About October 2008

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

September 2008 is the previous archive.

November 2008 is the next archive.

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

October 2008 Archives

October 6, 2008

God and Politics & Deer Hunting With Jesus

I've written before about the adult ed class I'm doing at my church on citizenship and faith, Christians politics and such.  I've been re-reading parts of old favorites--Paul Marshal's God and the Constitution is brilliant, and David T. Koyzis Political Visions and Illusions is (as the subtitle puts it): A Survey & Critique of Contemporary Ideologies and is therefore exceptionally important for those serious about such concerns. We are glad for these thoughtful resources that get beyond the typical news reports or the knee-jerk faith-based partisanship from the left or the right. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw, as we've said before, is as hip and radical as they come, and I love it, and recommend it, even if I find the anarchy/resistance bit less than adequate.  Ahh, I remember doing Bible studies with Berrigan-esque folks years ago, perplexed at how easily they insisted that Revelation 13 (the state as beast) trumps Romans 13 (the state as servant);  it is never that simple, though, is it?  In God's good but fallen world, it seems to me, we must live in the tension that insists that institutions are fallen, but can (and shall be) redeemed in Christ, meaning we must protest, sometimes, and be patiently in for the long haul, sometimes. As John Stott puts it, we are called to be "conservative radicals." (That is, there are a few key core truths which we must conserve and, in light of those---the Lordship of Jesus revealed through an authoritative Bible---everything else can be radically critiqued.)   

And so in our class we've dashed through stuff about the civitas, how we are to seek the public good, honoring in civil ways, the pluralism of our culture.  Os Guinness' Case for Civility, as I've said before, is a rich, thoughtful, deep guide to forging an alternative between the "naked public square" and the "sacred public square."  We cannot abide a Taliban-like theocracy, of course, but the alternative is not an implausible removal of religious convictions from public life.  Dr. Guinness helps us get at this quandary and it is very, very helpful. See a bit about it here.

After a few weeks on the Biblical basis for justice, we've been reflecting now on civic life, on everything from Sidewalks in the Kingdom (a book we've often promoted, a new urbanism study written by a Presbyterian pastor, Eric Jacobsen who is influenced by the brilliant and fiesty work of James Howard Kunstler;  you can see Jacobsen's website here. which has some great resources and excerpts of the book.) We've mentioned Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, which reminds us of the need to think hard about social capitol and the demise of mediating structures and civil society. (See Bowling Alone's website, here.)  Not all public life and civic engagement is about government per se; a good new "third place" in a town may be just what is most needed to foster a sense of commitment to the community, and to create energy for civic engagement.  (Of course, zoning laws come into play, so there ya go, back to political issues.)  Before we ask what the task of the state is, we should be aware of the broader civic institutions, voluntary associations, clubs, churches and other such groups that we too often don't take very seriously.  At least that is Putnam's thesis.

god and politics.jpg In my reading this last week, I remembered a very, very small book that I loved a few years back, realizing that it is now happily reissued in a slightly larger size, but still small and handy.  It is fun, funny, moving and clear-headed as they come.  God and Politics: How Can a Christian Be in Politics (Tyndale; $7.99) is written by the delightful Christian gentleman, Roy Herron (a State Senator from Tennessee.) I read it almost in one sitting, wiping tears from my eyes at one point, and wondering how in the world I can sell a few of these lovely, little, very inspiring, basic-level, but spot-on introductions to balanced and thoughtful Christian statecraft.  This is written by a sharp guy, a former minister, a Democrat from TN.  He draws on his experience as a state senator and promotes a humble, kind, and just sense of the common good.  If you know anyone who needs a nice, evangelically-minded and very interesting quick intro to this whole field, this little book can't be beat.

I spent a bit of time in my Sunday school lecture explaining why "I'm neither left nor right" and the conundrum of those like, for instance, the consistent life ethic folks of the Catholic social teaching movement that is (to be simplistic) pro poor and pro life;  ahhhh, they just don't fit the typical bi-polar continuum of the American reds and blues.  To be against the abuse of the earth and to be in favor of traditional sexual ethics, again, is hardly liberal or conservative.  Ron Sider's Evangelicals for Social Action, and to some extent Sojourners and Campolo's Red Letter Christians movement (and his new book of that name) are examples of this "third way" thinking that isn't easily pegged in terms of typical American ideology.  The neo-Calvinists---I've mentioned the Stephen Monsma book and DVD in the last post---are similiarly not quite on the typical left-to-right sliding scale.  A peculiar people, indeed.

Yes, I want to be nonpartisan.  Still,  I came home and started reading a "hard to put down" book I've been meaning to get to, and it is as partisan as can be.  It is mad as a wet hen and it is such a thrilling read, such a sad and funny expose of how American blue collar redneck Southern working class folk think and live, written by a "class warfare" advocate whose good hearted care for his own fundamentalist/blue-collar roots is palpable.

 I'm talking about Deer Hunting
deer hunting 2.jpgWith Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War by Joe Bageant (Three River Press; $13.95.)  His explorations from the local bar and grill in his hometown of Winchester VA, remind me a bit of one of my favorite writers, Bill Kauffman (Muckdog Gazette and Look Homeward America) without the detailed history, but sharing his antipathy for big corporations that bamboozle the ordinary folks of small towns.  He knows his town well, and has done some stunning organizing around slumlords and tenets rights, fighting shady cops and Republican commissioners and anti-union Chamber of Commerce leaders, even while he calls them his neighbors, and knows everybody's business (as they know his. This is a smallish town, remember, one with, apparently  where a lot of folks are related to alot of other folks.)  I was disappointed in the church he visited, but I suppose it was typical; it was poignant because the visit was to his brother's Baptist church.  You've got to read the chapter which told of the Rubbermaid factory (and the ever present threat of plants moving to Mexico.)  This is one down-home, fired up, sociological treatise that is a real as the busted up cars in the yard, the karaoke bar where diabetic women sing Patsy Cline, the gun-lovin' residents of the local mobile home park get born again, and  everybody's huge credit card debt doesn't keep them from kicking back with a few cold ones when times get tough. Despite the lack of health care, poor wages they remain largely a committed Republican voting block. 

Forget the bestseller from a few years back, What's the Matter with Kansas? and pick up this gonzo journalist gone-working class, a guy whose writing has been said to make Michael Moore seem tame.  Look, you may not be wanting all the feisty liberal talk here (let alone the cussing), and you may not like his anger at the neo-con elitists, and you may not appreciate his unabashed pro-union, anti-business bias.  But this is one heckuva bias, and it colors every bit of his muck-racking journalism with such a passion for the oppressed and such a righteous anger against the injustices foisted upon these good and often very hard-working folk, that it makes for a convicting, exhilarating, raging read.  He's writing about people I know, and you probably do to. Folks who have never stepped foot in a Starbucks, and wouldn't know an emergent cohort if it bit 'em on the butt.  Despite all the progressive's earnest talk about the poor and the little guy, even Obama's moving speeches about single moms and the working poor, most progressives frankly don't know, let alone appreciate rural or small town folk.  Bageant does. He has been living as a proud  white Southerner on the lower end of the middle class for a while, and has been blasting away about it at his controversial blog (www.JoeBageant.com) for years.

 I'm glad that I picked up this wild Deer Hunting With Jesus today, and it will remind me that even as I call for a "third way" and have great ambivalence about the simplistic proposals from the Democrats and the Republicans alike, there are tons of folks out there beside the urban underclass, who are really hurting, and we need to make sure they are not left behind.  Not all corporations are corrupt---I have never thought that---but there are corporations, large and small, who rip people off, and there is collusion allowing injustice to go unopposed.  This is one of those books that can light a fire, giving us real names and places and situations, real stories of a rough part of town, like a John Gorka song, reminding us of how a good chunk of our fellow citizens live. And it is wonderfully self-aware, loaded with the irony that Bageant gets, that he is a liberal and his friends and neighbors hate liberals.  They listen to Rush.  They know how they see the world. Yet he is there, laughing and crying and writing it all down, probably listening to Bruce Springsteen and maybe some Johnny Cash--and surely the hometown gal, Patsy Cline--- along the way.  What a story.  

