About August 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in August 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2009 is the previous archive.

September 2009 is the next archive.

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

August 2009 Archives

August 2, 2009

Patrick Keefe's speaking engagement a great success; see The Snakehead video clip and some evangelical books on immigration

The book signing today went famously with maybe 150 in attendance!  Author Patrick Radden Keefe is a sweet guy, a class act, and a very, very smart fella.  As Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote about his earlier book, Chatter: Uncovering the Echelon Surveillance Network and the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping:
 
"It is absolutely thrilling to see someone as young, as competent, and as gifted as Patrick Radden Keefe...we need more of this kind of work."
If Hersh wanted more beautifully crafted, socially significant, globally oriented, investigative journalism---that captures insightfully the complex nexus of human drama, public policy, and social justice--The Snakehead  is it.  It continues to garner great reviews.  Patrick was reviewed nicely in the book section of today's Washington Post and his time here in York was stellar.  We had some great speakers respond to his reading, and a good group of the Golden Venture passengers came in for the event.  That workers in church-based and other nonprofit refugee groups, legal humans rights advocates and immigration reform leaders showed up for our gig in York was thrilling.  That so many local friends came, to hear again of our advocacy, as told through the voice of Mr. Keefe's fine writing, was even more thrilling.

Thanks for those who bought the book, for the supportive emails, for your interest in this book which offers the largest backstory ever, for a project that consumed years of our lives here in York.  It really means a lot, and we are blessed to have a writer like Patrick telling our story. Did you know I was cited talking about this Golden Venture detention in Their Blood Cries Out, Paul Marshall's watershed book on religious freedom issues in the early 90s? (We don't stock used books, but this work is so seminal and urgent, it is one of the very few titles we keep a stock of used ones here,since it is now out of print and hard to find.)  We talked with Gary Haugen of world-famous International Justice Mission (IJM) about this in the early 90s as he was starting his extraordinary work against trafficking.  Further, I'm interviewed in Steve Garber's well-received book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (yep) speaking about our work with these Chinese detainees seeking political asylum. It has been on our hearts and minds for years, now, so thought our BookNotes friends should know. 

You can browse back and read what I wrote yesterday about The Snakehead and why it is important to us, and for anyone interested in the deepest questions the American experience (and a special thanks to those FaceBook friends who prayed that it get in our local paper.  It did.)  Do check that out if you haven't.

If you want a short visual version, though, this movie clip is Patrick speaking about the book, the drama of the underworld of organized Chinese crime, the wreck of the Golden Venture, and the twists and plots that lead him from Chinatown to China, Burma, Thailand, Kenya, South America, to York, PA.  It is a great little video.   I can happily call Patrick and his wife our friends, and hope you take a few moments to watch the video.  If you want to order the book, please see the special price from last week's blog special.



By the way, since many of our readers have an intentional theological bent, and may want aChristians at the Border.jpg more integrated Christian perspective, may I recommend the two best books on gracious and faithful immigration views we've seen in recent years.  The first is written by another friend, M. Daniel Carroll, R., and is called Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church and the Bible (Baker; $16.99).  It came just last year, as immigration issues were growing more contentious, the first book on the subject by an evangelically-oriented publisher. Danny spoke at the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference in February where he spent considerable time with us at the book table.  A dear, dear man, a solid Biblical scholar (he teaches Old Testament at Denver Seminary) and a passionate writer, I trust his heart, and his knowledge.  This is the book to start with if one wants a compelling, informative, faith-based introduction to this complex issue.  I think it is very fair treatment;  it admits to complexity, yet moves towards generosity, rich with theological integrity.  Even if you don't agree, it is important.  Kudos to Baker for doing it!

Welcoming the Stranger.jpgWelcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang (IVP; $15.00) is the best work yet done from an evangelical perspective.  Matthew Soerens is an immigration and citizenship counselor at World Relief Dupage in Wheaton, IL and Jenny Hwang is director of advocacy and policy in the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief in Baltimore, MD.  Endorsements on the back include those from Amy Black (an impeccably thoughtful and balanced political science prof at Wheaton College), Reverend Luis Cortes, Joel Hunter, and Ronald Sider, who says it is "Biblical, urgent, readable.  An excellent introduction to this complex moral issue.  All thinking evangelicals should read it."  There is a good discussion guide, too.  Excellent.

Thanks again for reading last week's post on The Snakehead---it means a lot to us.  After today's fabulous book signing, hosting Patrick, and seeing so many folks who care about our Chinese asylum-seekers, we are energized anew to continue to try to sell books that can help us understand our world, piecing together the good and the bad, helping us be discerning and compassionate, and, having read well, been changed for the better.  Good books can do that.  

August 7, 2009

Books about learning to care, service, missions & justice

Our July monthly column is up at the "Reviews" section of the website.  It is an interesting and important list of books on learning to care, servanthood, missions, social justice and such.  We describe a real variety of books, and in a brief introductory note, invite you to spread the list around if you know anybody that might find it interesting.  The toothbush thing was no joke, either.  Heaven help us.

Here are a couple of the titles I described.  I'll betcha there are some you haven't seen before, and some that might inspire you.  Please see the whole list, offered at a discounted price.  Thanks.

hearing the call across traditions.jpg
selfless way.jpgtouch.jpgwhen helping hurts.jpg



deep justice journeys.jpg
compassion.jpg
justice project.JPGcommitment and connection.jpg

August 13, 2009

A rich week of new books: Bobby Gross, James K. A. Smith, Walt Brueggeman, Timothy Keller DVD

It has been an unusually rich week for new titles here at Hearts & Minds and I have large regrets about not being able to keep up telling you about them all. We cherish our many on-line friends and the supportive, book-lovin' community we've become. There are so many I'd like to tell you about in greater detail. For now, though, some quick announcements about some meaty ones, and a great blog special discount deal.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God Bobby Gross (IVP) $17.00  

living the christian year.jpg

My friend Bobby Gross called a few years ago and said he wanted to write a book about the church calendar and the liturgical year. He was worshiping in a small Episcopal Church in New York, active in leadership with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's mature ministry with college faculty and grad students, and I was tickled to make some suggestions of titles for his study. Alas, he has finally come out with said book, and it is a wonderful, yearlong devotional guide, nearly unlike any you've ever seen. Lush, thoughtful, wise, informative, and, yes, an opportunity to inhabit the story. A really lovely introduction by Lauren Winner is fabulous and there is a great bibliography (ahem) making this a truly useful resource. Emilie Griffin calls it "a jewel of a book..." and Phyllis Tickles notes that it is "beautiful in its gentleness and humility, this book is a gift to Christians of all communions and denominations..." Whether you are well experienced in living the feasts and seasons or if this is new terrain for you, this is an essential guidebook that is very highly recommended.

desiring the kingdom.jpg

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $21.99

This is the first volume in what is expected to be a grand three volume set on "cultural liturgies." By dipping back to his beloved Augustine, through Calvin, Kuyper, John Paul II,  and modern poets and authors (from Cormac McCarthy, Graham Greene,Tom Wolfe and more) he shares a lively study of how contemporary rituals, practices, and habits form character in ways that are not consistent with the things of God. For a Kingdom vision and way of being in the world, we must have a robust eccesiology, and give deep attention to the rituals of worship. It is not every neo-Calvinian philosopher of culture who has been so deeply influenced by the Pentecostal tradition, and who attend to meaningful liturgy, and few that engage so ecumenically, with conversation partners from Alexander Schmemann to Stanley Hauerwas and the Ekklesia Project, Richard Mouw to Anne Sexton. He names musicians like The Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin and the recording of Bach's St Matthew's Passion as a soundtrack. This is amazingly good, extraordinary stuff, a major contribution to cultural studies (his interaction with Charles Taylor is very helpful), clarifying what we mean by worldviews, and how a Christian way of life can be sustained by our worshiping communities. A must-read for serious thinkers in our day. You will be hearing more, I am sure.

