About June 2010

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

May 2010 is the previous archive.

July 2010 is the next archive.

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

June 2010 Archives

June 5, 2010

an excerpt from Wendell Berry, read at a wondrous wedding

In 1976 Beth and I sent out wedding announcements, creatively designed by a college friend.  It rather boldly proclaimed "Remember This Day."  It was not intended as a "save the date" announcement as much as an invitation to join us in thinking (perhaps a bit presumptuously) that God was doing something Big here, and that, like the piles of stones set up in ancient Israel to remind of God's faithfulness, our joined lives were supposed to stand for something.  Idealistic as it may have been, we still believe that there are times in our lives (I hope it is so with you) that we should memorialize, a stake in the ground, a pile of rocks.  Christ is present and He reigns, even in such things.  Remember those days, indeed.

By phrasing it the way we did, we also were asking that our friends and loved ones help us.  We knew enough to know that friends and family are needed to make something like a meaningful marriage; the shared vocation of creating a Kingdom outpost in a family, takes help. We spoke a lot about "community" in those years, and formed an intentional household or two with a batch of other young marrieds and singles in an urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh.  The African proverb "it takes a village" had not come to our attention yet, but it sure seemed that way for us.


And so, we so enjoyed being at several weddings this month (literally and in spirit.) And at one, this quote from Wendell Berry was read, alongside a lovely poem by Luci Shaw, and some wonderful Scripture texts.  To hear St. Wendell read from the lectern of this impressive Anglican church was sweet, and it reminded me of our feeble effort to say something like this at our own special day, November 20, 1976. 

Thanks to the extended community of Andrew and Morgan, for helping shape them into the sort of young lovers who would think to have this excerpt from one of the best collections of his essays, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (Pantheon), read out loud prior to our vows to support them.

Lovers must not, like usurers, live for themselves alone.  They must finally turn their gaze at one another back toward the community.  If they had only themselves to considers, lovers would not need to marry, but they must think of others and of other things.  They say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and on its own.  It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is.  These lovers, pledging themselves to one another "until death," are giving themselves away, and they are joined by this as no law or contract could ever join them.  Lovers, then, "die" into their union with one another as a soul "dies" into its union with God.  And so, here, at the very heart of community life, we find not something to sell as in the public market but this momentous giving.  If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing---and our time is proving that this is so.

Here at the shop we are often asked for books on marriage.  Sometimes it is young couples about to be married.  Sometimes it is a church marriage retreat or small group.  Sometimes folks are in trouble, sometimes it is for a shower or wedding gift.

Here is a list with a description of a handful of our favorites, found over at the May monthly column. Perhaps you might want to share one or two with a couple you care about.

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June 8, 2010

The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture

In my last post I mentioned that we were at a wedding in Pittsburgh where the bride and groom had read a quote from Wendell Berry.  As you may know---and if you don't, get any collection of his essays, or the novel Jayber Crow right away---Berry is a literary star, a Kentucky farmer, and a deeply religious man of the land who has resisted "modern" ways for a lifetime.  One of his themes is that it is no crime to stay put.  ("Oh, she'll go far" it is said, when we want to applaud a young adult with talent and ambition, as if leaving is somehow a mark of success.)  A month or so ago we celebrate his most recent, a collection of mostly literary studies, of writers with "a sense of place."  (Imagination in Place it is provocatively entitled.)  I've mentioned social critics and splendid writers like Bill Kauffman (Look Homeward, America) or James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere) who have lamented the suburban angst of our time, and pointed us to principles of stewardship, charm, and a local scale. Is it right to stay put?  Are our Up in the Air values eroding relationships, meaning, a sense of our place in history?  I'm not so sure about any of that, but we find that some of our sharpest readers resonate with this school of thought.  At least we know that our place matters to God.  In fact,   Eugene Peterson puts it bluntly in the forward to Eric Jacobson's book Sidewalks of the Kingdom) by asserting that "In the Bible, where one lives may be as important as what one believes."

There is an increasing body of literature on the importance of place, the theology of place, Christian thinking about the way being embodied as creatures effects our spirituality and discipleship.  You know we've raved about the serious, provocative Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, by Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger which is a must-read text for those wanting to go deep into this vital theme.

stability2.jpgWell, we are happy to tell you that there is another new book that opens up our hearts and thinking about this topic, a book that is kind and gracious, well written and gentle, even as it is bold and prophetic.  It is called The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, written by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press; $14.99.)  As you may guess, it is a great blending of several styles of writing, and showing several sorts of interests by Wilson-Hartgrove who has written wisely and passionately about much in recent years. 

He is a peace-maker (went to Iraq on a peacemaking mission, and his pal Shane Claiborne wrote about his being wounded there. He then wrote about it movingly in To Baghdad and Beyond: How I Got Born Again in Babylon.)  He has written about being missional, a book with Shane about prayer,  a very important work on racial justice within the Body of Christ (Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line) and, recently, a fine book on a Christian view of money, God's Economy.   He was one of the conveners of the gathering (at his intentional community called Rutba House in Durham, NC) that coined the phrase "the new monasticism" and he has edited a few books on this new radical house-church/Christian community movement. (School(s) for Conversion: The Marks of the New Monasticism.)  He is a busy guy, a young leader of an ecumenical and socially active sort of evangelicalism, and he writes well.  I think this may be his best book.

And, given how busy he is, this book is leisurely.  I feel myself slowing down, even as I read it.  His stories include lovely writing about the color of the porch boards, and the taste of the sweet tea drunk in the humid South, of how he and his young daughter notice a bird making a nest near their porch, during an early morning rest on the stoop.  I like the narrative nature of these reflections, and applaud Paraclete for the aesthetic touches---each chapter starts with a several page reflection that is set apart with some wood-cut-looking page embellishments of vines.  Even the cover has a bit of a subtle embossed feel; it is nice they did this, as this is a book to be carried and read slowly, with joy, I'd say.  It is about staying put, about being rooted.  Rooted?  Artwork of vines?  Yeah, you get it.  Very nice.

Lauren Winner writes on the back cover "Stability may be the virtue of the 21-st century Christians most ignore---and the virtue we are most called to embrace.  This fine book will inspire you to look at your own life, asking 'Where am I restless? Where might God be calling me to be rooted, to stay put?'"

Indeed, most of us have failed in this virtue; we have not cared for our neighbors (or our own neighborhoods) as we ought.  We have not been rooted in place, or really engaged with the people and plot of creation in which we are placed.  We have been too busy to participate in the simpler rhythms of life. 

Kathleen Norris knows about this.  You most likely know her book from a decade or more ago called Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, where she came to Christian faith while exploring the historic desert fathers and mothers and the rugged landscape of her native state.  Later she wrote beautifully about being in a monastery (Cloister Walk), learning the sacred time of the monks.  Can ordinary folks live like that, somehow?  She is working on that, so it is fabulous to have her write the forward to this book.  It is a wonderful foreword, and it is no small thing to have a writer of her caliber and life experience to offer such a solid introduction to the topic, and the book.

Stability.  It is a gift, Wilson-Hartgrove rightly tells us.  And it comes as we work at it, too, in a "school for prayer" (which is a section in his chapter called "Stability as a Craft.")  He looks at some of the stuff the desert fathers and mothers have taught---serious stuff about self-reflection and boredom and temptations, all that militate against forming mature bonds of community in place.

And, so, we are glad for these kinds of books, and certainly for The Wisdom of Stability, which is so nicely done, emerging, obviously, from his own (unfinished) journey.  Or is journey---this moving away image---the wrong metaphor, here?  Well, it is a journey, a journey home, deep into place, a journey towards wisdom and care and stability.  Our mobile culture does not want this.  The media does not encourage it.  Pop culture makes icons of those who have to be "movin' on" or who are "on the road." Our own families may not expect it.  But, maybe, just maybe, books like this, written out of communities like this,  about experiments like this, may hold a key to renewal in our fast-paced, too-hectic, politicized culture.  This is not a call to "drop out" or ignore our global neighbors, or the fabulous opportunities that call some of us to new vistas and new places.  But it does ask the big questions, and invites conversations around the meaning of discipleship as it comes to bear on serving, jobs, relationships, community, house-holding, stewardship, and spiritual practices of attentiveness to the near-by.  I really, really enjoyed it.  In fact, I needed it.  You might, too.  We'd love you to support your own local bookseller, if you've got one, or this virtual community of H&M folk who care about similar sorts of things.  If you're in this tribe, and feel "at home" with us,  send us an order.  Part of our call to stability in these postmodern times---I really think this---is staying together on line, too.  May our tribe increase, even as you remain rooted in place, with a spirituality that resists a place-less mobility.  God's peace to you.

