About January 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in January 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

February 2011 is the next archive.

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

January 2011 Archives

January 4, 2011

Books about Books and the Importance of Reading

At year's end many good friends wondered how the year was for us, financially-speaking.  One doesn't have to be a greedy tycoon to realize that businesses must, well, do business.  If we don't make enough to pay our staff--not to mention our publishers and suppliers--we simply won't remain solvent.  I don't mean to sound apocalyptic, but in this age of amazon and cbd, where cheap price is a chief consideration, smaller stores, charming as they may be, often lose out.  I sometimes grow cynical knowing that some folks, some churches, some authors doing research, will miss us, or others like us, if we're gone, and they will then wonder why.  Perhaps that they "picked my brain" for the best book on this or that, and then purchased said book elsewhere, will be part of the story.  I know other small stores that also seek to provide great service and passion and care and as much as some truly appreciate this, the demise of the local economy and the lack of support of indie stores is undoing them.  Anyway, we appreciate your "vote in the marketplace" and trust that with your help we will flourish in 2011.
cincinnati_bookstores.jpgHaving said that--the obligatory morality tale over for now--I think there are other, equally pressing issues that plague especially my colleagues in religious book sales. One I won't talk about now--don't get me started--is what some call "Jesus junk" and the problem of stores that carry insubstantial stuff, or God-and-county pablum that doesn't advance the Kingdom of Christ.  I will refer you to Shane Claiborne's fine two-part op-ed floating around the internet gently chiding the weird compromises of the "Christian industrial complex."  Don't miss Part Two of that piece, either!  That there is plenty of evangelical crap like "Christian toothbrushes" and Catholic perversity like "The Pope's Cologne" causes me to roll my eyes, but I don't have energy to fight those battles.  What really gets me worked up is our lack of reading.

Earlier in the year I tweeted a tweet that had been tweeted to me.  (Yup, I did and I do.) It was a very good little piece telling how an author was shocked that so many Christian bookstore managers she met while promoting her books don't seem to read;  then it dawned on her that some pastors don't either. (I was surprised that she was shocked, I must say.)  First published at Burnside Writer's Collective, you really should read it and perhaps share it.

Then, just a few days ago, I read an article in one of the professional journals we get, Christian Retailing.  It was a piece written to other Christian booksellers but as soon as I read it I knew I had to share it with our friends and customers.  Beth and I have been at this work for nearly 30 years and it was one of the best "industry" pieces I've read. It is about the need for Christian bookstore staff to read more, to love books. 

I hope you read it.  David Almack (U.S. Director of CLC International) notes that "Reading is our industry's key to survival: knowing and loving the books we publish and sell is essential to our success."  I sure know that I could learn a bit more about the details of management, overhead, inventory control, tax law, advertising, and whatnot.  But it is our passion for books and our commitment to the sometimes tedious ministry of helping folks with their habits of reading that is at the heart of our calling.  The small gang that works with us here were asked about their favorite authors and reading habits in their first interview.  None of us are brainy, but we are each here because of what Mr. Almack reminds us of: we believe books make a difference, that reading is an important aspect of faithful Christian living in these complex times, and that it is a great privilege to serve those who want to make a difference in the world---which we try to do by curating a book selection that might help deepen their discipleship, offer them new worlds through reading, and by writing reviews that we hope inform people about useful and faithful resources.  We love selling books.

The very great High Callings blog (do sign up if you'd like) recently posted this brainy and well-written rumination on the task of book-selling.  You might enjoy it; it sure struck a cord with me.

From yet another blog, Across the Page, here is a spectacular list of 25 reasons to read.  Very, very nice.  Spread the word!  I think many could benefit from being reminded. 


We have a section in our shop we call "books about books" which is a sub-section of our "literary criticism" section.  I pulled a few random ones to give you a feel.  If you are a book lover, you'll love reading about them.  If you don't want to own them, check 'em out of your library!  Sometimes, it's helpful to remind ourselves about the joy of doing this eyeball-to-the-print, thing.

AAAAAratTH8AAAAAAQJDyw.jpgLeave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books  Maureen Corrigan (Vintage) $13.95  You know the author as the book critic on NPR's Fresh Air and here she tells of her life as an obsessive reader. This has some very, very great stories and some true insights.

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian Avi Steinberg (Doubleday) $26.00  The old "library stamps" are used to great effect on this cool cover as they make up the face of the author.  The book is hip and breezy and pretty darn vulgar (set, as it is, in prison. Be warned.) It is nonetheless a wise and good memoir that one reviewer describes as "a cross between Dante's Inferno and HBO's The Wire."  Another blurb offers "Imagine Kafka as a prison librarian" which is clever, but this joyful book is not dark nor Kafkaesque. I like the humorist A.J. Jacobs who says it is "also about love, religion, Shakespeare, murder, the human condition, and Ali G.  This is a book for everybody who loves books---felons and non-felons alike."

Read for Your Life: 11 Ways to Transform Your Life With Books  Pat Williams (HCI) $14.95 Williams is a renowned basketball coach, motivational speaker, and inspirational author.  The publisher is a classic "self help" press (ever hear of those Chicken Soup books?)  Well, he really does know how to tweak the lazy soul, and his 11 pointers are right on.  He has a tremendous gift of offering uplifting advice, in small chunks, with easy-to-understand side-bars and bullet points.  Get this for anyone who needs reminding of the importance of a life-changing habit of reading, or for anyone that needs a "life coach" to walk them through the stages of becoming a life-long reader.  Nice.

The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination  Robert Coles (Houghton Mifflin)The-Call-of-Stories-Coles-Robert-9780395528150.jpg $14.00  How many books do you know that have a blurb on the back from Catholic novelist Walker Percy? Who, by the way, says this is "Coles at his wisest and best." Here he holds up his conviction that we can move directly from stories to our lives, that the stories of others help us construe our own lives.  Serious literary criticism, narrative thinking, storytelling and how to teach ethics, or discern a life well lived.  Rich, thoughtful, mature, life-giving stuff.  This is a book to read and re-read, to consider often.

Handing_One_Another_Along.jpgHanding One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection  Robert Coles (Random House) $27.00  Recently released and edited by two of his students, this is stuff from the legendary course at Harvard, similar to the one listed above.  Delve wisely into writers such as Orwell and Agee, and Ellison,  Zora Neale Hurston and Raymond Carver, seeking "character, courage, and compassion."  I've read the demanding and rewarding forward four times so far.  Stunning. 

How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension James Sire (Waterbrook) $13.99 Oh how I wish we'd sell more of this: it is about how to read "between the lines" and discern the deepest convictions, arguments, claims and presuppositions of the authors.   To fully engage (and benefit from, or critique the flaws of) any book---fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose--we must seek out the author's viewpoint.  Sire shows how.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading  Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren (Touchstone) $16.99  A classic.  Truly.

Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read Louise Cowan & Os Guinness (Baker) $16.97  What a bargain on a lavish and full color guide to the best of Western literature.  A fine overview, handbook, and introduction.  

Opening Hearts By Opening Minds Connie Wineland (Wipf & Stock) $23.00  I wish this weren't so pricey, but it is almost three books in one since it covers a lot of ground.  First, the author narrates her own conversation to Christian faith by reading quality fiction.  Then, there are some helpful sections about reading widely and wisely and her own annotated lists of helpful books in various areas.  Thirdly, there are discussion questions and tips for running a thoughtful book club.  There may be other such books, but this brings the kind of perspective that I think many of our customers would appreciate.   This is one sharp woman, widely read in world literature.  She teaches in Ohio, living in Kentucky.

9780865479579.jpgThe Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age  Sven Birkerts (Faber & Faber) $15.00  I've described this every few years it seems, in a blog, magazine or talk show, and I never tire of telling about how it moved me so.  It is a lament for the loss of literature in these days, a memoir about the authors work in book-selling and college teaching, and his reflections about how the experience of the solitary reading of a book can effect the reader's inner life.  If you care about books or electronic culture or the pleasures of reading, this will be become a treasured volume, I'm sure.

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time David Ulin (Sasquatch Books) $12.95  This brief essay, in a lovely hand-sized hardback, is both memoir and criticism, noting that reading has been considered a revolutionary act---but, in an electronic age, does it even matter.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books  Azar Nafisi () $15.00  You most likely have heard of this memoir of the Iranian revolution and its effects on women, written by a brave college professor there. It is a widely respected memoir of the power of teaching modern literature in a cultural context of repression, a story of banned books and the courage to read--from Fitzgerald to Jane Austen and more.  One reviewer called it "anguished and glorious."  

Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should Have, or Could Create a Christian
BtB.jpg Culture Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, John Pattison and others (Biblica) $14.99  I hope you saw our review of this previously since I am pretty excited about it.  Am I uncouth to say I have a small chapter here, and have that little extra reason to want you to consider it? I was honored to be asked to join these three dudes, and a batch of other smart readers, each of us reviewing one of the 100 books chosen "besides the Bible" that we book-lovers hope others read?  There are some great little pieces in here, making their case for some truly wonderful books.  This is a wonderful, wonderful gift for book lovers, for those eager to build a library, for anyone wanting advice on "what to read next."  Get it, give it, use it.  You'll be inspired, I'm sure. It includes overtly Christian books and those that are not, it includes old and new books, fiction and non-fiction.  Quite a list!  Follow their bookish blog, too.  Love it!


How To Read a Christian Book  David L. McKenna (Baker) $10.99  McKenna is smart and well read and has worked in higher education for decades (currently at Asbury Seminary.)  This has a nice section on why Christians should read, it is jam-packed with lists and suggestions, and helps navigate the overwhelming amount of reading options and huge selection, guiding readers through a reading plan.  The title may seem a bit odd, maybe a play on Adler.  Still, it is very very nice.  We'll give ya one with any purchase.

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January 5, 2011

More Books on Books: Reading Fiction

THANKS to those who replied to the last post about book-selling and reading.  And special kudos to those who ordered some of our books about books; we are grateful.  I hope you had a chance to click through some of the links I offered---they are good articles on reading and book-selling and we thought you'd appreciate them. One is a kind but radical critique of "Christian bookstores" by my pal Shane Claiborne and another is an "insider" column from a trade journal called Christian Retailing, noting that the most important question in this age of the demise of the indie bookstore is whether booksellers love to read and can pass on the value of bookish passion to their customers.

I didn't want to link to too many on-line articles, but here another link: this is a piece I wrote a few years ago for the esteemed think-tank Cardus, who publish the on-line (and quarterly hard copy) magazine, Comment.  I wrote this for college students, but it may be helpful for anyone wanting to commit to new reading habits.  One little contribution I tried to make--besides the rather pedestrian advise of carrying books with you and making a schedule to read, even having a favorite place,--is that, despite my love for all things Postman, and his masterpiece Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin; $15.00), I do not think we need to play off as mortal enemies print and image, reading books vs watching films or TV.  Popular culture need not be the whipping boy for those of us who want to nurture a love for books.  I'd love your feedback if you have anything to share...
Of course there are many other "books about books."  One intriguing and enjoyable one that was popular a year ago is now in paperback, How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard (Bloomsbury; $14.00.)  (One friend joked that it could be my auto-biography!  Tee-hee.)  I love the line on the back by Jay McInerney from The New York Times Book Review, "I seriously doubt that pretending to have read this book will boost your creativity.  On the other hand, reading it may remind you why you love reading."  The poet Billy Collins calls it "mildly unsettling" and the London Review of Books says it is "brilliant and witty..." calling it "literary sociology."  Think I read it?  I'm talking about it, aren't I?  Hmm.

Several of the books I listed in the last post were about those who love books, memoirs about reading, or the loss of reading in this electronic culture. Of course more ink has been spilled on this topic--and will continue to, although increasingly the ink isn't spilled, but (what's the word?  Pixelated?)  On-line or on real paper, the debate rages.  You may have heard of one of the more passionate books warning against the virtual world that came out this year called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr (Norton; $26.95.) Or the heady, anti-virtual manifesto, You Are Not a Gadget by the colorful Jaron Lanier (Knopf; $24.95--coming in paperback in February, by the way) which appeared on a number of "best of 2010" lists.  These are important voices in the broader conversation about the ethos of our time and the habits of attention that are demanded by--and created by--the long-form reading of books.

literature-and-theology.jpgFICTION & POETICS  I didn't list many books in that last post, though, that specifically helped us appreciate fiction.  Again, reading about fiction isn't the same as actually reading a real novel--do it, if you haven't lately!--but it is itself a precious joy to some of us, reading about other books.  And so, here are a few books mostly about fiction books.  We have plenty of others, but these are just a few I grabbed from our literary criticism section to illustrate the sorts of things we enjoy showing off and talking about.

Literature and Theology  Ralph Wood (WJK) $11.00  Granted, one need not do 'theology' proper to do Christian literary criticism, but this fine author from Baylor surely has the great chops to do both.  Endorsements on the back are from story-lovin' theologians like Stan Hauerwas and Fleming Rutledge and  the always erudite English professor Alan Jacobs.
Short, clear, engaging.  (Professor Wood has a particularly illuminating book on Tolkien, by the way, called The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth published by WJK; $15.00.)

Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature  Gene Edward Veith (Crossway) $15.99  This is most often my "go to" book when an undergrad wants a basic overview of a Christian perspective on literature.  Endorsed as "superb" and "profound" by poet Luci Shaw and given thumbs up by the likes of Leland Ryken from Wheaton, this is a fine, thoughtful, and insightful guide to the joys of reading.  Every college student, at least, should have a book like this.

A Christian Critique of Art and Literature  Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press)b943820dd7a02c7783a3f010.L._SL500_AA300_.jpg $15.00  This was my first Seerveld book ever, in an earlier edition, in maybe 1973. I was struck by what seemed like both dense and yet colorful prose, and radical, critical serious, flamboyant insight that demanded an utterly Biblical frame of reference.  Much of it is on art and aesthetics, but there is good stuff on literature here, too, and a bit on theatre.  If you have read his classic Rainbows for the Fallen World you may want to back up and read this.  For a taste, take a deep breath and read this remarkable, short Seerveld piece which he wrote for a recent edition of Comment, in response to an earlier essay about  the meaning of "Christian" fiction by another writer.  

A Taste of the Classics volume 1, volume 2, volume 3, and volume 4  Ken Boa (Biblica) $9.99 each  Yep, the master apologetics writer, and author of an excellent textbook on spiritual formation also is a literary buff.  In these four great paperbacks he summarizes and explains classics of older novels (and some serious devotional non-fiction as well, such as Pascal or Tozer.) Boa on Dante or Austen or Dostoyevsky or Bunyan?  Go here to see which ones he describes in which volumes, and come back to order 'em from us.  What fun!

yhst-38174537758215_2136_165513639.gifThe Emmaus Readers volume one and volume two edited by Susan Felch & Gary Schmidt (Paraclete Press) $17.95 each  I've mentioned these books before; they came out of a great gang of thoughtful Christian friends in Grand Rapids and tells of their interaction with some of the best of contemporary fiction, "listening for God" as it were, through these stories. The first one includes studies of the work of Fred Buechner, Leif Enger, David Guterson, Oscar Hijuelos, P. D. James, Yann Martell, Nicole Mazzarella, Ian McEwan and more.  Volume Two includes Geraldine Brooks,  Michael Chabon, Kate DiCamillo, Khaled Hosseini, Edward Jones, Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, and many more. I can't say enough about them, and hope you'll be inspired to try one.  

The Oprah Affect: Critical Essays on Oprah's Book Club edited by Cecilia Konchar Farr (SUNY Press) $24.95  You may recall Ms Farr's important Reading Oprah: How Oprah's Book Club Changed the Way America Reads. This collection explores the cultural impact of the OBC, particularly in light of debates about the definition and purpose of literature.  A few weeks ago I tweeted an article that was in The New Republic mocking Oprah for suggesting to have ordinary women read Dickens. (Stop the presses, sound the alarms: housewives will be storming the big box stores looking for Oliver Twist. Ye gads!)  I noted how I despised the elitist criticism, and appreciated the way the scholar was taken to the woodshed by many who posted comments, taking exception.  Maybe some read this book.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant  Alan Jacobs (Eerdmans) $18.00  I shall admit that the extraordinary art of the short-form essay is one of my favorite styles of prose, and I admit it isn't fiction.  Yet, here, the master of the essay--aesthetically delightful, one reviewer says---writes also about fictional books.  Harry Potter.  Kahlil Gibran.  And about sentences, even.  Truly interesting, learned, and wise, on all manner of topics.  

mockingbird parables-755153.jpgThe Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives through the Power of Story  Matt Litton (Tyndale) $14.99 I wish I had time a way to read some of this out loud to you, convincing you it is thrilling, inspiring, practical in a way that is at once literary---it is reflecting on portions of To Kill a Mockingbird, of course--and prophetic.  Litten teaches high school English, so this is, in a way, a report from the trenches, emerging from good conversations about the meaning of of Harper Lee's timeless novel with ordinary kids.  As Scot McKnight says, "you'll be enchanted..."

Mending a Tattered Faith:  Devotions with Dickinson Suzanne VanZanten (Cascade) $15.00 This is new, and another unique way "into" a deeper appreciation of classic literature.  This is just what is sounds like---a daily Christian devotional inviting reader's to ruminate a bit on the spirituality of Emily Dickinson's intense, brief poems.  Very nicely done, by a scholar in the field.  John Wilson, certainly one of the better read people in these United States, says "I've never read a book quite like this, and I'm hoping it will inspire a new genre: engaged reading, slow reading, deeply informed by scholarship but inviting to all."

Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say  Frederick Buechner (HarperOne) $12.99  You may recognize the quote from Shakespeare, which is fitting as here the master Presbyterian preacher explores four important authors of great literature---"four who wrote in blood" as he puts it.  He ruminates on G.K. Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare.  

Conversations with American Writers: The Doubt, the Faith, and the In-Between  Dale Brown (Eerdmans) $18.00  I've praised this before, but Brown deserves very special praises for these fine interviews with tremendous contemporary writers, mostly novelists.  This is a spectacular treasure-chest, full of good stuff.  From David James Duncan to Jan Karon, Lee Smith to Ron Hanson, Philip Gulley to Eleanor Taylor Bland, these are a truly fun (and informative) dialogue on the power of art to sustain faith, often in unexpected ways.  Highly recommended. Brown was the founder of the famous Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing and now directors The Buechner Center at the Kings College in Tennessee.

Shouts and Whispers: 21 Writers Speak About Their Writing and Their Faith edited by Jennifer Holberg (Eerdmans) $16.00  Again, this is a world class collection, many gleaned from interviews done at the aforementioned Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing.  Here you have discussions with Doris Betts and Betty Smartt Carter and Koy Kogawa and Anne Lamott and Madeleine L'Engle and Bret Lott.  There are a few who aren't known mostly as novelists, such as undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, spiritual memoirist Kathleen Norris, and film-maker Paul Schrader.  Barbara Brown Taylor is here---she's a wordsmith for sure, as a preacher and writer, and Luci Shaw's interview about poetry is just excellent.  Yay.

Invisible Conversations: Religion in the Literature of America  Roger Lundin, editor (Baylor University Press) $29.95  A beautifully bound hardback collecting important, scholarly essays at the interface of Christianity and literature.   This is serious, impressive, and what one reviewer called "exhilarating."

Dostoevsky: Language, Faith + Fiction Rowan Williams (Baylor University Press) $24.95  Again, BUP has given us a richly done, beautiful hardcover study of one of the great writers of all time.  Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury brings considerable knowledge and insight to this energetic study.  As a prof at Yale writes, "Williams is at home in Russian philosophy, particularly the Orthodox emphasis on kenosis, the voluntary emptying out of Christ's divine attributes...this is a work of learning and passion, a heteroglot blend of literary, ethical, and subtle theological argument that is full of surprising local triumphs of interpretation..."

Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of Image edited by Greg Wolfe (Eerdmans) $30.00content27143a7169c9018baf89aea05372ad68.png  This is a book lovers masterpiece, which I have extolled before.  It is perhaps the finest collection of significant short stories, essays, criticism, poetry, interviews and full color art that we have ever seen.  These are drawn from 20 years of Image, the premier journal at the intersection of religion, the serious arts, and good literature.  Breathtaking, to be savored, over a lifetime.  Visit their great website, sign up for the blog, but don't forget to come back.  You can order this on sale, below.

 Greg's own regular column from Image, by the way, was collected by my friend Ned Bustard over at Square Halo Books, illumined with very moving woodcuts by Barry Moser, making a truly lovely little paperback that you ought to have.  It is an under-appreciated gem, short, thoughtful pieces about art, literature, faith and culture, written with substance, integrity and deep insight.  Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Faith, Art, and Mystery Gregory Wolfe (Square Halo Books; $14.00)  Comes with a rave review of Annie Dillard.  Nice.

How to Grow a Young Reader: Books for Every Age for Readers for Every Age  Kathryn Lindskoog & Ranelda Mack Hunsicker (Shaw) $14.99  This equals--and surpasses for great recommendations---the classic Honey for a Child's Heart by one of the Christian booksellers' patron saints, Gladys Hunt (Zondervan; $12.99.)  While I'm on the subject, the properly famous The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin; $16.00) is in a sixth edition, and remains  a book that should be on every parents home, hopefully on a coffee table or kitchen counter. What fun, and not just for those with little kids.  And, you (or somebody you know) should know Guys Write for Guys Read edited by Jon Scieszka (Viking; $10.99.)  It isn't all gross-out and sports and adventure, but it is an anthology of boys' favorite authors writing about being boys.  Dig that, if you dare.  

Speaking of children's literature, I think one of the best essays I have read in years, certainly one of the ones I enjoyed most this year, came from a 2005 Harvard Divinity Bulletin, written author8079_2416871634174009445526734.jpgby the esteemed Presbyterian children's writer, Katherine Paterson. It was called "Are You There God" and you can read it here.  It is a great joy to read.  It was included, by the way, in the The Best American Spiritual Writing 2006 edited by Philip Zaleski (Houghton Mifflin; $14.00), a luminous volume of 30 some folks like Wendell Berry, Rick Bass, Mary Gordon, John Updike, Scott Cairns, Brian Doyle and the aforementioned Paterson with an eloquent forward by Peter J.Gomes.  Click on the link and spend 15 minutes or so reading this lovely and inspiring tribute to the power of story.  You'll be glad you did. 

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January 10, 2011

The Ancient Practices series: hardbacks on sale at 50% off

I regret not having time to write up a huge "best of 2010" list.  Typical for us, I guess, I do my writing before and after trips to serve at out of town events, and in between conversations with local customers, friends, and sales reps, so it is a touch stressful.   Soon, I'll get the time and energy needed to try to describe to you some of the great reads I've been most taken by this last year. I want to do it, but just haven't finished it.  Soon, I hope.

In the meantime, I do want to give a quick announcement, and tell of a limited time offer on a few overstock hardbacks of a very favorite series that is soon to come out in paperback.  This Ancient Practices Series, published by Thomas Nelson, edited by Phyllis Tickle,  really is award winning in itself, so we're happy to tell of this now completed set.  While supplies last, we are selling the hardcover books described below for 50% off.  This makes them less expensive than the paperbacks will be, so it is a good deal.

From the Pennsylvania State Pastor's Conference to clergy retreats with the UCC, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, a Lutheran Synod meeting and other mostly mainline denominational gatherings, and among my friend in the CCO, over the past year, I've been touting the fascinating and useful series called Ancient Practices edited by Phyllis Tickle.  If you picked up any of these when I was promoting them and want to add to your collection, in matching hardbacks, now is the time to do so, as the hardbacks will soon be discontinued. 

This Ancient Practices Series (Nelson) edited by Phyllis Tickle, each regularly sells for $17.99.  We have a few of them at $9.00 each.

I hope this doesn't end up being a frustrating offer; we don't have too many left.  First come, first served.

_233_380_Book.286.cover.jpgFinding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices Brian McLaren  The first one, an overview is a wonderful, succinct call to these older, historic practices of faith development, authored nicely by emergent writer Brian McLaren.  One or two serious contemplatives found it a tiny bit glib but I disagree--it is an introduction, after all.  I was elated to see this, enjoyed it very much, and in a review I did suggested how much I myself benefited from it, stirred to want to continue in embodied practices that will, in fact, help shape my character and my soul.  It nicely framed the look backward to older spiritual formation habits (and explained that this series lifts up practices that are, in fact, shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews) and hinted at why this particular phenomenon and deep yearning is so prevalent in our postmodern cultural context. He discusses the role of practices, of mentors, of grace and how we can slowly be transformed into the sorts of people God desires us to be.  Very, very nice.

_233_380_Book.292.cover.jpgThe next one in the series, the first one to focus on a particular practice was In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson.  I'd read anything by this gracious writer (and have enjoyed everything from his travel book to his gardening one, from his excellent one on vocation to his one on baseball.)  I am not drawn to "fixed hour" prayer, but this is the best book I've read on it (and I have read a few!)  Almost made me pick up a "liturgy of the hours" and get me a better alarm clock.  And that says a lot.  Bob is dear man and a good writer with lots of plain-spoken, clear stories of how this routine of liturgical prayer has shaped him.  It seems to me that even though the intent of this book--as in the series---is to invite people to these habitual practices, even if one doesn't stand in the tradition of daily "fixed hour prayer" one can learn a lot about praying by leaning in close to hear the stories of a guy who prays.  If you read it, you will be blessed.

sabbath_medium.jpgSabbath  Dan Allender  I am a sucker for reading books about the Sabbath and have my list of favorites.  Some are particularly good at Biblical stuff, others at cultural criticism and why we need to break free from a culture of busy consumption.  Some are tender and spiritual, others visionary and bold.  Most seem to agree that "rest" is a theme of the Sabbath, and Allender doesn't disagree.  Yet, he makes a very provocative move and roots the Sabbath less in rest and more in the call to play.  Re-creation. Delight.  Allender is one of those authors -- he happens to be Reformed -- that brings together deep authenticity (he's a counselor, after all) and a large commitment to the large meta-narrative of the unfolding Biblical drama.  He's honest about our hurts and insightful about our context. He understands the way broken families work, he knows and has written about the pressures of leadership, and gets the "big picture" of having our story shaped by God's redemptive Story, all which seeps into this very fun, very thoughtful, and truly great book on a much-debated topic.

liturgicalyear.jpgThe series really hit its stride with the next two, which were excellently written and important and helpful.  The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Sister Joan Chittister tapped in to a very popular recent yearning, and one can hardly recommend books on the church calendar too strenuously these days--in our hectic, virtual time, this ancient sense of ritual time is more needed than we may realize.  Thank goodness for her Benedictine good sense and her deep spirituality and fine insight about how this view of time really matters.  Whether or not you follow all the feast days and cycles of liturgical holy days, this overview of the church year is very useful and shows how living in this sense of God's time can change everything.  It is very informative for those unaware of theses Catholic rhythms. Sister Joan is known as an activist for peace and justice, is a contemplative and has quite a following.  Her pitching the liturgical calendar as a "spiritual adventure" will resonate with many.

sacred_meal_lg.jpgNora Gallagher is an excellent writer, a West coast Episcopalian memoirst, whose other books are beautifully done (including a novel) and it was good to see her in this series.  The Sacred Meal is perhaps one of the most moving books I've read on Eucharist, and Lauren Winner's nice blurb on the back nearly chokes me up--it speaks to the power of books, and the power of God's grace in Holy Communion.  Winner writes, "Gallagher is a writer I would follow anywhere, but it is a particular thrill to follow her to the Lords Table; I know of no contemporary writer whose insights about the Eucharist match hers."  Or, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, "This is the book I have been waiting for--to give to seekers who are wary of pious language, to believers who have dozed off in their pews, to pastors who want to know how to speak in fresh ways of old truths, to anyone who asks me why I am still a Christian.  This is the book I've been waiting to give, but it is also the book I've been waiting to read."  Makes me glad to be a bookseller and invite you to consider what these author found to be so enriching.  Agree with the details or not, this is rich food, fruitful for living a deeper sort of discipleship.

The next two were not the biggest sellers (for us, at least) which is a shame as they teach us much about customs that are sometimes not taken seriously as weighty spiritual practices. They explore practices that are seen to have much, much substance when opened up by these capable authors.  The first practice is passed over, perhaps, because it is too scary or may easily be abused; the second isn't often explored with deep and gracious rumination because the topic seems legalistic or pragmatic in nature.  I refer to the practices of fasting and tithing.  Skip food and pay up; how thrilling is that, really?  Really? Read on!

_240_360_Book.285.cover.jpgFasting was penned by North Park prof Scot McKnight and I think choosing him to be a part of this series was a stroke of genius on the part of the editors (Ms Tickle, I presume.) Scot is a New Testament scholar who is both evangelical and ecumenical, widely respected, sharp, a quick writer, and fun.  Furthermore, besides his legendary blogging, and several volumes on Jesus, he has done a few things on liturgical prayer.  So he has the right chops for this series, the cred, the vibe.  But, alas, does he himself fast?  He can describe the Scriptural and historical background, and he can walk us wisely through the dangers and extremes.  But does he allow his own body to talk in the way he describes here---he calls it "whole body spirituality"--- in good and mature ways? Is he a practitioner?  This is very profound and was for me one of the great surprises of the series.  Yes, he knows.  Yes, he tells us what he knows.  Highly recommended, for the solid teaching and for the nice bit of personal reflection.  It is simply the best book yet done on the topic.

_233_380_Book.291.cover.jpgTithing by Douglas LeBlanc is the next in the series and, again, may seem less than sexy (as they say) than some.  Rich topics like Eucharistic prayer or the renewing power of Sabbath, writers of McLaren's or Benson's popularity, these are easy to explain as "must reads."  But tithing?  Oh my, I can't tell you how this surprised me, much as McKnight's poetic and insightful one on fasting did.  The first clue was a blurb by Beth Maynard, the Episcopal priest who put together the fabulous Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching Through the U2 Catalog who raved about it. A good sign, I thought; she likes U2 and two of my favorite writers (Steve Garber and Brian Walsh) were accepted for that sermons collection.  LeBlanc writes for Christianity Today and is an Anglican, so he's in touch with a wide variety of folks across the denominational traditions and is theologically sound.  In fact, this book is mostly stories, examples of testimonials of those who are generous with their money, committed to tithing.  In tight financial times, perhaps nothing is as helpful as telling the tales of others who have sought to be faithful, to be giving, to live into and out of a sense of God's abundance and generosity.  This may be the most ecumenical of the series as the author has reported on all kind of folks and their remarkable stories.  If you like intimate journalistic portraits, this is for you.  If you are interested in how different kinds of faith communities are renewing a sense of living missionally, this will thrill you as it did me.  This is a book of compassion and joy.  Do it!

_233_380_Book.289.cover.jpgSacred Journey  Charles Foster  This barrister from England has published a very thoughtful book on science, and has a new one forthcoming on the arguments about the historical resurrection of Jesus.  He's really smart, and a very, very energetic writer with not a little bit of pluck.  It makes sense that this guy who sets off on pilgrimages all over the world--mostly in the Middle East--- is on the move, and his writing has a verve and humor and daring unlike any in this series.  I'll be brief: I didn't intend to read this one.  I care about pilgrimage even less than fixed hour prayer.  I read the prayer one because I so enjoy the lovely prose of Mr. Benson.  But this?  One of my favorite books of the year was Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's The Wisdom of Stability, about putting down roots in a badly mobile culture.  Last year, one of the very best books of the year was by the heavy-weight thinkers and activists, Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh called Beyond Homelessness that suggested that even our disregard for the Earth and the urban poor is somehow related to our transient lack of place, our dis-placement.  So along comes the hiking science guy/lawyer, reminding us that most characters in the Bible were pilgrims and that sojourners never quite ought to fit in, that we'd be wise--physically, spiritually, relationally, politically--if we moved more, if we got out to see the world, and find God in wild places away from our comfort zones.  And he makes a compelling case.  Foster means it quite literally, he says, and his stories of pilgrimages are proof--and fascinating.  Reading at times like a holy travelogue, with a bit of history and Bible study thrown in, he mostly calls us, though, (at least) to embrace the metaphor of journey.  Who doesn't relate to that, that we are on a journey of faith?  Phyllis Tickle, in a humorously candid forward, notes that she, too, was less than thrilled with the idea of this topic and the one she delayed editing.  Alas, she names it as her favorite.  You may be in for a surprise as well.  What a fun book.  Agree or not, it is a good journey to read along.  Go for it!

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January 15, 2011

5 books on Martin Luther King, 5 books on race AND an offer for a free book

Just got back from selling books with the staff of the CCO, the thoughtful and vibrant campus ministry organization that I often talk about.  Their fun and good work with college students in Ohio, Pennsylvania, the DC area and a few other spots in the mid-Atlantic gives me great hope.  Evangelical faith can be nurtured, commitments to local churches can be deepened, new students can be introduced to the saving grace of Christ and students can be equipped to become salt and light in the world as they take up their vocations, careers and callings in the classroom.  The Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh each February, of course, is their flagship event, an event we've been deeply involved with for decades.

The topic for their staff training seminar was racial reconciliation, multi-ethnic ministry, and cross cultural intelligence.  Besides other books on faith, discipleship, social action, cultural engagement, the Christian mind, worldview, and the always-needed Bible study resources and books for growing young adult Christians---from sex and dating to prayer and spirituality---we featured books on race relations and multi-ethnic ministry.  I might guess that your church could use some help in these areas, too.  We were happy to promote (among the over 100 books on this topic we displayed) the important new book by Soong-Chan Rah, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, the new, very useful collection of essays for congregational leaders, The Multi-Cultural Ministry Handbook: Connecting Creatively to a Diverse World edited by David Anderson (also the author of the cleverly titled and very helpful Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, both published by IVP) and Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ To Engage Our Multi-Cultural World by David A. Livermore (Baker.) We really like The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change by Brenda Salter McNeil & Rick Richardson (IVP) so had that featured.  I often recommend (especially for beginners in this topic) the lovely and powerful Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity by First Nations leader Randy Woodley (IVP).  Of course we had the meaty must-read Race Matters by Cornel West (Vintage) and, for a considerable counter perspective, The Content of our Character and White Guilt by the eloquent Shelby Steele (both Harper.)  The recent Zondervan DVDs Justice for the Poor (Jim Wallis and Sojourners) and Start: Becoming a Good Samaritan (World Vision) are excellent ways to move towards this conversation as well and are ideal for small groups or adult Sunday school classes.  Do let us know if you want prices or other lists of recommended resources for your setting.

Although I didn't necessarily promote these at the event, here are some that seem right to celebrate now.  Check out the good deals on these below.  Click on the link shown to order.

5 Books on King

0069.jpgStride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story  Martin Luther King, Jr (Beacon) $14.00  I have often said that this is on my list of my all time, top-ten favorite books.  It was King's first book, narrating with edge-of-your-seat detail his work in the famous bus boycott of 1955 and 1956, published to great acclaim by Harper in 1958.  Do you recall when some dumb pundits mocked candidate Obama for being a "community organizer" as if ACORN-type groups don't really do anything?  They should read this electrifying and edifying memoir, a quintessential book reporting on the work of organizing.  King also struggles here with the question of nonviolence, his experience at seminary, his work as pastor and his sense of call to this work (as a 26 year old!) Read along as he offers leadership transforming a community, inspired by the nonviolent direct action of Mahatma Gandhi, living the literal agonies and ecstasies of this great chapter in American history.  Stunning, not only as a chronicle of history, but a charge to us all.

0067.jpgWhere Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  Martin Luther King, Jr. (Beacon) $14.00  This was King's final book, and a lot had happened from the story of 1955-1956 told in Stride to this visionary book of great hope for a better world, penned amidst the turmoil of the the late sixties civil rights struggle.  Cornel West notes that King was "one of the greatest organic intellectuals in American history.  His unique ability to connect the life of the mind to the struggle for freedom is legendary, and in this book---his last grand expression of his vision---he put forward his most prophetic challenge to powers that be and his most progressive program for the wretched of the earth." This recent edition includes a valuable introduction by the remarkable Vincent Harding.  (Harding, you may know, helped draft King's powerful, explosive speech delivered at Riverside Church in April of 1967 where he critiqued American militarism and the Viet Nam war.  Harding's ten page intro is itself a wonder and very valuable. Coretta Scott King has a forward as well.)

Martin Luther King, Jr for Armchair Theologians  Rufus Burrow, Jr. (WJK) $16.95
Do you51ESJkTTJJL._SL500_AA300_.jpg  know this series of basic introductions to various theologians--from Augustine and Aquinas through Luther, Calvin, Wesley and Edwards, into modern authors like Barth and Bonhoeffer? There is even one called The Reformation and one called The Heretics.  These are all quite enjoyable, very informative, sometimes pretty witty with winsome cartoons, even.  True to form, this is a great and readable overview, exploring deep stuff in simple ways.  Written by experts with good storytelling gifts, these are all good.  The King one is suburb.  Not to be missed.  (We have all the others in this series, too, of course.  Great for small groups.)

cover-of-what-would-martin-say1.jpgWhat Would Martin Say?  Clarance Jones (Harper) $13.99  Jones was recruited by King in 1960 and worked with him as a principal adviser and now is a scholar in residence at the Martin Luther King Jr Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.  Can anybody speak for King, imaginging what the great, if flawed, leader, would be saying to today's contemporary social problems?  Tavis Smiley suggests that Jones is "one of the few who possess the moral authority necessary to even attempt such as task, one that he more than accomplishes with a compelling candor and uncommon grace and dignity."  This is not mere speculation about bedeviling modern issues---Islamic terrorism, illegal immigration and such---but a great way to "get into" the mind of King.  This is a fascinating way to learn and we highly recommend it as a way to further conversations about the significance of King's views.

Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
                                 Lewis Baldwin (Fortress Press) $16.95   49813015.JPG We stock several books about King's preaching, but this is the only book available on this important topic, King's prayer life.  The author is an esteemed scholar in the study of King, and he has done years of original research to write this very useful, and thrilling book.  Several of King's closest associates have vouched for Baldwin's claim of King's desire to "pray without ceasing" and the mystique of his rare, gentle power.  Needless to say, it explores also his prayers of lament, his rage, his doubt---all that was well known.  That is, this is both a fabulous historical contribution---essential for a honest understanding of the man, I'd say---and a very helpful window into the life of the Spirit for any of us wanting to live a life of public discipleship rooted in prayer, meditation, and child-like dependency upon God. Nicely done.

5 Books about Race

gods-long-summer-stories-of-faith-and-civil-rights.jpgGod's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights  Charles Marsh (Princeton University Press) $18.95  This award winning and highly esteemed bit of oral history explores the religious foundations of both the civil rights activists and those who opposed desegregation, often on Biblical grounds.  Marsh is an excellent historian and an excellent writer, bringing the reader right in to this harrowing era. Interestingly, he allows both sides of the struggle to be heard, and it is amazing how sometimes the same Bible verses were used in very different contexts, for very different purposes.  Whew.  This amazing book is beyond vivid, it is riveting, heartfelt, serious, graceful---the affirming adjectives in the many reviews have piled up, reminding us that this is one of the great books in this vast field.  And, it is a good case study of profound moral questions and how people do or do not take stands in faithful, coherent way.  A very interesting book, provocative and important.

Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great
Not-In-My-Neighborhood.jpg American City  Antero Pietila (Ivan Dee) $28.95 We have here at the shop a large section on urban ministry; the stories of those living in American ghettos has long intrigued us and we long to resource those doing city work.  There are many good books with faith-based perspectives on the profound and complex problems of urban poverty and segregation and the particular sorts of racial problems in our urban centers.  None of these many books about race or poverty and ministry can be understood without knowing the history of "white flight" and the pivotal rise of segregation in U.S. cities in the middle of the 20th century.  Baltimore, Maryland was one of the cities that most enacted this awful practice and it has felt the consequences for half a century.  This important book tells the tale (as one reviewer put it) as a "page-turner"  "chock-full of riveting and shocking stories and vivid, unforgettable characters."   The large back-story of this, further, is the story of the great migration of southern blacks to the North, and that is beautifully told in the spectacular new social history called The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House; $30.00.)  This rich book, too, has garnered superlative reviews and is truly one of the great publications of the year.

51swoVb8ygL._SL500_AA300_.jpgMore Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel Spencer Perkins & Chris Rice (IVP) $16.00  As a bookseller wanting to attract new customers and keep old ones interested, I often tell of new books, push exciting recent releases and feel awkward sounding like a broken record describing older books that are well known amongst our core audience.  Still, I will say it again: this is one of the great books on this topic, honest, mature, raw, Biblically-based, practical, inspiring, tough and hopeful.  Few books get rave reviews from, say, The Christian Century and the old Moody Monthly and we can assure you that this one deserves the wide acclaim.  The late Spencer Perkins is the son of legendary black preacher of reconciliation and justice, John Perkins and here they tell of their efforts to forge inter-racial ministry and friendship.

Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Towards Beloved Community  
cmarsh.jpg Charles Marsh & John Perkins (IVP) $15.00  This is a recent release from the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, which, like the others five in the Center's series, links an academic scholar and a practitioner/ activist to write moving, thoughtful, theologically-mature reflections on topics of great relevance for those wanting to see God's gospel of reconciliation advanced.  Lauren Winner notes that while we admire the many excellent books of both of these two important authors, this may be the best they've yet done.  Brief, powerful, very highly recommended.  The other ones, by the way, are extraordinary as well.

9780802830685_l-200x300.jpgConsuming Jesus  Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church  Paul Louis Metzger (Eerdmans) $16.00  This came out a few years ago and I think it is exceptional (and exceptionally under-appreciated.)  Do you know Metzger's important and fruitful efforts at the The Institute for the Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland? (He has a new collection of various essays on theological cultural engagement called New Wine Tastings, just out from Wipf & Stock.)  Consuming Jesus has a thoughtful forward by Donald Miller and an afterward by John Perkins.  Pastor Rick McKinley says that "Paul Metzger has become a catalytic voice in the city of Portland; his passion for the gospel engaging the culture is at the core of his life."  This is beyond a study of America's race problem, it is a larger study of our culpability in reducing church and ministry to "success" measured by numbers and data and dollars.  How can we create authentic community across race and class lines, nurturing fidelity in a culture of consumption?  Can we learn to be Kingdom people, can our churches become centers of real compassion and not merely purveyors of religious services?  This is an incisive and important book, serious but well written, challenging and interesting.  I would think our customers and friends would find it very helpful.  Thanks for letting us tell you about it.

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January 17, 2011

Beautiful and important brand new books from Wolterstorff, Benner, Melleby and Waltke & Houston

I know, I know, I ought to use my limited blogging energy and time to post that big 'ol Best of 2010 list.  But I can't help myself: I have to tell you about these few.  They just arrived within the last day or so--one just a few hours ago--and I'm all jingly.  Just have to tell you.  So here are a few new ones, the best so far of the new year. 

41LssjsYWjL._SL500_AA300_.jpgHearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church and World  Nicholas Wolterstorff  (edited by Mark Gornick & Gregory Thompson) (Eerdmans) $30.00  I suspect that those who know of his work and reputation will need no convincing: Wolterstorff, the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, is truly one of the great philosophers of our time.  He came to prominence in the 70s---I think the first time I knew of him was reading his serious review of his friend Calvin Seerveld's Rainbows for the Fallen World.  (Nic had just done his own book on aesthetics, Art in Action, and Seerveld had reviewed that.)  Many found his brief and tender diary kept after the tragic death of his young adult son, Lament for a Son, to be eloquent and helpful.  Reason within the Bounds of Religion was nearly seminal, giving birth to--or at least giving public understanding to--what became known in some circles as "reformed epistemology."  His Until Justice and Peace Embrace brought renewed conversations about social justice to those with an intentionally Reformed worldview and it remains a significant contribution to culturally-engaged public theology. He has a book on a Christian philosophy of education, and a book on higher education.  And these meaty works are mostly semi-scholarly, designed for non-academic readers.  He has numerous academic works as well; last year, Princeton University Press released his heavy text Justice: Rights and Wrongs (a companion volume will come out on Eerdmans later this Spring.) Cambridge University Press released a two volume hardback set of philosophical essays.   All in all, Wolterstorff has been one of our more prolific serious authors, with a wide variety of readers lauding him.  On the back cover of this new collection we have rave comments from Notre Dame's Mark Noll (natch), Nigel Biggar (a scholar from Oxford) and a great endorsement from Gabe Fackre, a fine UCC theologian from Andover Newton.

This new book weighs in at 450 pages and includes essays, articles, sermons and shorter pieces, a compendium of good stuff from years of his semi-scholarly journal articles and his popular magazine pieces.  Nic has long been intensely engaged with issues of liturgy and justice and how faithful worship can compel faithful living in the (global) culture.  Here, he looks at topics as wide ranging as the role of worship, church hymnody and liturgical space to his own journey to justice (via the deep pain amongst black scholars in South Africa and an ever-heightening sense of the pain of the Palestinians. There are pieces on lament, a study of women in the Bible, a few on a truly Christian view of politics and the state.  Again and again, he comes back to the Biblical theme of shalom and the need for a just sense of human rights.  An interview with him---"How My Mind Has Changed About Justice" is especially illuminating.   I have clipped several of these stellar pieces from old magazines, and am delighted to have them here, in one volume.  Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World is more than a thrown-together collection of occasional pieces (although that, too, would be worth having if from the pen of N.W.)  It is a coherent and wisely arranged anthology, a volume that astute readers will return to again and again.  Thanks to Gornick for gleaning these and thanks to Eedmans for releasing it.  

3544.jpgContemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer  Juliet Benner (IVP) $17.00  I maintain that IVP is the most consistently good publisher of solid religious literature today, and their formatio line of contemplative resources never fails to impress.  Once again, they hit one out of the ballpark with this handsome, holy, paperback that I've anxiously awaited.  It is a wondrous example of not just lectio but visio divina, slowly pursuing a sacred gaze, reflecting on the full color paintings beautifully reproduced in a centerpiece signature.  For those who follow inter-disciplinary spiritual formation resources, you may know the Conversations journal (edited by the brilliant Gary Moon whose books we highly recommend.)  In that semi-annual, there is always an art piece, with gentle meditations and a good invitation to explore our inner selves by way of these classic artworks.  Think of the fine introspective work done by Henri Nouwen in his beloved book Return of the Prodigal Son, or any good work on praying with icons.  This is that sort of approach.

Drawn from those columns in Conversations Journal, Ms Benner---trained as a visual artist, now a spiritual director---has given us all a great and lavish gift.  She includes meditations moving us towards "Transformed Awareness" (with Bruegel the Elder and Vermeer and others) and "Transformed Vision" (using Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and many more) and "Transformed Living" (with paintings by artists as diverse as He Qi and Peter Rubens.) Wonderful endorsements on the back are from the Margaret Guenther (Holy Listening) and Ruth Haley Barton (Invitation to Silence and Solitude and Sacred Rhythms.)  Very well done.

Image.asp.jpgMake College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning  Derek Melleby (Baker) $12.99  Let me get it out of my system now.  Or not, because your going to be hearing a lot more about this, I'm sure.  It is--without a doubt, bar none--the best little gift book to give to a college-bound high school student that I have ever seen!  It raises the right questions, is priced and packaged wonderfully (including some cool page design and a few b/w photos) and is written with wit and true insight.  Derek, as you know, co-authored the extraordinary paperback The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness, a winsome book that advances the thesis that God cares about a college student's studies and delightfully invites collegiates to take their minds seriously as they take up their vocations as followers of Jesus in the classrooms of higher education.  This new one backs up a bit and explores where true success at college (and beyond) comes from; it ponders the key, most foundational matters that need to be explored (hopefully) prior to setting foot on campus.  It asks teens to consider big questions, including why they are going to college in the first place, who they see themselves to be, what story they find themselves a part of, and what assumptions they have about the nature of God's concern for their college experience.   There are good interviews scattered through-out, too, giving it a nice, practical touch, with just the right amount of goofiness, to boot. Nothing has quite been done like this and I seriously think it is a hugely significant book measured by the lives it will touch and the impact it will have.

I happily admit that Derek is one of my best friends and that some of this work was hammered out in stimulating conversation over the many books he bought here at Hearts & Minds (and the many cups of soup he bought me at a local joint.)  Derek has followed the very best discourse on worldview formation----from Walsh & Middleton to Steve Garber, from David Naugle to James K.A. Smith---and has allowed these deep and profound writers to inform his playful, funny handbook to the big questions young women and men simply must answer if they are going to succeed in college.  As youth ministry stalwart Chap Clark (author of Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers) puts it, "For years I have been looking for the right book to give to Christian high school grads: readable, honest, grace-focused, Christ-centered, and practical.  Finally, I've found just the ticket---Make College Count is that book."  I'll write more about this, but we are thrilled and honored that the good folks at Baker got me a handful of these to show off early.  We are the first place in the free world to have these and I couldn't be happier.  If you know any high school students currently doing the college circuit tours, or trying to figure out who they are and what they should be doing next year, this would be a sweet, nicely packaged, handsome little hardback gift to give as soon as you can.  This is the right stuff.

PS-190x285.jpgThe Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary  Bruce Waltke and James Houston (Eerdmans) $28.00  I'd promote this book with enthusiasm if it were twice the cost!  It's a bargain at this price with 625 pages of rich, rich, work; in fact, this is nearly two books in one and it is easy to explain its value.  First, Dr. Bruce Waltke, professor emeritus of biblical studies at Regent in Vancouver, is one of the great Old Testament scholars around.  Here, he does the long-awaited literary, exegetical work he is so known for, offering serious and very readable (and very useful) nuggets of insight about a dozen or so representative Psalms.  He has taught and preached the Psalms for fifty years, he says, and it surely shows in the tone and style. Dr. James Houston---a legendary ecumenical writer of deep thoughtfulness---offers a second layer of insight by doing a historical survey of how these same Psalms have been considered down through church history (even doing some helpful new translations of Latin stuff.)  Houston (a founder of the prestigious C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington DC area) moved decades ago to Vancouver to teach spiritual formation and what he termed "spiritual theology."  Eugene Peterson was his successor there at Regent, if it gives you a sense of his level of mature and gracious thinking.  Houston is a wide-ranging scholar and historian of ideas and is very rooted in the church fathers and mothers, the medieval mystics, the Puritans and other streams of spiritual renewal.  I've listened to his tapes and have friends that know him well and esteem him like few other leaders.  He is an orthodox, reliable guide to the best of the best writers of church history.  In Psalms as Christian Worship he uses his good knowledge to supplement Waltke's already brilliant research.  This one-two combo of no-nonsense, serious writing with a devotional tone is a gift to anyone who loves the Bible, anyone who appreciates the Psalter, and anyone who wants to join the best of contemporary evangelical study with a discerning insight about the traditions and insights of the past.

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January 24, 2011

Ancient Practice series just out in paperback. The sale continues...

We were delighted that our readers were so responsive to our half-off deal with the goodshowImage.aspx.jpg series in the Ancient Practices series that was edited by Phyllis Tickle.  I described each book and found myself again impressed and delighted about these.  We turned a number of friends away since it was a "while supplies last" offer and they didn't last long.  We noted that the hardbacks were soon out of print and the paperbacks were to be released shortly.

The 8 books are now all here again, in slim paperbacks, and they each include a brief study guide for classes, book clubs, spiritual direction teams or for personal reflection.  You can click here or scroll on back to my description of the books where we showed the cover, cited impressive endorsements, and explained what each is about.  Please note (again) that the hardbacks I describe there are no longer available, that the 50% off deal--we were trying to get ride of the hardbacks quickly at a price below our cost---is now done.

We will sell these paperbacks a just a bit better than a 20% discount, making them each $10.00.  Ten buckos.  Easy to remember, eh?  However, if you get the whole set (which we do recommend, as they are all worthwhile) we'll kick that up to a 30% discount.  No substitutions or switcheroos.  And no whining.  (I know you book lovers: you may have some in hardback and the paperbacks just won't match your set perfectly. I sympathize.)

We are very happy to sell these for a variety of reasons; mostly because they are well-written books by good authors.  The publisher took a bit of a risk bringing together esteemed authors who are known within pretty different circles, and putting them together as the "best of the best" for a contemporary bit of rumination on these ecumenical practices.  We should support this kind of "crossover" reading, and Nelson is to be applauded (as is the ever interesting Ms Tickle.)  Several of these authors are best known in traditional evangelical circles while others are liturgical and celebrated in mainline or Catholic circles. 

finding-our-way-again-return-ancient-practices-brian-mclaren-cd-cover-art.jpgBrian McLaren, whose very good book Finding Our Way Again, kicks off the series, was an independent evangelical, became a leader of the emergent conversation, and seems now quite comfortable in mainline circles. (His forthcoming book on spirituality, by the way, is excellent so far; I've just started an advanced copy.  It will be called Naked Spirituality and released in a month or so.)  We love this series and the  blend of insight and good scholarship and deep and authentic spirituality, each true to their own voice, withing their own tradition, but aware that these practices have been used by all quarters of the church. (Indeed, these are all practices shared, in one way or another, by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.)  Besides the good ecumenicity, we like the historicity of this---they aren't called "Ancient Practices" for no reason---and agree that knowing the insights of those who have gone before us is especially appealing in this 21st century era.   And each author tell stories, making these quite appealing to those who like memoir.  From the elegant Bob Benson telling about his ups and downs with fixed hour prayer to Nora Gallagher beautifully describing her experiences with Eucharist to Doug LeBlanc sharing stories of giving and grace, to the travails of life on pilgrimage with the feisty Charles Foster, these are tales of the journey, reports from the road. They are informative and inspirational, formational.   We are eager to promote them, glad they are inexpensive, and happy to offer a bit extra discount of these brand new paperback editions.

Here they are again.  You can read them in any order...

Finding Our Way Again  Brian McLaren
In Constant Prayer  Robert Benson
Sabbath                    Dan Allander
The Liturgical Year  Joan Chittister
The Sacred Meal     Nora Gallagher
Fasting                     Scott McKnight
Tithing                      Douglas LeBlanc                     
Sacred Journey       Charles Foster

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January 29, 2011

Poetic Theology (William Dyrness), Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton (Kevin Belmonte) and The Gospel According to Dylan (Michael Gilmour)

Great new books keep showing up.  Despite the hassles of too much snow and a few too many irons in the fire, I'm thrilled to sneak away for a bit and dip into brand new releases.  These are three that I've been waiting for, and now that they are available, they seemed to make an interesting set to tell you about this snowy day.
9780802865786_l.jpgPoeticTheology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life William A. Dyrness (Eerdmans) $26.00  I know the very word "aesthetics" may sound highbrow to some, and the discipline is--once one gets beyond saying that God cares about creativity and the arts---is known for obtuse writing and nettlesome quandaries.  Yet, Dyrness, as always, has an eye to everyday life and how an openness to allusiveness (as Seerveld puts it) and experiences of beauty can help us frame meaning, honor God, and move towards personal flourishing and social transformation.  This is a heavy book in many ways, but is a treasure to behold.  A simple but elegant cover, spectacular prose, and serious footnotes, all make this a reader's delight.  Anyone interested in the best of culturally engaged contemporary theology will love it, I am sure.  Anyone interested in the arts, aesthetics, beauty and the like should consider it a "must read."  It is a very important contribution.

A few of these chapters have appeared in slightly abridged forms other places, in academic journals in the fields of systematic theology and aesthetic theory. (Dyrness wrote the entry on "The Arts" in the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology.)  And some chapters are adapted from lectures, at places as diverse as Dubuque Theological Seminary, Covenant College and a missionary conference in the Philippines.  Bill Dyrness is professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary (the most multi-cultural seminary in the world, I've heard, and a thoughtfully evangelical one at that!  And they most likely do the best work on the arts at their Brehm Center, of any seminary anywhere.)  He has been active in good conversations and leadership in faith-based arts groups such as CIVA, IAM, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  I like that he has done serious scholarly publishing (such as Reformed Theology and Visual Culture on Cambridge University Press) and thoughtful, mid-range stuff for the educated layperson, pastor or serious undergrad (Visual Faith: Theology, Art, and Worship in Dialogue published by Baker.)  This wonderful collection is formed with obvious great care to create a coherent case, nurturing a theology of desire and delight and is at once both scholarly and readable, academic yet truly enjoyable.   

I am especially impressed with the breadth of his investigation.  Dyrness tells stories of ordinary folks who find great meaning in the beauty of nature--people who ski or fish--and he is fluent in the latest, mainstream theological renderings about aesthetics, from Paul Ricoeur to David Bentley Hart to so many others.  He even devotes good space to the tradition that has most influenced my own thinking on these things, tracing the ideas of Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper through philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, on to Calvin Seerveeld, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Jeremy Begbie.  Poetic Theology is not about poetry, as such, and moves fluently from theology to social life and the arts,  from ritual worship to ordinary sensual experiences, from Reformed spirituality and Protestant piety to important insights about cultural reformation and God's restoration of creation.

Mark Burrows of Andover Newton Theological School notes that this great book "reminds us that truth itself is beautiful to behold and poetic to the core...Dyrness's call for a poetic theology is one we ignore at our peril, reminding us that faithful living is not only about proper thinking but also--and, perhaps, more properly--about the texture of our living and the quality of our loving."  Hooo-ray for that!

_233_380_Book.348.cover.jpgDefiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K. Chesterton  Kevin Belmonte (Thomas Nelson) $16.99  I cannot say much about this yet as I have only glanced through it.  It is brand new, and I can say this much:  Firstly, Chesterton is often cited, well known, but few of us really know much about the wildly important, zany character.  Authors as diverse as the current Pope and Phil Yancey and the great literary figure T.S. Elliot rave about him.  (Well, in Elliot's glowing obituary for Chesterton on June 20, 1936, he writes that "Chesterton's cheerfulness..was depressing.")

 Belmonte quotes further from Eliot, who said, "What matters here is Chesterton's lonely moral battle against his age." 

Indeed, the joyful Christian apologist (whose book on Jesus, The Everlasting Man, help convert C.S. Lewis and whose book Orthodoxy so shaped Yancey) was a voice against the secularism and muddled views of his age.  He often debated the cranky George Bernard Shaw, yet his charm was irrepressible.  Belmonte writes, "Their worldviews were as different as their physical appearance: Shaw, the rail-thin 'heathen mystic'; Chesterton, the rotund, Johsonian champion of orthodoxy."  He continues, noting Shaw's tribute after Chesterton's death, "Shaw had a 'deep affection' for his departed friend, which was warmly returned.  He mourned Chesterton's loss greatly."  Shaw wrote to G.K.'s widow (aware that Gilbert, as he called him, hadn't watched his money carefully) and offered her financial support.  In his final letter, he made a lovely allusion to The Pilgrims Progress, in an example of what Belmont calls "great tenderness."  "The trumpets are sounding for him," Shaw said.

