About October 2010

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

September 2010 is the previous archive.

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October 2010 Archives

October 6, 2010

A fantastic new survey of art history (and more) by Nancy Pearcey: Saving Leonardo

Every now and then my hands just shake when I open a new book. I've been waiting for it and am like a kid at Christmas.  Sometimes, the ga-ga-ga is worth it.  This was one of those times.  I was beside myself with two great new books, with strong content, with vivid, generous full-color artwork though-out.  These two new art-themed books are not the kind that are in one of my favorite categories---the interface of faith and the arts, nurturing a Christian aesthetic, thinking about the creative process for people of faith, for artists and their fans.  No, both of these are something else, although both are informed by the sort of wholistic Christian worldview that affirms a Godly perspective on all things aesthetic.  Both quote Calvin Seerveld, Mako Fujimura and the like.  But, again, they aren't just for artists or their patrons.  I'm tellin' ya: these books are for you. And both are amazing, and will be important in your life.

And they are very, very different, in style, content, and intent.  I will tell you about one today, and celebrate the other in a day or so.   First, the new Nancy Pearcey.  

Saving Leonardo amazon1.jpg
Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey (B&H Books; $26.99) is stunning on several levels.  First, she is just so darn smart; she really knows a lot and has the ability to offer tons of important information, collating books and stories and theological ideas and historical movements all so very casually.   I recall driving Nancy to her room at a nearby college after a long day of speaking engagements a few years ago and brainstorming with her about this very project.  Could she, she wondered, develop the history of ideas, especially the "freedom" ideologies, that trickled down in reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, through romanticism and into contemporary music and pop culture?  Could she do this through a study of contemporary art?  Could there be a fresh take on cultural criticism, worldview formation, intellectual history and popular discernment about "the spirits of the age" by way of what is sometimes called "art history"? Could she argue that the lack of morals prevalent in our fragmented culture can be traced to ideas that come to us through the arts?  Why of course she could---we had been talking about these things that very day and night!   She's very sharp, diligent, discerning.  I've been waiting for this ever since.

Nancy is a wide, wide reader, a studious and thorough thinker, and an energetic virtuoso at connecting the proverbial dots.  And she is a glad popularizer.  I so value those who can be both erudite and plainspoken, who can talk about medieval string quartets, 20th century Marxism, and popular, silly cartoon strips.  I love this kind of a book, thoughtful and yet very enjoyable.

Having been influenced at a young age by the multi-talented Dutch theologian, philosopher, art
Nancy Pearcey Saving Leonardo Google for Blog 1.jpg
critic and jazz enthusiast Hans Rookmaaker---by way of a visit to L'Abri in Switzerland, the learning community for 60s bohemians and seekers led by Francis and Edith Schaeffer---Nancy understood clearly that ideas have consequences, that they "grow legs" and that cultural attitudes and artifacts are illustrations of the prevailing ideologies and ideas.  Some ideas get traction within a culture and that these "ivory tower" ideas (that have trickled down to the person in the street through universities and mass media) have to be discussed in ways that ordinary people can understand and discern.  She is a scholar and philosopher, but she is, like Schaeffer, a good listener and a lover of conversation.  In a way, she is at heart an evangelist.  She wants folks to grapple with ideas and their consequences, to see God amidst the struggles of movements and trends, books and artworks.  She wants folks to be faithful in the real world.  She wants people to be aware of the reasons for our ways of being, the nature of our social habits and values, and wants Christians (and others) to be able to hold these cultural customs up to the Light, and resist, if necessary. 

To do this---to be the sons and daughter of Issachar from I Chronicles 12:23 who "understood the times and new what God's people should do"---people simply have to know a bit about where ideas come from. How we got were we are. What some call the geneology of ideas.  And a bit about how and why some ideas caught on and became common-place.

And, of course, sets of assumptions, presuppositions and ideas don't just come directly to us from dusty philosophy texts or a tidy collection of abstract propositions about which we can calmly just agree or not.  No, often ideas come along like baggage, and, in baggage,  hidden in a film character or presumed in a news broadcast, or touted in the quick story of a TV ad.  Culture of all sorts---from Fox News to the latest show at the MoMA, from art house movies to the latest video game--- embodies, carries, reflects and helps shape the worldview and lifestylings of the culture. 

In the very first chapter, Pearcey has an epigram, a famous line from the writer, Proust.  "Through
art we can know another's view of the universe."  And, then, the chapter title: "Are You An Easy Mark?"  Hmmm. And the first sentences:  "Hank the Cowdog is a humorous, homespun yarn for kids.  Or it was, until the forces of political correctness got a hold of it."  She then tells the story of stealth secularism at the hands of the CBS "Storybreak" program and their treatment of the beloved John Erickson characters.  She makes her point early on that ideas are shaping the arts and it isn't always good.

The new shift in the ethos and nature of these simple Hank stories demanded by the CBS producers is just one of hundreds of examples that Pearcey offers, and her desire to communicate well with ordinary folks is well accomplished.  Some of her stories are about just such very popular art---TV, cartoons, movies, fashion, rock music.  But the bulk of the book is, in fact, a large and powerful and exciting history lesson in the shifts away from meaning, dipping in to matters as diverse as bio-ethics and modern art.  (I'd say she almost covers too much!) But it is mostly about modern art.

The subtitle is important to understand her project and intent (and why she started with how CBS changed the old Cowdog stories: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.  Whew.  Yep, she is mad about some stuff, greatly concerned, and channeling the often-misunderstood thesis of Hans Rookmaaker, from his controversial Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, a vivid study he wrote in the 70s (which is still in print; see the cover, a bit below.) Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist... is more sprawling, interesting, practical, and in some ways indicting, than that seminal work.  From Reformed philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, who influenced Schaeffer and Rookmaaker, to her own ample study in the history and philosophy of science and culture, Ms. Pearcey, sees two main streams of thought coming out of the idolatrous French Revolution and its Enlightenment.  This is a common story for many, and it could be nuanced endlessly, but as she reminds us, some have made an idol out of Reason and thinking, while others in reaction made an idol out of Emotion and feeling.  Some might say that the one tradition yielded a fetish for control, mechanisms, systems, science and, well, the military industrial complex.  The other tradition led to the counterculture with its fetish for freedom, emoting, disruption, anarchy,  modern art, and well, the whole messed up free-sex/revolution that yielded drugs, promiscuity, and Manson.  If one is the imperialism of modernity and the religion of technology, the other is the washout of post-modernity and the spirit of the inner vibe.

Sure, these are caricatures---and, to be clear, these are my descriptions, not Pearcey's, who has over 300 pages and hundreds of illustrative pictures to make her reasoned points with more academic precision and historical documentation.  Still, these two bad sides of the coin are the fruits of the secular Enlightenment and what some call "the modern project"---a separation of mind and heart, a disintegration in our knowing, rooted in the hard rationalism of that period.  It seems to me that Pearcey's former books---The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, a co-authored book with Charles Colson called How Now Shall We Live and her remarkable and much-discussed Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity seemed to interact with and deconstruct the Enlightenment stream that lead to scientism, a philosophy of science under-girded by the secular philosophy of naturalism.  She was taking on rationalism, and how it eroded meaning, truth, and morals.  She called for a whole life faith--total truth, in every zone of life--and was thereby resisting the same sorts of things that Lewis fought in, say, The Abolition of Man.

