About March 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in March 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2010 is the previous archive.

April 2010 is the next archive.

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

March 2010 Archives

March 4, 2010

IAM Encounter and autographed books. This weekend only.

It's just after 1:00 AM and the Hearts & Minds van just left, headed northeast up to New York CityIAM logo.jpg.  Scott and Chris are valiantly doing the night shift to get our books to the remarkably classy and wonderfully important IAM Encounter 2010.  Spend a few minutes browsing through this link and you will be wowed by this ministry among artists of all sorts--dancers, jazz players, art curators, poets, sculptors, critics, advertisers and more.  Church folks of all sort should be glad that such movements exist and we should support them as we can.  

Well, the book sale set-up will be in the historic Cooper Union and our guys will spend hours messing with shelving and crates and lights and getting the credit card machine plugged in and ready to rumble.  As before, when we've worked with IAM, CIVA or Square Halo arts conferences, we display an unusually diverse array of books on creativity, the arts, aesthetics, popular culture, writing, and what we might call visual theology.  Pray for us if you can, and join us in being glad for the chance to sell books at events like this.  If you read this blog, order books from us, or shop here in Dallastown, your part of our effort. Your support (buying books here) keeps us going and we are more than grateful for role and common vision.
pencils.jpg
And so we thought we might ask: want to buy an autographed copy as a keep-sake or a special gift?

We will in the next two days have opportunity to snag some signatures on a few author's titles, and if you order one---we'll sell 'em at 10% off---we can get you an autograph (while our supplies at the event last, of course.)  Sound good?

Here are the authors we will be with and the titles we could get autographed for you.

god in the gallery.jpgDaniel Siedell  God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art  (Baker; $25.00)  One of the more thoughtful and mature books in this field; we met him at Jubilee '09 and he really, really is impressive.  A very important work.

Daniel gives a profound and serious invitation for Christians of all sorts to take modern art seriously.  He takes exception to some of the "in house" writers, critics, and patrons who have promoted "Christians art" and desires for us all to engage the real stuff.  Very provocative.  Read some of his critical thinking and other work, here.

mako 2.jpgMakoto Fujimura  River Grace (IAM; $29.95) This is an extended essay about his journey from and back to the East, his conversion to Christ, and the way in which art pointed him to a deep transcendence.  Nicely illustrated with his abstract work.

Refractions
(NavPress; $24.99)  One of our very favorite book of recent years, this includes various essays by Mako, about art, shalom, the city, grief (after 9-11), public art and his culturally-renewing vision of faith. Or, consider his very new Soliloquies (Square Halo; $19.99) which we've described several times in recent months (here.)  We have written about Mako often, and celebrated the new book (about he and Rouault) when it came out last November, and again in our end of the year "best of" lists.  He's the man behind IAM and it is an honor to work with him and his crew.  See his beautiful website here.

jeffrey overstreet.jpgJeffrey Overstreet   If you even remotely appreciate fantasy novels, these areraven ladder.jpg splendid: Auralia's Colors (Waterbrook; $13.99) and its popular sequel, Cyndere's Midnight (Waterbrook; $13.99.)  We just got the brand, brand new Raven's Ladder (Auralia's Thread) (Waterbrook; $13.99) and I know many will be glad to see it at the Encounter.  Classic, metaphysical fantasy stuff, very colorfully written, if I can use that pun.

through a screen.jpg We are also very glad to be promoting Jeff's great book on film entitled Through a Screen Darkly (Gospel Light; $17.99) which is a very widely-respected collection of faithful, but sometimes surprising, reviews. Maybe you've seen some of his reviews on line---really well done!  He's a very smart guy, a good writer, and we're facebook friends. For anyone who watches film and wants to enjoy the experience more, or who wants to talk meaningfully about various movies, or who wants to see a good writer who is a Christian doing this hard craft of serious review, this is a joy to behold.  


If you want an autographed copy, just go to our order form and write in if you want it autographed. Tell us who it is to be inscribed to and if we are able, we'll do that, too.  Our big green book van will be back on Monday from the big city.  We'll be in touch.

ORDER HERE
autograph special

10% off

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333

March 8, 2010

Lent books, old and new, traditional and unique and a FREE book offer

Here are few Hearts & Minds picks that you may want to order right away.  Now is the time, if you haven't yet, to focus on this season of the liturgical calendar, entering into this time, and preparing for some intentional attention during the weeks leading up to Holy Week.

reflecting the glory.jpgReflecting on the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ's Life in the World  N.T. Wright (Augsburg) $14.99  I hope Augsburg keeps this in print, but one never knows these days, as several publishers seem quick to dump even solid titles.  This is, in short, one of the best devotionals on the market.  The print is a bit small, but this is worth working on.  Splendid, rich, thoughtful, entertaining, informative and a sure companion on the journey of discipleship.  I think this is well worth having, worth using more than once, and not only at Lent.  I like the way Wright combines serious and thoughtful theology, good exegesis of Bible passages, and always seems to be proclaiming the daily relevance and creation-wide significance of the coming the Christ's new creation. Yes! 

christians at the cross Wright.jpgChristians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus  N.T Wright (The Word Among Us Press) $10.95  This is a small collection of several sermons Wright preached in a working-class British town where there was still memory of pain and tragedy from a coal-mining accident, making this especially poignant and powerful in a hurting, broken world.  This sort of stuff is needed in these days of wars and earthquakes.  He says, "I am convinced that when we bring our griefs and sorrows within the story of God's own grief and sorrow, and allow them to be held there, God is able to bring healing to us and new possibilities to our lives."  I am sure you know somebody who needs something solid like this.


challenge of easter.jpgThe Challenge of Easter  N.T. Wright (IVP) $6.00  While I'm on a Wright roll, here, allow us to tell you about this thin mass market booklet, taken from his excellent book The Challenge of Jesus. In about 65 pages, he reflects on the question of Jesus' resurrection, Paul's take amidst the first-century Messianic movement, the gospel accounts, a meditation called "The Light of the World" and the power of "retaining and forgiving sins."  I'll mention a few other books on resurrection as we draw nearer to Easter, but for now, this is a helpful overview in a serious, but not scholarly key.  Good to give away if you know somebody who needs to be bumped up into a slightly more mature and less sentimental view of the upcoming holiday.

Following Christ: A Lenten Reader to Stretch Your Soul 
Carmen Acevedo Butcher
following Christ.jpg (Paraclete) $16.95  Hand-sized, with vividly bright cover, this is a lovely guidebook, with Scripture and excerpts from Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas a Kempis, Richard Rolle, Benedict of Nursia, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, John Chrysostom, Anslem, the desert fathers and mothers, and many more.  It follows the "stations of the cross" so provides short reflections grouped in 15 sections tracing Christ's passion.  Butcher (who has a PhD in medieval studies) is also the author of Man of Blessings: A Life of Saint Benedict and A Little Daily Wisdom: Christian Woman Mystics. 

circles of thorns.jpgCircles of Thorns: Hieronymus Bosch and Being Human  Justin Lewis-Anthony (Mowbray) $21.95  When I saw that this was the Mowbray Lent book last year, I couldn't resist getting it on this side of the Atlantic.  With a blurb by philosopher Keith Ward, this is so, so intriguing, isn't it?  Unlike Bosch's better-known, fantastical "proto-surrealist" paintings, Christ Mocked is "small, still, and somber." This serious reflection offers great insight into the meaning of Christ's passion and the human condition by reflecting on this one work (and, of course, drawing others into the conversation---writers as diverse as Thomas a Kempis to Terry Pratchett, Bonaventure to Bob Dylan." Isn't it wonder that a painting that is 500 years old be so contemporary, speaking yet again in so many ways...

