About November 2008

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

October 2008 is the previous archive.

December 2008 is the next archive.

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

November 2008 Archives

November 6, 2008

The perfect post-election, culture-making book: How Free People Move Mountains

Since this is a book blog and not for punditry, I won't indulge myself by sharing many thoughts about this historic time in our nation's history and the election of Senator Barack Obama.  I loved the gracious and insightful concession speech of Senator McCain last night, and found the victory speech of Senator O to be an excellent one.

Interestingly, Mr. Obama sounded some Republican and conservative notions--- mostly, that the government cannot solve all our problems and that social reforms and cultural renewal are best achieved outside of legislation and government.  As many of us have learned to say, politics is downstream of culture.

We often recommend books that can help us with cultural renewal, usually from a faith-based perspective.  Great stuff has been coming out lately, especially from evangelical publishing houses.  (Thomas Nelson, for instance, just released a wonderful study guide from Christianity Today called Engaging the Culture...I'll write more about it later.)   Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00) is the definitive book yet done on why, and a bit on how, Christian folks (and others) can develop faithful postures that allow us to wisely do good stuff.  It is one of the best books of the year, breaking new ground, too, and we commend it now more than ever.  We have a special price deal, too, from our previous blog post about it.

However, being social entrepreneurs, starting social change projects, becoming local art activists, film critics, or intentionally thoughtful homemakers is only a portion of our human task to create cultures, and Andy is helpful in showing us how culture-making is not (only) about the arts or high culture.  We live amongst our neighbors in a state, and our civic and civil lives demand some adjudication.  That is, we have to learn to get along and work well in public---from schools to neighborhoods, in townships and varied social arenas, as President-elect Obama so powerfully challenged us to do late last night.  I hope he sounds that note often, calling us to care, and implying that we must attend to civil society.

And so, I must tell you, I have been waiting to tell you, about one of the most enjoyable and interesting, and thought-provoking books I've read this fall.  It caught me by surprise, and I've been itching to speak of it, to get that right time when some of our BookNote friends would pay attention.  I think this book would make a fabulous and righteous resource for a book club now, a library meeting, a bi-partisan conversation starter or a study book for anyone interested in what we do next to heal this divided land. We need this book now, and now is the perfect time to buy and use it.

I am referring to a new book by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer (yes, that Franky, who I reviewed last December, who wrote famously and perhaps not fairly of his famous evangelical parents, Francis & Edith Schaeffer in his controversial memoir, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back.)  Frank has written several books about his son being in the Marine Corp, how many in his upper-middle class, swanky New England neighbors have little interest in supporting those in the military, and the enlistment of his son led him to deep, deep consideration of what it means to be a military family and why so few of his social goup seemed disinterested. 

During this work, he came to know, write a book with (AWOL) and travel on book tours with, Ms Roth-Douquet, a well-educated, former Clinton White House staffer, a lefty idealistic politico, with remarkable political experience, who has a husband in the military as well.  They traveled around, wondering how to get Americans to care more deeply about their country, to resist apathy and consumerism and shallowness, and come together around thoughtful, enduring civic concerns.  Roth-Douquet is very impressive as an alert political activist and idealistic patriot. He love for her Democratic party is evident, although she struggles with questions of ultimate meaning, and understands and enhances Schaeffer's call to a coherent and sustainable set of convictions that might be called a worldview.

The two of them, fresh from arguments, both funny and heated, contentious and tender,  heart-to-hearts, and speechifying and chose to write it all down.   Some is literally written as a script (apparantly transcribed while the tape was rolling.)  It is an incredibly interesting and at times very moving little book, chatty and yet truly serious, important. 

It is called How Free PeopleHow Free People 2.jpg Move Mountains: A Male Christian Conservative and Female Jewish Liberal on a Quest for Common Purpose and Meaning (Collins; $24.95.)  We hear a lot about finding "common ground" but not too many are really doing it.  This is the real deal.

They have given us a back and forth co-written set of diatribes, conversations, debates and discussions and I literally (literally!) couldn't put it down.  For several days, I carried this book everywhere I went (do I need to be blunt?) and followed their discussions and debates, feeling the weight of their arguments and the heat of their passion.

As you might guess, Schaeffer still has some of his old Calvinist apologetic, pushing this idealistic secularized Jew to the deepest inconsistencies in her views of humans, her understandings of truth, and how we can develop a consensus on what is right and what is wrong without some reflection on our presuppositions.  She puts up with his protests of her humanism, and poking of her liberalism, and pleasantly puts him in his place on occasion as she reminds him of the oddity of his post-fundamentalist fundamentalism.  But yet, he continues to raise these solid questions: if we are to find some way of living together based on transcendent values---justice, goodness, stewardship of the land, quality of community---we must convince people that the crappy stuff of the American dream is inadequate.  These civic questions push beyond politics to our cultural lives, what we want for society, ultimately, to religious questions.  What fun and interesting and wise conversations these two, different and yet deeply connected friends have had.  What a blessing that they've shared it with us.  What a blessing that friendships like this--obviously they like each other, and tell lovely and painful stories about their families to one another, despite their political and ideological differences.  (For what it is worth, they have a lot in common, and calling Schaeffer a Christian conservative on the cover is good copy, but not altogether clear, on either matter.  His faith is a bit tentative and hardly orthodox, and his conservatism seems to be for conserving decent culture, like European buildings and human-scale cityscapes, and the Earth, nearly sounding like Bill McKibben or Wendell Berry, without the pacifism, at times.  He's not your typical conservative, making his partnership with Kathy R-D a bit more understandable.  I'd love to hook him up with crochety old Bill Kauffman, colorful front porch anarchist, author of Look Homeward America; I'd bet they'd like each other. )

I commend this as the perfect post-election conversation starter.  If we are to maximize and exploit (in a good way) the current interest in public life, this contemporary window of opportunity, and enhance the positive feelings around our nation breaking the racial barrier by electing a non-white President, we must act soon, raising big questions, starting good conversations, digging deeper, engaging our neighbors in important discussions about values, truth, civil society and who knows what and why.  Of course, I think this will naturally lead to a natural and contextualized kind of evangelism.  But that aside, these deep questions of how we can bridge our divides, come closer together as a people, and work together to move forward on many critical, urgent matters, are the right ones to purse.  How Free People Move Mountains can help.  We highly, highly recommend it.

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An American Awakening and other new books for post-election civic conversations and action

627101_0_150.jpgAn American Awakening: From Ground Zero to Katrina, The People We Are Free to Be by Courtney Cowart (Seabury; $24.00) is a book I've not quite known how to promote, but now it hits me.  This is, like the one I mentioned yesterday (How Free People Move Mountains), a great example of the sort of book that could enhance our conversations in these next heady days about who we need to be as a people, and what we need to be about.   President-elect Obama put out a clear call in his moving acceptance speech the other night that government can not--perhaps should not---try to fix everything.  "The first thing to say about politics," Father Richard Neuhaus has said, "is that politics is not the first thing."  Efforts at cultural renewal and attention to civil society and institutions other than the state are as urgent now as ever.

An American Awakening is a fine book, a study of hope, and of ways that grace has worked its ways in and around places of real suffering.  This moving telling of the tales of discipleship that have lead to caring and concern, action and activism, is just the sort of witness to relevant faith that we need.  As Walt Brueggemann puts it on the back cover (a cover laced with significant quotes) "It is a raw human account of day-to-day care and generosity that is marked by faith and that smacks of courageous staying power.  It is a narrative of immense power that invites recovery of human dignity, neighborly solidarity, and active hope."  Rev. Cowart is a "sacred activist" and a 9-11 survivor (she worked at Little Trinity on Wall Street) who has served in relief work across the country.  Sad and serious stuff, to be sure, but also exiciting, substantive and thoughtful.