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

October 7, 2008

Tell It Slant Eugene Peterson's long awaited fourth volume

tell it slant.jpgThis just in: Eugene Peterson's long awaited fourth volume in his classy (and soon to be classic) projected five volume magnum opus series of spiritual theology is now available. (The first one was called Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and is now available in paperback.) The new one is Tell It Slant:  Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Eerdmans; $24.00.)  Those who have heard his Tell It Slant recorded lectures from his days back at Regent in BC know the eloquence and passion he has for this topic.  Indeed, one of the things Peterson is most known for is his love for language, his insistence that we pay attention to the details of the Biblical text (his love for nuance, syntax, and grammar shows up in The Message in ways that are too often underappreciated, I think.)  He has often told the stories of how his own love for poetry and novels--from James Joyce to Cormac McCarthy and Reynolds Price--and Greek and Hebrew (think of that chapter in Subversive Spirituality called Kittel Among the Coffee Cups) have shaped his love for the Word.  And how our human, made-in-God's-image, language-using, story-telling, meaning-making, down-to-Earth nature leads us to naturally enter into story. So, a conversation about language is quintessential Peterson, and his love for the person and work and language and ways of Jesus, is just what we've come to expect, to hunger for, from his pen.  Believe it or not, there is a very intelligent, half-hour YouTube interview with Eugene, and you can watch him there.  It is a tremendous treat, with him talking about novels, authors (like Wendell Berry), the work of the pastor, missing the chance to be with Bono, The Message and Bible translation, reading well, God and other glorious themes that hover around his ongoing work. 

In the third volume in this series, last years profound (that is, to be read slowly) The Jesus Way, Peterson ruminates on the ways of Jesus, the Messiah way of being in the world, even the Christ-like way of leadership.  He rightfully worries that we don't do "God's work in God's way" but rather, adopt the world's assumptions and images and metaphors and strategies and policies and techniques, doing Christ's work in wrong ways (or, worse, doing our own darn stuff and saying it is God's stuff.)  Ways and means, vision and lifestyle, word and deed, worldview and way of life:  these are one in the integrated Christian way, and any of pastor Peterson's books help us get that in our bones.

In Tell It Slant--a beloved line from an Emily Dickinson poem--Eugene does just that, brings a somewhat new angle of vision to the ways in which Jesus Himself taught, spoke, prayed.  He has "lived with"  and pondered these stories, these prayers, and, as Arthur Paul Boers says, this book is as "winsome and wise as ever" and that "this volume is among...his very best."  Another reviewer says "If books were priced according to the linguistic care with which their sentences were assembled, this volume would be priceless."

And listen further to Peter Marty (of Grace Matters Radio): (Peterson) "strikes forcefully at theological abstraction and sentimental godtalk."  I am not sure if this necessarily means he offers critique of and resistance to the gibberish of the theological left and the overly pious right (or is it the theologism of the evangelical right and the vapid spirituality of the ecumenical left?)  Either way, his doctrine and devotion, his conviction and practice, his textual insight and lived wisdom, his submission to text and presence, helps us all---evangelical, mainline, Catholic, emergent or mystic or dogmatic or whatever---to grapple with solid faith and the resulting common-sense, yet surprising, whole-life, counter-cultural discipleship in the way of Jesus.

Tell It Slant: Conversations... is dedicated to his grandchildren, who keep him alive to wonder and joy.  As Peterson ages, he has not lost his ability to think deeply and communicate clearly, to present the gospel in penetrating and powerful ways, yet he relishes the perspective of these little ones.  And, also,  as always, he is dipping his pen in ancient pools, suggesting as part of the conversation, ways to deepen our love for language, imagination, text and story, by citing our best writers and thinkers.  What a splendid work this appears to be.  We are pleased to commend it to you as one which will surely be on many "best of the year" lists.    See our special price listed below.

There are study guides available for each of these volumes, as well.  They sell for $6.00 and are very well done (although the new one has not yet been released.)

The last line of the Dickinson stanza from which Peterson gleaned this title includes the prhase "the truth must dazzle gradually."  Exactly.  As the Bible commands, and as Peterson's second book in the set puts it, "eat this book."  Take your time, it will be worth it.

Tell It Slant
regularly $24

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

October 12, 2008

Christian Legal Society, Advocates International, and the extraordinary privilege of selling books

After a four hour delay, stranded roadside and then at a garage with our two vehicles jammed full of book boxes and set-up supplies, we arrived in DC for the all night set up in the lower levels of the Hyatt on Capitol Hill.  Seeing the iconic dome again was very moving (I think the last time I was that close I was reading Colossians 1 at a refugee rally and protest against the mistreatment of asylum seekers.)  This time, we were working with those who really are doing the front line work of faith-based advocacy on religious freedom,  aiding those under persecution, peacemaking, justice work.  Every year we sell books at the annual shindig of the prestigious and fascinating Christian Legal Society (a US based association and fellowship of lawyers, judges, legal scholars, law students and such) but every four years, the CLS event turns into the stunning Advocates International, a global network of lawyers and activists who stand for God's justice, work against modern-day slavery and trafficking, speak out against corruption in the courts, fight for religious freedom and file legal briefs in nations far and wide, offering a perspective from God's Kingdom to the powers that be across this globe.  It is fabulous being with those who stand for the unborn, who work for the poor, who are on the cutting edge of justice advocacy for the oppressed and who work at, and train others in peacemaking and the call to follow Christ's ways in civil society and public life.

Shaking hands with a former child soldier from Uganda who has witnessed unspeakable atrocities and who is now a voice for reconciliation (and is a working lawyer) or sitting with a young woman who is a clerk to the Supreme Court of an Eastern European nation, hanging out if even briefly with Paul Marshall (perhaps one of the world's leading scholars of religious persecution, now at the Hudson Institute) and listening to evangelicals from glorious but bloody places like Georgia or Burma or Sudan, was beyond thrilling, it was humbling in ways that are hard to describe.  Hearing the legal scholars from what may be the world's most important Christian law school (Hundong, Korea) and debating things as arcane as the philosophy of natural law was exciting and, in this context, incredibly important.

Of course we had the regular stuff---credit card machines hassles, getting better lighting from the facility for the book display, big stacks of stuff that didn't sell, books that we sold out of, people spilling drinks on the book table---but all the late hours and hard work and retail tedium pales as we thank God for an experience of bookselling ministry unlike anything we've ever had. 

Mike Schutt is a hilarious and thoughtful presence through it all and if you know any lawyersredeeming law.jpg or judges or politicos his Redeeming Law (IVP; $24.00) simply is a must-read.  Christian legal scholars and students alike can be glad that there is such a deep and readable and helpful resource as they integrate faith and work, discerning their vocation of redeeming law.  Every work-world career should have a foundational book like this to undergird their daily fidelity, living out faith in the marketplace.

We were glad to hang out a bit with fellow central Pennsylvanian, Stephen Bloom whose Believer's Guide to Legal Issues (AMG; $12.99 )is a basic, introductory guide for non-lawyers, a perfect introduction to concerns about courts and laws and jury duty and legalese from a clear Christian framework.  A graduate of Dickinson Law,  Stephen is a good guy and it was fun hosting his little autographing session.  Maybe you're church library should have one of these useful little books.

Gary Haugen is the man who is maybe as responsible as anyone of putting global justice issues "on the map" of younger evangelicals these days (sorry Tony and Ron and Jim.)  Gary is a man who is the hero of evangelicals on nearly every college group, is the head of International Justice Mission.  (IJM, you know, fights sexual trafficking and Mr Haugen's riveting story of rescuing terrify no more.jpgTerrify No More (Nelson; $21.99) ended up on a nation-wide TV special.)  His new one (as I've said here before) is called Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (IVP; $18.00), and is a wonderfulJust Courage.jpg collection of sermons and essays---I literally praise God for books like this!  Anyone and everyone should read this invigorating call to be agents of God's justice in a broken world.  Knowing that there were IJM leaders in the room was almost chilling;  again, it is a blessing knowing the dangerous work they've undertaken, their courage and faith to rescue slaves, and Gary's upbeat way of inviting us to a more vibrant and exciting faith, is amazing grace.  Just Courage is a book of great hope and joy, exhilarating and inspiring.  We really recommend it to you.