Making Crosses.jpgMaking Crosses: A Creative Connection to God  Ellen Morris Prewitt (Paraclete) $16.99  You may know Praying in Color or Praying with the Body, both a part of this "active prayer" series.  Here, there are designs and meditations for those wanting to use their creative gifts to make crosses as a manner of praying; it includes clear instructions and simple exercises (even journal-like spaces for notes.)  Using new and abandoned objects, Prewitt shows us how to take that which are "discarded bits of brokenness" and offer our broken selves to God. 

cross.jpg








mystery of the cross.jpgThe Mystery of the Cross: Bringing Ancient Christian Images to Life  Judith Couchman (IVP) $17.00  This book is spectacular, a fabulously interesting and very moving set of meditations on 40 different kinds of crosses, 40 visual images of different pressed or carved or painted crosses from early Christianity.  We've carried all of this author's books over the years, and have commended them often.  This is her best, certainly an ecumenical, historical, and very moving tribute to the cross, but also to the act of human art and craftsmanship that tried to capture huge theological claims in etchings and symbol.  Gerald Sittser says it is "both fresh and refreshing, new and renewing." The poet Luci Shaw Says that "the cross stands for all that Jesus did and does for the faithful---a theme emphasized in this outstanding book."  Ms Couchman has told quite a story here, her own inquisitiveness and hunger of soul that drew her to reflect on the truest truths of the Christian tradition, Christ's very presence with us in His needy world, and the baffling and endearing mysteries of it all.  Please go to this video here (made like a movie trailer for the book) that explains the work, and invites you into these artful meditations. You'll enjoy the advertisement even if you don't buy the book.  Thank, you, Judith and IVP.

Devotions for Lent  from the Mosaic Bible (Tyndale) $2.99  Last fall we promoted the
devotions for lent.jpg Mosaic Bible, a New Living Translation that included artwork from global illustrators, some icons and meditations from rich sources both ancient and fairly contemporary.  There was a lovely pocket sized, handsomely produced Advent devotional, and now they've introduced a Lenten one, with readings from the devotional notes in the Bible, and some evocative artwork.  Very, very nicely done, the best little pocket sized devotional of its kind.   WE WILL SEND ONE FREE WITH ANY OTHER PURCHASE.

BLOG SPECIAL
20% off
any Lenten book mentioned
AND
 
a FREE copy of
Devotions for Lent

Order Here
or
 call 717.246.3333

Hearts & Minds  234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA 17313     717-246-3333  read@heartsandmindsbooks.com

March 11, 2010

New CDs: Justin McRoberts & Brooks Williams

We've got tons of new books to tell you about---I'm feeling stressed that I don't have time to report on the great new releases---but those that know us know that we love music, here, and while I don't review much, we stock a lot, all kinds.  Just today we were listening to some quiet Celtic stuff by ambient instrumentalists Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning on the ARK label (Patrick) and an older Jars of Clay (If I Left the Zoo, which I have never grown tired of.)  And, Vivalidi, as much as possible.

Two new CDs have arrived that I just have to tell you about.

My pal Justin McRoberts was at Jubilee again this year, thanks to his immense dedication to his hip following in Western Pennsylvania, and his work with Compassion International.  He did the presentation for Compassion's Moms & Babies child survival program very well at the conference, and we know his advocacy there has great integrity.  He's traveled with them to Africa, and has a true heart for justice. I might ask: what other singer-songwriter has done a song inspired by the books by Jonathan Kozol, the urban educator who documents our "savage inequalities?"  First time I heard it it just knocked me out.

Through Songs I Was First Undone  Justin McRoberts

Through Songs-Cover.jpgHis new release is about his own being knocked out on occasion.  Through Songs I Was First Undone is the brilliant name of his new self-produced cover album, a disc with 10 songs, include a tremendous, powerful, acoustic guitar based version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want", a poignant Tom Waits song, "No One Is To Blame" by Howard Jones and (get this) a very moving version of "Freedom 90" first recorded by George Michael.  Throw in a Toad the Wet Sprocket tune, something by Nine Inch Nails, and a few other cool songs from a decade ago-- songs by Aimee Mann or The Smiths, for instance---and you have a very eccentric, acoustic guitar based, dare I say, groovy cover album that really makes you think (and, uh, hum along, if you like that sort of thing.  My dashboard has taken a beating on a few songs already, too.) I don't know at all why, but I was expecting something really sweet and mellow like Dennison Witmer's fine 70s cover album who did Carol King and Jackson Browne and the like; well, not so much. He can be sweet and finger-picking, on "Wildflowers" (Tom Petty) but McRobby's got soul, with a big, breathy voice and some very cool guitar chops. 

 Justin has been writing a bit about why he chose these songs, why they mean something toJustine McRoberts.jpg him, explaining his own journey, in a set of blog posts that you simply have to read, here, an artful theology of the streets, even, as he shares his soul's take on the insight and power of this popular art. Just go to the one on March 9 and see the Wendell Berry quote and the passage from Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre to see what he's up to. (We love it when folks actually quote books that we've sold 'em. Go Justin!)  This is very, very good work, and I hope you spend some time with his reflections.  Then order the album, down-loadable from him, or the real CD from us.  We sell it for $12.00

Check out the whole Justin McRoberts website. 

Baby O!  Brooks Williams (Red Guitar Blue Music)

baby O.jpgAnd, yes, one of our very favorite live musicians, truly one of the best guitar players we know, and a dear, dear friend of Hearts & Minds, Brooks Williams' new CD has shown up.  Baby O! it is called, and O! yeah, it is great. His last one, you may recall if you have a photographic memory of our previous blog posts, was called The Time I Spend With You (2008) and was a cover album, too: an exclusive collection of savory old blues songs.  I think I pitched it with the cool book by Lancaster Bible College (!) prof, Stephen Nichols,  called Getting the Blues (Brazos Press; $19.99.)

Baby O! is the first album Brooks recorded in England, although he has had a large fan base there for years.  The packaging is all fully recycled (even the inside plastic tray, which is made out of recycled plastic bottles.  Brooks has been green long before it was trendy, so good on him.)  The CD has a lot of blues songs, and if you liked his last few, you'll dig this for sure.  Yet, there is some "old" BW here, too: the first song is a story-song like many of his fans have come to love, and the sound is right out of that middle period of Knife's Edge or Seven Sisters, accentuated with his National resonator guitar. There is aBrooks playing.jpg beautiful, and intricate instrumental, of course, which is pretty and mind-boggling, if you think about the finger fireworks going on.  A Mississippi John Hurt song is arranged in what struck me as an early Bruce Cockburn feel, with some quintessential Brooksy moves, making it sentimental and lovely.

  But the highlight of the album is "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)", a song by one Duke Ellington.  Yeah, he's got it bad for the blues, here, with sons by Son House and Mel London, but this Ellington piece on his smooth guitar is really exquisite.  I don't know if this will become a Brooks favorite, but it sure is fine to hear him again.  Maybe he'll pass by this way again, sometime.  In the words of one of his recent songs, he'll be "Grinnin' in Your Face."  In the meantime, check out his nice website, and order the disc from him or us.  Enjoy!

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

March 13, 2010

Bill Carter and Presbybop---Psalms without Words (and a half-price book offer)

psalms without words.jpgAs I was reviewing two new CDs in my last post, I really wanted to tell you about another, a jazz album called Psalms Without Words by Bill Carter and the Presbybop Quartet. We've had it since it released earlier in 2009; Bill and his band are playing at First Presbyterian Church here in York this Sunday night so I'm excited to write about it now.  Bill is a friend and has been doing sacred jazz for quite some time.  Some local Hearts & Minds friends will come out for the concert, I'm sure, as they know his jazz recordings that we play in the shop.  Others may find the idea intriguing: sacred jazz?

There is a movement these days of sacred music being done in a jazz format, which is (but only slightly) different than just Christian musicians doing good jazz work, their faith inspiring them to play in the genre.  Sacred jazz, it seems to me, is usually solid jazz playing that is working off of a tradition of sacred music.  That is, they do hymns, maybe, with large flights of fancy and improvisation in the middle, riffs and arrangements that are playful, intense, and intending to be worshipful.  Or they are doing songs that are pushing off of themes of worship, crafted to be used liturgically, even. Those who are more involved in this than I can parse the differences between Christians in jazz and the distinctions of sacred jazz... Carter thinks and writes about and leads worship, though, and is a theologian himself, so his jazz and blues experiments with his stellar band have the whiff of worship, seem more intentionally sacred than more typical jazz.  

For instance, Deanna Witkowski is a sacred jazz pianist that we admire. We carry her from this place.jpgFrom This Place CD which includes a song suite for evening mass: kyrie, gloria, sanctus, agnus dei.  She riffs on some tender hymns, too ("O, the Deep, Deep Love" "I Heart the Voice of Jesus Say" and "Take My Life and Let It Be.") A few songs are inspired by Biblical texts ("Song of Simeon.")  For nearly an hour one can be transported by a world of soprano and tenor sax, acoustic and electric basses--played by John Patitucci--a hot drummer, and some fine, fine vocalists.  Deanna is the heart, though, and the core of this project with her light but passionate piano work.  Check out her website here.  (She has links where you can watch her perform at the Kennedy Center, for instance.)  It seems a clear example of what some call sacred jazz.