New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community  Leroy Barber  (Mission Year)leroy.jpg $14.99. Oh wow, is this a cool, cool book.  It is trim, a bit larger than pocket sized, full color on serious stock, and an amazing synergy of graphic art design, photography and testimony of folks who have reached out through the ministry called Mission Year. (Do check out that link to their website, it is fabulous!  Or go to the website for the book itself.)  I like the line of Rusty Pritchard (Director of the Evangelical Environmental Network) who said "When you see the problems of the world as clearly as Leroy Barber does, most are tempted to despair.  But time and again I've seen Leroy counter that despair with encouragement, hope, and down-to-earth examples of love in action."   These stories---and evocative photos by Brian T. Murphy---are enough to inspire even the most jaded to sacrifice and action.  This is the kind of stuff we need to be talking about, the sorts of innovative caring that can bring healing and wholeness to our broken urban communities.  Kudos to Mission Year for their amazingly good work, and, now, for prodocuing a handsome, hip handbook, an art project that shares the gospel, telling the stories of those who love.  Highly recommended.  Mr. Barber, the CEO of Mission Year, will be at Jubilee 09 in Pittsburgh in February.  Gonna be great...

Speaking of inspiring urban warriors, Bill Strickland is a guy I briefly met and immediately admired over 30 years ago in a rough and tumble bit of the North Side of Pittsburgh called Manchester.  There was an evangelical Catholic Worker house nearby, and I'd take friends to hang out and help out.  Strickland, I heard, was starting to do job training for urban youth around traditional arts and crafts skills (and, getting guys to play jazz, as well, which has earned him respect from his friend Quincy Jones.)  From pottery to stained class to flower arranging, the Manchester Craftsman Guild helped bring renewal and change to this tough place, impacting the lives of thousands.  Stickland is still the activist leader of Manchester Bidwell, and has gone on to become a world-renowned speaker and his story is nicely told in Making make the impossible.gifthe Impossible Possible co-authored by Vince Rause (Doubleday Currency) $23.95.  On the front the audacious title continues One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary. 

Strickland is a true African American hero, kind of an inner city, artsy, highly motivated, very multi-faceted, entrepenureal Ben Carson, perhaps.  Hillary Rodham Clinton notes, "The Guild is a testament to the power of the arts to transform children's lives.  Its students learn much more than how to shape clay, take pictures, and appreciate jazz.  They leave knowing that they have the potential and tools to become successful and productive citizens." 

With endorsements from the likes of Fast Company and Harvard Business School, this ghetto blaster gets around.  His story is remarkable.  That his work told here may inspire more social enterprise innovations is even better.  He will be speaking at the Jubilee 09 conference in Pittsburgh, and his faith and guts will inspire many.  Check out Make the Impossible and invite others to dream about what they could do, even if on a smaller scale.

What can churches do to help create this kind of social reform?  Could you have conversations about this kind of stuff?  We'd recommend  Linking Arms Linking
linking arms.jpg Lives: How Urban-Suburban Partnerships Can Transform Communities (Baker) $14.99 which is a title I reviewed here  briefly when it came out a week or so ago.  I could have said so much more as this includes great Bible study, good stories, ideas for "next steps" and discussion.  Written by Ron Sider and John Perkins, Wayne Gordon and Albert Tizon, this is a beautiful example not only of thoughtful and visionary strategizing, but of what God is doing to bring "good words and good works" together in an evangelical, wholistic Kingdom approach.  It has tons of great stories, too, really great stories.  A motivational and inspiring read, this is a book that ought to be in the hands of every church leader who cares about outreach, service, missional thinking and working beyond their own doors.   

If you like Obama and his vision, it seems to me that we must carry on this notion that we are called as fellow citizens to work for the common good, being agents of change and hope in ways that are not necessarily legislative.  If you are more conservative, then you surely agree: it is the task of the private sector and local agencies to reach and out get busy, doing the work that government, too often, simply cannot do.  I hope these books can help inspire thoughtful prayerfulness, discernment and action.  We would be thrilled to know that a few people are getting together with their neighbors, friends, co-workers, classmates or church members, to read together how others have worked at these kinds of innovative projects. 

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

November 7, 2008

Beyond Homeless by Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger reviewed at the website

beyond homelessness.jpgIn my effort to get caught up with some long overdo more substantial--or at least more long-winded--reviews, I've just put up one of our "monthly" reviews over at the Hearts & Minds website, listed as a July 2008 review.  This one takes a long look at what may be the Book of the Year, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh (Eerdmansl $24.00.) I've commented on this several times at the blog, each time hinting why I am so fond of it, and why I think it is important, but am only now able to post my fuller remarks.  I really enjoyed giving an overview of this complex and serious work, noting that these authors are solid guys who live what they write about.  The integrity of this project is evident, and the thoughtfulness soars.  I hope you'll read my longer remarks; I truly hope you enjoy them.  Thanks.



Naked Vegetarians.jpg
I happen to know that these authors are not vegetarians, and I've never seen them naked, thank goodness, but this sentiment taken from a very cool poster by our friends at Restoring Eden seems a fine place to start to think about their "home-making" book.  Can we imagine a safe home, a created order where God and God's shalom dwells?  Can we seek to create a vision of Biblical faith, and subsequent spiritually-guided practices of creation care and attention to place that allows us to be healing homemakers, intimate and real?  Can we truly care about the vast issues of public life, as well as live daily with sustainable notions of home economics, that make for pleasant homes and strong families?  Can we care about the merciless slaughter of creatures and the extinction of species and also the plight of the urban poor and international refugees, even as we find new find energy for fun relationships, mature friendships, intergenerational extended families, and worshipping communities that teach us the Godly way of hospitality and gracious love?  Can we feel "at home" when we are alone?  Do we have a sense of place? Can we do anything about suburban sprawl?  Can our cares and concerns translate into prophetic action in this new era of rethinking public policy?  What does the Bible, and the cross of Christ which stands central to it's story, have to do with all this? 

These guys---I'm tellin' ya---are experienced and able guides to help us, as Marva Dawn puts it in her rave endorsement of Beyond Homelessness, "comprehend and mend" our broken, alienated world.   They can help us come home.  Please check out my review.   Help us spread the word...pass this on to anyone you know who likes to consider big books about important stuff.  Thanks.


November 12, 2008

Hearts & Minds to host author Ruth Haley Barton at LWCC this Monday night

candle flame.jpgI could certainly write lots about the wonderful books of our friend Ruth Haley Barton, her books for women, her book on men & women as friends (Equal to the Task), and her recent batch on spiritual disciplines and how God can transform us as we align ourselves with the Spirit.  We can do that, allowing God to work, by creating space in our lives for solitude and silence, listening prayer and serious Scripture study.  Ruth has trained at the world-renowned Shalem Institute, and brings a broad yet uniquely evangelical perspective to their important ecumenical work in spiritual formation and contemplative living. 

Her 2007 Sacred Rhythms is one of our favorite books in recent years, a natural follow-up to the excellent Invitation to Solitude & Silence.  Her new one, which I will review at length eventually, uses Moses as a case study in leadership development, and the possibility of leaders being less faithful, effective and fruitful then they might because they fail to attend to the ancient and classic disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, solitude, journaling and such.  There are not many books that adeptly bring together leadership development and spirituality, and Stengthening the Soul of Your Leadership is marvelous. Her own vocation to help leaders in this prayerful inner journey is described at the website of The Tranforming Center.  Check it out.

We're very pleased with her as a writer, and appreciate her ability to write about such deep and mysterious stuff and yet remain clear, upbeat, practical and thoroughly rooted in the Biblical story.  We're biased since we care for her so, and although we are not intimate friends, we've connected well whenever we've been together, know each others families a bit, enjoy good conversations with her. We, along with our local friends, will have a chance to get caught up this coming Monday, when she has agreed to offer a presentation for us, followed by an autographing party.

 We are hosting "An Evening with Ruth Haleyruth haly barton.jpg Barton" and she'll talk and teach a bit, share some stories, inspire us to move more deeply into greater faith maturity, and maybe talk about how she--busy wife and mom that she is---came to be a renowned writer of spirituality.  I suspect she still has to pinch herself sometimes, but God has, I am certain, used her in important and true ways as she serves and encourages and guides many, though her lively speaking and excellent books, to Christ's transforming grace.

SO:  please spread the word!
 We will start around 7 pm this Monday, November 17th, in a fairly spacious, though intimate, coffee bar and art gallery in the nearby Living Word Community Church (2530 Cape Horn Road) in Red Lion.  This is on Route 24 just a couple of miles from our shop. Many thanks to LWCC for allowing us to use their space, and for their enthusism in helping host this author reception, presentation and autographing party.  Yes, of course, we will be selling her books.