Yes, the great G.K. Chesterton fought the culture wars with charm and grace and wit and intelligence. He loved many (he was quite the fan of Mark Twain) and met many more (he had an important encounter with Winston Churchill, for instance.)  We could all learn from this man who was known for his great appetites, charming stories, extraordinary journalistic output and well-argued orthodox theology.  There are other biographies of the curious Chesterton (The Outline of Sanity is a standard) but this looks like a perfect, serious, yet easy-to-read work.

I can say this, also.  Kevin Belmont is a rigorous historian and fine writer.  Before the popular Amazing Grace movie about Wilberforce gave us the recent Amazing Grace biography by Eric Metaxas, Belmont's William Wilberforce: Hero for Humanity was surely the finest Wilberforce biography available and is happily still in print. He has done some other very nice, brief biographies, and we think he's an author you should know.  Certainly he is well matched with this topic, and seems to be the perfect man for the perfect Chesty book.  I'm enthralled with the footnotes, even---including a stunning expose of an unfounded Chesterton rumor!---and know that I will learn much when I read this more carefully.  I am sure you will, too.

7477014.jpegThe Quotable Chesterton: The Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton compiled by Kevin Belmonte (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  What more can I say?  A lovely companion volume, jam-packed full of aphorisms, sayings and witticisms, helping readers dip in and appreciate this prolific patron saint of good writers.  His knowledge was immense and his interests as wide as life.  He has been considered a true master of the essay form, and a brilliant genius.  Over 850 entries.

The Gospel According to Bob Dylan: The Old, Old Story for Modern Times  Michael
51+VSiQNKPL._SL500_AA300_.jpg Gilmour (WJK) $15.00  As you probably know, we here at the shop have been fond of this series that the Presbyterian Church (USA) press has done, starting with the million-selling Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert Short in 1965.  The series got new life with the fantastic Gospel According to The Simpsons, and continues strong doing faithful cultural criticism, both trying to determine what "the gospel" (as in "the message of...") the person in question might be, and how it does or doesn't compare to the Biblical gospel of Christ. A few are fairly critical of their topics (The Gospel According to Oprah and The Gospel According to Disney come to mind.) The authors are always well versed in their field, and some, especially so---the remarkable Steve Turner on the Beatles, say, or fanboy Greg Garrett on U2--and this is doubtlessly true in this case.  In fact, I might wager that this may be the best volume in the series; Gilmour is as insightful a Dylanologist as I've seen anywhere, amazingly well versed in the music, concerts, bootlegs, liner notes,  interviews, and the books by and about Mr. Zimmy.  (I've been reading the esteemed and often perplexing collection Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010, by the way, and this, frankly, is much more rewarding.)  Faithful to Dylan's own sense, I'd guess, Gilmour makes much of the ambiguities in the narratives and demanding art of Dylan, and emphasizes the ways in which the work functions as it is received by the listener.  That is, he isn't making a simple case that Dylan believes this or that theological proposition and insists that listeners discover insight and even religious meaning in their own (communal?) hearing. This isn't going to please everyone, and although the author is a New Testament professor, he doesn't do much obvious Biblical reflection here.  He does, however, have a fascinating book enumerating the many Biblical allusions in the Dylan oeuvre; see his Tangled up in the Bible: Bob Dylan in Scripture (Continuum; $21.95.)  Professor Gilmore also wrote, by the way, a very thoughtful book which we stock published by Baylor University Press ($19.95) called Gods and Guitars: Seeking the Sacred in Post-1960s Popular Music.   

Gilmour is personal in his writing (he knows and loves the Dylan material, obviously) and is candid about the religious complexities of it all.  As theologian, mystic, and New Testament scholar Dale Allison writes, "It is by turns lyrical analysis, biography of a myth, and a phenomenology of listening.  Bobheads of all stripes should devour it with enthusiasm."

I love the rave reviews on the back of The Gospel According to Dylan.  Debbie Blue, author of two spectacular books herself, writes, knowingly,

This is a rare book amid the proliferation of Dylan literature---a thorough read of the rich, playful, and unruly theological imagination of Bob Dylan.  Gilmour doesn't simplify, classify, or categorize, recognizing that faith for Dylan may be more about wandering than standing still.  Beyond all the good Dylan stuff, it is an intelligent exploration of how meaning is generated, and how popular culture provides religious experience.  Dylan fans won't want to miss it, but anyone interested in the intersection of faith and culture should read it.

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January 31, 2011


Allow me to be candid.  This best of the year thing is tricky.  I want you to enjoy my celebrations and accolades, so the column is hopefully somewhat amusing and informative.  I do want to be sincere, naming books that truly deserve honorable mention and that we deem to be important for our audience.  Late as I am, I know what other lists have touted and I'm tempted to just mimic those who are smarter than I.  Yet, I usually offer awards for books that we have carried and that I have read, not necessarily the best the world has to offer, but the best we've been pleased to review and sell.  So, for instance,  I know that Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is one of the best novels of the year---my wife couldn't put it down---but I haven't gotten to it yet. (I did love the weird and wondrous The Corrections.) So I can't really list his new one, since I haven't read it, even though I sort of feel like I should; lots of people I respect have said so and I think serious folks might think ill of us if we ignore it.  Add to my quandary that we are not primarily a book review journal but a bookstore, and we want to convince at least a few folks out there to buy a couple of these, so we have a view to what you, dear reader, friend and followers of the Hearts & Minds tribe, will find stimulating.  Which is just a long way of saying I don't quite know what I'm doing, and offer these with the proverbial grain of salt, and occasional tongue in cheek.  So, without further ado, let the salty cheekiness begin.


Okay, we ain't the Academy Awards here, so I won't make you wait for the final five minutes of a drawn-out show to get to the biggee.  Let's get this out of the way.  I've pondered.  I've prayed.  I've read and re-read.  It's a tough call, especially given, well, the toughness of the call.  So I'm taking the cheap way out.  I'm announcing an unprecedented four-way tie.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy  Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson) $29.99  I've been taken by this book since before it got published; the author's first publisher dismissed it as too lengthy.  The usually sane and amiable Metaxas held his ground, a new publisher was found, and it was released in all its verbose glory.  I think I'd take maybe two sentences out, but this is a hugely important, remarkably interesting, exceptionally inspiring work.  It deserves awards for making an important contribution to the complex field of Bonhoeffer studies (reframing the Lutheran martyr as a solid and orthodox Trinitarian evangelical as opposed to the Christ-less universalists some gatekeepers in the Bonhoeffer study guild have claimed.)  And, he has brought the history of the theological and spiritually-based resistance of Nazism to the forefront of especially the evangelical community, who have promoted this book significantly.  At the end of the broadest evaluation of this books insights and historical value and important impact, it must be said, though, that it is a rip-roaring good read, told well, in accessible, clear prose.  Truly one of the best religious books of recent years, and one of the most valuable of 2010.  

The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Towards God Leslie Leyland Fields (Wipf & Stock) $30.00  I wasn't kidding when I said in my previous review of this that there are a few chapters in here that are amongst the finest prose I have read, ever.  I have read and read again Denise Frame Harlan's fine memoiristic reflection, asking if I like it so only because I know here,and know some of the people she writes about.  (Yes, it was political thinker Jim Skillen who cried while reading the passage in Robert Farrar Capon's Supper of the Lamb that so effected Ms Harlan. Yes, he was doing a staff training time for the CCO.)  I admit to my bias, but her writing and her story is simply stunning, as are many others.   It is my conviction that Ms Fields has pulled together some of the finest contemporary writers who are justly famous for the notable skills at wordsmithing---like the aforementioned Capon, Wendell Berry, Lauren Winner or Alexander Schmemman---and newer, perhaps up-coming authors, chefs, theologians, novelists, activists.  Ms Fields own lovely piece about farm life (that has been published at TheHighCallings blog) is itself a wonder, a true wonder.  Not only is this varied writing consistently high quality, the insight and perspective is sometimes nothing short of brilliant.  And the topic is spot on, with the recent interests in the spirituality of the ordinary, concerns about nutrition, food justice, and the daily rituals of preparing and eating God's good gifts of food.  And did I mention there are recipes?   I don't care for the cover, and it is a shame that a paperback is priced as it is,  but this should not stop you from owning this tremendous, wondrous, anthology.  You can read it again and again, share pieces, use it to remind you of the goodness of God's world, the ways in which we can see life anew, and how to more closely pay attention to the stuff that matters most. And it may remind you, too, to pick up a copy of Supper of the Lamb, which would surely please the authors herein.  I gently tap my silver against my goblet: cheers to one and all.

To Change the World: The Irony Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World  James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press) $27.95  If you've been paying attention this summer, you may know that this sophisticated book was discussed, loved and loathed, evaluated and debated in journals, blogs, conferences and confabs  and in many venues, reviewed in some of the circles we most respect.  In a notably gracious move, Andy Crouch, who is dissed by Hunter in the book, reviewed it pretty favorably in Christianity Today.  Editors there then asked him to take off the gloves, and say what he thought about Hunter's critique of his Culture Making project.  They invited Charles Colson to likewise respond to Hunter's criticisms of his role in the rise of the Christian right.  That dialogue--not exactly unprecedented, but perhaps too rare--hints of the richness of this work and is an indication that it is being taken seriously.  The rave reviews on the back from Charles Taylor (whose whopping A Secular Age was a Very Important Work of recent years), Robert Bellah, and Nicholas Wolterstorff of Yale might impress you.  One may or may not fully agree with Hunter's interesting critiques of various efforts to transform culture---he simply dismisses the Christian right, the Christian left, the cultural engagement efforts of Catalyst and The Q events, not to mention the neo-Anabaptist feistiness of Hauwerwas and the Radically Orthodox.  You may not buy his arguments about the sociology of how change happens, the role of elites, ideas, institutions.  And I'm still unsure about the implications of the "faithful presence" approach he outlines in the final portion.  No matter; this is doubtlessly the most important book of its kind in years, attracting sustained attention and evoking very important conversations in many important places.   Let us move away from the politics of resentment and victimization, reform our capitulation to the spirit and styles of late modern times, and find fruitful, lasting ways to be effective in our call to be salt and light.  This book will help.  Pastors, leaders, writers, and anyone interested about the public witness of God's people should grapple with this astute, serious work.

What Good Is God? In Search of a Faith That Matters  Philip Yancey (FaithWords) $23.99  Line-for-line, Yancey is one of the most important writers of our day, bar none.  I think he is vastly under-rated, although he is esteemed, in theory.  I am not sure folks have purchased this book in our circles in the way they should have, and I am honoring it now not just to get sales going again---although I sincerely pray that this happens---but because I simply cannot get the sentences and pictures and stories out of my mind.  How many authors carry rave reviews from Billy Graham (he doesn't blurb anybody else that I know of) and edgy bohemian, Anne Lamott, who says "I love Yancey's work.  He is a brilliant, graceful writer."  

Yes, Yancey is a graceful writer.  He works hard at his craft, and puts together sentences with an economy and care that few journalists can match.  I hope he gets some huge life-time achievement award some day, because he deserves it.  This book is a spectacular collection of two essays, each set in one of ten places.  He travels to ten hard places and writes about what difference God makes in those places.  This is why he travels, why he covers the hard stuff, why he writes: to determine if it matters.

Here, he tells us some of the most unsettling stuff he has ever written about.  From sex workers to campus massacre at Virginia Tech, he enters as a caring observer, learns the stories from the ground up, and reports back from the field just what he sees.  And what he sees is good news, good news among the rubble, among the pain, poignant and deep and real.  From China to South Africa, from Mumbai to Memphis, he tells of what God is doing, without being glib, sensational or overbearing.  A few of these stories are a bit more gripping and raw than others; his story of his old church in urban Chicago--"a place for misfits"---is upbeat and inspiring.  He visits the Inklings hang-outs at Oxford and makes a very good case on the true and lasting significance of Lewis, a apostle to the skeptics.  His two chapters on his old legalistic Bible college are fair and honest and fascinating.  Some will criticize him for being critical; he gets letters from all over the world, though, thanking him for naming the toxic faith that emerged in those years at those kind of places.  And yet, even here, he is a writer of good grace. 

This is not a random collection of miscellaneous pieces (although if it were, it would still be award-winning, as a best greatest hits album!)  No, these ten stops along his way, where he tells the "story behind the story" each contribute another piece to the puzzle, an insight gathered, another remarkable testimony about his biggest question: does God matter?  Read this for the good writing.  Read this to learn about the amazing grace he finds.  Read this to shore up your own doubts and fears.  Give this to others who need to hear the news, first hand accounts, of a God who is there.  Yancey always deserves our gratitude for being a writer of integrity and class.  Here, he has given us a book that will last, accounts of faith that makes a difference.   


Again, a tie.  We have a handful that we've enjoyed, and we are glad that Christian publishers do this kind of work.  These are the two we want to list.

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts  Edited by W. David O. Taylor (Baker) $14.99  From the forward by poet Luci Shaw to the final chapter ("My Hopes and Prayer" by Taylor himself) this is a truly splendid collection.  The pieces are relatively short, not overly demanding, yet thoughtful and rich and varied.  Makoto Fujimura notes that it is "pragmatic and theologically astute at the same time" and he is correct.  There is foundational, thoughtful, and inspiring theology and perspective here, and there are practical pieces, clear-headed proposals and positive suggestions.  It is encouraging, if honest, and a wonderful example of how a wide variety of authors can contribute to a single, over-arching vision.  Unlike, say, our very favorite anthology of this sort, edited by Ned Bustard, It was Good: Making Art for the Glory of God (Square Halo Press), this collection is not necessarily by and for artists.  Here we have John Witvliet on worship, Lauren Winner teaching us about art patronage, Eugene Peterson on the role of the pastor to encourage artists.  (If you are an artist whose pastor does not encourage you, perhaps you could give this to him or her. Or, read this chapter for yourself, allowing Peterson to mentor you through his good words.)  Barbara Nicolosi, a fabulous Roman Catholic leader in the film industry offers an insightful chapter about the inclinations of the artistic types (and how to shepherd them.)  There is a chapter for practitioners and a wise essay on the dangers of art-making in the local church.  Jeremy Begbie's last chapter is a call for further scholarship and practice, offering good hope for  the recent renaissance in Christians working in the arts.   

Of course it has long been our position that artists----like bankers or teachers or counselors or engineers---don't have to do their work in the church, or in service of the gathered community in worship.  Yet, there can be a vibrant relationship between artists and the local church, and this book has catapulted that conversation a light year ahead in the right direction.  What a fun array of authors, an excellent array of ideas, a good array of suggestions.  Get this book, give it away, keep the conversation going.    

Saving Leonardo: A Call To Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning  Nancy Pearcy (B&H) $26.99  I have reviewed this a great length at BookNotes, and I hinted that I am a tiny bit unsure about Ms Pearcy's interpretation of some particular cultural artifacts.  I'm not even sure she is fully correct about her sweeping evaluation about the history of ideas, let alone the way worldviews have crept in to popular mindset via specific art pieces.   I didn't say it, but the reactionary subtitle, and the occasionally alarmist rhetoric gives some balanced readers pause. (See Alissa Wilkinson's very fair critique in Comment.)  Yet, despite these concerns, it is a indication of the strength of this book that despite any controversy it engenders and any weaknesses it carries, it deserves to be considered one of the best--and most informative and interesting--books of recent years.  Pearcy has done us all a very great service by again exposing the false dualisms of contemporary culture, what Francis Schaeffer termed the dichotomy between the "upper story" and "lower story" or of what philosophers like Polanyi describe as an unhelpful epistemological split between facts and values.  Sound complicated?  That is exactly why we are eager to honor this book with an award: it navigates complicated streams of thoughts---most vitally from the Romantic era---in clear and provocative ways.  Whether you have a passing awareness of philosophy or not, or care about art history much, you simply have to think a bit about the way ideas of trickled down, from 18th century painters to 20th century film-makers, to our postmodern 21st century computer games and graphic novels and TV shows.  Love it or argue with it, a good book will teach you something, make you think, draw you to deep matters that matter, and allow you to have some pleasure in doing so.  From the full color art, the clear writing, and the provocative thesis, this is a book deserving of your attention.  Kudos to the Baptist publishers Broadman for daring to publish what some might find arcane.  I hope it sells widely and is discussed seriously.  


Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World  Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00  I have celebrated this book years ago, when it was out in an earlier version.  This re-packaged and slightly expanded edition is to be more than applauded, it is to be honored---in the deepest sense of the word.  I honor this because it is honorable.  It is fair.  It is kind.  It is principled.   It is honest.  It is fun and flavorful, interesting and intrepid.  It is right and it is necessary.  Please, please, please.  Get this book, spread the word, pass it on.  Learn from this wise, cautious, passionate thinker about being true to one's convictions, even as one pays attention to public etiquette and civil discourse.  Whether you have concerns about conflict in your local congregation, ugliness in your community or workplace, or are weighted down by the harsh impasse we find in our national discourse, this book can help.  Thanks to Mouw for re-thinking this, thanks to IVP for re-issuing it.  

Christian America and the Kingdom of God  Richard Hughes (Illinois University Press) $29.95  This has a 2009 copyright date, but I believe it was released so close to the tail end of last year that it really is--for all practical purposes (or, at least for my practical purposes)--a 2010 title.  Maybe I'm cheating a little, but I want to honor this as a stand-out title this year on the curious question of how American exceptionalism developed and is maintained by inappropriate confusion about God's work in the world.  This certainly is a more urgent question now then it was when the good professor starting writing this a few years ago.  There are blurbs here from thee always thoughtful and prudent Mark Noll, from the esteemed Martin Marty,and from the late Howard Zinn (perhaps the last book the activist historian endorsed.) Noll is correct, I think, when he says this is trenchant; as he says 
"Those who think that the United States is distinctly Christian nation and those who are sure it is not will both read this book with great profit."  "Few have written on this topic with as much intelligence and authority as he" says one reviewer.  That deserves a shout out from the Hearts & Minds awards bench.  Yay.

Global Warming and the Risen Lord: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change Jim Ball (Evangelical Environmental Network) $25.00  We are grateful that in recent years there have been an outpouring of fine, Christian scholarship---Biblical, theological, and scientific---about creation care and stewardship of God's world.  Some are very, very good.  With the horrors in the Gulf this year, and the ongoing debates about climate change (and the publication of Eaarth by Bill McKibben last year) the need for such resources remains stronger than ever.  How to pick out one for a special award?

Well, I am happy to announce that GWaRC deserves honor for several reasons, with layers of merit and notability. Firstly, it is well written, by a first-class Christian leader; Rev. Dr. Jim Ball has been at this a long time and we have admired him for decades in his faithful, progressive leadership among evangelicals, especially.  He is creative, well informed, energetic, and full of God's good vision of hope.  He has studied this topic for decades, used to work for the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been interviewed or listed as a viable leader in places such as Time, Newsweek, ABC's Good Morning America and even Rolling Stone, and has testified before the U.S. Senate.  And he is always clear about this faith.  (As an aside, mainline denominational publishers have, true to form, also published serious contributions to the on-going theological conversation about creation, ethics and sustainability.  I have found them, almost without fail, to be theologically bizarre, obscure, scholastic, over-priced and largely useless in the serious struggle to mobilize church folks to become active in efforts at lifestyle and policy change of our deadly industrial culture.  Kudos to guys like Ball who speak plainly, faithfully, with orthodox doctrine and vibrant piety.)  Global Warming and the Risen Lord has a handsome design on the inside with some striking b/w photographs and a couple of other lovely graphic touches.  The endorsements from a wide array of esteemed church and world leaders illustrate the book's credibility---from N.T. Wright in England to Gordon MacDonald in New England, from Sir John Houghton (a former Chair of an Intergovernmental Scientific Panel) to Larry Schweiger the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Foundation.

