About October 2011

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

September 2011 is the previous archive.

November 2011 is the next archive.

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

October 2011 Archives

October 2, 2011

Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide by Paul Marshall & Nina Shea

A good number of years ago I met Richard Wurmbrand, the faithful Romanian Christian who had been so brutally tortured in a communist jail.  He had a body worn from age and abuse but glowing eyes and bit of surprising whimsy.  He was getting handshakes from admiring North Americans (most evangelicals know his book Tortured for Christ and his work with Voice of the Martyrs) and when I approached him he grumbled that there must be something wrong with Americans. " Don't you know your Bibles?", he wondered.  For some odd reason, I knew what he meant, and skipped the secular handshake and went in for a holy kiss (Romans 16:16, 2 Corinthians 13:12.)  Ahh, that was more like it.   A fun story, but what most touched me was that I was in the presence of a man who had faced years of imprisonment and torture.

Around that time I was lobbying to cut off U.S. military aid to brutal regimes in Central America.  Ollie North was lying up a storm and Pat Robertson was helping buy helicopters that shot down at villagers from the sky.  I hosted an evening with a missionary who had known the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero; my friend had witnessed the massacre of those who had come to vigil at Romero's funeral and gave me a handmade cross with the name of a tortured Salvadoran peasant which he had carried at that blood-soaked protest.

Two men who had suffered, who knew first hand those who had been killed for their faith.  Wurmbrand, of course despised communists.  Romero was (wrongly) called a communist and gunned down by US-trained Salvadoran paramilitary police for his advocacy for social democracy.  Both bring into clarity the horror of governments gone cruel.

Nowadays, it seems, the harshest threat to human freedom and the most common ideology carrying out vigilant violence, torture, beheadings, executions, public whippings, arrests despite dubious charges, and such is found in nations influenced by radical Islam.  Of course most Muslims are not torturers, just like most common Christians in the Middle Ages were not crusaders, but there is no doubt that the influence of Islamic fundamentalism has caused not only terrorism of the sort we experienced on 9-11 but increasing political repression in countries around the globe. (I heard just the other day of a woman in Saudi Arabia sentenced to lashings for breaking the prohibition against women driving cars!)  A month ago I reviewed the remarkable book by Lee Camp, Who Is My Enemy: Questions American Christians Must Face AboutCamp-Enemy.JPG Islam---And Themselves (Brazos; $17.99) which examined faith-driven violence in both the Christian and Muslim past (and present.) Lee Camp astutely took up the questions about how faith has influenced state sanctioned violence and how the hard passages of the Bible and the Quran might be respected but kept from causing greater religious mayhem.  That book was a Christ-centered radical call to a sort of discipleship that would bear fruits of peace-making and justice-seeking.  I again recommend it heartily.  Yet, even as we refuse to demonize our neighbors who are Islamic, we still have to admit that there are exceptionally dangerous things happening throughout the world in the name of Muhammad.  For anyone who cares about human rights, it is urgent that we learn about the draconian forces of Islamic radicals and their effort to make leaving the Muslim faith (apostasy) or insulting Islam (blasphemy) illegal. It is so prevalent in so many places I believe we simply must admit that it is a humanitarian crisis and policy quandary of the highest order.

Just this week there has been (most on the internet) news about Youcef Nadarkhani, a convert to Christianity from Islam who had been arrested in Rasht, Iran. He was given in court the traditional three opportunities to deny his Christian faith and he refused, knowing that this is a crime punishable by death.

pastor_youcef_nadarkhani_wife_kids.jpgMany international leaders have renounced this awful violation of human conscience---executing someone merely because of what they believe!----and yet it wasn't until just a few days ago that the White House issued a protest.  (Why Ms Clinton's yelping about somebody throwing rotten tomatoes at a diplomatic limo seemed a more urgent story for the media this week is beyond me.)  We should pray for our brother in Christ, and all those of any faith, or no faith, who are being persecuted for the sheer fact that they hold to a particular religious or philosophical conviction.  Religious freedom should be a bed-rock, non-negotiable right.  The greatest threat to religious freedom in nearly every continent today is radical Islam.