Here she comes back, with the same passions and the same analysis: we are in trouble when we buy into--as the church largely has, from the pagan Greeks on, right through the Enlightenment and into postmodernism---a split level view of life, a dualism, reducing life to either "all head" or "all heart."  When we separate facts and values in a neat dichotomy (and she offers amazing quotes where folks say this, that we find scientific truth in one certain realm and values in a less sure realm) we are---regardless of what side of the dichotomy we favor---dividing up life in ways that are not Biblical and not sustainable.  We lose our very humanity when we do this.  This colorful romp through modern art history, paintings, sculpture, architecture, furniture-making, dance, novels, film, theater, and music is not only colorful and fun, my friends, it is deadly serious. This is, Pearcey insists, life and death stuff.  Again, catch the full title as it is her cri du coeur in a nutshell: Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.  Note the cover illustrations: from DaVinci's most famous Lisa to an abstract bit of cubism, to Pulp Fiction.  Wow.  Wow.

A reviewer more knowledgeable and careful than I could offer some critical feedback on her
evaluation of this artist or that movement, that philosophical assumption or this ethical position and whether it really is found in, say, Gauguin or Mark Rothko or the stunning outdoor art of Christo.  Some of the claims she makes and interpretations may be a stretch, but--as a lay person who has pondered much of this for most of my adult life---I think she is usually quite insightful and informed and shows much understanding.  Maybe she could be a bit more generous in her critique, maybe she overstates a bit.  Still, I suspect that some folks will criticize her analysis just because they don't like the direction of her critique. Or some just find it tacky to say "the emperor has no clothes" as if there is some virtue in covering up the dangerous ideas some of these esteemed artists and writers have had.

Frankly, though, some of what she says about many painters and artists is well-known: we have the quotes of the artists, the descriptions of their worldviews, the vivid prose they wrote. Why pretend it isn't so?  We don't have to guess what Jack London thought about God and nature and meaning, or Stephen Crane, say; we can enjoy Woody Allen's films and still express dismay about his sad lack of convictions.  It isn't helpful to dodge the implications of bad ideas even if the artworks that carry them are breath-taking.  Non-linear novels (from Faulkner to Ulysses to Kafa, say) are created that way, and intend something (right?) and the views of life that are embedded in those narratives simply cannot be ignored.  Walter Gropius and his Bauhaus movement created buildings and forged a built environment that was barbaric, and there are reasons for that.  It is, it seems to me, nearly the old "elephant in the living room" to not talk about the religion, irreligion, faith or misplaced ideologies, the ideas and views, the virtue or perversity of artists.  Nancy would say, I am sure, that it is usually actually honoring to the artist to take his or her work and worldviews seriously.  Her goal is not to condemn art, let alone say that modern art is somehow bad, by naming the ideological stories that surround the work.  (In fact, she notes, through God's common grace, many of artists with the worst worldviews are the very best at their craft and skill.  "Most artists vision is better than their worldviews" she notes, explaining that "they are sensitive to dimensions of reality that go beyond what is strictly permitted within the cramped categories of their secular worldviews."  Yes, these artists were often quite good, and as persons made in the image of God, they can be appreciated; they are to be cared for, never disrespected.  So, again, "the call to resist" isn't to say we cannot appreciate these significant pieces---just looking at the many art pieces she reproduces on the glossy pages of this handsome volume is a treat, more, a feast!---but it is to say that we are on dangerous ground if we do not learn to discern the ways these artifacts shape us. And be attentive.  In an increasingly visual world, it is my view that this discipline of thinking critically about culture and the arts in particular, is more important than ever.  Saving Leonardo, therefore, is very, very valuable, an ally of your fidelity to God as you walk through this world.

So, she follows Schaeffer's and Rookmaaker's (Dooyeweerdian-inspired) evaluation of the way in which cultures are shaped by loyalty to either Enlightenment rationalism or romanticism, head or heart, control or freedom, facts or values.  These philosophers who name and explain these false dichotomies only come up a time or two, in her very good footnotes, though, and her incisive prose helps us cut to the chase.  If one isn't schooled in the history of ideas, this book will surely help, and I think would be a very important resource for you---a crash course, if you will, rooted in a solid Christian perspective.  It is a great example of "taking every thought captive" as the Bible commands, learning to evaluate ideas (whether spoken directly by a philosopher, or indirectly in an artwork created by an artist influenced by that philosopher.)  You will know more about your world after having spend a few weeks with this lavish book, and you will be better for it.

 Even if one does have a bit of a liberal arts education, and knows a bit about the roots of Western culture, I am confident that her way of "seeing" various works will be illuminating, enjoyable, even exciting as the dots are connected and you have the joy of an aha insight. She handles lots of work in short order, keeping the book moving along, dipping in here and there, with pithy insights and helpful illustrations, always placing things in her basic narrative of how Western culture has developed along the lines of the dualisms between facts and values (and hence, the consequential drift towards secularization, meaninglessness, and human harm.)  She covers all sorts of things, such as, say, the differences between the icons of the Byzantine world and the religious art of the Middle Ages and how the reformation allowed a new vision of God's world: portraits, landscapes, warm paintings of daily life, such as the luminous work by Vermeer and the nearly sacred view of home life and ordinary work.  She explains why the lovely work of French impressionism was so important (who knew?) and how a Christian view
of life was eroded by certain shifts in that period. She uses lively captions for her quick teachings about this kind of thing.  For instance, there is "DaVinci versus Degas."  Or, she shows, for instance, the rise of the 19th century bohemian movement ("Artists go slumming" with reproductions of the transgressive Toulouse-Lautrec,)   She explains the view of brute facts portrayed in A Farewell to Arms or the way "Duchamp throws it in our face" with his anti-art urinal installations, or how modern films like I (Heart) Huckabees are contemporary lessons in postmodern existentialism.  Her quick run-down of films is illustrative (if way too brief, and perhaps overly eager to prove her point) and her survey of 20th century novels is fantastic (again, if a bit too succinct.)  Her resistance to what she calls "Christian sentimentalism" is powerful as she invites us to a robust effort to "re-moralize" our culture.

She ends with the following paragraphs, citing a favorite quote of Francis Schaeffer, "as surprising today as it was back in 1974."

One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative.
Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary."  The technical meaning of conservative is to conserve the status quo.  But "we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo."  We are called to revolt against the false idols and the power they exert over our minds and hearts. Christian should be on the front lines fighting to liberate society from its captivity to secular worldviews.

And who is better equipped than artists to communicate that liberating message---to jar the church out of its complacency, tear away the veil of religious euphemism, expose hypocrisy and self-righteousness, and create works that reveal the breath-taking beauty of salvation?

Like Bach, today's artists could well inspire a spiritual revival, and in turn spark a global cultural revolution.

I am not alone in hoping this book is widely read.  Leland Ryken calls her "unsurpassed" and says "the magic continues with this book."  J.P. Moreland calls it "a tour de force." 