It is a fallen and grossly deformed world.  Hearing men and women from Rhwanda or China or South Africa or Uganda talk about genocide or persecution is sobering.  We were glad to promote the unspeakable.jpgpaperback of Os Guinness' very, very worthwhile book Unspeakable: Facing Up To the Challenge of Evil (Harper; $14.95.)  N.T Wright's Evil and the Justice of God (IVP; $18.00) )was propped up right beside it, as we promoted two very helpful and foundational books which allow us to have insight in a world such as ours.  To not read about this stuff is a problem for most of us, it seems, suggesting some "head in the sand" view, or a fearfulness.  Yet, having their profound analysis and hope become a part of our own heart and vocabulary is a gift beyond words.  Yes, their words on these printed pages can deepen us in ways that are so important, and the result seems to be something almost beyond words.  Read their profound books, and you will know what I mean;  you will be changed, deeper, better. 

Thanks to CLS and Advocates International for allowing us to sell our stuff, to make our books available, and for the opportunity to serve in this bookish ministry.  I hope you, our blog readers, take up some of these books and ideas as well.  As I recall the lovely and quite colorful clothing and beautiful singing and delightful (if challenging) accents, I know that God is pleased with the diversity of His big 'ol crazy world.  That there are those who love God, knowing He is revealed in Jesus, and therefore are called to love others in missional work like this, just makes us glad.  From global justice to world missions, from legal reform to cultural diversity, books have helped us navigate this multi-ethnic setting, and I hope we can serve you, too, as you stretch yourself by considering these kind of resources for your own journey.  Thanks.

It cost Advocates $40,000 just for the translating equipment----cool headphones picking up the translation from the guys in the glass booths in the back---for this truly global conference.  Anyone want to kick in a bit to help them in their effort to bring together international leaders in the legal community?  Give 'em a call today.

October 16, 2008

Stand: The Roots of endurance

In my last post I mentioned our involvement in a recent conference where we sold books about law and justice, social reform and global concerns.  Being with over 1000 Christian lawyers, judges, law professors, and human rights activists was a thrill we won't long forget.  Thanks to Christian Legal Society and Advocates International for their good work.

One of the themes that came from the platform at that conference is a theme that was resounded at the very next event to which we traveled.  One of our favorite yearly gatherings where we sell books is called the Wee Kirk event.  That's Scottish brogue for small church (ahh, we odd Presbyterians!)  Pastors and lay leaders, elders and supply preachers, retired clergy and working farmers and small town volunteers all endure to keep their struggling congregations alive and well.  We have well over 20 different titles for small church leaders, offering unique insights about small church renewal, tiny choirs, single digit youth groups, administration for small congregations and how to lead quality worship in such settings.  Call us if you need to and we can tell you about them.

And, there are plenty of very thoughtful and helpful books on church revitalization, regardless of size, like, say, Alice Mann's book from the Alban Institute called Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline ($15.00.) or the good books by Tony Robinson (his excellent new one, Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations is a sequal to the popular 2003  Eerdmans release Transforming Congregational Culture which Marva Dawn called a "must read.")   I will be reviewing that one in earnest shortly...  See his website here in the meantime and call us if you'd like to order any.

Most congregations, you may not know, are, in fact, small (even if the big ones get the media attention.)  We have promoted Diana Butler Bass' fine study of rather ordinary, and often smallish, mainline congregations called Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the christianity for the rest of us.jpgNeighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, published by HarperOne ($13.95) and it seems good to mention it again, here.  Truly, not all small churches are in decline; some are quite healthy and doing fine work for God's Kingdom.  Wee Kirk speaker Dr. William Carl (President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) says that Fred Craddock told him that he is convinced that some of the best preaching in America is in wee kirks.  Even in very small, aging parishes, pastors bring God's truth and proclaim Christ's saving grace----even small churches in out of the way spots deserve to have a preacher bring them into the presence of God week after week.  We are glad to be around these stalwart friends.  It is telling that they buy books, showing that they are not giving up, but remain eager to learn, to grow, to expand their understandings.

Yet, it isn't easy being a Christian lawyer or a small church leader. We heard hard and painful stories from folks at both conferences.  Endurance is a theme that unites these two very different gatherings: God calls us to costly discipleship and although we can rest in the finished work of Christ, we must press on, hanging in, holding forth, even if others resist us or we are tempted to grow bitter due to our weariness.  And that sometimes takes new energy and courage.  It is why I promoted (yes, once again) N.T. Wright's important book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection and the Mission of the Church (Harper; $24.95) at each conference: hearing God's Word about bodily resurrection and the coming new creation can serve us to re-envision our current missional perspectives by reminding us that our story is part of His Story.  I think this book is one of our best sellers these days and I love telling folks about it.

One "under the radar" book that has come out recently is the story of one small church that just decieded it would re-work it's identity around missional themes, doing wholistic service in their small town community where needs were very great.  God's Ground
god's ground 2.jpgForce: What Happened When One Church Dared to Leave the Comfort Zone by Barbara Sullivan (Bethany; $13.99) is an easy to read story and very exciting, for churches large or small who need reminded of the call to outreach.

I wished I had had a chance to tell about these about endurance at those two events, too.  Maybe our BookNotes readers will find them interesting. Who of us doesn't need reminded about what Eugene Peterson, borrowing Nietzsche, called "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."

roots of endurance.jpgThe Swans Are Not Silent Book 3 The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce   John Piper (Crossway) $14.99  This third book in the Swan series is fabulously encouraging to anyone who needs reminded to hang in there.  These three short biographies highlight how these men of God remained faithful to their respective Kingdom tasks, not giving up even though they failed and were frustrated over and over again.  The great Anglican Simeon preached to an empty Trinity church in Cambridge for years until revival finally broke through in late 1700s.  You know the Newton and Wilberforce stories, no doubt, but they are encouraging to read about in such brief form.  I like all four of these hard-hitting books but this one is very special.

stand.jpgStand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints  edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor  (Crossway) $14.99  This collection of essays has some stuff that I haven't seen before.  (I have long admired Helen Roseveare's work on a war-torn Congo mission field and glad she is included.)  John Piper's no-nonsense chapter  "Growing Old to the Glory of God" picks up themes from his Don't Waste Your Life and warns against the ease of retirement.  Other pieces are equally rich theologically, calling for radical commitment even in hard times, even as we face challenges and great, great sorrow or fears.  I find this "finishing well" stuff invigorating.  These writers (including Randy Alcorn and Jerry Bridges) are deeply confident about the sovereignty and trustworthiness of God and are equally sure that we are most joyful when we live most fully for Christ's glory.  Persecuted Christian in a Muslim country?  Hassled attorney in a highly secularized Western culture?  Wee Kirk pastor in rural West Virginia?  Heartsick older parent of a prodigal child?  Frustrated baby boomer not seeing fruit in your particular vocation?  Post-modern nomad vacillating about important commitments?  We are called to stand.  This could help.

October 20, 2008

Lots of new books and Expelled DVD is released

I enjoy writing this blog with a bit of an "on the road with the Bookmobile" air, or telling of books that represent a trend or theme.  So many interesting and noteworthy new books have come out in the last week that I have to just rattle off a bunch of them.  Each truly deserves greater promo, and I feel sheepish not giving them their due.  Trust me, though: these look like winners, and I wouldn't list 'em if I weren't convinced they are worthy of you, the faithful BookNotes reader.  Here's some of what's on the Hearts & Minds new book table.

linking arms.jpgLinking Arms, Linking Lives: How Urban-Suburban Partnerships Can Transform Communities  Ronald J. Sider, John M, Perkins, Wayne L. Gordon and F. Albert Tizon  (Baker) $14.99  These four men are leaders in their own ways, I've met each one, and can vouch for their integrity, experience, thoughtfulness, balance and passion.  As Shane Claiborne puts it, "the harmony of voices that created this book are contemporary heroes of the faith whose experience bring their words to life."  There is nothing quite like this in print and it is very, very useful.  I wish we could convince many, many people to buy this and pass it on to their church leadership, mission-minded friends and those willing to dream of new and fruitful partnerships.  Packed full of stories, tons of testimony and lots of very doable plans and ideas. 

A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide  Mark D. Siljander (HarperOne) $24.95  Keep your eyes peeled for serious reviews of this, and expect some serious criticism from the hard anti-Muslim right and the dangerous Islamic extremists.  He argues for bringing Islam and Christianity closer together, in part influenced by his understanding of Aramaic.  Interestingly, the forward is by Ban KI-moon (Secretary-General of the United Nations) and there is an endorsement by James Baker (former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Iraq Group.)  Yet, this can't be pegged as goofy idealism with rave endorsements by the likes of Christian aplogists to Muslims, Dr. Ergun Caner, conservative pundit Cal Thomas and Dr. Douglas M. Johnston, president of the international Center for Religion and Diplomacy.  When guys like pomo justice activist Brian McLaren and Dr. Edwin Meese, now of the Heritage Foundation, both endorse a book, it is truly exceptional.  Read an excerpt of it here and then come on back and take us up on our blog special offer, shown belowl.