In The Beginning God.JPG

In The Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life Marva J. Dawn (IVP) $15.00

I have regularly said that we stock all of Marva's good books and will read anything she writes. This brief book was a days respite for me and it could be breezed through in almost one sitting. I have since come back and reflecting a bit more carefully, and it is mature and provocative stuff, as always. These meditations on Genesis 1, 2, and 3 may miss a few things I'd wish to emphasize but she sees things no one else as noted, makes connections with other Biblical texts, and always, always calls us to caring, engaged, thoughtful and faithful service of the Triune God in the church and the world. Mark Labberton writes, "Marva Dawn's writing turns like a kaleidoscope of truth and grace, and this book is no exception." Amen to that. Join this good author in the celebration of praise at the difference God makes in all things.

Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $22.00

An Unsettling God.JPG

Where you daunted by the big and fact magnum opus of professor Brueggemann, The Theology of the Old Testament? You were not alone: many of us have gotten cold feet, or worse, at the thought of wading through that thing. While this more than a serious abridgement, it is a great way into that work. Here, they've expertly drawn the stuff about the character of God found in that magisterial work, and offers a summary of his take on Israel's testimony to a surprising God. One reviewer says it is "a luminous and honest reading..a masterful exposition of the fragility and resilience of covenant..." As Terrence Fretheim summarizes, "He gathers the very important chapters on this theme from his TOT and brings fresh testimony to an unsettling God who partners with Israel, the individual, the nations, and the larger creation." Highly recommended.

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision for Justice for All  Richard A. Horsley (WJK) $24.95

Horsley is known for his "anti-Empire" Biblical scholarship (a recent one on Romans, for instance) and the faithful resistance of the early church communities to the violence of the Roman Empire's dominion. Although he is not an economist, he deftly opens up what some of the Bible says about economic justice. I still go to that central portion of Ron Sider's classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger for a re-telling of the immense material in the Bible on this topic. Here, from a somewhat different angle, Horsley walks us through the Scriptures anew, with plenty attention given to first century realities, social conditions in Biblical times, with tons of scholarly footnotes. Have a Bible handy, he says, and dig in. Very, very timely.

Prospects and Ambiguities of Globalization: Critical Assessment at a Time of Growing Turmoil edited by James W. Skillen (Lexington Books) $26.95

This is a great price for a serious collection of dense essays about globalization, gathered by one of the wisest political thinkers around today. Skillen has long been a friend and mentor, and his balanced, non-partisan, views have been instructive to many. He is a scholar and popularizer, a thinker and an active citizen, a radical Christian (in the neo-Calvinist tradition, generally;  progressively evangelical and Reformed) who desires to offer a thoughtful and deeply integrated scholarship to his faithful work. This gathering includes chapters by Alice-Catherine Carls, Charles Glenn, Dennis Hoover, Rodney Ludema, Steven Meyer, and Max Stackhouse, and, of course, a very important piece by Skillen. Covering topics as diverse as education, the military, economics and cultural shifts, this multi-disciplinary volume is a helpful contribution to an on-going conversation about the discernment of our times, and a faithful direction for Christian discipleship in public life.

Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity James Malesic (Brazos) $27.99

Leave it to Brazos Press to once again make us think, long and hard, about faithful discipleship in these trying times. This is bound to be misunderstood and controversial, and I've not gotten through enough to say what I think, except to say: "get a load of this!" Malesic (PhD, University of Virginia) and a prof at the Kings College in Pennsylvania, makes the case that we have nearly ruined the watching world's perception of the gospel, in deed, nearly ruined the gospel itself, by allowing it to be too tainted by political ideologies of the left and right. He suggests that there is hardly any way to live out Christian faith wearing one's faith on one's sleeve, without running the large risk of being "absorbed and prostituted in our voracious secular culture" (as Rusty Reno put in on the back.) This may be a "form of therapy" as we disassociate our public witness from worldly accommodation, and allow us to live out public life in fresh and surprising ways. Obviously, the real truth of Christianity cannot be reduced to a political pin on a politician's lapel (or a protester's sign.) Granted. Is his call for concealment the answer? This really is worth considering and talking about.


Prodical God DVD.jpg

The Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table DVD Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $24.99

We cannot tell you how we esteem this thoughtful and energetic and very smart pastor working in the hip corridors of Wall Street and Soho. From his faithful efforts doing Biblical teaching and mature worship in lower Manhattan (and on-line where he has such a huge following) he has earned the right to be taken very seriously. His small book of last year of the same name was quite nice and truly helpful as we uncover the healing power of the gospel; Jesus' call, especially, to the "older brother" who seems to not appreciate grace, has unlocked this famous story for many readers. Happily, we now have Keller teaching in a six-part DVD curriculum. You can buy the DVD, and a participant's discussion guide ($9.99), even a whole kit ($54.99) with the book, all of the above and an extra spiffy audio CD and rom, a leaders guide, a video trailer to promote it, and such. Good stuff, but at least check out the DVD. Highly, highly recommended. Praise be to God for such solid work. His excellent New York Times best-selling Reason for God is now out in a trimmer sized paperback ($16.00.) We still have some of the nice hardback that we are selling for the paperback price, while supplies last. Great deal on an exceptional study of faith in an age of skepticism.

BLOG

SPECIAL

25%

off any two items mentioned

10%

off any one item mentioned

ORDER HERE

or call

717.246.3333


Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313




A rich week of new books: Bobby Gross, James K. A. Smith, Walt Brueggeman, Timothy Keller DVD

It has been an unusually rich week for new titles here at Hearts & Minds and I have large regrets about not being able to keep up telling you about them all. We cherish our many on-line friends and the supportive, book-lovin' community we've become. There are so many I'd like to tell you about in greater detail. For now, though, some quick announcements about some meaty ones, and a great blog special discount deal.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God Bobby Gross (IVP) $17.00  

living the christian year.jpg

My friend Bobby Gross called a few years ago and said he wanted to write a book about the church calendar and the liturgical year. He was worshiping in a small Episcopal Church in New York, active in leadership with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's mature ministry with college faculty and grad students, and I was tickled to make some suggestions of titles for his study. Happily, he has finally come out with said book, and it is a wonderful, yearlong devotional guide, nearly unlike any you've ever seen. Lush, thoughtful, wise, informative, and, yes, an opportunity to inhabit the story. A really lovely introduction by Lauren Winner is fabulous and there is a great bibliography (ahem) making this a truly useful resource. Emilie Griffin calls it "a jewel of a book..." and Phyllis Tickle notes "beautiful in its gentleness and humility, this book is a gift to Christians of all communions and denominations..." Whether you are well experienced in living the feasts and seasons or if this is new terrain for you, this is an essential guidebook that is very highly recommended.

desiring the kingdom.jpg

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $21.99

This is the first volume in what is expected to be a grand three volume set on "cultural liturgies." By dipping back to his beloved Augustine, through Calvin, Kuyper, John Paul II,  and modern poets and authors (Cormac McCarthy, Graham Greene,Tom Wolfe and more) he shares a lively study of how contemporary rituals, practices, and habits form character in ways that are not consistent with the things of God. For a Kingdom vision and way of being in the world, we must have a robust ecclesiology, and give deep attention to the rituals of worship. It is not every neo-Calvinian philosopher of culture who has been so deeply influenced by the Pentecostal tradition, and who attends to meaningful liturgy, and few that engage so ecumenically, with conversation partners from Alexander Schmemann to Stanley Hauerwas and the Ekklesia Project, Richard Mouw to Anne Sexton. He names muscians like The Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin and the recording of Bach's St Matthew's Passion as a soundtrack. This is amazingly good, extraordinary stuff, a major contribution to cultural studies (his interaction with Charles Taylor is very helpful), clarifying what we mean by worldviews, and how a Christian way of life can be sustained by our worshiping communities. A must-read for serious thinkers in our day. You will be hearing more, I am sure.