Bill Carter--please come out to FPC at 7:00 this Sunday night if you can---is a Presbyterian preacher, an author, a trustee at Princeton Theological Seminary and a working pastor.  He's a sharp guy, thoughtful, intentional about his work and life, and (if I can say it about a jazzman) a lot of fun to be with.  He has immersed himself in the genre for decades, and can talk John Coltrane and Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.  He's a piano player, so he's hip on Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett and other greats. (Here is a cool little list of 10 pianists who revolutionized jazz. If you're like me, and only dabble in jazz a bit, you'll learn some important names.)  Carter knows this stuff, so don't let his boyish looks and happy demeanor fool you; he's got this in his very musical bones.

I also know that the Revered Carter has been influenced by a legend of modern jazz, a jazzman 1.JPGbreath-taking jazz pianist and composer of a seminal work of sacred jazz, Dave Brubeck.  Brubeck (I gather) doesn't endorse a lot of younger jazz musicians, doesn't blurb albums (the way some authors do books.) But there it is, one one of Bill's earlier recordings, a rave endorsement by Brubeck himself.  Not too shabby.

Psalms Without Words is Presbybop's latest, a double album, and Bill told me of his plans for it a few years ago.  He did a sabbatical, studying and reflecting on the Psalms, the use of Psalters, and how prayerful readings of the Psalms can enrich one'sjazzman 2.JPG devotional life (and our communal worship, an insight many mainline Protestants are increasingly paying attention to. (See, for instance, John Witvliet's The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship or Calvin Seerveld's Voicing God's Psalms.)  He actually went to Scotland and Ireland, visiting places like Iona, who gave quiet space for rest and retreat, for meditation and study and experience of the sacred cadences of these ancient texts.  He reported back along the way via an engaging blog, and upon returning home, dug into the process of writing a set of instrumental songs inspired by the Biblical Psalms. The brief liner notes around each song are fascinating themselves.     

Influenced as he is--aren't all of us who seriously study the Psalms?--by Walter Brueggeman'sjazzman 3.jpg Message of the Psalms (Augsburg; $20.00) Bill is aware that nearly a third of the Psalter is giving voice to pain and struggle and doubt: they are the psalms of lament.  So, his generally snazzy recording, though, has these interesting titles: disc A is called Praises and Laments and disc B is called Laments and Praises.  An earlier album, featuring singer Warren Cooper, Welcome Home, has a strong emphasis on old spirituals and the blues, conjuring some poignant longing, giving voice to our sadnesses. The lovely song that became the title track was once performed right after a Brueggemann sermon, who encouraged him to record it. Warren, by the way, hails from York, and will be sitting in with Presbybop at the FPC show Sunday night.     

There is a DVD that accompanies the psalms project called Listening for Selah--Psalms Without Words Live that you may want to order.  Learn all about it (or get sheet music and other Presbybop stuff) at www.presbybop.com.   It's a visit that is well worth it!

bill carter.jpgBill is clearly the leader of this band, but his guys are hot, very, very talented (and in some cases, much more experienced as jazz players and performers than he is; he's a working pastor, of course, so this jazz performance calling is a bit of a side-gig for him.)  He's got a great sax and clarinet player, a trumpet/French horn guy, and of course bass and drums.  It's a great combo, very authentically bebop with hot swing and a bit of blues and a touch of modern experimental stuff.  It is not so "out there" that only the freakiest jazz fans will get it although it is not "pretend" jazz like you sometimes see in Christian bookstores (old hymns just done in a muzak way with a cheesy sax.)  No, no: this is well-done, vital, jazz, the real deal, informed by and in the tradition of the greats, greats such as Dave Brubeck.

Here's a little blog incentive, a special deal for fans of BookNotes.  If you buy Psalms Without Words (usually $20, but at a 10% discount only $18) we will throw in a copy of Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann (usually $20.00) for half price.  I know Bill has used this classic volume in workshops he's done, so it might prove fruitful as you enjoy his creative compositions inspired by his years immersed in the Psalms. Special book offer expires in one week, March 20, 2010.

If you want Deanna Witkowski's From This Place, (on the Tilapia label, usually $16.95)
 we can sell that at 10% off as well. Selah!

BLOG SPECIAL
Psalms Without Words
Bill Carter and the Presbybop Quartet
regularly $20.00
10% off
now $18.00

AND
 The Message of the Psalms
Walter Brueggemann
regularly $20.00
HALF PRICE
now $10.00

ORDER HERE


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

March 15, 2010

Newsweek, Harvard, Belief, the Reason for God, The Myth of Religious Neutrality, and the Case for Civility

A very interesting article appeared in Newsweek a couple weeks ago about the controversy that has been bubbling at Harvard University for the last few years around the topic of religion in their curriculum reform package.  Of course such a complex question cannot be adequately covered in a popular news mag, but I thought the Newsweek piece well worth reading, and want to encourage you to take a look.  It was called "Harvard's Crisis of Faith" and you can read it here.

The topic of what college students should study, what constitutes a learned person---pointingend of education.jpg to the bigger question of what constitutes a well-lived life---is being explored in colleges large and small.  (See, for instance, the excellent, recent, Religious Ideas for Secular Universities by the always profound and crisp writer, C. John Somerville [Eerdmans; $18.00.]) High schools, home-schoolers, private academies of all sorts are likewise asking good questions these days.  I love the play on words in Neil Postman's excellent paperback The End of Education; that is, what is the end (as in, the point of or purpose of) education?  If one isn't clear about that, it will spell, he shows, the end of (meaningful) education.  The debate about the role of religion in education (and, more broadly, in the debates with the new atheists--and, boy, do we have a lot of books on that) raises all this stuff.  Religious studies at Harvard is only one way into a very, very important conversation.  I hope you read the article if you haven't yet and allow it to make you ponder.

Here is a little rumination brought on by my reading of the Newsweek piece, and a bunch of books to be aware of if this resonates with you as important. (Or, if I can be so bold, maybe a book or two to get if this doesn't strike you as important.)  Either way, we're glad you are a part of this virtual community around our work here at Hearts & Minds.  We hope you enjoy thinking about this with me.  Here goes.

There is a presumption in the conversation almost whenever this comes up which is clearly seen in the Steven Pinker quotes in the Newsweek Harvard/religion article, and in his long-standing, well-publicized anti-teaching-about-religion position; it is a view that is frankly implicit for most people, and, I think, in the article itself.  Namely, that there are those who are reasonable and scientific (fully free of religious values) and those that are into faith (and, well, perhaps a bit less reasonable insofar as they take their religion seriously or allow it to inform their thinking.)

 Many have been clear and helpful in exposing the fallacy of the second part of that, thereason for god.png insinuation that people of faith are unreasonable.  There are oodles of good books that make great arguments for the rational basis for basic Christianity, showing that there is reason for faith.  We have a huge section of that kind of work in the shop, from Ravi Zacharias to Eric Metaxas to Nancy Ortberg.  Tim Keller's spectacular Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Riverhead; $16.00) comes to mind as a wonderfully written, very thoughtful, very enjoyable study.  If you haven't picked it up yet, we really would recommend that you do.

belief 3.JPGEven more amazing is the brand new collection of excerpts of famous authors, a reader entitled Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith edited and with an introduction by Francis Collins (HarperOne; $19.99.)  I mentioned this when it first came out a week or so ago and I can hardly say enough about it as an excellent book to read through, or to dip in to as you have need.  From ancients like Plato, Augustine or Aquinas through great thinkers like Lewis or Pascal or Alvin Plantinga and modern writers like Martin Luther King or Elie Wiesel or Tim Keller, this is a truly fabulous anthology.  You probably know of the editor, the former head of the human genome project and now the Director of the National Institute of Health for the Obama administration.  

However, the first part of that assumption (that some are simply not religious, worldviewishly neutral) is more subtle, more pervasive, and consequently more troublesome. This assumption that some are religiously neutral has been shown to be false and yet stubbornly is assumed by so many.  The Bible shows, the best philosophical minds have illustrated, and postmodern studies have developed, the key insight that nobody is value-free, philosophically innocent, religiously neutral or able to think outside of their own skin. All theories are themselves sprouts growing from some root.  Or, it might be said, at least, growing from some soil.  Or, to use the apt analogy of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, nobody on a barge puts their pole to push off on the bottom of the barge itself: they cast off of some firm foundation outside of the barge!