William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner William Hague (Harcourt) $35  This weighty volume was first released in England to rave reviews and just came out last month here in the states; we ran into a lawyer at the Christian Legal Society international conference last week who had already finished it, and he raved.  Hague, himself a politician as well as an historian, is best known by period specialists for his suburb biography of Wilberforce's friend and Prime Minister, William Pitt.  Magnificent.

Becoming King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Making of a National Leader  Troybecoming king.jpg Jackson  (University of Kentucky Press) $35  I know that King biographies comprise a genre unto themselves, and many are near classic in stature.  This brand new one, still, stands out.  Troy is a good, good man, a dear pastor of a church in Cincinnati, and I've come to know him a bit. He had the privelege of editing some of Dr. King's sermons and knows the matieral better than even most scholars.  This is rich, interesting stuff, written by a top-rate historian and contemporary urban activist.  This book focuses on the Montgomery experience, and how the folks----yes, like Rosa Parks---shaped Martin's self-identity.  It is a part of the esteemed "Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century" series, and is going to be getting great reviews.  Kudos.


letter to my dauther.jpgLetter to My Daughter  Maya Angelou (Random House) $25 This world class and distinctively African American poet has not written a new book in years, and her lovely memoir is written as a letter to her daughter;  Maya never had a daughter, so this is, in essence, written to all young women, and, perhaps to all of us.  Essay, memoir, fiction, story...this is a spellbinding read by a nearly iconic writer of our time.  She tells of famous women such as Fannie Lou Hammer and Coretta King and her travels to Senegal and Morocco.  She laments vulgarity in pop culture and wishes for a better world, even as she tells of being a Christian as a "life-long endeavor."

The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible
  Scot McKnight (Zondervan)
blue parakeet 2.jpg $18.99  This is amazingly clear and fun stuff; who knew this esteemed New Testament scholar (and inspirational writer of the best-selling Jesus Creed and the companion 40-Days With the Jesus Creed) was so funny.  These have to be mostly transcripts of talks because there are clever asides and cool parenthesis and wise-cracks and storied illustrations.  Yes, this is easy to read and fun.  Yet, he is working on genius level stuff, here, how to read the Bible well, how to pursue what Alan Jacobs calls in his mammoth book on a theology of reading "a hermeneutic of love."  McKnight warns us against shortcuts and dumb ways to mis-take the text, and aligns us with God's ongoing historical work as the Story continues to unfold in our own faithful engagement of it.  As John Ortberg says, "Blue Parakeet is the book Scot McKnight was born to write.  If you are interested in the Bible, or God, or your mind, or where these three might intersect, you will be blessed if you read this book."  We agree. 

expelled.jpgDVD  Expelled  Ben Stein (Vivendi Entertainment) $26.99   I saw an early version of some of this before the theatrical release last winter and spent hours talking with one of the producers.  These guys have deft command of the philosophy of science and, unlike many of the cheesy criticisms of ID, they are deeply aware of the complexities of the faith/science/philosophy discussion.  Expelled, though, is less officially about intelligent design as science, or even about debunking the hegemony of Darwinism (although it does that) but it is finally about intellectual freedom, especially in American higher education.  This follows the stories of how some serious scholars and respected scientists are dismissed and repressed----expelled----when they dare to suggest that standard fare Darwinism its ideology of purposeless natural selection is inadequate to explain the wonders of the world as science knows it.  Anybody who cares about academic freedom, who cares about education, who values open debate, should see this film.  Like it or not, it is a gem of a documentary, made all the more interesting knowing that the estimable Richard Dawkins threw a hissy fit after being interviewed (and tried to stop them from using the footage) and when Yoko Ono couldn't quite imagine all the people, and tried to sue them for using a legal bit of John's song.  Thank goodness for a little bit of artistic freedom that permitted this to be shown to near record-breaking attendance for a low-budget documentary.  Ben Stein, by the way, is neither a Christian nor committed to ID, so is a perfect host--besides that ironic Ferris Beueller connection--- to this expose of the demand for submission to the standard ideologies in the academy; it becomes clear that he isn't just grinding the ID axe, but seeking freedom to think about the issue, freedom for scholars to pursue truth.  He really is interested in academic freedom, open-minded debate, and a reasonable study of the topic.  Are you?  I dare ya to order this DVD fronus and get a gang together to watch it.  It'll make the debate about Joe the Plumber look like kid's stuff.  And its a lot more fun, too, with that Bad to the Bone soundtrack...  Includes some cool bonus stuff, too

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October 23, 2008

Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible

blue parakeet 2.jpgOur last post quickly listed a handful of new titles that have appeared here at the bookstore in the last week.  There are more, and I will get to them soon, but I feel compelled to backtrack and say just a bit more about one of the titles I highlighted, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $18.99.  I was fair, if brief, telling you that it was great, and noting that it about recovering a sense of the Bible as a narrative;  that it, it is about Story.

Indeed it is.  Phyllis Tickle, in fact, says that "it is far and away the best, gentlest, most intelligent argument I have ever read for the absolute necessity of embracing the Bible as story."    But as I've now almost finished it, I realize it is about something even deeper: how to be honest in our Bible reading and how to allow the Story to shape our lives. The object of Bible reading, he shows (drawing on sources as diverse as fabulous teachings from St. Augustine to contemporary educational theory), isn't to know more information, not even to "get it right" and not even to know God better, but to become the people God calls us to be, doing the things that our relationship as followers saved by the grace of Jesus, would properly entail.  It is central to his invitation to Bible reading as "missional listening" that we "get" what the book--and more, the Author of the Book---is asking us to do.  And then to do it.  Right on! (Uhh, I think.) 

Of course, we all know (although some of us don't think about it much) that we don't all obey the Bible as we say we do.  We disregard huge amounts, even of Jesus' teaching, and we often are less than honest about the haphazard way we "pick and choose."  We all do it, and usually don't know really why (why ignore this text and not that one; why cite the verse against homosexuality in Leviticus 19 but not the next one about the horrors of mixing different kinds of cloth or the one about men not trimming the sides of their hair?  Or,  why don't we recite the Lord's Prayer every time we pray as the best translation of Luke 11:2 specifically commands?)

 Most of us just go with some sort of unspoken code of what we are supposed to pay attention to and what we aren't. That we "adopt and adapt" what we do try to follow is only a bit less obvious (and, again, not always admitted.)  So for conservatives or liberals, for evangelicals or mainline folk, this Blue Parakeet book is a refreshing reminder---heck, I don't know if it is reminder, or a new clarion call unlike any I've ever read before**---to be honest about our view of the Bible, and wise in our discernment of how best to figure out what we are called to be and do as we engage the sacred text.

**to be honest, there are some critics who do point this out, and use it to dismantle Biblical authority or mock Christian conviction.  Please know that this book is not one of those!

One helpful thought McKnight fleshes out quite a bit, which I can only name, here, is the difference between reading by tradition or reading through tradition.  He develops a helpfully balanced view and shows it how it works.  Obviously, Scot is no traditionalist.  Yet, he warns against some individualistic illusion that we just naively read the Bible and figure it out and live it faithfully right now just like great Bible readers always have.  (His last few chapters on the role of women in church leadership will seem less urgent to our mainline friends than to conservatives who still struggle with certain Pauline texts, and who worry that a contextualized reading of those passages will be a slippery slope to other liberating themes.  Hmmm.)  Professor McKnight is helpful guide here, I am sure of it.

scot mcknight.jpgHere is a website about his work, listing his credentials and books, and some interviews and podcasts of talks he's given.  Check it out, but come on back...  He's a wicked cool blogger, too, so you may want to follow his various pieces there.

McKnight's humble and honest and very delightful style makes for a great read, and this book is a large warning against bombast and hubris whenever we preach or teach the Bible, a call to humility on all theological camps and sides. Mainline churches and many sophisticated Christians may think they needn't fuss with this, since they don't have any intentions of taking the Bible literally.  Still, how do we take it?  This is a book that will help all factions within the Body of Christ to grapple with this question.