In The Beginning God.JPG

In The Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life Marva J. Dawn (IVP) $15.00

I have regularly said that we stock all of Marva's good books and will eagerly read anything she writes. This brief book was a day's respite for me and it could be breezed through in almost one sitting. I have since come back to it and reflected a bit more carefully, and it is mature and provocative stuff, as always. These meditations on Genesis 1, 2, and 3 may miss a few things I'd wish to emphasize but she sees things no one else has noted, makes connections with other Biblical texts, and always, always calls us to caring, engaged, thoughtful and faithful service of the Triune God in the church and the world. Mark Labberton writes, "Marva Dawn's writing turns like a kaleidoscope of truth and grace, and this book is no exception." Amen to that. Join this good author in the celebration of praise at the difference God makes in all things.

Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $22.00

An Unsettling God.JPG

Were you daunted by the big and fact magnum opus of professor Brueggemann, The Theology of the Old Testament? You were not alone: many of us have gotten cold feet, or worse, at the thought of wading through that thing. More than a serious abridgement, it is a great way into that work. Here,  the stuff about the character of God found in that magisterial work is expertly drawn together in new ways, and a summary is offered of his take on Israel's testimony to a surprising God. One reviewer says it is "a luminous and honest reading..a masterful exposition of the fragility and resilience of covenant..." As Terrence Fretheim summarizes, "He gathers the very important chapters on this theme from his TOT and brings fresh testimony to an unsettling God who partners with Israel, the individual, the nations, and the larger creation." Highly recommended.

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision for Justice for All  Richard A. Horsley (WJK) $24.95

Horsley is known for his "anti-Empire" Biblical scholarship (a recent volume on Romans, for instance) and his study of the faithful resistance of the early church communities to the violence of the Roman Empire's dominion. Although he is not an economist, he deftly opens up what some of the Bible says about economic justice. I still go to that central portion of Ron Sider's classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger for a re-telling of the immense material in the Bible on this topic. Here, from a somewhat different angle, Horsley walks us through the Scriptures anew, with plenty of attention given to first century realities, social conditions in Biblical times, with tons of scholarly footnotes. Have a Bible handy, he says, and dig in. Very, very timely.

Prospects and Ambiguities of Globalization: Critical Assessment at a Time of Growing Turmoil edited by James W. Skillen (Lexington Books) $26.95

This is a great price for a serious collection of dense essays about globalization, gathered by one of the wisest political thinkers around today. Skillen has long been a friend and mentor, and his balanced, non-partisan, views have been instructive to many. He is a scholar and popularizer, a thinker and an active citizen, a radical Christian (in the neo-Calvinist tradition, generally;  progressively evangelical and Reformed) who desires to offer a thoughtful and deeply integrated scholarship to his faithful work. This gathering includes chapters by Alice-Catherine Carls, Charles Glenn, Dennis Hoover, Rodney Ludema, Steven Meyer, and Max Stackhouse, and, of course, a very important piece by Skillen. Covering topics as diverse as education, the military, economics and cultural shifts, this multi-disciplinary volume is a helpful contribution to an on-going conversation about the discernment of our times, and a faithful direction for Christian discipleship in public life.

Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity James Malesic (Brazos) $27.99

Leave it to Brazos Press to once again make us think, long and hard, about faithful discipleship in these trying times. This is bound to be misunderstood and controversial, and I've not gotten through enough to say what I think, except to say: "get a load of this!" Malesic (PhD, University of Virginia) and a prof at the Kings College in Pennsylvania, makes the case that we have nearly ruined the watching world's perception of the gospel, in deed, nearly ruined the gospel itself, by allowing it to be too tainted by political ideologies of the left and right. He suggests that there is hardly any way to live out Christian faith wearing one's faith on one's sleeve, without running the large risk of being "absorbed and prostituted in our voracious secular culture" (as Rusty Reno put in on the back.) This may be a "form of therapy" as we disassociate our public witness from worldly accommodation, which would allow us to live out public discipleship in fresh and surprising ways. Obviously, the real truth of Christianity cannot be reduced to a political pin on a politician's lapel (or a protester's sign.) Granted. Is his call for concealment the answer? This really is worth considering and talking about.


Prodical God DVD.jpg

The Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table DVD Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $24.99

We cannot tell you how we esteem this thoughtful and energetic and very smart pastor working in the hip corridors of Wall Street and Soho. From his faithful efforts doing Biblical teaching and mature worship in lower Manhattan (and on-line where he has such a huge following) he has earned the right to be taken very seriously. His small book of last year of the same name was quite nice and truly helpful as we uncover the healing power of the gospel; Jesus' call, especially, to the "older brother" who seems to not appreciate grace, has unlocked this famous story for many readers. Happily, we now have Keller teaching in a six-part DVD curriculum. You can buy the DVD ($24.99), a participant's discussion guide ($9.99), even a whole kit ($54.99) with the book, all of the above and an extra spiffy audio CD, a video trailer and guide to promote it. Good stuff, but at least check out the DVD. Highly, highly recommended. Praise be to God for such solid work. His excellent New York Times best-selling Reason for God is now out in a trimmer sized paperback ($16.00.) We still have some of the nice hardback that we are selling for the paperback price, while supplies last. Great deal on an exceptional study of faith in an age of skepticism.

BLOG

SPECIAL

25%

off any two items mentioned

10%

off any one item mentioned

ORDER HERE

or call

717.246.3333


Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313




August 17, 2009

Back to College package with special price

back to campus.jpgYou most likely know somebody heading back to college this week, or heading there for the first time.
belushi.jpgOver the weekend, the stores were abustle with kids and moms buying dorm supplies, fresh-looking and eager for that big transition day.  I wanted to stop them and ask which college they were heading to and if they had intentions of living life for some grand story, bigger than the two noted by Melleby & Optiz in The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.  You know we tout that as a must-read for every college student, and their fun summary of the two main narratives that make sense of college for most, has proven to be very, very helpful for not a few students.  Heck, if they just read that section, they will be well on their way to being discerning and thoughtful about the point of their college years.

Grades & Accolades may sound more promising than Beer & Circus, and I suppose it is.  But is success in the American dream really all there is?  What about that often-used quote of Frederick Buechner about our vocation being "that place where the world's deep need and your deep gladness meet"?  Is there not some deeper, bigger reason for being in college other than just getting a job or making money?  Or having a heckuva an expensive good learning experience?  Beer & Circus, sadly, is the operative vision for most (just look at the drinking statistics, even at the most excellent schools or so-called church-related colleges!)  Few would admit that, though--who wants to be known as a hedonist?--so they buy into the story of making a difference with their gifts, the idealistic stuff of high school commencement addresses, and fool themselves into thinking they've got some grand hopes, even as they drink themselves silly on the week-ends.  Or, they immerse themselves in some kind of religious fellowship group, only to find it rarely connects with the real stuff of campus life.  At the end of the day (and you know this is true if you talk with collegiates) they are living into and out of a worldview that is somehow disconnected to their religious faith.  Students live for (and teachers often teach for) the less than grand dream of upward mobility, middle-class success, and getting a job that affords a certain lifestyle.  Grades & Accolades, with a bit of Beer and Circus on the side, all in service of the false idol that happiness resides in our preperations to take up our place in the economic system.  All the popular Mad Man episodes exposing the sickness of this suburban dream notwithstanding, college students don't have a natural ability to think outside the box on this. Most of the high school guidance experiences and the zeitgist in the air (from TV ads about college, or popular movies) presume one of these two visions of the reason for college and have shaped them for it.

