About July 2011

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

June 2011 is the previous archive.

August 2011 is the next archive.

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

July 2011 Archives

July 5, 2011

Art That Tells the Story Christopher R. Brewer (Gospel Through Shared Experience)

I took joy in writing, and hope you enjoyed reading, the past two posts, telling how a certain vision shaped our bookstore's founding and still informs our work here at the bookstore.  In short, we believe that reading matters, because learning matters, because we are all called to serve God through vocations in the world---but somehow we must do this by living unlike the typical secularized way the world thinks and lives (Romans 12:1-2.) And that means we have to often think seriously about what we too often take for granted in our ordinary lives, about every sphere or institution we find ourselves in. What is good and what is not good? How should we think and live; what principles do we live by and what practices come from those principles? To be enfolded into a church community that invites us to whole life discipleship is no simple thing.

Hearts & Minds sells distinctive books across the whole spectrum of cultural life and we are sometimes surprised--still--when we are told that most Christian bookstores don't have a film studies section, say, or a category dedicated to race and multi-ethnic concerns, or even a science or environmental studies section.  Of course we have tons of books of Biblical studies and a large and ecumenical spiritual formation section, and more resources for local congregations than anyone could use. We have a diverse collection of worship resources, liturgical training, and books about congregational music.  But we are also wanting to relate faith and daily life, faith and work, faith and public affairs, faith and politics.

As I explained, we were introduced to this wide-ranging, evangelical worldview by a generation of Christian thinkers and activists who stood in the tradition of the magisterial Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper.  I hinted that there is no more generous and able voice in the English speaking world to introduce us to the relevance of Kuyper's culturally engaging vision to honor the Kingship of Jesus over all of life than Richard Mouw.  His introductory book on Kuyper, and Kuyperianism for the 21st century, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Eerdmans; $16.00) was a pleasure to introduce to you.  We still have it on sale so do scroll back if you haven't read those two posts.

One of the distinctives of the Kuyperian (or neo-Calvinist) movement is their insistence that the Bible, when properly read as an unfolding Story, shows us a coherent way to think about our life and times and that this is rooted in the very "chapters" of the Story itself.  As one lovely introductory book about the Bible puts it, swiping a line from Lesslie Newbigin, the Scriptural drama is "the true story of the whole world."  (See The True Story of the Whole World by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, published by Faith Alive; $12.99.) The Bible tells us, if you catch it mostly between the lines of the whole story, where we are, who we are, what's wrong and what solution there may be. Although it has become a short-hand phrase in some circles, the Biblical narrative can be most simply summarized as a story of a good (very good!) creation, a radically disruptive fall into sin which deforms everything ("Everything Is Broken" Bob Dylan sang), a gracious God who in covenant with the creation sends the Son to bring a multi-faceted redemption at His own great cost, and a final consummation or restoration of all things in the eschaton.  Not a few authors note that this is, significantly, the journey from a garden to a city.   Sometimes authors or speakers literally abbreviate this saying, c-f-r-r.

This four chapter story is, of course, a far cry from the approach that suggests that God is going to give up on the planet that is so loved and that Christ will take His followers to Some Other Place while those who are "left behind" get blown to smithereens.  Further, it is a more full telling of the story than the two chapter version (we are sinners and God loves us; in other words, only chapters 2 and 3, which, when torn from the whole plot, then float above history as abstract theological truths, unconnected to land and place and cities and society.) This fuller picture of the whole Bible--promise and deliverance in and for the real world---is not only true, but is laden with implications.  It is a narrative that many younger evangelicals are increasingly drawn to.  I hope you recall our promotion a few months ago of The Next Christians(Doubleday; $19.99), the splendid book about younger adults wanting to be agents of redemptive restoration, written by Gabe Lyon.   In it, he insists upon the full four chapter telling of the story, noting how the popular two chapter version---we are guilty but God forgives us---is increasingly seen as truncated and unable to do justice to the full flow of the Bible's own narrative.  There is a keen connection, we believe, between Gabe's call to multi-dimensional social and cultural reformation and this reformational reading of the four-chapter story.  

Well, one doesn't have to be a next-gen Christian or a neo-Calvinist Kuyperian to understand all that and to know that the best Biblical scholarship and the best Biblical preaching and the best Christian books these days have been emphasizing the storied nature of Scripture, the wholistic scope of salvation and the implications of the hope that God is, indeed, bringing restoration and healing to all things.  No Bible teacher worth her salt these days would suggest that the Bible is only for your inner life or that one can dip in to it here or there without literary and theological context.  Few people preach "heaven" as only for the "sweet by and by" and almost everyone appreciates the recently popular way attending to the coherent flow of the Bible's narrative by referring to it as a story.  (Thank goodness we don't have to say "meta-narrative" over and over anymore.)   My neo-Calvinist friends were 'early adopters' of this "historical redemptive" way of seeing the "mighty deeds of God" in Scripture---and, again, Mouw gets it really right in his fabulous When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans; $14.00.)  This is one sweet example of the relationship between the Older and Newer testaments and how new creation hopes among Isralites come to fruition in the healed cosmos of Revelation 21-22.  Mouw's neo-Calvinist roots show a bit in that lovely little study, but, again, this is not uncommon and it a good ecumenical trend.

pub3T.jpgWhat is uncommon is what is found in this spectacular new book edited by graphic designer and art patron Chris Brewer of Grand Rapids MI. His Art That Tells the Story (published by the gospel through shared experience; $24.95) is a truly new approach to exploring these Biblical themes by way of contemporary art.  In fact, I've got a blurb on the back, offered when the book was still in manuscript form, in which I glow that there is just nothing like it; it is a fairly simple idea, but I don't know anyone who has done this in this contemporary manner.  Which makes it a double joy to promote here: not only does it help us explore this full-orbed, coherent, worldview-shaping story of creation-fall-redemption-restoration, but it does so in ways that are wondrous and rare and refreshing.  An art book that tells the overview of the broadest contours of the Bible story; an art book that shares the gospel, with quality, nuance, and storied context!  A Biblically-oriented gift book that is worth owning and is worth giving!  

To better appreciate this, allow me to highlight a few things.  I will be brief, although I could wax eloquent--or at least I could enthuse---all day long.  This is awesome.

  • The author believes that we all, as humans, have certain shared experiences.  One doesn't necessarily need a Bible to know we live in a world that overflows with goodness and beauty and that we are somehow really messed up.  And, frankly, it could be argued (although Chris doesn't go into polemics about it) that we have a natural longing for hope, for meaning, for answers.  Our very restlessness is a signal of transcendence; we are looking for home. This was beautifully expressed half a century ago in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and powerfully explained in recent years in Simply Christian by N.T. Wright.  So we know this stuff, deep in our bones.                                                                              

  • The author also seems to know that  real artwork--that which suggests and doesn't just say, using creative forms of nuance and allusion, perhaps symbol and metaphor--can speak in ways that plain words sometimes cannot.  Whether it is due to our "shared experiences" or some deeply human appreciation for the creative, artwork can touch us deeply, can allow us to ponder, can invite deeper reflection.  Art can help us see, or see again, but never by preaching at us.  And we can talk about these things together as we experience good art together. 
     
  • There are two wonderful, wonderful, forwards.  New York-based abstract artist Makoto Fujimura reminds us of the role of art---it is nonlinear, invites us to ask questions (and then more questions) and creates conversations.  The arts can help people be grasped by the truth of God.  Chris Brewer, the energetic patron and compiler of this work, himself, has a splendid introductory essay that, again, reminds us beautifully of the ways in which great literature, poetry and visual art can point us to new insight, to authentic transformation. He notes that Makoto himself came to Christian faith by studying art, a joy that he describes by way of a quote from Mako's River Grace.  Both introductory pieces are very well done.  I suspect we will be hearing more from both of them as writers.                                              
  • Because Chris appreciates this "creation-fall-redemption-restoration" shorthand for telling the overview of the Biblical story, he has arranged dozens of paintings and plates (of sculptures, wood cuts, ceramic art, and more) in four respective sections.  That is, there are art works that illuminate the goodness of creation, the fact of human rebellion and cursed-ness, the Christ-centered climax of the story of redemption, and some very allusive works that suggests an "all things new" ending of healing, hope, final consummation.                                                                                                                                
  •  To help supplement the artwork, or perhaps to frame it--but not to explain it, though--there are four page-length meditations on creation, fall, redemption and restoration, written by author Michael Witmer.  I love Witmer's book Heaven Is a Place On Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Zondervan; $16.99) on these very themes and often recommend it.  To have Witmer involved in this is a good, good move.  His essays are helpful, basic, and yet oddly visionary.  With the artwork next to it, with the contemporary graphics and the big picture of the book in mind, these essays take on a fuller meaning than if they were just blogged posts or homilies given at a retreat. (They would be good in those settings, for sure!) You get more out of the words knowing they are helping shape this overall project, to literally see what he means.  And, as Brewer surely hoped, the artwork itself is seen as even more meaningful alongside these influential short studies.  It is commonplace that in art gallery showings and thematic presentations "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" and this is surely the case here.
spread-4-th.jpgThese are just quick bullet points, check-marks to help you understand the nature and point of this collection.  As the title suggests, this isn't just a random collection of contemporary Christian art, although it stands as more than adequate as a lovely volume of some of the best artists working in this field today. (That would be, for instance, the likes of Mako Fujimura, Bruce Herman, Sandra Bowden, Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, Wayne Forte, Julia Quinn, Ed Knippers, Clay Enoch, and more. Some are leaders in CIVA or IAM and others are perhaps lesser known.  All are quite deserving to be included in a work of this quality.)  In an acknowledgments page each artist's website is given, offering hours and hours more of browsing pleasure.  But Art That Tells... is more than just a great anthology or handsome coffee table book of religious art.

Everything about this large paperback was produced in order to accomplish the goal, to artfully tell the fuller Bible story, highlighting the four chapters. It makes a lot of sense and is a joy to consider.  What a great idea.

There are interesting Bible selections graphically reproduced on the left page of each broad spread.  On the facing page there is the full-color art piece.  On the left column there is sometimes a bit more helpful explanation, which are helpful and make the full spread very visually appealing, uniting text and image.  For instance, on the left you'll see highlighted instructional quotes such as

"A portrait of Rick Beerhorst, and, in a very real sense, of you and I as well.  "My Way" is aMy Way 5 wide.jpg retelling of the narrative of Moses by the rock at Horeb"  which is superimposed over Deuteronomy 32:51 and Exodus 17:5-6.  You see it on the right---what a piece!


 "A reworking of Rubens's "Cain Slaying Abel," Forte's "Cain and Abel IV" depicts what has been called the fallout from the fall."  Next to that is a punchy line from John Steinbeck about the universality of this story.  This is a very moving page, believe me.

"Taking its title from the second stanza of Milton's "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" this print is a reminder that Jesus was born to die, an uncomfortable truth, especially in this vulnerable context."  I wish I could find a copy of this on line to show you; it is a stylized a vivid portrait of a baby (Jesus) in the womb, head down, ready to drop (to use the midwife lingo.)  Around the womb are thorns.  It is a powerful, evocative piece and this line from Milton elevates it greatly.



spread-7.jpgThese short pull quotes are clean and crisp, in writing and visual presentation.  There are longer paragraphs, to be sure, and Brewer is quite the art critic.  (How do people come to know so much about all this? And how can we write with such economy to explain so much in such short renderings?)  You will appreciate the left-side pages, their Biblical narration and aesthetic insight, as much as the artwork pieces themselves.  I'm unable to get it placed quite right on this dumb blog platform, but you can get the idea of the nice graphics of the left-side pages from the above example.

But the artwork pieces are the point, of course.  And they are nearly all masterly and fall.jpgfabulous.  Their styles are diverse, and the subject of most are fairly evident--at least upon pondering. (Well, a few I'm still pondering.)  I've gazed and beheld them often and they yield more with each intentional approach.  They are expertly arranged and wonderfully printed.

Bit by bit, then, the Story unfolds.  Creation.  Fall.  Redemption.  Restoration. What a wonderful collection of so many moving art pieces.

One might offer some minor criticisms; I don't want to discourage anyone from getting and confidently sharing this, so I am reluctant.  I'll admit that a few of the pictures left me wishing for something else.  The size is a tad larger than I'd wish, but it does set it apart.  There should have been a few more truly horrific pieces to capture our shared experience of a fallen, death-shaped world.  And, I'm not a huge fan of the remarkable oil and wax on linen pieces of Orthodox painter Alfonse Borysewicz (one of which colorfully graces the cover.)  His "afterward" reflection is a moving testimony of God's grace in the life of a thoughtful, contemporary painter, but I'd have wished for a bigger visual ending.  Nothing in this section captured my own longings for full-orbed healing of the cosmos.  How might one colorfully extrapolate on Isaiah 65 or Romans 8 or Revelation 22 without being reduced to cliches?  Borysewicz' energetic, zigzagging portraits get at something, and they are stunning in their own right.  He describes them briefly.  If art is to tell the story, this is one part of the story that needs told and retold, and the artistic gifts of pointing to the ineffable--and the creaturely, if we really believe the Story---are needed here more than ever.  Maybe this part is brief because it falls on us to imagine creation restored.  The book is perhaps intentionally incomplete so we can talk about it...

I love the description that Brewer himself gives of this important project:



ChrisPortrait032511007.jpgFollowing the contours of the biblical narrative Art That Tells the Story is an invitation to experience the Story through commonly observable, shared experience---in this case, art.

But this is more than a book on art.  It's a conversation about the Story God is telling.

With multiple contributors and almost fifty works of art, Art That Tells the Story offers an ongoing conversation between image, text, scriptures, reflection and cultural artifact.

And then, this earnest plea, a cry from his heart:  "Join the conversation. Experience the Story."

Join the conversation.  Experience the Story.  You can do this if you reflect on the words and images.  Like any serious art book, it is designed to be reflected upon.  Behold it.  Meditate on it.  Allow it to grab you, shake you, stir you.  And talk back to it.  And talk to others about it.  I do hope this is used, passed around, discussed. Chris is right--you can join the conversation.

Here is a special Hearts & Minds BookNotes deal:

 2 free books. 

One of the books that has most thoroughly explored the implications of seeing the Bible as a worldview shaping book, one that is structured around creation-fall-redemption/restoration is 0853647542.01._SX53_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgcalled Creation Regained: The Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Redeemer College Old Testament scholar, Albert Wolters.  Al has been a significant influence on Beth and I and his book is still one of our top few most often-suggested works.  Global leader John Stott, a few years back, began a project of getting a handful of key books published overseas for use in the developing countries.  They published them in smallish mass market paperbacks (unabridged) on fairly cheap paper.  We bought a ton of Creation Regained when it came out in its small-sized British edition.  It has since been expanded into a newer edition (by its US publisher, Eerdmans) and the Stott-produced overseas one is now out of print, but we have some.  And we're going to give 'em away along with this art book.

We will give you two free paperbacks (one for you and one for a friend) for every Art That Tells a Story that you buy. 

So, 2 free copies of Creation Regained and Art That Tells a Story.  This is a0853647542.01._SX53_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg fabulous new book that will deepen your faith, enlarge your imaginative capacities, and maybe allow you to invite others to the shared experience of pondering a longing for hope.  The Bible story can provide the road-map for the journey toward that hope.  This artistic rumination on the key stages on the journey, the four main chapters of the story, are here presented in ways that are as fresh and interesting as anything we have seen.  It is highly, highly recommended.  And you get two of the influential Al Wolters book for free.