(Interestingly, I am also reading the new Bible study book by John Piper provocatively called
spectacular sins.jpg Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose for the Glory of God (Crossway; $15.99) which is written with a somewhat different tone, as it shows utter confidence that it is clear what Bible verses to take literally and what it means to honor them properly.  I enjoy Piper, and respect his insight and perspective, sensing I am in the presence of someone whose passion for God is palpable, like some modern-day Jonathan Edwards; I think it is important to read him well, and believe God's people would be blessed if we had more pastor/theologian/preachers like him. His call to respect the teaching of the Bible about God's sovereignty in all things--"you meant it for evil, but I meant it for good!"---is profound.  Yet, Scot's light touch and call to admit that we all skip certain verses and ignore others, is true, Piper's integrity and Biblical conservatism and doctrinal consistency notwithstanding. I wonder what the two of them would say to each other...)

So, The Blue Parakeet isn't the final word, maybe not even the best word.  But it is thrilling, stimulating, gracious and one of the clearest examples I've seen of an honest call to figure out a way to be faithful in our reading, in our discipleship, in our doctrine and in our living.  The author of The Jesus Creed here has given us "a Bible creed" about first things.  How to read, how to engage, how to hear, how to discern, and how to live, this complicated, crazy-making, glorious, dear, sweet, and at times confounding book we call God's Word.

year of living biblically 2.jpgI am happy, also, to report that Scot quotes several times an author whose book, last year, we named one of the very best of the year, A. J. Jacobs.  His award winning (and H&M fav) is now out in paperback: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible  (Simon & Schuster) $.  It is a hoot of a book, fun and funny and endearing, as this secular Jew gives it a shot, blue parakeets and all.

Don't silence the blue parakeets--the odd birds that may capture our attention and wonder what they mean.  Let us live with the sacred text in all of it's complexity, and struggle to fine the "pattern of discernment" (as McKnight calls it) that can help us read alongside the tradition, hearing God, and living well.  Learning to live out faithful and relevant daily discipleship is the most urgent matter before us, of course, but we simply cannot do that if we do not figure out how to best understand the Bible, how to get beyond the impasses of the "battles for the Bible" and allow God's Spirit to guide us into helpful Bible reading/hearing practices.  I think this book could be a very, very useful resource and we are happy to commend it to you.

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October 27, 2008

Age of Empire: Books, Biblical scholarship and Music

I have not reviewed many books lately about foreign affairs, but those that know me know that it is a topic of great concern--- the war, of course, questions about the debt, the global economy, human rights and such. Here are a few recent books that are important that reflect, in one way or another, upon themes of empire---in the Bible and in contemporary culture.  As prep or background you might listen and watch Bruce Cockburn's song Call It Democracy (a salty song of prophetic denunciation of the "idolatry of ideology" inspired by the mis-doings of the International Monetary Fund.  Although the language is raw, and the guitar not quite as blazing as in some versions, the song is powerful.  Here are the words, and some of Cockburn's comments.)

E & E.gifEvangelicals and Empire: Christian Alternatives to the Political Status Quo  edited by Bruce Ellis Benson and Peter Goodwin Heltzel  (Brazos) $29.99  This is a heavy volume, with extraordinary chapters, many responding to the important scholarly work of the much-discussed theorists of empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.  Agree with Hardt & Negri (et al) or not, this is a wonderful example of what we often talk about here at BookNotes, namely, offering theologically and Biblically-informed thinking to develop a uniquely Christian perspective on the theories shaping our analysis of the modern world, done, particularly, as an asset for wise and faithful social reform. I literally praise the Lord for this kind of conversation, this level of discourse, the witness of a book like this.  Not long ago Ron Sider wrote a wonderful journal piece in The Christian Scholars Review, calling for scholar-activists. Here is a popularly written overview published in Prism.  Fabulous!)  This may be the sort of thing he has in mind, and, in fact, he notes on the back that it is "powerful, urgent, and rigorous."

Diverse authors (ethnically, nationally, and theologically) offer deep insights into one of the biggest questions of our day (and offer so many significant chapters that anyone interseted in global Christianity or modern missions should consider this.)  Nicholas Wolterstorff writes the forward (which should alert you to the thoughtfulness of the project) and after chapters written by the likes of Elaine Padilla and Amos Yong and Paul Lim and Mark Lewis Taylor and James K.A. Smith and Michael Horton and John Franke, the two scholars under consideration themselves reply. You can see a listing of all the contributers at Brazos Press (but be sure to come back here.)

One of the editors, Bruce Benson, is the head of the philosophy department at Wheaton and the other, Peter Heltzel, is a theologian at New York Theological Seminary.  What a book!  Kudos to Brazos, once again.

in the shadow of empire.jpgIn the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance  Richard Horsley (WJK) $24.95  Horsley is the author of many books of New Testament scholarship and is a renowned scholar activist himself.  This includes others of his ilk, such as Neil Elliott, Greg Carey, Norman Gottwalk, John Dominic Crossan, and a wonderful piece by Walter Brueggemann.  Academic Biblical scholarship explores the role of empires in the ancient and classical world (Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans...) Each chapters offers a way to read the Bible as a reaction to empire and as a call for us to resist imperial forces in our own age.  Horsley, as you may know, is an early proponant of this approach, in his important earlier works such as Paul & Empire, Paul & Politics and Paul and the Roman Imperial Order.

arrogance of nations.jpgThe Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire  Neil Elliott (Fortress) $29.00  Considered by some a "tour de force" and a "remarkable book" this sophisticated example of what some call "rhetorical criticism" seems like it should be on the shelf of anyone who is seriously interested in Romans, or this question of how the Bible can be read in ways that are subversive to the contemporary ideologies that undergird empires today.  A handsome hardback, the third in a series called "Paul in Critical Contexts."

christ and caesar 2.jpgChrist and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke  Seyoon Kim (Eerdmans) $24.00  Kim is a very thoughtful scholar, professor of New Testament (and a dean for the Korean D.Min program at Fuller) who suggest that the in-vogue anti-Empire NT trope is not adequate.  A close examination of five epistles of Paul shows that the current anti-imperial interpretation is actually not very credible.  Kim wrote a thoughtful critique of the "new perspective on Paul" a year or so ago, so this naturally follows as he seeks a balanced and exegetically sound basis for a relevant and truly Biblical, political Christology.  It is dedicated to the famous German scholar, Martin Hengel, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

colossians remixed smaller.jpgColossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire  Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat (IVP) $23.00  This is not new, I've named it the most best book of the year for two consecutive years, so it suppose I should note it again.  To be honest: I've checked each of these above-mentioned books to see if they cite this book in their footnotes.  To not deal with this exciting and audacious work is just irresponsible.  I think it makes a very strong case, not only about Colossians, but about how best to read and interpret the Bible, and, better than any of the above, how to more faithfully live out whole-life discipleship in ways that enact and embody the counter-cultural Kingdom ways the books calls forth.  A must-read, now more than ever...

By the way, I am only guessing here, since I really don't know, but I suspect that some mainline scholarly authors---like, say, the Horsley or Elliott, perhaps---fail to grapple with this seminal text because it is published by IVP which they presume to be overly conservative or less than scholarly, a utterly ridiculous claim that would only illustrate how ill informed some are.  Of course, this may not be the case, but somebody needs to expose the empire of liberal ecumenical scholarship and resist their biases about evangelical scholars...and reading the creative and faithful work of Walsh & Keesmaat is a good place to start.  Walsh & Keesmaat are great examples of the sort of "scholar activists" that Sider calls for, since they are involved in counter-cultural living practices (they steward a sustainable agricultural center and live in intentional community), work on social, political causes, do ministry on campus and amongst the homeless as well... There faithfulness brings to mind the famous study of political resistance in Mark, Binding the Strong Man by Chad Meyers.

limits to power.jpgThe Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism  Andrew J. Bacevich (Metropolitan Books) $24.00  This is the latest release, and perhaps the most important, of the "American Empire Project."  Bacevich is renowned as a scholar (professor of history and international affairs at Boston U) and has earned large respect from his work (such as The New American Militarism) and his columns in places as diverse as The Nation and the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs.  He has identified himself as a conservative Catholic, and is a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. military in Viet Nam and into the '90s in the Persian Gulf.  He has books on the most prestigious academic presses (Oxford, Harvard, Columbia.)  In Limits of Power, he offers not only a realistic and solid look into the mess of our failed foreign policies, but, why we need a serious shift if we are going to alter the delusion of power that we current posses.  Several reviewers have named it a "must read," "indispensable for every citizen," and such.  Very thoughtful, well-written (with an opening few pages about Reinhold Niebuhr, indicating he is at theologically informed.)  The epigram is 2 Kings 20:1 and the book is dedicated to his son, a First Lieutenant, who was killed in the Iraq war.