Makoto Fujimura, the New York wonder-kid doing abstract art in Manhattan, founder of the International Arts Movement (IAM) and art critic himself writes of it,

A feast for the mind and for the eye.  Nancy Pearcey not only is a trustworthy guide for a nuanced discussion on the relationship between culture and the gospel, but she is a gifted teacher as well...Saving Leonardo is a rare precious gift to the churches and universities alike.
Or, get this, from worldview guru and thoughtful writer, James Sire:

Nancy Pearcey has done it again and better than ever.  She has taken the complex sophistication of the best cultural analysis and laid it out for any person to grasp, enjoy and use to live out their daily lives honoring Christ.  An astounding accomplishment.
It is my sense that there will be much discussion about this, it will be criticized in some quarters and there should be important dialogues about it. Kudos to the publisher for the good design, serious paper and generous art reproductions (I can't imagine the elves working behind the scene to get this produced.)  It is a truly gorgeous book.   Its main concerns are urgent, and the brilliant ways in which she uses the flow of ideas from the secularizing forces of the Enlightenment through the romantics--so important nowadays among artsy youth culture---and into the postmodern era, is just so very helpful.  Agree or not with her full approach or any particular detail, this is a must-read.  Don't delay. Start a book group, a study club or class.  We have it a $5.00 off, but could offer a greater discount for classes.  Thanks!

Saving Leonardo: A Call To Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning
Nancy Pearcey (B&H Books) regularly $26.99  Now on sale for $21.99.  Call or order on line.

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October 8, 2010

An artful conversation with Scripture through Image and Word: Dwelling with Philippians

I hope you saw our last review, a discussion about how author and cultural critic Nancy Pearcey traces significant ideas from philosophers and the ivory towers down to street level, often carried most effectively through the arts. From the romantic reaction to the literalist philosphy of Enlightenment rationalism, through a hugely influential dichotomy that separates facts and values, we can see---in the story of modern and contemporary art---how our cultural leaders are shaping a society that increasingly toys with meaninglessness.  As the hard-headed rationalists are unable to measure and quantify goodness or beauty and the passionate romantics can't say much of anything that is true,  except to cry out in heart-felt protest, the swing and sway of the pendulum carries on.  The culture wars which are raging, the emergent conversation in our post-evangelical churches, and the ways in which hip, pop culture has influenced just about everything these days, are all aspects of this grand story that she narrates, the rise and fall of humane things, told in living color.  Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals and Meaning (B+H Publishing) is related in many ways to her much-discussed previous best-seller,
Total Truth and her call to help Christians think faithfully about our world is sensible and informative.  Her passion to locate the loss of goodness (in all of life, but seen clearly in the arts) may be a bit strident at times and her critique may seem reductionistic to those who know the complex details of intellectual history.  Still, as I noted, she is amazingly well-read, has cared about and thought hard about this stuff for a life-time (she spent time with art historian Hans Rookmaaker, one of Francis Schaeffer's good mentors, in her young adulthood.)  Reading this book is a glorious learning experience, a gift of thoughtful exploration of tons of cultural artifacts, from plays to novels, architecture to recent films.  Saving Leonardo is a book to enjoy, well-made with great color reproduction, showing hundreds of paintings, photographs, book covers, movie posters and the like.  We are glad to feature a book of uniquely Christian art criticism, and trust you will understand how special a work like this is.  Perhaps you know someone to whom you could forward our review?

As the outset of that BookNotes review I explained that two books arrived last week that were breath-taking in their use of and discussion of the arts. Pearcey, of course, is a study of the arts, especially from the Romantic period on into contemporary abstraction and pop art.  It is beautiful to behold as it should be because it is discussing the painting and pictures and the worldviews and assumptions they carry and promote.  It is artfully done but it is about the arts.

Another new book isn't about the arts, but is itself a "use of" the arts.  I use the phrase with some reluctance since paintings are not created, usually, to be "used" and they are not firstly mere illustration. (Unless, of course, they are illustration, and that is another whole art form itself, illustration.) Still, we all know---from good PowerPoint to home decor to book or CD covers to the best websites---that paintings and pictures can be used, appropriated, from the gallery or studio and put into the service of the aesthetic dimension of everyday life.  A character in Chip Kidd's novel The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters who is in an art class carelessly discards the wrapper of a stick of gum and the incredulous design prof sends him on a mission to learn who and under what circumstances the graphic design was created; soon, the student becomes enthralled with design, seeing useful art everywhere. (And this novel came out, I might add, before Mad Men! In the wild sequel, The Learners, by the way, the young student, his life transformed by graphics, sets out to land a job at the very agency where the said gum package and logo were designed.)

Indeed, attention to the artfulness of everyday life is something Calvin Seerveld commends in one of my all time top favorite books, Rainbows for the Fallen World. This help in seeing a Biblical charter for opening up the "suggestion-rich" allusive side of life, the aesthetic, makes this such a very rich book, especially for those of us not given the vocation of being actual artists.  There is, in his Biblically-saturated worldview, an aesthetic aspect or dimension to all of life.  Sometimes it is more hidden---the nuance of a joke, the shade of a scarf, the design in an ad---and sometimes it is more primary (as in a painting or sculpture.)

But what happens when one takes a painting or other intentionally designed piece of artwork and juxtapositions it alongside a Biblical text?  What happens when we use images to exegete words?  Well, hold your horses if you sense this to be a troubling line of thought.  The old monks did this centuries ago, and we today cherish their illuminated manuscripts.  You may have even heard that to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the KJV Bible, abstract painter Makoto Fujimura is releasing next season a ground-breaking bit of modern art illumination of the gospels in the ESV. (Here is Mako's press release.) Congratulations to Crossway for releasing it early next year.  We will have it and will of course be discussing it here.  Also, for several years now, some world-class calligraphers have been slowly doing a vivid, hand-written, illuminated version of the entire Bible, known now as the St. John's Bible.  Again, we have the over-sized, coffee-table sized books that have been released. Visit their fantastic website, here. So using the arts to magnify the Biblical text is nothing new or unusual.

But taking (known and not so well known) paintings, graphics and photographs and setting them alongside poems, praise choruses from the ages, ancient and modern Scripture commentary, well, this is more than a pastiche or hodgepodge or inspiration gift book.  This is a coherent, thoughtful, multi-sensory experience of the Bible.  Welcome to the one-of-a-kind brilliant and beautiful Dwelling with Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word (Eerdmans; $21.00.)  This is a Bible commentary project co-funded, in part, by Calvin College and Hope College (liberal arts schools in the Reformed tradition, sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, respectively.)  It is edited by a great team of folks, Elizabeth Steele Halstead, Paul Detterman, Joyce Borger (no relation), and John D. Witvliet.  That is sells for just $21---and we are able to mark it down a bit (as you can see below)---makes it a generous gift to the book-buying world, a gift we are eager to share with many.  This, my friends, is one of the most exceptional books we've seen in our tenure as booksellers.  Praise the Lord and thanks to everybody involved.

The commentary (the written part, that is, since the visual art is itself a participant in the exegetical and interpretive conversation) is fairly standard stuff.  Moderate, ecumenical, insightful, practical.  How can it not be---the joy of Philippians and the call to faith and obedience is pretty straightforward, and beloved. There are excerpts of old sermons, pull quotes from famous authors (from Polycarp to Richard Stibbes to Jane Parker Huber to Eugene Peterson and more), and some very solid inspiration to be found as they disclose the meaning of the passages, paragraph by paragraph by paragraph.  And sometimes line by line, word by word.  But the way this comes to use--enhanced by the artwork, paired with poems, linked to worship-related ideas---allows for, indeed, almost demands, a slower, meditative, attentive encounter.  This notion of slower "dwelling" with the text comes up in all back cover reviews. Consider carefully what these fine folks say about the idea for this, and the excellent way it has been done.