May be suggest that autographed books make very special holiday gifts?  Let us know if you are unable to be with us but want me to pick you up an autographed book which we could mail next week.  I'll do a blog post in a day or so about that, listing her titles, some prices and such.  For now, though, pray for us, tell anybody in central Pennsylvania that you can, and join us if you are able for this great opportunity to met an author, be blessed by a very special presentation, and join with others in reminding ourselves of how to come to know God more deeply.  We are very, very excited.    Special thanks to Ruth and InterVarsity Press for their genorousity in showing up at our funky little spot.  We are grateful.

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

November 13, 2008

Books by Ruth Haley Barton (Speaking Monday, November 17th)

Thanks to those who posted comments or sent email or Facebook messages wishing us well on the author reception we are having on Monday with Ruth Haley Barton. We appreciate your prayers.  Apparently, a number of folks really have loved her books and can vouch that she is, indeed, a high quality presenter.  We can't wait for her program which we are sponsoring over at the cool coffee bar at the nearby Living Word Community Church who have graciously agreed to co-host this event.  If you know anyone in Central PA, send them the previous blog post as it might inspire them to take a field trip this Monday night.  Ruth will speak sometime after 7 pm;  there will be light refreshments, a chance to meet, chat a bit, and get books autographed.  We'll have her titles available.  Extra thanks to InterVarsity Press, her most recent publisher, who is helping make this event possible.  We've always said they are our favorite publisher, and we are glad Ruth's work has found a good home there.

Want us to have her sign a book, and then send it to you (or a special someone?)  Just let us know before Monday, and we can do that for you.

Strengthening the S.jpgStrengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry  (IVP) $18  This is her new one, a brillant study of Moses, good for anyone who is even half-way serious about being faithful in intentional discipleship and staying rooted in deep awareness of God's sustaining presence.  It is rare to see a book on spiritual formation, self-awareness and leadership development, so this is a true treasure.  Give it to anyone you know who is a leader, or ought to be...One of the great new books of the year!

Click here for a short, fantastic, video clip of Ruth talking about her book.

Sacred R.jpgSacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation  (IVP) $17  One of our favorites, this is a delightful and passionate call, realistic and pleasant, to develop a personal "rule of life" or set of lifestyle priorities that allow for practicing the spiritual disciplines.  Who doesn't want a more sane pace of life?  Who doesn't need to know how to find God in the ordinary stuff of real life?  This is a very, very nice book and a fabulous introduction to contemplative living.




Invitation to S.jpgInvitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence  (IVP) $17  Wow, what a great treasure, a book to ponder, to come back to, to allow it's calming influence to seep over you.  We are all, surely, aware of the dangers of over-stimulation, the anxieties of our info-glut culture.  Learning to get comfortable with silence is key.  Ruth is amazingly contemporary and yet saying something the wisest writers have said for centuries.  Highly recommended.




Longing for M.jpgLonging for More: A Woman's Path to Transformation in Christ  (IVP) $16  This is a revised and expanded version of a book that we used to say was the best book of which we knew for Christian women; now it is even better. Originally called Truths That Free Us: A Woman's Calling to Spiritual Transformation it is written to help women find inner strength, being aware of their needs and desires, inviting readers to reflect on yearnings that can best be met in God and Christ's ways.  From spirituality to sexuality, this is a fabulous, easy to read, yet very profound book for anyone.  It is especially popular among college age women, it seems, and a great example of thoughtful and well-written basic Christian growth for contemporary women.

Equal to the T.jpgEqual to the Task: Men & Women in Partnership (IVP) $15  It is no surprise, I presume, that we are comfortable with the movement of "evangelical feminism" that is shared by authors such as Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Elaine Storkey, Gilbert Belzikian and others who, out of the highest regard for the Bible and historic orthodox faith, invite us to lifestyles of servanthood, mutuality and gender justice.  Ruth is not a strident voice, but she does offer here remarkably insightful stuff on how women and men might compliment one another in the work-world, in friendship, in ministry.  I don't think there is as much attention paid to this as there should be and as women are increasingly found in positions of church and work leadership, issues of power as well as issues of sexuality and temptation, will need to be addressed.  This is a forward-thinking, useful and really fun look at what can be seen as a great blessing of God, or, as a potential trouble spot. Unless you live in a cave, this would be a useful study and ponder and we highly recommend it.  It has much to offer young and old, men and women.

ruth.gif
women like us.jpgBecoming a W of P.jpg
Ruth: Relationships That Bring Life
(Shaw)
Becoming a Woman of Purpose (Shaw) $5.99
Women Like Us: Wisdom for Today's Issues (Shaw) $5.99

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

November 16, 2008

Setting Words on Fire

worshipping preachers.jpgEarlier in the week, in what was an exhausting set up and tear down, we had a glorious few days selling books in Harrisburg with pastors who had gathered at the annual State Pastors Conference organized by our friends at the Pennsylvania Council of Churches.  This tends to draw mostly mainline denominational clergy, but that, of course, is a large and diverse tribe, and the Council provides a big tent.  We love working with such an interesting group, talking books with Lutheran and United Methodist clergy, Church of the Brethren and Moravians, lots of UCC pals and local Episcopalians.  There were a few American Baptists and Presbys, a few very thoughtful Roman Catholics---quoting First Things and ecumenism and such--- and, lo and behold, a couple of ethnic Pentecostals.  Praise be to God.  And, it seems, most of these leaders mostly liked our display.  As always---after lugging stuff down awkward freight elevator and through a huge hotel kitchen with blazing stovetops and giant hot cauldrons, we look back and can't believe it is over.

As you might guess, our passions for cultural reformation and the empowerment of laypeople to impact their spheres of influence led us to push books like Andy Crouch's Culture Making and social concern books like Jim Wallis' Great Awakening or a brand new book, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide by J. Matthew Bonzo & Michael R. Stevens (Brazos; $21.99).  You may have seen the Christian Century article a year or so ago which, like the common advice given by Eugene Peterson, suggests that Berry's views of stewarding the land in a rural place is insightful for those caring for a Christian flock in a church.  Not many of the pastors took me up on the notion (maybe because it seems pricey) but I will review it in earnest, later.  It is a fabulous work, applicable for anyone that loves literature, or, well, a life well lived and I had hoped pastors would be excited about it.

 I gave a heartfelt pitch for a book that is precisely designed to help clergy help laypeople see faith "as a way of life" entitled Faith as a Way of Life: AFaith as a way of life.jpg Vision of Pastoral Leadership by Christian Scharan and a forward by Miroslov Volf (Eerdmans; $15.)  Scharan worked with the Yale Center for Faith as a Way of Life and this three-year study group made up of clergy, artists, theologians, economists and the like, interviewed hundreds of pastors to find the best practices that help them equip lay folks into living faithfully in every sphere of life.  I am so grateful that they are describing one aspect of Pastoral Excellence in terms of how faith flows into life, belief informs behavior.

  So: we try to do our thing, helping these fine pastors find books that they may not find at a big box store, or even at a typical store that serves mainline clergy.  From pomo emergent stuff to contemplative spirituality, racial justice to the books about film and the arts, promoting books about these broader Christian concerns seems to be appreciated.

Yet, we do, of course, stock plenty of the quintessential books for pastors and for parish health and development.  We have all the Alban Institute books---nearly every single one--- and other such cutting edge, practical resources.  A personal favorite that just arrived is a great sequel to the great Transforming Congregational Culture by Anthony Robinson.  Entitled Changing the changing the conversation.jpgConversation: A Third Way for Congregations (Eerdmans; $18) it offers ten conversations that renewing congregations need to have.  Robinson invites church leaders and members into these ten crucial topics that can help change their culture (framing them all by the quest to find alternatives to extremes, something other than fundamentalism and liberalism, a welcome approach indeed.)  Martin Copenhaver says of it, "Robinson has done it again.  Building on his previous work, which many of us have found indispensable, he has written a book full of insights and wisdom.  No one writing about church life today writes with more depth and perception." 