BookNotes
SPECIAL
OFFER
Art That Tells the Story
- and -
 two free Creation Regained (British edition) with every purchase
order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information

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



July 8, 2011

another brief look at Art That Tells the Story by Chris Brewer

pub3T.jpgIn the last post I shared our enthusiasm for a brand new book, Art That Tells the Story a book we admittedly have followed as it was being produced, printed, and shipped.  Chris Brewer is a young friend of Hearts & Minds and when he read a BookNotes blog a year ago about our short-hand telling of the Biblical narrative, using "creation-fall-redemption-consummation" as a catch-phrase to illustrate that coherent overview of the Bible's main contours, and when he also saw some of our many posts about books about the arts, well, he knew we'd be interested in this visionary little project of his.  We are honored he called us and we've been a fan in waiting ever since.  We respect his work under the banner of "The Gospel Through Shared Experience."  We are just bursting with gladness that this unique project has now launched and the book is finally available. (If you were at IAM last February, you heard us talking about it; if you were at CIVA last month, you surely talked with some you had contributed work to it.)

It sells for $24.95, is an oversized paperback printed well on glossy paper.  You can see our special offer (while supplies last) of two free copies of the small British edition of Al Wolter's Creation Regained with every purchase of Art That Tells...

Art That Tells is Story edited and compiled by Chris Brewer has a forward by Makoto Fujimura and four extended essays by Michael Witmer and includes almost 50 full color, high-quality original art reproductions.  It is a book to really enjoy.

And, oy vey, are we enjoyin' it.  Chris, himself a savvy art critic and insightful curator of small art shows at churches and third places throughout his hometown, pulled together some exceptional contemporary Christian artists, inviting them to show pieces that told one part of the grand Biblical Story.  Since we all have this shared experience of being captivated (or confused, or alienated) by art, it is, naturally, a very appropriate mechanism to create good conversation.  I don't think it would be fair to Chris, nor to the nuanceful and creative artists who contributed their work, but in some way, this is a high-brow, artful, and serious-minded gospel tract. I know it is a mixed metaphor, maybe even an oxymoron.  Good art, as Mako explains in his forward, in many ways glories in its "uselessness."  It never preaches---otherwise it is mere propaganda.  But here me out.

By using imaginative and suggestion-rich, real art, this "tract" in the guise of a coffee table art book shows and invites us to (deeply and imaginatively) beholdScan1.jpg the Bible drama, the relevance of key moments in the redemptive history proclaimed by Scripture.  By showing interesting new art works, it opens up new insights about the amazing truth that we live in a God-created-spoken-into-being-cosmos.  It opens up new insight about the amazing truth that we live in a world gone haywire, due to our own damned rebellion.  It opens up new insight about the amazing truth that the Triune God of the Bible has made promises to ancient Israel, promises that lead to faithful deliverance, brought to the creation in Christ and His cross; that is, there is redemption and renewal.  This book, Art That Tells a Story, helps us "see" through new eyes, by using these peculiar gifts of color and light and texture and tone, of symbol and abstraction, of nuance and suggestion; these artifacts he printed so lovingly in this orderly book, so that we might realize that, indeed, the God of the Bible tells us a very good story indeed, a story that starts in a good garden, devolves into tragedy that even these art pieces can't explain, and emerges into hope, a Christ-centered hope for all things.  Yes, Jesus says in Revelation, "I am making all things new."  Chris Brewer's curated art show in a book, Art That Tells the Story, helps us get that, at least a bit of it.  You've heard it said that the Old Testament prophets used dramatic gestures of civil disturbance and public drama because, when people are deaf, we must sometimes speak in sign language.  Maybe this book does that.  It helps us finally hear some of the deepest and widest implications of the one great story unfolding from Genesis to Revelation.

Who among us doesn't long for coherence and hope?  And who, who names the name of Christ, doesn't know that we are baptized into His service?  That is, we have to tell the story!  This is a great and grace-filled tool to help you fulfill at least your part of your part of the great commission.  Show and tell.

Buy the book and you have a ticket of admission to this show, at your fingertips anytime you want.  And--here is the point--this show, this experience, can be shared.  You can, as I've suggested, use this book to create conversations of great, great consequence.

Just for instance, here is one blog about using art in catechesis, and it uses one of the artists in this book, Julie Quinn.  You can see some of her abstract calligraphy pieces and reflect on what this teacher got out of them.  I don't know if he's right about any of this, but it's a nice example of interesting rumination on Biblical texts in light of her art.

And, as I mentioned yesterday, in the back of Art That Tells there is an index including the website addresses of all of the artists. As you can imagine, this will allow hours of browsing pleasure and perhaps inspire you to support living artists by buying some original work from them.

Man, it's a good day when we get to sell books like this.  I hope you are as excited about the pregnant possibilities of sharing these art works as Chris must have been when he dreamt up this project, and as excited as I am now pondering how God might use this visual re-telling of the Big Picture.  Creation, fall, redemption; restoration, hope, eternity.  Whoa.

I wish I could show you more of the excellent art that is in here but it isn't easily found on google images.  These are moving, if often abstract pieces, and (as I said yesterday) nicely explained, or at least ruminated upon, by Chris, page by page.  It isn't overly didactic, mind you, but nobody is left wondering what the heck these bohemians are up to.  No, this is a very lovely and clear telling, in artful and classy ways, of the truths of the Bible.  I think you could hardly go wrong  showing it, using it, giving it.  You can go to the book's facebook page and if scroll back a bit you can see many of the original pieces that are shown in the book as installed in several Grand Rapids settings.  You can see some of the artists, too.  Kudos to Chris for getting these pictures on facebook. 

Michael Witmer's four essays about these four chapters of the whole unfolding Bible story are solid and yet very fresh. (You'll want to read his Heaven Is a Place on Earth after you read his brief pieces here.) They give structure and greater specificity to the meaning of the artwork.  Mr. Brewer's explanations of the various art pieces, his brief warning, noting this line or that image, this thing to see or that important echo of another great artwork, is nearly worth the price of the book itself (it doesn't hurt to learn from a master interpreter, you know.)  His caring lines offer a helpful guide and a tone of reflection and rumination.  It is nearly devotional, and they are very, very nicely done.

But the art is the thing.  I'll try to arrange a few pieces here, but they tend not to be the right size for my blog platform; I'm not sure how it will look for you.  Please know that the book is very handsomely designed, very well done, itself a good piece of graphic art.  Kudos all around.

Julie Quinn is an abstract artist who sometimes uses calligraphy. She has several lovely pieces in the book.
Julie-Quinn-D2-Embrace.jpg
Carving - Saturn Bowl - Manzanita Root by John Marquardt.jpg

 
6a00d8341bffb053ef00e54f67ca3b8834-500wi.jpg














John Marquardt has a set of lathe-turned mesquite bowls that are similiar to this...





























Wayne Forte is a popular modern artist who often does overt Biblical images as in this piece inspired by Psalm 22.   Brewer notes another famous painting it echoes.

JQuist_Preparation_3.jpg
This remarkable piece needs to be studied carefully.  Is the "David and Goliath" battle shown here one about racial reconciliations?  Why a train track rather than the brook of 1 Samuel 17? Artist Jonathan Quist says this oil on canvas is of his pastor.
Cornelis Monsma - Fruitful.jpgCornelius Monsma has a spectacular, nuanced impressionistic painting of the transfiguration, but it was not legal to show it (understandably.)  This is an example of his work that I enjoyed, but the piece in Art That Tells is much more misty, wondrous, translucent.

So, with every purchase of Art That Tells The Story, we will give you two free paperbacks of Creation Regained by Albert Wolters,  a small, thoughtful book that has influenced us in understanding the Biblical basis for what some call a "reformational worldview" that explores the broadest scope and implications of each aspect of the Biblical story: creation, fall, and redemption. (As we explained in the last post, this is a special mass market version of the book that had been published in England.)

BookNotes
SPECIAL
OFFER
Art That Tells the Story  
-- and --
2 free copies of Creation Regained (British edition) with every purchase

order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information

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

 

July 11, 2011

15 Fun Summer Novels---a hodge-podge of choices

Do you remember two summers ago when everybody, everywhere you went, was reading the last Harry Potter, starting with the very night it came out?  We were out and about in several states that month and it was fabulous seeing so many people (adults and youth) absorbed in a hard-to-put-down story.  Except for the downside that my wife didn't talk to me much for several days.

Don't you want to feel that way again, or feel the way those people felt, lost in a fun read, immersed in a captivating book, mostly just for the fun of it?

I've been sneaking out to read a lot this past week or so---literally morning, noon, and night---which isn't terribly easy when you own your own business (but gratefully, we've got very competent staff.)  Soon, I'll tell you about a memoir or two that I adored, but here are some (mostly new or new in paperback) novels that we stock in the store that I thought might illustrate some of what you might buy or gift to someone.  We hear a lot about "beach books" this time of year, but, of course, most people don't go to the beach, and many don't read at the beach.  But where-ever you have your lawn chair, summer cabin, air-conditioned sitting room, or favorite spot at the coffee shop, we've got some ways to assist you take off to another world.  I've done it before so I won't even try to explain why that is so right, so helpful, so good, so fun.  Just do it.  Here are some snappy novels we have on a Booknotes special.  Not all are for everyone, but there might be something here for you.

an-eye-for-glory-250-198x300.jpgAn Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier  Karl Bacon (Zondervan) $16.99  This manuscript has a bit of a storied past and we are glad the big Zee published it as this is an artful and powerful piece of Civil War fiction by an author who has impeccable historical cred.  He used the firsthand accounts of the 14th Connecticut Infantry to make this realistic and informative.  Yet, it is more than a battle story.  As it says on the back, though, "For Union soldier Michael Palmer, surviving war is only half the battle."  It is in the solemn aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg that Michael begins to understand the grave cost of the war upon his soul.  I suppose you don't need reminded that this is the 150 anniversary of the Civil War and interest is high.  Maybe you could give this to somebody you know?   Highly recommended, by a promising first-time novelist.
 




14972522.JPGMission to America  Walter Kirn (Anchor) $13.95  His Thumbsucker became an indie film classic, and Up in the Air was one of my favorite novels a while back--even made it into the urgent Beyond Homelessness by Walsh & Bouma-Prediger.  Oh yeah, and there is that famous Hollywood guy director who did the movie with famous Hollywood star. This is Kirn's lesser known work and it is beyond "drolly funny" as the back jacket copy says.  It is a heck of a hoot, a story about cult who realizes they are losing members and send out some "evangelists" to recruit new followers.  Thing is, these yahoos haven't seen American up close, so they get a real (world) view. One happy reviewer says "Hilarious...Kirn doesn't miss a chance to skewer consumerism, New Ageism, and ski-town magnates. The barbs are spot-on and the Apostles, with their naivete about everything from Cheetos to Wiccans to reality TV, are hopelessly endearing."  The New York Times Book Review said it is Kirn's most ambitious novel yet,  "a tour de force."  Well, I don't know about that, but it is great beach read, satirical and funny and wise.

9781595542106.jpgEmbrace Me: Believing Is Seeing  Lisa Samson  (Nelson) $14.99  The little stand that elephants stomp on at circuses is on the cover and just the very edge of an oh-so-seductive gal, makes one think of Like Water for Elephants, or the new artsy cover design of Searching for God Knows What.  This is weirder than either, and, after becoming so well known for sweet novels like Quaker Summer and The Passion of Mary-Margaret (set in the Chesapeake Bay area) or her most recent, last year's very nice Resurrection in May, this is a riskier, more surreal story.  I have often said that Samson is one of the finest writers in this sub-genre known as evangelical fiction.  I hope she gets the huge following she deserves. So, this one?   When a "lizard woman, a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster." (from the back cover.)  And improbably closer to grace.
 

978-1-4143-3773-9.jpgThe Constantine Codex  Paul L.  Maier (Tyndale) $13.99  If you liked The Davinci Code, this is a thriller that will not only raise provocative questions about the historicity of the faith, but will help encourage you in very basic truths.  You may recall his somewhat controversial bestseller, A Skeleton in God's Closet; this would be somewhat similar.  In the novel, a few pieces of centuries old parchment tucked inside a tattered book lead famed archeologist Jonathan Weben and his wife Shannon to what could possibly be the greatest find in church history---a discarded biblical manuscript whose ancient pages reveal a secret that will change the way the world views Scripture.  Maier, when he isn't spinning popular yarns that will keep readers up late, is professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.  He has over 250 scholarly articles and reviews in professional journals.  But his fiction can also (as Hank Hanegraaff puts it) "excite and educate."  

in-hovering-flight-joyce-hinnefeld-paperback-cover-art.jpgIn Hovering Flight  Joyce Hinnefeld (Unbridled Books) $15.95  Unbridled is a prestige publisher of contemporary fiction and when I heard a few years ago that this novel was set in Bucks County, PA about a birdwatcher fighting developers, well, I had to have it.  We reviewed it a greater length when it was a hardcover and it just seems to be such a fine summer novel.  It is sad, it is funny, it is politically radical.  There are four women friends, doing beach time at the Jersey shore, exploring the backstory of the one who married her college teacher, the beloved author of a famous birdsong book which she illustrated.  They were to write another; their daughter is a New York poet, the suburban developers wracked late 20th century havoc--ruining the bird habitat and even her dying of cancer becomes an opportunity to resist the powers (with a dramatic gesture of civil disobedience.) I loved this wild, thoughtful, story and am happy to mention it again.  The author who has given us Scarlet Kavanagh, the daughter, and her mother, Addie, the bird artist, and their caring friends is herself from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.


a-young-mans-guide-late-capitalism-peter-mountford-paperback-cover-art.jpgA Young Mans' Guide to Late Capitalism  Peter Mountford  (Mariner) $15.95  Warning, there is some sex and cussing in here.  And some obscene hedge fund spy work as they try to predict how to better extract profits from the poorest country in Latin America.   One reviewer (David Shields) writes, "Extraordinarily vivid, populated by characters whose fates I cared about desperately, beautifully written, timely beyond measure."  One reviewer compared it to Graham Greene's The Quiet American, although it is more fast-paced and clever than that, I'd say.  Mountford is skilled as a writer and knows how to explore the struggles of having a decent vocation or personal integrity when one is working for a capitalistic corporation with a global reach.   In the story, the main character's mother is a leftist journalist, a refugee of Pinochet, who now writes for Mother Jones and The Nation. The young man can't, for obvious reasons, be honest with his mother about what he does and for whom he works. I'm almost finished myself and can't imagine what more might happen.  Whew.

978-1-4143-3569-8.jpgFalse Witness  Randy Singer  (Tyndale) sale price $9.97 (while supplies last)  Singer is a wonderful man, a great speaker, a friend from CLS (Christian Legal Society.)  One might say he is a John Grisham on an evangelical publishing house.  (Publisher's Weekly, in fact,  says he is "every bit as enjoyable as Grisham.")  Here, a convoluted plot (are there any other kind in this genre of legal thrillers?) leads to gritty scenes in the struggle for freedom for the Dalits, the untouchable class so oppressed in contemporary India.   If you are seeking an adrenaline-called thrill ride of a book (yes, with a bail bondsman whose ultimate bounty is oddly on his own wife's life) this may be it.  If you want to understand the growing contemporary church deep inside India, and one of the great campaigns for justice in our time, this is a remarkable window into that world.  The royalties, by the way, will be donated to the Dalit Freedom Network.


76874221.JPGEngaging Voices: Tales of Morality and Meaning in an Age of Global Warming  Roger Gottlieb (Baylor University Press) $29.95  The aforementioned Tyndale or Zondervan publishers too seemingly safe for you?  (Snob! Snob!) Want something more socially conscious?  Well, how about this: a radical environmental activist and philosophy prof has given us a collection of short stories designed to make you think. Lively, funny, eminently discussable, these short dramas are urgently written, inviting us to rethink political activism, spirituality, and community in new ways. I'd say this is the most unique book on the list and a challenging, fun, escapade into the world of social reformers, visionaries and dreamers.  What is the meaning of life, after all?  Nothing simplistic about the agenda of this collection. Ha!  It would make a great book club choice, maybe over some back yard corn on the cob.   Kudos to Baylor for publishing a work like this. 