And so, The Outrageous Idea.  Who knew?  God cares about college? Our creator calls students to learn in order to take up vocations serving the common good for God's sake, pointing to the coming of Christ's Kingdom, coming on Earth, in every possible profession, job or career.  Studies, classroom work, majors and careers are intimately related to spiritual formation, and learning to see one's college experience from the framework of an integrated Christian perspective is a key for success in the college transition.  And therefore are more meaningful than ever imagined!  Yes, the stakes are high, but God's promises pertain, even in Soc 101 or lab sciences or Accounting or Psych or Art History level 2.  He is with us!   As I travel doing workshops on this, it is amazing how excited students get (and how some faculty are surprised) when they are invited to connect the dots between Sunday and Monday, faith and learning, college and calling. 

outragous idea of academic.jpgThe Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfuless: A Guide for Students by Derek Melleby & Don Opitz (Brazos) $13.99 This is the best book on this stuff, and, as I've often said, it is interesting, well-written, fun, and although meaty, not intimidating.  Perfect for students, helpful even for faculty or others who work in higher ed.  I wasn't kidding when I said it was one of the most important books of the year (when it came out just a few years ago) as there simply is nothing like it.  Tuck it along with your student, or send a care-package, quick.  It is wonderful and important.
There is an on-line study guide for it, now, too, along with a facebook place.  How cool is that?  (Check it out at http://academicfaithfulness.blogspot.com/)

Perhaps a bit more elegant, a slight step up, is a marvelous book called Engaging God'sengaging God's world.jpg World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living by the always-interesting Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.  (Eerdmans; $16.00)   I was teaching from this book this summer, and found myself underlining long passages to read out loud as it vividly and beautifully reminded us of the complexities of learning and thinking in a world such as ours;  that is, a world created good by God, distorted and damaged by sin, and being reclaimed and redeemed by Christ's the saving Lord.  How we allow our own deepest yearnings to lead us to places of integrated learning and vocational visions in the college years is never easy, but it is rarely described so helpfully as in this inspiring work. 

I heard someone just this summer say that they wished they had read this book when they were in college.  Lovely, thoughtful, and wise, it is the sort of stuff that can truly make a difference in providing for students a framework for taking their college years joyfully and seriously.

Why College: Faithful Learning and Christian Higher Education by Rick Ostrander (Abilene Christian University Press; $12.99) is the best entry-level study of higher education from a Christian perspective I've yet seen.  Taking cues from his PhD mentor George Marsden (whose historic, award-winning Soul of the American University breaths throughout this smaller book) Ostrander makes an excellent case for why uniquely Christian colleges exist, and what they ought to be about.  I suppose most faculty or students or campus workers at secular schools wouldn't naturally pick up a book likes this, but it was hard for me to put down.  Clear, concise, it is another voice calling for a worldview that is able to help students relate faith and learning, integrating Kingdom perspectives with the issues of higher education, and we commend it to all.  Rick had visited our store years ago, and is friends with some of our own best friends, so we  are thrilled to see this nice book finally released.   As Michael Hamilton of Seattle Pacific writes, it is "Perhaps the best available introduction for students of the aims and purposes of a Christian college education." 

Following Jesus into College and Beyond 
Jeff Baxter (Zondervan) $12.99    I know you know that we commend these sorts of books listed above for any and all college students and faculty you know.  Still, there are those who are young in their reading, immature in the faith, perhaps, just not likely to even pick up a book about academics or learning.  They would be wrong to suppose that Melleby & Optiz are hard or dry, but there ya go: the anti-intellectualism of some of our young adults, and their dualistic faith, precludes them from even thinking about reading a book, fun as it may be, about relating faith and college.  Unless it comes packaged as a self-help resource, a little book to help navigate temptations and confusions, offering practical guidance on how to get along with room mates, how to avoid bad relationships, how to suruvive and thrive.  Baxter's book is excellent for this, in fact, although it looks like a typical book you'd give to a high school youth group member, it is a bit more thoughtful than you might think. Who am I and where am I headed? may be the cry of the young adult, and this offers insights from those who have walked down that road before.  Jeff (who lives in Colorado) calls his ministry the sacred outfitter and his cool appeal will make this a very useful book for a somewhat anxious young person. 

reason for god.jpgReason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism  Tim Keller (Penguin) $16.00  This may be the best of the popular books that offer a foundational approach for the skeptics and seekers, and although it is perfect for those who are unsure of their faith commitments, it is also very, very valuable for young students who just need to know that their faith is credible, that there is an intellectual tradition that affirms historic, orthodox Christianity, and that we can have good conversations about our doubts and concerns.  Now out in paperback, this would be a great gift for any young adult, but especially y those heading to the academic world where, not surprisingly, many anti-Christian diatribes are heard each and every day.  This could be a lifeline, and we suggest it urgently.

Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior 
Steve Garber (IVP) $17.00  You may tire of us recommending this, and we certainly are proud I am featured in a small part of it, but we really do name this as one of the move provocative, thoughtful, important books we've ever read.  Steve is a writer who is both tough and tender, serious and interesting, wide-ranging and yet, finally, clear about his project: helping students learn in ways that make a difference in the long haul of their lives.  Even though Stan Hauerwas said that he thinks you should buy this for every student going off to college, it seems to me that it is best used by upper classmen, thoughtful seekers or students who are deeply aware of the call to relate faith and life in coherent and lasting ways.  If you have any professor or student life friends, this is the book to offer them, so they might see the significance of their important work in higher education.  Does the way we know make a difference? Can we sustain the stuff of our college experiences over the longer course of a life well lived?  Do the pressures of the contemporary culture, modern and post-modern, broken and sad, bear down upon us in ways that keep us from hopeful enthusiasm in relating robust faith and real life?

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation James K. A. Smith (Baker Acadmic) $21.99  I mentioned this in our last post, highlighting it as one of the truly significant books of the year.  As a philosophy prof at Calvin College, Jamie is all about this matter of nurturing a way of life that is intregal, that sees the habits of embodied life as a service to the God we love.  Alas, our daily habits shape our character and lives in ways that are often incongruous to vital and robust Christian faith and in this deeply philosophical study, he invites us to ask how to relate worship, life, and a radically Christian way of life. What I didn't say in the last post was that this book emerged, in part, from his workshops with Christian faculty who have longed for a more nuanced account of their work as teachers, who have longed to be integrated not just in how they think about their field, but how they shape students into being people who love the right things, God's things.  As Paul Griffiths from Duke Divinity School writes, "Jamie Smith shows in clear, simple and passionate prose what worship has to do with formation and what both have to do with education.  He argues that the God-directed, embodied love that worship gives is central to all three areas..."  Well, I'm not sure sure I'd say the prose is simple, but it does nicely relate this Augustian vision of well-ordered loves to the stuff of learning, and specifically to the questions raised by the basic world-and-life viewpoint encouraged by the books listed above.  Of course Jamie, postmodernist that he is, rejects a rationalistic view of learning (we are more than brains capturing factoids) and he talks quite a bit about being what Charles Taylor calls imaginaries.  Can universities help us become Godly dreamers?  A huge, huge question, and this is a book worth working on for a long school year.  Highly recommended.

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August 20, 2009

We Get To Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2 by Greg Garrett

When we opened our store 27 years ago, we had a media studies and pop culture section, but William D. Romanowski's seminal Pop Culture Wars (IVP; $22) wasn't even out yet.  We were years before the explosion of interest in religious cultural engagement, thinking Christianly about film and rock music, and while there were good titles here and there, it was rare that theologically oriented bookstores like ours featured that kind of cultural criticism.  Now we've got stuff like the wonderful Culturally Savvy Christian by Dick Staub (Jossey Bass; $14.95) and the extraordinary series of "Engaging Culture" released by Baker with titles like Performing the Sacred: Theology and Theater in Dialogue by Todd Johnson and Dale Savidge or Jeremy Begbie's spectacular Re-Sounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music.  We have shelves and shelves of this kind of good work, including books on TV and film and advertising.

