About March 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in March 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2008 is the previous archive.

April 2008 is the next archive.

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

March 2008 Archives

March 3, 2008

Leonard Sweet, sailing inspired into The Perfect Storm, and uninspired macaroni salad

church of perfect storm.jpgThe other day, after days of pulling and packing (yet again) we lugged too many boxes over to a good and growing local church who was hosting a conference for Sunday school teachers, child-care workers and children's ministry folks.  Setting up rows and rows of craft books, pre-school lesson plans, brightly colored children's picture books, and, yes, some theology and worldviewish stuff (the foundations of thinking faithfully about children, education and church) took about 7 hours.  Exhausted from the stress of that, we hustled off to pull and pack the next gig, getting to another church late at night for the next day's seminar with white-haired, silver-tongued pneuma-naut (his word), Leonard Sweet.  After the exhilarating day with Len at which I sold books, and the terrific and busy Christian ed conference over at Living Word Community Church, which Beth and her sister worked, I scooted back, helping them tear down, bringing everything from both shows back to the H&M garage.  We are, as is often the case, thrilled that folks buy our books, happy for the positive feedback, and always just a little sad that more people don't take in learning events such as these, that the very best books don't always sell as much as we would wish, and wonder how best to get the word out that there are amazing resources to be found, good books that can enhance one's life, deepen one's discipleship, and move us towards more faithful living in God's good world.  Jesus called disciples, which, you know, means learners.  Life-long learners grow and mature in many ways, but surely reading widely and deeply, is part of that. Some churches become communities of bookish discourse, and some, sadly, do not.  Some people have a curiosity and eagerness to want to learn and grow, but some do not.   Thanks to those who help us get set up at these gigs, and thanks to those who pray and care, and thanks, especially, to those who purchased books from us.  We really hope it helps.

A custodian winked at us slyly late at night as we were slowly pushing the heavy carts full of boxes of unsold stuff back to our van.  He, too, was working the night shift and happy to be there, after the crowds left.  He said, "Beats cleaning up after macaroni salad."  My blank stare tipped him off that I had no idea what he was talking about.

"Macaroni salad in the church basement," he said (as if that cleared it up.)  He explained that in previous churches where he worked as janitor he had to clean up after events that, well, just didn't seem to him to be that urgent. Just light little lunches.  "What war are they going to fight," he asked, "after sitting around eating macaroni salad?"

I am a pacifist and rarely use such militaristic language, but he's right that spiritual warfare is a theme of the Bible.  Or, we could say, using Blues Brother's phrasing, that "We are on a mission from God!"  What battle, what race, what mission, what endeavors, emerge from low-expectation, boring church meetings, from gathering with little passion or point?  Of course, eating together is a hugely important Christian practice, and Jesus' himself ate, if not macaroni salad, something like it, often with others, and the on-lookers complained.  But my late-night janitor buddy had seen what I am sure you have seen: a whole lot of church activity that doesn't seem to motivate anyone to do much of anything.  He was right to observe that he and Beth and Debi and I were cleaning up after a day which mattered, equipping caring Sunday school leaders with passion and excellence, to care for babies and kids, children and youth.  All the work, before and after, is, we pray, a contribution to greater faithfulness, serious learning, equipping saints for making a difference. 

Len Sweet said that as a theologically-interested bookseller, I am like a dinosaur, like the last living turtle on Galapacos Island.  I don't know about that, but I do know that we were the very first store in the world to get his brand spanking new book---shipped to us directly from the book bindery thanks to some magic worked by my friends at Abingdon Press.  The Church of the Perfect Storm is a Sweetly edited anthology of chapters on the rough waters of our times, the ways in which the church should and can ride into the storm, how to not only ride out the waves, but do effective ministry in these raging waters.  Sweet has played with this analogy often before (although it is out of print, we have some of his fascinating Aqua Church left) and his first chapter is wonderful introduction to his take on the times.)  The last chapter, by the way, is a great sermon on ways to react to wild waters of postmodernity and post-Christendom, chart notes for stormy seas.  As he often reminds us, the most dangerous place for boats during a storm is in the harbor.  We are called to launch out into the deep, knowing Christ is with us helping us enjoy the ride.

What battles are you equipped to fight, what races to run, what vocations to take up,  what storms to chase, after you gather with others? What conversations of what consequence occur?  What books will help you move towards your goals?  How do you trust the Spirit more fully as you are called forth to deep and raging waters, and what resources may help you through it all?  The busy crowds buying kids books this weekend at Living Word, and the exciting time with Len at Grace United Methodist, wore us out, but, as the late-night custodian reminded us, such events are as important as any war.

The Church of the Perfect Storm is edited by Leonard Sweet (Abingdon; $16.)  This includes essays from around the world---from the likes of Alan Jamieson (New Zealand), Greg Glatz (Canada) a South African, a South Korean, Bill Easum, Peter Walker and Mark Matterson, from the U.S., and Tom Bandy is Canadian.  This international view gives this collection a very broad weather report, although they all share Sweet's penchant for the storm metaphor, for the urgency of taking up the 21st century hot-wired culture, and they each offer insight about how to do ministry in the world of complex and converging social trends.    Want to reorient your thinking into the new social context?  Want to leave "terra nova" behind and move out into stormy seas?  This new title could help.  He ends his acknowledgments with these lines from William Cowper (1731-1800.)

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
 the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

March 6, 2008

New books on Christian faith and politics AND a free book offer


I hope you had the chance to visit our monthly column last month over at that part of the website.  I explore four  recent books on Christian politics, and how a balanced, Biblical agenda might shape the common good.  As you might guess, we described the new Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening (which is very much a sequel to his best-selling God's Politics) and we celebrated the very thorough, and quite excellent new book by Ronald Sider, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (the scandal being, that most evangelical political work hasn't been adequately Biblical or all that evangelical.) I told about the excellent new book by Steve Monsma, Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy.  And, perhaps most importantly, I review the very, very insightful work by Os Guinness, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It.

case for civility.jpgThis new Os Guinness book offers something that these other three do not, but without which none of them will leave much of a legacy, and that is the serious (if eloquent) reminder to respect our American first amendment, recapture the genius of the Founder's balanced approach to religion and law, and to ever and always remain peaceable people, civil and fair, even in the most robust of public debate.  The first books are exciting explications of various aspects of Christian views on contemporary public life and how our citizenship can be shaped by the values and practices, principles and positions, of a Scripturally-based worldview.  Guinness, though, insists that we back up and shape and share these views in a manner that is in keeping with the best impulses of the American experiment (freedom for and from religion, for instance, pluralism without capitulation to relativism and such.)  More importantly, he calls us who are people of faith to work in ways that are in keeping with the graciousness of Christ Himself.  Please read my mini-reviews of these stellar books;  we are very, very impressed with them all.

justice rights and wrongs.jpgNone of these are really academic, but here is one that is.  Here is a quick announcement that a major Christian philosopher has released his major, long-awaited work on the theories of justice.  I refer to the Princeton University Press release, Justice: Rights and Wrongs by the impeccable and impressive Nicholas Wolterstorff. At $39.50 you may want to check it out of your local library---I know I will---but some of you should own it.  We are happy to stock it here, of course, and ask you to tell anyone you know who happens to be interested in deep and deeply Christian political philosophy (maybe they can order it from us, a just thing to do, I'd say, rather than going through the faceless carts at you-know-where.)  Aquinas/natural law scholar Jean Porter of University of Notre Dame writes, Justice is "the work of a first-rate philosopher at the top of his game" which "sets forth a distinctive and challenging theory of justice formulated in explicitly scriptural and Christian terms."  She continues, "Not only does this book reflect the clarity and acuity of thought that characterize Wolterstorff's work, it also reflects the humane sensibilities of someone who has thought and felt deeply about these matters for a long time."

Here's a blog special:  You may recall that our friends at *cino/catapult, Rob & Kirstin VanderDo Justice cover.jpg Giessen-Reitsma, have published what they call a "road journal," a lovely small paperback with stories and testimonies, book lists and film reviews, which serves as a guided tour into the journey of justice.  (*cino publishes these from time to time; the next one forthcoming will be on food issues.)  Here's the deal: buy any of the books just mentioned and we will give you a free copy of *cino's Do Justice: A Social Justice Road Map (a $7.50 value.) 

New insight.  Free book.  Sounds like more than justice to me.


Order here.

or call 717.246.3333.