13-reasons-why-200x300.jpgThirteen Reasons Why Jay Asher  (Razor Bill) $10.99  Okay, I'll admit it.  None of us here have read this yet.  I wanted to sound cool by letting you know we have this kind of cool underground stuff.  (And we do!)  But it isn't underground anymore.  This book, which has been called "eerie, beautiful, and devastating" has been translated now into 31 languages and is an international sensation.  You can quickly gather that there is a teen suicide, 13 tapes left behind, for 13 people, explaining their 13 bits of complicity in her death.  The deceased girl (through the tapes) is the primary voice of the story, but so is another boy, who truly liked her.  He has to hear all the tapes so he can piece together the meaning of this sad affair.  Is it a mystery?  A eulogy?  Sherman Alexie says it is a "ceremony."  Check out www.thirteenreasonswhy.com to see some of the ways teens have responded to this mesmerizing tale.  It is considered a young adult novel, and it has won numerous awards and  but is certainly a fine choice for adults.

african-trilogy-184x300.jpgThe African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease, Arrow of God  Chineua Achebe (Everyman's Library) $30.00  I love the feel of Everyman's hardback editions with their nice size, but firm weight, and ribbon marker.  Here, Achebe's three 20th century classics are in one volume.  Just carrying it around is elevating.  If you don't know this author you really should. Things Fall Apart, at least, is one of the most important African, post-colonial novels of our time and a tremendously good read that will haunt you long after the short novel is over.  Most of us don't know his other two so this is a lovely, handy volume.  Take this to the coffeshop or beach and I am sure you'll strike up some conversation with other thoughtful readers.

You know, while I'm at it, we'd love to suggest any of the Everyman's Library volumes so if you ever need to treat yourself to a lasting edition or want to give a classy gift--like, say, a Charles Dicken's with an introduction by G.K. Chesterton, don't hesitate to call us.


The Seraph Seal.jpgThe Seraph Seal  Leonard Sweet & Lori Wagner (Nelson) $15.99  Those of us who have read some of Leonard Sweet, or heard his multi-media, mind-boggling lectures or incredibly passionate, well-crafted sermons, know he has an extraordinary mind and a vivid--maybe too vivid--imagination.  It was only a matter of time until he teamed up with a novelist and cultural critic (a scholar in her own rite) to create a fantasy thriller.  Set in 2012 (oh my), the back cover says it is "when an ancient prophecy quietly unfolds as a fragmenting world accelerates its descent into massive chaos."  There is "global intrigue, cascading natural catastrophes, and a complexity of characters, motives, and symbolic traditions intersect..."  It is certainly apocalyptic in genre--a Syrian manuscript has special powers and a University of Virginia historian gets involved. Eight people are born, each with a distinctive birthmark. And there is more.  But as in the best sci-fi there is finally a journey of love and discovery and deep truth.  There are some reproductions of stuff (like maps and emails) included that almost make it seem like non-fiction; like the X-Files, say, not quite Blair Witch, so that it may be unclear what is real and what isn't.   And, guess what?  I love this (although a few might role there eyes---Sweet is at it again) but there is a brief forward explaining some of what might be going on.  The joy is in the story, but I'd shell out for an essay entitled "Engaging the Apocalypse: A Non-Fiction Essay on Scenarios and Semiotics for the 21st Century" which offers this bit of wisdom from the first female, a nun, to ever write a book about fishing, circa 1388:  Piscator non solum piscatur.  How does he come up with stuff?  Hold on.

9781598566673.jpgPhantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women  George MacDonald (Hendrickson) $19.95  We love the Eerdmans paperbacks of this (and Lilith too, of course) and have stocked them since we opened.  You know C.S. Lewis loved 'em, so we had to promote them early on.  Here, now, is a handsome hardback with thirty-three original illustrations by the legendary Arthur Hughes, but newly colorized by Zach Fink.  It has the one page forward from 1905 by son Greville MacDonald.   You may know the Lewis quote, "My imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized...I had not the faintest notion what I let myself in for by buying Phantastes."   How could you not want to own a book like that?


the-ambition-200x300.jpgThe Ambition  Lee Strobel  (Zondervan) $24.99  You know Strobel is a great communicator, a great speaker, and a fine apologist.  He used to be a blue-collar type newspaperman (and a hard boiled atheist) in Chicago.  Can he now write a thriller of a suspense novel, about gambling addictions and the Mafia?  Will it have, woven into its fabric, a message of redemptive hope and meaning?  Of course, but it isn't heavy-handed or preachy.  Here, through odd plot twists and tons of drama he probes the power of ambition in the city he knows best.  There is "deceit, danger, death' ("all in a days work" he says.)  A corrupt judge, the mob, a disillusioned pastor and a cynical reporter.  Several early buyers have spread the word that this is the best story they've read in a while, a thrilling and though-provoking sprawl of a taut thriller.   I like and respect Stoebel and suspect this is gutsy and fun and with a hint of deeper meaning.  What more do you want in a suspense story?


The-Muir-House-alt.jpgThe Muir House  Mary DeMuth  Zondervan) $14.99  Well, you might guess that I myself don't read much overtly "Christian fiction" and not too many that may have romantic themes.  We love talking about, say The Help or the new Ann Patchet, State of Wonder. (Beth just finished Taft, which I've told her about for years---I loved it!) Or any of the important novels of Barbara Kingsolver.  And I swear I'm going to re-read James David Duncan soon.  But among "Christian fiction" fans, Mary DeMuth is considered a good writer, and I truly admired her exceptional, honest memoir of sexual abuse, Thin Places, so I thought I'd try this.  The dialogue drove me crazy at times, the twenty-something romance was a bit, well, like one thinks belongs in a romance novel, the overuse of simile the sign of cheesy editors, I'd guess.  But you know what?  I was hooked.  This young woman coming to grips with a missing bit of her memory, her need to return home to her Texas hometown, her struggle to know if she wanted to commit to a good, thoughtful, Christ-follower...well, I couldn't put the thing down.  It isn't going to get nominated for a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon but so what?  This was a compelling story, cliched as it seemed, and I loved it.  I wanted to know what DeMuth cooked up next, what was going to happen to this young woman who was an interior decorator (redoing a funeral parlor into a Bed and Breakfast) that wore Toms Shoes and had a boyfriend from Seattle who recycled envelopes and was off on a life-changing mission trip, himself.  I wondered about what it is like to go back to a place of pain and secrets and the struggles those who are fearful about the uncertainties in their lives must endure.  Can you ever "go home again?" Does the truth set us free?  It's a gamble, even on a good day, even with God's help.  This quick-paced read was not too demanding, in terms of the writing itself (although every page had enjoyable lines and phrases and images) but I can picture the characters in my mind's eye. The story will stick with you.  Do take it to the beach.

88992245.JPGOver the Edge  Brandilyn Collins (B+H) $14.99 I should have predicted it would happen, but to be honest hadn't even imagined it: a novel about Lyme Disease!  When one of our staff heard about this she couldn't wait to tell us and when it came, Beth couldn't put it down.  As you may know, our family has had a five year bout with chronic Lyme Disease and have learned of the uneducated state of most health care providers, the utterly outrageous corruption among those setting protocols for Lyme treatment, of compromised research, of big money calling certain shots, of people's lives--patients and in some cases forward-thinking doctors--being literally devastated. Perhaps you cried, as I did, during the fabulous documentary Under Our Skin (or campaigned against those trying to get PBS to censor its airing.)  If you have any interest in this, if you know anyone with Lyme, or if you just like one heckuva medical thriller, this well-researched, political/scientific/medical conflict comes to life in high drama.  As Terri Blackstock says, it is "a page-turner.  Fascinating and eye-opening."   I'm glad this was published, glad to turn real life horror into a fun summer read, set in Stanford Universities prestigious Department of Medicine.   See the little deer tick on the cover--it is embossed just a bit making it kinda creepy. Thanks to Ms Collins for sharing, in fiction, some of her own personal story...highly recommended.

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July 15, 2011

Summer Memoirs: 15 Fun, True Stories

In the last post, we listed a batch of summer fiction reads, novels you can take to along on vacation or carry to a getaway spot finding great pleasure and enjoyment (and, usually, something to learn along the way) in a good story.  Some were a bit more highbrow than others, some less demanding, all pretty interesting in their own way.  We think they illustrated, too, the diversity of our inventory and our curating each section of our shop with certain values and concerns.  Hope you enjoyed our list of 15 novels.

Here is an equally enchanting and quite diverse list of 15 more recommendations, mostly memoirs, autobiographies, or writerly reflections.  Any of these would provide a good number of enjoyable and edifying hours; a pretty good bargain for your entertainment dollar.  We hope you like memoirs as much as we do. 

Please note that, as with other genres of books, not every title on this list is good for every person.  We have always felt that as Christians we can (and often should) read books that are not necessarily written from our own religious perspective.  A few may have some language that some may not appreciate.  Some share convictions that are not what you believe.  We understand.  Still, if read with discernment, we are happy to stock this sort of wide diversity of important, quality writers who give us their take on life and times.  We really don't mind writing this little disclaimer, but wonder if any other store has to do this.  Most secular bookstores have few scrupples about graphic language and most Christian bookstores just don't carry many non-Christian books.  Puts us in an interest niche, and hope you fine our quirkiness useful for your journey.  Enjoy.

9781400071722.jpgHome By Another Way: Notes from the Caribbean  Robert Benson (Waterbrook) $13.99  I've told you before about this gracious, elegant writer who can tell a story with such clarity and kindness that it makes the heart sing.  He is a prayer man (and has several books about his attraction to monastic spirituality, including two about Benedictine formation practices.)  But he also writes profoundly meaningful books about other stuff: one that I really love is called Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard (Waterbrook; $12.95) that gave me great pleasure.  It is on gardening and landscaping in his back yard (and, equally about relationships and place and community) making it a perfect summer book (better to read about lawn work than do it, in my view, but don't tell Benson.) He has a splendidly thoughtful memoir about enjoying baseball called The Game: One Man, Nine Innings, A Love Affair with Baseball (Waterbrook; $12.95.)  Home... is about how he and his wife regularly travel to a tropical island and the sense of "home" they discover there.  Sure there are upbeat stories about island life but it is more profoundly about finding a special place in the world...all three of these seem like summer books to me.  Enjoy them---you will be glad you did.

Jesus-My-Father-The-CIA-and-Me2.jpgJesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me...A Memoir of Sorts  Ian Cron (Nelson) $15.99  You may recall that I raved about this in a longer review earlier this summer.   A poignant, funny, and very moving memoir of a pretty darn dysfunctional family and how Cron came to know God's grace.  I'm telling ya, this is a winner---everybody who reads it then foists it on anybody else they can, it is that good.  It is only one of two on the list that I've already reviewed, but just has to be on here again; we admire this author's unique voice, his good attention to writing well, and the way he can balance pathos and joy, almost never with sentimentality or mawkish prose.  Give it a shot.  You won't regret getting to know this wonderful little boy with a sad but fascinating family,  learning about his early faith, his drift into high school trouble and trouble-making and his eventual calling into the Episcopal ministry.  This look backward for him is healing for us all as he is embraced by Hope, and learns to be a dad himself-- without quite as many mysteries as his own father.

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.small.jpgThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  Rebecca Skloot (Broadway) $16.00  I hope you've heard of this New York Times bestseller.  It has gotten rave accolades from all sorts of places (including a view in Entertainment Weekly whose writer said simply "I couldn't put this books down.")  It is an odd and compelling story; in 1951 doctors took a sampling of cells from Henrietta (without asking or obtaining permission.)  Those cells never died.  They launched a medical revolution--including the development of the polio vaccine-- and a multimillion-dollar industry.  More than twenty years later, it says on the cover, her children found out.  Their lives would never be the same.  It is a riveting story and, yes, as you most likely know, she was a poor black tobacco farmer, making this not only a remarkable story (her cells have been sold by the billions) but an expose of racism and an exploration of ethics and research and science and...The Washington Post says "Henrietta Lacks comes fully alive on the page" and the New York Times reviewer, after discussing how interesting the science of it all is said, "It made my hair stand on end."  Everybody I know who has read this multi-layered story has loved it.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.jpgIn The Sanctuary of Outcasts  Neil White (Harper) $14.99  I don't know where I first heard of this but it, too, is a high-octane, nearly unbelievable story of loss and redemption, written with surprising good humor, elegance and stunning detail.  The author committed some serious white collar crime--bank fraud, to be exact. He gets sent to a very unusual prison in Carville, Louisiana--the last remaining U.S. leper colony, a place for those disfigured by this odd disease, a community comprised of patients, nuns, and criminals.   You can imagine the prose--from the landscape to the people, the horrific and the beauty.  But more importantly, you can imagine his journey, this new life of service and solidarity and hard-won realizations.  Neil White's strange new world is called, by John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, "Hilarious, astonishing, and deeply moving." I don't think I've ever seen anything like this.  I'm not sure we ever will again.  Truly amazing.



978-1-4143-3577-3.jpgCraving Grace: A Story of Faith, Failure, and My Search for Sweetness  Lisa Velthouse (Saltriver) $16.99  The warm photo of an overflowing jar of honey on the cover speaks to the evocative way this story unfolds, ruminations about a faith journey that is full of longing, desire, hope.  Yet, this fine Christian young lady just couldn't sustain a life of being good, earning God's okay, trying to find that sweet spot in her relationship with God.  She decides to commence a significant fast; again, her sincere efforts to find some great connection with the Divine fall short.  Unless something world-rocking happens that allow her to break through stale religious practices, revealing a greater depth of God's saving grace.  She's a good writer, has had connections with various ministries (including a spell at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids.)  And she says she's always had a sweet tooth.  A lovely, moving, meandering faith journey, nicely told.



Bossypants_Tina_Fey.jpgBossypants  Tina Fey (Little Brown) $26.99  Okay, this isn't the memoir of a sweet faith journey.  Or maybe it is.  You know who she is, you know she can be more ribald than she should be, and you also surely know she is one of the most captivating and appreciated comedians working today.  Her earliest days, her work in discerning her calling, her entry into the serious world of hard comedy and her life-changing stint at SNL and into international fame as a TV star, it's all here.  She is self deprecating and more humble than many we've come to tolerate in this schizoid comedy scene. Her telling of working with Sarah Palin is really interesting and quite honorable.  And fun. I'm not going to lie, my gentle eyes were offended by a few wisecracks and I laughed out loud at a lot. She really is an interesting person, and a funny, funny gal.  Even the blurbs on the back are funny.  Come on, you know you've been wishing to read it.  Why not?

62147668_b.jpgGlobal Soccer Mom: Changing the World is Easier Than You Think  Shayne Moore (Zondervan) $14.99  My hunch is that those most interested in a book like this might roll their eyes at the silly subtitle; we know it isn't easy.  But hear her out: it can be done!  It isn't "easy" and we can't change the entire world, but we can take steps of faithfulness, reach out, get involved, do something!  As Shayne Moore shows in this fantastic reflection, ordinary "soccer moms" can learn to engage the wider world.  Okay, she isn't really ordinary, even though she say's she never knew anything about public policy issues and just throws on her ordinary jeans most days.  Still,  the President calls her on the phone.  Tell that to the other soccer moms at the booster club or PTO candy sales meeting.  But I do love that her assistant (okay, like I said, she isn't entirely ordinary) is small town normal enough to not believe the caller was, in fact, inquiring of Ms Moore from the President's office.  She thought it was a prank, and hung up!  Allll-righteeee then, that is a story! 