I started with a nod to Cockburn, who has been an inspiration to many of us as we try to be responsible in this "world of wonders."  Here is a short clip of him in Timbuktu, filmed during a documentary he made on desertificaiton (River of Sand),  meeting, and then jamming, with the legendary Ali Farka Toure, a Mali bluesman.  Maybe white guys singing the blues with West African guitarists is some kind of parable for our globalized world.  Regardless, check it out.


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October 30, 2008

More books to discern fidelity amongst the global Empires

I was worried after the last post that some astute readers might be frustrated at me and my recommendations for not listing this one or that one, not naming this important work or that bestseller.  Of course we do not pretend to mention all the best books and my suggestions are fairly ad hoc...what we're excited about, what just came in, curious and interesting stuff, titles that have garnered good reviews.  I'm often fearful of what folks will think, yet remain confident that I am called to highlight titles that seem useful, interesting and good.  Our store has tons of stuff, and new titles appear daily as if it's Christmas---sans the nice wrapping, and, well, we have to pay for 'em all.  Our good employees are busy like elves, wrapping and unwrapping, opening and skimming, making lists (who would like this, who should we tell about that?)  We're a busy little place and we love connecting books and people. Thanks for your interest in my lists and suggestions.

So, I will forge ahead, naming a few more books that could be read alongside the ones mentioned in the last post.  With no illusions of being comprehensive, these are titles that might be helpful

subverting global myths 2.jpgSubverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World  Vinoth Ramachandra  (IVP Academic) $23.00   This may be one of the most important books of the year, and certainly a major contribution to deep understanding of our 21st century setting.  Ramachandra is a careful, erudite and thoughtful global Christian thinker and leader---he "stole the show" at the Urbana conference a few years ago.  You may recall his good study of world religions, Faiths in Conflict, or his profound (and, sadly, out of print) critique of contemporary idolatry, Gods That Fail.  This is a natural follow up, as he reflects upon and exposes various ideologies and idolatries as they are seen in contemporary discourse on the most pressing matters of our time.  Ramachandra has a B.S. (summa cum laude) and a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of London and, as an Anglican lay theologian is widely respected.  The back cover sports rave endorsements from international scholars as diverse as Peter Kuzmic (Croatia), Carver T. Yu (Hong Kong), Samuel Escobar (Spain) and Stanley Hauerwas (who lives in a colony of heaven, of course, but resides at Duke University.)  In fact, Hauerwas--who reads more than most scholars on the planet---says, "I have read few books from which I have learned more."  Wow.  I agree with him when he says, "I really hope this book will have the impact it deserves."   

A quick story to illustrate the book's profundity and wide appeal. You may recall that I reported last week about the thrill of selling books at the conference of the Christian Legal Society and the international Advocates International. (Please scroll back a few pages if you haven't.)  Our good friend and their fearless leader, Sam Casey, Esq., told me that when he read Subverting Global Myths earlier this fall, he immediately had one promptly sent to one of the keynote speakers who would be addressing this cosmopolitan, international audience.  "Read this before you come," Sam insisted.  Sam has one of the biggest hearts for the poor and oppressed, and is pro-life, culturally conservative, a Bible-believer, ready to defend life and law wherever it is under assault.  That he appreciated this stellar, scholarly critique of ideologies of the right and left, addressing issues as diverse as the myths and worldviews that shape conversations about multi-culturalism or the war on terror speaks not only to Sam's broad reading, but to Vinoth Ramachandra's profoundly Christian and deeply wise critical distance from all ideologies and partisan posturing.  He is an exceptional scholar, an important critic, and a voice which we need to hear.

In this work, VR provokes and challenges (and deconstructs) thinking about the war on terror, vinoth picture.jpgthe nature of human rights, economic globalization and such.  The chapter on science is nearly worth the price of the book, as is his chapter on post-colonialism.  His sober insights into the nature of religious violence (his experiences in the sub-continent, amidst the Tamil Tigers and such are extraordinary) is instructive, and his identity as a developing world evangelical positions him to speak a significant word of truth to our times.  Serious, thoughtful, careful and yet provocative--dare I say prophetic---my global lawyer friend Sam is right.  This is an urgent, must-read.

Making War in the Name of God Christopher Catherwood (Citadel) $14.95  I won't say muchmaking war in the name of religion.jpg about this except to note that there is much nonsense being written in this field--as if people of faith have been the primary mass murderers of the 20th century, or as if all Muslims are either bloodthirsty terrorists or gentle peacemakers.  And, too often, those who are attentive to the Biblical call to robust Christian peacemaking are not very serious in their analysis of the problems faith can bring to the international table.  Catherwood has written widely in this field (Why Do The Nations Rage? is very helpful.) Catherwood is always worth reading, a thoughtful, British historian with a strong global experience, who takes a solid stand against simplistic secularization and sentimental religiosity alike.  He has studied Islamic violence and strikes a wise chord.  Unlike some these days, he is unflinching in his critique of both radical Islam, as well as he is in his critique of the violent expansion of Christendom, the crusades and such.  It may be good to know that Catherwood is a distinguished scholar at Cambridge, and is the son of Sir Frederick Catherwood (former VP of the European Parliament.)  He is the grandson of the famed 20th century British neo-Puritan preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones.

lost history of christianity.jpgThe Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia---and How It Died  Philip Jenkins (HarperOne) $26.95  A new book by Phil Jenkins is always worth celebrating, and he has contributed much to our awareness of the nature of global religions. You should know of his award-winning, much-discussed, The Next Christendom where he shows the shifting center of Christianity towards the global south and Far East.  The fascinating follow-up, The New Faces of Christianity about how those in the global South use the Bible, is just now out in paperback.  This new one, The Long History... looks, as you might guess, at the early years of Christian-Muslim relationships, and how the church of Northern Africa and beyond got caught up in Gnostic heresies and such.  Truly a fascinating and provocative book, its research could provide a helpful backstory to the ongoing struggles for justice, sustained security, and other controversial tensions of the Middle East.   This is sure to be widely read and seriously debated...

against the grain.JPGAgainst the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace George Weigel  (Crossroad) $24.95  Weigel is another important author as we allow our worldviews to be shaped into more global world views.  Harvard Prof. Mary Ann Glendon has written "In these marvelously readable essays, Weigel challenges reigning opinion on a wide range of issues, offers fresh insights drawn from the Catholic intellectual heritage, and opens up a conversation 'with all partisans of the free and virtuous society, of whatever creed or no creed.'"  Jewish Studies scholar David Novak (U of T) calls Weigel "the most articulate and astute Catholic lay theologian and public intellectual at work in the English-speaking world today."  Weigel is a Distinguished Scholar of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and is known for his foundational natural law/just war theory approach, especially to foreign affairs.  (He has two extended chapters here on the just war theory as applied to the Iraq war.  Even those who oppose the war should study these important arguments.)  He has written widely, including the fabulous biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope.

Real Peace, Real Security: The Challenges of Global Citizenship  Sharon D. Welch
real peace real security.jpg (Fortress) $7.00  This slim and brief volume is a remarkable example of the ways people of faith are making important contributions to the efforts to discern the contours of sustained security.  Drawing on sources as diverse as world religious thinkers to tactical analysis of world trouble spots, UN documents and think-tank scenarios, this small book offers chapters on the move from peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding.  Drawing somewhat upon the vision and ethos of her 2004 work Beyond Empire, this small volume is an excellent introduction to some of the serious thinking that globally-aware citizens can promote, guiding us in ways to advocate for sustained and enduring, real security.  The forward is written by William F. Schulz, who some may know as the former Executive Director of Amnesty International, offering connections between human rights and peace.

Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crisis Robert Goudzwaard,Hope in Troubled Times 2.gifMark Vander Vennen, David Van Heemst  (Baker) $19.99  I've mentioned this several times, and thought I might as well note it again.  It came out about two years ago, is still getting advertised and cited, and is a book that we think may be one of the most important of the decade.  Dr. Goudzwaard is an economist who has served in the Dutch parliament, and Mark Vander Vennen has done excellent work in the Biblical basis for turning away from reliance on militarism.  David Van Heemst is a very popular political science professor at Olivet Nazarene University That Nobel Peace Prizewinner Desmond Tutu wrote the wonderful forward should illustrate how important this volume is.  I helped edit a tiny part of it, if that matters, and it would make my day if you ordered one. 

We hope that you read something along these lines, staying abreast of the need to grapple with the biggest global issues, and how best to be agents of God's hope, even as the empires rage..

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The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller

I rarely do back to back posts.   It's been a long day, and I just did the post on Vinoth Ramachandra and others. The long list of titles I want to tell you about is growing (and there are some really outstanding new ones, too) but today, we got our shipment of the brand new Tim Keller, The Prodigal God.  We've had customers waiting for almost a year for this!  We had to tell you about it right away.  I had an advanced draft version so have been ready to write about this. I can assure you it is thoughtful, concise, and wonderful.  It is smallish in size, handsome, hardcover. I think you'll agree that it would make a lovely gift.
prodigal god.jpg
Keller's book from last winter, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton; $24.95) is one of the most talked about books of its kind, the best general book to serve as an apologetic for faith that we've seen in quite a while.   We have discussed it here before, and we like his ReasonforGod website, with a handy video clip of him speaking about the book.  Do check it out. The oodles of articles and reviews on the internet are mostly very useful, too.  His success in Manhattan is fascinating (no other evangelical church has been anywhere near as effective, especially reaching out to artists and Wall Street workers.) The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have even asked if maybe, just maybe, we've found the one to whom the mantel of C.S. Lewis might pass. 

Reason for God is good, but half the story is the backstory;  Reverend Keller himself is a great speaker, a much-listened to preacher, a rock star in the podcast world, a church planter in New York City.  Redeemer has reached out effectively without edgy or weird innovations, just solid and articulate care for the city, openness to seekers, and a wholistic embodiment of historic, classic Christianity.  Keller is respected by the literati, at least those who know him, and has a huge following among younger, urbane, and thoughtful Gen X and Millenials.  Workers seeking to relate faith and career, artists, and cultural creatives of all types find Keller and the Redeemer movement to be inspiring in profound, life-changing ways.

And now comes The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Dutton; $19.95), a book inspired by Keller's own mentor, Edmund Clowney.  Those of us who had heard Dr. Clowney preach---his Christ-centered hermeneutic is explored in several books about preaching the Older Testament---will understand how that thoughtful saint could have such an impact on Keller.  For a season or so at Westminster Theological Seminary they co-taught a course on preaching, working out this historically-redemptive approach.  In those same years, Keller wrote Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, an excellent book on how to reach out to the poor, an orthodox, solid missional guidebook that drew upon Harvie Conn's amazing Evangelism: Doing Justice & Preaching Grace.  With sophistication and seriousness, Keller has done just that.

Although Keller says he is indebted to Clowney (and to the Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 and other books of Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian Bible scholar who lived most of his adult life in the Middle East) his take on this classic "prodigal son" parable of Jesus is his own.  It is clear, balanced, provocative, yet sweet.  It is this kind of preaching that has drawn seekers to Christ and (as he explains) has helped those who were marginally churched and disillusioned, find their way back to--or hearing really for the first time--the message of grace.

You see, Keller reminds us (in prose that is thrilling for its weight and clarity, nearly chatty at times, but carrying much substance) that the story is mostly about the older son.  It is evident in the text to whom Jesus is speaking, and why. (The self-righteous Pharisees wanted to know why he ate with sinners.)  So the story is about the lostness of those who think they are moral, those who think that they are good, those who don't get that they need a Savior or Lord.

Yes, it is about the younger, prodigal son, and yes it is even more about the other older son.  His reflections on the temperaments and the cultural forms of these two (the bourgeois and the bohemians, groups he knows well in Manhattan) is brilliant.  But, finally, the story is about God, and God is the prodigal.  In only 130 some pages, Keller elegantly explains the goodness of God, redefining sin, lostness, grace, and salvation, so that all can find a personal, restoring, life-transforming relationship with the God of sovereign grace.   Yes, it is God who fits the dictionary definition of prodigal.  That is, recklessly extravagant, having spent all.  This, dear friends, is the gospel. Thanks be to God.

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October 31, 2008

The Prodigal God (Keller) and Return of the Prodigal Son (Nouwen)

Tonight I'd like to offer a bit of a tangent to last night's breathy announcement about the brand new Timothy Keller book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Hearts of the Christian Faith (Dutton; $19.95.)  I hope you saw that blog post, descibing the significance of this very important and lovely new book.  One friend asked how it might compare to the classic 1992 book by the late Catholic priest and devotional writer, Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Image; $16.00.) It is a line of thought I almost pursued in that post, but it seemed a bit much.

Still, I can't shake the question.  I am sure others have read Nouwen, and many have been touched by his work, including this notion of being God's dearly beloved, perhaps gleaned from Brennan Manning's borrowing the phrase from his friend Henri.  I wonder what others think?

I suppose we might say a few things that might be helpful at least in terms of style and impressions.  I hope you followed some of the links we offered about Keller; he is a very, very important figure and his books are important. And he is a writer we appreciate.  More, as we hinted last night, we like his work, his vision for cultural renewal, the way Redeemer witness to a wholistic and sophisticated Kingdom vision.  He is very different than Nouwen, though.

Not to oversimplify (there have been whole books written by him) Henri Nouwen was a gentle and kindly writer, a mystic, whose early stuff channeled Thomas Merton and a bit of late 60s angst for personal meaning and social revolution. Who of us who read The Wounded Healer or Out of Solitude (with its cool black and white photos) in the 70s will ever forget the way he captured the times, our deepest longings and confusions, with creative appropriation of mystical spirituality (before that phrase was used outside of monastic circles.)  As he moved from the chaplency at Yale towards international stature---America wrote that he was comparable only to Lewis in impacting popular religious publishing---he maintained his personal touch, sharing deep thoughts of his inner journey with his loyal fans, Protestant, Catholic and non-affiliated seekers.  He dared us to follow the real Jesus, described in ways that may have been one part monastic spirituality, one part counter-cultural politics (liberation theology, solidarity with the poor, faith-based nonviolence, feminism) with a splash of earnest depth psychology.  He was always gracious, renowned for his authentic care for those around him and his struggle with his own fame.  Book after book referred to his "journey" or his "cry" or the "movements towards love" or the "road to Daybreak."  He was a man in transition, on the move.  He yearned for greater intimacy with others, experimented with various forms of intentional community, and saw the sacred eucharistic practices pointing to the realities of the unseen world: God is love, and we are to treat all others like God's children.  He often wrote about the need for mystics to be busy, and for activists to be rooted in the love known through solitude and silence.

Like Merton and other true Christian mystics, he knew God as Father, spoke of his devotion to Christ, and moved out of an animated discernment of the leading of the Spirit.  His love for God lead to a humble attempt to serve the lost, make peace in the world, and speak truth to power.  Near the end of his life he was living in an intentional community of the mentally disabled, the L'Arche community in Toronto (founded by Jean Vanier.)  Henri traveled sometimes to fancy speaking engagements with his friend Adam, a developmentally disabled member of the L'Arche community and, without a hint of exploitation or drama, would invite Adam to share the stage, offering his remarks to the gathering as well.  (For many, the book Adam [Orbis; $16.00] is one of his most beautiful.)  He always kept a journal, wore his heart on his sleeve, loved and cried and thought hard about the nature of our broken Western civilization and how the simple foolishness of the gospel might be lived out as a counter-weight to the stuff that keeps us in bondage to "the house of fear" and from knowing we are loved.  

Philip Roderick , who has a lovely little book called Beloved: Henri Nouwen in Conversation (Eerdmans; $20.00) that includes a CD recording of the interviews, introduces his subject by saying that Nouwen "was a delightful admixture of vulnerability and intention, of passionate intensity and colourful exuberance."  From what I can gather, that gets it about right.