I like the quote from Ron Sider, who notes that "Jim's book displays his passion for protecting the poor and vulnerable and provides a clarion call for Christians to do so by walking faithfully with the Risen Lord as He leads the way in overcoming global warming."  And that is yet another beautiful and innovative contribution to this Biblically-based spirituality of creation-care: it emphasizes the risen Christ!  If Jesus has indeed risen from the dead, and reigns, then this truth has huge and important implications for the way in which we work on this issue.  Three green cheers for this important book (and the way Russell Media helped get it printed in an environmentally sound manner, partnering with "Plant with a Purpose.")  Local pal, United Methodist clergyman (and former coal industry man) Mitch Hescox, President of the EEN, has a nice afterward.  


Living Mission: The Vision and Voices of New Friars edited by Scott Bessenecker (IVP) $16.00  A few years ago Bessenecker did a powerful book documenting young missionaries and social activists who have aligned themselves with the poorest of the poor, from the slums of Manilla to the refugee camps of Sudan to the barrios of Brazil.  These are relief workers, church planters, wandering servants, evangelicals shaped by the ethos of Francis, all described in gruesome glory in a book called The New Friars. In this new one, Bessenecker invites a number of these thoughtful, engaged, and now significantly experienced servants of the poor to describe the essential tenants of their view of mission.  From elder, long-term urban missionaries like Viv Grig to world-travelled folk like Christopher and Phileena Heuertz (Word Made Flesh), this collection is powerful, inspiring, challenging, and very important.  What a strong bit of hefty wisdom!  What an indication of the emerging tone in missiology. Spectacular.  Thank goodness for folks like this, doing this work.  And thanks for publishers like IVP who have the guts to so gracefully describe it.

 â€¨Friends at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl (IVP) $15.00 This is the fourth in this absolutely fabulous "Resources for Reconciliation" series, an on-going set of books coming from the Duke Divinity School Center on Reconciliation.  Each book pairs a scholar with an activist, and brings us extraordinary insight and powerful stories, designed for good reading and good conversation.  This one is like no other book we know, seriously linking themes of hospitality to how we become friends with those whom we serve.   Pohl, you may know, nearly "wrote the book" on hospitality, by writing the book Making Room.  Christ Heuertz is one of the aforementioned New Friars and is as worldly wise about the poorest of the poor, and what it means to do justice and mercy in these settings, than anyone writing books today.   Together, they have given us an unprecedented book.

Nearly everyone going on short term mission trips struggles to avoid patronizing or "helping" others in demeaning ways, and this small book takes that struggle to a new level, offering theological resources and fresh ideas for developing attitudes and practices of authentic mutuality.  Anyone who supports missionaries, anybody who cares about service in the world, and certainly anyone who who participates in work projects or short-term mission trips really should get this book.  We give it an enthusiastic award, with very deep appreciation.


Oh my, we love this genre.  There are several that I have re-read this year, and I've been struck by their influence in my literary tastes.  Still, there are new ones, and it is hard to award just one.  Here are a few we consider our favorites.

I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth Brenda Peterson (DeCapo) $25.00  I told everybody about this as I was reading it as it was one of those wonderfully written and truly remarkable stories that drew me in and stuck with me for months.  The story is well told, and I grew to love writer (indeed, I've now explored other non-fiction nature writing she has done.)  This memoir is, to say it more simply than it deserves, is about the author growing up in the 70s as the child of a National Parks Service outdoorsman, learning from her beloved dad more about nature than most of us will ever know.  Her passion of animals and earth and sky soon came to be in conflict with the Southern Baptist fundamentalism of her rapture-oriented parents.  How they held together the goodness of God's world and His presence around us and their conviction that Christ would burn it all up as they flew to an invisible far-away heaven is beyond me, but they did.  Science, good cooking, animals, an abiding joy in the beauty of landscape was part of their family values and yet Brenda was severely scolded for asking if she'd see her dog in heaven.   This story is her account of her drift from faith, her ongoing theological reflection, her environmental activism.

Near the end of this aching story she says she discovers N.T. Wright, whose theology affirms the goodness of creation and insists that the bodily resurrection of Christ portends the restoration of the whole cosmos.  She wonders if she heard this twenty years earlier if it would have saved her faith.  One wonders.  One also has to wonder why a writer as smart as Peterson couldn't figure some of this out on her own; surely there were robust evangelical voices of peace and justice that she could have discovered.  If only...still, for a beautifully rendered faith journey, and a fantastic window into conservative religion of late baby boomers, this is one heck of a book.  One of my "can't put down" awards goes to this, for sure.   

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir  Michele Norris (Pantheon) $24.95 A few years ago NPR called our bookstore, with the calling saying she was calling on behalf of Michele Norris.  Had I heard of her, she wondered.  Had I heard of her?  Were they kidding me?  Norris had somehow heard of our work in York PA a few years previous pulling together an ethnically and politically and religiously diverse group to work for the rights of detained Chinese immigrants, and wondered if we could help set up some candid conversations around race in a typical mid-American town.  She says in the preface of this riveting book that the subsequent NPR story (maybe you heard it) recorded in York got her to thinking about her own racially complex past.  Granted, she is a nationally esteemed journalist, but the elegant recommendations on the back cover---from luminaries such as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Henry Louis Gates, Tom Brokaw, Dave Isay of StoryCorps---all speak of this books remarkable power of a "painful yet triumphant journey of self-discovery" for this one unique American family.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Goodwin writes that "History at its best is storytelling...in the hands of a gifted storyteller, a memoir becomes more than a chronicle of the writer's life.  It becomes the history of a time and place.  So it is with this magnificent memoir---one of the most eloquent, moving, and insightful memoirs I have ever read."  Given our tiny, tiny, tiny bit of influence on this, we simply have to give it a large shout out.  It deserves real awards and perhaps it will itself be nominated for something like the American Book Award or a Pulitzer.  For now, she gets it from us.  Kudos!

Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature Kathleen Kean Moore (Trumpeter) $15.95  I am sad this splendid, lovely, smart, nature writer's other books---among my all time favorites!---are out of print.  I will hope they are reissued.  This new one, again, made me literally tremble at certain pages, and while this seems a bit more demanding then her other glowing reportage, this is surely one of the best books of its broad genre.  Interestingly, the theme of this is how being present to the grandeur of nature can, in fact, help us grieve well.  There is not as much direct stuff about grief and loss as one might expect (although the author shares great sadness in the preface, explaining the build-up of losses she faced in the run-up to writing these pieces.)  She is, literally, an outdoors-woman and although she is also a philosophy professor, her specialty is the lived experience of being with nature.  Scott Russell Sanders says, as I cited when I first reviewed this, "This book itself is such a consoling creation a cause for gratitude and joy."  I agree.

Lit: A Memoir Mary Karr (Harper) $14.99  Can we just out and out cheat here?  Call it the best 2010 memoir in paperback or something: it came out last year, and Beth and I both oddly waited until this year to devour it.  Her previous two---Liars Club and Cherry--are considered among the finest of 20th century memoir and were books that showed us how to tell a hard-scrabble story of brokenness and dysfunction and still keep us laughing, with jaw-dropping prose, recalling a life through a writer's artful lense. 

Now, in Lit, with a fantastic play on the word, literature prof Karr turns into the addict she most feared she would become, marries, reunites with her crazy Texan mother, and--get this--becomes a Christian as she is sponsored into the Catholic church by a famous literary figure as she continues to grow as a famous writer... I think we may have given a shout out to this last year, but now that it is here in paperback, and Beth and I have both read every page, we can't say enough about its captivating prose, the remarkable life it describes, and how, again, Mary Karr shows us how to do this thing called literary memoir.  One of the most awarded books of last year, and we are happy to fully agree.


Hope In Scattered Times: A Life of Christopher Lasch Eric Miller (Eerdmans) $32.00  I almost listed this as one of my personal favorite books of the year, and it certainly is one of the most amazing books in any category.  I am aware that it is not for everyone but it is truly extraordinary, about a very important scholar and writer.  There is no other serious biography of the great public intellectual, Christopher Lasch, and Dr. Miller of Geneva College has served us well with this wonderfully-written, exceedingly fascinating account of the intellectual journey of one of the great minds of the later half of the 20th century.  Here is some of what I wrote about it in a review I did in Comment, on-line journal.

...readers appreciate serious social criticism and Christopher Lasch was one of the most important and insightful prophets of our time; his Culture of Narcissism,  Haven in a Heartless World, and True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics are modern classics of serious intellectual social history.  Indeed, this thrilling biography follows Lasch's journey from a U.S. family steeped in liberal and progressive politics, through his time as a student in 1950s Harvard and on to being a "public intellectual" during the Cold War, and his break with the ideological failings of liberalism, embracing something quite other than old-school conservatism. Although his intellect was formidable, his relationships with an impressive array of friends were equally remarkable. (He was, for instance, novelist John Updike's roommate in college, was mentored or influenced by some of the great American scholars of the 20th century---Mills, Niebuhr, Schlessinger, Kennen, Hofstadter---and in the conservative revolution of the 80s was in the thick of conversations with everyone from Jacques Ellul to Robert Bellah to Jean Bethke Elshtain.  One of the best books of any year that shows the story of a thinker's life, his movement away from secular theories, and his effort to embrace a new tradition of doing social criticism with a view to sustainable hope.  The book title, by the way, is a line from Auden.


American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us  Robert D. Putnam & David E. Campbell (Simon & Schuster) $30.00 This is big and fat and has some graphs, so I'm afraid it isn't going to be a best-seller here.  Yet, the book is garnering critical review, it is climbing up the best-seller charts, as the authors have been vetted in important venues.   The back jack endorsements are stunning, with amazing raves from Cornel West, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, Rabbi Eric Yoffie (who says,"This is the best overview of American religion in the last half century I have ever read.  If you care about American religion, you must read this book.")  Another reviewer wrote that it is "an instant canonical text...indispensable." How about this, from Alan Dershowitz, "This remarkable book does to religion what the Kinsey Report did to sex: document, dissect, and assess...whether you are a fundamentalist or an atheist (or anything in between) this book matters."

 It's no wonder it is getting acclaim, first from the reputation of Putnam: Bowling Alone was an immensely helpful, and very, very interesting contribution to understanding voluntary associations in our time, and how groups---from bowling leagues to the PTO to the local Methodist church---are decreasing in their role in people's lives. It was one of the great books of the last decade, and we were early promoters.   Here, now, the master sociologists turn their eyes to this very big issue of the day, how religion functions in our culture, how it does or doesn't divide us, and how we can think about faith in a pluralistic culture.  They've been working on this for years, and given the harsh zeitgeist on these things, it hasn't come a moment too soon.  I will admit to not having read all of this.  I am not sure if all of his proposals are as helpful or fruitful as we may need.  No matter.  This is a key book, important, vibrant, serious, and to be commended.  We wanted to tout it, applauding the seriousness, the perspective, the writing, and the topic.  Kudos to one and all involved.

Bye-Bye Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and their Underdog Crusade to Redraw America's Political Map  Bill Kauffman (Chelsea Green) $17.95 Well, this is going to be a hard-sell, having you honor our awarding this for anything more than the season's longest subtitle. And I'm not even sure how to explain the darn thing.  A lot of this is history, all of it shaped by author's quirky passion for localism, decentralization, and "front-porch anarchism." (Not to mention his penchant for word-play, song allusions, and overall clever wittiness.  His friend James Howard Kunstler says he writes with an "antic verve" which puts it mildly.)  I've said before that I will read anything this guy writes, and find his crotchety, wacky, long-winded sentences to thrill my mind and fill my heart.  That is, he is on to something, giving voice to a third way that is so far left, it is right (or so far right, it is left.)  Or, better, he's something then again, not concerning himself with being left or right. He seems even beyond communitarianism or libertarianism to a small-is-beautiful patriotic pacifism.  Remember the 18th-century debate between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians?  Bigger centralized government vs smaller local folk?  Kauffman is way (way) on the side of the little guys.  An earlier book of his which I couldn't put down carried the torch of some outspoken prophets of the colonial era ---especially one from Maryland named Luther Martin---who were against the ratification of the Constitution; they were in favor of the Articles of the Confederation, not wanting to give the Feds too much power.  Tell that to the Christian right these days that some early founders opposed the Constitution!  I Samuel 8 isn't my favorite verse in the Bible for determining wise statecraft, but Kauffman gets it, and without the lingo of subsidiarity (Roman Catholic) or sphere sovereignty (Kuyperian/Calvinist) he sees to invoke the spirit of Wendell Berry and Dorothy Day and the aforementioned Thomas Jefferson and  Luther Martin and wants everybody to do as they please in their own backyard, free from the colonization of unneighborly Empires.  

This, then, leads him to the topic of this can't-put-down travelogue through the most fascinating counter-culture I've found in a long time.  He's reporting on his journeys to the various conventions, movements and efforts of those who want to secede from the Union.  I'm telling you, this is one rock-n-roll road trip and he reports, argues with, argues for, and tells us about the history of folk who don't want to be homogenized by Uncle Sam and Wal-Mart.  The story of secession---from populists in West Kansas to the indigenous Lakota people---is much more interesting (and reasonable and plausible) than the scowling history books and mainstream media wants us to believe.  Kauffman is our man to make it plain.  And, as one reviewer said, make it "intensely enjoyable." And Bye-Bye was certainly that for me.

From those wanting independence for Hawaii to those who think that New York or California ought to each break into two states, from the neo-Confederates (some who are black, by the way) of the deep south to the freedom lovers of crunchy Vermont, from the First Nations peoples of the contiguous states to the Alaskan Inuits, each group makes a strong case for being left alone and argues the justice of their call for freedom.  Why should Washington DC determine laws for people in the Middle of the Pacific?  Why, for that matter, should people in Manhattan care one whit what local zoning rules are in, say, Kauffman's beloved small home-town of Batavia NY?  (He tells the story of his leaving big-time Beltway politics and returning home to fight Wal-Mart and coach a Little League team in the endearing Muckdog Gazette.)  It will be hard to take, but Abe Lincoln is not a hero in this telling of the tale, and although Kauffman is a sentimental patriot (he'd rather sew another star on the flag than take one off) he thinks people, especially those bound by local traditions, faiths, and cultures, have the right of self-determination.  Cheers for Tunisian independence?  How about Texas?  What is sacred about the Union, except the mythology of the importance of Lincoln keeping us together?  This is one heckuva book, rollicking, wild, funny, and very, very informative, about people, beliefs and movements I have rarely considered.  It deserves a couple of awards, but I don't know in quite what.  Trouble-making? Iconoclasm? Common sense? Crazy-long sentences? A cool title?  Yep.  All that and more.  He's a great writer, and amazingly aware historian, and a deep down good, good guy.

The Flight of the Intellectuals Paul Berman (Melville House) $26.00  I am not sure of what to make of the large implications of this serious work, but it is fascinating for several reasons, and deserves a significant honor.  Firstly, it is eloquent and mature writing, intellectual argument at its finest.  It is demanding reading, sophisticated and informed.  Secondly, it is commendable because Berman is, as he did in his very urgent Terror and Liberalism, breaking down historic categories and caricatures. (That is, in that book, he argued that the lef't commitment to liberal values ought to cause them to support the war on terror.)  Here, again, he calls on the liberal intellectual class and the thought leaders of the left---think The New York Review of Books or The New Republic--- to reconsider their naive capitulation to the ideas of the radical Islamists.  One of his important case studies is the reception among scholars and liberal leaders of Muslim spokesperson and Oxford professor, Tariq Ramadan.  Years ago, intellectuals condemned the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Today, Ayatollah's the world over issue such calls to assassinate moderates, or execute those who speak out for justice, and the liberal class is silent.

Why have liberal intellectuals in the West largely "flown" from their duty to be voices of freedom and human rights?  How can we discuss the threats of some very dangerous ideas in our polarizing culture?  Gripping, important, and exceptionally thoughtful work by a leading contemporary essayist. Those of us who strive to be Christian pacifists may not agree, and Berman himself desires not to be seen as bellicose.  This deserves to be seriously considered and we think we should honor it as one of the most significant books of 2010.


Darwin's Pious Idea: Why The Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong Conor Cunningham (Eerdmans) $34.99  At over 500 pages, this is a slow, tough read.  It is by a world-renowned British philosopher and carries weighty endorsements by some of the leading intellectuals the world over.  (Charles Taylor, Louis Dupre, John Haught, Slavoj Zizek.  Slavoj Zizek??)  I must admit that I am not the best judge of these things, but I've read a handful of science books this year, am still drawn to the intelligent design authors in ways that many of my friends find perplexing, and this really does seem to be of a calibre unlike anything I've seen lately.  I am not alone in stating that this is an obvious masterwork, a work that may endure as a classic contribution, and an important study of not only science, but of the Biblical notion of creation and its mature import for the doing of the philosophy of science.  As Stanley Hauerwas observes, "Writing with engaging humor that betrays an extraordinary energetic intelligence, Cunningham shows us why, given the Christian God, an evolutionary account of life is necessary.  This theological account of creation will become a classic."

A  Fine-Tuned Universe: The Question for God in Science and Theology Alister McGrath (WJK) $39.95  I'm going out on a limb here, but not a very thin one.  I've not read this, but the evidence is sturdy.  This is a masterpiece and truly a notable book in these days.  This is an expanded version of Dr. McGrath's Gifford Lectures of 2009 and to have them released in 2010 is a scholarly gift to the world.  You may know the prestigious reputation of the Giffords, one of the most closely watched and important lecture series in the world, having been annually delivered for over 100 years.  Given at the University of Aberdeen, they usually are related to issues of natural theology, faith and the sciences or a theological perspective on our scientific culture and some of the most prominent theological minds of the 20th century have lectured there. This dense book, considerably expanded, stands in a grand tradition.  With endorsements by scientists Philip Clayton, Francis Collins, and John Polkinghorne, this remarkable, prolific, evangelical thinker, with PhDs in both science and theology, is surely well deserving of our simple honor.  Surely one of the important books of the year.


The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything  John Van Sloten (Square Inch) $14.99  I suppose I was first captured by the cool cover and the hand-sized package with deckled pages and the oh-so-clever title.  Even more, the "square inch" of this publishing imprint is an allusion to the famous phrase in a speech by Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper, who insisted that Christ claims as his own "every square inch" of creation, demanding a uniquely Christian perspective on our thinking about everything.  But it was the wisdom of the chapters that turned this into a useful resource and into an award winning keeper of a book; this is glowing, fine, amazingly fun reportage of finding God in all manner of places. From the movie Crash to the stories of Batman, from Metallica to Bach, Van Gogh to the local soccer game,  God is to be found, at loose in the world, helping people discern meaning and goodness and grace.  From Ray Charles to Joel & Ethan Coen, Van Sloten takes it all in, and offers back helpful reflections and thoughtful meditations, often informed by eloquent religious writers of the likes of Frederick Buechner, Madeline L'Engle or George MacDonald.  It isn't every book, by the way, that has blurbs on the back by Leonard Sweet and Shane Claiborne and Richard Mouw, but all bring their voices to celebrate the Spirit at work in the world, shown to us by the skilled eye and good writing of this Canadian pastor.  