Mama Moore is an excellent writer, an enjoyable, breezy author, and she really is an inspiring human being.  She has earned the right to be heard, a voice of a suburban mom who makes a difference.   She has learned to do workshops, start study groups, serve on mission trips, encourage others to lobby on behalf of the poor, figure out which non-profits to learn about and support.  It has lead her to some fun moments (she helps put together a small TV spot on voting with actress Julia Roberts; they naturally talked about their children, and Julia noted she had spit-up on her shirt.  Been there.  Well, not the Julia Roberts part, but having baby spit-up on a shirt on my way to a speaking engagement or TV interview.) So she really is normal, active in a conservative church, and has a vibrant heart for the world's poor. I love the line from Bono on the back of the book: "Politicians, watch out...Shayne Moore is an unstoppable force." She was one of the original members of ONE and supports and works closely with Grower's First.  She has an MA in theology, continues to write at her blog, (www.GlobalSoccerMom.com) and shows you step by step how you, too, can get involved in making the world a better place.  Importantly, yes, she still manages a home and spends most of her time doing laundry, cooking meals, helping with homework and "hollering at my kids to get in the van" on their way to sports events or music rehearsals. Maybe you can't quite relate, but I bet you know somebody who can. Why not give this as a mid-summer encouragement?

9780316031912_154X233.jpgMarriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir  Kate Braestrup (Little Brown) $24.99  A few years ago we discovered the very moving memoir Here If You Need Me about Braestrup's work as a UU chaplain for the State Park rangers in Maine, and her grueling wilderness work after the unexpected death of her young husband. What a book!  (More recently I've enjoyed her introduction to prayer, Beginner's Grace, which in a brief review I said was written in a manner that brings to mind Barbara Brown Taylor.)  This recent book is somewhat of a  meditation, partly a memoir, mostly a grand telling of her second marriage, what it is like to be in love again after the death of her first husband, and what the whole lovely second chance  is all about.  Very well written, gentle, honest, touching.  She's still a chaplain to those in horrendous crisis in a very rugged place.  And she's a deeply thoughtful, liberal theologian.  And a woman in love who just has to write about the mystery of it all.  Very, very nicely done.

photo6662.jpgUnexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Eerdmans) $24.00  I think I first crossed paths with Granberg-Michaelson back when he worked as an aid on Capitol Hill, a hero of mine, Senator Mark Hatfield.  I was lobbying about the Viet Nam peace accords or something.  Soon, he ended up as a fine writer and editor at Sojourners and was for years Jim Wallis' best friend and partner in crime.  When we opened our bookstore we were pleased within the next decade to sell several great Granberg-Michaelson books, ahead of their time, about earth-keeping and creation care.  As this marvelous new book tells, he eventually became a denominational leader (in the Reformed Church in America) and rose to leadership in the World Council of Churches and several other global ecumenical ministries.  I know the story of being a judicatory head of an old-line denomination doesn't sound that thrilling, but this is marvelous stuff.  As Ron Sider says, it is "delightful, moving, important...a wonderful story."  Everybody that knows Wes knows him as a wonderful man, a wise leader (in fact, we stock a book of his on leadership that is quite good) and a bold prophet, always with a missional perspective.  This is part spiritual memoir--from his earliest days in a rural evangelical home, through Young Life, and so much more over a lifetime of service, but it is also a larger reflection about not only the complexities of contemporary discipleship but of the nature of ecumenism, the need for a graced imagination when working in and with large, flawed institutions, and how to find joy in the daily grind of serving God in large and small ways.  I am not done with this book yet, and I am sure I won't be for a while.  It is a great read, but also a profound one.  I can hardly recommend it more, for those who care about mainline churches, or for those who do not.   

Large.9781610973175.jpgThe Messenger: Friendship, Faith, and Finding One's Way  Douglas John Hall (Wipf & Stock) $22.00  This brief book deserves a different review by someone somewhat more acquainted with the main context of the story, but yet, I was so moved by it, I have to tell recommend it.  I cannot briefly say the ways this touched me, made me think, made me sad, made me rejoice, and even shed a tear over a man I never met.  In this straight-forward story, world famous United Church of Canada theologian Douglas Hall (Emeritus at McGill University) tells about a man who was a messenger of the gospel for him, a man he met at a church camp in his teens and who, through letters and friendship, served as a life-long mentor.  The man's name was Bob Miller and those involved in the Student Christian Movement in the 1950s into the '70s in North America (but especially Canada) knew him well.  The SCM had connections with the World Council of Churches and was a respected, important mainline denominational campus ministry in those years, perhaps parallel to the evangelically oriented InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Anyone with interest in the history of mainline congregation ministry among students will find this historically very illuminating.  Hall, himself a world-class scholar, was drawn to serious scholarship through this kind man that nurtured students, that stayed in touch, that introduced art and books and ideas about philosophy and theology and church and society into their formative minds.  This is, in many ways, a tribute to the role of a mentor.  Hall bears witness (as Walt Brueggemann puts it on the back cover) "to the incarnational way of faith that impinges itself upon real life in the world.   Hall is no saint-maker, but he knows one when he sees one!"

I think The Messenger is strong for several reasons, even though it is laden with names I've never heard of (and the names of the relatives of these people--and, my hand to heaven, sometimes the names of the babysitters of the relatives of the people I've never heard of.)  Yet, I was riveted.  I groaned at times when things went badly, I sighed at the misfortune of illness and academic difficulties.  I rejoiced when friends stayed in touch, visited each other in towns I've never heard of.  (I almost got out a Canadian map to help me through this almost too tedious reportage of SCM chapters---units as they were called---and colleges and camps that played a role in Hall's formation.)  And yet, as I say, it kept me in its grip, turning page after page, caring about this faith journey in these perilous times.  It is a strong book because03-15b.jpg this whole story is, in fact, as Brueggemann notes, incarnational.  This is the story of a cohort of students, growing into their theologian studies, their PhDs, their work and families and careers and professions and aging.  Bob Miller stood by them all, often through letters and sometimes at conferences and gatherings, and occasionally in pastoral visits, all across the continent. 

This is no small thing about a few informal friendship.  These were, for what it's worth, the leaders of a new generation of Protestant Christian leaders and Miller and his colleagues mentored them into the ways of rigorous faith and theological reflection.  Some studied under Karl Barth, they studied with people who knew Bonhoeffer (Miller himself distributed the first editions of Cost of Discipleship into Canada---imagine!)  Hall's story unfolds at Union in New York City as he grappled with Calvin and Luther and Barth, and disapproved of Tillich (who he later comes to appreciate more and more.)  Some of the brightest theological minds of the 20th century are in conversation together as a new generation of younger scholars, like Hall, arise.  And Miller is dear to them all.  That this intimate remembrance has been published as it is almost feels sacred.  I am glad professor Hall took the time to interview so many old friends, to recall so many stories, and to report them in a way that documents so much of it.

Interestingly, Miller was what was called the "Study Secretary" of the SCM organization, tasked with making sure the various student chapters were well informed, invited to always be learning and growing in faith and social issues, engaging well their own setting in institutions of higher education.  He would travel from campus to campus, meeting with professors and churchmen, students and scholars alike. They thought that Christian theology has something to say to, and with, the work being done in modern universities.  Miller called himself a "book steward" for SCM, so much so that he started a bookstore in Toronto for and alongside the work of SCM.  As I'm reading this I'm realizing that it may not be too different than Hearts & Minds, with my former work in campus ministry, still hoping to service and equip, say, the CCO or IVCF and the like. 

I started this book because I admire Hall and thought it would be interesting to hear about how he was mentored; I had no idea a bookseller and a bookstore was involved!  I had no idea that The Messenger chronicles the work of a man committed to bringing books to students, of introducing important ideas to the Christian community, of stimulating the life of the mind.   I read some sections of this memoir two or three times, in fact, astonished at how relevant it seemed to me, although it all happened more than half a century ago.  Later, in the controversial 70s some radical activist students insisted that Bob should carry a different sort of literature (some were, in theologically liberal confusion, considering taking the "C" out of their name.) Miller, although theologically mainstream Protestant, couldn't abide this immature attack on the faith or his craft; theological book-selling is not a hobby or a process to be determined by popular opinion, by committee or the market.  It was his calling and he and his well-read staff refused to give up the quality of bookstore that they had developed as a labour of love (which, by this time, had reached renown throughout Ontario, at least.)  Miller would not be intimidated; a change in the ethos of the times and within SCM created an organization that no longer valued their own book mentor.  It does not end well.

As Bob Miller ages and his relationship to SCM fades, yes, as even SCM itself fades, Hall continues to be blessed by his aging friend.  The story moves to its bittersweet conclusion and a powerful reflection by Hall on God's grace seen in a life lived for others, through the arts and literature, through ministry and friendship.
 
9780547424859.jpgThe Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian the Making of a Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $27.00  I wasn't sure what I'd think of this, since I am a pacifist  and do not appreciate books which glorify war.  Yet, this fine young man--a former Rhodes Scholar--who gave many months and years of his life in voluntary service, in mission trips, in humanitarian projects, seemed to be a guy I wanted to read.  And wow, what a story!  He increasingly came to believe that the largest service to the betterment of the world and the needs of the hurting would be to learn to protect those who are most oppressed.  Here, he tells of his path from being a humanitarian volunteer to a professional Navy Seal.  The book opens with a roadside bombing in Iraq and a moving chapter of his paying his respects to the bereaved family of a deceased comrade.  It is well written but the prose is plainspoken, clear and informative.  From trips to China, Bosnia, Bolivia, he learns of the world's needs and the world's poor.  Like many young idealists, he wanted to make a difference; he served in refugee camps from Gaza to Croatia (and yes, he visits Mother Teresa's home in Calcutta.)  The big question---and it is a question for all of us, perhaps especially those committed to non-violence---how do we prevent violence, save people from becoming refugees in the first place?  This is a boots on the ground memoir about that question, what the policy researchers call "humanitarian intervention" and the "responsibility to protect.

Here is the description from a preview copy that so interested me: "Eric offers something new in the history of military memoirs: a warrior who wanted to be strong to be good, only to discover that he had to be good to be strong."  Throughout his SEAL training and his subsequent deployments (whew---from Kenya to Thailand, Afghanistan and Iraq) he carries his good heart and lessons learned from his years as a humanitarian.  This is not an intentionally Christian book and it does not wrestle with the questions of Biblical nonviolence, as followers of Jesus surely must.  But for those of us that do--or anyone that wants a powerful story about an obviously noble man--this is hard to put down and offers considerable food for thought.  Greitens is now a senior fellow at the University of Missouri and founder of The Mission Continues, a charity that helps wounded veterans find work back home.

I_Beat_the_Odds.pngI Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond  Michael Oher (Gotham Books) $26.00  You know the first book, itself a very well-written and riveting story by Michael Lewis.  You may have seen the movie with Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bollock..  Just a look at the back cover here, with the very blond Leigh Anne Touhys, Michael's adoptive mother, and the towering player in the jersey from Ole Miss, tells a lot of that incongruous story.  But here you learn Michael's side of the story, the crushing poverty of his early life in a Memphis ghetto, his darkest memories and feelings, (including the fears of being taken from his broken family) his determination on and off the college field, his Christian faith, and how he came to become a leading NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens.  Co-written with an talented Sport's Illustrated writer and sports biographer, this is a great book which is eye-opening and truly inspirational.

cover_year_plenty.jpgYear of Plenty  Craig L. Goodwin (SparkHouse) $12.95  All right, I have mentioned this one before, too, but it is such a fun book to have in the summer---just look at that cover!   Who doesn't like bright plants, flowers, and, uh, chickens.  Well you'll learn all about it in this delightful, important little book.  In the tradition of Plenty (which we loved and wrote about a year ago) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (of course) this is the upbeat story of a Presbyterian pastor learning about justice, reading about sustainability and how to pull off a more simple lifestyle, desiring to be a better steward, and writing a book about how he and his family sets out to eat locally, be more responsible for their energy use and diets and such.    It is timely and informative and really pleasurable reading. Here's the fun subtitle, which doesn't even tell the half of it: "One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living." Fantastic!


dressmaker.jpgThe Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe  Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (Harper) 24.99  When one humanitarian development worker says "This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read" one takes notice. Mohamed El Erian (When Markets Collide) says "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana reads like great fiction and yet it is all true; this book will grab you from the first sentence and take you on an amazing journey that crosses many borders: cultural, geographical, intellectual, and emotional. It is a must read."  Lemmon spent years doing taxing work obtaining in-depth interviews and learning the texture and details of this Afghani town.  Talk about "unsung heroes" as Angelina Jolie writes of it, "Against all odds, these young women created hope and community; and they never gave up.  This book is guaranteed to move you--and to show you a side of Afghanistan few ever see."
 

LAMcover-new-195x300.jpgThe Last American Man  Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin) $15.00 I hope you know that I don't agree with the sexual or spiritual worldview of the lovely Ms Gilbert who gave us the spectacularly interesting and spectacularly written Eat Pray Love.  With discernment, it is a fabulous travelogue (and a travelogue of the heart) and disagree with those who mocked it just because it was so popular.  There is a reason it was beloved--it really was well done!  Beth and I both thoroughly enjoyed and learned much from the sequel to that, Committed: A Love Story,  the feisty and fun study on the history and sociology of marriage (written as a memoir to follow up EPL---should she marry her new man, or not?  How does one write a book about one's love life when, in fact, it is known the world over?) It was really fun reading and almost entirely excellent;  despite a few foolish spots, was mostly very, very wise.  Because I was so enthralled with her writing style I ordered The Last American Man, her American Book Award finalist, a biography of Eustace Conway, "the last man" of the title. Not surprisingly, the writing was colorful (in more ways than one), the story almost unbelievable.  An abused child from North Carolina is taught by his mother to love the woods, to care for all manner of animals, to take books out of the library, learning about older ways of building things, all sorts of Native peoples and becoming skilled at Indian crafts, animal skinning, surviving and actually living in the wild.  He grows up to be one of the most self-sufficient men on the planet, a fascinating and decent fellow who excels at nearly everything he does, and who still lives in a tee pee in the middle of his beloved Appalachian mountains. And, man, does he do some amazing stuff, besides just living off the grid--I can't begin to tell you.   In the stellar storytelling hands of Ms Gilbert, his life becomes not only a fabulously rich story, but a thought-provoking bit of cultural and social criticism. Outside magazine says  it is "the finest examination of American masculinity and wilderness since Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild."

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July 16, 2011

A handful of books about Harry Potter: finding the gospel in Harry Potter

Someone perhaps unaware of the ongoing conversation said tentatively to a friend recently that it seems like there are some Christian symbols and Biblical allusions in Harry Potter.  Could that be, she wondered.  It's a good insight and she may be surprised to know that there is a virtual cottage industry of recent writing, reflecting on the deeper meaning of the wonderfully-crafted fantasy books.  As our own local newspaper's religion writer observed, not too many years ago conservative Christians accused Rowling of witchcraft and Satanism, but that is changing.  (We lost more than one customer and even a friend a decade ago over our display of that first HP.)  Oh, how times have changed. And as an impressive Christianity Today piece argued, Harry Potter is here to stay.  It gives this old bookseller a bit of hope.

And so, I'll skip the movie tonight and write about the books about the books instead.  That's my thing, you know, telling you about books.  What fun!  Buy 'em here if you want, and if you even think about going you-know-where to buy instead, I'll have Draco Malfoy stupefy you. And, of course, if you don't have the actual HP books, and your library is out of them, we've got the whole set.

br_gospelhp.jpgThe Gospel According to Harry Potter: The Spiritual Journey of the World's Greatest Seeker Revised and Expanded Connie Neal (WJK) $14.95  I mentioned this one first because Ms Neal was the first to suggest, after the first Potter book caught on, in a book published by a theologically conservative house, that maybe, just maybe, evangelical parents should read these books with some discernment so they could converse with their neighbors about it all.  Not a bad Acts 17/Mars Hill sort of strategy, but she paid for it.  Mrs. Neal even told the story of how some neighborhood kids who were all reading Potter then agreed to join her to read Narnia.  I guess the point in that early brave book was that this stuff isn't that bad, but Lewis was better.  Later, on a different, more open-minded Christian publisher, she happily explored the Christian themes that are within the Potter series, and she wrote with great confidence, clarity and joy, giving us one of the best books about the Potter series.  This newer, expanded version of that second book includes an examination of all 7 of Harry's exploits. It is a fabulous resource, a fun book to read, and highly recommended. Ms Neal has another book, by the way, called Wizards, Wardrobes, and Wookiees: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia, and Star Wars (IVP; $15.00) which, as the title suggests, looks at these ubiquitous themes in these three classic epic sagas.