Time did not allow for me to describe a new book by Jeff Lucas, but its opening story, about Itzhak Perlman playing an nearly impossible Bach piece with a missing string, is so moving, it is worth the price of the book for that alone.  Creating a Prodigal Friendly Church (Zondervan; $14.99) uses a clever device, naming each chapter (in Italiano) after a movement in music.  That God's lilting melody of love would be better heard is the theme of his heart, and he helps churches learn how to best have prodigals engulfed in the song they so long to really hear.  How can he help those who have drifted or left the church, perhaps angry or bored...can a church adopt an open heart, he asks, that will in turn open its doors to everyone?  This is a fast-paced little book, full of stories and ideas and practical notions that would benefit most churches.  We have plenty of books on how churches can make first good impressions, be hospitable, welcoming and friendly.  I hope you know, for instance, the thoughtful and gracious No Perfect People Allowed: Create a Come as You Are Culture at Church by John Burke (Zondervan; $14.99.)  We have an edition with a DVD included making it a great training tool or adult ed class.

Last year one of the keynote speakers was Quentin J. Schultz, who spoke on technology--very good.  He told me then that he had a forthcoming book in the pipeline, and itsuburban church.jpg was nice to show it off this week.  It is called The Suburban Church: Practical Advice for Authentic Ministry which Q co-wrote with Arthur H. Dekruyter  (Baker; $18.95) and it reflects upon the unique challenges of pastoring those who are suburbanites.  We also, by the way, pushed the new Ron Sider & John Perkins book that I've mentioned before on the blog, Linking Arms Linking Lives on urban/suburban church partnerships.  I don't know what it will take to get this book talked about, but I think it is very, very important, for all kinds of congregations and all kinds of settings.  It is a masterpiece of wholistic theology, multi-faceted Kingdom ministry, and very useful for helping churches in their move towards being more missional. 

We told of some of our favorite books of the year, doing a short reading out loud from The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs  (now out in paperback) and the exquisite memoir by Andrew Krivac, The Long Retreat (an elegant and moving memoir I wrote about a few months ago.)  We promoted serious theology, prayer, small group resources, leadership development, conflict resolution. There are two brand new books by Walter Brueggemann, Great Prayers of the Old Testament (Westminister/John Knox; $16.95) and Abingdon's brand new first entry in the "Library of Biblical Theology" simply entitled Old Testament Theology: An Introduction ($32.00.)  We had tables and tables of liturgical resources, lectionary preaching guides, and the books of prayers and litanies and worship planning books that pastors from some denominations need.  You wouldn't believe how much of that sort of stuff we have! 

And, we there were tons of books on preaching.  The speakers this year were alllarue.jpg homileticians, and we were happy to have the resources of Gail O'Day and new favorite preacher, Cleophus LaRue, extraordinary wordsmith from Princeton Seminary, author of several books on the power of black preaching. 


And, we were the first store in the country to have the brand new book by master theorist of preaching, Paul Scott Wilson.

setting words on fire.jpgHis brand new one is called Setting Words on Fire: Putting God at the Center of the Sermon (Abingdon; $27) and includes a DVD, showing excerpts of different sorts of styles, approaches, and forms.  Co-produced at Calvin College, it apparently includes a clip of Scott Hoezee, one of my favorite pastor/writers and I look forward to checking it out myself.  I suspect it will be tremendous.  I owe a special thanks to my sales rep, Linda B. from Abingdon Press, who helped us acquire this before it technically released.  It was pretty cool having it with the ink nearly wet, and even Paul Wilson himself had not seen the finished product yet.

 Moments like these remind us how joyous it is to unite words and readers, writers and publishers, book-seller and book-buyer.  I pray that Mr. Wilson's vision--God at the center of the sermon--would indeed set many preachers and their words on fire, so that all of our churches would be renewed and revitalized.  You who read theological and other Christian books, supporting booksellers like us, and the authors we promote, spreading the good ideas, helping them gain traction in your churches and fellowships are part of the plan.  Thanks.  Soli deo gloria.


November 20, 2008

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness

Last week in a post or two we highlighted the deeply satisfying books by our friend Ruth Haley Barton, who we had here earlier in the week.  We are so happy that she was able to be with us, and share her life, her passions for sabbath, solitude and silence, her understanding of prayerfulness amidst our hectic pace of life, and how best to put ourselves into postures to be transformed by Jesus Christ.  My friend Brian Rice over at Leadership Connextions blogged about it a bit (his blog is always fun and informative.)  Thanks to customers near and far who attended, and to Living Word Community Church who hosted us so well.

One of the books I told Ruth about---what a privilege and joy (and fearsome responsibility) to recommend books to authors and Christian leaders---was the new Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David K. Naugle (Eerdmans; $18.) Rooted as she is in the deepest traditions of the church, she immediately understood the Augustinian allusion in the title and the insights of the best monks and thinkers of the earlier times: what we believe is not all that matters, in fact, doctrinal certitude is usaully trumped by a deeper experience of the God of grace.  That is, what we know--in the Biblical sense---is what matters, not just our intellectual assent to Bible truth.  Ruth explained some of this in her presentations, sharing how as a very Biblically-oriented evangelical teacher she had great "head knowledge" (as we say) but became so desperate for a way of being that was life-giving and normative and appropriate and good, that she was driven to the spiritual formation traditions, the mystics and the monks, who could help her experience God's Spirit in real and lasting ways.

And yet, there is more to the experience of God, more to a solid way of life, than having spiritual encounters, or living in a way that is attentive to the Divine, and David Naugle is one of the best guides we have to a fuller, sustainable, meaningful, whole, truly Christian life and lifestyle.  He is a worldview scholar, having done the mammouth and extraordinary book Worldview: The History of a Concept, (Eerdmans; $28) so he is well prepared to think at the most foundational and basic levels, knowing well the way our most basic assumptions of life, the story we live in, and the way we see and imagine our selves and the world, are the most influential aspects that shape us.  But what human ideas, experiences and practices will yield a life well lived?  It is, we must say,  more than a renewed experience of spirituality, although Ruth's wonderful guides are a helpful part of our formation.  And it is more than worldview notions, although James Sire and Nancy Pearcey and Walsh & Middleton and Al Wolters and Mark Bertrand have been vital in Naugle's own development.  These are all authors we know and love, and their call to a tranforming vision rooted in a consistently Christian vision of things is so important.

Reordered Love.jpgYet, in Reordered Love, Reordered Lives Naugle shows that there is something beyond these important aspects of our discipleship, more than spirituality and worldview.  Yes, the deepest things of heart and mind are informed and shaped by something even more fundamental, something Augustine captured in his famous trope: our loves.  Naugle wisely guides us into the question of what we most love.  If, he reminds us, we love the wrong stuff, or even love the right stuff wrongly, our lives will reflect that disorder.  True happiness comes from getting the first things first, loving all sorts of things properly, and living well-ordered lives that are shaped by these fundamental cares and commitments.  Here is a link to a helpful little column about the book, written by Breakpoint's Kim Moreland, called Priorities of Affection.  It's a nice summary of Naugle's view. 

Oh my, this may sound a bit heady, or, to some, even hopelessly arcane.  I assure you, this book may be one of the most important of your life, if it can point you towards a grace-filled appreciation of caring about what matters most, and loving well.

Charlie Peacock is a H&M friend and a mentor to artists and musicians, such as the band Switchfoot (who David quotes more than once in the book; Jon Foreman's songs could nearly be a soundtrack to Reordered Love...) A few years back, Charlie wrote a splendid and rare kind of book, an easy to read and yet very thoughtful and truly pleasant book called New Way to Be Human (Shaw; $12.99) which nearly anticipates this more in-depth study.  And that is it: Naugle helps us be truly human, followers of the most Human One, Jesus of Nazareth.  Of Naugle, Charlie writes, "This book is in league with the very best of Christian cultural apologists.  Though it is full of current and relevant cultural illustrations, the real attraction is, simply, Jesus.  Naugle beautifully illustrates that Jesus is the good fulfillment of every human desire." 