Dorothy C. Bass
"In this beautiful book, a vast communion of artists, theologians, historians, poets, and worshipers surrounds one letter from the Apostle Paul. Rich selections from the work of these witnesses provide varied opportunities for both newcomers and lifelong Bible readers to envision and encounter God's Word in fresh ways. When received with attention and pondered in prayer, the resources gathered here can expand imagination, deepen discernment, and encourage faithful living."

Eugene H. Peterson
"American Christians are in too much of a hurry. We miss out on most of what is right in front of us. When this 'most' is in the Bible, our faith and obedience and prayer are impoverished. This 'conversation' with Philippians slows us down to a stroll so we can take it all in -- God's word not as instruction but as companion. All of us need this."

Richard Mouw
"This wonderful commentary makes Philippians come alive in new ways. The combination of rich visual experience with creative written commentary has made me a more engaged biblical 'dweller'!"

Jeremy Begbie
"This beautifully produced book, through its skillful interweaving of images and texts, allows the Apostle Paul to speak in fresh and unexpected ways. A striking and original initiative."

William Dyrness
"Not much in our frazzled life encourages us to slow down and savor God's presence in Scripture. The images, prayers, and reflections in this beautiful book work this miracle. Dwelling with Philippians is slow food for the spirit! Keep it beside you, pray with it, give it to your friends, your family -- and especially to your pastor!"



From a Taize prayer to a Caravaggio painting, from John Wesley hymn lyrics to Van Gogh and Vermeer, from a full page reproduction of a Watanabe Sado (his popular Last Supper) to the text of Michael Kelly Blanchard's folksong Be Ye Glad, this is an amazing, enriching, stupendous, collection of artistry, employed to deepen our dwelling in the Holy Word of God.   Some of this is classically Christian (Jan van Eyck's The Adoration of the Lamb, a detail from his Ghent Altarpiece from 1432) while some is nearly pagan (Matisse's 1909 Dance 1 was unusually striking next to one of the Olney Hymns of John Newton, and a great quote from Lesslie Newbigin.)  Not only is it ancient and contemporary, it is delightfully multi-ethnic.  There is work by He Qi (whose work you may have seen on book covers, actually) and quotes from Cyril of Jerusalem and reproductions of Russian iconography. The breadth of the contributors is just dazzling.

A few of these pieces, like the nude Matisse dancers, are very well known and easily recognized, but related to the Bible text so clearly---again, these aren't just ornamentation, but truly part of, an integral part of, the commentary--- they were stunning.  For instance, several famous pictures of the crucifixion help us meditate on Philippians 2:6-8 and I "saw" them more truly perhaps than I ever did before: Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Mathias Gruenwald, contemporary artists such as Sandra Bowden and Makoto Fujimuro, and Anneke Kaai.

I could go on, naming pairings of poems and paintings and Philippians passages.  There is some heavy stuff here, lots of other Bible texts,  a bit of artistic whimsy (a very playful Norman Rockwell "speaks a thousand words") and a good blend of realistic and abstract styles.  There is an index of artwork, an index of themes, lists of quotations and useful reflection questions.  The questions could be used quite quietly in your own lectio divino or they could form the basis for wonderful conversation in a small group Bible study or formational Sunday school class.

Much of the impetus for this project came from the increasingly essential one-stop on-line
resource, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  (Two of the editors are afflliated with the Institute; Ms Halstead--herself an artist whose work in included---and John Witvliet, their director.) Joyce Borger also is in Grand Rapids, the worship and music editor for Faith Alive, a curriculum resource of the CRC.  She also edited Reformed Worship.  Paul Detterman is executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal, a church musician, and an ordained PC(USA) clergyman. (Here is a list of books that also are published under the auspices of the Institue on the relationship of the arts, theology and worship. We stock them all.) I wonder if those that came up with this idea for a book were inspired by the old 3-volume Pilgrim Press Imaging The Word series, which collected visual art to coincide with the Revised Common Lectionary. Those that appreciated that set will love this!   

So, slow down, open your heart and mind to the peace of Christ (as our store's namesake in Philippians 4:7 has it) and hear his Word afresh.  Understand it better, and allow it to shape you in deep, vital ways.  What a joy.  What an opportunity.  This would make a great resource for any faith community, for your personal Bible study or your congregation.  Join on on-going conversation about this at www.calvin.edu/worship/philippians.   

It may seem a bit anti-climatic since I am so very stirred to tell you about Dwelling with Philippians but there is yet another art related Biblical resource we should mention. I mentioned a week or so ago that evangelical publishers are doing some fresh new things, and it is a good time for religious publishing.  Well read on---this is certainly an example!

Standard Publishing has released three small group Bible studies that are reflections on artwork under the series title Through Artists' Eyes.  Inspired perhaps by Henri Nouwen's important Return of the Prodigal Son, a book-length study of the famous Rembrant painting and the Biblical parable, these three new studies look at six art works, invite conversations about them, and then refer the reader to appropriate Biblical passages that relate to the art productions. 

Each of the three studies focuses on a particular medium. One  reproduces exquisite stained glass and is called God's Word Through Glass while another studies Bible-inspired sculptures, called God's Word in Stone.  A third looks at six famous religious paintings and is called, of course, God's Word on Canvas.

It is just fabulous the way these inductive studies invite observation and interaction with the art, allowing for good conversations--- do you notice a certain tilt of the head, a particular slant of light, this tone or color or shape? What does it mean? Can it shed light on the Bible passage?  Why these enduring artworks were made, how they were giving expression to a Biblical character or text, and how we can use them in our own Bible study is something to discover as you use these Through Artists' Eyes studies.  I don't know if other stores are promoting these, but I have a hunch the publisher took a bit of a risk to produce these.  Let's "vote" in the marketplace and get these resources known and used!  Thanks to Standard Publishing for doing art-enhanced Bible study---three cheers, for sure!

The art is reproduced on glossy paper in full color, by the way, and they are very reasonably priced at only $7.99 each, making them even less expensive than some other small group Bible study guides.  We think they are very nicely done.  And they just might accomplish something so very, very important: helping us see and hear God's Word.  And, secondarily, it might help give us an opportunity to invite artists into Bible study that honors their interest in classic artistic work.  Highly recommended.  Do let us know if you have any interesting stories of their use, or what you think.  Thanks.

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October 20, 2010

The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America

We've been on the road a lot these past few weeks, and even now am needing to rush---the over-packed book van is motoring through the night to Florida (thanks to our son's willingness to drive at odd hours and sleep in said book van) as it makes its way to a national Christian Legal Society (CLS) conference.  Yes, we are flying down to meet the books, and set up a huge display for this prestigious group of attorneys, judges, law school professors and over a hundred law students. CLS allows us to serve them and their participants--daunting as it is for us, talking about how our books might help them deepen their vocations.  Main speakers this year include some legal philosophers, an urban activist, and the popular brainy theological writer, Wayne Grudem. 