9780312308698.gifGod the Devil, and Harry Potter: A Christian Minister's Defense of the Beloved Novels John Killinger (St. Martin's Griffin) $12.95  Dr. Killinger is a good writer, a thoughtful theologian and literary scholar, and has been on a kick recently to expose the dangers of fundamentalism.  He wrote a memoir called The Other Preacher From Lynchburg: My Life Across Town from Jerry Falwell we he contrasts his work at the liberal Congregational church with the more famous ministry in Lynchburg.  So this is not only a delightfully playful appreciation of the Potter cycle of tales, which it really is, but it is also a bit of a smack-down to those that think these books are wicked.  He makes a good case that these stories don't corrupt children, but can influence them towards being followers of Jesus.  



full_17494.jpgOne Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter Greg Garrett (Baylor University Press) $19.95  This is an astute study of the literary influences upon which Rowling draws, some good insight about the stories themselves, and a clear example of uniquely Christian literary criticism. He has a section showing, for instance, how the Three Unforgivable Curses are like Tolkien's Machine.  Greg  Garret is a great writer, and has himself penned a novel, a memoir, a book of insightful film criticism called The Gospel According to Hollywood, and a really great one called Holy Superheroes that is a must-read for fans of that genre. He says (and he is not alone) that reading Harry Potter made him "want to be a better person."  Garrett is from Austin so some of the book was written in the Hill Country, but he notes that much of it was written in England at the Canterbury Cathedral.  Pretty sharp!







14660224.JPGLooking for God in Harry Potter (updated, second edition)  John Granger (Saltriver) $12.99 This came out in 2004 so it doesn't explore the final parts of the saga.  But you should know that this author may be the most significant Potter expert on this side of the Hogwarts School.  He happens to have a beard down to his knees--or he used to, almost---and is active as a leader in the Orthodox faith.  So he's kinda weird himself, if I do say so.  And he is--no doubt about it--a genius, a Biblically-literate genius, and a very  helpful writer.  He has a batch of books on this subject and this is the standard intro.  I recommend it.   Granger does, by the way, wisely address the questions about new age mysticism and the dangers of the occult.  Like most of the faith-based, pro-Potter authors, he agrees with the breath-taking statement of C.S. Lewis: "You and I have need of the strongest spells that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness"  Granger helps us see that Potter may just be that kind of a spell to awaken us from our naturalistic enchantment.

br_unlockinghp.jpgUnlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader  John Granger (Zossima Press) $19.99  If you are a fan of the books or even the movies, this will keep you absorbed, wanting to read it over and over. He uses his "considerable talents and reservoir of language and literary expertise" (as one reviewer wrote) to helps us understand and appreciate the layers of the stories.  Serious fans will love it as it delves pretty deeply, offering very important observations out of his coherent vision of what the stories are all about.

Harry Potter's Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwart's Adventures  John Granger (Berkley) $15.00  I told you this Orthodox psalte (ordained reader) was obsessed with all things Potter.  He is a great literary critic and researcher and a passionate teacher so it is only natural he wants to share his findings.  Why do these HP books so appeal to so many people, of all ages? Granger things there are universal themes that are presented, ideas portrayed in the greatest of Western literature.  Did J, K. Rowling knowingly weave pieces of Jane Austen's Emma or Charles Dickens approach to class struggle or insights from the gothic romances like Dracula and Frankenstein?  Can you pick up the influence of Dorothy Sayers, Tolkien, and, yes, C. S Lewis?  This pop culture phenomenon just may have a very surprising and rich pedigree, grounded in more fine literature than you ever knew.  Even if Granger is reading into things a bit much (which I doubt) there is no doubt he makes a very, very good case, book by book by book.  Tolle legge!

Harry Potter and History  edited by Nancy Reagin (Wiley) $17.95  You probably have heard of the large series that combine pop culture studies with philosophy (and, yes, there is a Harry Potter and Philosophy.)  Here we have a similar volume, with world-class historians and history professors weighing in on questions like "How do the Malfoys compare to Muggle English Aristocrats?  Were Voldermort and the Death Eaters similar to the Nazis? (See the chapter: "Death Eater Ideology and National Socialism")  Who was the real Nicholas Flamel? There are chapters like "Beastly Books and Quick-Quills: Harry Potter and the Making of Medieval Manuscripts" and "Why State Secrecy? Real Historical Oppression of Witches and Wizards." There is one serious piece on the Spanish Inquisition, another on British boarding schools.   Know any eccentric history scholars who are real Potter fans?  This might be a surprising gift.

From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy 
Matthew Dickerson &from-homer-harry-potter-david-ohara-paperback-cover-art.jpg David O'Hara (Brazos) $24.00  I've long suggested this important and delightful book for lit majors or anyone seriously interested in fantasy.  From Arthurian legends to "Faerie" stories, from Greek mythology up to HP, this covers wisely a great amount of ground.  The fascinating Catholic philosoper Peter Kreeft says of it, "What adjectives describe this book?  Sound? Wise? Intelligent? Trust-worthy? Nuanced? Accurate? Enlightening? Genuinely Christian? All of the above."

And, for those who want to complete their collection of weird Potter-esque texts, check out these two rare finds.

Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?  What Really Happened to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  edited by John Granger (Zossima Press) $14.99  This may by now be considered outdated, if you've read the final volume, but what a great, great bit of speculative literary sleuthing it was.  Six expert Harry Potter detectives examined the evidence.  Very close readings from the best fans in the world.

Harry Potter and the Bible: Harmless Fantasy or Dangerous Fascination?  Richard Abanes (Christian Publications) $11.99  This was the guy who taught about "the menace behind the magick" and has other books insisting that most fantasy literature is demonic.  As you might guess, we think this is pretty goofy, but yet,  two very well respected evangelical thinkers who professionally study the occult gave it an endorsement; that just baffled me, and I still think it's pretty silly in its basic assumptions. It does make some nifty points about real wizard practices, which I guess we should know about.  We've got one here if you want to read it for yourself.

AND WHILE WE ARE AT IT
Here are just a few other random titles that caught my eye here in that section of the shop.

The-Narnia-Code.jpgThe Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens Michael Ward (Saltriver) $13.99  I noted this a half a year ago when one of our monthly reviews about C.S. Lewis resources.  This is a popularly-written, abridged version of the remarkable Oxford University Press volume by Ward, Planet Narnia.  The Times Literary Supplement says that Ward "has established himself not only as the foremost living Lewis scholar but also as a brilliant writer."  How 'bout that?  This unlocks a secret about The Chronicles of Narnia that has mystified readers for over half a century... This is the sort of thing Granger might do with Harry Potter; what fun, what insight, how interesting!

Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Philip Pullman's Trilogy His Dark Materials   Tony Watkins (IVP) $15.00  If Christian readers want to get in a snit about something, I'd suggest skipping the Potter pseudo-controversy and consider the wonderfully-written and extraordinary works of Philip Pullman, a child's fantasy writer who has bluntly said "My books are about killing God."  He "hates" Narnia, and hates the Christian God.  (And yet, son of Adam that he is, he bears the image of the God he hates, so he is able to produce great writing and compelling stories with beautiful lines.)  This is a balanced, thoughtful, and careful study of Pullman's religious and scientific underpinnings.

20110519__20110522_E08_BK22SHELVES~p1_200.JPGTwenty-Five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity Thomas Foster (Harper) $14.99  I've raved about this author before and so enjoyed his How To Read Novels Like a Professor.)  This book is, like his others, fun and insightful, nicely written and very stimulating.  One reviewer says it will make you "think again about what it means to be an American."  And, it makes me think of the power of books, the influential formative power of the printed page.  Those who fear that children reading about young Harry and Hermione will be drawn to the occult seem a bit silly to me, but this does show us how books do leave their mark, on the ethos of a culture as much as upon the individual soul of a reader.  I wonder why conservative critics don't worry much about the worldview of Moby Dick or the influence of The Last of the Mohicans or Gatsby, for that matter?  Well, here, the witty Dr. Foster walks us through not only 25 classic books, but ponders their influence on the shaping of our culture.  Very interesting and, I'd think, pretty important for any of us who want to be critically engaged with the spirit of the times.  (By the way, I'll come clean---I don't doubt the good professor's word on this, but there are, uh, more than one of these 25 that I've never even heard of.  I'm embarrassed.)  His final chapter is a short one where he says, "I have insisted from the start that this is not a list of the twenty-five books that will tell you the whole story. Decency commands that I offer a few of the overlooked items.  Feel free to add or substitute a thousand others."  And then he has a few insights about the elusive quest for the Great American Novel.  Too bad Harry Potter was written in England.

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July 24, 2011

new Calvin Seerveld audio recording of Psalms, with the Pax Christi chorale

There have been oodles of books about worship in recent years, books ranging from the most creative and progressive to the most staunchly conservative.  I never tire wanting to understand this central aspect of our weekly gatherings and enjoy the diverse array of titles we have; I read some of them as I can, and we recommend them often.  Of the large selection of books about worship that we stock here, a few we often suggest---from must-reads by Marva Dawn to Gordon Lathrop, Russell Mitman, a small but weighty one by James Torrance,  to evangelical ones like Worship by the Book by R. Kent Hughes, D.A.Carson, Timothy Keller (Zondervan; $16.99.)  I even love the little pocket sized hardback by Matt Redman called Facedown (Regal; $12.99) which I highly recommend.  I'm not a worship leader, but I've read Worship Matters: Leading Others to Enounter the Greatness of God (Crossway; $17.99) maybe three times.
 
The Alban Institute not long ago did a very basic one that would serve as a good resource for an adult ed class in a mainline church, part of a series of their which we stock called "Vital Worship/Healthy Congregations" which is co-published by the fantastic Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  The Work of the People: What We Do in Worship and Why by Marlea Gilbert and others (Alban Institute; $17.00) is written by two UCC pastors, a Presbyterian and a Congregationalist pastor.  John Witvliet, the Director of the Calvin Institute, notes that "Excellent education about the shape and purpose of worship is one of the most promising approaches for spurring worship renewal.  The Work of the People is designed precisely to contribute to this educational and formational process."   

A year or so ago The Alban Institute also published one by my Western Pennsylvania mystic9781566994057.jpg friend Graham Standish; we've mentioned it before, but we should mention it again as it is a wonderful blend of thoughtful, deeply spiritual considerations and some practical advice for what he calls integrated worship. (Nobody likes that phrase "blended" worship and "ancient-future" isn't very clear, either.)  In God's Presence: Encountering, Experiencing, and Embracing the Holy in Worship (Alban; $18.00) is a very fine resource if you are reflecting on the nature of your worship experiences, and wanting to bring a few different styles and insights to the Table. (No pun intended.)  I like Graham's book.

113205646.JPGWe just got into the shop a serious volume from a professor who has studied with N.T. Wright at McGill, teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary,  is joined to the Orthodox church, and is known as a passionate and profound preacher herself. It is called Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven by Edith Humphrey (Brazos; $22.99.) Professor Humprhey's new work carries rave endorsements by Michael Gorman, Ellen Davis, Scot McKnight, Scott Hahn, John Witvliet and other important scholars who serve the church well,  assuring readers that this will be a rigorous and ecumenically-sensitive study. Rooting us in an ancient story, Grand Entrance explores both the Bible and the best of the Christian traditions (East and West.) 



artofcuratingworshiplrg.jpgInterestingly, there have been two recent books that use the phrase worship curating.  An interesting phrase; you can deduce the image and the meaning, I'm sure.  One is by Jonny Baker, from England (although he studied for a while in Toronto), and it is simply entitled Curating Worship (Seabury; $20.00.)  The Anglican, house-church, emergent and missional gangs in the UK are very thoughtful and poetic about their work and this book is truly fascinating--he has a number of contributers and the whole second section includes interviews with leaders such as Kester Brewin, Steve Taylor,  Pete Rollins, Sue Wallace.  Perhaps a bit more accessible is The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of the Worship Leader by Mark Pierson (SparkHouse; $16.95) which came from the authors work in the Baptist Church of New Zealand.  Again, this is very interesting, suggesting that worship is not "led" by one person who leads music.  Endorsements include raves from Tim Keel, Alan Hirsch, Brian McLaren and others.  Still quite creative, but perhaps a bit more traditional, and useful for more typical Protestant fellowships is The Worship Architect: A Blue Print for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services by Contance M. Cherry (BakerAcademic; $22.99.)

One of the most interesting things that I have noticed in the last few years as I've observed---curated?---these releases of books about worship renewal, is that many traditions, from mainline denominations to these emerging forms of creative worship, those from higher or lesser liturgical sensibilities all agree that we should pay more attention to our use of the Psalms.  Psalms study and folks pondering the role of psalms in worship are on the rise, and it is a good trend.  There are more psalters being published, and we stock some and can order others.  Are you aware of this trend?
 
For one good example of a fairly recent Psalm book that offers new insights, I was excited to see a few years ago Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor by the very impressive William Brown (Eerdmans; $30.00.)  It isn't an exegetical commentary (we have plenty of those, too) and goes beyond the study of functional analysis of parallelism and the like to a whole new sort of poetic sensitivity and research on how language works and how these songs/poems/prayers were created in the ancient Near East.   As Walter Brueggemann wrote in a longer review, "The book is fresh and accessible and is an important contribution to our common reading and the prayers our common readings permit."  Indeed. (Brueggemann's own books on the Psalms are essential, by the way.  His Message of the Psalms (Augsburg; $19.00) is excellent for a variety of reasons, and the little Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit was reissued by Cascade; $15.99) and is very useful.

Another extraordinary example of this recent interest in Psalms and worship, recall that I reviewed and celebrated The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary by Bruce Waltke and James Houston (Eerdmans; $28.00) which is both a stunning example of an overview of  Psalms exegesis and theology (and how they have been viewed throughout church history) and how they have been used in worship, again, over time.  This is over 600 pages, a treasure trove to work through over a life-time, perhaps.
 
One man who has been a voice of using the Psalms more routinely in worship---indeed327.300.jpg, singing them, as Waltke & Houston remind us that the church has often done--has been Calvin Seerveld, who has perhaps most known for his several book on aesthetics.  You may recognize his name from our regular mention of his books on the arts, Rainbows for the Fallen World (Toronto Tuppence; $29.95) or Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves (Toronto Tuppence; $35.00) or his early Christian Perspective on Art and Literature (Dordt College Press; $15.00.) Anytime we ever set up books anywhere, if we take devotionals, we display Take Hold of God and Pull (Dordt College Press; $20.00) or Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World (Dordt College Press; $8.00) which does vibrant meditations inspired by a particular art piece, which is shown in b/w.  I hope you know his name and have seen us happily promoting his engaging work.