 Cool and insightful writers who are very, very talented like Cathleen Falsani cite pop stars and current events in moving memoirs like her Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, published by mainstream evangelical publishing houses like Zondervan, who wouldn't have touched a book like this two decades ago.  (And, get this--Ms Falsani and the aforementioned publisher has a study of the grace-haunted, if troubling, films of the eccentric Coen brothers coming out soon, entitled, with reference to The Big Lebowski, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.  I kid you not.)  But we are ahead of our story.  In the early 80s there was not an evangelical consensus to be thinking faithfully about the popular or entertainment arts, and mainline Protestant and Catholic writers had little to offer, either. "Christ transforming culture" may have been a category in Neihbur's book that the mainline pastors knew, but nobody was doing much in this regard. Westminster/John Knox had a great little book by a Presbyterian guy named Robert Short called The Gospel According to Peanuts, though, which is still in print. I think it has sold over ten million copies.  I think they were on to something.

October.jpg

We did have an interesting record section, though, and it was always interesting to tell people about Bruce Cockburn,  ponder the mysticism of Van Morrison, slap on the latest album of Mark Heard (God rest his soul) or, eventually, edgy and thoughtful bands like the 77s or The Choir.  I will never forget, though, a thoroughly secularized friend, a guy I knew from the nuclear freeze campaign, who just couldn't believe we stocked U2 (not to mention other Irish rockers like The Pogues or The Waterboys, but that's another story.) October and Boy were essentials, then War and the swirling, significant Unforgettable Fire, one of the truly great recordings in rock history.   We stocked the shocking book of artwork from Hiroshima from which the album drew its name and it seemed anointed, extraordinary for speaking into the times. When a loved one went on a prayerful peace witness into the war zones of El Salvador and Nicaragua and Bono spit out the lyrics to "Bullet the Blue Sky", it was deeply, deeply moving for me;  I did a lot of praying and plotting protests to the soundtrack of these angry young men.  Evangelical rock critics like Steve Turner, Mark Joseph, Bill Romanowski and eventually Charlie Peacock and John Fischer, all who wrote for CCM magazine, were inviting evangelicals out of the contemporary Christian music sub-culture, and a few folks understood, early on, that U2 were, in many ways, doing what we yearned for: culturally and politically relevant, faith-infused, artistically-satisfying,  big, commercial alternative rock.  And what a spectacle it has been. We Get To Carry Each Other.jpgWe've carried and celebrated all their stuff, even reading a section from Screwtape Letters once, out loud, to a customer who was confused by the satire of the MacPhisto devil horns in the Zooropa Tour era.  Soon enough, nearly everybody realized that these boys from Ireland with a past in a charismatic house church, were, in their own way, followers of the Christ, and were making significant contributions to global artistic and political culture, despite (perhaps because of) their tendencies towards the profane and sensational.  Who else could hang out with hawkish Republican Senators and Desmond Tutu; address British political parties, and get Bruce Springsteen involved in the Amnesty International humans rights work?  Who else could cite Bruce Cockburn and C.S. Lewis and get gigs with Muddy Waters and Frank Sinatra?  And who would call up Eugene Peterson to thank him for The Message, which he read at his father's deathbed, which he told tens of thousands of fans night by night by night.   And who eventually would end up speaking at the MTV awards and the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been published as a small gift book (kudos to Nelson for releasing it as On the Move; $12.99) then gracing the cover of Christianity Today?

Steve Stockman, a fabulous and fun Irish theological activist, was the first to explore their faith in a major book, and did a wonderful job in Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 (Relevant; $13.99) which was eventually expanded and re-issued.  Stockman knows his stuff and it is a fine little study, full of great stories and insights.  There is a great collection of sermons inspired by U2 lyrics, Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, edited by Raewynne Whiteley & Beth Baynard (Cowley; $14.95) that we really, really, like.  I've written before that many of these real sermons are great, but that four of the sermons themselves, alongside other good ones, are so incredibly rich that they make the book worth owning.  Two by Brian Walsh, and two by Steve Garber are so well done and Biblically-astute that I've read and re-read them.

Brian Walsh also supervised an academic thesis done at Wycliffe College in Canada on U2religious nuts.jpg which was eventually turned into a brief but very powerful book: Religious Nuts and Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective by Robert Vagacs (Wipf & Stock; $15.)  It may be the most mature stuff written One Step Closer.jpgabout the songs (and, through a friend who knows Bono, I got to give a copy that I hope got to him.)  The story of how their music helped a group cope with the grief of a dying child is stunning in its power and faithfulness, and the book unfolds from there. Excellent.

  Not too long ago, Yale Divinity School theologian Christian Scharen published a very solid study entitled One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God  (Brazos; $14.99.) It has gotten great reviews from the likes of Charlie Peacock and Tony Jones and Miroslav Volf and David Dark.

Do you know the British pocket paperbacks called 331/3 published by Continuum ($10.95)?  They are small books on specific albums (from Court & Spark to Let It Be, from There's a Riot Goin' On to OK Computer, and so many more.)  The one on Achtung Baby (the only U2 record to be done in this series) is written by a devout Catholic scholar--he quotes George Weigel, Frank Sheed, Peter Kreeft, and such---Stephen Catanzarite.

Just recently we've gotten one in the famous, on-going "and philosophy" series (u2 and philosophy.jpgalongside
u2 and philosophy.jpg books about The Simpsons, Lost, Football, and so forth.) U2 and Philosophy: How To Decipher an Atomic Bomb is edited by  Mark Wrathall (Open Court Press; $17.95) and includes seriously philosophical works, studying U2 lyrics alongside Derrida, Heidegger, Nietzsche or Levinas.  One chapter, for instance, is called "Aristotle, U2 and the Abolition of Man: "A Feeling Is So Much Stronger Than a Thought"" and another ("Staring at the Sun" looks at a U2ian experience of Kierkegaardian despair.  Yet another studies the sense of place in The Joshua Tree.) Some pieces get pretty deep, although the one's I've read are interesting, if you like that sort of thing.

Now, though, we have the best of them all, We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2 by Greg Garrett (WJK; $16.95. )  Garrett is no stranger to the theologically-informed study of pop culture (indeed, has co-authored with Chris Seay a book on The Matrix, one on comic books and graphic novels called Holy Superhereos! and did a recent study of religious themes in Hollywood movies which is very good.  He just released a very new and helpful one on grief called Stories From the Edge. (Is there an allusion to Mr. Evans? )  Greg Garrett is a novelist who is also an Episcopalian lay preacher, and a teacher at Baylor U.  He is more than competent as a writer and is a delight to read.  And, most importantly for this book, he loves the music of U2, has followed them for years, but has not always understood their spiritual vision.  Although he makes a case that we simply must attend to this obvious aspect of their work (even chiding a well-known rock critic for missing the obvious religious prayer of "Magnificent" off the recent No Line on the Horizon disc) he is aware that for many, this is, oddly, pretty new territory.  It is a perfect book for seekers or those who don't usually read religious literature.  They will be surprised, it seems, to learn that there is deep theology and much Biblically-literate art, beyond the obvious in "40" or "Yahweh."

The joy here, though, is how Garrett turns us towards the important themes of Bono and the boys, time and again, showing and ruminating on, their lyrics and shows.  With lots of lyrics cited, a few moving U2 stories (the death threat story from an Arizona show nearly took my breath away) and some first hand accounts of concerts and interviews, Garrett walks us through the career and activism of the band, helping us see the theological impulse behind their work.  Like the Christian Scharen book, he works on a particular theme in each chapter of We Get To Carry Each Other, exploring topics such as belief, communion, and social justice.  (A concluding "Ten Spiritual Lessons from U2" was a bit of a let-down, a nice little conclusion, but not as gritty, Biblical, or as richly offered as it might have been.  I wonder what you might do, though, to conclude such a book?  