We love helping folks find books to help them with their discipleship and we've been a number of places lately---helping a UCC prayer retreat, working our regular gig at the Wee Kirk (Scottish for "small church") conference, and today some of our staff are with homiletics prof Tom Long.  Etc.

Yet, one of our most fulfilling events was last weekend, where I got to stand up in front of a hundred college students, professors, grad students and colleagues in campus ministry and talk about books that fit their topic, Faith 4 Thought.  We sold apologetics, C.S.Lewis, books on vocation and calling, resources to help in the practices of on-going, faithful living.  These folks were excited, and the workshop I did (drawing on some of the recent books on cultural engagement) reminded me of how important it is to help equip folks to be "in but not of" the world, as transformed followers of the true King.  There are serious hurdles to be a Christian in the modern university and having evangelical faculty and Christian books there for them was more helpful then you can imagine.
One of the most popular books there was the brand spanking new The Next Christians: How a New Generation if Restoring Christianity by Gabe Lyons (Doubleday) $19.99 (see sale price below.)  Gabe is the popular author and speaker who you may know from the groundbreaking book UnChristian.  In that book, he and his co-author and researcher David Kinnaman, documented the disinterest and frustration and sometimes hostility among young adults to the Christian faith.  The book was a thrill to read, though, as they replied to the criticisms of the young adults with testimonies and stories of innovative, faithful folks who are---through God's grace---trying to "get it right."  That is, the standard assumptions "outsiders" have are largely wrong.

The Next Christians carries the "answers" and hope of that book and, as they say, "runs with it."  And is Gabe the right man for this job!  He has stories and more stories, used effectively as a clear and passionate and honest writer.  Through-out this inspiring and persuasive book, we hear about younger adults who are engaged in their world in creative ways, bringing helpful faith-based insights to bear on huge social problems (from racism, urban poverty, and the nuclear arms race) to ways in which young professionals can witness for Christ in low-key, effective, and natural ways, especially within their own spheres of influences.

It should come as no surprise that Mr. Lyons explains that the way to invite folks into a life of  discipleship is to make sure we live and tell the whole Biblical story in a coherent way.  That is, the most precise theological description of the gospel is not that we are sinners in need of salvation.  While it is surely true that we are rebels against God and for His own sake He loves us anyway, the whole drama makes sense when we see the narrative shape of the Bible itself: there are four chapters (at least!) to the history of redemption.  Say it with me, BookNotes readers: creation, fall, redemption, consummation.  Praise be to God, Christ is, as promised, "making all things new" healing his good but fallen world.  Lyon's helps us understand, live, and tell the story in ways that more than just "getting a ticket to heaven" and are old and yet fresh, faithful and interesting, wholistic and relevant.  He is convinced that this full-on, robust view of faith is what young adults long for, and he is right.  And, it is what the Bible demands.

Well.  Seeing the reign of God breaking into history--this good world gone bad being healed by a restoring King---allows us to make sense of things, and draw natural connections between ordinary faith, cultural renewal, social action, and a daily passion for work, career, and our non-work callings as well.   This new generation of followers of Christ get all this and are considerably less interested in "going to heaven" as they are being truthful and good in life, knowing they are made in God's image, deeply flawed, but being healed and transformed.

Knowing that I would agree with so much of The Next Christians made me eager to read it,lyonsg.jpg and I was confident I would enjoy it, learn a bit, and mostly be excited about trying to promote it.  That is how a bookseller like me, anyway, thinks about books: who needs it, how will it advance God's cause, can we with integrity get behind it, will it be useful?  Yeah, I'll like it, but I have so many books to sell, so many good ones these days about these very themes.  I like Gabe a lot, respect his amazing work with the Q conferences (we promoted his Q Society Room DVDs the day they came out a half year ago) and have many young adult friends who I want to tell about this book.

I was happily surprised just how much I learned, just how much I enjoyed, just how much I truly am impressed with this fine, important work.  It isn't just a good book, it is a great book.  He has important ideas, good documentation, tons of illustrative stories, and it moves logically from one section to the next. 

The first half of Lyon's Next Christians is how the world is changing, especially explaining how younger Christian related to the secularization process, whether the loss of a "Christian America" is a tragedy or opportunity.  The first chapter is "The New Normal" and he moves to how this new social context presents us with a way to see ourselves not as hand-wringers, but as those yearning for restoration---not of some nostalgic past (that may or may not have been a reality, in any case) but for the ways God intended our planet to work.  This is a large thesis  (and it is something to argue a bit about if you are so inclined) of the book, that the younger generations are emerging into their adulthood with a hope for being agents of transformation.  They want to build a new culture, contribute and serve.  I hope he is right.

The second large portion of the book explains who these "restorers" are.  He breaks his chapters down into a fascinating and hopeful way to relate to our distorted and idolatrous culture.  The new sorts of young adults can be described in these ways, and he offers great illustrations and examples.  They are:

Provoked, not offended.
Creators, not critics.
Called, not employed.
Grounded, not distracted.
In Community, not alone.
Countercultural, not "relevant."

I was going to lift inspiring quotes to share, and unpack a bit more about this next great shift he is seeing, announcing and helping to create.  But you know that plane I have to catch?  I've got to go.  And I'm a middle-fifty-something, off to fan the flames of enthusiasm for those in the legal profession to read widely, think deeply, in ways that are consistent with the description Gabe Lyons gives of the emerging generation.  And perhaps that one small beef I have with the book: I am not so sure his stats are right about the ways in which this "new generation" is restoring the faith.  Some are.  But I also know old guys and mature women who have been laboring in this grand way for years.  And I know some who are repenting of their silliness, dropping out of the culture wars, and getting busy loving locally, being involved, discovering new avenues of service and hope.  Yep, this full gospel of being God's "salt and light" in a decaying world, happy to be human, eager to be transforming, rejecting the old "liberal vs conservative" debates, is capturing the heart of many church folks.  Age is no limit.  And it certainly is the case that all ages can appreciate, enjoy, learn from, and take courage from the work of the young turks Gabe so nicely describes in The Next Christians.  Young or old, pick it up.  Read it, have good conversations, and get busy.  This is one of the books of the year.

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October 26, 2010

Best selling books at CLS: Richard Mouw, Michael Gerson, Wayne Grudem, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre and so many more...

I have written before about the remarkable, diverse, interesting and important professional association for Christian lawyers, law students, legal scholars, judges, and human rights activists called Christian Legal Society (CLS.)  They are kind to us and make it possible for us to be their bookseller at most of their annual conferences, and we are exhausted from the last days of being full of bookish conversation.  Thank goodness for our hefty van, which hauled our books to and from Florida.

Thanks also to Mr. Michael Schutt, author of Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (IVP; $24.00) who sets the standard for
9780830825998.jpg doing a readable, insightful, interesting, important, meaty book relating the philosophical and theological foundations of the legal profession to the daily practices of the vocation of being a lawyer. We often say that every career should have a "definitive" volume for serious thinkers in their profession as good as this is for those interested in law. 