Here is a very cool youtube video of him talking about the book.  Filmed right on the porch. 

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June 13, 2010

Life Among the Lutherans: selling books at a Synod Assembly

From our first days nearly 28 years ago, Beth & I were eager to represent books from a diversity of publishers, religious and general market.  One aspect of that diversity is our interest in books published by mainline denominational publishers (Augsburg/Fortress, Westminster/John Knox, Pilgrim Press, Church Publishing, Chalice, Abingdon, Upper Room, and the like or British publishers like SCM or Canterbury) as well as Catholic and Orthodox presses.  Of course, our favorites are the progressive evangelicals like InterVarsity Press (IVP), Baker/Brazos or Eerdmans, and even more traditionalist evangelical houses (like Zondervan and Nelson) are putting out some of most interesting religious publishing today.  Old friends at places like Presbyterian & Reformed and Dordt College Press have released some personal favorites, and then there are the indie presses, folk that do this one book or that series, odd-ball children's books or hard-to-find stuff.  Do you know SkyLight Paths? Wipf & Stock? Regent College Press? Jossey-Bass? Faith Alive? Religious publishing is more interesting these days, I think, than at any time in our memory.

Who knows what is going to sell when we do our big displays, custom selected for particular gatherings?  The last few days we met some old friends and a lot of new ones when we served the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Beth was raised Lutheran and it was sweet to see a Gettsyburg College booth and to chat with an old classmate, now a Lutheran pastor, from her old church, as well as the pastor serving that parish, now.  Local church camps, social service ministries, justice advocacy groups, mission groups, all had nice displays alongside our temporary bookstore installation.  Thanks to those who said so many nice things to us at the Synod assembly. Not a few said that they appreciated our diversity, selling books geared to Lutheran congregational life, of course, but showing other interesting things as well.

Life-Among-the-Lutherans1-194x300.jpgBest sellers?  Naturally, Garrison Keillor's Life Among the Lutherans (Augsburg; $23.99) was a big hit, perhaps our best seller there.  If you have enjoyed his Lake Woebegon novels or the Lutheran stories from the radio show, you'll love this.  It is great writing, very, very funny, and often remarkably insightful---the gospel in through the back door of this uncommonly graced storytelling.  We hear this is coming in paperback soon, but we have some hardcovers now, at the blog special discount price.  What a fun book to take on vacation!

I mentioned unusual publishers.  We stock a few different books about pray shawl ministry, and they were appreciated.  A number of churches do this, a knitting ministry, prayerfully making shawls and other such items to be used in ministries of mercy and healing.  I'm glad we had a selection on hand, and hope they will touch lives, mediating God's love to the sick and sad.

And, we sold some memoirs.  I love reading this genre, learning about and from the telling of410aRJ0oBOL._SL500_AA300_.jpg other's lives.  Anne Lamott, Nora Gallagher, Sarah Miles, Barbara Brown Taylor, stories of growing up in the faith, missionary stories, memoirs of nature writing and stories of marriage and stories of grief. Paul Farmer and Edwidge Dandicat on Haiti.  Three Cups of Tea and his newer one, too. The striking, new conversion narrative (Rage Against God) by Peter Hitchens, the brother of  world-famous, outspoken atheist Christopher.

 The extraordinary writer Walter Wangerin, Jr. is well known in ELCA circles (of course we took Ragman and Miz Lil and some were surprised to see them still.) His last two are powerful; Father and Son: Finding Freedom (Zondervan; $19.99) and his recent, poignant, Letters from the Land of Cancer (Zondervan; $16.99) were appreciated. This one seemed to be handled with care, knowing the sacred power of these letters about his serious illness.

6a00e54ef51d76883401287716ec17970c-200wi.jpgI kept telling those who were browsing that Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in This World: A Geography of Faith (Harper; $14.99), now out in paperback, is one of my favorite books in recent years.  Her usual elegance, her insight, her great attention to the writing craft, bring this book of memoir and reflection to us with the end result being a book of lovely, enjoyable reading, and remarkable theological insight.  God shows up everywhere--every moment can be a sacramental one, and we must practice attentive spirituality, day by day, in the ordinary stuff of life.  I love this theme, and it is surely one of the best books about the embodied nature of life in God's good world.

bonhoeffer-by-eric-metaxas.jpgNot sure if it was a "best seller" but we did sell several of the magisterial, new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas (Nelson; $29.99.)  There is little doubt that this is the Bonhoeffer book of our time, perhaps the best yet done.  It is, like Eric's great book on Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) both historically detailed, powerfully written, interesting and insightful.  That is, he gets the details right, presents them in a vibrant and compelling way, and, without any preachy moralism, tells the tale in a way that makes you care, that helps us see that this matters.  It is a hefty book, but it is not the kind that people buy but never finish.  It is one of the great books of 2010!  Yay for Lutherans who still care about their man and his famous ministry of resistance, bearing the full cost of discipleship.

There was a lot to look at, and little time for most shoppers---they had their complicated denominational business to attend to, of course. For fun, if anyone might find it interesting, here are a few titles we wished we could have talked about more, alerted folks about.  Call it, books I wish we would have sold, or titles that somehow didn't get noticed.  Like orphaned children, every time we come home from these large gigs we find these small stacks of books that were missed.  Oh, if only somebody would have found a home for these wayward texts.

On Christian Liberty  Martin Luther  (Fortress) $9.99  This "Facet" edition is a small 
544652.jpg paperback, recently re-type-set with a cool cover, offering the timeless, classic Lutheran teaching about the freedom we have in Christ.  For the Christian, Luther insists, this freedom includes not only liberty from sin and death, but the opportunity to serve one's neighbor.  Every follower of Jesus can benefit from dipping into the older books, and this simple, little volume, is a great way to be reminded not only of the treasures of the past, but to clarify the first things of the gospel.   His "open letter to Pope Leo X" is included in the back, and is worth reading itself.

9780802865281.jpgWe Have Seen His Glory: A Vision of Kingdom Worship  Ben Witherington III (Eerdmans) $16.00  I have promoted this elsewhere and think it is an important little book where he "teases some minds into agtive thought about what worship should look like if we really believe that God's Kingdom is coming...It's time for us to explore a more biblical and Kingdom-oriented vision of worship."  Lutherans in central PA like Gordon Lathrop's important triology (Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology , Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology, and Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology) and this Weslyan author brings similiar concerns to bear: if God's reign, celebrated by some churches in "Kingdomtide" is a real fact of our history--a liturgical cosmology in Lathrop's rich phrase---how might that effect our worship?  And how might our worship shape our lives?  This is another volume in the on-going "liturgical Studies Series" of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, one of the most important ministries in North America.   We stock all of the books they've commissioned.  Lutherans, like most mainline groups these days, care about worship.  This book could expand our conversation about renewal.

For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $13.00  I've mentioned this before, and find it so acessible, so wise, so stimulating.  The first half of the book is about the worth of the God we worship while the second half is about caring the worship of God into the world, imaging God in all we do.  I would have thought all of N.T. Wright's good books would have been purchased, and it was odd to be at such a large gathering where he wasn't being discussed much.  This older paperback is a sleeper, a great little book that I wished we could have foisted on everyone.