About You: Fully Human Fully Alive  Dick Staub (Jossey Bass) $22.95  I suppose you know the quote from the first century Christian leader that the glory of God is seen in a person fully alive.  In a book that artist Bruce Herman of Gordon College has called "refreshingly honest" Staub " doesn't flinch at the reality of our fallenness, but offers fresh insight into a profound mystery: Why does God love us? What is wrong with the current picture of our lives? How can it be painted more beautifully and truly to match the vision of the Artist?"  Indeed, artistic metaphors are helpful in this fine book, but it is not mere metaphor.  Staub truly knows that the best theology based on the best reading of the Bible calls us to be truly alive in the world.   As it says on the front cover "Jesus Didn't Come to Make Us Christians; Jesus Came to Make Us Fully Human."  This is a lovely study of salvation, humanness, cultural engagement, passion, desire, goodness, and all that goes in to being people who understand that we are "made, marred, and mended."   Staub is a fabulous storyteller, a respected journalist, and an important leader in the post-fundamentalist recovery of evangelicalism.  That is, as his earlier book put it, he is now "too pagan and too Christian" somehow in the middle (and loving every minute of it!)  Isn't this a bit like Jesus--a bit too loose for the religious types, but a bit too holy for the sinners?  Yet he loved all and invites us all--saints and sinners--to let go of dumb categories, gnostic pieties, and be reborn into true life.  I love this stuff.  You should too.

Squeezed: Springing Free from Skinny Jeans, Nose Jobs, Highlights and Stilettos  Margot Starbuck (IVP) $16.00  You may recall how we raved and raved a year or so ago about this new writer we discovered, a funny and poignant storyteller, whose search for a birth-father (and a Heavenly Father), a journey through chronic pain and depression and into Christian ministry just took our breath away.  Girl in an Orange Dress remains a moving and rewarding memoir and we are thrilled that the girl has given us a new book.  As a male, I suppose I didn't get as much out of it as more feminine readers, but I am proud to say as loudly as I can that this was one of the best books of 2010.  She covers "body image" and cultural-criticism territory that some have written about before but with a theological depth and savvy (and yet a light-hearted joy) that is a rare blend.  Her writing abilities are stellar, her insight impressive, her passion contagious and, did I say she is funny? She is funny.  This is the kind of "Christian self-help book" that redeems the phrase, and is a standard for the sorts of contemporary, practical, insightful books that we need to see on the market.  This is a "no-brainer" and a truly award winning title.  Yippee.

The Art of Dying: Living Fully to the Life to Come Rob Moll (IVP) $16.00  Book lovers will know what I mean when I say that there are certain books that become deeply meaningful, almost sacred in their impact, in ways that one can hardly whisper about.  I have not reviewed this book on line yet, in part, because I don't really know how to sell it, what to say that will communicate what it is, how well it is written, how vibrant and real and alive it is.  Will ordinary folks want to read a book about hospice care, about caregiving; can interviews about end of life care be that inspiring?  Can a book about dying be beautiful?  Of course.  Do we all need such a book? Duh.  There have been rituals and practices in times gone by that helped us all attend to "dying well" and there have been spiritual writings about "a good death."  Why do we not now hear of this much?  How can we recover not a morbid sense of fear or sadness, but an awareness of Christian consolation. It sounds like a cliche as I say it, but this book on learning to die will help us learn to live.  What an honorable book this is.  We happily list it as one of the best.


Again, I just have to announce a draw---there are such a goodly number of important and interesting Lewisonia works, that I couldn't name just one.  But two stand out for their quality, usefulness, and the way they appealed to us.  If I was at an old public house, I'd raise my pint and say "hear, hear" or something like that in honorable mention of these two---one a new and rare DVD, the other a lovely overview.

DVD The C.S. Lewis Study Program: Mere Christianity  Dr. Chris Mitchell (C.S Lewis Institute)  $19.99  I cannot tell you how many times we have been asked here at the shop for a resource to walk readers through the logic and analogies and teachings of Lewis' most influential work,  Mere Christianity.  Here---fife and drum roll, please---at long last, we have not only a good, but a truly exceptional aid.   This new DVD is a great, great release, and we are exuberant to finally be able to make such a resource available.  If you love Lewis, you will know what I mean when I say this is precious, holy,  life-changing material  And if you do not, but wonder what all the fuss is about, this may be the perfect entry.   Read my longer review of this one-of-a-kind (and now, "award-winning") four-part DVD resource to walk you through the this important classic book, and learn more about it.  We are happy to stock it, eager to tell of it's spiritual helpfulness, insightful and professional tone, and truly award-winning style.

The Soul of C. S. Lewis: A Meditative Journey through Twenty-Six of His Best-Loved Writings Wayne Martindale, Jerry Root, and Linda Washington (Tyndale) $19.99  As I noted at the BookNotes blog earlier, this book could sell for twice the price and be a bargain.  Lovingly edited and compiled, this really is, as the sub-title says, a sweet reflection on all of Lewis' major works. This is at once a "readers guide" and guidebook, but also a thoughtful and at times captivating rumination on the deepest meanings and insights of C. S. L. The reviews are gathered into four major sections, and although they offer the dates and chronology, they are arranged by theme, or tone.  They show the movement of his thought, following his journey of "Pilgrimage", "Temptation and Triumph", "Going Deeper", and, then, the books that they describe as "Words of Grace."

 Lovers of Lewis will surely be thrilled to see these authors arrange and discuss so caringly his impressive body of work.  Those who need a friendly sherpa or two to help you in the daunting journey, well, you've found them.  We are happy to honor this as one of the best. 


The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus  Mark Labberton (IVP) $20.00 From the first paragraph of this riveting book, I new I had a true winner on my hands.  Labberton wrote the remarkable Dangerous Act of Worship and this, in a way, is a natural sequel.  How can we become people who love well?  Why do some people seem to gravitate to the poor and needy, to share love with the unloved, the underdog?  What is the root of apathy?  Mark Labberton is a PC(USA) pastor, and now preaching prof at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He uses his considerable communication skills to great effect in giving us a fantastic study, the book---as Brenda Salter McNeil says, "that I've been waiting for!  It is practical and thought-provoking guide that shows us how to cultivate lives of justice, mercy, and faith."  Alan Hirsch, a passionate, missional writer himself, notes that it is "eloquent and subversive."  Do you see people through the eyes of Jesus?  In even asking this, I realize I want to read this again, more slowly this time.  This is one of the great examples of why I am proud to be a bookseller, an example of the fine, mature, ecumenical work that is coming from our evangelical publishing houses these days.  Award winning, to be sure.  

Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition  James K.A. Smith (Baker) $14.99  Wait, wait, hear me out.  This is the awards show, you know, so even if you aren't interested in this---even if you are neither young nor Calvinist---I'm telling you, this is truly one of the best books of the year!  Don't you dare change that channel.  I adored this little volume, and thinks it is wise, interesting, good, and important.  Jamie, as you may know, teaches philosophy at Calvin College, and is interested in all sorts of fascinating stuff.  He's a bit Pentecostal, he's very postmodern, he's very interested in film and literature, he's quite ecumenical and he's politically, well, not the Christian right.  (He's taken Jim Wallis to task, too, for---get this--civil religion, in his collection of essays The Devil Reads Derrida.)  So he's an amazing writer, and on that short list of people you should read almost anything he does.

This is a set of pastoral letters he has written to a young guy and gal (composites, really, so this is fictional, I guess) helping them move away from their rather boisterous convictions about old school Calvinism.  Jamie is a fine "five-point Calvinist" so he is not betraying his tradition, but he is wisely counseling them to deepen their ecumenical roots, to understand that there is more to the Reformed tradition than arguments about predestination.  You may know that the mainstream media (Time, Newsweek, and places as diverse as the Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times, and The Christian Century and Christianity Today have all highlighted what some are calling the "new" young Calvinists, documented in the book by journalist Collen Hanson, Young, Reformed and Restless, sporting the popular "Jonathan Edwards Is My Homeboy tee- shirt on the cover.) 

Letters to... is an effort to shape the piety of this rising generation of neo-Puritans into perhaps a "kinder gentler" Calvinism, and introducing them to other strains, including Smith's beloved Abraham Kuyper. Using this time-honored device of personal letters of guideance, he explains a variety of nuances, names several authors, invites his young friends to understand Kuyper's notions of common grace and  cultural engagement, and even points them to Reformed voices from the global south. (The little postcards from Jamie's international travels are genius, breaking up the email style a bit.)  Who knew that the debate about whether or not debating TULIP could be so fruitful, and who knew that reading over the shoulder of some receiving forthright pastoral guidance could be so very helpful?  This is a book I wish believers of all ages and stripes would consider.  It is sane, wise, nicely written, informative, and solid. Dare I use the word edifying?  Indeed.  If you like anything about what we write here, this is the sort of spirituality and discipleship that keeps us going.  We celebrate it, honor it, and hope you do to. 

Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital for the Future of the Church  John Armstrong (Zondervan) $19.99  This past year I took this book with a misleading 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 which really describes it best.)  I'm confident, however, that it is not just a book for church leaders;  developing a heart for a Biblically-based commitment to ecumenicity is a primary calling for the ordinary Christian.  So, we celebrate this, honoring it with our feeble "ecumenical" award.    It is a book we believe in, and it tells an interesting story.  Armstrong was once a very strict and separatist Baptist, a gifted communicator with several books, including some on publishers that do mostly Puritan theology. He wasn't really a very ecumenical fellow, it seems.  Yet, his natural good-natured personality and intellectual curiosity kept him reading widely and relating to others outside his own circle.

This recent 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 full Body of Christ.  With a moving forward by 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---but they surely should, as it offers a very helpful basis for thinking about church.  As most mainline denominations are in conflict, and evangelical churches look on with suspicion, 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, too parochial.  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.  This book proposes, with diligent Biblical exposition, that we can unite in mission, and that co-operation is a must.  This is an important part of our own work here, and we are delighted to honor this as one of the key books of 2010.   It is a rare book on the church, on being ecumenical, told by a recovering separatist (who is, by the way, on his way to meet with the Vatican quite soon.)  With blurbs by a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox priest, and an evangelical on the back, this is a ground-breaking book.  It is rare I can say this, but there is nothing like it in print!   It is a book we all need.   We're happy to name it one of the best and most unique books of 2010, not just for leaders or denominational executives or those inclined towards pleasant theological debate, but for every ordinary Christian.  

Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship Alan & Deborah Hersh (Baker) $14.99   You may know that one of the most popular religious publishing trends--a school of thought and theological vision that has really taken off--is to think about congregational life in terms of the broad duty to witness to God's reign in all of life, being a church "for the world."  They call this being missional; not just sending out missionaries, but being a community that thinks always about engagement, witness, service.  The nuances and implications of this are vast, and there have been more missional church events and books than you can imagine (most of it very good, in our view.)  At last, somebody from the epicenter of that conversation has applied the missional congregation theories to ordinary living, adopting that passion and rhetoric and rubrics to daily, wholistic discipleship.  This is fantastic, a new way to be reminded of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and an ambassador of the Kingdom, written with personal stories and remarkable vision.  Right on.

Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just Timothy Keller (Dutton) $19.95  This hand-sized hardback, handsomely matching his previous, wonderful Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods, is truly one of the great books of the year.  As I noted at BookNotes, I am so fond of this for several important reasons.  Firstly, it is very well done, thoughtful, interesting, and Biblically wise.  Further, it is very important, I believe, to ground our urgent activism for social justice in the goodness of the gospel and this "gospel centered" vision of God's grace is vital.  The subtitle of this is not mere marketing or incidental.  The justification we have with God, wrought by God's own redemptive work in Christ through the cross, is the cornerstone of the Kingdom coming.  Our work for a "whole new world' and our calling to be agents of redemptive change, especially for the poor and oppressed, does not need to be--ought not be!--justified with wacky or obscure theological speculations.  The Bible and orthodox faith necessarily leads one to be agents of justice, to care about God's world, to work for mercy and public righteousness; folks in mainline churches and within more evangelical movements alike need clear-headed and theologically reliable foundations if we are going to endure in this important work.  This is particularly important since, even now, some churches tends towards the social implications of the gospel while others tend to verbal evangelism and church growth stuff.  Keller helps us, in clear and non-controversial ways, to keep it together, to be fully wholistic, to be motivated to work for justice in God's own ways. 

This is a grand and vital book, will be a reassurance to many who know that the work for justice is urgent, and will be an eye-opener and heart-former for those with conservative doctrine who may have yet to realize how central social justice is for faithful discipleship.  Generous Justice is the kind of readable and high-calibre book that gives Christian books a great name, and the kind of evangelical exposition that makes me proud.  I've longed for a book like this for 30 years.  Short and sweet and solid as the rock.  Kudos.

Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create a Christian Culture Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, John Pattison and others (Biblica) $14.99  I thought it might be tacky to do a category of "books the proprietor of Hearts & Minds has a chapter in" but I am fully sincere in saying this is a rare and remarkable resource for the spiritual formation of disciples in the way of Christ.  Christ calls us disciples, you know, which means learner.  You wouldn't be reading this (and I surely wouldn't be writing it) if we didn't believe that reading widely is an act of spiritual formation, and that learning what to read is a key skill for maturing faith.  Here--as you probably know if you follow our blog or facebook or twitter---these three guys, who write for the Burnside Writer's Collective, do reviews of their all-time top 100 books.  Actually, they got excited about the project, so they graciously invited others to name one book they would review:  Donald Miller, Phyllis Tickle, Susan Isaacs,  Becky Garrison, Karen Spears Zacharias, some other great, great folks, and, uh, yours truly.

I've never won any awards to speak of, and I can only say that I am sincerely honored to be a part of this nifty publishing posse.  The books they commend are almost always thoughtful and important, and the way they write--briefly--- about them are compelling and enjoyable.  Besides the Bible is a book to have fun with, to use as a resource, to keep handy, and to share with others.  You may not need to read every book they/we suggest, but you should certainly know about them all. If you don't, you may need this more than you know!  We need to honor God with our minds, we need to be fluent in the culture around us, and we can celebrate the good role of the best books in our culture, glad for the common grace of good words and good ideas and good art in the finest literature.  Besides the  Bible has some cool ideas, suggested by some good folks.  If we don't give this a big ol' honkin' H&M holler, then I'd just be being falsely humble.  This is a fabulous little book.  Hooray.


Drawn to Freedom: Christian Faith Today in Conversation with the Heidelberg Catechism Eberhard Busch (Eerdmans) $32.00  I will admit that I am drawn to the Heidelberg, and  I am struck by the the way it is studied among the more liberal UCC folk and more conservative CRC folk---denominations that matter to me, even though they are not my own.  This is translated by a central Pennsylvania gentleman who studied with Barth and came to know Dr. Busch as a younger man in Germany.  The backstory is worth awarding this some dear prize, and we are thrilled to know of it.  Busch is a serious thinker, and this will be daunting for all but the most dedicated students.  Yet, as Scott Hoezee writes, "Busch writes lyrically about human freedom in relationship to God.  But along the way it is the Heidelberg Catechism itself that gets liberated. Busch has freed the Catechism from its reputation of being outdated and fusty by showing the relevance  of the Reformed traditions' premier confession in answering questions that people are still asking."  This includes some very penetrating analysis, and deserves to be honored as the sort of serious work that could helpfully inform pastors, leaders, teachers and those who are tasked with the instruction of the faithful.  Kudos for the good work, and thanks for the good effort, Bill Rader, careful and caring translator.

For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms & Justin Taylor (Crossway) $35.00  I may be out on a limb, here, since the fierce Baptist pastor John Piper, who calls himself a Christian hedonist as he presses hard for God's joy, is a bit too bombastic than some of our gentle readers may care for.  Yet, this feitschgrift, collected as a surprise for his 60th birthday, is as fine a collection of practical theology as I've seen this year.  Many fine men---yes, they are all men, given his views of women in church leadership---offer solid articles and essays to honor Piper with his emphasis on the joy of the gospel known as we honor the glory of God in all things.  Piper teaches his people relentlessly that we are to "make much of God" in all we do.  Our pleasure is found as we give glory to Christ. this sustains them through hard times and in the serious call to sacrifice and giving that his parish is known for. 

There is no doubt that Piper is one of the extraordinary pastors and preachers of our time and his commitment to preaching the sovereignty of God and the gospel of grace is consistent and commendable.  But this book is less about Piper and can be seen as a fine resource for a lifetime of study. From heavy theological scholars like G.K. Beale,  Bruce Ware and D. A Carson to pastoral leaders like Ray Ortlund and C. J. Mahaney to Biblical scholars like Thomas Schreiner, these are all serious, weighty, insightful authors (if on the strictly conservative end of evangelicalism.)  Nearly every contributor has himself a stellar book or more, and even when they are scholars whose positions I may not always agree with, they are worthy of serious consideration. They write on a variety of topics, all rooted in historic Protestant piety.  Some explore the supremacy of God in various aspects of contemporary life---Randy Alcorn rails against our materialism and Thabiti Anyabwile writes about ethnicity and racism.  David Powlinson has a good piece on counseling and Justin Taylor writes passionately about the pro-life cause as an example of God's gracious heart.  I loved the overview of the mission of God by the wonderful Scott Hafemann and there is an interesting piece called "The Mystery of Marriage" which, again, develops a heady Christ-centered view.   Of course there are a few pieces about Jonathan Edwards and they are very nicely done. (Our friend Stephen Nichols has one on Edwards' preaching and Sam Storms has a powerful chapter on Edwards---and Piper's--pursuit of joy.)

Few of our readers will agree with all of these strong conservative Calvinistic voices; many Reformed folks don't even put things quite the way this gang does.  But you should know the contributors--from the helpful Scotsman Sinclair Ferguson to the Capitol Hill Baptist leader Mark Dever, and most of the others.  Can this old school stuff fly in our edgy 21st century culture?  Does this sort of thinking bear fruit that is truly of God's Kingdom?  Let me be frank:  I don't think this is all we need.  But this is solid, meaty, and in many ways beautiful stuff.  Those who appreciate it are doing honorable ministry and we commend it for your consideration.  We think it deserves to be honored, even as it was written to honor Dr. Piper.  


There are oodles of books for parish life, good resources, inspiring stories, things for pastors and things for church folk of all kinds.  I hardly know where to begin.  I've enjoyed skimming through many, and some are very well done.  Lots are useful.  Yet, I must say that few, now, stand out as utterly exceptional.  Except a very few.

The Gifts of the Small Church  Jason Byassee (Abingdon) $14.00  You may know Byassee from his fine writing in The Christian Century.  He is now a scholar at Duke Divinity School, but a while back he pastored a small country church.  This captures the texture of a vital congregation that taught him much.  Some of it is a hoot---reading like Richard Lichard's classic Open Secret while other parts are somewhat "Peterson-esque."  All of it is well done, the characters are captured just right and the gifts and graces of small church life are celebrate in his musings.  There is a good afterward by Will Willimon, who notes, "To see our people as Christ sees them, to see the church as Christ sees it may be the one thing needful in all Christian ministry.  That is what Jason Byassee has done here and that is what he so eloquently invites the rest of us to do as well."  Three good cheers.  Let's have a pot-luck casserole to celebrate!  