Mike encourages Beth and I so much, and he does the same with just about everyone.  He and his pals in CLS leadership do a great job offering speakers and workshops on things that are pretty arcane for their own professional certification process, as well as more general workshops on business ethics, free speech debates, pro-life issues, religious liberty, starting legal aid clinics for the poor and other such topics.  And, I get to do a talk on thoughtful books for the serious Christian reader--send me an email if you want my list of top twelve categories for a year of good reading.  At CLS we sold numerous other books about the theological basis for law (natural law, say) and the history of the development of the Western legal tradition (such as the heavy work by Harold Berman or John Witte) and stuff about current church/state issues, religious liberty and such.  If you are interested, do let us know and we can chat more.

The best-selling books at this impressive gathering are the sorts of things anyone who cares about public life and faithful citizenship should find helpful.  I've been wanting to highlight a few of these anyway, so here, in no particular order, are some that we had fun promoting at CLS, Orlando, 2010.

69613345.JPGUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Revised and Expanded)  Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00  I have loved---loved!---this book in the past and am giddy that it is now available in an updated, expanded edition.  A graceful new cover reminds us of the not-so-common grace that is called for as people debate public issues.  From sexuality to religion in public, from Biblical disagreements (about sexuality, or hell, say) to political discourse, this book reminds us of the need for public etiquette, for the need for persuasion and respect.  Mouw is very wise, he's a clear writer, and his instincts about complex things like "toleration" are so very helpful (and needed perhaps now more than in recent memory!)  I've said in print before that I know of no other writer who is as clear about his own deep convictions and yet is so willing to listen well to others, to name the places of commonality, the stuff he appreciates in other traditions (even those with whom he shares very important disagreements.) He is candid about those with whom be respectfully disagrees and such humble candor is noteworthy.  One gets the sense that not only is Rich a broad-minded thinker, it is clear that he thinks from deep within his own tradition, the Dutch neo-Calvinist worldview of Abraham Kuyper that has made him who he is.  Yet, the call to gentleness and willingness to learn is clear, even in a favorite chapter "Abraham Kuyper, Meet Mother Theresa."  And, then, the chapter "When There Is No Other Hand."  Lawyers, I suppose, could be a contentious bunch, and I was glad that a number took our recommendation and picked up this new edition of this tremendous little volume.  Spread the word---this would make a great book club selection, an adult ed class, or a gift for anyone involved in public life.

41ay4sz+HFL._SL500_AA300_.jpgCity of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era  Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner  (Moody Publishers) $19.99  Mr. Gerson, you may know, was a speech-writer for President Bush (no small thing) and famously left part-way through the President's term.  He wrote a book published by HarperOne entitled Heroic Conservatism, which, among other things, called for an increasing concern among social conservatives for the poor and oppressed, and expressed frustration at the disinterest amongst many so-called conservatives on this huge ethical matter.  He is a Wheaton College alumni, a syndicated op-ed writer, and now works for the One Campaign.  (Yep, you read that right!)

 This brand new brief book is a much-anticipated first volume in a series ("Cultural Renewal") edited by New York Redeemer Presbyterian's pastor, Timothy Keller. (His forward is very thoughtful and a vital little essay itself!)  Here--with an obvious allusion to Augustine--Gerson and Wehner (who also spent time in the Bush White House) reflect on the deepest meanings of public life, how religion does or doesn't play a role in modern civic institutions, and how the famed "Christian right" perhaps did not get this all very right.  Of course the authors are themselves affiliated with the thoughtful end of the conservative movement (Wehner now works for the Center for Ethics and Public Policy) but they have little interest in whipping up the right-wing culture warriors. While they see serious weaknesses in a shallow lefty approach, as well, they struggle to forge a way into the political fray that somehow transcends the partisan ideologies of our era.  In this very sense, it may be conservative in the very best sense of the word.  I'm very excited about this---Gerson gave a significant lecture for the Center for Public Justice last summer giving us a peak into the themes of this book, and we are glad it is now out.  Kudos to Keller, to Moody, and to CLS for caring about such a fine and thoughtful overview of things that are deeply moral, thoughtful, and civil as it explores ways around this perplexing topic.  Highly recommended.

51yqDHfgnmL._SL500_AA300_.jpgPolitics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture Wayne Grudem (Zondervan) $39.95  Dr. Grudem was a hit among most of those who took his classes at the CLS conference, and while many will disagree with his insistence on a conservativistic view of the task of the state and the subsequent view of various political issues, there is no doubt that the energetic Bible teacher has done us a great service by documenting so very much of what the Biblical text actually does and doesn't say.  I have not waded into this vast volume yet (it is quite new) and I suspect I will take exception to a few things, but I am sure reading it will be an education.  So far, I see that the footnotes lack much citation of people I trust most, or those who have pioneered a Christian view of statecraft and public justice.

It seems to me that Grudem has entered a field that demands a coherent philosophy to under-gird and relate the various Bible verses he marshals, but has done so without due attention to those who have helped develop just such a foundation. (Paul Marshall--a guy Grudem should have cited--exposed this same weakness in Jim Wallis in an older review suggesting that Wallis was doing inadequate proof-texting to bolster his progressive agenda, reading the Bible in a moralistic manner, without a developed view of politics, as such.  As much as I often agree with Wallis, Marshall was very helpful in his critique of Wallis' inadequate view of statecraft, per se.  Find the review at Dr. Marshall's Hudson Institute pages.)

The impeccable Ronald J. Sider has explored this himself with much nuance and care in his Scandal of Evangelical Politics where he shows that to come up with a Biblically-guided view of policy one must go through various steps and stages, beyond just lining up verses willy nilly.  That is, Sider properly argues, we need a political philosophy (guided by the Biblical narrative itself) and a way to responsible exegete the relevant Scriptural texts.  And, of course, one needs data, too: for instance, do the most responsible economists show that minimum wage laws do or do not help the people such laws are intended to help?  Does increased environmental regulation of polluting factories actually cut down on toxic air problems or are there unexpected consequences?  Does increased spending on new missiles make us more safe or not?  These pragmatic questions of facts and data must themselves be discerned through the lens of a Biblical worldview, so nothing is simple, and we must be diligent to think hard about it all.

Despite Dr. Grudem's 600 plus pages (looking at over 50 different issues) my hunch is he fails to do adequate justice to those, like Dr. Sider, and so many more, who have thought long and hard about this complicated field and have offered us a way of thinking that is necessary and helpful, even as we study the texts afresh.  The National Association of Evangelicals, for instance, published a ground-breaking book edited to include a variety of major scholars (Toward An Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation) and it is more than unfortunate that Grudem doesn't cite it.  I don't suppose he intended to be disrespectful, and I cannot say if it crossed his mind that he would appear prideful to dare to enter this field without duly noting at least of few of those whose shoulder's he should have been standing on. (To his credit, he does list a handful in an early paragraph, but doesn't seem to illustrate how their work shaped his own.)  Perhaps there is more discussion of the state of the art of the conversation about "Christian politics" in the book, but the footnotes are very disappointing, to see who he cites and who he fails to draw upon.  (For an example of what I mean by the "state of the art of the conversation" see Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny, published last year by IVP, which is an excellent dialogue about the task and limits of the state, the obligations of citizenship and the meaning of justice. Read about it here.)