9780835810128.jpgLike Breath and Water: Praying With Africa Ciona D. Rouse (Upper Room) $18.00  Like many mainline denominations, the Lutherans have some historic and solid connections with sister congregations and synods in Africa.  Many of us care deeply about that troubled continent, and the world is paying attention, perhaps now more than ever, about the hope and horrors there.  This full color paperback is packed full of stunning photographs--are they almost like icons?---to turn the heart and imagination to prayer.  Can we see God there?  Can we be touched by the need, and driven to prayer?  What a beautiful book!   Ciona Rouse is a Nashville-based African-American who has done some innovative work on African-influenced liturgies, books on spiritual formation, and is a photographer and poet.  Check out www.PrayWithAfrica.com.

madeforgoodness.jpgMade for Goodness and Why This Makes a Difference  Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
desmond-tutu-001.jpg (HarperOne) $25.99  I don't know why this big stack of bright, purple hardbacks didn't fly off the shelf.  Maybe if the Desmond's big smile were on the cover, or if the back jacket photo of his beautiful daughter--also an Episcopalian priest---were shown, readers would be drawn in to this wonderful collection of stories and reflections.  Famous father and daughter make a powerful case, less in Biblical terms, using common language and pitched to the non-churched as well as Christ-followers, that we are created to live a certain way.  Goodness matters.  This is no dry text about situation ethics and no screed about taking a stand, although, having read it, I want to be more ethical and take a clearer stand.  Anyone can choose to cultivate compassion.  We can find a path of hope.  I would supplement a book like this, naturally, with a strong study of Jesus and the authority of Scripture, to illustrate just what Christian goodness is.  But for what it is designed to do, it is a masterpiece.  A nice blurb on the back form Bono, too, where he (once again) says that Tutu is his "boss."  Gotta love that.

0470431024.jpgConnecting Like Jesus: Practices for Healing, Teaching, and Preaching  Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling (Jossey-Bass) $21.95  No matter where we are displaying books, we usually take the last book the two of the did together, The God of Intimacy and Action, which is a spectacular, rich, solid survey of how the inner journey of contemplative spirituality is related to evangelism and justice work.  Here, in a brand new volume, this dynamic duo team up to offer a book about (how to say this without it sounding boring?) communication skills.  That is, how can contemplative spirituality (and other devotional practices) make us into more expert communicators, doing good work in sharing the gospel, teaching, preaching, speaking, organizing.  I am convinced that one of the reasons smaller mainline churches are often lackluster is that the leaders are simply not skilled at good communication.  One needn't be a spiffy, blow-dried tele-evangelist or a cool Willow Creek dude in pressed casual khaki to know that image and style and communication and passion are vital to those that want to be effective in impacting others.  Dull and inept communicators turn people off, and the church has too long tolerated boring preachers and teachers.  This is a very practical (and yet really interesting) collection of tools and ideas that will help you be more effective in leadership, in public speaking, in getting the job done well.  How can we communicate more faithfully?  What is the relationship between soul care and public ministry?  How can we care for people--even the tender, inner stuff of their souls--even in ministries of teaching and preaching?  What an interesting book showing the various sides of ministry. Highly recommended, especially for those in traditional churches who are weary of the media-driven and often shallow versions of ministry but who may need to improve their ability to "connect" with listeners.  This is serious and solid, and will push you to be faithful and fruitful, spiritually-rich and effective in sharing the gospel.

images100318.gifYour Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital for the Future of the Church  John Armstrong (Zondervan) $19.99  I have been taking this book with a mis-leading title around to church leadership events, telling everyone I can that I think it is important (and pointing out the very clear and properly urgent sub-title.)  I've been working on a longer review that will appear here soon, although it is not an easy book to describe well.  The short version is this: Armstrong was once a very strict and separatist Baptist, a gifted communicator with several books, including some on publishers that do mostly Puritan theology.  Yet, his natural good-natured personality and intellectual curiosity kept him reading widely and relating to others outside his own circle.

 This new book is partly John's own story of growing into a heart-felt ecumenicity and a Biblical and theological call to a rich, evangelical view of the Body of Christ.  With a moving and solid forward by evangelical,  Anglican J. I. Packer, John has given us a large gift, born of his own pain and struggles, friendships lost and friendship gained, as he explores the meaning of the "missional church" in these postmodern times.  Mainline denominations have had a consistent, if thin, vision of ecumenical work, so leaders and readers in mainline circles may not feel they need to read a book like this.  For reasons I'll explain in my longer review later, I think they are sadly mistaken, and need, more than ever, to root their ecumenical views (and practices, such as they are) in a robust Biblical ecclesiolgy.  As groups like the ECLA are torn at their seams by recent controversial positions, we all need a reminder of what we are called to be as Gods people, how we can find solidarity beyond denominational boundaries, even amidst tensions; it is understandable in hard times to focus on our own issues and concerns. Still, as Your Church Is Too Small reminds us, too often, our view of the church is too small.  We must rediscover and live into an active expression of being a global and faithful Body of Christ, ambassadors for His reign of shalom, witnessing to the reconciliation He has wrought.  A book on the church, on being ecumenical, told by a recovering separatist?  With blurbs by a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox priest, and an evangelical on the back, this is a ground-breaking book! I wish I could have told my new Lutheran friends about it.  It is a book we all need.  We hope it is widely discussed.

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June 17, 2010

A key resource for lectionary preaching and a rare hymnal: Feasting on the Word and Hymns of Glory Songs of Praise

Following my last post, I thought I'd highlight just a few other titles that mainline denominational folks, especially, might want to know about.  Of course it is our deep wish that more evangelical folks would draw on these resources, just as I hope our more mainline friends consider the recommendations we make from conservative publishers.  We try hard to get beyond those increasingly unhelpful labels, and seek truth and renewal and helpful stuff any and everywhere.  We bet that in many ways, you, too, long for this, hoping to learn from those outside of your own immediate camp.

9780664231002.jpgDo you know the much-celebrated on-going series Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, the lectionary commentary edited by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor? (The Christian Century called them "monumental" which, I assume, is a good thing!)  Published every three months by Westminster/John Knox, there are four large hardbacks a year, for each of the three liturgical cycles, selling for $39.95 each.  Last year (year B) started the series, and we just got Year C, Volume 4.  That is, this recent one offers preaching aids for the Season After Pentecost 2.  The lectionary geeks will know this is what is sometimes called Propers 17 through the Reign of Christ.  In other words, this picks up at the end of August and makes the journey with you up until the start of Year A, the first Sunday of Advent. [Please note, the picture on the left is not the one for Volume 4; the publisher oddly doesn't have a picture of that one available. They all look the same, though, except for the designation of the weeks.]

Bartlett and Brown Taylor are remarkable in their own right, but in Feasting... they've pulled together nearly anyone who is known in mainstream Christianity, and a few others, too---some to the left, some to the right, all skilled and guided by the Spirit, writing insightfully (usually) about the texts in question.
For each week, the reflections are arranged in four distinct themes or modes.  Somebody does a "homilietical" reflection (that is, hints to how to preach the text); one offers an "exegetical approach" giving detailed study of the words and such; then there is the "theological" contribution; and then insights from the "pastoral" perspective. It is surprising to me that not only are there these four different angles of vision into the text and the sermon preparation, but there are, among them, different interpretive moves going on.  That is, the four writers offering insights into these four aspects of the lection don't necessarily agree.  My own pastor noted how much he appreciates that and what seemed a bit odd to me immediately was seen as the gift that it usually. is.  This is like having a veritable army of women and men at your side, inviting you into conversation with the assigned texts every week.  Even if you are not a preacher, this is a set of books worth considering.  If you are a regular preacher, it is a very useful volume.  If you buy one, I'll bet you'll want others, as they are that helpful.  They are ecumenical and mainstream in orientation.  We had a big stack at the Lutheran event just last week.

Speaking of being a bit geeky, I really like reading books about homiletics.  Yeah,  I know. You can read that sentence again, and it won't get any more sensible.  I think these books designed for preachers are amongst the most under-rated texts around.  Preachers don't even read them.  They rarely sell in the shop, although we have hundreds.  I've been dipping into a few, as I do from time to time, and my ecumenical dreams are underscored by the diversity of authors in conversation in those books.  Liberals, moderates, evangelicals, all in the same books!

The Folly of Preaching: Models and Methods  edited by Michael Knowles (Eerdmans) $18.00.  This is a collection edited a few years ago by a professor of preaching at McMaster in Ontario.  Some of these are just powerful, rockin' insightful sermons---from David Buttrick, Thomas Long, Cleophus LaRue, Haddon Robinson, John Stott.  (There ya go for some mainline and evangelical collaboration!)  A few of the pieces are more like essays. Tony Campolo, whose professional sociological work was done like preaching, anyway, has a great chapter called "Preaching to a Culture of Narcissism" and Martin Marty reflects on "Preaching Rhetorically: Thanks, Aristotle and Apostles." Edwina Hunter weighs in on the topic "Imagination, Creativity and Preaching."  John L. Bell is in here, Stephen Farris, Elizabeth Achtemeier and more.  What a cool collection.