Steve Garber, author of the always-timely, wonderfully rich Fabric of Faithfulness, who also writes wisely about caring for that which matters most under the sun,  writes, knowingly,

 I regard David Naugle as one of the most gifted professors in America. Perennially his students learn to think and care about the most important things---remarkably so, in fact.  Reordered Love, Reordered Lives allows all of us the grace of learning over his shoulder and through his heart, listening in on the unusual pedagogy that is uniquely his.  Amazingly wise, incredibly well-read, he is always attentive to what matters most, and his books should find its way into hearts and minds, courses and colleges, far and wide. 

Fabulous similiar endorsements from Jamie K.A. Smith to Os Guinness, Esther Lightcap Meek to John Seel, Chuck Colson to John Witvliet, deep and thoughtful and vital writers whom we admire and trust, all rave about this book, in ways that are truly eye-catching, even in the exagerrated stylings of book blurbs. When this many smart and good folk commend a book so lavishly, it is worth having! 

Whether it is expounding on a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem or a Johnny Cash song, quoting Stephen Colbert or C.S. Lewis,  wondering about the role of ipods or studying the most deadly sins, this exploration of the African Bishop's insights about transformed lives lived happily aright for the redemptive purposes of God's Kingdom, Naugle's book is one which we cannot recommend more highly.  He even has a little section about the importance of reading to gain insight, an example of his own love for learning, his enthusism for good ideas.  I'd would think some of our readers will say "amen!" to those few pages.  And least I sure hope so.
David Naugle.jpg
Davey is a fun guy, a thoughtful and dear man.  We commend his website, his articles, his earlier book, his taste in music (he has hosted our friend Brooks Williams and is always talking about fellow Texan Kate Campbell) and, now, this most readable and important reflection on the biggest question of all: who and what do you love?  Want happiness?  Deep happiness?  Do you want to go beyond a purpose-drive life?   Want your life to be ordered in such as way that it is sane and good?  This book, which I hope you learn to love, can help.

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November 25, 2008

Narnia and the Fields of Arbol and other books for a Culture in Decline

A few days ago we had the privilege of selling books at a prestigious event sponsored by the Washington DC-based C.S. Lewis Institute a ministry that, in the spirit of Lewis, attends to nurturing the heart and mind, for the sake of both personal and cultural renewal. It was a conference with the intriguing title "The Fall of the Nations" and included Ken Boa reflecting on the fall of the Roman Empire, and Os Guinness speaking eloquently about what sorts of habits and attitudes might sustain our democracy.  Faith and freedom were built into the early days of our nation, the first nation created as an experiment in an idea.  Guinness has long been a sane and thoughtful voice honoring the depth of insight of the American Bill of Rights.  We are pleased to have our books represented at this Lewis-sponsored conference.  Thanks to Scott C. and others who volunteered to get our books on the road, set up, and peddled.  (Meanwhile, back at the proverbial ranch, Beth and I had store chores, a sweet 16-birthday party to run, complete with a jungle theme, my mother just out of the hospital, and books to haul elsewhere.)

The Ken Boa books were thrilling to promote as we've often recommended some of his fabulous books on spirituality, devotional life, apologetics, and such. His newest is a very useful and lovely hardcover (Regal; $24.99) called The 52 Greatest Stories in the Bible (co-written with John Alan Turner, with whom he wrote a book about parenting kids with the mind of Christ and a Christain moral imagination.) It explores these highlights of the grand story  It seems like a great idea, hanging out for a week in a given story, all to serve getting the big picture of the Bible in a year.)   His cultural analysis stuff was very well received (we sold his DVD on the comparisons between the fall of the Roman Empire and our own contemporary failings and fallings.)  Check out his very nifty website, blog here.  We have almost all of his books, so let us know if you want to order anything.

And Guinness.  Once again, we had the opportunity to promote his many books, especially featuring his brief book on truth and spin and hype, a timely and succinct call to navigate the postmodern landscape with Biblical fidelity.  Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype and Spin (Baker; $12.99) is a great book to visit and re-visit and is a central portion of any evaluation of our times;  how do we think about truth?  I am not sure he and Ken fully agree on what may be symptoms and what may be causes of cultural decline, but I am sure they would both insist that we think through our very notions of truth, mostly rejecting Enlightenment rationalism on one hand and postmodern relativism on the other.  Knowing that last year the word "truthiness" was entered into our vocabulary, I am sure this little book is as valuable as ever.

case for civility.jpgFor this "Fall of the Nations" gathering, though, we were particularly glad for Guinness' wonderful book, serious and provocative, about political life, especially in America. I hope you know The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It (HarperOne; $23.95) as we have been enthused about it and have tried to encourage folks to order it for months, now.  I wrote a long description of it last February in our review column, and I've noted its importance throughout the year.  Not only does Guinness invite us to fair-minded, robust, civil discourse, he offers a more philosophical strategy, a perspective and framework that is more than public politeness. The Case for Civility reminds us why we ought not seek a "religious public square" nor a "naked public square" but a "pluralistic" one, that permits fair treatment and voice of religious perspectives, but seeks to enshrine none.  More than a happy medium between the religious right and the secular left, it is truly a "third way" that builds into our public attitudes and approaches an awareness of the genius of the first amendment, and the need for religious liberty, the legitimacy of persuasion, the legal notions of "positive neutrality" when it comes to government treatment of faith-based institutions, the urgency of creating structures to nurture civic unity despite philosophical diversity.  If only our new President could articulate for our new era a way out of the culture wars, a way beyond the current impasses, by drawing on the insights of the founders and framers.  I have been thinking of key books that I wish the President-elect would read, and this would be one of them.  (Of course, Os's The Call, one of my all time top few books, would be on that list, too, but I digress...)

Although I was not at the DC lectures, as we packed up the boxes to take, I could only imagine the things that would be alluded to, cited, named, or explained.  As Boa and Guinness together thought about a new reformation to turn back the darkness of these hard days, even in light of certain insights from the past, what books should we feature, what titles should we promote?  Of course we had Gibbon's Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire there (the three volume Library of America hardbacks are very classy; the one-volume paperback quite nice, too) and the wonderful historical studies by Thomas Cahill, such as How the Irish Saved Civilization which struck me as particularly approppos.  (I suppose it was a bit off theme, but his book on the Greeks, a culture I too often cheaply critique for the legacy of Platonic dualism, is a great read: Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea as is his overview of Jewish civilization, The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed The Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.  His book on the high middle ages is now out in paperback which I've been wantingHow should we then live DVD.jpg to read for some time now.)

For this gang, especially, Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.  It is a sweeping survey that I still commend, and enjoy any time I pick it up. We have the DVDs, too, of the original 10-part series.  If you haven't read it or watched 'em get it on your Christmas list, quick!

C.S. Lewis' own Abolition of Man is about first things, a profound bit of cultural criticism, going after the reductionistic ways of scientism, the need for a wholistic view (also in education) that honors the full dignity of the human person.  It is not his most well-known book, and it is a serious little work, but it pays off with great rewards, even if it takes more than one quick read-through.  Highly recommended.

 Whenever cultural discernment is needed, we often take copies of Question of God by Dr. Armand Nicholi, Jr. of Harvard Medical School,  which is a spectacularly creative and interesting contrasting of the worldviews of Lewis and Sigmund Freud as they debate God, love, sex, and the meaning of life. (The Lewis Institute hosted him several years back before the book came out, lecturing on these two intellectual giants.) 

Although it is mostly about bio-ethics, the new release from the intellectual journal The New Atlantis, In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in an Age of Technology by Eric Cohnin the shadow of progress.jpg seemed like a good compliment to these dire proceedings.

 Of course the award winning tour de force by Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, is one that fits helpfully into this batch of insightful faith-based cultural criticism.