Hearts & Minds
234 East Main Street
Dallastown, PA  17313


March 10, 2008

Everything Must Change tour and We The Purple

Greetings to new readers of BookNotes visiting from the recent Everything Must Change/DeepShift event with BrianEverything Must Change (smaller cover).jpg McLaren in DC.  We have been grateful to be the EMC tour official bookstore as we've shipped stuff all of the land, offering Brian's books and other resources for those who are exploring the most urgent issues of our time at the series of DeepShift conferences.  As I've said here before, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and a Revolution of Hope (published by Nelson; $21.99) is a notable and important shift for Brian as he spends less time making a case for being a "new kind of Christian" or finding ourselves seeking a "church on the other side" ---the whole postmodern, emergent conversation---but rather, inviting imagination and hope and action in light of the pressing global concerns of sustainability, climate change, poverty and war. From mountain-top removal in Appalachia to the ways in which South Africa found new vision while overthrowing the old apartheid era, from churches that reach out to the homeless poor to the crisis of international security, war and nationalism, we grappled with big, big concerns in a spirit of collegiality and, more importantly, spirituality. 

Those that know us here at the bookstore know that we have long carried the best Christian (and some Jewish and secular) resources on global issues, as wholistic mission and faith-based social action has always been a feature of our shop.  It is no accident that alongside our fairly traditional (some say conservative) historic Biblical theology and classic spiritual formation books we have long carried books by William Stringfellow and Ron Sider, by Phil Berrigan and Rachael Carson, John Stott and Rene Padilla, John Perkins and Dorothy Soelle, Martin Luther King and Marva Dawn, Jonathan Kozol and Tom Sine, John Howard Yoder and Dorothy Day, Richard Mouw and Thomas Merton, just to name a few.  Brian is not the first to say that the framing stories that shape our worldviews, and consequently our ways of living in the world----caring or not caring about the burning issues of the day---are the most important thing to get right. (I still say that Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton's worldview masterpiece, Transforming Vision is one of the most important books in our shop; McLaren, happily, draws upon Walsh & Keesmaat's Colossians Remixed to show the kinds of transformational Biblical study that can guide us into this kind of radically Biblical change.) Indeed, we often call ourselves radical Christians, not to suggest revolutionary fever or lefty politics; not at all, really.  Radix is the Latin root word from which "radical" derives and it means "root."  We need to get at the root causes, the deepest ideologies which shape the current ways of understanding and being in the world. (The emergent gang is mostly right about this, that the Christian faith ought not be uncritically wedded to a modernist worldview, and that radical rethinking is needed to disentangle centuries of cultural capitulation to the spirits of the Enlightenment et al. I suspect it was Francis Schaeffer that first taught me that.)  As McLaren suggests in Everything Must Change, we must "wake up" to new dreams of what God is doing in the world, and think considerably differently, "singing a new song" into the new world God is ushering into history.  We call that---as he explicates nicely in The Secret Message of Jesus--the Kingdom of God.  And so, we just came back from a nice witness to the Kingdom, an experience of the Kingdom, a gathering of various ages, diverse denominations, conflicting theologies and different preferences for worship and liturgical styles, even, I'd imagine, different impulses around politics and public policy proposals.  Praise be to God, Nazarenes and Episcopalians, Methodists and PCA Presbyterians, Baptists and Lutherans (though not many historic black churches represented, or Catholics, it seemed) joined together to reflect on the deepest issues of our cultural crisis and what King Jesus might want us to do.  It was a precious time, a joyful time, if a difficult time of selling books (yes, amidst illness, again.)  Many, many thanks to our stalwart volunteers from Vienna Pres and the CCO, especially.

The tour moves on to other cities over the next month or so. Check out the DeepShift schedule and make plans to be a part of a very exciting, well planned, and multi-faceted experience of song, art, lecture, conversation, silence, worship, meals and book-buying.  Yes, indeedie:  buying books is part of the way to wake up to a new world.  We've got a lot of ideas to consider, plans to make, lives to change (starting, of course, with our own.)  Books are allies in the journey, food for the day,  insight for new living.  Thanks for your support of our store, for you interest in good books. Buying books from us, here, enables us to stay afloat long enough to continue serving these kinds of conferences and folks on deep in the trenches of important work.  We are glad to be able to serve them, and you help make it possible.  We are grateful for your ongoing support.

The biggest selling books (other than McLaren's) at the EMC DeepShift event? Clearly Claiborne's Jesus for President (the amazing graphic designers of the book, Ryan and Holly Sharp, were there, doing music as the Cobalt Season and it was terrific to meet them.) Many took up my recommendation of the serious-minded and richly provocative Hope in Troubled Times by Mark Vander Vennen, Bob Goudzwaard & David Van Heemst.  I promoted Os Guinness' The Case for Civility, and it seemed useful to many.  A handful of people bought Scot McKnight's Community of  Atonement, a balanced and wise bit of refreshing theological thinking, which made me glad.  A few people got John Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, which I found a bit troubling, although I loved Jamie Smith's earlier book in the series, Whose Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard & Foucoult to Church, so sold that to 'em too.

we the purple.gifA book that arrived today that I really wished I could have taken there: We the Purple by Marcia Ford (Tyndale; $17.99.)  I am not sure I am purple, exactly--a blend of red and blue, obviously, and I sometimes think I'm a completely different color---but it does capture something, doesn't it?   The cover itself looks like a manifesto.  It makes the case, obviously, for independent voters, stating on the cover that it is about people of faith "who are tired of partisanship in the church.  We believe that together we can bring about radical reform by avoiding partisan politics and finding creative solutions to our nation's many problems."   There are tons of stories, lots of interviews, profiles and testimonials of grassroots, truly  third way folk.  Looks good.

With similar concerns, although not quite the same strategy, my dear, dear friend, Steve Garber did a very important piece last summer for Comment, on not being cynical about "proximate justice."  Alas, a good handful of folk, mostly younger, responded to his article in the latest issue, a symposium of responses.  I commend that to you.  If we are going to rock the worldviews, and rock the vote (or, as Shane puts it, vote the Rock) we will have to continue to think about all of this stuff.  Get McLaren's book if you haven't yet, start a small group around some of the political ones I reviewed last month at the website column, or check out this new independent voice---Ford is a fun writer, we know that from her lovely, poignant, Memoir of a Misfit.  It isn't exactly the feisty brilliance of the smalltown anarchist Bill Kauffman (Look Homeward America) or the "crunchy con" of hippy conservatives like Ron Dreher, but it is a new voice, outside the bi-polar predictabilities of the religious right or the faith-based left.  As Becky Garrison (of The Wittenburg Door) puts it, "Marcia Ford employs sass, spirituality, and statistics to expose the failings of our current two-party system"¦"   Key Life preacher Steve Brown even says, ""¦Ford almost convinced me to give up my partisan political positions and join her."  Maybe it is not quite radix enough, but it sure does make us think.  And laugh, which, as Brian reminded us at EMC, is a deep Christian virtue.

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313  717.246.3333   www.heartsandmindsbooks.com


March 13, 2008

Why we are open to the Emergent Conversation: My journey, and books along the way

Publishers Weekly may not have the popularity or glitz of Variety, the trade journal of the movie biz, but it is an important voice for those of us in the publishing world.  A fabulous little piece appeared recently pondering the definitions of the theological conversation (movement?) that is commonly called "emergent." Jana Riess, a woman we know as a thoughtful follower of Christ and a fine writer herself, asks if publishers are going to get on the bandwagon, co-opting the phrase, making it so ubiquitous that it becomes meaningless.  It is a good and fun essay, and we commend it to you.  It is a very, very brief introduction to the emergent conversation, and a call for clarity about the words we're using, and a warning about the impact of marketing in all of this.  As one who does his fair share of marketeering, I found it helpful and wanted to pass it on to our readers: here.  

Some have wondered why I am attracted to this movement/conversation, fraught as it is with peculiar over-reactions to church-as-usual and what some have called theological squishiness. (Ahh, this is not the place to debate all that, but I do think it is frustrating that some folks quote Brian McLaren's novels---the trilogy will come out in paperback later this Spring---as if they are theological encyclopedias, compendiums of his personal doctrine.  Of course, even his non-fiction texts are tentative and emerging---nothing wrong with that---and surely his novels have to be read as the provoking stories they are, with the characters raising questions, not being his exact voice.  But I digress, only to ask for reasonableness in the debates about the faithfulness and fruitfulness of what has come to be called the emergent movement.)

Some of our best customers and friends are sure that this is a dead-end, comprised of disillusioned evangelicals who have abandoned Biblical truth in a swirl of relativism and hipster posturing.  Well, there may be some of that, but it really hasn't been our experience.  There is a eagerness to ask big questions, an willingness to question our formulations of the enduring historic doctrines, and, truth be told, despite our pretty traditional orthodoxy, I'm all for questioning what we believe.  And why we believe it, as Paul Little advised so many years ago in his zillion-selling book of that title, Know What You Believe (And Why You Believe It.)  No lesser orthodox light than the properly esteemed Rev. Timothy Keller has recently invited us to think deeply about our most cherished assumptions, and the earlier working title of his splendid, new Reason for God (Dutton; $24.95) was to be "Doubting Your Doubts."  He has said that he likes inviting seekers and skeptics to deconstruct their doubts, but, similarly, he feels called to push Christians to critically reflect on their convictions a bit, too.  It is pastorally wise, I think, to have a sane and good pastor like Keller to walk us through some self-reflection.  It's that old Paul Little line, what and why, eh?  And so, I think the emergent folks are onto something helpful in shaking us up a bit.