Interestingly, one of the strongest and most serious homiletics books this year is from an evangelical publisher not known for releasing preaching books.  I refer to the thoughtful, profound The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God's Transformation of the World by Darrell W. Johnson (IVP) $23.00.  Johnson is renowned for being a good communicator at that renowned evangelical institution of higher education,  Regent College, in British Columbia. You know how interestingly faithful that place is with so many solid folks, from Gene Peterson to Marva Dawn.  Highly recommended.

The Preaching of Jesus: Gospel Proclamation, Then and Now by William Brosend (WJK) $19.95. This is a new study I'm itching to read.  It has a moving forward by Marcus Borg and a great blurb on the back by Ben Witherington who I greatly trust.  It shows four different styles of rhetoric used by Jesus, and then illustrates each chapter with a sermon that captures that style.  The sermons includes some of the most respected mainline folks preaching today---Barbara Brown Taylor, Fred Craddock, Bishop Michael Curry, Tom Long, which he then analyzes. What fun!  Preacher friends, get in on this and your Sunday messages will be better.  And the rest of us?  Join this conversation and you'll learn how to hear good sermons, learn to critique them fairly, instead of just being grumpy on the way home from church about something the pastor did or didn't say.  Hee, heee.  Plus, you'll impress your pastor if you casually note that your reading a book like this.

6a010536b8214c970c013480342cda970c-120wi.jpgHere is just one more recommendation of the many we have: Alyce McKenzie, a United Methodist pastor who used to minister here in the York, PA, area, has done several book on preaching.  Her new one is another of these sorts of those of us who are laypeople just might get a kick out of.  It is called Novel Preaching: Tips From Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons (W/JK; $16.95.)  Just as it sounds, she interviewed (or found interviews) with dozens of contemporary writers, novelists who are known for their craft, and she draws from them the habits of mind and heart, the daily practices, the tricks of the trade, of learning how to write, and write consistently.  Writing a good sentence or two is a good step towards creating a solid and mature sermon.  I know, I know--solid exegetical skills and orthodox theology are the foundation, and no clever tricks or awesome words-smithing can substitute for heart-felt proclamation of God's Word for life.  But, still, even the most Biblically-faithful thinkers and sincere pastors of the flock need some help figuring out how to write and speak well.  This book is a lot of fun for anybody who is called upon to create.  Kudos to Alyce for this cool idea. See, there is some very interesting stuff in the "homiletics" section.


978-1-853-11900-2.jpgHymns of Glory Songs of Praise edited by John Bell (Canterbury Press) $56.00  Well, I never know how to sell hymnals, really, and most often just hope folks know if they want one that they can inquire with us.  This, though, deserves special mention.  You may know John Bell of Iona, the vital and progressive spiritual community in Scotland (who publisher their own creative worship resources under the name Wild Goose.)  Bell has written so very much evocative, folksy, contemporary music, and has written widely about the significance of singing in our communal church lives, that when I heard he was helping compile this new volume (for the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and distributed here by the Episcopalians) I was truly excited.  The very day it came last winter, I sat down and read the introduction and it is very helpful. An index lists songs most suitable for children, and what they call "short songs" (some of which are like Taize chants.)  It is over 700 pages yet feels right in the hand.

 Hymns of Glory Songs of Praise starts off with a section of Psalms to be sung, a blessed contribution to any hymnal.   There are ancient lyrics here, and some rich, modern hymns as well.  Still, to see the fascinating selections---a lyric from John Bunyan, a song by Bonhoeffer, a prayer turned to song from a Book of Hours (circa 1500), to Halleluya! Pelotsa Rona from South Africa to Tom Troeger and Carl Daw. There are some folky liturgical composers, of course, in the "St. Louis Jesuits" style---there is a selection or two from Michael Joncas, Marty Haugen and David Haas, and a few from Dan Schutte.  And a good number of international tunes, from China, Guatamala, various African lands.

What fun to see lyrics by John Calvin next to Shout to the Lord by Darlene Zschech; Brian 
6a00e54ef51d768834011572070e92970b-800wi.jpg Wren next to William Cowper and Horatius Bonar.  There are classics by Philip Brooks and a modern chorus by Twila Paris.  I just smiled to see an index listing Julian of Norwich and Matt Redman.  I appreciate John Bell (and his work at Wild Goose) a lot, although it must have been fascinating to be involved in the Kirk committee picking these songs.  I really smiled to see so much from the Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases (Biblical paraphrases) and songs by Ralph Vaughn Williams, right there with Gaelic folk melodies, or songs by Ruth Duck.

The hymnal is arranged in Trinitarian fashion, with songs about God, Christ and the Spirit; in the Holy Spirit portion, however, is a major section called "The Church Celebrates" and it includes songs for a variety of purposes, from Baptism or confirmation, to grief, national concerns, and music for healing and wholeness.  This is very well thought through, and will be useful, I'm sure, for music planners and worship leaders of all sorts.

Speaking of hymns, the challenge of learning new songs, we just got in a new title published by P&R, Why Johnny Can't Sing9781596381957.jpg Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal written by T. David Gordon. In a way, it seems to be another critical lambast of popular culture like his earlier book, Why Johnny Can't Preach which was very thoughtful, witty, even.  I, of course, have large concerns about whether this is the best way to understand culture, music and such, but it is none-the-less certainly worth reading whether you agree with him fully or not. We sold it well at the Lutheran even last week; they don't need it as much, though, as our friends whose worship services approximate a rock concert without the pot.  Not sure what I think, but you may want to check it out---I'm sure you'll learn about forms and styles, and why we postmoderns ought to know a bit more about the process of music.  Sure would generate some good conversations, at least, eh?

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June 19, 2010

Q Society Room DVDs: Ideas That Create a Better World

Many of our readers know of Gabe Lyons, the fun andlyonsg.jpg deeply faithful, interesting, hipster who co-wrote (with David Kinnaman of the Barna Group) UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters, and went on to create the fascinating cultural-engagement conferences, Catalyst and The Q. (The Q website, by the way, is one of our favorites!)  Both of these events are stellar, in their own way, and all sorts of folks---left, right and center within the spectrum of Christian faith, and some of those who make no claims about being Christian (like Seth Godin)---have appeared at their classy gigs.  James Davison Hunter even discusses Gabe and his fellow-travelers in his important Oxford University Press release, To Change the World.  Gabe and his events are attractive and exciting and positive and, despite Hunter's high-brow concerns, will remain a major influence in a younger generation of informed and vibrant evangelicals over the next few years.  You may recall that Gabe spoke at our beloved Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh a few years ago. (See his presentation there at Living Jubilee.)  More recently, I linked (on Facebook and Twitter) to an amazing ABC news clip with a panel of younger evangelicals which explored the changing face of evangelical belief and practice these days.  Gabe just shines in that, as do his colleagues, some of whom I count as friends and partners-in-crime (even though I am not so young or new.)

I say all this to introduce you to Mr. Lyons' four extraordinary DVDs, educational curriculum put out by the fabulous folks over at Zondervan.  (You may recall how I raved last fall about their excellent 6-week DVD piece on being a Good Samaritan, Start. They are doing tons of good DVDs!)  Here, Gabe and his Q cohorts have put together what they are calling "Society Room" lectures.  These are named after the famous gatherings sponsored by William Wilberforce's Clapham group in the early 1800s, whereby folks would gather in parlors to engage good ideas that can transform the world.  Small groups of folks, talking in-depth about seriousgroup.jpg questions--in dialogue and partnership, with a view to following Jesus in meaningful ways in both personal and public life---truly can make an impact.  We believe small groups and Bible studies and book clubs have done this for years, and we rejoice that through God's grace, folks have matured, lives are touched, and good news is spread, person to person, home to home, often within small groups. With these Q Society Room DVDs, such bands of friends can engage issues of cultural transformation, learn from some of the best folks writing and speaking today about relevant faithfulness, and struggle to put faith into more thoughtful action.  How can we tell you how excited we are---after years and years of saying this kind of stuff without great curriculum options at hand---to have just this kind of resource?  Thanks, Gabe, Q, Zondervan, and all those who make this kind of project possible. 

Now we just have to get folks--ahem, that would be you--to buy and use the stuff.