I have written in the blog and review column why I think that the most urgent and interesting and important book of cultural analysis and Christian reflection this year is the brilliant Beyond Homelessness by Brian Walsh & Stephen Bouma-Prediger (Eerdmans.)  It suggests that the highlight of modernity is finally a displacement from place, and this is oddly enshrined in the postmodern nomad.  From metaphorical placelessness and homesickness--something Lewis wrote powerfully about---to the economies that produce literal homelessness amongst the poor and refugee, our cultural ethos is one that does not attend to home.  Ecological and environmental thinking, deeply rooted in the God who makes homemaking covenant with this planet, our home, is central to the task of re-imagining the possibilities of restoration, they insist.  And I think they are correct; whatever we can learn from the fall of the Roman Empire, and however important Mr. Guinness' insights about the religious freedom charter from Williamsburg days, our essential relationship the Earth, and consequently our place on Earth, must be more urgently explored as a foundational matter.  No society can endure, and no faith should, that dismisses the goodness of creation and the duties of real living, here.

narnia and the fields.jpgAnd so, I was thrilled when a long-awaited academic book showed up the day we were heading to the conference, a solid study of  environmentalism within the writings of C.S. Lewis.  Written by two evangelical scholars, whose other books (such as From Homer to Harry Potter) we have enjoyed selling, this new work was a perfect reminder of this vital piece of any discussion or visioneering about cultural renewal: we must have a viable doctrine of creation.  We happily suggest the brand new Matthew Dickerson & David L. O'Hara, Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C.S. Lewis (University of Kentucky Press; $35.00) for your consideration.  Dickerson knows his stuff, he co-authored a similar title a few years back, Ents, Elves and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R. R. Tolkien  (also U of K Press; $35)  Both are in a series named "The Culture of the Land."  I wonder what the Roman Empire (or the Pax Americana one) thinks about that?

Next post, I'll tell you about another important book, reflecting on a very important author, that will help us further on this very matter.  Stay tuned, it's going to be good.  Thanks!


November 28, 2008

Black Friday and A brillant new book about Wendell Berry

In the last post I promised to tell of another book that "gets at" the most fundamental quandaries of modern times, that offers critique and insight about very basic matters in our world.  We can lament the problems of our culture (and some do so wisely with prophetic power and grace and others just wheeze like reactionaries who long for the "good old days.")  Some, it seems are a bit overly critical of the West, some not critical enough.  Some are so cranky as to fail to witness to any hope;  others don't need much hope because they seem pretty content with things as they are.  We trust that the books we've cited here over these past months are balanced, thoughtful, helping make you wise and faithful in thought, word and deeds as you engage the world as it is, good and bad.  There have been some important ones.  I think back about recommending the profound and serious critique of the idols of our time by Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and Public Issues Shaping Our World .  And I think of how we celebrated Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright's wonderful call to a robust doctrine of new creation, which funds missional thinking and profound hope, here, now.  What a delight and inspiration to think in new ways about God's Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven."  I will continue to encourage folks to buy and study Beyond Homelessness by Brian Walsh & Stephen Bouma-Prediger for, as I've noted in previous posts, it is deep, rich, radical, and very, very insightful about the nature of our alienation from our place in this postmodern world.  Anyone interested in the big picture of the crisis of our times---and Christ calls us all to be, it seems---will be blessed to spend time working on the remarkable books we've been promoting.

I would suspect that if there is any one author who is being read by---or at least is on the reading list of---nearly every thoughtful Christian leader who cares about the spirit of the age and who is seeking insights about a more normative, sane life and lifestyle it is Kentucky farmer, poet and novelist, Wendell Berry.  Berry is renowned in literary circles for his short stories, novels and poems.  He is widely read as a cultural critic, one who pens pristine essays for Harpers and Orion and various regional lit or citizenship mags;  he has been interviewed in Sojourners and The Christian Century.  His writings regularly appear in conservation anthologies and he has inspired a young generation of environmentally-aware writers, perhaps most notably Bill McKibben. Of course, his main day job is being a farmer, and he has written essays on all manner of agricultural practices, from sheep shearing to logging with horses, from how to treat animals to how to treat land. He is old pals with homesteaders like Gene Logshead and rural scholar-activist Wes Jackson.  His land ethic, rooted in a Southern agrarian vision, reverberates into topics as diverse as eating well to race relations to sexuality.  He is mostly against abortion and war, has traditional rural values, and knows, as most farm folk do, that families have to stick together, as do other kin and neighbors, even amidst the common hardships of our life in place.  So, in his many books, his stories and essays, his polemics and reviews, his letters and poems, he calls us to consider a wonderously different way of living, a way that values things other than growth, speed, efficiency, mobility, power or worldly success.  In ways that are neither Marxist nor monastic, Berry invites us to live in deep, ordinary fidelity.  That, in fact, is the title of one his collections of short stories, Fidelity.

Wendell Berry and the Cultivation.jpgFinally, we now have a most wonderful introduction to the work of Mr. Berry, a fine and thoughtful guide to his fiction and non-fiction, his ways and means, his life and his writing.  Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Readers Guide by J. Matthew Bonzo & Michael R. Stevens (Brazos; $21.99) is yet another book that we are so, so happy about this year.  In an age when independent bookselling is increasingly rare, and the sustainability of our little project here is increasingly difficult, we are overjoyed---almost with a bittersweetness---that there are such good writers, such good books, and a movement within religious publishing that is bringing out these kinds of exceptionally important works.  We've carried Berry since the day we opened 27 years ago and we are overjoyed to know of evangelical Christians that are living inspired by him, and who are writing about him so thoughtfully.

There are some friends, perhaps informed by some of Berry's worldview, who have signed up for AdBuster's Buy Nothing Day, today;  if "Black Friday" is a bit of a symbol of over-consumption and crazed shopping fever, stepping back can be prophetic and wise, I suppose, if a bit gimmicky.  (The Advent Conspiracy is another great movement to pledge to resist the commercialization of our holiday season, a good plan to "replace consumption with compassion.")  And yet, here in retail-land, we are not ashamed of what we do,most of the time, and would be happy if folks do, indeed, buy stuff from us this weekend. I dare not ridicule others who, like me, make a living selling legitimate products.  Anyway, it isn't that buying is bad, it is perhaps the kind,  amount, sort of, point and meaning of our commerce that matters---and that is a battle we must fight every day.  I'd say, get over the one day "buy nothing" protest and get thyself to a nearby bookstore that you believe in (and convince a nearby library if you can) to buy this book which will, we trust, guide you through the various writings of WB, and offer an appropriate view of economics and a thick account of our human calling to stewardship that will be more important than a mere protest against the Xmas spirit at the mall. Read and disucss it, and the world will be better for it.  If you are so inclined, we would appreciate it if you helped us stay afloat doing what we do, and by ordering this from us, here.  Order a few, as it will be a lovely gift, introducing people to a writer of considerable charm, depth and prophetic power.  Maybe you could have a little reading group;  buy local foods from a farmer's market and have a Berry reading party.

Berry is worth reading, and Bonzo & Stevens are excellent interpreters of his importance.  As Phyllis Tickle, herself a southern farm woman, says, they "provide us with the clearest and the most cordially inclined, but still clear-eyed, overview of Berry that I have seen to date.  As the green-theology/neo-agrarian movement grows, this kind of careful reconsideration and assessment of its saints, forerunners, and older protagonists becomes increasingly pertinent, and, indeed, even necessary."

Which is to say, Wendell Berry is the Man.  Now is the time.  Matt & Michael tell us why.  Here is a brief interview with Matt done by my good friend Derek Melleby for the CPYU Bookshelf.  It will give you a nice taste as to why they wrote the book and why we should care. Enjoy.   

November 30, 2008

Living at the Crossroads: An Introdution to Christian Worldview

In my announcement of this book in my last BookNotes blog post (January 7, 2009) I ruminated on the ways in which many Christians tend not to be very articulate about how they relate their Sunday-morning worship to their Monday-morning work.  Or, how some churches or para-church ministries tend to whip people up into (good) enthusiasm for this or that cause, project, emphasis, or calling.  I myself have hoped that folks I knew--students I taught, Bible study groups I knew, customers here at the shop or my own congregational friends----would get excited and learn to specialize in social justice work, peacemaking, or creation-care, only to be disappointed when that race relations study group feel flat or that Bread for the World chapter fizzled out.  Similarly, I had hopes that many would see their professional lives as the most obvious place they served Christ and learn to use the language of calling and vocation, resulting in new marketplace ministries, study groups on calling and career, prayer requests about the job site and the ethical dilemmas they faced within their mission fields of corporate America.  How we long for more astute Christian conversation about the arts, film, culture.  Many good folks, and many good friends, are doing wonderful and dedicated work and while there are obviously many shallow and nominal churches that can't get much of a vision for anything of substance, there are many who are vibrant and trying to equip people to think outside the sanctuary.  We are glad and grateful, and even harbor a bit of pride that we've on occasion helped fan those flames, sold some books, introduced people to authors or organizations, served as networker or resourcer.  There are more solid and interesting Christian books about both social concern and workworld ministry, cultural engagement and thinking about the arts and sciences, say, than ever before!  We live in thrilling times as younger evangelicals are rejecting legalism and a fixation on churchy and are living as spiritual leaders, working as cultural entrepreneurs. Just think of this years much discussed release Culture Making by Andy Crouch (IVP; $20) (and how we here at BookNotes and our friends at catapult and comment are mentioned!)  Yes, much, much is good and we see many God-honoring accomplishments (as we hope you do) from our vantage point in this small corner of the Kingdom. 