I am grateful that Southern Baptist leader Paige Paterson says it is irenic.  Yet, Marvin OlaskyGrudem 2-785546.jpg says it "overwhelms the nostrums of the evangelical left" (which is fair enough, but a bit snarky to use the word "nostrums" and perhaps an indication of who they are marketing this to---just those on the right who are predisposed to agree with the good professor.)  The always reliable J.I. Packer calls it "strong" and "hard-hitting" (and "an outstanding achievement.")  Well.  Wayne is known for being a very likable guy in person, and a no-nonsense straight-shooter in his very forcefully argued books (as in his critiques of the sloppy exegesis of some evangelical feminists.)  We will see about the tone of this; I hope it is irenic; I hope it is a useful contribution to the on-going dialogue.

Perhaps this is the benefit of the book: Grudem is not a political philosopher, not a political activist.  He is a theologian, and a Bible scholar and a beloved seminary professor.  His work has a significant place for those of us who claim to want our political theory to be guided by excellent exegesis.  I'm grateful CLS participants got to hear him, and Beth and I were thrilled to spend just a bit of time in small-talk and mutual encouragement.  His Systematic Theology (Zondervan; $49.99) is a masterpiece of traditional evangelical work, immense, but readable, with helpful resources in the back for allowing this big volume to be used well by God's hungry people.  There are discussion questions, Bible memory aids, listings of hymns, citations of creeds, and so much more that one wouldn't often find in such a textbook.  If Wayne is a master of conservative, orthodox, scholarship in his field of theology and Bible study, it is less clear that he has earned the right to produce such a hefty volume on this perplexing specialized topic.  I will be eager to read it carefully, happy to hear what others may think, and pray that it allows us to break away from simplistic proof-texting or ideological readings of the left or (in this case) the right.  It is obvious that it is a massive project on which he spent considerable research time and that he is passionate and clear in his good teaching.  Despite my concerns, I am happy to suggest Politics According to the Bible for those who want to hear what this important evangelical scholar is saying about contemporary policy issues, from a Biblical worldview, drawn in what seems to be fairly typical, conservative tones.


caring_for_words.jpgCaring for Words in a Culture of Lies  Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Eerdmans) $18.00  Since lawyers use words as much as any of us, and they are typically known for their precision, it was a joy to suggest this to a few good customers at CLS.  McEntyre is a poet (her books of poetry inspired by paintings of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh are truly lovely) and this call to take language seriously is a very rich read itself.  Of course language can be "depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulants" she writes, as she compares language to other life-sustaining resources over which we must exercise careful stewardship.  The stewardship of our speech, considered in thoughtful analysis and beautiful writing, is of great concern for all of us.  Those who read widely, or speak publicly, or write for others surely must pay attention to the case she so lyrically builds here.  May truth trump truthiness in this crazy world...perhaps this book will help.  Thanks to the ones who bought it.

We had other good conversations and sold various sorts of things.  We featured a few books especially for women in the workworld, the always useful book on resolving conflicts in Biblical ways (The Peacemaker by Kenneth Sande) and of course a big array of books on spirituality, discipleship, leadership, apologetics, global concerns--especially the heroic work against sexual trafficking by International Justice Mission and IJM's Gary Haugen's stunning books such as Just Courage, The Good News About Injustice, and Terrify No More.  We are always glad when we get to recommend those important books, and even better when IJM is in the house.  If you don't know of these great books, you should.  
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October 28, 2010

Speaking about vocation with eager collegiates: Transforming Vocations

What an honor to be a speaker at a Christian college chapel service. Nerve-wracking, too, I must admit.  Yesterday, I had the privilege to share with the student body at Western Pennsylvania's Geneva College, at a special service sponsored by the Career Development office.  Perhaps better than many colleges, their office helps students frame their academic work and choice of majors by the Biblical doctrine of calling.  For the collect opening theTheCall-thumb-80x124.jpg service, we read responsively from Os Guinness' famous book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nelson; $17.99.)  Did they know it is one of my all-time favorite books?  Did they expect that I would cite it?  It was such a fitting way into a liturgical celebration of God's call into His kingdom, and the subsequent duties to serve the great King in every zone of life.  Of course we shouldn't reduce our many callings to only our paid jobs, and, in fact, the director of the Career Development office explained to me that they (ironically) try not to use the word "career" for a variety of reasons, noting the baggage and assumptions such a phrase carries.  So, yes, we are called to a variety of places, various "offices" or tasks, with all sorts of God-given opportunities and obligations.  We are called and sent.  Guinness is still my favorite author on this and it is a book I revist over and over.  If you don't have it, please, please, consider it. The discussion guide in the back is very strong, too, making it an exceptional resource.

RC_Resources_HereIAm.jpgAnother book that we often suggest for those pondering this idea of vocation and calling is the exceptional, easy-to-read exploration of the notion of vocation in Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing? by Quentin Schultze (Baker; $14.00.)  What a great little book, wise and helpful, about being stewards of the various gifts God gives us, in the various spheres he calls us to!  One of the best, with reasonable theological foundations and lots of great illustrative stories and anecdotes  Q is a great storyteller---he is the head of the communications department at Calvin College in Michigan and has a remarkable book on virtues needed for our electronic age and another which is the definitive book on communication and mass media from a Christian perspective (and yet another small one on public speaking.)  What a story this guy has, and how wonderfully he's used his own scholarly vocation to help others with these basics.  Highly recommended.  Check out his amazing blog of comment and reviews, here.

Or, consider the more thoroughly Biblical overview A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World by Charles D. Drew (P&R; $12.99.) Some have told me this was the best combination of the Biblical overview of creation-fall-redemption-restoration story of Scripture and the language of purpose (exploring, then, the themes of vocation and call) that they've ever read.  Rev. Drew is certainly a solid writer, well crafting mature sentences in wise and wonderful ways.  Endorsements from the likes of Tim Keller remind us that it is highly regarded,  well considered, helpful and theologically rich, without being arcane or abstract.  Yeah.

1596381779_l.gif What Is Vocation Steven J. Nichols (P&R; $3.99) This is a wonderful, small booklet,  similar to the What is A Christian Worldview by Philip Ryken (P&R; $5.00) that we often promote.  It could be used in small groups, a quick adult ed class, or given to high school seniors.  Steve gets it just right; he's a nearly local guy, by the way, a Lancaster friend, writer of popular level books on church history and several biographies of folks like Luther and Edwards. (Not to mention the spiffy Church History ABC book we've touted.) This brief staple-bound booklet is as handsome as it is readable and could be life-changing.  I hope you have something like this )at the bare minimum) on your bookshelf.  Maybe you should order a dozen or so and pass 'em out---at least to youth who are thinking about going off to college, or young students needing to be encouraged to think about calling as they consider their majors, or for adults who may be longing to be affirmed in their line of work. (Oh, if only pastors did this more for their flocks, affirming the life of the laity!)

I told the students at Geneva that one of the good books to read along these lines as they think about calling is simply entitled Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman & William Hendricks (NavPress; $15.00.) I recommend it over and over. There are great other titles like Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work by John Beckett (IVP; $18.00) and meaty ones like The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry by R. Paul Stevens (Eerdmans; $27.00.) Why not google Dorothy Sayers and read her important essay "Why Work" with some friends, for that matter?  Of course, when we come to embrace this whole vision---that vocation is central, not incidental, to the missio dei as my friend Steve Garber puts it---it has vast implications.  Some exciting, some scary.  Yup.  Before digging into the books on the details of work, though, be sure to get this vocation material deep in your bones.  These I've mentioned are all great starters.