Everybody's "firm" starting point (see Romans 1:21-25 for a blunt description of this as the
science and its limits.jpg human condition) leads to a viewpoint and the (often unconscious) spectacles through which we see, which are formative in what and how we perceive and what we conclude.   It leads, in the language of Clouser, to "reductionism."  This is nothing new--Chesterton and Lewis were elegant thinkers and eloquent writers about reducing the complexity of life down to nothing but...  Reductionism is bad enough, but it is frustrating when it is not admitted, when it is considered the natural truth of things, unbiased.  This is the huge fly in the ointment in the debate about Darwin and natural selection and intelligent design, for instance, as so many see that debate as being between those that do pure science---somehow allegedly devoid of a philosophy of science---and those that are essentially doing religion, not science. That is a huge example of the worldview bias we are talking about, this notion that some have ideologically pure vision and only religious people have presuppositions.  One good book on the philosophy of science is Science and Its Limits by Calvin College professor Del Ratzsch (IVP.)  Pretty heady stuff, but so, so important.  For a more entertaining dip into these waters, expelled.jpgwatch the Ben Stein DVD Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the documentary about scholars in higher education who dared to question the reigning paradigm that only natural causes can explain things.  Dr. Ratzsch, by the way, is not a part of the intelligent design movement; he wrote a book (Battle for Beginnings) on why "neither side" of the creation/evolution debate is winning...I think he's on to something, and it is partially because he understands how deep presuppositions are shaped by faith-like commitments, that nobody is neutral, that all of life is religion.   

My friend blogger Dick Cleary has examined the Dover, PA ID trial--Scopes 2 some called it---of a few years back, just for example, offering this very critique of the ruling:  the judge and the prosecution---as much as we might intuit that they were right to expose the odd dealings of the confused Dover school board---simple had no evident understanding of the philosophy of science.  Read his provocative report here. Or, his serious piece on religion and science, here.  Cleary, himself a life-long science teacher and now college instructor in philosophy, is a master at exposing the unfounded assertions of the secularists and how they wrong-headedly say others have religious assumptions but fail to see their own equally un-testable, and therefore, pre-scientific views. 

It seems that we are all what Oxford University Press scholar Christian Smith calls "moral, believing animals" always serving, making-meaning, living as people out of the deepest recesses of our deepest convictions (or what the Bible calls idols.) The assumptions and presuppositions of the heart and mind shape and color all we do.  That is, Mr. Pinker's naturalism is every bit a "faith like leap" as are the assumptions of the more traditionally religious (like Christians, Hindus, or Muslims, say.)  A pre-theoretical assumption is, finally, rooted in something outside itself--there are no "self-evident" truths, and all truth is shaded and construed in light of deeper heart-level presuppositions.  Nobody is not religious.

total truth.jpgSome books (among many) that I could recommend to explore this further: Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey (Crossway; $19.99) is a magnificent and sprawling study of the ways in which the split-level assumption (that there is true truth learned through reason and there are subjective values learned through religion) has deformed faith and reason, church and society.  It is a rigorous read, but lays bare this cultural assumption in very helpful and profound ways.  I simply cannot imagine being an informed and opinionated person without being at least fluent in the arguments she makes. 

More philosophically demanding, but still written for educated lay people who are not professional philosophers, and a must for anyone serious about higher education or seeing how belief shapes the academy I fully recommend the very important The Myth of Religious
Myth of religious Neutrality.jpg Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Beliefs in Theories  by Roy Clouser (University of Notre Dame Press; $29.95.)  I've talked about this often at workshops for scholars or serious students, the Emerging Scholars Network, and other such venues.  It is a remarkably important piece of work. 

Nearly any book on worldviews names this problem, too. Think of Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton's Transforming Vision (my favorite worldview study) or James Sire's small  Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, for instance, or the major work he drew upon in writing it, Worldview: The History of a Concept by David Naugle, published to great acclaim by Eerdmans.  The two books I first recommend for postmodern studies, too, get at this in their own way: see the delightfully written and very interesting book by Crystal Downing, How Postmodernism how postmodernism.jpgServes (My) Faith (IVP) or James K.A. Smith's Whose Afraid of Postmodernism? (Baker) for a nice introduction to this deconstruction of meta-narratives, and all that that implies.  For theological conservatives who get the willies thinking about this, just go back to Van Til or Francis Schaeffer--they predicted this postmodern insight generations ago, naming how all of life is lived either out of God's grace or based on an idol of some aspect of the created order made into a god.  All of these books expose this myth of religious neutrality, and show how all of life is informed by the deepest imaginations and convictions of the human heart.  Philosophers call this an a priori.  Clouser masterfully and carefully shows how the a priori starting point of a theory determines how the discipline is understood and perhaps practiced.  Of course it is more complicated that this---it is why I named James K.A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, which reflects on our worldly rituals and cultural liturgies and practices as shaping us and our worldviews, as one of the books of the year last year.  But it is still true: ideas have consequences.  Or, as arts writer and Christian philosopher Calvin Seerveld has put it: ideas grow legs.

This is readily seen, isn't it, in our recent health care debates, just for instance: our presuppositions, our starting assumptions about the role of the state and the common good, about personal liberty and individualism and consequentially, our attitudes about whether high taxes are good or bad, will then determine whether one is a political liberal or conservative, in favor of increased government involvement in health care or not.  Obvious, right?  Everybody's opinion on policy is really a working out of their deeper worldview-level thoughts (beliefs?) about very basic stuff. [An aside: it is interesting to me that many evangelicals who are social conservatives have this instinctual suspicion of the state, which, it seems to me, comes from a worldview of the secular Enlightenment, more influenced by John Locke or Thomas Jefferson than, say, Romans 13, that says that government is, in principle, a gift of God, and therefore a good thing.  Why evangelicals gripe about taxes for the common good is beyond me, but that's another worldviewish conversation.  It does presume, though, a certain view of the state, a view that is often unquestioned.  And held as an item of faith. No?]  Which reminds us that every dogma or proposal, from politics to science to the beliefs about the role of religion at Harvard or your school or workplace, is rooted in religious-like convictions.  Even if those who advocate those views deny it.

Ditto in every discipline; how can an otherwise brillant thinker and genial fellow like Dr. Pinker and other secularists not see this?  Clouser even uses mathematics as an example, thinking if he can show how deep-level religious-like beliefs shape the theories in math, we can see it more easily in other areas that he explores, such as physics and politics. An old friend who recently died (and is missed by many out at Kent, Ohio) Kenn Hermann wrote a very good review of this book--it is a five page PDF and it would be great for you to at least read his good remarks about it.  James Skillen did a brief but excellent summary of it here in the Citizens for Public Justice report.

 Myth of religious Neutrality.jpgThe Myth of Religious Neutrality is a very, very important book and I would think it would be on the lips of college faculty, grad students, and sharp undergrads everywhere, especially those in the sciences.  I think it is nearly professional malpractice for scholars to not understand a little about the role of faith and theories, about what Berger calls "the social construction of reality" and the ways worldviews color ideas.  Each of these books mentioned above make a similiar case, and it leads to this: Clouser is a must-read for Christian scholars!

If I might implore Christian theologians, pastors and anybody who works in education: please consider reading this kind of stuff. I hope the links and reviews inspire you to want to read more about the philosophical underpinnings of ideas.  We need to be prophets, really, detectives, with wise cultural discernment.  What we think about the deepest questions matters, and the "below the service" worldviews that we breath like air effect us.    Teachers, at least, should at least read C.S. Lewis' Abolition ofabolition of man.jpg Man on this, or the simple Oxford University Press paperback by historian, George Marsden called The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.  You may know the story of the title of that book: the New York Times called the notion that the eminent scholar practices a Christian philosophy of history "outrageous" so his Oxford editors invited him to explain himself.  It was from the title of that book for professors and scholars that Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby got their title, for their book for high school students making the college transition, or for any undergrads, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos Press.) To be such an outrageous, young Christian scholar may lead to some derision; at Harvard, apparently, some don't even want to study religion, let alone take it's claims seriously.  This book can help.