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That Bono holds to something like an African ubuntu theology, a mix of liberationist and social gospel, pitched with evangelical fervor, should come as no surprise. He's read the prophets, after all.  That a young theologian fluent in this stuff is able to help draw out these themes is very helpful.  There is fine theological engagement with the songs, with citations from Brian McLaren and Rowan Williams, Jurgen Moltmann and N.T. Wright, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, alongside the usual lyrical quotes from all the albums.  And, just as Garrett cites some unusual theologians (the desert fathers or John Bunyan or Jeremy Begbie) he cites some unexpected lyrics from some unexpected songs, too.  All in all, this is a great intro to the broadest vision of the band, and a gold-mine of inspiration for those of us who know their music well.

Is this the best and final book on this high profile and boisterous band?  No.  Is it worth reading, sharing with friends, giving to fans who might not read any other theologically inclined book?  Absolutely.  Greg has done a good job bringing together a ton of stories, interviews, speeches and press clippings, all alongside an obvious love for the music.  His own interest is contagious (and the playlists he offers for each chapter are a good touch.)  We are happy to recommend this, glad for the music, glad for this guide to the music.  Besides reminding us of this great band and their evocative lyrics and significant social activism, it reminds us that good theology is a work of the people, bringing thinking about God and life together into the issues and contexts of the day.  This is street level theology, as it should be.

Here is a great interview with Greg at the Read the Spirit website.  Check it out, and come back here to order the book (please.)  Thanks.

Greg ends his final page with a lifting from the gorgeous song Yahweh, stealing Bono's prayer that his life be a blessing, and offers this prayer for you, the reader of his book:

Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones.
Take this soul
And make it sing.

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August 25, 2009

On Being a Teacher by Jonathan Kozol and other back to school books for teachers

A week or so ago I did a post highlighting some books that might be helpful as college students go back to campus, or for those first year students who may need some help thinking through the broadest themes about learning, vocation, calling and being a person of faith in the world of higher education.  We have done our fair share of talking with college students and I know there are campus ministers and youth workers that follow the lives of their young adult friends, and most really agree that having some thoughtful Christian books around in those critical years is so, so important.  I'd encourage you to revisit that BookNotes list and give us a call if you'd like to chat about ways to help connect your college friends (or children, if you are a parent) to solid Christian resources to accompanying them on their journey.

And, of course, this is the time of year that others are heading back to the halls of learning, too.  Are you a teacher who may need some extra encouragement?  Do you know teachers who might appreciate a gift book that says "I care about what you do"?  Maybe you are a parent who just wants to be clued-in to what teachers go through, or want to be able to support the educators you know. or get involved in education reform.  Well, here are a few that we like.


on being a teacher.JPGOn Being a Teacher Jonathan Kozol (OneWorld) $14.95  Thank goodness for the work and witness of this amazing person, his love for children, his outrage about the inequities of how so many poor public schools are underfunded, for his relentless work and impassioned writing over decades and decades.  I love a lot of books, but there are a rare few that I truly mean it when I say they "changed my life" and I would say that Mr. Kozol's first two books fall into that category for me. His Death and an Early Age earned the American Book Award in the 1968.  This 1981 book is a strongly argued work offering a "fervent and provocative assessment of thejonathan kozol.jpg role of the teacher in America's schools."  He advocates--as it says on the back---"an approach to education that is infused with ethical values, fairness, truth, and integrity, and a driving compassion for the world beyond the classroom.  I like the way he offers ways not only to navigate the classroom, but how he invites teachers to partner with parents and other students.  A passionate activist for quality schools with a deep sense of social justice, this is a landmark book by an very important author. Kudos to this British publisher who brought this back out after being unavailable for years.  It seems to me that not many know about this new re-issue, so we are happy to announce it here.


letters to a young teacher.jpgLetters to a Young Teacher  Jonathan Kozol (Three Rivers Press) $12.95  I love this series of  "the art of mentoring books."  Mary Pipher has Letters to a Young Psychologist, Perri Klass has an excellent one for young doctors, Samuel Freedman wrote a good one for young journalists, Tony Campolo even has one called Letters to a Young Evangelical.  They do read like letters sent from a wise professional mentor, and in the case of this wonderful Kozol one, they really are a set of letters he wrote to a young elementary ed major who had written to him, asking some basic questions about how to integrate a sense of social justice into her care for children and her daily work as a teacher.  The letter format makes it easy to dip into (which is great for busy teachers.)  From getting along with administrators to keeping hope alive, from thinking about grades to wondering about school choice (Kozol is, frustratingly, against it) this is a marvelously written and compelling set of humble advice, gentle suggestions, and the occasional passionate encouragement. Gracefully done and very helpful.

letters to lisa.jpgLetters to Lisa: Conversations with a Christian Teacher  John Van Dyk (Dordt College Press) $11.95  I am very fond of all of Van Dyk's books on thinking Christianly about schooling.  Here, we have a series of lovely letters with a point; in each letter, a young teacher, Lisa (who happens to be Van Dyk's daughter, just out of his college classes on education) asks her father/ professor how to apply a certain principle in a contemporary, real-life setting.  Yes, yes, she says, it was so inspiring to have you lecture on a Christian worldview, on how to integrate faith and learning, faith and teaching, how to serve God by serving the classroom.  But here I am, she seems to write, with real kids that don't get along, with real parents with their own set of demands, with an administration to deal with, with, with...well, you get the point.  Each letter from Professor Van Dyk reiterates a lesson from his classes on Christian thinking about education, and applies the point to her real classroom.  This is a great way to join in the conversation about developing a Christian perspective on pedagogy and the philosophy of education, but always shows the daily difference it makes amidst the typical problems, challenges and joys of classroom work. Lisa, by the way, teaches in a thoughtful and creative Christian school, but I would imagine that public school teachers of Christian faith could apply the principles in their setting as well. 

teaching with fire.jpgTeaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach  Sam Intrator & Megan Scribner, editors (Jossey Bass) $16.95  In the years following the publishing of the extraordinary Courage to Teach, there were workshops and seminars for educators about Parker Palmer's insightful book about spirited teaching.  Part of what came out of some of those times were poems shared, teachers who used a certain poem to give them courage, to keep them going, to remind them of the joy and calling of being a caring teacher.  Eventually, educators were invited to send in their poem, along with a brief description of why it so motivated them.  This is just a wonderful, wonderful collection of poetry that has restored the faith of teachers.  A good collection of poems in its own right, a wonder when seen as an ally for inspired teaching and learning.

schools with spirit.jpgSchools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers  Lina Lantieri, editor (Beacon) $23.00  This is an extraordinary and wide-ranging collection of pieces by those who desires an deeper integration between some deep sense of values and spirit and the ways in which we teach and learn.  While not a "Christian" book, it has some lovely writers, some important voices---Parker Palmer, Jacob Needleman, Geoffrey Canada, and other peacemakers and activists.  Some of these essays are very, very insightful, and we're excited to think of teachers reading it.  Daniel Goleman (of Emotional Intelligence fame) wrote a forward, noting how formation of character and an awareness of the deepest ways children construe meaning, is a vital aspect of the best education.

end of education.jpgThe End of Education: Redefining the Value of School Neil Postman (Vintage) $13.95  One can hardly think of a more important cultural critic and trenchant writer than the dear Jewish scholar Neil Postman.  I spent a few hours with him walking around together before he died, and it was a thrill (similar to my card ride talking about Jesus with Jonathan Kozol.)  I just think that thoughtful folks should read this stuff, and here, he playfully asks what the end--the point?--of education is.  For, of course, with out a sustainable and virtuous end, well, it could be "the end."  He isn't goofy about it, but is elegant and incisive and very insightful.  I was once preparing lectures for a group of teachers and chose this as our primary conversation partner, and was so, so glad for his wisdom. 

going public.jpgGoing Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School  David & Kelli Pritchard  (Regal) $12.99  We are big supporters of the idea of alternative Christian schooling, and many creative faith-based schools do a great job allow the distinctives of a Christian view of life to shape the experience of learning, the content and ethos.  Yet, for most of us, these innovative schools aren't around, or we cannot afford them.  I know of some parents who seem to think that they are lesser disciples of Christ if they don't home-school or send their children to Christian schools.  Using Biblical truths and practical examples, this book holds out the possibility that ordinary kids from strong Christian families can and should thrive amongst their peers in the local public school.  With a fun forward by Denny Rydberg (President of Young Life) this book is the only one of its kind.  If you know of parents fretting about this, this book could bring solace, encouragement, and some practical pointers on being active as Christian parents in the public school systems.  Nicely done.