The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love James Bryan Smith (IVP) $22.00  It should come as no surprise that we tout this magnificent book, the third in a trilogy of titles, all among the best books of recent years.  First came The Good and Beautiful God, and then The Good and Beautiful Life and now this one, on church life.  This "Apprentice" series draws on Dallas Willard's key insights that discipleship demands a vision of being apprenticed, and invites readers to exercises of soul care, thinking through ways to enhance the reading with real life efforts to engage the material.  This is a very enjoyable, strong, helpful, and very well-conceived book about the nature of the local faith community, and invites us to be agents of God's Kingdom by being in relationship with others on the journey, so we can be shaped by them, and so we can be empowered to serve others.  This great book brings together worship, spiritual practices and community engagement and roots them in the narrative of what God is doing in Christ.  Another great example of the fine formatio line of IVP released in cooperation with Renovare, the spiritual formation ministry of Richard Foster.  This is some of the best "soul training" stuff we've seen, and we are particularly glad for one on the nature of the local body.  One of the best of the year.


This has been a great year for youth ministry resources, and is especially notable for a few scholarly and/or serious works that are important and have been widely reviewed.  We are happy to list these notable titles, glad for such work being done.  May the field continue to mature, and may our congregational care and outreach to teens grow more faithful and success.  We are eager to honor these books that stand out.

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church Kendra Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press) $24.95  Granted, most of this draws on the same ground as Christian Smith and his ground-breaking research on the lame views of God and faith that most teens have absorbed, this really does share that sociology in the context of ordinary mainline congregations.  That Dean teaches in the field (Smith does not) and therefore offers suggestions for the remedy, helps make this truly one of the most important books of its kind, certainly in my memory.    She has done some of her own research, shows how to get beyond this mediocre religiosity, and, as Mark DeVries notes, "the book pulls no punches but, at the same time, inspires hope that the American church can--in fact, must--move beyond the flimsy, vague, self-absorbed spirituality that has unintentionally been woven into the faith of postmodern American Christianity."  This fine book has been reported on in the mainstream news, and has been widely reviewed.  We name it as one of our very Best of the Year!

OMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook edited by Kendra Creasy Dean (Abingdon) $26.00  While Dean was busy writing her important Oxford book, she pulled together some of the best and most thoughtful youth ministry leaders---from mainline and ecumenical congregations, mostly, folks like Rodger Nishioka and Amy Scott Vaughn---and invited them to collaborate on a resource that has weighty theological insight, but is upbeat, useful, and real.  Applicable and important for all youth workers, it is nice to see a nuance and serious handbook, with endorsements on the back from a Lutheran, a Roman Catholic, a prof at United Methodist Perkins, and a Presbyterian. Can the teen-speak "OMG" be a pray, a plea, a petition?  Let us hope so.  This book will help be the answer.   Very, very good and very, very special.

Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture John Berard, James Benner & Rick Bartless (Zondervan) $16.99  A few years ago we were told that we were one of the few bookstores that invited youth workers to consider the sociology of late consumer capitalism and how advertising and popular culture have shaped adolescent development by offering secular books about youth written by savvy culture critics and sociologist.  Stuff like Naomi Klein on branding or Jean Kilbourne on sexualized advertising; we stock books like  A Tribe Apart or Teenage Wasteland and the work of Thomas Hine and Michael Warren.  Just like any missionary, youth workers have to know something about the culture in which teens find themselves.

 At last, a reliable, thoughtful and energetic book offers a serious critique of our 21st century branded culture and navigates these recent stormy waters with a theology that is engaged, critical, informed, and hopeful.  Yes, they cite the good, hard stuff, and yes, they quote all kinds of wild and wonderful writers.  At the end of it all, they hope to shape an alternative script for youth in today's consumer culture, moving the conversation forward about how to mentor youth in the cultural location in they now exist.  I hope Consuming Youth sells and I hope it is taken to heart and I hope more youth workers---some who have natural instincts about this stuff--will develop habits and practices of doing this exact kind of critical theology.  Maybe our shout out will help.  Is it consumeristic and secularizing and corrupting to give them a (not too glitzy) H&M award??  Ha.

Story, Signs and Sacred Rhythms: A Narrative Approach to Youth Ministry Chris Folmsbee (Zondervan) $14.99  I wanted to give this an award as soon as I saw it---what a cool look and a great, great title.  And a cheapo price for a sturdy hardback!  Way to go Zondervan!  Still, a fine price and title alone isn't enough to seduce this award-picking committee of one, no sir.  And, trust me, this easily-read book is truly award-winning in my book, as it reminds us how narrative theology---one that actually follows the plot-line of the Bible---can help us rethink youth ministry.  You know, I think anyone in ministry can benefit from this---pastors, counselors, para-church workers.  Or anybody trying to live the Christian life.  This is a helpful reconstruction of what it means to do ministry and what it means to live into the Story of God by allowing the story and signs to shape our sacred rhythms.  

Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again): From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood (IVP) $17.00  Wayne Rice has been at the forefront of the rise of the youth ministry industry, was a co-founder of "Youth Specialties" which helped youth groups learn from wild and crazy bells and whistles, a style and ethos to which he now brings some needed critique.  I for one am in many ways a product of that immense mid-70s paradigm shift, and the zany, evangelical, relationally fun approach taught by the likes of Wayne and the late Mike Yaconelli,  became a major part of my life in campus ministry in those years.  Which is to say, I owe this dude, big time.  As Walt Mueller---the go-to guy on big picture youth stuff in North America---says, "All of us in youth ministry owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Rice.  With this book, our debt just got bigger."   As Duffy Robbins notes, this book allows us to "look backward only long enough so that we don't repeat (or make new) mistakes about going forward."  This deserves to be considered one of the great books of recent years, not only because of who wrote it, its historical significance, but because of the solid guidance he offers as we move into a new era, demanding a new wave of youth ministry.

Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith  selected and with an introduction by Francis S. Collins (HarperOne) $19.99 This truly is a great reader, designed for seekers, and a helpful anthology of some of the best excerpts of some of the best books of all time.  The excerpts are gathered together and arranged by subject---for instance, it begins with "classic arguments for faith and reason" (which includes Plato and Augustine and Aquinas and Pascal and more) and moves to "the meaning of truth" which includes a great, diverse, excerpts from Os Guinness, Madeleine L'Engle, and Dorothy Sayers.  Other units include "Loving God with All Your Mind", excerpts on the problem of evil and suffering, two readings on justice, three good pieces on "miracles, longing and mysticism" and so on.  "Love and forgiveness as pointers to God" include excerpts by Bonhoeffer, Viktor Frankl and Mother Theresa.  Oh, the wide array of contributors to this good volume---Chesterton, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Elie Wiesel.  A few are not as well known, important and sharp evangelicals (like Collin's friend, Art Lindsley and one of his mentors in relating faith and science, Alister McGrath.)  I don't know any other book that includes readings from the Dali Lama and philosopher Alvin Plantinga and NYC pastor, Tim Keller.  With a piece by the late Anthony Flew, and an introduction to the journey by N. T. Wright, you can see this is thoughtful, good stuff.  With authors like Thomas Merton, you can be assured it isn't just a pushy evangelical ruse: this really is a fine and robust set of vital readings.

Anyone who loves ideas, who loves historic classics, or who is seriously interested in the quest for human meaning simply ought to have this fine anthology.  If this were an academy award, surely it would get something like "best supporting actor" as Collins himself---now the head of the NIH and a leading voice in the discussions about faith and science---doesn't have a chapter.  We are awarding it gladly, hoping you agree.  What a great resource!

A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions  edited by Dallas Willard (IVP Academic) $20.00  You may know the good work of Veritas Forum, a ministry that hosts meaningful and civil discussions (and sometimes, debates) on college campuses---often at the very best Ivy League schools--presenting the wonderful case that Christian faith has intellectual credibility and should not be dismissed as irrelevant to university life.  Some of the finest authors and speakers of our generation, leaders we admire, are in this "highlights from the Veritas Forum."  Just for instance, there is Francis Collins and Os Guinness, Tim Keller and Ronald Sider, Mary Poplin and N.T. Wright.  This collection covers so much good ground---from intellectual argumentation, to thoughtful testimonial memoir, to various lectures on Christian perspectives on the arts, science, politics and social concern---that it is hard to describe this briefly.  It is a tremendous resource, deserving of great appreciation, and a good example of the sorts of fruitful work the Forum has done. Bene optime!


Okay, I'll admit it.  I love reading books like this. I don't do it all that well, but let's let that go for now.  We need to be reminded of the goodness of sharing the good news, and be instructed on best practices, as they say.  The best one of the year?  The one that gets you talking.  The one that gets me talking.  This isn't rocket science, but I find that a few of these are stellar.  Let's call em honorable mentions, at least.

The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks To Talk with People About Jesus Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $14.99 This is a collection of 42 stories, arranged to be read one-a-day, so that you are inspired to stay open to the possibility that God might open a door for you to love another, or talk about Christ, or invite someone into a conversation about church or God or truth  No, these aren't all stories of front-porch conversions, but they are real, healthy first-steps to be used by God, and they are deeply moving.  If even a few people did even a few of the things suggested in this collection, the world would be a better place, seekers might be invited into faith, and God's Kingdom might be advanced in concrete ways.  I'm all about this, affirm the goodness of the tales, like the way it is pitched, invite you to consider joining this kind of exhilarating adventure.

Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel J. Mack Stiles (IVP) $15.00 This is a bit heavy, maybe even a bit alarmist. The author seems concerned that too many folks are saying dumb stuff about God, thinking they are sharing the gospel, when, in fact, they don't even understand the gospel themselves. While he is deeply committed to social outreach, he wants to be clear that merely doing justice advocacy or creation care is not the same as evangelism.  There is a character component, of course---our lives have to have integrity and there needs to be some consistency between message and messenger---hence, the good subtitle about "living" the gospel.  And it really is helpful to understand the key doctrines of God, stuff about guilt and grace and God's goodness ad our need and Christ's atoning work.  So here it is, a serious, passionate reminder of what evangelism truly is, why it is important, and the need to forego formulas and programs and get our own hearts and minds, our lives and our doctrines, aligned with orthodox theology so they are consistent with Biblical teaching.  It's a bit tough-sounding, but I agree.  I wish anyone eager to share their faith would redouble their study, and read this book.  First things first.  And if you do not have a passion for sharing the good news, it could be--could it be?--some indication that you may not have considered the nature of the gospel of grace much yourself.  Either way, this is one of the best contributions to this field in quite a while.  Way to go.

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips John Dickson (Zondervan) $22.99  The boring cover kept me from reading this until a respected friend and Christian leader asked me about it.  Oops.  As I explored it quickly I was immediately drawn in; I couldn't put it down. What a book!  The important subtitle is nothing new: Promoting the Gospel With More Than Our Lips, but the insight this British leader offers about the role of laypeople, ones integration of faith and work, the calling to live meaningfully engaged in the world around us, is truly remarkable. There is tremendous Bible research here, too---opening up new insights in a very no-nonsense, fully readable way.  Hefty blurbs on the back range from Richard Bauckham to Collin Hansen to Jim Belcher to N.T. Wright.  This really is a cut above many, a helpful guide to the whole picture of evangelism and invites us to realize that we can, indeed, make a Godly different in the lives around us.  Terrific!


Why the Bible Matters: Rediscovering Its Significance in an Age of Suspicion  Michael Erre (Harvest House) $13.99  I list this because it is a wonderful, wonderful, and very necessary book about the big picture of the unfolding drama of the whole Scriptures.  It nicely explains what Gabe Lyons calls the "four chapter story" and what Al Wolter's introduced in Creation Regained and what Walsh & Middleton (in Transforming Vision) taught to N.T. Wright---that the Bible is a narrative with the flow from good creation to radical fall to cosmic redemption and full creational restoration.  Erre is chatty and funny, a bit cynical and raw, and walks us through a high regard for the authority of Scripture with a view to the consistent history of redemption that flows through the odd tales and perplexing history.  That is, he has a narrative approach, and this seems a bit like a Bible study through the eyes of Donald Miller, say.  A good appendix has a helpful annotated list of some good resources to defend a traditional view of the Bible against some weird criticisms and hair-brained allegations, but this is not the thrust of the book.  Yep, this is now my favorite, basic-level, easy-to-read, engaging overview of the Bible, written with youthful wit, narrative integrity, without implying anything other than an utterly high view of the authority of God's Story for our own. Wild, a bit wacky, and very inviting.

The Story of God, the Story of Us  Sean Gladding (IVP) $17.00  It is hard not to applaud too loudly for this one-of-a kind book, and we are thrilled to award it our honor, such as it is.  Yes, this book deserves accolades for several reasons.  Firstly, it does indeed capture the "one true story of the whole world" (as Newbigin puts it.)  It does this with a clever and helpful set of titles (all starting with the letters C, an idea he may have borrowed from Brian McLaren.)  Don't you just have to read an overview of the Bible that goes like this: Creation, Catastrophe, Covenant, Community (Exodus), Community (Sinai), Conquest, Crown, Conceit, Christ, Cross, Church, Consummation.  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is right; we should: "Commit this story to memory.  Tell it to your kids.  Let is direct your life."  This is the whole big picture, coherent and clear. 

You see, Gladding--a creative-type church planter with shaved head and cool goatee whose church has some ridiculously-cool-sounding name and who hails from New Zealand--has done what should have been down long ago for adults.  Like we do with kid's Bibles, he has retold the story, in novel-esque form, to be read out loud.  You can imagine the campfire as the elders tell these stories of God's people, and you can feel the sadness as they lament in exile, and you can experience the spectacular excitement as the new covenant community is formed as followers of Christ in the period of Second Temple Judaism.  Alan Hirsh says it is "as artful as it is significant" and anyone who needs a fresh way to tell the old, old story---a fresh way to be gathered up into the old, old story---will find this interesting, provocative, and challenging.  Nothing like it that we know of; highly recommended, happily honored.  Yeah!  Kudos to the "Likewise" imprint for their consistently innovative, contemporary, and faithful books such as this.

Out of Babylon  Walter Brueggemann (Abingdon) $15.00  Here is Brueggemann at his quintessential best, preaching passionately, basing everything on key Bible texts, inviting us to--evoking among us to ability to--see connections between this persistent question, that pervades Walter's scholarly and pastoral work, and remains among us, pressing: how do we live faithfully in the world but not of it and how do we relate to the empires around us?  Marva Dawn says that "Brueggemann is stunningly brilliant here.  Besides surveying most of the First Testament prophets to show the relationship between the contemporary Church to the metaphor of "Babylon" this volume takes some surprising turns and gives us fresh directions.  Out of Babylon is a must for all Christians!"  Or, as Shane Claiborne puts it, Brueggemann has been a steadfast voice in the wilderness "daring us to say no to the empire but to say yes to another world....these are the songs of Zion."  If you think that some religious comments about consumerism or violence or oppression are a bit thin, try this.  It will help you understand the Scriptures, and base your life upon their vision of being faithful in exile, and hoping for the promise of Home.

The Gospel of John: When Loves Comes to Town Paul Louis Metzgar (IVP) $18.00  This is a new series cooked up by the genius editors at IVP and they surely picked a top shelf cultural critic and social activist to lead off the set.  The Resonate Series is going to be a set of Bible commentaries that offer contemporary exegesis, struggling with the text and context, with the Word and the world.  That is, they hope to recover ancient Biblical wisdom as it resonates with today's setting, today's urgent needs, and the pressing concerns of our postmodern culture.  Leonard Sweet---an amazingly generative Bible scholar when he puts himself to it--- wrote the forward and very solid, hip pastor Rick McKinley (Imago Dei) wrote an afterward.  Metzgar, for those that care, is involved in an institute at Multnomah Bible College, is friends with John Perkins, and has a recent Wipf & Stock release, a collection of brilliant articles and sermons called New Wine Tastings: Theological Essays of Cultural Engagement.  He is shaking up the city of Portland, I'm told, and is a wonderfully energetic and fruitful theologian. 

Here, he walks us through the gospel of John, inviting these stories and texts to show us how to be lovers of God, friends of the friendless, and what it means for "love to rise again in our midst and in our lives."  Reliable evangelical scholars such as James Houston (Regent College, Vancouver) and Wheaton College's Gary Burge have endorsed this, and commend it as an ideal work for students or anyone interested in fresh, relevant Bible commentary with a view to faithful, wholistic discipleship.  What an idea (I say with a tiny bit of sarcasm...) I think that there is nothing quite like it in this format.  While it isn't quite like the "anti-commentary commentary" which I often suggest, Colossians Remixed (by Keesmaat & Walsh) When Loves Comes to Town has a bit more punch than your traditional exegetical resource. And any gospel commentary that takes a song from Rattle & Hum--a duet between Bono and B.B. King--has got to be great!  Resonate.  Indeed.  It deserves a special commendation of one of the best ideas in the Christian publishing world of 2010.  Now if we can just get folks aware of it, and eager to study. 

Dwelling With Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture Through Image and Word  edited by Elizabeth Steele Halstead, Paul Detterman, Joyce Borger, & John D. Witvliet (Eerdmans) $21.99 We list this an example of one of the year's best commentaries, and it is best in part because it is so creatively done, artful, colorful; rich and warm and thoughtful.  As you may know from our previous reviews of it, this is more of a meditation than a Greek exegesis, and it is informed mostly by visual artwork--there is both classic, and contemporary full color art on almost every page.  This is not just a lavish coffee table book, though, as it is designed as a companion to your study of this joy-filled and important New Testament prison letter.  Tons of photos, prints of classic and contemporary artworks, some poetry, classy graphic design, and hymn texts are set beside evocative commentary and reflection questions.  Nothing like it in print.  Truly award winning and deserving of a lovely standing ovation.


I could put more in this category, and many of the above surely go into this list of honorable mentions. I just loved that Bill Kauffman book, and so enjoyed the memoirs, say.  Still, a couple spring to mind that, well, I just loved for the sheer fun of reading them.

The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith (The Good News About the End of Christian America)  Gabe Lyons (Doubleday) $19.99  This deserves a number of awards, I'd say, so I'll be right up front: I enjoyed this very, very much, in part because it so refreshingly told the stories of the shift in attitudes among younger generations of evangelical Christians, rooted in a rather wholistic and narrative approach to the full gospel of God's coming Kingdom.  Some might quibble that his evidence for this shift is mostly anecdotal, but this dude surely has his finger on the pulse of the rising leaders, and travels around in interesting circles in ways that few of us can even imagine.  I know that Gabe is sharp and theologically savvy, he's solid and desiring to be faithful and effective as he articulates the new vision growing under our noses.  He is saying stuff in exciting ways, but (if I may humbly submit) it is a perspective that some of us have been hard at work speaking, conferencing, teaching, selling books, and working towards for decades. In this savvy cool guy, I see a true leader with a solid vision.  You can't imagine how thrilled and relieved I am to see his work.

The first half of the book is a great overview of the fading realities of old school fundamentalism and the increasing irrelevance of the culture wars of earlier evangelicals (not to mention earlier mainline liberals.)  As America has drifted from whatever religious cultural consensus it once had, the young adults of today are not offended by the drift; indeed, in many ways, it is all they have ever known.  As they read the Bible in more big-picture narrative ways, they get the broader sweep of the relationship between missional vision and daily discipleship. They are eager to be of service, to be active and authentic, pushing back against the bad reputation of the church (so well documented in the work Gabe co-authored a few years ago, Unchristian.) As evangelical ministries, mainline churches, religious book and curriculum publishers, Christian music industry types, para-church campus ministers, denominational executives and others try to get their bearings on the millennial generation that is now rising to adult leadership---the class of 2000 is approaching 30 years old!---this guidebook to the shift is essential, brief, inspiring reading.