So far, there are four Society Room DVDs. All are hosted by Gabe Lyons with a roundtable discussion with several thoughtful leaders (other than the presenters.) There are some essays to read in a companion participants resource, as well, stretching the "unit" to several additional weeks.  This is some of the coolest stuff we've seen in ages, done by leaders we respect. Each of the main presentations are less than 20 minutes, so a typical church school class could use them.  They each sell for $29.99 but we have 'em on sale for just $20 each, now.  (See below for ordering and expiration date of the dealio.)

 0310325188.jpgThe Whole Gospel: Revisiting Our Message to the World

This includes live lectures by Chuck Colson, Tim Keel, Jamie Tworkowski, and Ron Martoia, all about re-framing the gospel in ways that are Biblically faithful, engaging folks in authentic spirituality, and learning to reach out to both culture-shaping elites and the hurting and fringes of our damaged culture.  These are excellent communicators, wise and thoughtful and we think their content deserves deep consideration.  (Jamie is the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, and Ron Martoia wrote the excellent Transformational Architecture.) This is an excellent survey of how to express the gospel in wholistic ways and how to be salt and light of healing and hope, living out the implications of the News that is Good.  Highly recommended.

0310325218.jpgEngaging Post-Christian Culture 

What a thrill to hear and see our favorite "cultural historian" the always eloquent (and complex) Os Guinness speaking about the rise and fall of the West and how the gospel could penetrate even our most secular institutions.  Andy Crouch is here speaking beautifully about his Culture Making book, which has considerably shaped this whole Q Society Room project. The energetic Aussie Alan Hirsch describes "post Christian mission" and Jon Tyson (who was on that panel I linked to from ABC, above) talks about "renewing cities through missional tribes" and other ways to make a difference.  What good stuff this is. Maybe the most important of them all.  Please order this and help us make a difference!

0310325153.jpgThe Spirituality of Science

Well.  Passion worship leader opens this up with a marvelous bit ab out the indescribable wonder of God discovered as we consider the magnitude of the galaxies and beyond.  Famous geneticist Francis Collins appears, speaking about The Language of God (you surely know his important work as the head of the Human Genome Project and now Obama appointee to the NIH.)  Heady theologian Alister McGrath (who also has a science PhD) is here, and, my favorite, a lovely presentation by Swathmore prof, physicist Catherine Crouch.  Each of these speakers are tremendous, and the four together are beyond brilliant. Yes!  The roundtable includes heros green activist Rusty Pritchard and anti-nuke leader, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson.  This is just fabulous.

0310324491.jpgWhere You Live Matters: Developing a Vision for Your City

The drive behind the Q, and certainly the Society Room curriculum project, is to create good conversations about "ideas that make the world a better place."  Of course, as historical, Biblical Christians, they believe that this is deeply tied to faithfulness to the Scriptures and a robust, intentional discipleship in the way of Jesus.  The ideas of all of the above three are excellent, with insights from solid and gracious folks who call us to understand our times, and engage the issues of the day---from the history of culture, to the needs of the neighbor, from the arts and into the sciences.  This fourth Q Society Room DVD, however, brings it all, quite literally, home.  Here we have Presbyterian urban church planter, New Yorker Tim Keller speaking about our place in the city, the grace and brokenness of our urban landscapes, and how God is, indeed, calling us to "seek the peace of the city."  Joel Kotkin is a visionary social thinker, and, with Mel McGowan, an urban planner and designer, discusses the future of the suburbs, how to be involved in caring about what another author has called "the sidewalks of the Kingdom."  The roundtable---including Andy Crouch, Jon Tyson, Sean Womack and Allie Tsavdarides, introduces this Society Room and invite you to deeper care for your own place.  Can we be challenged by this fundamental lifestyle question: where should we live, and how should we care about our neighborhoods?  I don't know many adult Sunday School classes that tackle this stuff (although my own church had a local historian do a walking tour of our York downtown one Sunday.)  I think small groups, local forums, coffee shop meet-ups and home studies could truly enjoy exploring this provocative, generative content.

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June 23, 2010

Two truly unique books about church history. A People's History of Christianity and The Church History ABCs

We had a great few days at a lovely Penn State conference center, hosted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) Synod of the Trinity. Thanks to those who helped us lug our heavy boxes and supplies for the bookstore.  A whole lot of effort goes into setting up these book rooms, and it is really wonderful when strong hands and backs show up.  Even though the time was short, it was well worth it, since this is our own denomination and region---our peeps, as somebody said--and we got connected and reconnected to many old friends. And sold some books. Nice. 

What a joy it was for us was to once again cross paths with Diana Butler Bass.  You may knowStrengthfortheJourney.jpg her wonderful, thoughtful memoir, Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community (Jossey-Bass; $16.99), a faith story that tells about the various congregations of which she has been a part, as she travels through the American religious landscape.  It ranks easily with other such memoirs (think Nora Gallagher or Kathleen Norris or Phylis Tickle) however it is distinctive because she is, after all, a scholar of American religious life, with a specialty in research on mainline denominational congregational health.  She did the often-cited Lilly research on churches---published in summary form by the Alban Institute as Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church (Alban; $17.00)---so she knows how to hear and tell a congregation's story.  And, at our Presby Synod gathering, she did just that, weaving extraordinary examples of mainline churches that have grown into maturity and ministry by exploring specific practices. From these many stories of learned and shared practices---hospitality, say, or service, or habits of deepening, mystical prayer, or learning the "spirituality of the ordinary" where faith is taken into daily life, even the marketplace and work---she drew insights about how we might proceed as mainline churches with distinctive theologies and faith-styles and inherited traditions. 

Her most famous book (making her a sought after speaker all over the world) is Christianity9780060859497.gif for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (HarperOne; $14.99) which is exactly about how uniquely Christian practices can deepen and renew mainline churches.  In a way, it is a more lively version of the Lily-funded research promoted at Alban, telling about the churches she visited and the people she met along the way.  As she says early on in the book, she was tired of the commonplace myth (which she learned in her own master's work, prior to getting her PhD in this stuff) that mainline churches and their centrist theology were out of touch with the 21st century and that only evangelicals, and, evangelical mega-churches, would be sustainable and growing.  She was tired of the media only covering conservative evangelicals and televangelists, or the stories about the demise of the mainline denominations.  Christianity for the Rest of Us shows how more ordinary Protestant churches, some with quite moderate theology, some with "progressive", liberal theology, are learning to forge a faithful kind of discipleship that is neither fundamentalist nor blandly mediocre.  Robust and serious Biblical and theological engagement by the community---discerning God's vocation for that particular congregation---is a practice underneath and behind all other intentional practices.  Knowing who we are in Christ (a common phrase she knew from her more evangelical days) is still the key question: what is God doing in our midst, and how might we discern where the Spirit is leading, shaping who we most deeply are and what we are to be about?  Strength for the Journey narrates her story as she lived into those questions in the various churches she found herself involved in as a somewhat younger woman.  Christianity for the Rest of Us wonderfully tells (as only a religious scholar and invested, attentive journalist like her could) about the congregations she listened to, studied, and complied research about over recent decades, and the 10 or so practices she heard about from them.  This is certainly one of the great books within mainline religion in our generation, and I commend it to one and all----agree with it or not, it is worth reading.  Of course those within mainline denominations will most resonate with it (and take great hope from it) but I find that open-minded evangelicals also benefit from it and have really enjoyed it. It is good to read about other parts of the Body of Christ, and this fine book could dispel myths about mainline Protestants (even if it brings into focus essential differences between those with more liberal theology and those with more historic, traditional theology.)  Being with her again reminded us just how much we appreciate her work.

PeoplesHistory.jpgThis emphasis on how ordinary folks practice faith allowed her to make this major contribution to this field of the sociology of American church life, but also set her up to make a major contribution to the field closer to her work as historian.  She has now given us one of the most interesting and helpful views of church history we have seen.  It has been out in hardback for a year, and now is available in a paperback, which includes a discussion guide for book groups or adult ed classes.  It is called A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (HarperOne; $14.95.)

Here is the simple explanation: each section tells of a reigning metaphor, a key image, that that particular era of church history tended to use.  Of course this is a huge leap of imaginative scholarship, but it rings true, and she explains herself quite nicely in an opening chapter in each of those sections.  (For instance, in the earliest days of Christian history, faith was seen as a "way."  During the reformation, faith was shaped by the image of "Word")  Out of this primary metaphor for faith, a certain kind of worship developed---practices of devotion, and a certain kind of life in the world---practices of ethics.  Not to make it more simple than it is, the book basically reflects on five eras of church history, showing what the main image for God and faith was, and what kind of worship and service emerged out of that.  How do we love God (worship practices) and serve God (ethical matters) if a certain view of faith was predominant?   