Bible and Task of Teaching.jpgThe Bible and the Task of Teaching  David I. Smith & John Shortt (The Stapleford Centre) $27.99  You may recall my mentioning Learning From the Stranger, the new book by David Smith on multi-cultural concerns (he's a foreign language teacher at Calvin College and co-authored a faith-based perspective on language learning called The Gift of the Stranger.)  David also has the reputation for doing excellent teacher training events, conjuring up visions of an integrated Christian worldview and the best practices in coherent, caring classrooms.  Of course, people of Christian faith want their work--in this case, teaching--to be shaped by the Biblical story. How does that happen?  What does that look like?  What do we mean by a Christian view of education, and how do we then teach our subjects in a way informed by the Biblical truth?  This is a book we import from England and it is excellent.  A bit serious-minded, but a must-read for any teacher who wants to honor God in her everyday work of teaching.

vocation of the child.jpgThe Vocation of the Child  Patrick McKinley Brennan (Eerdmans) $36.00  Wow.  This is a scholarly collection of essays that bring the language of calling and vocation to our understanding of the task of childhood.  There are eccentric pieces here, scholarly case-studies and a few chapters that won't appeal to everyone.  Yet, there is stuff written here that simply has not been put down before, and we highly recommend it for that reason.  Renowned theologians and writers include Marcia Bunge, Vigen Guroian,  and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, and there are some serious Catholic philosophers included as well. Legal scholars such as John Witte are represented and a very important educational analyst, Charles Glenn.  All in all, this is a keepsake reference book, a resource for those wanting to deepen their scholarship around issues of the nature and calling of the child.

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August 31, 2009

Word Pictures, reading about the shifts of culture, learning to become "sons & daughters of Issachar"

I Chronicles 12:32  seems to extol the legacy of those who "understood the times and knew what God's people should do."  I say often that our bookstore exists, in part, to create sons and daughter of Issachar.  Reading widely is a God-given obligation for those who want to understand the times; we cannot develop a faithful perspective only by reading the Bible and attending worship; we must read the times, study the world, endeavor to understand more.

In these cooler days here on the East coast I've been trying to sit outside...morning, day or late night, reading books I've been wanting to get through this summer. I read different sorts of things, as I'm sure you do, and I will tell you more in a few days.  Here are a few that hopefully could make you wiser as you learn to more deeply discern the twilight of Western civilization and the shifting epoch we finding ourselves in.  Here are a few I've worked with lately.

Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home
  Glenn Sunshine (Zondervan) $14.99  I know, I know, you most likely don't want to read a history of the Western world.  Not even a survey that is called "accessible and eminently readable."  A few readers, though, may need to know about this.  This seems a very nice approach, showing the flow of ideas as a continuous narrative rather than a simple catalog of ideas.  It traces the effects changes in worldview had on society.  Sunshine wrote the great little primer The Reformation for Armchair Theologians and I commend him as a clear and insightful guide.  Can Christian thinking and the subsequent lifestyle of alternative practices and ways of being truly transform the culture, the way Christian faith once did?  If we live out the full implications of the gospel, we surely can hope so.  This new, interesting overview of our culture's history could help.

promised land.JPGI've happily, but slowly,  tackled a few chapters of the really interesting work by the very learned Jay Parini called Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (Doubleday; $24.95.)  Now this is a fabulous way to learn about American history, the shift in ideas, the significance of books and letters, and how we ended up where we are today.   It starts with a splendid account of the mythic and valuable Of Plymouth Plantation and then The Federalist Papers and ends up with a description of the impact of On The Road and The Feminine Mystique.  (With a good 9 other titles in between.)  Learning about American history, intellectual history, and social trends never ceases to interest me, and I think those interested in how the church must speak into our times would do well to learn from these kinds of surveys of historical development.  Books and writers alone have not shaped our world, but we would be ignorant to dismiss the significant way these authors have impacted us.  As a bookseller, I was proud, reading some of this...of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin is in here, as is Walden and a fascinating description of the impact of Huck Finn. The chapter on How to Win Friends and Influence People is very important, as it shows the ways in which we've shifted to a self-help ethos. 

Speaking of influential books, there is a new translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's little Notesdostevsky.jpg From the Underground (Eerdmans; $15.00) that I has been long in coming, re-translated by the most eminent of Russian translators.  John Wilson of Books & Culture tells of reading this book in high school (of course he did) and ever since seeing his description of how it impacted him, I wanted to get a newer translation.  Kudos to Eerdmans for releasing it. Notes..., obviously, is an older book--published first in 1864--- that has shifted our thinking, prefigured existentialism and even what we now may call postmodernism.  It helps us, they say, understand Dostoevsky's fiction, too, as he unflinchingly examines the dark, mysterious depths of the human heart. 

Speaking of heady stuff that helps us get at our place in history, I have started the latest two in the series edited by philosopher James K.A. Smith in the series called "The Church and Postmodern Culture."  They are fairly slim but serious, attempting to bridge the most serious philosophical stuff and the life of Christian thinkers in the churches.  Merold Westphal is a Mennonite scholar that anyone who has followed discussions of postmodern thinking most likely has heard of and here is a very great example of his concise prose and passion for aiding churches walk into these heavy topics.  And it is heavy stuff.

Whose Community Whose Intert.jpgHis brand new book in this series is called Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church (Baker Academic; 19.99.)  Jens Zimmerman of Trinity Western University calls it "beautiful."  Bruce Ellis Benson, the chair of the philosophy department at Wheaton says that Westphal "deftly navigates between hermeneutical despair and arrogance to arrive at a hermeneutic that affirms the vital importance of interpretation and yet insists that Scripture itself truly speaks."  If this doesn't turn you on, I understand.  But it is one of the critical issues of our times: who does get to interpret the Bible, or anything, for that matter? 

The first book in this series is very good, written by the editor of the whole set, James K.A. Smith, and is called, Whose Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucalt to Church ($17.99.)  As we've explained here before, they were lectures Dr. Smith (of Calvin College) gave at L'brai in Switzerland, with some application to the philosophical world, but more for those interested in the kinds of questions being raised by the emergent church conversations. Another recent one in the series is called Globo-Christ: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn by Carl Raschke ($17.99.)  Despite the corny title, it is a very, very important and vibrant work.

(It was, I assume you realize, a myth of the modern world, and the theology that emerged from it, that pure reason or pure science or pure faith or something could enable us easily get to a pure truth.  That is, somebody out there could tell us "the" bare facts, and that was that. Reason worked that way, our minds could figure it out objectively.  The view that has developed beyond that doesn't bemoan bias or call for some impossible objectivity, but tries to attend to the very human ways we all "see" and interpret things, most obviously, the Bible.  We "see" and interpret, as full-bodied, limited, creatures.  A modern view might say that truth is "self-evident" and the Bible is just to be read and taught the way Joe Friday might have---"just the facts."  The postmodern view, rightly in many ways, admits that it just isn't that simple.  The "light" of the Enlightenment may have given us some, but it's singular focus on individuals and Reason isn't the way God's world, and our way in it, really works.  Hence, the study of hermeneutics, the process of interpretation, and the need to humbly admit that while God's speaks to us "truth" we always "see through a glass dimly."  To reject rationalism does not demand that we embrace relativism, though.  Our era is the time these two historic worldviews are colliding.  