More importantly, to understand my general appreciation for the emergent discussions and efforts, you must know that in my early days as a Christian reader, I was handed The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, Art and the Bible, Death in the City, and other early Francis Schaeffer books of cultural criticism, not to mention perhaps one of the very most significant books of my life, Os Guinness' stunning Dust of Death: A Critique of the establishment and the counter culture - and a proposal for a Third Way. Ahh, that first chapter, "The Striptease of Humanism," which deconstructed--we didn't use that word, then, yet--the privileged place of autonomous reason, using existentialist philosophers and counter-cultural prophets to expose the bankruptcy of much of the Western worldview.  It got me ready for the most important history book I read in those years, Capitalism and Progress by Dutch statesman and economist, Bob Goudzwaard, which traced the left and the right, capitalists and socialists, back to their similar secular presuppositions, rooted in the anti-Christian French revolution.  That groundbreaking book is out of print in the states, but we have a few left from a reprinted, British edition (Paternoster; $15.00) and it still reminds us that as followers of Christ, we ought not be aligned too closely with any philosophical movement that is rooted in fundamental views and values that are not compatible with a Christian understanding of life and times.  That is, we need to be critical of all ideologies, including those we are perhaps most comfortable with.  (It is interesting, by the way, that McLaren has become a friend of Goudzwaard, and cites his most recent book, as I've often noted on the blog, in his recent Everything Must Change.)  But I'm already ahead of myself, in this story of why I'm appreciative of the emergent authors, and why I suggest they be given a hearing.  

I'm giving you a bit of my own intellectual history, the books that shaped me, like friends--or should I say, with friends, as we read them together---all so I can explain my fascination and willingness to listen in on the emerging conversation. I must name yet a few more authors (please bear with me; I hope as a book lover you might find this not too tedious.).  Although this gets me ahead of the story, I was introduced in the 1970s to the Dutch philosopher who actually influenced Schaeffer, Herman Dooyeweerd, who, in very serious philosophical tomes, most of which I never read, exposed the impossibility of "religiously neutral" thinking, that showed that Enlightenment-based assumptions about reason and dogma and science and theology are all influenced by presuppositions that are themselves based on worldviews, which are rooted in faiths about ultimate things. All convictions and truth-claims and viewpoints, in this way of thinking, is colored and biased in light of the faith of the beholder. This was a profoundly Biblical and conservative Reformed insight, affirmed by Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Seminary, for instance, but, years later, ended up sound akin to the phenomonologists and French deconstruction schools.  As is now well known, even certain theological traditions are more built upon the edifice of secular Enlightenment thinking, and the extraordinary founders of the U.S. were deeply influenced by ideas from the French revolution---Goudzwaard reminds us that Franklin and Voltaire used to jokingly sign their letters "the anti-Christ" and "smash the infamous" (the church, of course.)  Dooyeweerd was not the first philosopher to deconstruct the autonomy of Reason and the subsequent secularization of Western thought and culture, but he presaged the insights of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi, say, and the French deconstructionists by a full generation.  His Calvinist worldview which was attentive to the idolatry of ideology, called for social reforms of a radical sort, rethinking the very notions of various spheres of culture, from media to politics, education to the arts, labor unions to scientific thinking---his 19th century hero Abraham Kuyper formed a daily newspaper and a political party and a farmers union and wrote theology and did a book as Prime Minister of the Netherlands about how to respond to the class struggle as portrayed by Marx in the late 1800s!  It was this intellectually radical, historically-sensitive, culturally-transforming Reformed worldview that Hans Rookmaaker, the art critic, taught Schaeffer, the formerly fundamentalist evangelist, who tweaked it and taught it to a generation of para-churched Jesus People in the years of the evangelical renewal of the 1970s.

Schaeffer, Guinness, Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and his North American disciples like Calvin Seerveld or Nicholas Woltersdorff (in Toronto, Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh, mostly, and in small colleges like Dordt and Trinity) sounded to me like Amos or Jeremiah as they railed against the "North American Way of Death" with our faith in progress and science and individualism and rationalism, and churches that did their soul-saving without a whisper of resistance to racist civil religion.  When these (mostly poor, immigrant) social democrats born in Europe blazed against secular humanism, in an era before the Christian right made that a simplistic bogeyman, they sounds like Jacque Ellul, almost, with a comprehensive and deeply religious critique of the ways and means of Western culture.  Yet, these philosophically radical Orthodox Presbyterians and Dutch Christian Reformed Church scholars and preachers didn't hold up the hippies and counter-cultural disregard for Rationalism as the answer to the problems with establishment Reason; no, Jesus Christ was the Way, Truth, Life, even for the times that were a-changin'... Something was happening in the air, and it was life-changing stuff for a young adult like me, nurtured on Sunday school stories that didn't connect much to the real world and a good family that hoped to make the world a better place in nice, respectable ways.

 The serious neo-Calvinists I met in college who were working for a real reformation of every zone of life were inspired by an important network of scholars who were in conversation in newsletters and conferences and debates and tapes, that were, in fact, above and beyond, around and underneath the vision of the much more famous Schaeffer, whose people had their own life-long conversation going, reading books, attending events, forming communities, radio shows and such.  Nowadays, the next generations of the neo-Calvinist worldviewish reformers are doing stuff like *cino/catapult and publishing journals like Comment (from the Work Research Foundation) and publishing books on distinctively Christian views of politics, art, science and engineering and telling it all to students at events like the Jubilee conference each February.  And, like Jamie K. A. Smith of Calvin College, some are carrying on the Bible-based tradition of rejecting Enlightenment rationalism and probing philosophical alternatives that, well, seem a whole lot similar to the postmodernism of Derrida, Lyotard or Foucault.  In fact, the subtitle of his book, Whose Afraid of Postmodernism? is Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church and were lectures once delivered at L'Abri. (Baker; $17.99) making a case for, among other things, an openness to new forms of church that might be considered emergent.  All of that in the past 35 years has been, in many ways, an emerging conversation, a reformational movement, a schooling in the ways of experiments of the Spirit in these times..

 I am not a L'Abri groupie and while I've read most of Francis and Edith Schaeffer's work, don't feel any particular loyalty to their ministry (I was anguished by their son's mean but fascinating memoir, Crazy for God, which I briefly reviewed in January, and then blogged about last month.)  Francis was an important mentor to many that I most admire, an ally, and, importantly, a symbol; for many of us he stands for deeply Christian, evangelical cultural engagement, Biblical theology for the sake of serious piety that moves towards others in hospitality and honest apologetics.  He helped bring anti-cultural, insular evangelicals into engagement with the issues of the day, issues like ecology and racism, urban concern and film studies.  These were issues, you must recall, that, religiously speaking, at that point in the later 60s and early 70s, only liberal Protestants were writing about; except for these folks around the Dutch Reformational movement, and Schaeffer's L'Abri folks, evangelicals were largely silent about culture, politics, society. (Schaeffer used to rent out movie halls in his Swiss village and show Bergman films and then discuss them in what he termed "pre-evangelism."  I know from my youth group years at mainline church conferences, or at the ecumenical college group, we'd show such stuff, but not evaluate it Biblically, but just take it in.  At evangelical schools, like Wheaton College, say, they still were not allowed to show movies on campus; when Schaeffer was there, teaching them about pre-evangelistic cultural apologetics and the need to know Fellini and John Cage and Sergeant Pepper and Martin Luther King, they were debating if they could show The Sound of Music on campus!)

 I recently found an out-of-print copy of a late 60s book by liberal theologian Harvey Cox--he was into the God is Dead kind of stuff then, saying that the world must set the agenda for the church.  My eyes popped when I saw a copy of his legendary Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy, made all the more legendary because of the splendid Bruce Cockburn song inspired by it (from Further Adventures Of.)  The first edition couldn't have looked more like a day-glo poster of a Cream album or In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and it made me laugh right out loud; it was psychedelic, man.  Schaeffer didn't sell out to the spirit of the times, taught us to fight for Biblical truth, in contrast to the way typical mainline Protestants got sucked in the cultural attitudes and views of truth that were popular then.  (Well, at least those that were trying to relate to the culture in relevant outreach; others, of course, stayed boring as the cities burned, the protesters dropped out, their Sunday school attendance slogged and their youth were lost, gone to Woodstock, never to come back.)  Schaeffer and other thoughtful evangelicals, from Os Guinness to Bill Pannell, from James Sire to Rene Padilla, from John Stott to Ron Sider, from Donald Drew to Tom Sine, taught Bible-believing Christians with orthodox theology not to align ourselves with fundamentalists or liberals, but to pioneer a "third way" between the right and the left, culturally and theologically.  With an emphasis on what is now called "missional" (then we heard the language of a "Kingdom vision") we set out to develop the Christian mind, learn to discern the spirits of the age, and witness to an integrated and wholistic discipleship that was "in, but not of" the cultures around us.