Two of the activist/scholars who have been faithful in reporting about this heavy issue generally, and Mr. Nadarkhani's plight, specifically, have been Nina Shea and Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.  Along with their multi-faithed staff of Senior Fellows they have been documenting global religious discrimination and persecution for decades, now.  They have done on-the-ground research, bravely traveling to places like the Sudan, researching religious persecution in Malaysia, or observing local elections or battles in Nigeria.  From Iran to Yemen to Pakistan, they have been observant, eager learners, nurturing where they can the principles of liberty, dignity, and, when appropriate, have encouraged the the the local voices who are passionate critics of injustice.  To say that they are reputable and know what they are doing is an understatement.  

Silenced.jpgTheir long-awaited book, Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide (Oxford University Press; $35.00) was just released by the leading global scholarly press and it is extraordinary for several reasons.  Knowing what they are writing about and knowing how they have tirelessly researched this gruesome stuff, I feel honored to even be holding the fruit of their efforts.  I am not qualified to do the book justice but I can say that it is very, very important, will be taken seriously by global thinkers, writers, activists and politicians, and---or so it seems to me---will be noticed even by Al Qaeda and their supporters.

I once asked Paul, as we discussed the research he was doing for the book if he was worried about a fatwa against him or if he had any fears for his safety.  He shrugged it off, but we were having drinks and a good time.  I cannot imagine that he and his colleagues are not thinking that they may find themselves in the vulnerable situation that they document when they write about the fate of the Danish cartoonists or Theo Van Gogh and others who have been attacked by Muslim extremists.  He joked that he was more concerned about the cheap charges of being Islamo-phobic that he will get from the left.  That concerns him, naturally, as the left has historically been strong on human rights and freedomflight of the intellectuals.gif of conscious, but seems mostly absent in this struggle (see Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals: The Controversy Over Islamism and the Press [Melville House; $16.95.])  Besides, Marshall has many colleagues and friends who are devout Muslims, so the charge is ridiculous.  The forward to Silenced is written by the late former President of Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country), Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, who was, before his death, the President of the world's largest Islamic organization.  He was a good man, an advocate for minorities in his homeland (even having housed Christian students in his palace when their university was burned) and he was a personal friend of Marshall's, who visited with him from time to time.  Islamo-phobic?  Nonsense!

And so, Silenced may be attacked by conservative Muslims or it may be snooted at by liberals who seem to think any criticism against Islam's dark side is of the same caliber as those of the nuts who burn Qurans.  But it is a fully respectable and respectful work, competent, well-informed, even if a bit complex at times.  It is morally and politically serious.  It is not for the faint of heart.  It will be read widely, I am confident.  I cannot overstate how important it is.

As the subtitle shows, Silenced is a study of the apostasy laws and blasphemy codes within certain interpretations of Islam that would enact strict and often violent penalties (sometimes execution) for Muslims who leave the faith or for anyone who has insulted the faith.  There is a bit of history of the development of these notions but the book is mostly a study of where these laws are being introduced, who is suffering because of them, and whether there are reasonable hopes for more just views of freedom of conscience to be enacted given the factions of radical Islam at play in those regions.  In that sense, the book is more than just a warning about sharia law or a catalog of those being repressed by radical Islamic rules, but it is a study of the role of religion in geo-politics---explaining where Al Quida and other such groups, like the infamous Boko Haram (which roughly means "Western civilization is forbidden"), Al Shabab, The Muslim Brotherhood, and the like are operative. There is much to understand about Sunnis and Shiites and Wahhabi sects and who the grand muftis are and what United Nations Hate Speech resolutions are (etc. etc.) and our authors know their material well. They explain where clan or tribe loyalties come into play, explain who the moderate influences are, nation by nation, and offer insight about how the United Nations and other international groups may have mediating influences. The understand the complications of varying religious sects and they appreciate how these movements do or do not involve themselves in political actions.  (May of the most persecuted, like the Baha'i, say, are utterly peaceful.)