SEERVELD ON THE PSALMS
2828064.jpgTo help us understand the role of the Psalms (and some other clearly poetic Biblical texts) and how they might be used in worship, Seerveld gave us Voicing God's Psalms (Eerdmans; $20.00.)  His "versifications" of the Psalms are masterful--it takes complex knowledge of Hebrew (and Hebrew poetry) as well as a tuneful ear to put them to verses so they can be sung in English.  This is a book that is fresh and striking and could be very useful, whether one is a "worship curator" or a more traditional pastor or preacher.  Seerveld has arranged the Psalm translations into thematic clusters under nine progressive headings (Torah, Enemies, Repentance & Forgiveness, Wrestling, Comfort, Promises, Hallalujah, etc.)  It includes a CD with over an hour of some readings and singing of Psalms in different styles and cadences; his passionate reading of his careful, if colorful, rendering of Psalm 19 is nearly alone worth the price of this resource!  The point of the CD mirrors the book: we can use the Psalms as creative, God-inspired hymnody and it can be as sorrowful as a lament and as joyous as a jig; there are wrestlings with God, here, and various moods and tones, matching the demands of the psalter itself.  As Eugene Peterson says of it, "A simply remarkable recovery, vigorous and engaging, of the original tone and range of the biblical prayers that give us the voice of 'God talking live.'"  Jeremy Begbie writes, "For many years Calvin Seerveld has brought freshness, vitality, and rigor to the interplay between Christian faith and the arts.  These very qualities mark his compelling psalm translations.  I commend them warmly."

Another useful feature to know about this good resource: there are one or two line introductions to each of the Psalms that he translates, and they are themselves rich, dense, intense.  Seerveld is one of the most skilled, and heartfelt, scholars I know.  His earnest, scholarly, phrasing is brilliant, so these introductions are themselves extraordinary.  

In Voicing God's Psalms Seerveld has a few concluding remarks about the role of using the Psalms in worship.   It is wise and commendable. (The two pages about "difficulties to overcome in worshipping with Psalms are broad but prophetic and should be prayerfully considered.)  But there is an introduction to this book which I have read over and over.  Perhaps I'm a bit odd, but there are a few pages in the intro, explaining Seeerveld's love for fresh translation, his peculiar realization of the gospel in the Psalms, his passion for using certain Genevan tunes or Welsh songs which seem, to him, to capture a mood or color---rough and tender, or, as he says sometimes, merriment---of these pieces for ordinary people.  In this intro Seerveld has a long, good sentence that I've often noted, explaining that the Gregorian chants were to be sung by trained voices but the reformation's shift to the whole people of God allowed for a (then controversial) opening of the role of ordinary folks singing in church, singing in their vernacular.  He says it more eloquently with greater historical lucidity and aplumb, but you get the point.  Seerveld's knowledge of the history of the rise of church singing, and particuarly Psalm singing, adds a nearly revolutionary edge to this stuff.  If you buy Voicing God's Psalms, please don't miss John Witvliet's good forward (it too, is fabulous) or Seerveld's must-read introduction. And underline this important insight about the historical development of this stuff.  Believe me, it is important.

AND A NEW CD RECORDING
Which then leads me to this.  If you are reading at home,  now give us a pound-your-hands-on-your-thighs, drum-roll pleeeezzze.  This is a very, very long-awaited announcement; some of us have been waiting for Seerveld's brilliant work on the history of Psalm singing for quite some time.  He has done lectures on this at various conferences and workshops.  He has alluded to this in personal notes and in public appearances.  He has offered leadership at the legendary annual worship conferences at the Calvin Institute. 

And, now, we are so very pleased to announce that a CD has been produced, a high-quality recorded CD of Cal's passionate, deeply moving lectures and an hour's worth of wonderful, high-quality performances of the Psalms put to music, illustrating historical approach, musical fashion and theological insight. (Ahh, remember?  Are ordinary people allowed to sing God's Word?  Is it for trained choirs?  What language and dialect do we use?)   

Allow me the honor of telling you just a bit about this marvelous new audio, by re-printing an edited version of a review I just had published over at the Cardus think-tank journal, Comment. I write for them sometimes and since Seerveld has been an inspiring presence for them in their reformational journalism, I wanted them to know about this first.  Now that that review has been posted there, I wanted to share it with our broader readership here at BookNotes.

GenevanPsalmody_bookletcover.jpg(I'm sorry this CD jacket art is so large--it is the only way I could get it to appear.  Ooops.)

CD audio recording The Gift of Genevan Psalmody for Today Sprung From Its Historical Context by Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press, 2011) $17.95

As we've said, Dr. Seerveld is renowned the world over. His profound insight about the arts and the allusive aesthetic aspects of daily life are legendary. Seerveld also has had an equally long-standing interest in mature worship, in opened-up possibilities of richly sung congregational music, especially using the Psalms. He has often drawn on the 15th century Genevan Psalms in his talks and in the worship services he has curated. After studying the Song of Songs and offering his own translation, he put it to choral arrangements called The Greatest Song, that have been performed throughout the world. (And, yes, we stock that book, too.)

 Although retired from teaching philosophical aesthetics, Seerveld is being used by God to encourage a renewed interest in the Psalms in worship. In this brand new CD, Seerveld lectures--or is it preaching? or testifying? --between each recorded piece, helping us learn how music was sung in the late medieval world (from Gregorian chant to polyphonic songs through simple laudes) and into the Protestant Reformation. Space does not allow me to explain the many stops along the way, but the commentary is vintage Seerveld: very detailed, colorfully worded, historically knowledgeable, and honorably ecumenical. He may be the world's leading scholar on this, and he loves telling us the important details.

In each recorded mini-lecture, he tells us not only the historical (and theological) context of the piece that is about to be preformed, but also the style of the music--noting something to pay attention to, a chord or cadence or a high note--and guides us from Gregorian chant to German Lutheran hymns to Calvin's own preferences for Psalms designed to be sung regularly by the common person in the vernacular.
 
They sing two versions of Psalm 42, for instance, one by Palestrina, a devout Catholic, another as written by Louis Bourgeois, of the Reformed movement; both are beautiful in their own way, but it is evident that one is wildly complex and professional, the other earnest and singable for the common person. The rise of vernacular singing is a blessing that some literally paid their life to advance, and Seerveld knows this deep in his bones.  Just hearing his brief telling of the tale is an emotional experience and a rare way to deepen your own experience of faith.
 
The excellent recordings of nine pieces by the Mennonite Pax Christi Chorale are truly stunning, comparable to the Tallis Scholars or Cambridge Singers, even. (Some Mennonite churches still sing accappella so this is a natural choice, but I was still delightful surprised to hear this brilliant vocal treat offered here, knowing it came from Mennonites.) This music/spoken word audio runs just under 80 minutes, and you will listen to it repeatedly, I'm sure, to hear again Seerveld's passionate explanation of how these moving Psalms of God came to be put to song, how the theology of the tunesmiths and singers so colored their particular choices, and--Lord, please--how we might be buoyed up deep down by practices in our day of regularly singing Psalms like this.
 
Curators, arise!  Listen to this disc, read Seerveld on the Psalms, and get busy, allowing the Spirit to guide us not just to a (as Seerveld puts it) "a revival hour, but a reformation of our awareness of God's presence, Christ's Rule in God's world, and the Holy Spirit's dynamic for disciplined, givewaway lives of love."

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July 30, 2011

Calvin College, Abraham Kuyper, The Christian Scholar's Review, *cino, and the great influence of John Stott

long-road-ahead-180x180.jpgDo you know that feeling after a long, long drive, returning home from a far-away but great event?  We are happy but exhausted from the white lines (and orange cones) on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, eyes bleary and body tense from navigating the late-night truck traffic.  On the Indiana interstate,  right before the Ohio line, a billboard offered a rest stop with chocolate  "for the pain that is Ohio."  Yep, these long, tedious hours of flat Buckeye road offers time for thinking and talking.  

Beth and I had just gone through a two-day parent introduction at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while our youngest daughter experienced her Calvin freshman orientation.  This Passport program was spectacular, with fabulous fun and food and helpful information.  We learned about the history of the school, John Calvin's French accent, saw brief video clips from scholars likes James K.A. Smith,and were reminded of the cosmic scope of Christ's redeeming restoration project (and hence, the deeply integrated religious vision of teaching the arts and the sciences for God's glory and our neighbor's good.) I leaned over to Beth and said that I wanted to attend Calvin College!

On the long ride home I pondered my own faith development, my own college years decades ago, my frustration as a younger man wondering why those who seemed most fired up about the gospel seemed so disinterested in the world and its great hurts. In my mind I revisited our many years of meeting students, selling books, including books written by people we had met at the Calvin orientation, and how we still have---thank you, Jesus!---a glimmer of our old idealistic vision that we can in some ways change the world for the better as we nurture a Christian mind, grounded in a Biblical worldview, enabling us to make connections between our deepest convictions and the way we live.  

Over a great dinner with with old friends in Grand Rapids, our friend observed that my book reviews usually carry a sense that reading matters, that books can make a difference, that we read with a purpose which includes social change.   You who are our fans and friends share this commitment and I thought of all of you, our Hearts & Minds gang, as we took in all this energy that Calvin emitted.  I thought of the campus ministry that we love, the CCO, whose slogan is "transforming college students to transform the world."  Right on!

Evangelical higher education has had a renaissance in recent years in scope and in spiritual978-0-89112-284-5.jpg vision and most such faith-based liberal arts schools---Messiah, Eastern, Gordon, Taylor, Wheaton, Seattle Pacific, Geneva, John Brown, Westmont, Whitworth, George Fox, Hope, Houghton, Bethel, Dordt, Trinity Christian, Union, and so many others---have used the important language of vocation to help students realize that learning matters to God and that serving God in the workaday world is itself a holy calling, whether one is an insurance agent or a scientist, an artist or a school teacher.  Learning about God's world as a person with this luxury of being a student is itself a calling, and the college years are also preparatory for future service in Christ's Kingdom, as young adults find their place in a career.  This is how we change the world, taking institutions and career areas seriously and learning to be faithful followers of Christ in (but not of) those culture-shaping spheres. 

The Christian College Phenomenon: Insider America's Fastest-Growing Institutions of Higher Learning edited by Thomas Chesnes & Samuel Joeckel (Abiline Christian University Press; $24.95) will be released early this fall and looks to be an extraordinary overview.  Did you know that in just a few years a decade ago, enrollment at CCCU colleges rose over 70% while private and state school enrollment in those years role 3%?  Wow.  Editors Thomas Chesnes and Samuel Joeckel have taken an empirical approach, surveying over 1900 professors at ninety-five CCCU colleges and universities and 2300 students at twenty different schools. The editors compiled responses to quantitative and open-ended questions on topics from pedagogy and politics to faith learning integration; they then made that data available to nearly thirty scholars who have turned their considered responses into chapters that are now organized into seven book sections, covering topics in gender, evolution, faith, learning, scholarship, and race/ethnicity. 

Do you hear shades of Abraham Kuyper in this interest in relating faith and cultural engagement, at least in how Calvin College expressed it to us this week? (I hope you recall the two- part BookNotes review of the new introduction to Kuyper by Richard Mouw, here and here.) That we are "called to holy worldliness" (in Mouw's punchy phrase) as we think about how God has ordained the unfolding of various social spheres and commissions us to be agents of healing in those places?   Indeed, some historians would say that the most vibrant Protestant Christian colleges have learned or re-learned recently to "think Christianly" about their own tasks and work, inside and outside of the classroom, in part by reflecting upon the way in which Calvin College talked about these things throughout the last half a century.  That Calvin views itself (or so we gather) as neo-Calvinist and Kuyperian---that God in Christ is redeeming not just our souls but "every square inch" of the creation, and that our views of sociology and agriculture and aesthetics and politics are as important as our doctrine and theology---has been a model for integrating faith and scholarship from which other institutions have learned.  

978-0-89112-547-1.jpgA brand new book---edited by an impressive team of scholars, including a former CCO staffer and Kuyperian from Hope College named Todd Steen (whose PhD in economics was taken at Harvard)---illustrates well the ways in which evangelicals have been wrestling with the questions of faith and learning, Christ and culture, piety and scholarship, for the last nearly half a century.  Taking Every Thought Captive: Forty Years for the Christian Scholars Review, edited by the current editor of CSR, the literature professor Don King of the PC(USA) affiliated Montreat College along with Perry Glanzer, David Hoekema, Jerry Pattengale, Todd Ream and Todd Steen (Abilene Christian University Press; $25.00.)  This thick book deserves a more thorough review later, but it is essentially a fantastic greatest hits collection of four decades of scholarly work done from within an intentionally Christian framework.  (You know, even if you don't have all of a band's many releases, if you care at all you pick up the greatest hits album.)  There are pieces here spanning the journal's career and they are well selected.  Some of them are really good to be in a book since the academic journal, CSR isn't widely circulated outside of Christian colleges and they deserve to be read.  What a wonderful opportunity to read through so many important articles!  There are substantial essays by a wide array of scholars, from thinkers such as Nicholas Woltersdorff, Jonathan Chaplin, Richard Mouw, Mary Stewart Van Leuuwen, Roger Lundin, Nancy Ammerman, Dallas Willard, Stanley Hauerwas, Jenell Paris and many more.  There are pieces on politics, on art, on the role of the Christian college, on student learning, on math and science and ethics and philosophy.

One piece that I have read and photocopied from the journal was a provocative and beautiful bit of writing by Brian Walsh and Steve Bouma-Prediger, using ecological insights based on a Scriptural vision of place and "homecoming" to suggest that students should know the places where they are studying.  It was published in the review (along with a strongly-worded critique the following quarter) as they were writing their Beyond Homelessness, applying its insights about cultural displacement and Biblical exile to the experience of learning within the context of modernity.  Brilliant!  Another piece that I think should be widely discussed was by Ronald Sider who called in the CSR for more academically rigorous research that popularizes for the church the work of the academy and helps social reformers and activists to translate Christian thinking into policy initiatives.  Again, this was a splendid piece that I highly recommend.  

The Christian Scholars Review has long been an important organ for good book reviews and serious academic research done by scholars mostly within the mostly evangelical Protestant faith community.  The special issues have been splendid (they did a C.S. Lewis issue a few years back, for instance) and it has regularly been a good testimony to the way our discipleship can effect our scholarship and cultural engagement.  I wish there was a way for more libraries to stock it, certainly university libraries should, since they typically have journals from every other perspective one could possibly think of. Certainly any college professors that you know should hear about it.  Maybe this book would be a way to introduce them to the important work of the journal.

Interestingly, after a few decades of pondering books like, say, Calvin College's own Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision for Faith, Living and Learning by Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans; $16.00) or the much-discussed Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship by George Marsden (Oxford University Press; $19.99) colleges from other theological traditions have had serious conversations about what their own unique theological heritages might offer to a perspective on being a Christian institution of higher learning.  What does it mean that Baylor is Baptist (and not just Texan)?  What is the unique contribution made by the constituency at Indiana Wesleyan?  What role does Methodism play in shaping the teaching at Asbury in Wilmore KY?  Besides having a peace studies program, is there anything uniquely Mennonite about the academic perspectives at Goshen?  These are fascinating questions, being discussed with greater urgency these days, or so it seems.

(Sadly, most mainline denominational church-funded colleges have opted out of this conversation years ago and have no vision of being distinctively Christian or, in many cases, even faintly Christian; I know colleges funded by the tithes of United Methodists, Church of the Brethren, Lutheran, UCC and Presbyterians where professors robustly talk students out of religious faith. See the massive set of case studies in The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities From Their Christian Churches by James Tunstead Burtchaell (Eerdmans; $49.99) for the history of the unhinging of church-related colleges from any substantive connection to the faith of the denominations that fund them.)



So, some evangelical colleges wanted to consider ways other than the Calvin College/Kuyperian approach.  For instance, Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen and other Messiah College professors reflecting on their own Weslyan and Anabaptist heritage, published Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (Oxford University Press; $45.00.) They suggest there, in fact, that the Kuyperian model, as exemplified by pioneers at Calvin or Dordt, shaped by wonderfully important scholars such as Nicholas Woltersdorff, George Marsden and Mark Noll, to name just three generative former Calvin College professors who are in the Christian Scholars Review anthology, had a bit of a hegemony in the conversations about what it looks like to relate faith and learning, to "think Christianly" to do a particular sort of Christian higher education. So they set out to tweak the conversation a bit, staking their ground.  Duke iconoclast Stanley Hauerwas compiled a collection of essays about higher education entitled The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God (Blackwell; $34.95) with one chapter which playfully wonders what it would look like If Wendell Berry ran a university. 