We rejected an over-rigid or over-important theology to show that a God-breathed lifestyle demanded a Christian perspective and imaginative re-construal of every area of life, in light of God's Word, not just in doctrinal matters.  Systematic theology, for better or worse, became less vital as we embrace narrative, Biblical theology.  To argue over theological arcana when we didn't equally argue about aesthetics or politics or psychological theory seemed to be suggesting that doctrinal fine-tuning was more important than being faithful to the Lord in every field of life, as if the specialty of theologians and pastors somehow mattered to God more than the work of potters or farmers or businesspeople.  And we knew that that was to make theology itself an idol----all of life was to be redeemed, so doctrinal disputes and denominational matters took a back seat to the big issues of the day, the concerns of lay folk in their particular callings, and the vision of a multi-dimensional, uniquely Christian world and life view.  We thought this, as I recall, not because we didn't think theology mattered--it does--but because the Bible doesn't itself over-indulge in rationalistic doctrinal formulations; most of the Bible is story, history, poems and laments, after all.  Scripture itself is a storied telling of God's redemptive work in history, forming a people who live differently, filled, finally, with the love of a Risen Redeemer, a gracious King who is reclaiming his hurting world.  I heard 35 years ago from conservative scholars that even Paul was to be read narratively (an important insight of most emergent Bible readers nowadays, and a matter for which they are considered controversial.)  So we thought about a Christian view of life, including theology, but didn't make theological precision the only important concern. Our dogma and creedal life was seen as part of our whole worldview and way of life, an all-encompassing, whole-life opening up of life in the Spirit in God's good but fallen creation. We really didn't care how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

People to this day ask why our bookstore has books on culture, race relations, science or history---most Christian bookstores do not, you know---and why we insist on being ecumenical and open-minded in our unusually large theology section, even if we ourselves embrace fairly conservative Protestant theology.  I tell "Ëœem if I can that it is because I read Francis Schaeffer as in my late teens, who wrote passionately about cultural apologetics, yet loved people and read everything he could about them; because I studied worldviews, not just doctrines; because God cares about it all--my Bible tells me so--- and therefore we must read widely and generously, about all areas of life and culture, with divinely-guided curiosity.  It is nothing to brag about, but only part of the story of our journey, that we were fluent in talking about worldviews before Sire's famous The Universe Next Door came out and we had Brian Walsh lecture on worldview formation and his The Transforming Vision not long after we opened the shop.  (We had Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo here early on, too, showing that we've long tried to offer a faith-perspective that took up the issues of human rights, social justice, and peacemaking.  I am proud that my first mention in a footnote was in a Paul Marshall book on human rights and our first acknowledgment in a preface was from Nancy Pearcey, in a book on science.  Both visited L'Abri early in their journey and studied Dooyeweerd in Toronto in the 70s and their fruit in solid societal transformation is tremendous.  See: all of life matters, not just theology, and understanding the Christian story equips us to interact with the world around us, even in questions of legal theory and the philosophy of science.

  In the 70s I devoured little books like C.S. Lewis' student, Harry Blamire's The Christian Mind,  John Stott's Your Mind Matters or his splendid Christian Mission in the Modern World--which has a fabulous quote, still on a bookmarker in my Bible, reminding us that every career and vocation is an avenue of Kingdom service, not just the traditional missionaries.  Even though the first serious theologian I got to know back then was R.C. Sproul, a non-compromising, vigorous, five-point Calvinist, I learned from other evangelicals that it is good to stay in dialogue with others, even if we are sure of our basic convictions.  We conservative Reformed folk call it "common grace"---the doctrine behind the popular slogan of Art Holmes, "all truth is God's truth"--- and some have shown that even passionate, Puritan preachers like Jonathan Edwards held to a openness to what God can teach us from other faiths, from other folks, from nature and art and science.  Richard Mouw, now President of Fuller Seminary, wrote an excellent book on that not long ago---He Shines in All That's Fair--- and he too has served, though books and lectures, as a generous, open-minded and politically-engaged mentor.  I hardly know, by the way, of a writer who is as clear about what he himself believes (Mouw, too, is a five-point Calvinist) and is as open, generous, humble, and eager to learn, as one can be.  I long for that blend of self-confident assurance of being in a tradition, being rooted, and yet open, learning, growing, willing to dialog without giving up one's own deepest truths.  Rich Mouw has modeled that for me for a long time, as he was the first serious Calvinist I knew who took my beloved Anabaptist friends seriously.  The mid-70s Mouw/Yoder dialogs about pacifism, the state, and Christian engagement with social institutions (reform or revolt?) which even spilled over onto the pages of Sojourners, shaped me in deep and lasting ways.  I find it odd, therefore, that dear brothers (and they are mostly brothers) in the Calvinist camp, who worry that I am eager to engage, learn from, discuss and promote the books of the emergent group.  It was what I have been taught to do for decades.  It is a Christian practice I may not be very good at yet----the old pride and need to be right, or the old pride and the need to be liked, simultaneously haunt these kinds of conversations.  But it is what we do here at Hearts & Minds, promote reading, and reading widely, especially so that we might be better equipped to understand our times, and respond with Kingdom mission, faithfully and fruitfully, with sharp minds and open hearts.

I tell you all of this (and I am skipping the part of my journey that includes working at the Catholic Thomas Merton Center, learning contemplative and monastic practices from the books of Richard Foster, and my life-long involvement in mainline denominational congregations) to simply say this: I find the emergent conversation, and the risky, edgy proposals, and the wild new church plants, and the missional outreach experiments and new ways of being Christian in a postmodern world, and new ways of being church and exploring contextualized ancient/future worship, to all be very much in keeping with much of what we have struggled to embody for most of my Christian life, albeit in different ways and around different issues and with somewhat different tones. I am not exactly ready to brand myself emergent and I have deep loyalties to conservative Reformed doctrine, evangelical para-church ministries and institutions, and rather mainline expressions of congregational life.  We've lived in intentional community, been arrested in peace witnesses, and lived in the inner city; we've read critiques of Enlightenment rationalism before anybody knew who Derrida was, and we've loved rock and roll culture even when our best friends were listening to only Larry Norman and LoveSong. Does that make us emergent?  Not exactly.  I'm not bragging at all, not even saying we've been right in all of this, just saying that to me, this emergent stuff makes sense to be talking about.  We've been talking about it---as have many others, in many places, who may never use the emergent name, and couldn't tell you the difference between Doug Pagitt and Mark Driscoll if their life depended on it.  I guess I'm a fringe member of the conversation who feels something like an old-timer.  And we sell their books.

 I am sure there are many who are older than I----in justice work, in cultural reformation, in liturgical renewal, in ecumenical theological conversations--who feel like they, too, have been at this a long, long, time, and are glad to see the young ones with the nose piercings joining---even leading--the discussion.  There have been fabulous folks---like the alumni of the L'Abri movement, say--who have taken people into their homes, who have endured long, long conversations, over years and years, as they've worked for honest expression of Biblical faith.  Mainline folks, charismatics, social action leaders, mission leaders and literary authors have taught us that to be a disciple is to be alive, to be moving, to be growing, deepening, in love for God, in love for His people, in service to others, to be a part of God's redemptive work, in Christ, to rescue the planet.  The emergent voice is offering some stylistic and some substantive contributions to this redemptive project, and their voices need to be considered.  They have experienced some of the less than faithful manifestations of evangelicalism, and what Marva Dawn calls Christian-dumb.  So they are calling us, with the best of intentions, to a better way.  Our interest in their postmodern critique, and their passion for outreach and mission, their willingness to be innovative in congregational life, this may seem rather new, but yet it isn't.  I'm not sure why anyone would want to resist the possibilities of new conversations about old ideas, considering books about or by folks who mostly want to honor Christ by living out His reign in the new world we find ourselves in and a way that seems authentic and true and gracious.  I know we must be careful not to lose our moorings or to shift away from Biblical commitments.  I know we need not throw out all the old to move towards the new that God may be doing.  Still, the church is always called to a lifestyle of ongoing repentance, new life, new reformation.  We are living into a New Creation---that is the point of the Story.  Let's at least join the conversation. 