Some of the stories they tell are horrific.   The ones in the third world, the Middle East and Africa are the worst.  But they also explain how the attacks against those would would "defame" Islam occurs in the West---a trend most obviously seen in incidences such as the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (and the self-censorship of Barnes & Noble who refused to stock his book), the brutal stabbing of Theo Van Gogh in Holland, the case of the Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, and the death threats against the now-famous memoirist, Somali-born, ex-Muslim, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

They write,

The West still remains a relative haven for free debate, for voices of Islamic reform, and for those with unorthodox views of Islam. But Western states and international organizations stand at a crossroads between robust defense of free speech and a flaccid response to the persistent encroachment of anti-blasphemy restriction outside the reach of law by radical vigilantes.

Are punishments for non-conformity to radical Islamic views essential for an Orthodox devotion to Islam?  This book draws on the writings of key Islamic scholars and sheiks and princes and the conclusion is ambiguous.  They argue for toleration and pluralism and try to show ways the West can support pro-democratic, modernizing and moderate Islamic movements.  Still, this intellectual battle will not be simple and understandings about freedom, religion and justice within even the moderate Muslim community are often conflicted.  For instance, they note that a popular Islamic chaplain for students at Harvard University (of all places!) has written that we ought not too quickly critique the imposition of sharia law.  They cite Sheikh Qaradawi, who they say is "perhaps the most widely consulted Islamic authority for the West" noting how he equivocates on the issue.  

Silenced.jpgSilenced makes a major contribution, also, by inviting three highly respected Islamic scholars to address this issue, which they did in three original essays included in the book.  Of their guest contributors they write, "As committed Muslims, they are known for respect for Islam and they certainly deplore and oppose insults to God and to their religion.  But, they argue carefully and strenuously that Islam does not require temporal punishment for blasphemy or apostasy."  One would hope serious Islamic scholars would read these essays carefully and promote them throughout the world.

I suppose you realize the significance of all this. Not only are Christians, and others (including moderate or pro-democratic Muslims) being persecuted in record numbers---why the press misses this is itself another story---but the West's lax response seems only to strengthen the resolve of those who would make freedom of thought a crime. This problem is surely going to get worse in the next decade.  As complex as international law and global resolutions and human rights campaigns are, they are significant and our voices are needed.  This books teaches us much and helps explain the globalization of radical Islam, the internationalization of blasphemy codes, and the repressive reach of those who want to persecute others based on religious faith, even in the West. (They discuss the infamous case of Mark Steyn, charged along with the Macleans magazine in Canada for hate speech and an evangelical ministry in Australia who has been charged with the crime of vilification for preaching fairly common Christian views of the errors of Islam.)

Some of this, they show, seems nearly unbelievable. You may have heard of the case when a foreign aid worker, running a helpful school for children in Sudan, brought to class a stuffed toy teddy bear and allowed a vote for the children to name the bear.  20 out of 23 children voted to name the bear Muhammad, a popular name in that region, and, as it turns out, the name of a popular boy in the class.

The British teacher (Gillian Gibbons), they tell us,

was arrested for insulting Islam's prophet, and, on November 28, she was formally charged under section 125 of the criminal law for insulting religion and inciting hatred. On November 29, she was found guilty of insulting religion and sentenced to fifteen days in prison followed by deportation.  The following day, tens of thousands of protestors flooded the streets of Khartoum demanding her death for blasphemy.  During the march, the protestors chanted "Shame, shame on the U.K.," "No tolerance---execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad."  Many protestors wielded machetes and swords, and government employees were involved in inciting the protests.
But that is small potatoes for the Sudan.  One of the uses of blasphemy and apostasy by Sudan radicals is more brutal; you certainly have heard of the crisis in Darfur.  You know about the terrible civil war there, most likely have heard of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and militia that became the infamous Popular Defense Force.  In 1992 "the Kordofan government declared jihad on the Nuba (people), and, in 1993, six government-sponsored Muslim clerics declared the Muslim insurgents apostates, who should be killed along with the nonbelievers who stood in the way of Islam.  Hence, half a million people were sentenced to death."