Just a few months ago we were happy to get a fine book called The Heart of Higher9780470487907.jpg Education: A Call to Renewal by Quaker mystic Parker Palmer (Jossy Bass; $24.95.)  You may know that he has long reflected on the meaning of knowing, the art of teaching, the nature of learning, the characteristics of authentic learning communities. (I just love his rumination To Know as We Are Known:  Education as a Spiritual Journey; HarperCollins; $13.99.)  It would be a large mistake to imply that Kuyperians have been the only ones who relate faith and learning or honor God's commission to cultivate creation into sustainable cultural renewal.  Almost everyone at most Christian colleges believe there is some way to integrate faith and the calling of higher education, although I have had conversations with students who have told me that their professors mock the ideal, even at evangelical colleges who affirm that God's perspective will color all aspects of the curriculum and every area of life. 

So, three cheers for widening the conversation. 

I guess I'm a bit of a geek to care about these matters so much but we are convinced that anyone who cares about young adults (as most churches do) must attend to the questions about the meaning of higher learning, campus ministry and the need for reform of colleges and universities.  These are the institutions that are forming many of our young adults and giving the direction for the rest of their lives.  It isP9780801013973.jpg why we have been so adamant, begging you over and over even to start this conversation early by gifting Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning by Derek Melleby (Baker; $12.99) which in simple, clear ways invites high school or first year students to grapple with the bigger questions of why they are going off for their freshman year and what they think God thinks about it all.  It is very, very good, and as we had our orientation extravaganza at Calvin College this week, I was glad Marissa had read it. Thanks, Derek, for caring about the so-called college transition in a way that has these larger themes in view.  Thanks to those churches who ordered it from us, who wanted to give such a resource to their young members who are heading off to this new phase of their life journey.

Even for those who don't work in higher education, the "reformational worldview" embraced by Calvin and other Reformed colleges (see, at least,  Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters; Eerdmans; $14.00) has influenced many who work with students and it has been fruitful.  I met a fellow father at the Calvin orientation, in fact, with a PhD from Wheaton College, who said it was one of the most important books he ever read!  Indeed, may who work with undergrads at secular colleges or minimally church-related colleges that are largely secular in ethos, use books like The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby (Brazos; $13.99) or the many books on the Christian mind by James Sire or resources such as Os Guinness' The Call (Nelson; $17.99) or Culture Making by Andy Crouch (IVP; $24.00).  Each of these, in various ways, owes a debt to Kuyper and the movement of Christian scholarship exemplified at Calvin College that has rippled across North America and beyond. (What fun to see professor and pal William Romanowski's Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture [Brazos; $21.00] on his office shelf in both Korean and Mandarin!)  My own BookNotes reviews of Richard Mouw's recent introduction (just a few weeks ago) to the thinking of Abraham Kuyper illustrates how this worldview-shaping theology that sees God's hand in all the social institutions of God's creation, reminds us of the Dutch legacy among many evangelical intellectuals and activists.  Even older evangelical stalwarts of social reform such as Carl F. H. Henry (founder of Christianity Today in 1956) and Francis Schaeffer have noted that Kuyper and other Dutch theologians informed their intellectual texture and moderate endeavors for social reform.

That long drive home gave me time to think not only about our family's new official relationship with this Dutch Reformed tradition, but with our own calling as booksellers, our vocation as cheerleaders of developing the Christian mind, and of how things have changed in the publishing world in recent decades.  I guess you can be glad the drive wasn't even longer or I might have ruminated even more...thanks for reading along.

*CINO, catapult, WORLD The HUSS SCHOOL

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Before we started the journey home we made a stop in the small town of Three Rivers, Michigan, to visit the center of what I jokingly call the *cino empire.  You may know that *culture is not optional is a loose network of writers, friends, artists, and social entrepreneurs, mostly younger folks who have drunk deeply from the Kuyperian social vision and have been influenced by radical thinkers at places like Dordt, Trinity Christian (Palos Heights) Calvin, Redeemer (in Ontario), ICS (the graduate school in Toronto), and the CCO.  Besides running conferences and camp-outs, they publish catapult, a bi-weekly e-magazine which offers transformational memoir and poetry and excellent essays of faith-based cultural criticism. (They have an e-mailed daily asterisk quote that you can subscribe to as well, which is my daily shot of literature for subverting the Way Things Are.)

Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma also run World Fare  (with a crew of volunteers and41782_49965968829_3002_n.jpg interns) a beautiful fair trade store (not as flashy as the famous Ten Thousand Villages stores,  but extraordinary for its personal touch and deep knowledge of the field of global fair trade economics and social vision entwined with a unique mission of intentionally embodying that vision into their local community ) If you are ever in South Eastern Michigan, World Fare is a marvelous, cozy place to visit.  

The *cino folk embarked on a breathtakingly brazen leap of faith last year and started a capital campaign (not the sort of phrase that drops easily from the lips of neo-hippy social visionaries that run fair trade shops) to buy an old, empty elementary school, a facility for which they have big plans.  The Huss School is in need of major repairs and serious renovation but the community garden is already blooming, they have hosted concerts and art shows and for a year have been hosting an oral history project, collecting stories of those who once attended the school.  (The ward where the school is located may be considered one of the more depressed parts of town and some the people of color who live there hold resentments for its closure decades ago.  Kudos to Rob and Kirstin for doing "service learning" and hosting this opportunity for the neighborhood to name and renounce injustices of previous times so that they might move forward in grace and goodness.) Do visit their imagining space webpage and learn about their campaign to get folks to help them in their effort to renovate the Huss School.

So. This is important. The sort of worldviewish, deeply integrated, Christ-guided learning that goes on at places like Calvin College prompt some of their graduates to run for office or do medical research or get jobs as lawyers or filmmakers or speech pathologists.  Yay.  And some end up buying empty schools and dreaming of Isaiah 58:12 where it is promised that God's people will be known for repairing the ruins of previous generations. Thank goodness that the past few decades have lead to such beautiful, serious, solid marks of discipleship.

JOHN STOTT

Pg-18-stott_629370t.jpgAnd then the sudden, bittersweet news of the death of John Stott.  He was one of our era's great Christian leaders, himself deeply involved in all of the sorts of things that have captured our hearts even this very week in Grand Rapids---caring for students, nurturing the Christian mind, thinking about the reform of institutions, relating to the global South and honoring our international relationships, serving the poor and marginalized out of a non-compromising Christ-centeredness.  Stott was a British evangelical Anglican, Rector of All Souls in London, evangelist, author, a principle in the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Lausanne movement, and founder of the international social ministry, The Langham Partnership International.

As you most likely know, he wrote widely---mostly for our favorite publisher, InterVarsity Press, and left a mark on millions influenced by them.

As a British evangelical, Stott did, indeed, teach---in a way that was parallel to Kuyper and Mouw and Rookmaaker and Schaeffer and other neo-Calvinists whose names I've cited recently---the Lordship of Christ over all of life and the need to have orthodoxy (right belief) joined by orthopraxy (right living) including in our public lives and social concerns.  Stott's healthy influence on evangelicalism since the 70s can hardly be overstated.

I have been suggesting in previous columns (and again, now that we've experienced the orientation that Calvin College offered) that Abraham Kuyper in the early twentieth century influenced (through the immigrant Dutch community at first) the tone of many of the thought leaders within evangelicalism in North America.  His worldviewish, wide-as-life sort of neo-Calvinism that emphasized our call to develop culture and exercise the Christian mind slowly challenged narrow pietism and, combined with other traditions (like the fiery call for justice from the black church and the vision of simple living from the anabaptists), helped a socially progressive sort of wholistic, culturally-engaged ethos to take hold within many evangelical organizations, Christian colleges, ministries. My own experience with the Pittsburgh-based CCO is a great example of that; their renowned Jubilee conference with workshops on engineering and medicine and race relations and politics and every other imaginable topic for college students wasn't inspired by Rudolf Bultmann or Billy Sunday, you know; neither liberalism or fundamentalism has been able to sustain serious social reform or faithful cultural engagement.  It is the likes of Kuyper at the beginning of the 20th century and Stott at the end who have shaped the aspects of evangelicalism that I find most helpful. Such has certainly left marks on our work at Hearts & Minds! 

John Stott was there with a kindred voice alongside all this Kuyperian, socially-engaged worldviewish thinking, and the struggle to define the social vision of evangelicalism.  Indeed, Stott spoke at Jubilee in the late 1970s (and had an even larger network within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.) Stott was seen by many of us as a leader, a guide, a partner, an utterly reliable author, an elder statesman (and to some who in recent decades have moved to significant leadership, a personal mentor, who routinely called him Uncle John.)  

Yes, Stott helped us all on this exact point of being faithful in our time, in our world.  He famously said we need to learn the art of double listening, listening well to the Word and the world.  Again, the pithy phrase is orthodox and radical.

THREE STORIES
I will offer a list of a few of my favorite John Stott books, but first, three quick vignettes.

6a00d83451cd8169e20147e040f226970b-800wi.jpgI was once selling books in 2004 at a lovely gathering of good pastors from a mainline denomination.  We were in a swanky venue and the New York Times was delivered.  It was the day when the now-famous editorial by David Brooks came out, scolding the too typical tendency of shows like Nightline or 20/20 for bringing out guys like Jerry Falwell or others from the far Christian right to represent conservative evangelicals.  Why, the Times pundit asked, don't they interview a guy like the Right Reverend John Stott who is smart, gracious, articulate, and politically balanced and always the humble gentleman.  Brooks had said on the Op-Ed page what I had said (to no avail) to these liberal leaders at our retreat: when they think of "conservative" theology they should skip Pat Robertson or the strident politics of the AFA or the flamboyant TV preachers and should consider John Stott, a quintessential evangelical.  It was nice (and a bit humorous, or so I thought) that these pastors, with The Times in hand, came to the book table to ask if I had any books by this Stott, guy.  Of course, I did.  At last, I sold his valuable work to folks who had not heard of him, thanks to a column by a secularized Jew in The New York Times.  I could grouse about how un-ecumenical these parochial pastors were---how could you be a religionist in our day and not know who the famous and prolific John Stott was for heaven's sake?---but I mostly just smiled.

97050477.JPGAnd years before that, the weekend we opened our Dallastown shop, Thanksgiving of 1982.  We wanted to share an inexpensive book with anybody who dared to walk into our bookstore during that grand opening, especially since we were new in town and our mix of general market books and ecumenical Christian books didn't fit the mold of what some might have expected when they heard a Christian bookstore was coming to East Main Street.  We couldn't afford much, so it had to be small, and it couldn't be too academic for our ordinary folks here in town.   And any giveaway book needed to honor our desire to be fully Biblical and yet culturally engaged, to be willing to think and read and learn and yet not be haughty or dry.  What better way to share the way Christ could be honored by a down-home, serious-minded bookstore than share Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life by John Stott (IVP; $7.00.)  I will explain a bit more, below, and how it warns against "spiritual superficiality."  It remains a quiet gem, a small book of balance and wisdom and urgency and hope and we smile thinking we chose a John Stott book as a way to help explain our mission here.

And this.  Years ago a friend had organized a conference about faith in the marketplace, thinking about the implications of our Scriptural "first things" for every area of life and service in the world.  The brochure featured a lengthy quote from a John Stott book, a book that, at that point in my life, I had not yet read.  It was from Christian Mission in the Modern World, (IVP; $8.00) a book I have since re-read several times.  It emerged from the historic Lausanne conference, and detailed a wholistic, balanced, and culturally-sensitive vision of evangelical mission. It remains an essential book for these global times. The quote, though, was important as a reminder that we are all missionaries; this was before the phrase "missional" was in use, but it captured that (dare I say Kuyperian) approach so well that I tore it off the brochure and used it as a book-marker in my Bible where it has been for over probably 25 years, now.  I've quoted it often in talks and sermons and classes.  It starts by poking the impression that was (and may still be today) sometimes given that those who are most "keen" for Christ should be a missionary or pastor or church worker.  Stott opens up a more faithful, sensible (and, finally, radical) view of vocation and reminds us of this revolutionary dynamic which is too rarely explored.

It seems to me urgent to gain a truer perspective on this matter of vocation. Jesus Christ calls all his disciples to "ministry," that is, to service.  He himself is the Servant par excellence, and he calls us to be servants, too.  This much then, is certain: if we are Christians we must spend our lives in the service of God and man.  The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render.  Some are indeed called to be missionaries, evangelists or pastors, and others to the great professions of law, education, medicine and the social sciences.  But others are called to commerce, to industry and farming, to accountancy and banking, to local government or parliament, and to the mass media, while there are still many who find their vocation in homemaking and parenthood without pursuing an independent career as well.  In all these spheres, and in others besides, it is possible for Christians to interpret their lifework Christianly, and to see it as neither a necessary evil (necessary, that is, for survival), nor even as a useful place in which to evangelize or make money for evangelism,  but as their Christian vocation, as the way Christ has called them to spend their lives in his service.  Further, a part of their calling will be to seek to maintain Christ's standards of justice, righteousness, honesty, human dignity and compassion in a society which no longer accepts them.

Stott continues in that same little book to call for conferences and meetings, inviting folks to join what he called "study-action" groups.  He envisioned local community book clubs, reading together to help sharpen one another in our careers and civic lives.  Oh how I wish more would take his wisdom to heart and start up such study-action groups.  I guess you can see that it is no wonder that we have admired his work and mourn our loss.

Several really, really fine reflections on Stott and his work have appeared over these last few days.  Some have really inspired me and I think they are a good testimony not only to God's work through his humble servant John Stott, but also remind us of the need for a clear-headed, Christ-centered, Biblically-balanced, and socially-engaged Kingdom perspective.  We in no way want to exploit or capitalize on his death.  Yet, his books are very helpful and are still needed so very badly.  A few readers have asked for a list, so I"ll share a few.

But first, a few helpful sources to learn about his life, influence, and ministry.

Interestingly, The New York Times obituary is one of the best.
 
Political pundit Mike Gerson was a Stott intern for a while and offers a very wise testimony to his vision and integrity.  This is a fantastic example of how Stott's view of a wholistic, balanced, thoughtful evangelicalism made a difference in a current leader.  This tribute was recently published in the Capitol Commentary of CPJ.  Very nicely done.

Here is a short, basic, overview from Beliefnet.

The most extensive overview that we most highly recommend.  A must read essay,  from Christianity Today.

I really enjoyed this wonderful rumination from an eloquent preacher and Episcopalian priest, Fleming Rutledge. 

From the left-leaning British paper, The Guardian.  They get it.  Very well put.



book.jpg
MY TOP 15 JOHN STOTT BOOKS.


Where to begin?  My, my.  Here are my top fifteen, in no particular order.

Your Mind Matters to God (IVP) $7.00  I mentioned this above, naming it as a favorite, brief book about the need to honor God with our thinking, to have a robust intellectual commitment to the Scriptures and all of life, and to take up the call to "think Christianly" about life and  culture.  Also a good warning to never allow faith to be only intellectual and to avoid the dryness of an exclusive brainy sort of discipleship. This new edition carries a brief forward on the books significance by Mark Noll.

Christian Mission in the Modern World  (IVP) $8.00  I cited this above; it was compiled from his legendary talks at the first Lausanne conference and is a model for balanced evangelical thinking about wholistic global missions.  Still a brief masterpiece and as timely as ever. 

The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (IVP) $15.00  This compact sized hardback was announced as his last full book and he wanted it to be known as his "last lecture" or parting words.  I read it I think in maybe two sittings.  It is a reminder of the cost of discipleship, the need to relate faith to urgent issues of the day (such as climate change and issues of the two-thirds world.)  He advises wisely against materialism and remains, as always, a "basic Christian" wanting to be found faithful in living faithfully, with great love and deep passion for the things of God's Kingdom.  Publishers Weekly gave it a fine review, noting it is "unadorned, threaded with Biblical reference..." It's last word? Farewell!