***

In one of the earliest reviews of one of the first "emergent books" that appeared in North America (Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic, published in 2003 by Youth Specialties), this writer--that is a modest way of saying I--wrote in a review that I wasn't sure what the fuss was all about. Contemplative spirituality?  Rejecting false dichotomies between the sacred and secular?  Engaging popular culture?  Embracing social justice and political theologies?  Learning from liturgical churches about sacramental worship?  Being Earth-friendly, thinking ecologically?  Forming intentional communities?  Rejecting legalism?  Embracing certain postmodern instincts that offered prophetic denunciation to the idols of modernity, secularized rationalism and faith in technique?  Celebrating quality over quantity?  Having suspicions about formula religion and cheap grace, especially as manifested in the kitsch of the evangelical publishing empires?  Been there, done that.  I was astonished that these "post-evangelicals" were writing with such joy, as if they've discovered something in the early 90s that hadn't been being discussed and debated and published for nearly a generation.  Where had they been, I not so graciously wondered?  (Indeed, I was baffled when dear Mike Yaconelli wrote movingly that nobody ever told him about God's simple love that would cause him to sit in silence; I was perplexed because I sold him Henri Nouwen books years earlier.  Maybe Nouwen's books weren't at most Youth Specialties conferences in the 80s, but we surely were not the only evangelical bookstore that promoted him, were we?)  I suppose it was a bit pompous to say something like "where have you been?" or  "we told you so" as I was truly glad to see writers sharing their passion for Christ, rejecting the individualism and conservatism of the typical expression of evangelicalism, forming networks with others who on a similar journey, even if I didn't think it was all that new.

For some of these guys--many refugees from the mega-church empires of the late 90s, grown weary of the religious right and the 40-day formulas, the in-fighting about doctrine and the disinterest in the angst of Generation X---this apparently was very new.  As Leonard Sweet, an early booster of this new network, put it, we are no longer on "terra firma" (a modernist metaphor, anyway) and we need a new "aqua church"---we are out to sea, sailing new waters (as it should be, he'd say.)  No more "Here I stand!" of the individualistic, propositional world of the modern age, but "There we go!"  ---a more Biblical posture, anyway.   I am not sure Aqua Church: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture (Group; $21.95) caught on as a vision for new emergent communities, but it did help more established congregations learn new metaphors for ministry, think of leadership in new ways, even a new, fluid vocabulary.  In 2003 Sweet co-authored a book with Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer called A is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (Zondervan; $16.99) which was a playful (Derridaian?) messing with words, inviting new ways to say things, exploring key insights needed for the world of tomorrow/today, offering what they called "a postmodern alphabet."  Sweet had already given us one of the most fun and feisty overviews of the paradigm shift towards post-modernity in his fabulous (and fabulously footnoted) SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (Zondervan; $16.00.)  Along with generational studies, we did cultural studies, looking at his clever introduction at the way cultural artifacts speak to us of our new social context----as Stan Grenz put it in an often-cited forward to his Primer on Postmodernism (Eerdmans; $19.00) the shift from modernity to postmodernity can be seen in the differences between the old Star Trek and the new Star Trek.  Sweet couldn't have said it any better himself.  Leaders in places like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were rethinking the changes they noticed among the latest cohort of students----Jimmy Long was the first to take the theories of postmodernism, the cultural changes of postmodernity, and the generational insights of sociologists like Howe & Strauss, and put them together in what is still a very useful study, Emerging Hope: A Strategy for Reaching Postmodern Generations (IVP: $16.00.)  I am not sure, with the word "strategy" in the title, if this qualifies as an emergent book, but they did issue the curriculum in a CD-ROM for PowerPoint use. Coolness, except for the ordinary churches that didn't know what to do with the darn thing. 

I argued with Len about a few things in those days, even taught a few courses around a homemade video I had made of him.  My questions were mostly those of a Calvinist bookman who had been reading Neil Postman, fearful of losing linear logic, the habits of heart it takes to read well.  Sweet, too, was there once, and had intended to write a book rather like Postman, until a Damascus road experience (as he puts it) knocked him off his "high horse print culture" and was converted to the experiential and visual cultural mores or our screen-based era.  Maybe I was just a socially-transforming evangelical who had read Niehbur's Christ and Culture a bit too seriously.  Still, those basic categories--do we mildly sell out,  knowingly accommodate, radically resist, fly away to heaven?---were and are helpful to evaluate how our church habits and cultural attitudes can get us to the Biblically required "in/not of" posture.

I don't take credit for it, but a book of a fabulous round-table conversation about all this came out shortly after I video-taped Sweet about Neihbur and such, a book-length, multi-authored conversation about just how we ought to most faithfully engage the changing world in which we find ourselves.  Sweet facilitated this book (a book I later discovered not all the authors were fully pleased with) which I still think is very, very valuable.  It is called The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Zondervan; $19.99.) This is an extended debate by some fine thinkers on just how to evaluate and position ourselves vis a vie the culture around us---Leslie Newbigin's missiological question, you know, and the impact of the "Faith and Culture Network" during these early emergent years cannot be overstated.  This slightly over-sized book, with cool pictures of the room and roundtable, includes various "takes" and insights into the various relationships of medium and message, from those who want to (firmly) affirm an historic Protestant position, Michael Horton, to pre-modern Orthodox writer Frederica Matthewes-Green, an emergent voice in Brian McLaren, a big, multi-ethnic, artsy/edgy Hollywood church dude, Erwin McManus Raphael and the ever-thoughtful, evangelical journalist Andy Crouch.  What a useful foundational tool, a helpful guide, to asking good questions about our relationship to the culture, particularly this culture which we call postmodern.  And what a harbinger of things to come, as the debate about emergent churches has become one not only about doctrine and theology, but about relationship to culture, strategy, and the whole pomo ethos.

Not only did I argue a bit with Len about this question of our strategic relationship to culture (and he would quip, famously, in response to my concerns about his work leading to a new kind of cultural accommodation, "You can do ministry in the world we've got, or the world you wished we had") but I would press any early emergents I could to move beyond a fairly sexy fascination with the sociology and icons of postmodernity----the screens and experiences, the interconnectedness and double-meanings, the irony and consumerism---to the deeper questions about philosophical postmodernism.  The only really profound book on that in the first decade of conversation was Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton (IVP; $18.00).  They explain the social context, the ethos and philosophies of two current ideologies, hyper-modern optimistic consumerism, and the angst-ridden postmodern homelessness.  These reappear in deeper conversation in Colossians Remixed (IVP; $22.00) that Walsh co-authored with Sylvia Keesmat--Brian McLaren authored the first book in print to cite that stunning postmodern Bible study in a footnote---and more will be unpacked in serious depth in the Walsh & Bouma-Prediger's Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement later this spring.)  Truth is Stranger was given a new cover recently and I am reminded just how brilliant it is, naming postmodernism better than anyone, and in insisting that the living in and telling the story of the Biblical drama is the only hope to meaningful reach true post-moderns.  Oddly, more conservative evangelical sources complained when it first came out that Walsh & Middleton yielded too much to their postmodern friends, and that their Biblical hermeneutic was too influenced by the likes of Walt Brueggemann (who they suspect is slippery on matters of Biblical reliability.)  Well, that may be, but of the other five or six evangelical books warning about the dangers of relativistic postmodernism in those years, none---none!---had any substantive Bible study in them; few seemed intent on helping us help post-moderns embrace Christ's Kingdom, either, unless it was by way of proving their views wrong.  Is this itself a moment of postmodern irony, that the most postmodern book of the era was itself the most Biblical?  And that the most evangelical were not very evangelistic, as was Walsh & Middleton?  I know that this duo, and, later Walsh's co-author Sylvia Keesmaat, were, and increasingly, are, being read within the emergent community; I see their footnotes, I hear of emails and conversations.  I sure hope anybody talking about postmodernity or postmodernism is reading them.

I have previously mentioned Os Guinness as a sensitive and helpful cultural critic in the early 70s; he has sustained Beth and I with personal encouragement as much as any author, and has befriended me in kind ways.  I am not sure we agree on this matter of postmodernism, but I am confident that he has three books that come close to this conversation that simply must be read by anyone seriously engaging these kinds of concerns.  I highly recommend Dining With the Devil: The Mega-Church Movement Flirts With Modernity (Baker; $15.00) which is a thoughtful--if a bit harsh---critique of the ways in which mega-churches have used the worst tools of modernity (marketing, technology, ideology, psychology and such) to grow their churches and, in his view, have thereby capitulated in unfaithful ways to the ungodly zeitgeist of the surrounding culture.  The dapper Dr. Guinness sports no tattoos and has little good to say about the theological ambiguities of the present status of the emergent conversation, but I think that most post-moderns, and most emergent folks, will agree with, even as they learn much from Os's trenchant critical eye and deeply caring passion for the holiness of God's people, and for the hope for reform of Christ's church.  I commend it to all, especially those who are eager to engage in emergent village conversations or who tend to hang out at the ooze.com, fretting about the evangelical sub-culture.  Sure you know that the mega-churches are too big and too glitzy and a social construction of the waning days of the Christendom empire, etc. etc. etc.  But the insight of Dining With the Devil is more profound and vital.  Very important, and nicely concise.