Almost any page of this revealing book has fascinating stories, important geo-political background, and helpful information for those of us who frankly haven't kept up with this aspect of contemporary global reality.  Some of it is tragic, some of it is graphic, much is truly outrageous.  They are nuanced and careful in their reporting and their analysis.  Again, there are gruesome stories, heart-breaking drama, and reports of complicated inter-Islamic debates, factions and feuds.  From Pakistan and Iran to Somalia and Sudan, to Indonesia and Malaysia, there is much strife, much to know about, and this book is a learned resource that will be the definitive guide for years to come.  As we show interest in the Arab Spring uprisings, this book will provide helpful background information on participating organizations, individuals, and document the track record of various countries on questions of freedom of conscious. 

In case you were wondering, this is not a sensationalistic diatribe against Islam nor is it a partisan volley of support for Western imperialism.  It is not shrill and it is not simplistic. But it does not whitewash matters, either.  It strikes me as impeccably fair. The authors have many, many Islamic friends and colleagues, several who helped with the research and analysis;  unlike some TV preachers railing against the terrorists, the book has a scholarly tone.  It is quite thorough with over one hundred pages of documenting footnotes.  

The people they thank reads like a United Nations roster, with names that sound like they are from every tribe and people group under heaven.  Several are Western thought leaders, religious scholars, or diplomats, from the late Samuel Huntingdon and Bernard Lewis to Philip Jenkins and Lamin Sanneh, to the honorable Thomas Farr and R. James Woolsey, the former United States Director of the CIA. (Woolsey, by the way, writes that Silenced is "eloquent and definitive.")  The ethnic and religious diversity of those who have contributed to their project is amazingly rich, which, of course, indicates not only something about the cosmopolitan nature of the authors but the credibility of the text.

It is doubtless that Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide will be properly considered a magisterial work (and I happen to know they cut hundreds of pages out to make it passable as one volume.) It is painstakingly documented and carries both passion and wisdom. I know I'm a bit of geek to say this, but it seems like many of the over 100 pages of footnotes themselves carry remarkable side-stories, the further notes fleshing out in detail things claimed in the text.  Studying their wild array of sources and international citations is a book in itself!  To put it bluntly, when you shell out for this big book you are getting your money's worth with tons of information, inspired stories, and important facts placed in a valuable context.

Marshall has previously written in more theoretical fields, reflecting on the nature of law, thePaul Marshall.jpg meaning of justice and jurisprudence, and how various worldviews and narratives shape different ways in which human rights are understood. (He wrote one of my all-time favorite books, which we still promote, called Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God's Creation; Nelson; $17.95.)  His book God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics (Rowman & Littlefield; $30.95) is a thoughtful and accessible introduction to a uniquely Christian perspective on statecraft, drawing on the strengths of the Dutch neo-Calvinist views of principled pluralism. He edited an academic volume called Radical Islam Rules and had a small introduction to Islam entitled Islam at the Crossroads. He has published monographs on detailed topics such as "The Talibanization of Nigeria."  His first popular-level book (now out of print) was Their Blood Cries Out which played a significant role in putting anti-Christian persecution on the radar of secular human rights activists who seemed to misunderstand the way in which repressive religions cause much injustice in the global south, especially.  In subsequent years he has traveled the world, reporting on unjust treatment of the Coptic SpecialSpread.jpgChristians in Egypt and other troubled spots.  He has testified before Congress and lectured at the State Department. These previous books and essays---the scholarly work on a Christian philosophy of justice and rights and worldview, the work on Christian views of the government, and the human-rights reporting about religious persecution---all prepared him to undertake this massive, stressful work.  Nina Shea is the Director of the Center for Religious Freedom and deserves equal credit as researcher, writer, and reporter.  Her work is nearly unparalleled in this field.  Here popular-level book, In the Lions Den (now out of print) was a gruesome but needed collection of first hand accounts of persecution and repression. In this new book Silenced, Marshall and Shea have given us a truly remarkable resource.  Lives may be saved because of it.  More just policies may be created.  Greater tolerance and pluralistic civil societies may be supported.  Let us hope this book and the struggle it documents, makes the world a better place.

