Testament, and how this shapes our discipleship today. 


The Sermon on the Mount Through the Centuries: From the Early Church to John Paul II  edited by Jeffery Greenman, Timothy Larsen, and Stephen Spencer (Brazos) $24.99  Brazos Press released an similar title a year ago,  Reading Romans Through the Centuries.  Here, we get a glimpse of how various leaders in various places and times, wrote and taught about how to apply the Sermon on the Mount.  We get contemporary writers (some of great distinction) writing about, say, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, etc.  Where else can you get a chapter on Hugh of St. Victor and, for instance, Stan Hauerwas on Bonhoeffer & Yoder?  What are the unique insights of contemporary Catholics (like Pope Paul or Leonardo Boff) or John Stott?  And how about this:  David Lyle Jeffrey on Dante & Chaucer.  Plenty to learn from this most famous of Jesus' discourses.  I don't know what's better, learning about these different figures and their view of the Bible, or, specifically, the teaching they do on the Sermon itself.


Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Alarming Words of Faith Joy Jordon-Lake (Paraclete) $15.95  Many of us have read Ms Jordon-Lake in various magazines, in her writings for ESA's Prism journal, and in her earlier books.  Here, she offers musings about Jesus, and his teachings, alarming as they may be.  Not only is this little paperback full of solid Bible teachings, the author is equally fluent in the vocabulary of poetry, citing Auden, Wendy Berry, and Billy Collins, novelists, and other upscale writers.  Very nicely done. 


Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Diety of Christ  Robert Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski (Gregel) $18.99  This looks to be an excellent bit of Biblical research and serious apologetics, with endorsing blurbs by the likes of Ravi Zacharias, Craig Evans, and Richard Bauckham.  A very nicely written forward by Darrell Bock insists that this is both academically excellent and very readable, intellectually stimulating and spiritually beneficial.  I had to cite it just for the clever wordplay of the title.


Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different  Gordon S. Wood (The Penguin Press) $25.95  I suppose I'm not the best person to make this kind of a judgment, and this year I haven't read too much on history.  Still, this writer is both sane and elegant, gentle and fluent.  He is very highly regarded among scholars of the colonial period and here he offers a profound lesson on the moral views and character of these amazing revolutionary men.


Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today   Tom Brokaw  (Random House) $28.95 Who cares? I'm a sixties kid, and loving reading this kind of thing.  TB was a big hit with his Greatest Generation machine.  How can I offer this an award, other than to say it's billing as a "virtual class reunion" phenonm and nobody I know read it.


Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes To God Kay Warren (Zondervan) $21.99  I'm not sure what audience will buy this---Rick Warren has become a symbol of mass marketed mainstream light-weight books, which is, I think, mostly unfair.  Or, for some, he's become a symbol of former evangelicals that are now inviting Bono to their church and have embraced a charitable, socially-engaged missional view, which they find suspect.  My hunch is that more thoughtful journals just didn't give it a chance, and it wasn't promoted for fear of looking like it was just a puff piece about the wife of a mega-church superstar.  Still, mega-church or not, Ms Warren has quite a story to tell, tells it beautifully, and has the admiration of many among fellow Christian authors.  (Heck, Shane Claiborne is her friend.)  One blurb says it  "should come with a warning label---"Ëœflammable'"¦Books this raw and real don't come along often"¦read it at your own risk."   Lynne Hybels, a very thoughtful speaker herself (and author of the powerful little memoir Nice Girls Don't Change the World) says, "Kay's book forced me to clarify my calling and grapple with how much I'm willing to pay to follow it faithfully.  I needed to read this."  Me too.


Sister Wendy on Prayer  Sister Wendy Beckett (Harmony Books) $21.95  Well, I cheat a bit on this award, since this TV super-star is, in fact, a conservative contemplative nun.  Yes, she wears a full habit (and shaves her head under it.) Yes she lives in a little cloistered trailer, and prayers, when she isn't under the glow of the BBC or PBS cameras, for six hours at a time. "Prayer,", though, she insists, "is for all of us.  God wants to love us and to give himself.  He wants to draw us to himself, strengthen us, and infuse his peace.  The humblest, most modest, almost imperceptible running of our fingers on the door and it flies open."  Sister Wendy is an acclaimed art historian, and she, of course, has some meditations on art pieces, here.  But mostly, she shares from her deeper places of silence what she's learned about the wonder of prayer.  She packs quite a lot of wisdom and quite a lot of stimulating reflection in 125 pages.  Kudos!