Return of the Prodigal Son
is his most beloved book and, I believe, his best seller.  It is, for those that do not know, considered one of the great religious books of our time, and has been translated into many languages.  It is a curious work, it is part personal memoir, sharing his heart, his struggles, loneliness, insecurity (and from what we know from posthumously published journals, tributes, and personal testimonials from those who knew him well, he was deeply wounded inside, insecure and sometimes depressed.) Return is also part Biblical exegesis, the most extended bit of Bible study he ever published.  Making it special, though, is how he exegetes the text in light of the famous painting by Rembrandt, the painting that graces the cover of the book.  There is quite a long story----which I have heard directly from one of the principles---about Nouwen going to Saint Petersberg in Russia to sit before the painting (and a miracle which strangely allowed the immovable communist guard to allow him a special privilege of sitting for a day before it undisturbed.)  As he did with a precious earlier book reading an icon, Nouwen "reads" the painting, and allows it to tell him the story.

What transpired in those long silent hours, the broken yet vibrant priest, the hurting man with such awareness of God's calling him beloved, the bold peacemaker making peace with God's world, this renowned writer sitting in stillness as the light faded over one of the most important (and rarely seen) paintings of Western history?  Nouwen has been a mentor and dear brother to many.  He has shared their agony of self-hatred, felt the inner sting of  rejection.  It is no wonder he, a Dutchman who loved the arts and reveled in the goodness of God's world, yet who had this dark side, would so resonate with the brooding picture of the destitute prodigal received by the loving father.  It was, for him, spiritual transforming.  He died a few years later while on his way back to Russian to film a documentary in front of the renowned painting.

And so, I think we might say that the right-brained persona of Nouwen is quite different than the person of Dr. Keller---intellectual, driven, church-planter, Reformed theologian and no-nonsense apologist.  Keller's excellent new book, while briefer than Return of the Prodigal Son, has more overt theological substance.  It draws on the facts of God's grace in direct, doctrinally crisp and coherent ways.  It is graciously written and very moving, yet it feels rather different than the Nouwen one.  As we noted in the last post, Keller effectively turns the typical reading of the parable on its head and shows that God's extravagant grace, especially shown to the up-right and responsible son, is the heart of the story.  God is the one who has given all, is spent, is prodigal, his costly self-giving offered to save the lost.   Keller is a culturally engaged, urbane and intellectual man of letters (he sites novels and films as easily as Puritan theologians) but at heart he is a Reformed  Presbyterian pastor.  He tells of the gospel of Christ as seen in the doctrine of the atonement.  He brings into conversation with bohemians and the bourgeois, the great goodness of the cross, the power of saving grace, the true experience of new life.  Keller's The Prodigal Son is not the least bit brutish or harsh, and it is certainly not dry, but is spoken with urgent pastoral authority, insisting that solid doctrinal understanding of the grace of God will lead to the experience of new life, new affections, new habits, new relationships and renewed cultural engagement.  Getting this parable right will not only makes us feel loved--and for Nouwen, that was almost everything---but it will set us into the community of the reign of God, allowing us to live obedient and Godly lives of relevant discipleship.  

Nouwen, in contrast to this teacherly instruction about the meaning of the Bible's message of grace, written helpfully for seekers or the nominally Christian, sits before this painting in awe, bringing his own burning heart, his own needs and insights.  There, he discovers---not unlike Keller--- God's initiative and good grace.  In The Return of the Prodigal Son he writes, "I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding."  He writes as a contemporary Catholic mystic, an art critic, a memoirist, yet one who understands that all is grace.  He has read the best scholarly literature (as we noted last night about Keller, Nouwen, too, has read the important work of Kenneth Bailey.) Yet, Nouwen's insights are less formulated in terms of careful literary analysis of the text, let alone systematic Biblical doctrine, but in terms of his own experiences of the story, mediated by the Rembrant painting.

These two books are both remarkable tellings of the tale, both tender and vital, smart and solid.  Many who are drawn to Nouwen's contemplative style would do well to ponder the clarity with which pastor Keller teaches.  Those who have been touched by Keller's call to engage this important story of Jesus, this revelation of how grace has cost God (but is free for us) might do well to move next to the thoughtful spirituality of Father Henri.  These truly are helpful complimentary volumes, with Keller (please notice) writing mostly about God, and Nouwen's tender book first carried the subtitle of "A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers and Sons."   Now, it is subtitled "A Story of Homecoming." 

And all of us who care about the integrity of the tellings of these stories should be well rooted in the Biblical scholarship that unpacks and develops this classic parable. A few weeks ago we celebrated the amazingly rich and important work in Eugene Peterson's new book, Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers  (Eerdmans; $24.95) which attends to the language of Jesus, especially in his parables. We cannot say enough about it, and significant others insist it is the book of the year!  

In last night's blog post about the new Keller book, I mentioned that he recommended Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys Luke 15 by Kenneth E. Bailey (Concordia; $18.99.)  You should also know about The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants (IVP; $15.00.) A more recent Bailey book compares this marvelous story of Jesus with one of the most formative narratives of the Old Testament people of God, the story of Jacob.  Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel's Story (IVP; $18.00) finds dozens of connections in the two tales and is one of the most exciting books of Biblical scholarship I have ever read.  Dr. Bailey, himself informed by years of living in peasant villages in the Middle East (and interfaith dialogue about Jesus in places such as the University of Cairo) understands the cultural influences that surround the writing of first century parables, and knows well the brilliance of Rabbi Jesus' use of Hebrew Scripture.  He truly is one of the world's most important New Testament scholars because of this. You will be amazed---as both Dr. Keller and Father Nouwen were--by the brilliance of this unassuming former Middle Eastern missionary, Western Pennsylvanian, Ken Bailey.  His newest release, by the way, is a collection of serious Biblical studies, rhetorical explorations of the best ways to plumb the depths of the gospels: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes  (IVP; $23.00) We highly, highly recommend it.

Lastly, did you know that Bailey wrote a screenplay based on this important story of the forgiving, gracious father, written with an eye to use it in Arabic evangelism and discipleship?  He filmed in Egypt, hired Arabic actors and filmmakers to do the whole thing, in Arabic, of course; it comes with English subtitles.  What an amazing, special, and rare way to study this classic story anew.  We stock Finding the Lost in DVD and it sells for just $20.00.

Finally, a closing word from Keller, whose new book we celebrate this month:

Jesus does not divide the world into the moral "good guys" and the immoral "bad guys."  He shows us that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and control for themselves.  We are just going about it in different ways.  Even though both sons are wrong, however, the father care for them and invites them both back into his love and feast.

This means that Jesus's message, which is "the gospel," is a completely different spirituality.  The gospel of Jesus in not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism.  Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles---it is something else altogether.

The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change
                      Timothy Keller
                      The Prodigal God: Rediscovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

Comparing Keller & Nouwen at the Reviews column

return of the prodigal son.jpgWell, after announcing the brand new Tim Keller book, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, in our post last night (and the "blog special" sale on it) I've pondered a good question posted as a comment by a friend: how does this new book by a thoughtful and urbane Presbyterian theologian/pastor compare with the lovely classic by Catholic mystic, activist and devotional writer, Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Image; $16.00.)?  Good question! 

I have written a bit about my impressions of dear Henri, who he was, his temperament and gifts and struggles, and how he exegeted this great Bible story in light of the wonderful, brooding painting by Rembrandt van Rijn.  You may know the story of how Nouwen came to sit in front of the great painting in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The contrasts between the books are notable, yet both are remarkable.  And both draw on the solid Biblical scholarship of Middle Eastern scholar Kenneth Bailey (whose books I also tell about in the column.) You can see it all in the monthly column for October, which you can find it the "reviews" section of the website, here.

We would be delighted if you read my reflections, and perhaps added your own in our comments section here.  What do you think?  Thanks.

nouwen pic.jpg
keller pic 2.jpg


A friend of a friend sent me a fabulous photo of a close up of the brand new, rich, bronze Keller cover, arranged on a nice oaken table, and an ancient looking bottle of some rare ale. (It was really to large to copy here.)  It was titled "something old with something new."

 I think both brothers Henri and Tim would have enjoyed that picture, a fellow happy for a good new book about the gospel, enjoyed over a pint of the fruit of God's good creation.  I wish the two of these gentleman could have had such a drink together. (And will, as Keller's book points out, with its reminder of the great feast that is promised---don't miss his insightful take on Babette's Feast, by the way.)  I'm sure they both would have cherished the time, and come away glad, deepened in grace.  We commend both their books;  I assume many BookNotes readers know the oder Nouwen title.  And we truly hope many buy, read, give and discuss the new Keller.  Sorry we can't supply the ale...