Whether you buy the book from us or not, whisper a prayer for the safety of the authors and their families.  Exposing the brutal tyranny of some radical Islamists who have penchant for revenge and who can incite violence for things as seemingly inconsequential as showing school children posters of "The Three Little Pigs" or naming a teddy bear Muhammad, must be unnerving. Thank God for their courage, dedication to justice and their profound insight about human rights and religious freedom. Why not send information about Silenced to your congresspersons?  It is the sort of thing we need to know about.  Thanks for caring.

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October 5, 2011

Quick Announcement of 12 New Books You Should Know 20% off

It's a speedy blog post today, folks.  Put on your seat belts, get ready to skim. Gimme five minutes, I'll give ya a dozen.  In no particular order.

last call.jpgLast Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition  Daniel Okrent (Scribner) $17.00  It was a bestseller in hardcover, the author has been awarded a Pulitzer, and this book is somewhat of a companion volume to the spectacularly interesting Ken Burn's PBS documentary, Prohibition.  You will notice that Okrent was in the film a bit--they are good friends.  Glad this very readable social history is out in paper!  Can't tell you how interesting this is, how important, how informative and fascinating.  Cheers!

prisoner of conscience.jpgPrisoner of Conscience: One Man's Crusade for Global Human and Religious Rights  Congressman Frank R. Wolf (Zondervan) $22.99  If you were even somewhat moved by my serious review a few days ago of the scholarly research in Silenced (about blasphemy codes and Islamic apostasy laws) by Paul Marshall, which ruminates on the dangers of this crisis caused by the repressive Islamists willing to execute people for merely wanting to hold to their own faith or convictions, this exciting memoir will be sure to encourage.  That is a masterpiece of analysis while this is a non-partisan story of a brave man and his remarkable adventures around the globe "where bullets fly and babies starve." It reads quickly and puts you on the ground, documenting injustices and showing diplomatic and helpful contributions.  Representative Wolf grew up poor in a tough neighborhood of Philly, with a severe stutter, bad grades, and mom who took him to Sunday School.  He eventually got a degree from Penn State, got elected to Congress from the 10th district in Virginia, and is now one of the most effective voices in the world for human rights and freedom.

rumors of water.jpgRumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing  L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press) $15.00 This is one of the finest books on being a writer I've yet seen and a sharply observed bit of nearly devotional writing by a good friend, a tireless advocate for other writers, a brave, new publisher (though this indie press she started) and a Managing Editor at the popular The High Calling blog.  It is not a cliche or marketing hype when a great writer such as Leslie Leyland Fields (The Spirit of Food) says that "this is not just a book about writing well, it's a book about living well."  I intend to tell you more about this later, but why wait?  If you know anybody who picks up a pen, pounds away at a keyboard, scribbles in a journal, any sort of writer or creative type, gift them with this wondrous resource.  They will thank you, and they will do better work! This is a truly lovely and fine, fine collection of insights and assistance, inspiring any of us to be more attentive to our lives and to communicate colorfully and well.