The latest in this series is a heavy one by British philosopher Graham Ward and it, too, struggles with the postmodern questions, once we realize we are in somewhat fluid ground, politics of discipleship.jpgand live in a real world where, in deed, the facts aren't so evident, and the church & world often collide.  Ward knows his cultural theory, and he is an orthodox theologian and his is very prolific.  This new one is called The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Post-Material Citizens  (Baker; $19.99.)   I find the sub-title off putting, but I want to know why Jamie thinks this is so worthy, so I'll dip into it a bit.  Smith calls it a "thick" description, almost like ethnography.  John Milbank raves, calling it "extremely significant" as does Stanley Hauerwas, who exclaims "Extraordinary!"  This is not old-school liberal social gospel stuff, and it is not, obviously, anything like the religious right.  Hmmm.  In a post-everything world, this may be what discipleship demands.


My Year in Radical Islam: A Memoir  Daveed Gartenstein-Ross  (Tarcher) $14.95  How doesMy Year In.jpg a kid born Jewish go off to college, end up becoming a Sufi, and then shift to being a radical Islamist, working for a Saudi-funded charity that was accused of funding al-Qaeda?  How does one become a true believer, even with hippy-dippy new age parents and evangelical Christian friends and a girl friend who is not a Muslim?  Give up music?  Pray for the mujahideen? Grow the beard?  Start allowing the possibilities that friends with multiple wives and violent ideologies could be right?  This is a book I could not put down, literally zipped through in one long Sunday, and have been haunted by it ever since.  I don't want to say to much, but it is an eye-opening memoir of the journey into fundamentalism, and one learns a bit about Islam along the way.   As the L.A. Times put it, this author has "something rare to offer, namely the perspective of someone who has ties with each of the major monotheistic faiths."  That is putting it mildly.  Fascinating.  I do think it would have been helpful if he would have explored his own psychological state a bit more;  more, his spiritual state.  That is, his slow embrace, and then shift away from this odd subculture seems to be such a radical thing, he might have told us more about his deepest convictions and the feelings of his heart in these times.  Some seemed nearly matter-of-fact, which, perhaps it was.  I wanted a bit more, in part because I cared about the characters and their stories. 

I really did enjoy this troubling, but very earnest telling, and certainly the rise of radical Islam is a reaction to the decadence of the modernized, secularized West.  Those who think that the terrorists are mostly concerned about social injustice or poverty simply aren't paying attention. Bin Laden and the boys are against the West because of our commitments to science, freedom, hedonism, crass materialism, individualism, secularity, pluralism...Che Guevera or the mid-80s Sandinistas, perhaps, claimed to care about justice for the poor, but the American left, it seems to me, is misguided in thinking of Islamic terrorists in those categories, as if they attack us over Cold War stuff.  The folks that Gartenstein-Ross came to belong with were radical Muslims who wanted Salifism, a sharia theonomy under Quranic rule, and are deeply religious.  This conflict, obviously, is a major aspect of our times, and we would be well to know more about it.

beauty awakening.jpgBeauty Awakening Belief: How the Medieval Worldview Inspires Faith Today  Jon M. Sweeney (Morehouse Publishing) $20.00  Sweeney is a good writer and memoirst himself (he is an editor at the lovely Paraclete Press.) Here, he walks us through two major, historic cathedrals in Europe, showing how the symbolism of the archetecture showed forth a way of seeing life that, actually, could be a profound asset for those seeking a third way out of the secularism of modernity and the weirdness of postmodernism.  Here, in high medieval vision, we see the integration of heaven and Earth, space and sanctuary, stone and light...a lovely and awe-inspiring work that helps us learn about the past, about the arts, and about a God-centered way of thinking.  From the deeper meaning of gargoyles to flying buttresses, from darkness to flight, this look at medieval architects and masons has much to commend to us today.

Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination  Brian Godawa (IVP) $16.00
word pictures.jpg   Wow-o-wow, this is a fun and clever book, with photos and cartoons and etchings on nearly every other page, and every chapter in a different type font. It is interesting and new and deep and exciting.  And all those doodads and pictures!  Of course it would have to be so decorated since the book is about our shift towards images in this postmodern culture, the need to engage the world of pictures, images, art.  Godawa tells in the first chapter about being a tough-minded evangelical interested in rationalist proofs for the existence of God and arguments that could prove the validity of the Bible.  From his deep knowledge of all the sources listed in resources like Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict and such, he could attack anybody willing to intellectually spar, and usually win the battle of the mind. (And, from the fascinating footnotes in this easy to read book, it is very evident that he was, and remains, one very sharp cookie.) And yet, was this really proper Christian apologetics?  Why the sole reliance or logic, reason and proposition, to the exclusion of metaphor, symbol, visuals, mystery?  Was he actually dehumanizing others, and himself, by not being wholistic, dealing with mind and heart?

The varied sorts who have so enthusiastically endorsed this remarkable book should clue you in that he has not thrown the baby of truth out with the bathwater of cold rationalism; William Edgar and Nancy Pearcey, and Leland Ryken (all serious, conservative scholars) all have very insightful and clever raves.  Rock critic Steve Turner says it is "a timely corrective to those of us who would reduce faith to words and arguments, given by an author who uses words and arguments so well."  Len Sweet says "This book deserves, and will delight, a wide readership.  It's part autobiography, part aesthetics, part historical theology, and only a 'Renaissance man' like artist-intellectual-communicator Brian Godawa could have brought together 'word' and 'image' with such serene, soaring mystery."   Godawa's classic Hollywood Worldviews (IVP; $) has recently been reissued, and the new edition is better than the first; it is highly recommended to develop a discerning eye as we enjoy films.  This is a guy to watch.  And Word Pictures is a book to read, discuss, and pass on others who are wanting balance and insight in the midst of a fastly changing cultural landscape

wrestling with moses.jpgWrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City  Anthony Flint (Random House) $27.00  Most educated people at least have heard of the legendary Jane Jacobs and her book The Death and Life of the Great American City (Vintage; $15.95.)  She is known as the most important writer about humane city planning and could be considered the great-grandmother of what we now know as "new urbanism." From the feisty writings of James Howard Kuenstler to the calm theological take of Eric Jacobsen's Sidewalks in the Kingdom (Brazos; $20) the call to support sane and gracious cityscapes and resistance to gross suburban sprawl has been shaped by Jane Jacobs who protested intrusive, devastating planning in New York city in the early to mid- 1960s.  Few know the name of Robert Moses whose large-scale efforts for so-called urban renewal brought powerful forces to bear against local folk.  As it says on the flyleaf, "Time and again, Jacobs marshaled popular support and political power against Moses, whether to block traffic through her beloved Washington Square Park or to prevent the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a ten-lane elevated superhighway that would have destroyed centuries-old streetscapes and displaced thousands of families and businesses."  And she did all this with her young children in tow.

"Notorious for exacting enormous human costs, Moses's plans had never before been halted---not by governors, mayors, or FDR himself, and certainly not by a housewife from Scranton."  Sure this is a book about the cobblestone streets of Greenwich Village, when Bob Dylan was around, and the time's they were a-changin.  But besides the inspiring account of the bohemia of the 60s,  it is a story of two visions of American life, a struggle that pitted local folk against Big government and Big business--that pitted scientific reductionism against charm and grace and small scale dignity, and in many ways pointed to the very struggles that seem to swirl around all of the books mentioned above.   Whose interpretation, indeed?

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