In this perspective, secularism can be as much of a dogma, and is always rooted in some faith story, as is evangelical faith or Orthodox Judaism.  The Newsweek article hints that Pinker and others who stubbornly extol the sole use of Reason for determining truth verge on being (rationalist) "fundamentalists."  Yet, it seems that the author is of two minds about this.  It seems like the extreme and vocal secularity of Pinker is what makes him, in the author's view, a fundy.  I think I want to say we are all fundamentalists, after all (some are just more honest and civil about it.)  We've all got fundamentals that are deeply held, and we live and die by them. (Or maybe you are aghast at the thought, which, then, for you, serves as your fundamental non-negotiable creed, eh?)   For some of us it is certain Biblical dogma, others of us describe this as an unfolding journey, for some it is an ideology like Darwinism or Marxism.  Everybody believes, and in that sense, all are religious.

Knowing this helps us navigate justly the pluralism of the public square, not just the Ivy League squabbles about religion at Harvard. As the quite excellent and moving last book by the late Robert Webber asks, Who Gets to Narrate the World?(IVP.)  Or, as the new Eerdmans collection by the aforementioned Peter Berger puts it, the world is desperate for a third alternative, and a way to adjudicate peacefully, the claims made "between relativism and fundamentalism." It is called between relativism.jpgBetween Relativism and Fundamentalism: Religious Resources for a Middle Position (Eedmans; $17.00.)  The sooner we understand the "myth of religious neutrality" the sooner we can move towards the "cosmopolitan public square" called for by Os Guinness' very important The Case for
case for civility.jpg Civility (HarperOne.)  From Harvard Yard to your backyard, this stuff plays itself out in culture wars, political tensions, and increasing hostilities.  We dare not try to cover up religion, or yield the day to those who want to marginalize people of faith while they privilege their own empiricism or positivism.  But, as Guinness sweetly shows, we dare not, as people of faith, fight back with any desire to "re-take" our country or insist or a Christian imperialism.  We resist a secular "naked" public square, but do not counter with a sectarian one.  We should be for pluralism: freedom of and from religion, and a social structure that permits a fair and robust debate about it all.  We are a believing race, people whose deepest convictions are contested, even in the sciences.  Bring on the conversation and civil debate.  At Harvard and in your hometown, your church, your college, your blog.

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Religious Ideas for Secular Universities C. John Somerville  regularly $18.00  NOW $14.40
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Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith Francis Collins regularly $19.99  NOW $17.99
Science and Its Limits Del Ratzsch  regularly $16.00  NOW 12.80
Battle for Beginnings Del Ratzsch  regularly $20.00  NOW $18.00
DVD Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed  regularly $26.99  NOW $21.60
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Myth of Religious Neutrality Roy Clouser  regularly $28.00  NOW $22.40
Transforming Vision Richard Middleton & Brian Walsh  regularly $16.00  NOW $12.80
Naming the Elephant James Sire  regularly $16.00  NOW $12.80
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Between Fundamentalism and Relativism  Peter Berger regularly $17.00  NOW $13.60
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March 16, 2010

Longer review article just posted at the March monthly review column

Hey, BookNotes friends---just did a longer review article over at the monthly review column (March 2010.)  I ruminated a bit on the religion vs faith debate--a dumb way to frame it if you ask me---inspired by an interesting article in Newsweek about the controversy at Harvard University about the study of religion (or lack thereof) in their liberal arts curriculum.

The article got me thinking about how religion is considered some separate side of life that can be studied, instead of the deepest worldview from which the study is happening.  This is hugely complex, but we've got some books that can help--I'm sure of it.  So I rambled and I listed a handful of titles, some new, and a few older ones that came to mind as helpful for anyone navigating this complex conversation, in our schools, towns, churches.   

Here is the link over to the monthly review column (or you can just click on the top bar of the website, on "reviews."  There, I have a link to the Newsweek piece about Harvard, and offer a whole bunch of books, all on sale at 20% off. 

Here are just a few of the ones I describe:

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March 17, 2010

Love: The Ultimate Apologetic and Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth

After reading a Newsweek article about religion (or the lack thereof) at Harvard I wrote a long-winded post for our March monthly column.  I cited books like The Myth of Religious Neutrality (Roy Clouser) and a few resources on faith, science, postmodernism, reason and such.  I hope you visit that column as we are passionate about offering resources for those who need to engage this conversation about truth and pluralism and secularization and witnessing with credibility amidst the new atheism and culture wars. 

Two things came to mind, though, as soon as I hit the send button.

FIRST

In any debate about worldviews, Christians know that Jesus says that love wins.  That we are to always "speak the truth in love" and that, supremely, all will know who Jesus is "if you love one another."  As Francis Schaeffer, a cultural critic and pastor to the counter culture of the 60s, himself quite a terse speaking defender of the truth claims of the gospel, put it, love is the "final apologetic."  His book The Mark of a Christian (Inter-Varsity Press; $6.00) is still quite a little gem.  Do you know it?  It is one of Schaeffer's most enduring small essays.

love the ultimate apologetic.jpgThe book I most wanted to add to that list, though, is a thoroughly contemporary update of that sweet thesis, and is called Love: The Ultimate Apologetic: The Heart of Christian Witness by Art Lindsley (IVP; $15.00.)   It is a truly great book.

Art, a staff teacher in the Washington, DC-area C.S. Lewis Institute, has done extraordinary work on apologetics.  A chapter from his True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World--a book where he shows the difference between absolutes and absolutism---is excerpted in the prestigious new collection Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith by Francis Collins (HarperOne; $19.99.) Art's fabulous book called C.S. Lewis' Case for Christ explores the journey of thought that the famous Oxford atheist undertook to finally conclude and commit to the truth of Christianity.  The subtitle shows Art's good insight into the multi-dimensional avenues Mr. Lewis explored and commends to us all: "insights from Reason, Imagination and Faith."  Lewis was a rigorous thinker, but no rationalist.  Those struck by the harsh rationalism cited in the Harvard Newsweek story, like those by the popular and pleasant--but reductionistic--- Steven Pinker, might want to consider Lindsley on Lewis.

Still, always and everywhere, love is the answer.  Which is why after years of a career teaching and writing and doing apologetics, promoting "true truth" alongside our great communicators such as Ravi Zacharias, Lindsley knew he also had to write about love.  There isn't much on this topic, and few books are devoted to the apologetic impact of a generous and kind spirit.  Few books tell you how to be more loving amidst intellectual sparring.

As I was suggesting titles about reason and faith and truth and science and pluralism and worldviews I was remiss not to add this.  Love: The Ultimate Apologetic is very highly recommended.

SECONDLY

There is another big mystery, another significant, large claim about this business of what constitute truth.  It is a claim that some are showing, a radical but serious idea: that truth is known in community. This is the stunning and audacious (and, some are saying, particularly Reformed) insight of John F. Franke in his Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth (Abingdon; $18.00.)

manifold witness.jpgYou may know that the emergent village has a series that is edited by Tony Jones, called the "living theology" series.  This is a recent one (the brand new one is by Andrew Root.  More on that later.)  Brian McLaren has a lovely forward, showing four reasons why this book is so enjoyable and interesting and well worth your investment.

Brian notes that, firstly, it is beautifully written.  Although a complex study of epistemology, it isn't laden with technical jargon.  Secondly, it is wonderful to see a white male theologian so sensitive to the concerns of non-white, minority voices.  Thirdly, Brian (as has Scot McKnight) notes just how darn Reformed this idea is.  Not that it restates dogma as frozen in the past, but in that it exemplifies the Reformation ideal of the church always reforming. Yes, we always need to be growing, exploring, re-stating and re-formulating.  Finally, there is the actual claim of the book: truth is plural.

I can't explain it all here, but I agree with Brian that this is a wondrous work, a lovely book, well written, nicely designed, and clearly argued.  It illustrates, as Lamin Sanneh puts it, that "faith is embodied, that theology is rooted in practice and experience, and that the gospel shapes and is shaped by culture."  It is a work that will be of interest of those who have been reading Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith, which also studies the interface of  theology and practice, worldview and way of life, convictions and interpretation.

Manifold voices are a good thing.  That's a good thing, too, because, like it or not, that is how the Bible is written, and that is the nature of our world, especially as we in the West admit to the global nature of the Christian community.  I ended my long review the other day with a reminder of Os Guinness' Case for Civility, suggesting that it is urgent that we make space for ideological diversity (something the fundamentalists on the right and left don't seem to desire) or we will be torn asunder as a culture.  Maybe alongside Os' passionate call for social structures informed by the first amendment, we should remind ourselves of the deeply communal nature of the Christian tradition, the multi-dimensional ways of knowing.  Kudos to Franke and to the "living theology" series for this intriguing, graceful, provocative meditation, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth.  I hope many consider it, read it and talk about it.  We're offering it on sale, below.  