Compass of Affection: Poems New And Selected Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $25
Short Trip to the Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven--A Pilgrimage
Scott Cairns (HarperOne) $22.95
Love's Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $21.95
Oh my, thank goodness for this sturdy man, his serious mind and crazy-good Orthodox pen.  He's known mostly as a poet, but this year, besides the handsome anthology of poems released, he has a memoir about his journey to a Mediterranean monastery and a thoughtful and helpful overview of the mystical traditions of ancient saints.  Any one of these would be deserving of special notice, and all deserve to be on your shopping list.  But three in one year.  Okay, I'll admit, the poetry volume came out at the end of 06, but I didn't read it then.  And some were previously published on older volumes.  So he's not superhuman.  Still, I just had to honor this prodigious output.


The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine  Alister McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath (IVP) $16
The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith Becky Garrison (Nelson) $14.99  We loved displaying The Dawkins Delusion, truly a little gem, for a variety of reasons;  McGrath is a bone fide genius, with PhDs in science and theology.  There is this killer quote by Michael Ruse on the cover: "The God Delusion [by Richard Dawkins] makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGrath's show why."  McGrath is philosophically minded but readable, fair, but insistent, honest and devasating.  It is the best point-by-point reply to the popular (and best-selling)  Dawkins' book.
The New Atheist Crusaders, though, is something else altogether:  funny, snide, wide-ranging, very casually-written, Ms Garrison makes her reply to the anti-God gurus with feisty and fun rebuttals.  As editor of The Wittenburg Door satire mag, she's honed her nearly gonzo style, and is ceaselessly interested in exposing fraud, haughtiness and religious mania;  now she's turned her investigative zeal against the fraud, haughtiness and (secular) religious mania of Hitchens, Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.  Her approach and her perspective is different than the Oxford-trained and restrained McGraths.  Together, they make the perfect sweet and sour reply to what some have thought to be the biggest trend in religious publishing, the new militant and best-selling atheists.  


What's So Great About Christianity Dinesh D'Souza  (Regnery) $27.95  Okay, I don't have time for a major essay, but people I respect think this is brilliant.  I have some concerns about his political ideology and his natural law perspectives make me worry, I think.  He is very thorough, drawing on deep wells, from Aquinas to Leon Kass, from Pascal to Lewis.  He is very fluent in the recent literature of atheism and knows more about science and biology than a social scientist should.  Plus, how many Christian books of apologetics have endorsements by Robert Schuller and Stanley Fish?  (Yes, you read that right: isn't that alone worthy of some commendation?)  More reliably, how about rave responses by evangelical scientist Francis Collins, or historian Paul Johnson?  This is more than a defensive critique of the new atheists, and is obviously eloquent and very wide-ranging and sophisticated.


Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend edited by Ravi Zacharias (Nelson) $24.99  This is a great collection of essays compiled by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, with contributors such as Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Amy Orr-Ewing, Joe Boot, and an array of global writers of international distinction.   They cogently address difficult questions, address deeper matters (one section is called "Addressing the Questions Behind the Questions") and there are some articles on "internalizing" the truth.  One excellent closing piece is on living out the truth in daily life.  One need not agree with every detail of this very thoughtful collection, but we would be remiss not to celebrate it's significance, and study it's approach.  At it's heart, it maintains throughout, that it is most urgent to win people, not just arguments, and that apologetics must be rooted in building caring and authentic relationships.


Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music  Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic) $22.99  This much anticipated serious study is worth the effort to study carefully;  Begbie has written much about aesthetics, about a Christian view on the arts, and, specifically, about music.  His experience as one of Britain's leading classical conductors and his mid-career conversion to Christ has made him a very strategic spokesperson and thinker.  Here, he gives us a major, thoughtful study (but, to be honest, much more readable than his exceedingly complex Cambridge text, or the demanding Voicing Creation's Praise.  As Rowan Williams writes, "Very few new books in theology or religious studies show this level of freshness and imagination.  Nicholas Woltersdorff has opined that this is Begbie's finest. John Witvliet writes, "Begbie's thinking emerges out of a fusion of the best musical thinking about theology and the best theological thinking about music.  The resulting text is charged with energy and insight---and not just for musicians and theologians.  This vital work is poised to energize and strengthen the entire Christian community."  Well, not if it isn't widely sold and read.  So we do our part by honoring it with one of our musical awards.


Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole
  Benjamin R. Barber (Norton) $26.95  Mr. Barber is a very big cheese (you should know his Jihad vs. McWorld, at least.)  He turns his brilliant mind, passionate convictions, and lucid writing towards this huge question of how consumerism reduces our deepest ways of being citizens, and erodes sustainable values.  As the ever-brilliant and important Jackson Lears notes, "In this powerful and disturbing critique, Barber takes dead aim at a fundamental fallacy of our time: the equation of capitalism and democracy"¦.No one who cars about the future of our public life can afford to ignore this book."  We agree, and hope our honoring it makes a difference.  And, no, it isn't ironic.  This is marketing to save the world.  Buy this book, and think deeply.


Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
Bill McKibben (Times Books) $25  McKibben is our kind of guy:  he's a fine writer, luminous in his prose at times, and passionate.  He's a man of many talents, and writes widely---about creation, about nature-writing, about backpacking, about consumerism; he's got a book on Job and he's done a book on the dangers of genetic engineering.  Here, he offers his best insight about the nature of local economies, how to understand sustainability, what stewardship means, and how to build a culture of "depth" and care.  Like his breathtaking Hope Human and Wild this offers hope, named here as a "durable future" that is not in the grip of the idols of growth.  That it is dedicated to Wendell Berry makes perfect sense, and I am sure Mr. Berry is deeply honored.  McKibben won't even know about this little award, but we offer him our most sincere gratitude.

Wendell Berry: Life and Work
  edited by Jason Peters (University of Kentucky Press) $35
Conversations with Wendell Berry edited by Morris Allen Grubbs (University Press of Mississippi) $20  What a great year, to have two new books about Mr. Berry.  Both are extraordinary, highly recommended, and we simply couldn't imagine not awarding the both of them.  Life and Work is a fine collection of essays, bound into a lovely, stable hardback, essays which study both his fiction and nonfiction, his literary contributions and his daily work as Kentucky farmer.  His friend Norman Wirzba is the editor of this series of books called "Culture in the Land" which is a series in the new agrarianism.  Any number of these chapters are well worth the price of the book; there are pieces by Bill Kauffman, David Kline, John Leax, Allan Carlson, Bill McKibben. Wes Jackson, Sven Birkerts, Gene Logsdon, Barbara Kingsolver, and others.  I am confident to say this is the best book about Berry yet done, and it is glorious.  Still, Conversations With"¦ is equally a spectacular thing to dip in to, to read on occasion, to ponder.  It is, literally, a collection of  nearly 20 long interviews, republished with permission of as many magazines and newsletters where they first appeared.  Here is the great interview from the old The Other Side magazine;  here is a 1973 interview from the old Mother Earth News;  and there is one from Orion, and one from The Progressive.  Some are mostly about his literary contributions, his views on novels and poetry.  Others are on his faith, several on his politics.  The Christian Century interview is here, as is the one from Sojourners done in 2004.  He was a gracious interviewee in most of them, and his literary insight, public concerns, and humble common sense make this a truly remarkable collection.

Well, I'm just getting warmed up.  I most sincerely honor (most of) the above authors, whose books have meant a lot to me this year.  More personal stories, quirky awards and earnest honors galore coming up soon in the January column.
I'll post a link at the blog as soon as it's ready.  Hearts & Minds Best Books of the Year 2007 Awards, Part 2, coming soon.