Yet, I wrote in the last blog, much of the recent flurry of new missions, websites, publishing, and projects may be short-lived, and sometimes feels haphazard, piecemeal, ad hoc.  Most folks I know, from the most apathetic or nominal churchgoer to the most energetic Christian servant, are not sensing the rest of God, not seeing their lives cohere, not feeling integrated.  They may be inching towards a more Biblically faithful, missional Kingdom vision, but they still don't seem to "see" all of life in light of faith.  Some otherwise thoughtful Christians think the most awful stuff in one side of life;  leaders who seem to have a mature perspective on some things do the darnest things in other arenas.  Faith, for many, is still something "added on" or alongside of the ordinary stuff of life.

By way of introducing this splendid new book, I insisted that a major, serious, life-saving practice for the project of nurturing whole-life discipleship, the kind of integrated and consistent faith that sees God at the center of all things and refuses dualism and cultural accommodation, is to be intentional about regularly studying, thinking through, talking about what constitutes a uniquely Christian world-and-life-view.  Yes, we are excited about and are confident about the urgency of selling books about a distinctively Biblical worldview.  We're told we are one of the few stores in the nation that have a "worldview studies" section.

Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview
by Michael W. Goheenliving at the crossroads.jpg & Craig G. Bartholomew (Baker; $19.99) is an
 excellent edition to the essential worldview library.  We heartily recommended it.  Even now, we have it on our checkout counter, but few seem to notice it...

I wanted to tell you just a bit more about why this book is so helpful and why it should be noticed.  As most worldview books do, this carefully explores the fascinating sub-categories of questions, the multitude of matters that we must understand if we are to be fruitful in our worldviewish living and our worldview conversations.  For instance, just what is a worldview, anyway?  And why, again, does it matter?  How is worldview different than just knowing theology or being dedicated to our religion?  What is the role of the Bible?  How can we "see" life in light of the grand narrative unfolded in the Scriptures?  What should we know, instance, about the essential goodness of God's world (derived by the doctrine of creation)?  What should we think about sin, being aware of and troubled by the horrific nature of sin and dysfunction even as we assert that, in Christ, the curse is being lifted and God's reign extends "far as the curse is found"?  Do we really belief that the end of things is not really an end (where we jettison history and are removed to an ethereal dimension called heaven) but is a new beginning with new creation, as the city of God brings healing and restoration and rescue to this good but hurting world?  (If we tell others about faith in evangelism, but we explain this four-chapter story, or is it really just about sin/forgiveness?)  How can being four-storied "creation-fall-redemption-consummation" Christians make a difference as we share with others that everything we do matters to God, that all things have eternal significance, and there is, therefore, no hard distinction between the realms of the so-called sacred and secular?  How does all this stuff effect our daily experience of life?  How does it shape our character as we involve ourselves in churches that teach this full-orbed Christian perspective?  What does it really mean to "take everything thought captive" and once we learn to do that, what difference does it make in the seemingly mundane moments of ordinary holiness--shopping, voting, choosing movies, cooking, singing, or making up our minds about public controversies such as abortion, global warming or health care policy?    And, too, how are worldviews---the meaning systems that help us orient ourselves in the world----communal in nature?  Is it proper to talk about the worldview of our culture?  Is there an ethos amongst our neighbors that shapes our society guided by what they share as common vision of the purpose of reality?  Do our schools and media outlets presume or reinforce that basic way of life?  What should we do, turn off the news?  Send our kids to private schools?  Protest Desperate Housewives?  And what difference does the local church make in all of this?  A Christian vision of life and times will surely equips us to live with the answers to these things in our very bones, a part of who we are, how we "see" and presumed into the habits of our ordinary living and speaking.

This book lays the foundational groundwork, offers the framework, for thinking fruitfully about this kind of stuff and how to have a wise and legitimate Christian witness in the real world.  It is serious, but not overly theoretical.  It often offers practical sorts of insights (although never simplistic or glib), helping us not only gain this comprehensive perspective rooted in our understandings of the broad scope of Christ's relevance--He is Lord of all and redeeming all of his creation!---but sensing a direction to pursue, a path towards which to journey as we together learn to seek first God's Kingdom.  It is, as I've said, these kinds of books, and this one in particular, offers a take on an essential and urgent story to understand, explains a central bit of material to grasp and absorb, which is vital Christian insight for living well.  What could be more practical, I often say, than the rather simple act of polishing your eyeglass lenses, or getting proper prescription for your glasses?  This book is a cheap trip to the optometrist.

Further, this book places this contemporary vision of a uniquely and distinctively Christian way of seeing and living, based in this worldviewish eyeglasses adjustment, into the crossroads of the early 21st century landscape.  That is, the stories our culture tells us, the advertisements and movies, the journalists tellings and the science reports, the textbooks used in schools and, sometimes, even the sermons we hear in church, are, in one way or another, teaching us to believe in the myths and values of the modern world, even as that modern world is changing.  The voices and values coming at us are a jumble, set into this time of cultural crisis, this shifting epoch in which we now life.  I refer to the shift from the story of modernity (faith in science, a rationalistic worldview, the confidence in progress, individualism and self-assurance, the ascendancy of the West with its systems and bureaucracies, institutions and values) to the era of postmodernism.  What comes after modernism is perhaps yet to be seen but there little doubt that we "aren't in Kansas anymore" and that, as my friend Walt Mueller's lovely collection of family essays put it, Opie Doesn't Live Here Anymore. (Standard; $12.99.)  From the rocketing of iphones into our social experience to the rise of an experience economy, from the multi-culturalism that we now celebrate to the rejection of the older absolutes of science, from the disenchantment with suburban sprawl to the mocking irony that is now standard humor for the millennial generation, we have are moving rapidly into a new era.  It seems to me that the only things that are staying the same are our age-old fascination with materialism, and, despite the global financial crisis, the virtual world of postmodernism is still hyper-consumeristic.  (See the spectacular book, creative and interesting called The Trouble With Paris by Aussie Mark Sayers (Nelson; $14.99 and the hip and stunning DVD; $39.99) for a very helpful survey of how to break out of this fake world of plastic promises, as the subtitle puts it.  It says, interestingly, the Biblical story of incarnation and the subsequent Christian worldview is the antidote to virtual restlessness and glamor-driven materialism. It is fabulous for high school or college age students.)  And, sadly, we continue to war with one another, nation and against nation, tribe against tribe. (Our authors do not talk about this much, as I wish they would have;  they do cite Hope for Troubled Times by Bob Goudzwaard, Mark VanderVennen and David Van Heemst (Baker; $19.99) which has a very thoughtful critique of the ideology of militarism and national security.)  Older norms about right and wrong give way in the social sector---teen pregnancy and the breakdown of the family is rampant, for instance---and in the global world, sexual trafficking and disregard for civilian populations in war is again on the rise.   In some circles the helpful deconstruction of the idols of autonomous Reason has given way to nihilistic relativism.  (That is, we perhaps used privilege only scientific data and the reductionism of propositions but now some believe in no truth, content to shrug "whatever" about nearly anything.)  Add to this the rise of economic globalization and the reaction of radical Islam, and you deepen your awareness of just how complex this junction is.   Yes, we are "at the crossroads" and the Christian worldview--our daily discipleship that is lived out in joyful and coherent ways that reflect our deepest convictions about the nature of things, who we are and why we are here---must be understood, lived and spoken of in the pluralistic context of the "crossroads" of modernity and postmodernity.  Although the above is my own rambling quick reminder of the shifts of our times, this is the cultural setting that Goheen & Bartholomew have diagnosed wisely. 