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March 20, 2010

brand new Tim Keller DVD curriculum Gospel in Life

building.jpgTHE GOSPEL IN LIFE: GRACE CHANGES EVERYTHING

I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about this. I am obviously not alone in my huge appreciation for Rev. Tim Keller, author of four books that we have happily promoted here.  From his earliest book Ministries of Mercies to his nearly classic Reason for God, to his small, astute hardcovers (Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods) Keller has been an author of elegance and class and serious content. If you don't know his books, I suggest them.

That he is culturally engaged and socially relevant--and yet theologically conservative/orthodox---makes him a very interesting character, indeed. (One New York Times article about him captures this, with an allusion to the ultra-hip Village Voice: "Preaching the Word and Quoting the Voice.")   His growing and fruitful Redeemer church plants in New York city are renown for attracting sophisticated young seekers, offering them relevant, robust faith construed in energetic, but historically orthodox ways.

gospel in life.jpgIn many ways, Keller is a symbol, these days, a man and a movement that is attempting to "seek the peace of the city" and encourage culture-making, urban restoration, and a significant integration of faith and the work-world, all of this by plumbing the depths of standard Reformed theology, the call to live vocationally and missionally soli deo gloria.  I am only trying to conjure up a bit of an image, but it seems Keller is a bit of old school Puritan (think Edwards on the beauty of God or Baxter on spirituality) with a healthy appreciation for the "all of life redeemed" worldview of Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer, with a passion for compassionate social involvement and a disinterest in faddish "contemporary" worship. (Granted, Redeemer is fortunate to have members of the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway stars in their choir or worship team so they can offer traditional services with great excellence and power.)  He takes the callings and marketplace context of his parishioners seriously.  He even wrote a chapter about this--being a pastor to artists--in the Square Halo anthology It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God.

It has been our experience that more mainline pastors seem to appreciate that Keller deeply theological, rooted in classic stuff, is morally serious and engaged and not trendy or programmatic the way some wanna-be-hip independent churches may be these days. (He reads Eugene Peterson, of course.)  Evangelicals like his solid doctrine and his constant emphasis on the first things of the gospel.  Urban activists and the urban sophisticates like his thoughtful style, his passion for the city, the way Redeemer and its outgrowth ministries are so obviously multi-ethnic. Seekers appreciate his candor and clarity.

And, so, we've been encouraging people to read his stuff.  We've recommended the Prodigal prodigal god.jpgGod book and rejoiced when a DVD curriculum was released in 2009.  (Just a few days ago a United Methodist pastor friend told me recently how much his congregation has appreciated using this DVD as a Lenten study.) The book and teaching DVD present the "older brother" in the parable as the key figure: it is about those who think they can earn or deserve the blessings of God since they played by the rule and not "blown it" like the younger, rebellious brother.  God is the extravagant one, prodigal to the younger son, but the story (told, as it was, to the Pharisees) is finally an offer of grace to those who have kept their noses clean, those who have done the right things, the middle-class church-goers who may not even know they need such grace.  Great and urgent stuff for our congregations, a great way to recall the essence of the gospel. Read my brief review here.                                                               
counterfeit gods.jpg 
I've raved about his more recent Counterfeit Gods which is about money sex and power and is the best study of its kind.  If you'd like, you can read my brief description here. Scroll part way down--it was in the "best books" list for 2009.  As it gains popularity, we are hearing more stories of how it has impacted people's lives, how profoundly it is being taken, how important it is.  Thank goodness!

THE GOSPEL IN LIFE: GRACES CHANGES EVERYTHING

gospel in life.jpgNow, this: oh, wow, am I excited.  This is the grand overview, the foundational worldview that sees that Christ's gospel is not just about being forgiven, or going to heaven but is the force for real transformation, of people and structures and cultures.  This is the power of God's saving grace to impact persons, churches, and neighborhoods.  This is Keller at his most classic, offering well- produced, content-rich, Bible and theological teaching for ordinary churches.  I suspect that this is going to bear fruit for decades to come.  As he puts it in the subtitle--a real theme of true Christianity of any sort, but an emphasis of his own Presbyterian and Reformed heritage---"grace changes everything."  Christ's death on the cross is not just a simple atoning matter that gets us to heaven, but is gracious power for daily living.  It is the Kingdom come, Christ's victory over all manner of evil, even as we suffering in a fallen world.  It is new energy for service, and increasingly being given the gift of inner transformation.

Here are the allusive titles and the subtitle for each serious lesson:

1.  City  The World That Is
2.  Heart  Three Ways to Live
3.  Idolatry  The Sin Beneath the Sin
4.  Community  The Context for Change
5.  Witness  An Alternative City
6.  Work   Cultivating the Garden
7.  Justice  A People for Others
8.  Eternity  The World That Is To Come

The lectures are not much more than 10 minutes each.  They are designed to be discussed, using the workbook.  Both the book and DVD are published by Zondervan.

The workbook is hefty (233 pages) a much, much better-than-average study book, that includes readings to do before the viewing of the DVD, and a substantial amount of leaders notes, too.  It is the "discipleship course" many of us have been waiting for.  You can see part of a sample lesson, here.

The  study book  usually costs $10.99.     Our price is  $8.25
The  8-week DVD usually costs $24.99.    Our price is  $18.75
You can buy a package of the two together (saving $4.00) for $31.99. Our price is $24.00

Watch a trailer to the DVD here, watching Keller explain what it's all about. 

keller.jpg
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March 24, 2010

Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street and The Call To Conversion

READ JIM WALLIS FOR YOURSELF

I was on the Beck bandwagon, off the bandwagon, but now back on the bandwagon.  I think I was among the first to sign a Facebook petition with Bread for the World, a bi-partisan Christian citizens group that works on legislation against hunger and poverty, against the dumb comments by Glen Beck (who, now famously, had said that if your church talks about social justice you should quit that church ASAP, since social justice is not part of the gospel.) I twittered and Facebooked that BFW call to reject Beck's foolishness.  Bread for the World is a fine organization, and a good illustration of our conviction that God's reign---Christ as Lord!---must be professed and lived out in every zone of life.  Even in politics, we are called to be good citizens and pray and work for the cry of Psalm 72: "Give the king thy justice, O Lord" for we know (Isaiah 1:10) that the Lord hates unjust legislation. And, amongst other things, good laws help ensure each gets their due, including the poorest among us.  (See The Rising of Bread for the World: An Outcry of Citizens Against Hunger by Art Simon (Paulist; $16.95) for a wonderful study showing how BFW does that.) Jesus' first sermon is an allusion to the Year of Jubilee, which surely had public, economic, even political implications.  Being social creatures (that is how the Holy Trinitarian God made us) who live in the world of society, culture, governments, policies, international banking and business, it is just silly (it is beyond silly) to suggest that we should only help people privately, through charity.  Yes, public justice is part of what God intends for his world. Glen Beck is just wrong.

(As are some who have listed our bookstore as a dangerous place, for this same reason.  They have gone on record saying that if verbal evangelism isn't done first and foremost, even relief efforts like saving children from the rubble in Haiti is wrong, and anyone who supports such efforts is approaching heresy.  They believe in burning books, too, so you can imagine how spooked we were by their toxic religion and false accusations against us.  I would imagine they like Glen Beck.)

Still, I determined not to write about the Beck fiasco, not to re-tweet any of the many twitter comments I've seen, not even watch the spoofs on youtube.  I thought it would run its course and that would be that.

Then Sojourners got involved, my old friend Jim Wallis asked to appear on Glen Beck's show, and Beck got scary-weird talking about how the "hammer was going to pound over and over" on Wallis and his "cute little organization."  If you don't know (and God bless you if you don't) about this, it was truly bizarre, as Beck made these ridiculous quasi-accusations and threats to Jim and the Sojo gang.  I am embarrassed for my friends who like Mr. Beck; this was so ugly and over-the-top odd.  Is he often like that?