0832224.jpgThe Incomparable Christ (IVP) $18.00  We had the immense privilege of selling books in Washington DC as Stott delivered these lectures for the C.S. Lewis Institute a few years back and they remain in my mind as one of the great lectures series I have ever heard.  In this one volume, Dr. Stott offers four angles into the life of Jesus,  a New Testament overview (with a portrayal of Jesus from each section of the New Testament), an historical overview (with each chapter telling of a view of Jesus held by someone down through church history, including a few non-Christians, showing how Christ has been understood and presented), a third section called "The Influential Jesus" or how he has inspired people down throughout history--great, great stories and testimonies here--- and a final section with chapters showing Jesus in various portions of the book of Revelation.  What an inspiring, wide-ranging, and under-rated volume this is!  I think if I was going to a desert island and could only take a few books, this would be my one choice about Jesus.  

The Cross of Christ
(IVP) $26.00  I often complain when publishers keep books in hardcover,083083320x_l.gif wishing they would offer less expensive paperback versions.  For some reason, though, I enjoy holding this hefty hardback, realizing it may be Stott's most important, somewhat scholarly, contribution to Christian theology.  It truly is a modern classic, a lucid, multi-faceted and faithful text and the hardback presentation reminds us of its gravity.  One can hardly be fluent in the various debates and discussions about the role of the Cross without this fine touchstone.  J. I. Packer says that it is "his masterpiece."  It very well may be.   

The Contemporary Christian: Applying God's Word to Today's World (IVP) $25.00  Earlier, above, I wrote about the new book collecting various pieces from forty years of the Christian Scholars Review, saying it was like a "greatest hits" album from that journal.  Well, although these chapters are not a reprinting of previous work, this may be considered Stott's greatest hits.  He covers nearly anything and everything a follower of Christ needs to know, offering solid theology and accessible, no-nonsense prose to guide you to deeper faith and fidelity.  He explores nearly all the themes that are most essential to his approach and it is all good. The sections under which he has several informative chapters each, are The Gospel, The Disciple, The Bible, The Church, The World.  It may be that this is his most quintessential, thorough study.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

Issues Facing Christians Today (Zondervan) $19.99  This book has a colorful history--it was once published as two volumes, then as one, they changed the titles a few times, in England and the States, and it ended up with as an expanded, one-volume edition with a new title and a new publisher.  The first half is essentially everything one might need to know to begin the journey towards faithful, evangelical engagement with social concern.  This part is worth the price of the whole book and is wiser than most books that are more splashy and more hip. (His care about offering a vibrant but humble witness, his remarks on pluralism and rejecting the lack of civility of the culture wars, are all true insights and very helpful.)  He invites us to patient, careful, consideration of the basic contours of the Christian mind, reminding us always that in the past there have been great social reforms inspired by great spiritual revival.  (Think of the Wesleyan renewal and Wilberforce, for instance.)

The second half of this large paperback offers a preliminary Biblical perspective on a range of issues, public matters from genetic engineering to nuclear weapons, from same sex marriage to labor relations.  He is a "conservative radical" as he liked to say, orthodox on faith and consistent in attempting to offer hints towards a faithful social vision.  Agree or not with his views on abortion or environmentalism or war and peace, it is a stunning effort, a fabulous resource, and a book that simply must be considered and discussed.  Those looking for a balanced approach to social ethics and contemporary issues that are not necessarily lock-step conservative or liberal will delight in this fabulous study.   

95497163.JPGThe Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor  (IVP) $15.00  Somebody somewhere gave me some audio tapes of some of Stott's teaching on the church and this book is delightfully close to that fabulous material.  This is vintage Stott, with plenty of Bible and plenty of social observation, a bit of dignified criticism of those of us who are missing the mark and a great amount of positive encouragement.  There is so many good books on church revitalization and the missional movement and helpful conversations about the emergent conversation that this simple dream for the body of Christ in today's world might get missed.  It is calm, reasonable, Biblically astute and very, very wise.  Stott was at All Souls in London for over sixty years, after all...he has earned the right to be heard as a pastor.  Please understand, though, it is not for pastors but for anyone that cares about the local church and the Christian life.  Very nicely done.
 

The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount  (IVP) $18.00  Formerly entitled Christian Counter-Culture it is a fine, workmanlike commentary with a bit of practical application.  Although Stott was a pacifist and conscientious objector earlier in his career---and an anti-nuclear weapons advocate late in his career---this commentary doesn't indicate much of those concerns, which always made wish Uncle John had been a bit more radical in this study.  Still, it is one of the better introductory commentaries and we regularly suggest it.

The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Acts  (IVP) $20.00  Stott has served as Senior Editor for the New Testament for this whole Bible commentary set and his own previously titled Acts commentary from 1991 The Spirit, the Church & the World has been retitled and now serves as the Acts volume in this set.  Very impressive.  Again, Stott had this ability to do standard exegesis and Bible exposition in a way that took culture and mission seriously. 

The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Ephesians (IVP) $19.00  Again, this volume in the set was penned by Stott himself.  I think this may have been the first Bible commentary I ever read; my father had the Barclay's commentaries which I maybe dipped into, but this---a stand alone volume firstly called God's New Society--capture my attention in the late 70s.  He opens it with a reminder that Karl Marx had a vision of a new person for a new society and writes, "Paul presents a greater vision still." This is the sort of solid (and culturally alive) Bible study that kept me a Christian.   

The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Romans (IVP) $20/00  Ooops, I don't think I've ever read this.  I am inspiring myself to do so; maybe you too?  Look, there are tons of books on nearly every book of the Bible and some are more scholarly and some more devotional and some more edgy and some more this or that or the other.  Stott is reliable, evangelical, practical.  One can hardly go wrong, even if he wrote this before he talked it over with N.T. Wright.  Ha.  Give it a try.

Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today (IVP) $8.00  There was a time in15261993.JPG my life and in our ministry that feisty debate about the role of the Holy Spirit and the charismatic renewal were common.  I don't know if charismatic over-zealousness has mellowed or they are now just so weird in some places that most just ignore them.  But I do know this: we really should regularly revisit our relationship with the Holy Spirit and we should be clear about how God the Spirit works in our midst.  I suspect that this book---partially a call to reject inept language that would suggest we need to "get" the Spirit or that some extraordinary secondary baptism after our commitment to Christ is a requirement---was used to restrain a few from going off the deep end.  Maybe now it could also be used to remind us that the special empowerment of the Spirit is needed and a sweet blessing for God's people.  I think I'm going to re-read this as it has been a while.

Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Eerdmans) $24.00 I know, not everybody wants to read a book about how to preach.  (Although, no offense, but some of you preachers, uh, maybe should.)  If you want to brush up on your homiletics, this is a fine, classic resource.  And you know what?  It is really for anyone because his major point is that we need a double listening, listening to the Word and the world.  And that requires some translation,  some experience with the art of contextualization, making the ancient culture's story come alive in our own.  As is often the case, good books about preaching are also good books about Biblical interpretation and good books about Christian living.  This is one of those, helpful for one and all.  It was called "exhilarating" by David Read, the minister of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Highly recommended.

birds-our-teachers-stott-john-r-w-hardcover-cover-art.jpgThe Birds Our Teachers (Collector's Edition): Biblical Lessons From a Lifelong Bird-Watcher John Stott (Hendrickson) $24.95  When we heard that this beloved gift book was coming out in with a CD loaded with Stott's own pictures of his 70th birthday bird-watching trip to the Falkland Islands (insider hint: penguins live there!) and an audio recording as well, we were so, so tickled.  Many people just loved this book before it went out of print, a handsome, full-color gift book with Stott devotionals and all manner of things about his beloved feathered friends.  As I hope you saw in any number of the obits, he was a lay ornithologist.  The title comes from Luther's exhortation "Let the little birds be your theologians" and Stott, indeed, does reveal lessons of faith from ravens, storks, larks and eagles.  So glad it is now available again in this enhanced edition.

AND A DVD

john-stott-on-bible-christian-life-six-sessions-hardcover-cover-art.jpgDVD John Stott on the Bible and the Christian Life  (Zondervan) $19.99  Here are six nearly hour-long sessions, with Dr. Stott in his orderly, clear, dispassionate teaching, lecturing live at All Souls.  In the six sessions he holds forth with impeccable insight on The Authority of the Bible, The Nature of the Bible's Authority, The Interpretation of the Bible, The Problem of Culture, Developing a Christian Mind, and Making an Impact on Society.  I've used these myself to good effect and many serious folks have found them very, very helpful.  For what it is worth, the six sessions could easily be expanded to twelve as there is plenty to absorb and good discussion questions offered throughout.  By the way, if you are involved in leading programing, doing ministry or teaching, it doesn't hurt to have this around---I've used just one lecture, or even on portion, to supplement a class or retreat. 


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Here's the short version. A better, more lengthy piece posted at the July monthly BookNotes column and a list of favorite John Stott books

I thought that my ruminations about our trip to Calvin College for Marissa's orientation there, our (once again, sorry) shout out to the Rich Mouw book about Abraham Kuyper, and a review of Taking Every Thought Captive: Forthy Years of the Christian Scholars Review edited by Don W. King (Abilene Christian University Press; $24.95) was getting a bit long so I allowed it to morph into a reflection piece more suitable for the longer form over at the BookNotes website monthly review column. 

And then we learned of the death of John Stott, which became an opportunity to offer my small bit of tribute, offer a few links about him that I thought you might appreciate and, yes, offer my top ten list of John Stott books.  But that became a top 15 (and one famous one didn't even make the cut!)  The column grew longer, but I did not want to break it into two discreet pieces.  My testimony about Kuyper and my tribute to Stott are deeply entwined and I hope you read it all.

Here are just a few excepts of the longer essay.  Thanks for being a part of our work, fans of the bookstore and readers of astute Christian literature.  Now more than ever---with this trip to Grand Rapids rattling around my bones, deeply glad for the chance to visit with friends there, and mourning of the end of the John Stott era---I hope our store is known as a place you find faithful, relevant, and helpful.  As Dr. Stott has written, Your Mind Matters to God.  Read on!

Do you know that feeling after a long, long drive, returning home from a far-away but greathighway-night.jpg event?  We are happy but exhausted from the white lines (and orange cones) on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, eyes bleary and body tense from navigating the late-night truck traffic.  On the Indiana interstate,  right before the Ohio line, a billboard offered a rest stop with chocolate "for the pain that is Ohio."  Yep, these long, tedious hours of flat Buckeye road offers time for thinking and talking.  

Beth and I had just gone through a two-day parent introduction at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while our youngest daughter experienced her Calvin freshman orientation.  This Passport program was spectacular, with fabulous fun and food and helpful information.  We learned about the history of the school, John Calvin's French accent, saw brief video clips from scholars likes James K.A. Smith,and were reminded of the cosmic scope of Christ's redeeming restoration project (and hence, the deeply integrated religious vision of teaching the arts and the sciences for God's glory and our neighbor's good.) I leaned over to Beth and said that I wanted to attend Calvin College!

On the long ride home I pondered my own faith development, my own college years decades ago, my frustration as a younger man wondering why those who seemed most fired up about the gospel seemed so disinterested in the world and its great hurts. In my mind I revisited our many years of meeting students, selling books, including books written by people we had met at the Calvin orientation, and how we still have---thank you, Jesus!---a glimmer of our old idealistic vision that we can in some ways change the world for the better as we nurture a Christian mind, grounded in a Biblical worldview, enabling us to make connections between our deepest convictions and the way we live....

*** 

....A brand new book---edited by an impressive team of scholars, including a former CCO978-0-89112-547-1.jpg staffer and Kuyperian from Hope College named Todd Steen (whose PhD in economics was taken at Harvard)---illustrates well the ways in which evangelicals have been wrestling with the questions of faith and learning, Christ and culture, piety and scholarship, for the last nearly half a century.  Taking Every Thought Captive: Forty Years for the Christian Scholars Review, edited by the current editor of CSR, the literature professor Don King of the PC(USA) affiliated Montreat College along with Perry Glanzer, David Hoekema, Jerry Pattengale, Todd Ream and Todd Steen (Abilene Christian University Press; $25.00.)  This thick book deserves a more thorough review later, but it is essentially a fantastic greatest hits collection of four decades of scholarly work done from within an intentionally Christian framework.  (You know, even if you don't have all of a band's many releases, if you care at all you pick up the greatest hits album.)  There are pieces here spanning the journal's career and they are well selected.  Some of them are really good to be in a book since the academic journal, CSR isn't widely circulated outside of Christian colleges and they deserve to be read.  What a wonderful opportunity to read through so many important articles!  There are substantial essays by a wide array of scholars, from thinkers such as Nicholas Woltersdorff, Jonathan Chaplin, Richard Mouw, Mary Stewart Van Leuuwen, Roger Lundin, Nancy Ammerman, Dallas Willard, Stanley Hauerwas, Jenell Paris and many more.  There are pieces on politics, on art, on the role of the Christian college, on student learning, on math and science and ethics and philosophy.

One piece that I have read and photocopied from the journal was a provocative and beautiful bit of writing by Brian Walsh and Steve Bouma-Prediger, using ecological insights based on a Scriptural vision of place and "homecoming" to suggest that students should know the places where they are studying.  It was published in the review (along with a strongly-worded critique the following quarter) as they were writing their Beyond Homelessness, applying its insights about cultural displacement and Biblical exile to the experience of learning within the context of modernity.  Brilliant!  Another piece that I think should be widely discussed was by Ronald Sider who called in the CSR for more academically rigorous research that popularizes for the church the work of the academy and helps social reformers and activists to translate Christian thinking into policy initiatives.  Again, this was a splendid piece that I highly recommend.  

The Christian Scholars Review has long been an important organ for good book reviews and serious academic research done by scholars mostly within the mostly evangelical Protestant faith community.  The special issues have been splendid (they did a C.S. Lewis issue a few years back, for instance) and it has regularly been a good testimony to the way our discipleship can effect our scholarship and cultural engagement.  I wish there was a way for more libraries to stock it, certainly university libraries should, since they typically have journals from every other perspective one could possibly think of. Certainly any college professors that you know should hear about it.  Maybe this book would be a way to introduce them to the important work of the journal.

***

41782_49965968829_3002_n.jpg....Before we started the journey home we made a stop in the small town of Three Rivers, Michigan, to visit the center of what I jokingly call the *cino empire.  You may know that *culture is not optional is a loose network of writers, friends, artists, and social entrepreneurs, mostly younger folks who have drunk deeply from the Kuyperian social vision and have been influenced by radical thinkers at places like Dordt, Trinity Christian (Palos Heights) Calvin, Redeemer (in Ontario), ICS (the graduate school in Toronto), and the CCO.  Besides running conferences and camp-outs, film festivals and concerts, they publish catapult, a bi-weekly e-magazine which offers transformational memoir and poetry and excellent essays of faith-based cultural criticism. (They have an e-mailed daily asterisk quote that you can subscribe to as well, which is my daily shot of literature for subverting the Way Things Are)....

***

....And then the sudden, bittersweet news of the death of John Stott.  He was one of our era'sJohn-Stott.jpg great Christian leaders, himself deeply involved in all of the sorts of things that have captured our hearts even this very week in Grand Rapids---caring for students, nurturing the Christian mind, thinking about the reform of institutions, relating to the global South and honoring our international relationships, serving the poor and marginalized out of a non-compromising Christ-centeredness.  Stott was a British evangelical Anglican, Rector of All Souls in London, evangelist, author, a principle in the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Lausanne movement, and founder of the international social ministry, The Langham Partnership International.

As you most likely know, he wrote widely---mostly for our favorite publisher, InterVarsity Press, and left a mark on millions influenced by them....

Please read the rest of the column, here.  And see my favorite Stott titles listed.  Thanks.

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