As you may know, most church history books look at the leaders, and, more so, the theological claims and ideas of the leaders.  And so we have this very helpful and important tradition of studying doctrine, theology, church splits, heresy and such, as the way into the study of our family past.  In this book---perhaps taking a cue from Howard Zinn's important work showing the underside of history, the voices of the common folks and the underdogs---Butler Bass shows us how typical followers of Jesus did their thing---how and why they worshiped the way they did, and how and why they engaged the world around them, relating to their neighbors, in the way they did.  In certain parts this becomes nearly revolutionary, showing how folks came to seek the radical implications of Jesus' call even in the midst of rigid church hierarchy.  Even a bit more interesting in her historiography is her interest in telling the story of the church in ways other than through the lens of expansion, the imperial efforts, the spread of Christendom.  Seekers will enjoy this, too---there is just a bit of subversive energy here, showing how these main images really did shape new and fresh practices that brought renewal and made a difference, as followers of Jesus resisted some of the corruption of the institutions.

Diana_Butler_Bass_ap2_c.JPGHere is a short lecture where Diana tells of why we need to remember, and how knowing something about church history---viewed through lens of the "great command" of love, how grassroots folks humbly served, even when the religious institutions went wrong---is necessary and instructive for today. 

This is, obviously, a huge and significant paradigm shift in how we understand church history.  Bass obviously is a smart and knowing scholar, and this new way of construing how to do "church history" is itself a major thing (again, with an obvious nod to Zinn, RIP.)  This alternative approach---how a predominant metaphor shaped practices, both of worship and work, spirituality and service---and how it transformed real folk, is so interesting and often helpful!  Each metaphor of each era unlocks new vistas of faith and practice and while it is never bad to learn about the ideas of the past (the dogma and doctrine and church splits and innovations) it is also undeniable that this kind of study of church history can help us all live our faith more intentionally, bridging the gap between the field of church history and the daily discipleship with which we all struggle.  A People's History of Christianity is a gift, a scholarly romp through the ages that offers new insights, insights that can help us as we practice our own habits of subversive fidelity.  I think it would make a wonderful study for nearly any educated adult group.  I didn't get to talk about it much at Synod school, but if I had the opportunity, I'd have foisted it on everybody.  Maybe we'll sell a few more here, now.  I hope so.  It is truly a rare and unique book, written by a top scholar who uses her academic gifts (not to mention her notable eloquence and charm) to build up God's people.


In our headline, I mentioned two new approaches to the doing of church history.  Yup, believe it or not, we are pleased to announce another new resource that we can truly say "there is nothing out there like this."  This is a brilliant idea, and I'm amazed it hasn't been done before (or at least not done with this much elan.)  This new book I'm building up to announcing is by two Lancaster friends, prolific author from Lancaster Bible College, theologian and bluesman Stephen J. Nichols and graphic designer Ned Bustard (known in H&M circles as the head of Square Halo Books whose titles on faith and art are so widely respected.)  The unique approach? What innovation hasn't been done before?   A splendid kids book!

51azXRKnNxL._SL500_AA300_.jpgYes, we are thrilled to announce the brand, brand new The Church History ABCs: Augustine and Twenty-five other Heroes of Faith (Crossway; $15.99.) This really is an ABC book, with full color, good rhymes, 26 characters from church history described and illustrated with remarkable insight and accuracy (and a cool guide in the back, with more details for parents or older youth.)  I will tell you more about it soon, but just had to shout about it now.  If you care at all about church history, and know any readers under the age of 10, this is a must-have gift-book.  We are among the first to have it, although I'd seen the pages a while ago.  It is truly a classy hoot---with wit and clarity and innovative art, offering children a picture of great Christian leaders of the past (Protestant, mostly, but a few Roman Catholic women and men included and a few very early folks, too, like .) 

We will be having an book release party, getting autographs, having some out loud readings, refreshments and a few other nifty activities on July 7th (a Wednesday night.)  Watch out here (and on facebook and twitter) for more info.  Just know we are selling it soon, and if you want to wait until the 7th, we can even get 'em autographed for you.  The Church History ABCs?  It is at least the children's book of the year.  Maybe the book of the year.  C is for cheers.  B is for Buy it today!  I is for I Am Not Kidding.

Here is a great blog offer, a special deal for our on-line friends.  Let us know if we can ship you anything---it would be our great pleasure.  Thanks.

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June 28, 2010

A brand new Wendell Berry collection, newly re-issued older ones, too.

A few weeks ago, I posted a quote here at BookNotes by the Kentucky farmer, novelist, poet, and essayist, Wendell Berry.  Some very good friends used the quote in a wedding, and it was lovely to share the experience (and the quote) with our readers.

One of the things Wendell Berry emphasizes is human-scale living, a sense of place, being attentive to bio-regions, the lay of the land of the neighborhood.  His slow, sweet, well-rendered and much-loved novels all explore these themes, as do his clear, thoughtful essays.  This summer, as folks think about supporting farmer's markets, and as "localism" continues to get good press, as Christian people, even (like readers here) ponder the implications of Biblical teaching about stewardship for our daily economic practices, as we look for charming efforts at more sustainable neighborhood planning, and protest the cheapness of Wal-Mart, it is good to know we have another set of essays from our ally Mr. Berry. 

9781582436067.jpgWhat Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth is a new gathering of essays around this theme, published in paperback by the classy Counterpoint. Just as the eloquent and passionate food sociologist Michael Pollen introduced a gathering of Berry's writing on food, and wrote a lovely forward to it (Bringing It to the Table), here, we have a bit of a collaboration with the renowned professor of economics Herman E. Daly. Daly is known for ecological economics, for a steadfast career of fighting the idol of unbridled growth (indeed, one book is called Beyond Growth) and for his work, For the Common Good.  For those of us in the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition, it brings to mind the indispensable work of Bob Goudzewaard; younger emergent folk may think of Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren.  Jim Wallis' recent book on economics comes to mind.  The discussion about Christian principles and economic theory is on-going and complex.  Mr. Berry is very, very important in helping us understand some very basic things.

Here, Berry wisely confronts the financial structure of our modern society, and the impact of late capitalism on American culture.  A few of these articles were published elsewhere, and a few are new.  As the back cover puts it, two of the new pieces ("Money Versus Good" and "Faustian Economics") are "treatises of great alarm and courage." 

Berry is sometimes considered to be aligned with the left.  He has done civil disobediencewendell1.jpg against the pollution of the coal companies, has protested mountain top removal in his beloved Appalachia,  and while he has written about why he distrusts movements, he has been increasingly available to help environmental activists, like his good friend Bill McKibben.   Recently, Mr. Berry removed a historic archive of his letters and papers, early drafts of his novels and such, from their home, housed at the University of Kentucky, because the UK has taken large money from big coal companies, even naming buildings after them.  You can read about Berry's principled opposition to this, here.

As What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth will show, however, Berry is less a leftist or liberal than a Jeffersonian.  He is a serious Christian, as well, and his faith and theology shape his commitments to the small and local and caring, as it does his skepticism about bigness, growth,  and ideology (especially, the ideology of progress.) He has a piece here on Liberty Hyde Bailey, the Methodist rural theologian that is very good. (We have a great biography of him, and a paperback collection of his mid-20th century work, by the way.)  He has a piece called "The Work of Local Culture" and one entitled "Two Economies" that first appeared in 1988 which I have always loved.  It is good to see these pieces together with the new ones, compiled all around the themes of true and appropriate economics, written as only a practicing farmer could.  Highly recommended.

41cRlg21HUL._SL500_AA300_.jpgWe are also happy to announce that two old Berry collections that have been out of print for several years have been re-issued, with new covers.  I do not know why they went out of print previously, and one (What Are People For?) is truly great, fairly standard Berry fare---literature, farming, land use, religion, localism, eating well, and so forth. I have been sad that it has not been available for a while because I often suggest it as a good place to start to dip into Berry's essays.  This includes a few of his most significant essays ever, I think.  (You may know his one called "Word and Flesh" and his piece about not buying a computer, and his one about feminism, or "A Few Words for Edward Abbey", all here.)