Secondly, his book on the nature of truth is about the easiest way to reflect faithfully on the questions of epistemology, an inexpensive and interesting meditation on how we need to be aware of spin, manipulation, and an abuse of truth from various quarters.  A Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin (Baker; $12.99) is a very important contribution, and a good follow-up, perhaps a bit of a counter-balanced to the Walsh & Middleton Truth Is Stranger book or any of the more recent Christian books doing postmodern studies.  It does not answer the many questions about a truly faithful understanding of the role of reason and an wholistic view of truth (I wish he'd cite Polanyi or Parker Palmer just a bit) but it is a splendid reflection, and well worth owning.

Thirdly, I think that Guinness' hard-hitting little book---a cry of the heart, to be sure---called Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance (now, sadly out of print) is mostly aimed at the excesses of the mega-church, spurred, in his evaluation, by unqualified quest for relevance.  Yet, it may be equally important to some in the emergent movement and therefore, is on my "must-read" list for oozy emergents.  It is my sense, to be fair, that the deepest emergent conversations---at least in the early days---were deeply about truth, about epistemology, and about missional effectiveness among a de-churched generation.  As Tony Jones explains in The New Christians, the early emergent gang mostly came out of mega-churches, so they were not trying to be hip or "relevant" in a shallow effort to "relate", quite the opposite. Still, whenever Guinness writes, we should pay attention, and his prophetic critique of the idol of relevance (and his own bit of postmodern irony noting that the most relevant we can possibly be is when we bring an untimely word from another place and time.  Anybody can speak within the culture, it is the most relevant to be--excuse the play on words--(seemingly) irrelevant.  Or, to put it another way, the most irrelevant thing is to sell out to the surrounding culture, bending over backwards to meet needs and build bridges and thereby having nothing unique or transforming to say.  Guinness of course reflects more eloquently than I, and he unpacks this carefully.

Well, this "second wave" of anti-Enlightenment, post-modern, socially engaged, culturally relevant folks have made quite the mark, having publishers scrambling to get on board, if only for the marketing vibe, the aesthetic, the edge.  I think this Publishers Weekly piece that I linked above gets it right.  This conversation is important, and is in danger of being watered down and co-opted--perhaps not unlike the final days of Dr. Schaeffer's ministry?---and I hope for the sake of the Kingdom, that we can continue to think through what is most faithful, what is theologically wise and helpful, and how best to serve Christ in our post-Christendom, post-modern, hot-wired, perfect-storm culture.

In the PW essay, Ms Reiss cites the new Tony Jones, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontiers (Jossey-Bass; $22.95), a book which is about as fun and interesting and important of a telling of the tale of the rise of the emergent movement as we need.  It is very, very important and, happily, a page-turner.  I highly recommend it.  From anecdotes (Jones was there when one guy explained who Derrida was; he has first hand memories of a blow-up with Driscoll, he narrates how the Bible is being used in his circles) and analysis, it is the best book to learn about the rise of the American emergent movement.  Fun.

Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures by Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger (Baker Academic; $17.99) is the other must-read volume that give an empirical, research-based overview of the emergent movement.  These authors have done the most extensive interviews with emergent leaders all over the world--New Zealand and England are very important for this move of the Spirit---and it is the best report from their five-year journey.  Nobody has gathered as many great stories, as many multi-cultural examples, as many case studies of new ministries, emerging voices, alternative services, creative worship, missional experiments, sacred renewal, and wild theological experiments than Gibbs and Bolger.  This is data, but more than data, it is a world-rocking testimony of what God seems to be up to in these new kinds of churches, for new kinds of Christians.  Charitable and reflective in their analysis, this is a great work.  Highly recommended.

If you want a bit more diversity, more examples of the different kinds of thinking, friendships, viewpoints and perspectives that emerge out of these young missional communities, and want a bit more of what emergent folk believe and think, see the brilliant, ecumenical collection, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope edited by Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones (Baker; $19.99.)  I am sure you will find some essays worth savoring, some you will want to copy and pass on, and some that will drive you batty. There are some of the best writers in this movement here, and some surprising stuff, too.  Brian McLaren confessing he no longer wants to be seen as post-modern is nearly worth the price of the book itself, at least if you're keeping track of such things.  That there are finally some ethnic minority voices in this conversation makes this really important too--check out Randy Woodley (a Cherokee brother, and Hearts & Minds friend) and the PostModern Negro (blogger) Anthony Smith, and Rodolpho Carrasco.  I've said before that Dwight J. Friesen is an intellectual heavyweight and it is good to have some voices like Samir Selmanovic, who grew up in a European Muslim family.  What a collection!  Welcome to the conversation.

Speaking of conversations, here is a book that emerged (sorry) out of a blogging conversation, and feels like a free-flowing back and forth set of emails and blogs and reactions.  This is a fabulous resource, a great study tool, full of information and fury, and one of my really great pals---Bob Robinson, of the CCO, and the only guy I know who has a "friend of Kuyper" and "friend of emergent" bug on his blog. A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith is edited by Byron Bradley Penner & Hunter Barnes and includes contributions from Brian McLaren, Bruce Ellis Benson, and a host of others (Baker; $24.00.)  Published in England by Paternoster, we sell it for just $16.99.

And, lastly, for a fair-minded and an important bit of criticism of the general theological drift of some in this movement, see the straight-arrow thinker, a kind and good man, R. Scott Smith, who has written, Truth and the New Kind of Christian (Crossway; $15.99.)  Even Tony Jones has written that Smith is his friend, that they have had good conversations about all of this and they share a respectful and collegial relationship.  A hard-hitting critique, to be sure, warnings about creeping relativism and unbiblical notions that pervade the emergent authors, but it is the one to read if that is what you want.

Many of my emergent friends are accused of being too liberal theologically, too influenced by the odd philosophical strokes of postmodernism.  They ask big questions about hard Biblical matters and want to be authentic and real, without any churchy pretense.  They want to impact the world, and are gladly moving towards social justice concerns, getting involved in human rights initiatives and social action missions.  In all of this, they seem not too dissimilar to the theologically moderate, but active, mainline churches.  This is the arguement of Diana Butler Bass' intriguing and inspiring travelogue through some of the most robust and active denominational parishes, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith (HarperOne; $13.95.)  The ethos of a spiritually-rich but ecumenically-minded UCC church or a liturgically rich Lutheran congregation that runs a food pantry is different than the emergent places like Jacobs Well or Solomon's Porch of Not Metal Bridge.  Still, Diana was more than being clever when she quipped that, in some ways, the best congregations she interviewed for Christianity for the Rest of Us  were a lot like the emergent villagers, engaging in ancient practices in new ways, except there were no tattoos or eyebrow piercings or espresso machines in the worship space.  

Ancient spiritual practices, food pantries for the poor and great coffee?  No I ask you, who wouldn't want to talk about that?


March 14, 2008

My new monthly review column explains why I'm interested in the emergent conversation

new christians.jpgI've posted one of my long columns at the website's "review articles" page, the one for March.  It starts with a link to a fun and helpful little piece in Publisher's Weekly where the writer wonders if Christian publishers, in their desire to jump on the emergent bandwagon, will so over-use the term that it will become meaningless, co-opted.  You can visit that good essay here.

My column, though, goes on for pages sharing my interest in theological dialog and cultural reformation, telling how the North American students of Dutch Calvinist philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd---a behind the scenes influence upon Francis Schaeffer, actually---taught many of us in the 70s to deconstruct the Enlightenment project and the alleged autonomy of Reason long before anyone heard of postmodernism, let alone the emerging theologies.

Ironically, being schooled in this conservative Protestant tradition which critiqued secularized rationalism, and which honored honest questions, and which insisted upon robust, Biblically-guided cultural involvement, has made me more open to the emergent questions, not less.  I know some of our readers and friends worry about this, so I make my case, sharing how we've come to appreciate their basic impulse and publishing agenda.  I tell about some of my favorite books that set me up for this recent firestorm of new authors, hip book imprints, e-zines, clever ministries and the missional call to reinvent faith in ways that are different than middle American Christianity as we know it.