Still, the showdown was a bit too sensational for me, and while I've got every back issue of Sojourners since the earliest Post American days, I don't think they are always correct, and not always the most insightful or Biblically faithful. Mostly, I was bored by the prospect of a Jim vs Glen smack-down, which seemed just too predictable.

rediscovering values.jpgAnd then I recalled how much I truly like most of Jim's books, including the new one Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street---A Moral Compass for the New Economy (Howard Books; $24.00.)  It is so hopeful and insightful, so reasonable that even a popular conservative speechwriter and pundit (Mike Gerson, who I respect immensely) writes of it:

"One does not need to agree with Jim Wallis on everything to find Rediscovering Values insightful and timely.  In our current economic struggles, Wallis sees an opportunity, not just for recovery, but for a renewal of important, neglected ideals.  This is a needed voice." 
Or, hear this from Leith Anderson, now the President of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals, who says:

"Agree or disagree---Jim Wallis touches your heart, stretches your mind, and challenges your values.  He thunders like an Old Testament prophet, yet he is gentle and gracious. With a heart for people and a dream for a better tomorrow, Jim Wallis looks tough times in the eye and talks of hope."

Wallis very convincingly makes the case that our financial crisis is not a matter of numbers, of misunderstood economic theory, not even of a few bad eggs and their gratuitous greed.  It illustrates a moral crisis of our culture, and, as such, it demands spiritual answers.  We are living into and out of the wrong story, and it must be replaced with a new, better Story.  As Wallis makes clear, our deepest and most ecumenical faith traditions call us to care about the common good (social justice, included) and that from our personal lives to our work lives, our banking and shopping to our voting and politics, our family habits and our recreation, we have to live differently, based on gospel values.  To do that, we must have our deepest commitments change.  To use the language Jim used to use more passionately as a younger, radical evangelical, we need converted.

I still think Jim's most substantial and helpful book is his classic Call to Conversion: Whycall to conversion.jpg Faith is Always Personal But Never Private (HarperOne; $13.95).  With the exceptional popularity of his God's Politics book and group guide Living God's Politics a few years ago, HarperOne quietly re-issued his late-70s classic, edited, expanded and up-dated for the new century.  I am happy to say it is one my all time favorite books.  I've read out loud from his section on Christ as Lord countless times, and greatly appreciate his chapter on community.The chapter on peacemaking is important and clear, and the one chapter on poverty nearly says it all. Check out the "Bible and the newspaper" cover design, alluding to the famous Barth quip. I really do recommend it.

We will offer it at a special sale price, too (see below.)

The new one Rediscovering Values is wonderful, too, in part because it is so sensible, so clear, so interesting. (I dare you to read his part about playing baseball with his boys and not be touched. I have been challenged each time I've read his piece about our calendars and schedules being "moral documents.")  He has a good, if brief, chapter on the meaning of work, and it is evident that his view of culture transcends the simple polarities of liberal or conservative.  I think this "moral compass" will speak to anyone who has pondered not only how we got in our economic mess, but how we might get out of it.  That is, not just "get out of it" and back to "normal" but how to re-imagine what "normal" is.  Do you know the old Bruce Cockburn song--about these very themes of economics and injustice, standards of living, corporations and state violence--called "The Trouble With Normal"? (Listen here (studio) or here (live). Of course, the famous line answers---"it always gets worse!"

We must not desire to go back to normal, the economics and worldview and way of life that gave rise to the crisis of recent years.  This time can be a time of reappraisal, and Rediscovering Values is a guide to the conversations we simply must have if our culture is not going to "always get worse." We can use this window of time, and this book, as an opportunity to ask some hard questions of ourselves.

From the biggest forces on Wall Street to the very lifestyles in our homes and neighborhoods, we must repent.  And live in, as the Lutheran liturgy nicely words it, "in newness of life."

* * *
I also got fired up to post on this (after previously determining not to) when I read this important report and rebuttal that Jim wrote.  Beck accuses Jim of being a Marxist, and he seems to imply Dorothy Day was a commie, too. (He does this by playing fast and loose with some audio tapes, like Jerry Falwell used to do with Alan Boesak and Desmond Tutu in the anti-apartheid struggle.)  If you click on that link, you will hear a live audio of a conversation between Dorothy and Jim. Have you read her autobiography, The Long Loneliness?  It is a classic, you know.

When I think of how Sojourners introduced me to Dorothy Day, to Oscar Romero, to John Perkins, to Phil Berrigan, to John Howard Yoder, all solid Christians who suffered much for their faith, and how my life and faith has been edified by the long-standing call to conversion and justice by Sojourners, I wanted to again go public with my frustrations with Beck's immoral and dishonest accusations and applaud Jim's reply.  I hope my conservative friends who esteem Beck will hold him accountable.  He is just out of line, dead wrong about the Bible, and wrong about Wallis. And wrong about the way he's doing it all.

Best, though, is skip him, and read Wallis for yourself.  Since he is dedicating so much time this week to spreading misinformation about Wallis, I know you know people who have heard this, and who may wonder.  It is important that some of us have these books under our belts, ready to be loaned out.  Why not form a study group--maybe Beck fans and Sojo fans,even-- and discern for yourself.  Is Rediscovering Values consistent with a Christian perspective?  Can it be a "moral compass for the new economy"?  How about The Call to Conversion?  Have you heard that call lately?

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March 26, 2010

James Davison Hunter To Change the World

I'm sorry this blog post is a bit long.  I hope you read it carefully. Thanks.

I received a number of compliments on the last BookNotes blog that criticized Glen Beck for his remark saying people should leave their churches if the church speaks about social justice.  I also criticized Mr. Beck for his rude--scary, even--comments about how he intended to hammer and hammer and hammer Sojourners editor, Jim Wallis.  His campaign to discredit Wallis and all his "cute" "little" friends I suppose includes me (and maybe you) and I can assure you that Mr. Beck is speaking about stuff he is just wrong about.  He is wrong about the Bible and he is wrong about Wallis. There should be no argument about that.

However, this does not mean it is right to be ugly towards him or uncivil in our refutations.  Apparently, a few readers thought I may been too dismissive, thinking that I was mocking those who may disagree with Wallis or Sojourners or those that appreciate some of Beck's perspective.  I hope careful readers of the post, and those who read my lengthy replies in the comment section, understand that we here at Hearts & Minds are very eager to promote robust conversation, reading widely, and thinking things through together in light of a Biblical perspective---which means not siding up easily with any simply ideology of the left or right.  To be "distinctively Christian" in our approach may be misunderstood, as we may need to offer kind critique to those who are too simplistic or ideological on both sides of the political spectrum.  We joke about how we sometimes "offend everyone" but that is hurtful and hard, and we don't mean to be glib.  My remarks were not meant as a critique of serious conservativism (as I said, we recommend the Acton Institutes new DVD curriculum on stewardship in various sides of life.) Still,  I think Beck is a good example of a bad example: he is not true to the Bible on this matter of justice (he is a Mormon, but, geesh, he ought to know at least a couple of the thousands of verses about public and social justice) and he is beyond rude in his discourse. 

Wallis is different, I think.  He has displayed a certain civility in respond to these egregious attacks, and he has offered to come on Glen Beck's show and talk it out.  And, beyond being relatively well-mannered, his book, as I suggested, is not a lefty mirror-image of the right-wing Beck.  In fact, with his discussions about values, wholesome entertainment, raising children, being involved in Little League and such, Jim seems like he's quite willing to focus on the family and sound fairly, well, conservative.  As we should, though, he also cares about other people's families, and wants that to be part of our daily lifestyles, and our politics. He's quick to renounce greed and the faults of an ideology that makes an idol out of freedom or the market.  He is not a Marxist but he isn't solely a free market guy, either.  In that way, he is close to the classic social ethics of the Catholic tradition, similar to the statements of social concern published by the National Association of Evangelicals, and not that dissimilar to those in the Kuyperian "third way" movement such as the Center for Public Justice that seeks a Christian alternative to the secular left and right.  His views are enough, but in my view, they aren't anything as bad as his critics suggest.  I have hosted Jim here in the store, and I have read every one of his books and columns for more than 30 years.

Well. Why would I hint that Wallis' politics are inadequate?  As I said, I really liked Rediscovering Values, which is about the cultural and religious shifts we will need if we are going to truly learn from the recent financial disasters.  Read my brief comments from the other day and see if it might be a book you might enjoy.  I found it very thoughtful, insightful, helpful and we are happy to recommend it, on sale, too.  With economics and the economy on everyone's mind, this is a great time to do some faithful thinking about it all.

Mr.Beck is way off base in his understand about and his accusations of Wallis, but there are those that I trust and respect who have made critiques of Wallis' earlier books.  Of course, not everyone who has concerns about Jim's work, or the general "religious left" he represents, is nasty and dishonest like Beck has been.  Some are civil and, I think, on to something.