9781582434865.jpgThe old one happily reissued, The Hidden Wound, is truly an extraordinary book, a bit rare, even for Berry.  This is his look at the quandary of race and racism in America.   Poet Hayden Carruth wrote in The Village Voice that Berry "has produced on of the most humane,
honest, liberating works of our time.  It is a beautiful book."  Larry McMurtry wrote that it is "A profound, passionate, crucial piece of writing...Few readers, and I think, no writers, will be able to read it without a small pulse of triumph...the statement it makes is intricate and beautiful, sad, but strong."

Much could be said about this brief book, but, as you might guess, Berry shows that our disconnect to land, and to place, leads to all sorts of barbaric stuff (like school busing), including this old wound of race.  He wrote much of this as a young man, in 1968.  He re-visted and expanded it in 1988.  I'm glad it is back in print with this lovely new cover.

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June 18, 2010


I lesson five, "Developing the Christian Mind," of the great, lucid, packed-with-content paul_the_apostle.jpg6-session DVD by John Stott called The Bible & the Christian Life he notes how the apostle Paul rented a public hall to offer lectures for about 5 hours a day, six days a week, for two years.  "Not a measly one hour lecture like I am doing here for you" he says, wryly.  And I am struck hard: my, how little time I spend studying God's Word.  How much I've accepted my intellectual state, such as it is, and not endeavored to seriously stretch myself.  How I've been seduced by the anti-intellectual ethos of our age.  How about you?

And so, here is a brief bibliography---not at all comprehensive, please note---of some mostly recent books that I think to be nearly essential for typical Bible students.  I hope you enjoy reading through it.  We would be pleased to serve you further if you have questions, and, of course, to sell some of these titles.  Thanks for your support.


bible_light3.jpgIt has been a while since I've described books about Biblical studies.  There are so very many in that specialized field---from the mundane to the brilliant, the weird to the very helpful---that I hardly know where to begin.  I've been keeping a stack of recent ones here that I've been meaning to describe, and it seems that a few continue to cry out to be announced.  

I taught an adult education elective at our local church (First Presbyterian, York, PA) and attempted, in just a few weeks, to cover the basics of how the Scriptures came to be written, how they were chosen, how to best understand the basic plot-line of the unfolding Story, and how, then, to understand and interpret texts within the context of the redemptive Story told.

You can imagine that I used the "four chapter story" overview of creation, fall, redemption and consummation?  Or the seven acts of the drama described by N.T. Wright?  Or the "c" words that Brian McLaren introduced---creation, crisis, covenant, conversation, Christ, church, etc?  These are all very helpful ways to help folks keep in mind the big picture, a key to proper and fruitful Bible reading that simply cannot be overstated.

So, here are a few I've found helpful or interesting in recent months.  I'll describe them, trying to highlight if they are complex and somewhat academic or if they are introductory or fairly basic.  As I say above, please know that this is in no way a comprehensive list of good recent books in our collection nor is it necessarily the essential top few.  I've listed some that are recent or helpful or important in some way, one's that I wanted you, our readers, to consider.  Welcome to another idiosyncratic Hearts & Minds handful.  Do let us know if you have any questions (or, if you have personal favorites, list them as a "comment" to the post---not so much on facebook which isn't permanent the way a "comment" would be.  Thanks.)


This Book We Call the Bible: A Study Guide for Adults James Davison (Geneva) $10.95  Jim Davison is a pastor in Pittsburgh and this is a fine overview of how the Bible came to be, how best to understand its authority, and how to meaningful read and live it.  Designed for mainline denominational adult ed classes, it is very, very useful.  We have others on how the Scriptures were compiled, on canon formation, or the ways in which God's book got written.  Everybody should read up on that from time to time.

The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $12.99  I wish I could say that few folks these days fall for the extremes approaches such as wooden unimaginative literalism (on one fundamentalist hand) and merely metaphoric, watered-down, this really isn't God's Word liberalism on the other.  Yet, with the popularity of deconstructing authors like Marcus Borg---whose recent novel I truly enjoyed and recommend, by the way, despite the inadequate views of the characters, and the rather squishy view in the new Brian McLaren book (another book worth studying with care) I think it is helpful to offer a resource that is robust, faithful, and yet is something other than the typical poles.  Of course the proof with Wright is in the reading of his good commentaries and scholarly texts (and his mid-range stuff, like the fantastic book called Following Jesus which I regularly recommend.)  Here, in this little one, he explains what we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God and in what way in functions to be authoritative in our faith communities and personal lives.  Agree fully with his formulation or not, it is a courageously moderate view, and well worth considering.

9780736927307_200px.jpgWhy The Bible Matters: Rediscovering Its Significance in an Age of Suspicion Mike Erre (Harvest House) $13.99  Erre wrote an okay book a while back called Jesus of Suburbia and then a good one called Why Guys Need God and an even better one called Death By Church.  He has gone beyond "hitting his stride" on this one, and has given us a master-piece, a great, great book---now my favorite introduction to the Bible.  I thought this might be mostly apologetics, insights about how to combat disbelief or to assure us of the reliability of the ancient texts.  His bibliography in the back (which is excellent) has plenty of those sorts of resources listed and categorized for beginners, moderate-level, or more advanced researchers. (Those who do ministry with skeptics might get the book just for this biblio.)

But, no, this is not what I thought, not exactly what the sub-title suggests---it is so much better! Why does the Bible matter?  It is God's Story.  Stories show us what the world is like, and the Bible tells the truest story of all.  By borrowing generously from Mike Goheen and Craig Bartholomew (The Drama of Scripture will be described---again---below) and N.T. Wright and Leslie Newbigin and Mike Witmer and others who explore the essential narrative nature of Scripture, Erre has brought to a very popular reading level, some of the best Biblical innovations of our generation.  That is, he has read pretty widely, kept an open mind, brought together insights and teaching points from these other great scholars, and put 'em together in one heck of a readable and fun and funny book.  I'm telling you: this is the best introduction to the Bible, the best overview, the finest handbook to go along with your reading, especially if you have a bit of a youngish reading style.  Mike Erre is a hipster guy, wayErre_3085_WPG.jpg cool, formerly working at some missional church plant and eager to communicate well to a new generation of  younger adults.  I love his stories, I love how he invites us into the Biblical story, how a Christian world-and-life view can shape who we are and how we live.  It is thorough enough to walk us through each phrase of the unfolding story, but it doesn't get bogged down in detail.  It serves its purpose beautifully.  This is it!

The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (FaithAlive) $11.95  Before I discovered the lively Erre book (above) I have insisted that this is the best one-volume, brief, readable, intro to the Bible I knew of.   I love these authors and their "four chapter" overview, their telling of redemptive work of God as a worldview shaping narrative.  This significantly edited and abridged and re-designed version of The Drama of Scripture is still the best quick overview out there.  Leslie Newbigin's fantastic little Walk Through the Bible captures the integrated nature of the one big story, but it is nearly too brief.  Walt Brueggemann's provocative The Bible Makes Sense is a personal fav, but I'm afraid is just a little off-putting to a few that don't always appreciate his metaphoric (and at times meteoric) rhetoric. We recommend it, but Bartholomew & Goheen are impeccable in their viewpoint and clarity.  So this is it-- readable, balanced, radical, integrated, profoundly insightful, only 175 pages of nice-size type, great discussion questions, and pull quotes. For the size and profundity, it simply cannot be beat.  