I hope my column explains our eagerness and concerns for the emergent conversation, lets you in on more of our past journey, and alerts you to some of the recent history of the emergent movement by highlighting some of the most important books in this field over the past five years or so.  The best new book that tells the story of the leaders of the new movement is doubtlessly the page-turning delight The New Christians: Dispatches From the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones (Jossey-Bass; $22.95.) Jones is doubtlessly the one to tell this story, currently the coordinator for the Emergent Village. It has garnered rave, rave reviews from everybody from McLaren to Phyllis Tickle to Mark Oestreicher.  If my rambling whets your appetite, read Jones next, and then some of the other books I cite.  If my rambling turns you off, forget it, and read Jones.  And, wherever you are, join the conversation!

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March 19, 2008

Race, Racism, Reconciliation and Justice--And a Free Book Offer


Lots of people are talking about Obama's speech about race, his relationship to his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and other ways in which race (and gender) have shaped the Democratic primary and, by extension, the civic discourse over recent weeks.  I, too, have been emailing friends and talking--for hours and hours over the several days---sharing my own interests and concerns and opinions about racial justice, Martin Luther King, and the charges against Rev. Wright.  It has reminded me of much that I hold dear, and I feel very raw about it all.  I have been through a little bit on this stuff, from the late 60s onward, but have no special insight, really, although [geek alert:] I have read more than your average person on this matter.  And so, it is only natural that I share a few titles with you now, my contribution to the on-going conversations about race, multi-culturalism, ethnicity and the legacy of American's original sin.

I've compiled other similar bibliographies, other times at the website, and we have a very large selection of books on racism and multi-ethnic ministry here at the shop.  Few churches, sadly, are truly working on this, so there they sit.

Still, great books keep coming out; IVP is particularly to be commended for doing some of the best, and consistently good, faith-based resources.  God bless "Ëœem.

credible witness.jpgA Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race Brenda Salter McNeil  (IVP) $13  Brand new, this is by one of our favorite speakers, a passionate and charming communicator, a woman who has walked through much of the turmoil of working for racial justice.  As a Black woman, she is able to introduce us to important insights from her experience, and offer new insights on Biblical stories--- Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, say.  Interestingly, this is also about evangelism, and how racial reconciliation offers a glimpse of the Kingdom in a way that makes our witness credible. See also her co-authored The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change (IVP; $13.)

Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Navpress) $12.99  Wilson-Hartgrove has been a friend and partner-in-crime with Shane Claiborne and has been instrumental in calling together folk to live in community, in service to the poor.  Such "new monasticism" has lead him to the rural south, and the insights of this provocative, powerful call to rediscover the role of faith in crossing into the social spaces of others.  Chris Rice, codirector of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School (and himself the author of a moving memoir about his work with John Perkins and his late son) says that this "marks Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove as one of the freshest and most important new voices in an American church still deeply divided and confused by the color line."

Beyond Rhetoric: Reconciliation as a Way of Life Samuel George Hines & Curtiss Paul Deyoung (Judson Press) $14  Both of these men are renowned church activists, doing mature and thoughtful ministry out of the historic black church.   Heavy with insight, and life-transforming spirituality, this is the real deal, motivating and practical.

Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity Randy Woodley (IVP) $16  Woodley is a Cherokee leader, and this lovely book is a call not just to reconciliation between blacks and whites, but a beautiful call to truly celebrate the diversity God has given us.  "We would never give Picasso a paintbrush and only one color of paint, and expect a masterpiece" he writes.  A very good study guide is enclosed, making this a fine introduction for churches of all sorts. 

Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility George Yancey (IVP) $15 I am inspired reading sobeyond racial gridlock.jpg many of these books, some of which cause deep sadness in my soul, reminding me of older hurts I have witnessed or read about, and the anguish of our society of "deferred dreams."  I commend reading books about race, at least for white folks who often have large blind spots on this issue, regularly, to remain educated and alive to this struggle.  This book, though, takes the conversation to new levels, offering a taxonomy of how different ethnic groups tend to react to the call for racial reconciliation, and with unflinching nerve, lays blame across the board, and offers guides to the unique responsibilities each party has.  His survey of the range of approaches that have been used, and their respective weaknesses makes this a major contribution of distinctively Christian thinking.    Mark McMinn, writes, "I am so drawn to this book.  It gets me beyond my guilt, denial, and defensiveness.  Yancey, as a black man, is coming along beside me, a white man, and acknowledging that this is our mutual task to figure out how to treat one another well.  I don't feel condemned; I feel welcomed into a conversation."

Understanding & Dismantling Racism: The Twenty First Century Challenge to White America Joseph Barndt (Fortress) $17  Barndt is a legendary educator and workshop leader within mainline church settings, mostly, and this revised version of his classic book is a work of analytical brillance, challenging and deep.

Subverting the Power of Prejudice: Resources for Individual and Social Change
Sandra L. Barnes (IVP) $16 Dr. Barnes is a serious sociological scholar, here translating the data and language of her field into theological insights, helping anyone, but especially Christians, understand the prevalence of prejudice in our society and what to do about it.  Very thoughtful, very important.

a bound man.jpgWhite Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era Shelby Steele (Harper) $16 No list would be complete without an iconoclast who breaks with the typical discourse and offers an alternative reading of the problem at hand.  Known for his very eloquent call to stop talking about race in The Content of our Character, he has generated a degree of controversy with his critique of Mr. Obama in his brand new, brief A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win (The Free Press; $22.)  Here is his piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, a piece that struck me as somewhat insightful at points, and infuriating at others.   I am not convinced he's correct---in fact, I was once told that it was his wrong-headedness that inspired Cornel West to pen his still vital Race Matters (Vintage; $12.95.) Still, Steele's peculiar views are a viable part of the conversation, and we invite you to read widely, seek discernment, to think, talk, share.  Drop us a posted comment, too, if any of this strikes you as helpful or unhelpful. Thanks for being a part of our feeble efforts.

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PLEASE JUST LET US KNOW IF YOU PREFER A FREE COPY (OUR CHOICE) OF A BOOK ABOUT THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA, ABOUT FAITH-BASED RACIAL RECONCILIATION OR SOMETHING ABOUT AFRO-CENTRIC FAITH.  We will grab something for you, a free surprise, but no exchanges or complainin' allowed.  ORDER HERE

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March 21, 2008

Exile: A Good Friday prayer, it seems...

EXILE
on reading 1 & 2 Kings                                                           
prayers for a privileged people.jpg
Like the ancients, we know about ashes,
    and smoldering ruins,
    and collapse of dreams,
    and loss of treasure,
    and failed faith,
    and dislocation,
    and anxiety, and anger, and self-pity.

For we have watched the certitudes and
entitlements
of our world evaporate.

Like the ancients, we are a
mix perpetrators,
   knowing that we have brought this on
         ourselves, and a
         mix of victims,
                  assaulted by others who rage against us.

Like the ancients, we weep in honesty                                                                                                                  
at a world lost
    and the dread silence of your absence.                                                                                                          

    We know and keep busy in denial,                                                           
Walter Brueggeman picture.jpg    but we know.

Like the ancients, we refuse the ashes,
    and watch for newness.
    Like them, we ask,
    "Can these bones live?"

Like the ancients, we ask,
    "Is the hand of the Lord shortened,
       that the Lord cannot save?"

Like the ancients, we ask,
    "Will you at this time restore what was?"

And then we wait:
    We wait through the crackling of fire,
                and the smash of buildings
                and the mounting body counts,
                and the failed fabric of
                   medicine and justice and education.

We wait in a land of strangeness,
    but there we sing, songs of sadness
                songs of absence,
                belatedly songs of praise,
                acts of hope
                gestures of Easter,
                gifts you have yet to give
.
                                                          Walter Brueggemann
                                                          Prayers for a Privileged People
                                                          Abingdon Press (2008)   $19.00

March 24, 2008

Stone Crossings

Istone crossings.jpg'm wondering what to write about, the day after Easter, and it seems only natural to cite N.T. Wright's spectacular recent book Surprised by Hope (Harper; $24.95.)  You surely know, if you've read BookNotes for long, that we despise the unbiblical dualism that sets the so-called secular against the sacred; those ideas of Plato that wiggled their pernicious way into the church so that true spirituality was segregated from ordinary life, where Christ's teachings were seen to be relevant not for here and now, but for another place, or just for the super-spiritual.  God's intention is seen not as the promised restoration of all things, a new creation created out of the shell of the old (to paraphrase Dorothy Day) but as an ethereal pie in the sky.  Wright has stood against this unhelpful way of thinking with wisdom and Biblical balance for years.  He stands strong on the doctrine of creation and the way in which Christ's reign is proclaimed here, "on Earth as it is in Heaven" given his insightful appreciation for Jesus' Jewish messiahship.  His serious work on resurrection has explored that deeply, and in this new one, he ponders the various meanings and true hope we have in resurrection.  It is perfect to help us realize just how momentous yesterday's celebration was.