 For instance, here is a review of Jim Wallis' God's Politics offered by Paul Marshal, whose important book God and the Constitution I often recommend (see our "Books By Vocation" pages, and go to the section on politics to read my brief description of it, or put the title into the BookNotes search feature to find other places I've reviewed it). This review is a firm rebuke from the characteristically jovial Mr. Marshal, and I think it is an important contribution to what just politics might demand of us, and whether the rhetoric of Wallis, the Call for Renewal, the Red Letter Christians, et al, is adequate.  Marshall thinks not, and for some surprising reasons. (It is common to say that the "Christian left" is just beholden to the Democrats as the "Christian right" is to the Republicans, but Paul's critique is deeper and more profound than that.) I hope you read it, not only to hear a critique of Sojo but to see an example of how to be critical yet fair, naming virtues and faults in an even-handed manner.  

to change the world.jpgMore powerful, however, is a blazing bit of passionate scholarship, several years in the making, by one of the premier sociologists working today, University of Virginia's esteemed professor and author, Dr. James Davison Hunter. The brand new and magnificent To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press; $27.95) will surely be regarded as one of the most important serious books about faith and culture published in many a year.

  We have heard bits and pieces of this---Hunter has published in Comment and has done some public forums over the years---and we are thrilled to commend it. People who read, as I always do, the thoughtful "Doggie Head Tilt" essays of Mike Metzger at the Clapham Institute blog, or the beautiful work of Steve Garber's Washington Institute on Faith, Culture and Vocation may resonate with this; it is deeply political and yet not partisan, interested in helping folks relate "Christ and culture" in ways that have integrity, and are transforming, without being ideological. It seems to me that this book will appeal to many of our most valued friends and customers.

 I am not prepared to say much about it as I've only studied the footnotes (wow!) and the table of contents and the first section.  Well, okay, I've dipped in and read whole pages here and there, including some of the last pages (gasp.)  It is, as I've expected, serious, thoughtful, lucid, even beautiful at times. It seems even-handed as he critiques the simple ways in which the religious right and religious left interact with the cultural givens, and their general model for how they approach social change.  He offers serious criticism of each approach, and also to the views of a third tradition or model, one found in the anti-Constantinian views associated with Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, and others in the "radical orthodoxy"  and "new monastic" movements.  His critique of their increasingly significant movement is insightful and important, or so it seems. 

I was chided the other day in the BookNotes comment section for saying a certain view was "silly" and I hope you read that comment and my reply.  It is important stuff.  Hunter more elegantly describes a concern that is close to what I was suggesting.  He is like a caring doctor who is good at diagnosing our deepest illnesses. He writes about those (like myself, perhaps) who emphasize a "Christian worldview" and have a certain degree of idealism. We can change the world for Christ--not like the simplistic and moralistic right and left, but by truly understanding and thinking faithfully about every zone of life.  We reject dualism and Gnosticism and want to get involved in the real world!   Yet, this very idealism seems sometimes to fail to deal with policies on the ground, with historic social forces, with givens--that is, with reality.  (In my response to one who thought I was being critical of conservatives I explained that I was rather dismissing those who think that just giving money to private charities is all one must do to be faithful to the call of justice, as if in our globalized and complex world, real policies and politics can be avoided, as if we spiritual people are somehow above it all.)  Well, Hunter notes that there is an irony in those of us who hold out such idealistic hopes.

...the idealism expressed in the worldview approach is, in fact, one manifestation of the very dualism its proponents are trying to challenge.  Idealism reinforces that dualism by ignoring the institutional nature of culture and disregarding the way culture is embedded in structures of power.

I am not sure exactly who he means, here, and I don't think it is me, exactly. I agree with him: no, we dare not ignore institutions, nor disregard culture or "structures of power."  Hunter is correct here. Both the right and the left---Beck and Wallis, if you will--are guilty of confusions that Hunter goes to great, great lengths to document, discuss and explore.  He isn't unkind, but he is firm, and there is just enough documentation here to keep the research interesting and focused.  I keep skimming it looking for signs of it being too dry or too heavy, and I am happy that on every page I glance at, I am convinced I need to read this carefully, and soon.

hunter.jpgIn three major sections, Dr. Hunter offers penetrating appraisals of these most popular approaches of how we "change the world" and what they each mean by that.  The book explores not only the usual suspects---Falwell, Wallis, Dobson, Campolo, Robertson, McLaren---but he studies those who are about "culture making" (Andy Crouch) or working to "engage" and be relevant to culture, such as the exciting Catalyst conferences and the Fermi Project (Gabe Lyons.)  There is little doubt that Hunter is a premier sociologist who has done his field work within the recent renaissance of evangelical social, cultural, and public work.

Hunter invites us to witness to God's redemptive work in the world in a way that is theologically rooted and culturally realistic, with a manner and framework that is both faithful and fruitful.  He is interested in the work of the "grass roots" yet I am sure he pays attention to "cultural elites" and those who can most effectively shape culture in humanizing and Godly ways. ("Does change come from the bottom up or the top down" may be a simplistic question, but it approaches some of his topic, shows at least some of what the book is about.)  A few respected friends of ours have been in discussion with him, and they have summarized their view by calling for a "faithful presence." (For those who might care, I don't think they mean this in the way Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Jim Douglas or Dan Berrigan talked about it, by the way.) This critique of popular modes of faith-based action and a call to think in new ways about the very nature of our involvement in the world is vital, urgent, and I suspect will have very much wisdom to it, even if some will find fault.  People smarter than I will be weighing in on it.  We think it is going to be much-discussed.  We are very glad to be able to announce it here and offer it now on sale, inviting you to think seriously, hoping it generates articles, papers, conversations, initiatives and faithful work, big and small, in your town and mine.

One easy way to get into this conversation is to listen to him talk about the book with the always incisive interviewer (whose perspective will be quite congenial to Hunter's, by the way) former NPR journalist Ken Myers.  His spectacular Mars Hill Audio Journal recently interviewed Mr. Hunter (and, on that bi-monthly issue, also interviews James K.A. Smith, Tom Long on funerals, a philosopher of Christian education, and some other fine thinkers.)  You can download it electronically or subscribe to get the CD each month at Mars Hill Audio, here.

If you want to read a quick bit about him, the great folks at Trinity Forum have a bio, here.  More helpfully, here is a speech he delivered to some gathered by the Forum, and you can read it--not exactly the book, but close.  Do come back and order it from us if you like.

Jim Wallis is right that the Bible calls for justice.  Glen Beck is wrong to rail against him with such religious ignorance and talk-show animus.  We should read Sojourners (the only magazine we continue to stock in the store) and buy his books, like The Call to Conversion or Rediscovering Values that I highlighted in our last post.  Even if they aren't all they could possibly be (how few books are) they are good.  They take us part way towards renewal and faithful living, and they are interesting and helpful.

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World may not come next for readers new to this stuff,  as it is a fully different sort of scholarly work. It is remarkable and important, but it is going to be slow going for some.

Paul Marshall's excellent and thoughtful book about faith and politics, which I cited above, is important as a "next step" of public theology and balanced social thinking after Wallis.  Ron Sider's Scandal of Evangelical Politics comes to mind, and is impeccable---a H&M favorite. More generally,  I do continue to love Andy Crouch's fun Culture Making and recommend it strenuously, hoping it continues to be bought and discussed. The tremendous new re-issue of the Os Guinness' mystery novel about the church allowing itself to be undermined by our involvement in culture, The Last Christian On Earth, (scroll back a few entries to see our announcement of it) gets us ready for this large, deep conversation, too, and I can't recommend that enough to thoughtful readers. Guinness fans will know the connection to Hunter.  D.A. Carson released a book two years ago on Eerdmans called Christ and Culture that is a bit dry, and a bit academic, but, again, is important for those building a library and vocabulary of working towards Dr. Hunter's topic.  It is important work.  

Yet, for those already thinking about this mind-boggling conversation, activists and scholars and anyone wanting to be well-informed and well-read on faith-based reflections on authentic social change at the start of our new century, "late modernity" as it is, To Change the World is simply a must. Rave, rave endorsements on the back are from Nicholas Wolterstorff, Charles Taylor, Robert Bellah, and Timothy Keller.  It will be years, I'd guess, until it comes out in paperback, and it will not be matched anytime soon, I'm sure. You ought to get it.  Join the conversation.  Thanks for caring--for God and God's world.

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