God's Shalom Project: An Engaging Look at the Bible's Sweeping Story Bernhard Ott (GoodBooks) $7.95  This book is a translation of a splendid little work by a German Mennonite, which uses the topic of shalom as the unifying theme of the redemptive work of God.  It is clear, almost too brief, and includes a few provocative and insights, nicely explained.  Three cheers for this plainspoken, clear-headed Anabaptist approach.  But here is what makes this a fabulous resource.  At the end of every chapter he has a device where he writes a letter to a young man and woman, answering questions they allegedly wrote after reading that chapter. Ott says in the forward that he is a teacher, and loves the give and take that comes in a lively classroom, so this attempt to duplicate at least a bit of that sort of dialogical education.  He obviously cares for and respects young Monica and Peter.  I think you will find those conversation pieces, answering key questions and drawing out the implications of each era of the Biblical story.  There are good discussion questions, too, making this quick read a great little adult study.
DVD  John Stott on The Bible and the Christian Life: Six Sessions on the Authority, Interpretation, and Use of Scripture John Stott  (Zondervan) $19.99  These are content rich, systematic and learned lectures on the authority of the Bible, the nature of the Bible's double authorship, principles for wise interpretation of the Bible, the problem of culture (the modern culture and the cultural setting of the Biblical texts), how the Scriptures informs the Christian mind, and how to make an impact on society.  These rich lectures, given live a few years ago at All Souls London, are very, very helpful for those who haven't studied this important sort of material.  Stott is one of our chief influences, a man of great evangelical passion--some say he was the "Billy Graham of England" in the middle and later parts of the 20th century---who is yet reasonable, thoughtful, a bit progressive on social issues, and insists of a Biblical worldview, faithful and fair.  Highly recommended.  (Each lecture is about 50 minutes, but there are stopping places if you want to discuss together.  I know one group that did this 6 week DVD in 12 weeks and still had plenty to discuss.)

0310865786.jpgThe Bible and the Land and Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller Gary M. Burge (Zondervan) both $14.99  My, my, what splendid paperback handbooks, with glossy paper and great full-color photographs, in this set called "Ancient Contexts, Ancient Faith."  This includes much more than standard introductory helps, maps, or inspiring Holy Land photography, though.  These great books truly unlock some of Burge's keen insights about Biblical land and culture and are really useful in opening up our understanding of the original meaning of both Older and Newer Testaments.  He has spent years learning about (and critiquing) one-sided Christian Zionism, and has a deep love for both Jews and Palestinians.  These two paperbacks would appeal to those who like the nuanced, passionate and somewhat innovative insights of the likes of Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann, or New Testament genius, Kenneth Bailey.  Very accessible, but really exciting, presented in a lovely visually appealing format.  (For a somewhat more scholarly overview of his view of how Christian Zionism misunderstands the role of land in the Bible, see his new Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology  [BakerAcademic; $21.99  or, for a more contemporary political and sociological plea, read the important Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians [Pilgrim Press; $23.00.] Burge is a New Testament professor at Wheaton College.

The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $16.99  I don't care what you think of the creative paraphrase The Message (although almost everybody that uses it likes much of it, even if one has quibbles about this portion or that, as I do.)  I think it should be evident that Peterson is one of the great theological writers of our time, and everyone should own a few of his important books (at least his devotional reflections on the Psalms, Long Obedience in the Same Direction and the powerful Where Your Treasure Is, for starters.) The Invitation is simply a handsome hardback collection of the introductions to each book of the Bible as they appear in The Message which are both literate and insightful.  These beautifully rendered set-ups to each and every book helps you see what will happen in that book of the Bible and how it fits in and adds to the ongoing narrative plot.  I have turned to this time and again, enjoyed and learned, have been blessed and challenged, even moved to tears.  I think this makes a great gift for nearly anyone who loves the Bible, or is learning to read the Bible for the first time, or who has made new commitments to enter into conversation with the text of the Scripture.  Nice.

god-stories.jpgGod*Stories: Explorations in the Gospel of God Andrew Wilson (Cook) $14.99  Not sure what so appealed to me to pick this up---the typewriter text on the cover, the allusive title, the big claim on the back which says "the gospel is bigger than you think."  Of course, I applaud any book that attempts to not only unlock the storied nature of the texts of Scripture, but intends to unite them, showing that they are not mere random episodes or quaint lessons or morality tales, especially if it well-written, clever, interesting, and invites us to sincere appropriation of the grace which is central to the gospel.  As this puts it "if we're not careful, we can take a story about Jesus rescuing creation and reduce it to a story about ourselves.  We can turn stories into statements, and poems into punchlines. We can miss the sweeping, triumphant, heartbreaking, and glorious stories that make up the gospel of God."  Wilson holds a degree in theology from Cambridge.  Love those Brits, who seem ahead of most American evangelicals.  Discover more online at www.GodStoriesBook.com.  Order it from us, of course.

The Bible as Improv: Seeing & Living the Script in New Ways Ron Martoia (Zondervan)0310287707.jpg $14.99  Let me make something clear: this recent talk about the Bible being a drama or Story or script, and that we engage and are shaped by it and, now, live out of it in improvisational ways, is not saying the Bible isn't true, or that it isn't God's Word, or that we don't have to obey it faithfully.  Although this "improv" approach to "the Script" in "new ways" may give some traditional thinkers the willies, rest assured.  This author is pushing us to be faithful, to live as the Spirit guides as we think through what it means to live out this stuff in real and fruitful ways.  "This book will change the way you read The Book" says Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church.   Well, maybe that sounds controversial, but I don't think it really is.  Surely we want to "get it right," right?  Shouldn't we want to repent of bad readings and unhelpful approaches and crass misunderstandings?  Reading such books that push us to be open to getting it right, or closer to right, should be received as the blessing they are intended to be.  I don't think this is that controversial, although missional guru Alan Hirsch suggests it may be: "Surely the Bible, of all books. out to stimulate serious dialogue.  If it doesn't we should wonder whether it is being read properly. Ron provides us with a completely unconventional and deliciously controversial look into how we interpret Scripture, or rather, how we allow it to interpret us."  I think Hirsch is correct in noting that this may be new---putting ourselves into the entire narrative sweep and regaining a big-picture view.  But it shouldn't be seen as controversial.  Just a whole lot of fun.  For a deeper, more complex call to the same sort of project, read my comments on another similar, meaty volume called Free for All below.

God's Big Picture: Tracing the Story Line of the Bible and Life's Big Questions: Six Major Themes Traced Through the Bible Vaughan Roberts (IVP) $13.00 each I like the way this first one uses a movie themed overview of the grand plot of the Bible.   It looks at the theme of the Kingdom of God by studying it as patterned, perished, promised; it moves to the partial kingdom, the prophesied, the proclaimed, and the perfected Kingdom.  What a great way to teach the whole big plot in a few simple studies. The second one explores these "big question" topics, tracing how the Bible presents foundational ideas. It explores "Who Rules the World" by way of Psalm 2; "Who Am I" by way of Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2; God's marriage (drawn mostly from Ezekiel 16 but actually is a summary of each of the "p" words in the Big Picture book), wealth and possessions (I Timothy 6:6-19); the Holy Spirit (a study of the role of the Spirit in John) and "God and the Nations" in Isaiah 66.  Both are slim, pocket paperbacks, really useful, clear summaries, and good discussion questions.

7427.jpgRuth: The Story of God's Unending Redemption Robert A. Wauzzinski (Dordt College Press) $14.00  You know of our desire to promote books about the big picture of Scripture, how to best understand the major chapters of the grand Story, our effort to help folks be faithful and fruitful with a wise and appropriate study of the whole counsel of God.  Most of the books I've mentioned above share the conviction that the authoritative Word is one major story, with a coherent, redemptive plot that shows God's promise and fulfillment.  To reject any significant tension between Old and New Testaments and to reject any reductionism or sentimentalism that fails to see the way in which God's faithfulness to creation is need of the hour.  I don't know who tends to drop these balls more often, mainline liberals or conservative independent folks, Catholics or Orthodox.  Nearly everyone needs a refresher, I'd say, on how best to read the Bible in coherent and realistic ways that point to God's reign coming and our role in the Story the Scripture tell.

One way to do this is to study a certain book of the Bible with a view not only of teaching that book of the Bible, but of modeling faithful and wise and fruitful engagement with the text.  I've reviewed this stunning new study at the blog, so won't say much more here, except that we commend it for anyone that wants to study Ruth, and who wants to see how best to study any given book of the Bible in its place within the bigger story of God's shalom project.  Wauzzinski knows this Bible book well---he's taught it in synagogues and prisons, in college Bible studies and congregations large and small. He's got a particular focus on the history of intellectual ideas, a degree in philosophical economics, and he is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) minister.  This book isn't a serious commentary, and it isn't a fill-in-the-blank inductive study.  It is short enough to be used as an adult elective or book group, and challenging enough that nearly anyone will learn new insights---about Ruth, about the Bible, and about how to read the Bible in a way to hear God's Word to us anew.  Highly recommended.

 Next up: a few more fascinating titles, some that are perhaps more serious, semi-scholarly, provocative and important.  Do check back.  Thanks.