Still, I want to write about something else, one of the best books I've read in a while.  A writer who posts here from time to time, and whose blog I've commended, (Seedlings in Stone), L.L. Barkat, just released her collection of Bible reflections, based not only on her solid and sane reading, her immense and articulate understand of the Bible, but on her own troubled life.  Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places  (IVP; $15) is much more than a typical "basic Christian growth" book of insight into discipleship---she tells with an artist's eye the keen memories of her  difficult childhood, her coming of age, her college and young adult years.  The second half of the book unfolds insights from her marriage and relationship with her multitude of stepparents and stepsiblings, narrating in gorgeous prose snapshots from her life, memories of her past as they come into God's healing light, and moments of her on-going steps toward a sane lifestyle and faithful discipleship.

This glorious book is thoughtful without being laborious, literate without being self-conscious.  She has a great eye for details, and a luminous style that revels in God's presence in the day-to-day.  She is drawing lessons from life, and is candid about her ups and downs.  And, boy, has she has some.  Yet, God's great grace in her life has kept her from bitterness and she has emerged as an obviously mature, wise, and articulate citizen of God's healing land.  I had to fight back tears on Good Friday and Holy Saturday as I sat with this, dropping the book to my knees as I looked to the heavens to whisper a thanks to God for her fine work, and Christ's reign over the caste of characters on this stony road.

Yes, stones are the main metaphor here, as she steps on stones in the rivers of her youth, picks up smooth ones to cherish, visits caves and walls and works and reworks writerly memes and theological themes that have to do with the rocks, stones and stonewalls.  I really enjoyed her deft handling of these images, and, more importantly, learned much, and was reminded of even more, of how God's grace works to bring healing and hope to a rough-hewn life.

Ms Barkat loves Annie Dillard, and quotes other creative types (from Make Fujumaro's essay in Comment or Toni Morrison to a particularly powerful story from a Salvador Dali biography or the John Donne stuff in Wit.)  She is delightfully fluent in solid Biblical scholarship, too, citing good guys, Lyland Ryken to Tremper Longman to Iain Provane. It isn't too far off when Scot McKnight (on the back cover) likens her to Eugene Peterson.

Each of the 20 chapters of memoir/Bible study/story unfolds a particular theme----forgiveness, inclusion, doubt, humility, baptism, gratitude, to name a few.  They unfold increasingly, showing her growth and maturity, even though the book is technically not a biography.  Still, as she tells her story, opens up Scriptural insight, we come to see not only a life touched and graced by the Resurrected Christ, but we see just how tangible----solid as a stone---God's grace can be.

This is a perfect book for Eastertide; it is real, hard, and yet, gently triumphant.  God is at work among His people, slowly, but surely. Stone Crossings chronicles this joyful, good, truth graciously and helpfully, and we are happy to commend it to you.  There are discussion questions, too, making it ideal for a book club or small group.  And, she now has a stonecrossings website dedicated to the book, for readers to join a virtual community. There, you can read an interview with Barkat, see some PR stuff, and listen to some chapter's being read.  Check it out, and return to our website and place an order.  You won't regret it.


March 31, 2008

Scandal of Evangelical Politics

We just got back from selling books at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  We were at the conferencescandal of evangelical politics.jpg organized by Evangelicals for Social Action, a gathering convened to study themes raised by Ron Sider's new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (Baker; $15.99.) I reviewed this book in our monthly website column in February and I hope you saw it; it is very, very important.  One of the opening speakers at the conference was Dr. David Gushee, whose excellent new book, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center (Baylor University Press $24.94) makes a very strong case for what he calls a "centrist" evangelical witness. Gushee has been a friend and colleague of Sider and ESA for years and it was fabulous to be with him, again; the book is very good, and he has been in high-level conversations with evangelical leaders around these themes and has an insightful grasp of the movements, inclinations and future of the faith and politics debates.  Like these books by Sider and Gushee, the conference advanced the notion that although a "third way" and radically centrist alternative to the Christian right has been being researched and written about for years, the recent demise of the fundamentalist right really has created a new opportunity for responsible, Biblically-balanced perspectives to become better known.  Scholar/activists like Stanley Carlson-Thies and John DiIllo (both who have served in the White House in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives) and serious political science scholar Jim Skillen (of the Center for Public Justice) were presenters, and both Sider and Gushee tipped their hat to the solid work Skillen has done for many, many years in helping us "think Christianly" about politics, citizenship and statecraft.

 Also, there were strong voices from outside the mainstream, white evangelical culture---ethnic minority leaders like the vibrant and forthright Louis Cortes (Esperanza) and Al Tizon (a young, Asian-American Prof. at Palmer who I was tickled to finally meet) and racial diversity trainer, author (and Hearts & Minds booster) Brenda Salter-McNeil.  Buster Soares preached up a storm in classic African American style on Sunday morning---showing how Jeremiah Wright could be best understood after spending time with Jeremiah the prophet, who, naturally, leads us to Jesus and his radical reorientation announced in Luke 4.  I've not been so challenged and moved by a sermon in years!  Testify, indeed!

 There were workshops on how to advance a consistently pro-life ethic in the public square, ways to help conservatives and liberals work together, especially on matters of common concern like religious liberty and overcoming poverty, and good stuff on creation-care.  It was a working conference, with panels and workshops and non-stop conversations.  We met some new folks, got re-connected with long-standing H&M customers, and hopefully added value to the event by offering resources, book-buying advise, and a general reminder that to make a difference as thoughtful Christians in the public square we simply have to read, study, learn, and reflect.  Selling books at events like the ESA conference is a large part of our calling, it seems, and we are glad to be able to tell you about it.

The "Scandal" event didn't attract a huge crowd, but it generated the same hope and zeal that we are hearing about from the current Jim Wallis/Sojourners book tour (The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America) and the radical commitments to find real answers to societal crises such as thoseexplored by Brian McLaren in his stunning Deepshift/Everything Must Change tour, based on his book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, The Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope.  We sold some copies of Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne, of course, and, he, too, is soon to go out on a conference/book tour (although nobody else's will have juggling, "Amish for Homeland Security" tee shirts, or a service component the way Shane's surely will.)

 

These are good times to be courageous "third way-ers", to be something other than the secular left or the Christian right.  Why even conservative blogger extraordinaire, Joe Carter, over at The Evangelical Outpost has issued an open letter to his colleagues on the Christian right, advising more balance and less right-wing venom.  Hat tip to Dick Cleary at Viewpoint for linking us with that.

If you've never read Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, you really should.  Christianity Today listed it as one of the top 100 books of the 20th century, and we have re-read every edition since its much-heralded 1976 release.  What he did for global poverty in that book, he did for domestic poverty in Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America; it was given great forwards by Catholic Democrat John DiIllio and evangelical Republican, Chuck Colson.  That in itself says something, eh?

Sider's latest, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics, may be his most thoughtful and sophisticated yet, a systematic call to a conscientious and consistent Christian public philosophy--rooted in the Biblical story and a subsequent Christian worldview---coupled with non-partisan, interdisciplinary social analysis.  I know we've been saying this kind of "framework & foundations" stuff for years, so it is great to have an eminent Christian leader like Sider insist not only that we take the Bible seriously,(as he has prophetically called us to on issues of war, violence, poverty, materialism, creation-care, sexual ethics and such) but to develop a distinctively Christian set of theories about the state, about society, about the norms which should guide the unfolding of institutions, who should do what, and so forth.  We need more than rhetoric---even more than calling for Jesus to be President---and Sider delivers in this great new book.

iamnotsocialactivist.jpgYou may not know of his brand new I Am Not A Social Activist: Making Jesus the Agenda (Herald Press; $16.99) This is a collection of his short pieces from Prism magazine.  I have cried at some of these, photocopied many, saved them for future use.  I know I am not the only one to read Sider's back-page column first in Prism, and it is fabulous to have them in one convenient volume.  Here you have Sider calling for a wholistic vision, for integrating faith and life, for doing evangelism and social action, for uniting prayer and politics.  Here is his piece on Paul Marshal's Heaven Is Not My Home, and here are several of his best columns on the nature of the Kingdom of God. Several are quite tender, all notably full of piety and faith. From love of creation, to love of his beloved wife, from his rage against the Bush tax cuts to his proposals for evangelicals to get involved in the global warming debate, these are some of the best short polemics you will find.  If you care about the world in which we live, and want some guidance in offering a balanced, Biblical view to the issues of the day, pick it up and start on any page. It will draw you closer to Christ. It will give you something clear and important to talk about with those who don't quite do this kind of reading.  It will help you help our sad, needy, world.   And that is something to which we are all called.