The book really takes off in the second half, with a set of theologically vital impulses that Gabe says---and shares stories about---is happening these days.  Younger Christians, while passionate about God and serious about theology [aside: if your church is not, it is no wonder you have no young adults in attendance!] they are also taking their faith into the streets in refreshing, creative ways.  Here are the images he offers of what makes the "restorers" (as he calls them) somewhat different that their forebears.  The Next Christians are those who, while committed to a Biblical worldview, are "provoked, not offended", "creators, not critics", "called, not employed", "grounded, not distracted", "in community, not alone", and "counter-cultural, not trying to be relevant."  This is, Lyons insists, a "new era" and we must follow this next big shift. That authors and thought leaders as different as Phyllis Tickle and Chuck Colson, Os Guinness and Rob Bell, Margaret Fienberg and Scott McKnight, all endorse this guy and his vibrant networking ministry, is telling.  He is a leader to watch, a man to read, a person to follow.  We are honored to call him a friend, eager to celebrate his work, honest about awarding this as one of the best books I've read all year.  Best because I so loved and enjoyed it, best because I hope others read it, and receive its significant insight, and best because, well, I agree with it.  Sam Rodreiguez of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference says it will help us "embrace change as we welcome a fresh move of the Spirit.

Ms Tickle says there are "a thousand reasons to rejoice here."  Let us give you one more reason: they released a stellar Next Christians DVD curriculum to go with it, not unlike the great Q Society Room DVDs that we raved about last year (all which are produced by and hosted by Lyons.)  There is a provocative and useful study book to use, and this five week DVD covers much of the material in the book.  I cannot recommend it more strongly, for anyone interested in fruitful and faithful cultural engagement, for anyone who wants the "big picture" of shifts in evangelical faith, and anyone who may want a window into the work of some of the younger leaders rising in the next generation of serious Christians. Whether you are a mainline denominational person or a conservative independent church, whether you are a next generation student yourself, or a para-church leader, this book will be useful for you.  I took great joy in reading it and in writing about it.   

Commitment: A Love Story Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin) $16.00 I'll admit that Beth and I both loved Gilbert's mega-seller Eat Pray Love, and really, really enjoyed her wispy and clever writing style.  I think she is really good at evoking images, turning a surprising phrase, and coming up with an unexpected idea or shift in a paragraph.  She is witty and funny with something of substance to report. That is, she's a very good writer, and I would argue that line by line with anyone who disagrees.  Her new book---the long awaited sequel to EPL wherein she has to figure out if she wants to marry again (she doesn't) and what she will do since the Homeland Security people seem intent on keeping her dear Brazilian lover out of the country.

Yes, according to the government, they have to get married if they want to stay together and live in her American home.  A scholar's pursuit of the history and meaning of marriage ensues, she writes as they hole up in this country or that, and as their relationship deepens, their struggle to find happiness unfolds---two steps forward, one step back, or worse-- and Gilbert learns all manner of interesting things about the sociology of matrimony.  She plays the role of an anthropologist field worker, with notebook and heart in hand.  It is serious and it is personal.  She has to figure it out.

 Look, I don't think she gets that all right, and I'm not suggesting her sexual ethics are particularly Biblical, although she is pretty wise about most things and I stand with most of her conclusions.  This is a warm, wonderfully written, smart and very interesting book, loaded with fascinating interviews with people about their marriages, from Hmong tribeswoman in rural Cambodia to very old women she knows who are friends of friends, including, then, truly wonderful stuff about her own family's colorful history.  My, my, neither Beth nor I could put this down, and we read portions out loud to each other, for the sheer joy of the writing, the importance of the topic, and the thrill of learning something new about how humans have fairly or unfairly woven together this fabric they call married life.  They've changed the subtitle now that the paperback is just out; in hardcover it was subtitled "A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage." We are happy to award this a Book of the Year kiss, and eager to hear if others enjoyed it as much as we did. 

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Soul: A Book By and for the Fanatics Among Us  Steve Almond $23.00   Well, if some may find troubling our appreciation for a less than Christianly considered look at marriage (see above), I may offend even more still with this effort at a literary Grammy award to a book, as I've said about a novel of his, that I "hate to love."  This author---as I have said as I've commented upon other books of his over the years---is a personal favorite. His Candy Freak, about his obsession with the sweet stuff, is an all time great, clever and insightful and more powerful than you'd imagine!  I love his style, I appreciate so much about his way with words and think at his heart he writes with some sort of moral center.  I understand, if not fully resonating with, some of his view of things, and he captures almost in caricature the urbane angst of the ubber-hip, jaded Gen X literary type. True to form---and it is too often the case here---he is needlessly vulgar, at times offensively so. Still, despite those occasional ugly transgressions, and a bunch of merely, uh, vivid phrases, this book was a true delight for me, and one I immediately gave to a couple of music-loving friends. 

If you have not been obsessed with albums and artists; if you haven't longed to convert others to the records of your passion, if you haven't dreamed of---or, in my case, actually engaged in--stalking certain rock stars, well, then just skip this sucker. Most of you aren't fanatics, so you won't care---unless maybe you know one, and are trying to figure him or her out.  There is some very insightful stuff about how music can give voice to our deepest concerns (why some adolescent boys love heavy metal, for instance) and in one very moving section tells of how a person he knows well, a young woman, was literally brought out of a hellish mess of a life by her attention to hard rock.  This is an odd book, mostly narrative by Almond the Fanatic, but a bit of serious music criticism and some inspiring stuff about rock artists he's come to know.  Still, it isn't for everyone.  But if you are beyond the pale when it comes to your musical obsessions, and don't mind carrying around a book with the blasphemous cover (I took the dusk jacket off), then I believe this book will make you smile, and smile very deeply and with an awareness that you are not alone in your dedication to serious contemporary music.  It will make you appreciate obsession, wonder why pop music means so much to so many of us, and will touch your rock and roll heart in places that only a good mix tape really could  One of my personal favorite books of the year.  Beth?  Not so much.

Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet Nathan Foster (IVP) $16.00 I suppose there are a dozen reasons why a reader is attracted to a book, and I admit that this is a no-brainer.  I was on a rare trip to Colorado, hanging around a gazing at the very fourteeners described in this riveting memoir of mountain-climbing, a faith lost and found, and the reconciliation of an estranged father and son.  My own son is a rock climber, so it reminded me of him a bit.  Nathan is the son of Richard Foster, a man I've met and admired, and to hear of Richard's clueless neglect of his hurting adolescent son was grueling.  Oh the pain inflicted on the children of those in leadership and ministry!  Yet, the drug-addled and religiously cynical (and surprisingly unaware) young adult son reaches out to his famous, contemplative dad, and dares him to climb the famous mountain peaks with him and to somehow find relational reconciliation. 

This is a quickly read and very moving drama of father and son, their love for the outdoors, their different style of climbing, their joy in the journey, and importantly, Nathan's own journey towards an edgy faith of radical discipleship and solidarity with the abused and hurting teens of his own sub-culture.  (That he now is a professor of social work at a Christian college sort of makes it sound a bit more tidy than it was, but it was a hard and painful journey and I'm sure the book only told some of it.  It was plenty realistic and raw, I'd say.)  Richard Foster writes a small afterward, which was good, and the book--and the story it told-- meant tons to me, seeing God's faithfulness to these men, to see the hope of healed father-son friendships, and to see God's call to ministry upon them both.  And those mountains?  Seeing them took my breath away, and did give the book a certain visceral wallop.  Still, I bet you'd enjoy it, no matter where you read it.  A book I couldn't stop talking about for weeks.  


Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals compiled by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove & Enuma Okoro (Zondervan) $24.95  I hope you consider reading my longer review of this from last November; we we were thrilled to announce it, to be among the first stores to get behind it, and to be asked by Shane and the The Simple Way community to handle some of the sales to "release parties" that prayed with this resource the week it was launched.  There were candles lit and songs sung and food and silence and celebration and all manner of conspiring for goodness, and prayer books from Hearts & Minds were there. 

Common Prayer is a large-sized prayer book, with some moving woodcuts (that bring to mind the Catholic Worker) and music and prayers and litanies and feast days for alternative heroes, prayers for various occasions (including house blessings, new babies, times of grief, prayers for sexual purity and for loneliness and for preparation for social justice work, etc.)  There are sidebars that help you learn about the liturgical practices of fixed hour prayer and some good (if brief) guidance on why radical, missional "new monastic" faith communities need to root their social activism to the ancient ways of ecumenical prayer.  I must admit that while we were fully enthused about this, the book itself---and the promotion of it---left us with a grand sense of gladness, happy that Zondervan took the risk to publish a liturgical prayer book aimed at those who, most likely, aren't used to purchasing such a resource.  Shane and Jonathan wrote a good book on prayer drawing on the desert fathers and mothers a year ago, so this came as no surprise, really, but it still is an extraordinary publishing event, and is even better than we expected.  Kudos all around.  Thanks be to God. 

Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press) $14.99  Again, I reviewed this when it first came out, and we are thrilled to suggest it to you once again.  It is handsomely made, nicely written, and offers a happy blend of story, theology, the history  of folks like the desert fathers and mothers, and makes a case that praying locally is better than globe-hopping, nomadic restlessness.  Although this is a book of spiritual formation, it is like few others in it has this parallel theme of being involved in ordinary ways in one's neighborhood; it wouldn't be fair to say it is the kind of book Wendel Berry would write if he did this kind of book, I suppose, but that may suggest why we love it so.  We need roots, a sense of place, and a spirituality that commends us to God and each other.  This is very nicely done, wise and useful.  A gracious forward by Kathleen Norris is lovely, and adds value to the book.  Brief and clear, with some great stories of his own neighborhood and household, this is one of the best quiet books of the year.

Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season of Your Soul Mark Buchannan (Zondervan) $17.99  There are books of deep spirituality that may be richer than this, and there are some that are more mystical and esoteric.  But for ordinary saints of God, those struggling with the inevitable ups and downs of life under the sun, this is a gem of a resource, beautifully written, wise and practical.  It isn't difficult, and it isn't overly complex.  Yet, there is a maturity here, a thoughtful sense of God's presence in different ways over different seasons of our lives.  Are you in a harsh winter?  A renewing Spring?  Are there deaths and loss or hope and blue skies?  Our formation in the ways of Christ and our inner spirituality will take shape influenced by these predicaments and Buchannan guides us as a wise director, as a seasoned pastor, and a good friend.  There is wonderful prose, fine citations of important authors, fun and inspiring stories, and some very helpful exercises to draw upon during different "seasons" of your soul. We have commended this good author before, and applaud his increasing fame.  We hope our award helps others know that he is a guy worth reading, an author we care about.  This book, especially, is a real blessing, delightful and true. 


Routes & Radishes--And Other Things to Talk About at the Evangelical Crossroads  Mark Russell, Allen Yeh, Michelle Sanchez, Chelle Stearns, Dwight Friesen (Zondervan) $22.99  This is a fantastic and creatively packaged volume which has five voices, in clear dialogue and discussion, about the nature and future of evangelicalism.  The youthful, multi-cultural mix of men ad women is itself a large indication of something---this ain't Billy Graham or Tony Campolo or John Piper.  Their "future's so bright I gotta wear shades" allusion on the back cover is a hoot, and, again, this is an important sign.  More importantly, though, these are solid thinkers, vibrant missional servants, Kingdom people who are serious about theology, engaged in culture, well-read, and eager to, in the words of Trinity Evangelical theology prof, Dr. Simon Chan, "envision a form of Evangelicalism which is self-critical, richly nuanced, and ecumenically aware.  If this is the Evangelicalism of the future, there is reason to be hopeful."

I hope you get the allusion of the title.  Routes, of course has to do with the paths we may go; radishes are deeply rooted things.  Clever, eh? There is friendly disagreement about both the past and the future here, and the format offers this good back and forth, with a serious intention about being faithful and fruitful, even in our shifting, complex times. The conversation partners are all quite sharp, and well worth hearing out.  Yey (DPhil from Oxford) is a prof of History and Theology at Biola; Sanchez (MDiv, ThM from Gordon-Conwell) is pastor of Christian Formation at Highrock Covenant Church; Mark Russell (PhD Asbury) is a former missionary and cofounder of Russell Media; Chelle Stearns (PhD, University of St Andrews) is Assistant Professor of Theology at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, and Dwight Friesen (DMin George Fox) is an ordained pastor, internet guru, and Associate Professor of Practical Theology, also at Mars Hill Graduate School.)  Man, these kids are smart and influential.  This deserves a bundle of awards, and we are happy to commend it as a very important conversation, and a rich tool for further discussion, reflection, and your own participation.


The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith  Stuart Murray (Herald Press) $13.99  Okay, this is an odd little category, since I don't award the best book on Lutheran or Anglican or Methodist studies.  Well, if any such tradition had a exceptionally-readable, all new, very exciting and truly popular release that sets the barre for such work, I'd create an award just for them.  This is a fantastic release---done a year or so ago in England and now happily released by the Mennonite Publishing House here in Pennsylvania.  We stock nearly everything they release, but this is extraordinary.  The rave reviews on the back are from Brian McLaren (an ecumenical emergent leader), Tom Sine (a global futurist with Presbyterian connections) and Shane Claiborne, an evangelical "new monastic" activist.  Neither are anabaptists themselves, but mostly likely all have been shaped by the likes of Yoder et al.  Murray is an urban church planter, known in the newer missional circles, and a very thoughtful writer.  This attempts to offer the best of the anabaptist core components and practices, stripped perhaps from their Swiss Brethren or Amish connotations.  Can the Christian community at large learn from an updated, robust look at the radical reformation? I hope so.


Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society Jonathan Chaplin (University of Notre Dame) $68.00   Although we stock some standard philosophy texts and appreciate all sorts of academic writing, this serious study of the dense philosophy of Dutch scholar Herman Dooyeweerd simply must be celebrated.  It was, after all, the incisive critique of Western culture's driving spirits, and the attention to a Biblically-informed understanding of the multi-dimensional nature and inter-relationships of things in God's world, that emerged from his Chair at the Free University of Amsterdam in the early parts of the 20th century that inspired a generation of young fire-brand (mostly Canadian) philosophers in later decades that so impacted me in my college years. I am not a philosopher and have always found--surprise, surprise--Dooyeweerdian philosophy to be exceedingly obtuse, but the spin-off organizations (from the think-tank Cardus and Comment and the funky e-zine Catapult to Citizens for Public Justice, in some ways the CCO and the Jubilee conference) continues to gladly stand in the broad tradition of neo-Calvinist thinkers who have used Dooyeweerd's tools to reformingly engage culture.  This is meaty work, not for those with only a passing interest, but it is well written, helpful in explaining this unique Reformed philosophy, with an emphasis, as the subtitle suggests, on law and politics. The best book about H.D. and his philosophy that has yet been done and very important in these times of renewed interest in the deepest answers to our largest cultural and policy questions. Dr. Chaplin is director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge, England.

Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy James K. A. Smith (Eerdmans) $19.00  Smith has had a prolific year, what with the already awarded Letters to a Young Calvinist, and his co-editing one of the more serious, scholarly books on the philosophy of science in a long time---Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences (Indiana University Press, 2010.) Yes, Neo-Calvinist Smith is also a Pentecostal and is doing much to advance the unique contributions of a Pentecostal worldview to the academy, as the science collection indicates.  Thinking in Tongues is a new book which is just that-- a serious study of how Pentecostal insights and impulses, faith and practice, shape the very ways in which he does his philosophy.  Wow.

Thinking In Tongues--besides being deserving of an award for the wit and clarity of the title--deserves honorable mention not only because it is so pioneering, but because it is so darn interesting.  I am not averse to the Holy Spirited gift of speaking in tongues, and I swear that at times I was so thrilled with this little academic text that I felt something coming on; at least something like inexplicably deep joy.  How does being a Pentecostal scholar inform epistemology, ontology, the philosophy of language,and the rest?  Chapter by chapter, Professor Smith walks us through deep philosophical waters, noting how his charismatic worldview has shaped his technical work as a reformational philosopher.  The lead chapter, sort of a "letter to a Pentecostal philosopher" is a gem, and his insight is potent for anyone doing philosophy in these postmodern days.  If this book isn't deserving of some accolades, I don't know what it.  If you are at all interested in the radical ways faith informs scholarship, or if you are at all interested in the diversity of ways and means to explore academic philosophy, or if you are at all interested in how Pentecostals might engage the deepest questions of life, this book is for you.  Spread the word.   


What a fun and important category, and there were several completed this year---such as the notably hefty and very serious four-volume set called The Theology of Lordship by John M. Frame (Presbyterian & Reformed.)  My pick for a winner is a tie, so I will honor two happily complete sets.  Two very different sorts of writing, but two that our readers will surely want to join us in celebrating.  One is an eight-book series that was introduced just last year, each book by a different author;  the other is a five-book series that started maybe more than 5 years ago, with each volume written by the same esteemed writer.  And our honorees are...drum roll, please.

Ancient Future series on Spiritual Practices  edited by Phyllis Tickle (Thomas Nelson) $12.95 each.  You may have seen our recent description (and sale price) of these interesting, ecumenical resources, each by a different contemporary author, on practices such as receiving Eucharist, praying fixed hour prayers, following the liturgical calendar, keeping sabbath, tithing, fasting, and going on pilgrimage.  I hope you read that review if you didn't as I found something commendable about each one.  The first, Finding Our Way Again, lays out the beauty, spirituality of (and necessity of) doing these sorts of things, and is a good over-view of the set, setting the tone and framing the teachings.  You can read them pretty much in any order, I'd say. The new paperback releases, by the way, have brief study guides at the end of each. 

Most readers will appreciate some volumes more than others--based on the topic or the author--but we think they are all very worthwhile, quite notable, and want to honor the publisher for bringing to us this delightful, ecumenical, and rather ambitious project.  Isn't there some spiritual practice we call showing gratitude?  Honoring others?  Yes! 

Finding Our Way Again  Brian McLaren
In Constant Prayer     Robert Benson
Sabbath                       Dan Allander
The Liturgical Year     Joan Chittister
The Sacred Meal         Nora Gallagher
Fasting                         Scott McKnight
Tithing                          Douglas LeBlanc                     
The Sacred Journey   Charles Foster

A Conversation in Spiritual Theology series  Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans)  I have found it difficult to talk about just one of these remarkable works, and think it best to promote them as an on-going, unfolding series.  In many ways, this represents Peterson's magnum opus, although I in no way want to diminish his stunning books on basic discipleship, his several books of Bible reflections on the important four-part series on "vocational holiness" for pastors. We have appreciated and esteemed his books for years.

Still, this five-volume set may be his most lasting, mature work, deep and thoughtful spiritual reflections on the theology of daily living, following Christ in down-to-Earth ways, being shaped along the way in the ways of Jesus. The one released this year, Practicing Resurrection, is a study of Ephesians, actually (and the title a reference to a splendid poem by Wendell Berry.)  These wise books deserve to be read slowly; so far, I've read two of them twice and haven't gotten to them all; I'm taking my time.  I think it best to read them in order, although not everyone does.   All five are all still available in handsome, uniform hardcovers but the first two are now available in paperback.  Rev. Peterson and his long-time associate Peter Santucii has produced study guides for each one ($6.00) which we carry and recommend.

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology  $25.99/$16.99
Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading  $20.00/$16.00
Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers $24.00
The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way  $22.00
Practicing Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ  $24.00

Thanks, everyone, for reading this long and elaborate list.  I am afraid I skipped a few of my favorites--what was I reading nearly a year ago?  Still, I trust you enjoy these suggestions, and hope you continue to choose your own favorites, honoring authors and publishers and booksellers who bring the good.  Thanks be to God for this great privilege of having words to read, books to hold, ideas to share.  We couldn't do what we do if it weren't for the writers and the industry who gets us the volumes.  Of course, we couldn't sell them if there weren't willing readers.  Thanks, one and all.