By the way, for a briefly annotated introductory list of various books arranged by "vocational" area--from engineering to medicine, law to pop culture studies, from psychology to the arts, and more---click on the "Books By Vocation" tab at our home page.  You'll be surprised to see the handful of recommendations in so many professional occupations and callings.  I need to update this, but it is still well worth seeing or passing on to others.

Although I was preaching at Geneva on a favorite post-exile text (Haggai 2 where God promises peace to a rebuilt city, after a shaking of the nations, and invites us strongly to "take courage and work") I did observe that the idea of ordinary people finding great purpose in their jobs and mundane work has great historical precedent from throughout church history. Some in the past, of course, have been more helpful than others.  (Is that putting it tactfully, or what?)  Martin Luther famously talked about how those who made the beer barrels and the women milking the cows, were as important to the Kingdom of God as were the priests and nuns.  We all know about Brother Lawrence "practicing the presence of God" as he did the dishes (a la Zechariah 14:21, perhaps?) Read Guinness for other such inspiring stories and transformational episodes.  These visions of the dignity of labor, the call to work, and the spirituality of the ordinary broke open the medieval ways and helped create a dynamism that shaped the modern world.

9780802829276.jpgCallings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation edited by William Placher (Eerdmans; $25.00) This fat volume is an anthology that traces primary source readings from throughout church history, showing an amazing depth of serious work on this topic. There is simply nothing like it in print, and we are in debt to the late Dr. Placher.  Not for everyone perhaps, but for those wanting a solid overview of the best writing opn this topic through the ages, this is a must.  Given the vast array of important writings here, the price is a real bargain!  We've promoted this before, and trust that theological educators, pastors and others involved in leadership, at least, would find it helpful.

0802832563.jpgAnother anthology that I dip in to from time to time---it is great when one needs inspiration, or a thoughtful reminder during hard times, or for sermon or class illustration---is the huge and diverse collection called Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do And Who We Should Be  smartly edited by Mark Schwhehn & Dorothy Bass (Eerdmans; $26.00.)  I've written about this before, marveling at the literary breadth of these fine pieces---excerpts from Homer and Milton to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry to Robert Frost.  The book offers historic essays arranged around seven key aspects of one's identity, crucial stuff to be sure about in the search for significance.  Wonderful, wonderful.

Two small hardbacks are both so very handsome to hold that they invite slow reading andParker_Palmer_Let_Your_Life_Speak_sm_ezr.jpg
careful reflection.   I told students to be attentive to their lives and the world around us---rousing stories of God's faithfulness to us as we take up our callings to make a difference preach well, but eventually, we must be reminded to sit in silence a bit, thinking, praying, reflecting, listening. If I'd had opportunity, I would have shown these two: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer (Jossey Bass; $18.95) and The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling by Robert Benson (Waterbrook; $14.99 )  These are truly lovely books, inspiring and tenderly written. I have reviewed them in the past, and assume you may know of our fondness for these contemplative authors.  Highly recommended for those discerning vocation, wanting to nurture the habits of being a bit more attentive about one's life, or for those who guide others.  Nice.



Here, by the way, is a great little blog that has excerpts of a few great books on vocation.  The author has quotes from Luther, Calvin, C.S. Lewis, Fred Buechner, John Piper and others. Thanks to with the Trinity in Daily Life blog.


OIAF - Medium.jpgIn case you are wondering, yes, I did highlight a book or
EngagingGodsWorld300.jpg two about the calling and vocation of being a Christian student. Even as young adults who want to prepare for a lifetime of vocation ponder these deep perspectives, they need to enter into the practices of vocational living, even in the way they approach their calling into college. You may know that my all time favorite book for college students is co-written by a wonderful, gracious and very (very) smart Donald Opitz, who is, in fact, a professor at Geneva. (His co-author is my central PA pal and regular customer here, Derek Melleby.) Derek & Don's fine book is called The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos; $13.99) and I have made my case for it here before.  Again, if you are a pastor or youth worker, I think it is nearly professional malpractice not to get this into the hands of your college-bound friends.

The "next step" book for those interested in the integration of faith and learning is the beautifully rendered and exceptionally insightful Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living by the elegant Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans; $16.00.)  So much of this is quotable, so good to cite, that I have whole pages underlined in my dog-earred copy.  If you don't own it, again, I think it would be a wonderful addition to your own library, and one you will certainly share with anyone wondering about education, the relationship of Christ's Lordship to our vocations in the world, and how our deepest yearnings can be met as we take up this journey towards thoughtfully faithful living.  Our highest five star rating on this one (whether one is in college or not.)  I wish I had mentioned it more at the Geneva chapel talk, so if anybody from our time there is reading now, consider this a plug.  Check out our blog special price below and consider placing an order.

Or, check out this list on the "Christian mind" and see if any of these would be helpful to students you know.  These sorts of titles are not the kind they will find most places, so you may be the only person to share such a life-line and challenge.  Let us know if we can help.

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October 30, 2010

A poem by Carl Dennis for my friends at Geneva from Callings

Carl Dennis has won the Pulitzer Prize and it has been said by the New York Times Book Review that his work is "not only pleasurable but substantial and important."  Callings is a paperback collection that, interestingly, explores (among other things) the notion of calling, and "provides an alternative to the disorder of the world."  So, in light of yesterday's post about my chapel talk at Geneva, inviting students to think about their vocations as holy callings, and of God's promises to transform our world through our humble work, I offer this poem from Carl Dennis.  I trust it will invite you to ponder and perhaps rejoice.

A few of the words from a few of the one-line sentences have been put on other lines by the formatting of my blog platform when I added the picture of the cover. 

A Roofer

Down on the ground, it's hard for him to measure         
41doiuDKrTL._SL500_AA300_.jpgHow well he's doing, whether he's liable, say,
To be too quick when correcting his children
Or too slow, too distant or too intrusive
And is honesty what he needs more of
For his wife to be happier, or forbearance?
But on the roof he knows exactly
What the situation requires
And how best to supply it,
Sustained as he is by the clear consensus
Of the ghosts of the great roofers of yesteryear,
Who nod approval at work well done.

On the ground, as he walks from his job,
He has to be a witness to shoddy craftsmanship:
Potholes gaping again after a month or two,
Porches rebuilt last summer already listing.
And then the boarded windows of the bank
That gambled away the savings of the thrifty.
But on the roof the only work he observes
Is his own of yesterday and the day before,
Good work that inspires him once again
To set his shingles neatly in courses,
Each as secure as nails can make it.

How gently the morning light
Glances along the ladder
As it rises from the world of obscure beginnings
And obscure procedures to the luminous realm
Where the rows of shingles
Climb from drip edge to roof beam
With a logic that's irresistible.

As long as light holds,
It's a pleasure to linger here
Where he can believe himself an agent of progress.
No need to rush.  Already at hand,
The last shingle the job requires
Waits to sit snug in its proper place.

Callings  by Carl Dennis (Penguin) $18.00.
order here
takes you to the secure order form page
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Hearts & Minds 2345 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333