Is this too much for you to study?  Is it too much for your church group, college fellowship, or Bible club to tackle?  I don't think so.  We live in serious times and such serious steps are called for.  I hope Living at the Crossroads is an important resource for you and yours this coming year.  If you know this worldview stuff, it is an excellent refresher, or, perhaps, "next step" in deepening your awareness, vocabulary, conviction and enthusiasm for this wide-as-life-vision of the meaning of the gospel.  If you have not read a book about worldview, then this is a great and serious starter.  That they are not only informed by the worldview books I mentioned in the last post (Transforming Vision, Creation Regained) but the great 20th missiologist Leslie Newbigin and the great 21st Bible scholar N.T. Wright, makes them especially reliable guides.

And---please understand---this is not just for eggheads or intellectuals.  We all long for coherence and integrated lives.  We are not content with a narrow faith and the more attentive we are to the Bible, the more we come away informed by this comprehensive claim that Christ makes over all of life.  Such coherence and integrity leads to joy.  It is as simple as that: life lived out of a distinctively and intentional Christian worldview is more complicated (everything matters) and demanding (we cannot conform to the ways of the world, not in voting, or shopping, in sexual matters or business matters or recreational matters.)  Yet, in that cost of discipleship comes joy.  I think Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life touched something deep about all this, and it is revealing just how popular that was a few years back. In this postmodern world, we sense things unravelling, and we yearn for meaning, purpose, direction.  A comprehensive framework for understanding things makes for a purposeful life.  It makes for a joyful life.  It makes for a righteous life. 

The authors of Living at the Crossroads seem to know this.  The book, while soberly written and quite comprehensive itself, does offer glimpses of deep joy.  There are hints of happiness in this big picture book, such as their lovely exposition of a portion of God's Grandeur, the wonderful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Or when they say little things like "the Christian worldview gets you interested in everything!"  Or when they say that the original shalom of God's creation allowed for human "flourishing...luxuriant and thriving."

In the introduction, each other tells a bit about themselves, and how they came to write Drama of Scripture, and this natural follow-up, Living At the Crossroad.  I love the enthusiasm of those who see the rich helpfulness of worldview thinking, and they have had moments when they realized that the faith as they knew it, as they were living it, was not nearly all it could be.  Maybe you may find your own experiences to be similar or maybe there are those you know you might need this kind of "second conversion."  Listen:

Mike grew up in a Baptist church.  The gospel that was preached there was one of individual, future, and otherworldly salvation.  It was all about going to heaven when you die...During Mike's seminary years he began to see that the gospel that Jesus preached was a gospel of the Kingdom.  The goon news is much bigger than Make has been led to believe: God is restoring his rule over all of human life in Jesus and by the Spirit.  Further reading during those seminary years in literature that explored the Christian worldview began to open up the implications of this scriptural insight for a Christian approach to the public life of culture.  It was exciting, akin to a second conversion!  The gospel had something to say about all of human life.

The story continues to explain how Mike and his wife began to be more intentional in studying the arts, how music and performance became important to their children and how educational perspectives and practices changed for them.   It continues, "For Mike, worldview is about opening up the wide-ranging scope of the gospel and the church's mission to embody that gospel.  Few things excite him as much as helping Christians to see the length and breadth and depth of God's love for us and his world."  Who wouldn't want to read a book by a guy who is turned on by that calling, helping us understand these things?

Craig, now a highly regarded and published Biblical scholar, has an even more fascinating story.  He grew up apartheid-era South Africa.

Craig was radically converted to Christ in his teens through the evangelical youth group of the Church of England (into which he was eventually ordained as a minister.)  Like Mike's Baptist church, Craig's Anglican church was evangelistic and alive but had nothing to do say about the oppressive, racist social context in which they lived.  Really committed Christians went into "full time ministry" (as pastors or missionaries); it was better to stay away from politics, since, after all, (or so it was reasoned) the government was appointed by God.

...He went to Bible college in Cape Town, where he was exposed to Reformed theology and the worldview thinking of Francis Schaeffer (though this was never explicitly brought to bear on the South African situation.)  Later Craig began to think through Schaeffer's work, and he realized that if the gospel is a worldview, then it applies to all of life, including politics---a dangerous insight to have at that time in South Africa.

...Craig believes that what South Africa went through then, and the general failure of the evangelical Christians to relate their faith to the realities of South African life, have a great deal to teach us now about the vital importance of understanding the gospel as a worldview.  We know how from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission what terrible injustices were perpetrated in South Africa during the apartheid years under its' "Christian" government.  How was it that evangelical Christians could not see the evil right in front of them?  How was it that, on the whole, evangelicals ended up reinforcing this evil rather than challenging it?  One important answer is that they lacked a coherent Christian worldview.  How different might the history of South Africa have been if evangelicals there had combined their "passion for souls" with a sense of Christ's Lordship over all of life?

It is not just fundamentalist churches that have disengaged from social concerns or who have been "so heavenly minded that they are little earthly good" as the old saying has it.  Mainline churches, too, have, in their own ways, segregated faith from life. Or water-down faith to some subjective inner hope or outward ritual.  Some who are most sophisticated about Biblical truth fail to live by its over-arching themes.  Some, as I suggested in our last post, get fired up about a proper and good Biblical mandate----concern for the poor, world missions, contemplative prayer---and yet don't see this new-found passion as much more than a quick-fix cure for what ails the mediocrity of the church.  Or they fixate upon it as the latest fad, only to move on to something else----contemporary worship, fighting trafficking, keeping Sabbath, doing hospitality---when that fails to provide clarity and fruitfulness.  All kinds of Christians, from all kinds of churches, and all sorts of congregations, I am confident, would benefit from studying this kind of material to give substance and foundation to the various aspects of their discipleship, and to frame their work by the biggest meaning-giving picture.  Goheen and Bartholomew have seen the worst of privatized, sentimentalized piety, and (since they work in this field, especially in Christian higher education, they've seen the dangers of overly abstract formalized worldview categories, as if a worldview isn't really a matter of the heart, which is is.  They have a splendid grasp of the Bible, and how the story of God makes sense of our lives in ways that the secular Enlightenment of the West cannot.  They understand the crossroads, they realize the importance of the question, as one chapter puts it "What time is it?"  They can help us makes sense of things.  We applaud them for their work, we are happy that the publisher chose to release this now, and we are very happy to commend it to you.

Since they move teach this material at Redeemer College in Ontario, they have developed a great website, with teaching ideas, outlines, discussion resources, even slides.  Check it out here.

  Let us know if we can talk further about this field, or if you have other concerns about this discipline of developing a Christian worldview perspective.  We believe that an embodied and timely faith can make a difference, in our lives, in our churches, in our communities and in our world.  Nothing would please us more than to know folks are brought great joy as they live for a great purpose, glorifying God by helping rescue the planet.  We are selling books for that reason.  We hope you buy some, for that reason. 

A closing comment seems proper, since they themselves have a brief closing section.  After a few good chapters that offer worldviewish insights for thinking distinctively about several areas of life (business, politics, education, sports) they have a final word to pastors.  Those who are called to help others live out daily discipleship, to connect faith and lifestyle, to understand worldview as it enables a coherent way of life must be particularly wise and careful as they teach and embody this comprehensive style of faith.  Our witness in the world is, in fact, communal, so the renewal of the local church is of utmost importance.  And, they remind us, that includes guidance in the most fundamental things: learning to trust God as we inhabit rhythms of rest and solitude.  Indeed, " Only a vigorous spirituality can sustain us in our task."  From Eugene Peterson to the Catholic document Starting Afresh from Christ, they offer wise counsel about sustaining an active and faithful witness by balancing a dynamic interaction between action and contemplation, work and prayer, witness and worship.  Guidance by the Spirit into this multi-faceted and robust Kingdom lifestyle will give hope.  Maybe we won't see vivid signs of cultural renewal, maybe we will not experience much social change or church growth, but we will be people of hope.  This final postscript about these gentle and deep things reminds me of how gifted these authors are to keep us well-rooted and Biblically-shaped.  This is, dare I say it again, life changing stuff, wise and good and important.