Folks-this-aint-normal-149x226.jpgFolks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World  Joel Salatin  (Center Street) $25.99  Maybe you recall him from The Omnivore's Dilemma or maybe you saw him in the documentary Food IncThe New York Times called him "the high priest of the pasture."  Joe Salatin is a deeply religious, very jovial, and remarkably astute agronomist---that's a fancy word for smart farmer, I think--who is convinced that we can all make a difference by working for reforms in our industrialized food systems--or at least in the way we buy and eat our own food.  Remember Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer poems?  Maybe Salatin read them.  Maybe they are about him, for all I know.  Bill McKibben calls it "wonderfully cranky."  It is provocative and yet practical, by a guy who lives it. If you want to see the big picture and are willing to take some baby steps towards greater health, this is for you, whether you like chickens or not.

girlfriends.jpgThe Girlfriend's Clergy Companion: Surviving and Thriving in Ministry  Melissa Lynn DeRosia, Marianne J. Grano, Amy Morgan, and Amanda Adams Riley  (Alban Institute) $17.00  I suppose you know that there has been in recent decades a large rise in the number of women clergy persons, mostly in mainline churches.  Some of the very best pastors and preachers I know are women.  Yet, there are not too many books about being a 21st century woman of the cloth.  Most of these pastors/authors are youngish and they are wise and fun and helpful.  They are Presbyterians. The book is very practical.  If you are a woman in church work, you know you need this.  If you have a woman on staff as a pastor at your church, you may want to get it for her.  But read it first, yourself--it is helpful for us lay folks to realize what our clergy friends are going through. And don't be surprised when these girlfriends start to dish a bit---short skirts? Pregnancy?  Children and families? The Superwoman syndrome? How to command pastoral authority, deal with gender bias in otherwise healthy congregations?  Discerning callings?  It's all here, and more.  A wonderfully written forward by Carol Howard Merritt, too.

early letters for everyone.jpgThe Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John, and Jude N.T. Wright (Westminister/John Knox) $ 15.00  The "for everyone" series is a personal favorite, smallish and accessible but chock-full of Scriptural insight and teacherly assistance.  Wright is a master of first century Judaism and the early Christian movement, so he knows the New Testament literature well.  He has a wholistic Kingdom vision that just doesn't quite, so we are especially eager to have folks read these.  He's almost done with the whole N.T. (with Revelation For Everyone coming soon.)  These brief commentaries on epistles not claimed as Pauline make up some of the most important pieces of the formation of the early church.  We need to know this stuff, through Wright's good lens. Handy, easy, and really, really useful. Thanks be to God.  By the way, Wright has companion small group Bible study guides to go with most of these, in the N. T. Wright for Everyone Bible Studies series from IVP ($8.00.)

hip-hop redemption.jpgHip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Rhythm and the Rhyme Ralph Basui Watkins (Baker) $17.99  There are two or three must-read books on this topic and now we have another world-class bit of scholarship that grooves.  From Gil-Scott Heron (yeah) to Funkadelic, to rapper Ice-T on through Mos Def and Lauryn Hill, this brother gets it really right.  Daniel White Hodge (author of the must read Soul of Hip Hop:Rims, TImbs, and a Cultural Theology) says "This read is for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of not only theology and culture but also how hip-hop's redemptive value is shown in its style, prose, syntax, and spirituality."  Anthony Bradley notes that "American Christians easily find redemptive themes in the music of Bob Dylan and U2. What Watkins provides are the resources for Christians to understand that if all truth is God's truth, then God can also be found in the world of hip-hop."  Indeed, as Bradley continues, "I hope Hip Hop Redemption will ignite needed conversations about the ways in which this music and movement can be used to understand the complex urban narratives in American so that the gospel can reach all the communities for Christ."  Watkins, by the way, has a PhD from Pittsburgh and now teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary.  Did I say he is a DJ?  Oh yeah he is.

Going_Deep.jpgGoing Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence  Gordon MacDonald (Nelson) $15.99  I read everything this guy writes.  He is a natural teacher and pastor inviting us to Godly lives, lived richly, drawing on who we are "below the surface."  Here he picks up the creative fiction style of the book he did about an imaginary church fighting over contemporary music and whatnot. (That was called Who Stole My Church and it was not hard to imagine at all, really.) He realizes that the people on both sides of that frustrating deadlock were, frankly, not deep.  There were plenty of good people, plenty of sincere people, but not enough deep people.  This just came but I cannot wait to read it.

close-enough-to-hear-god-breathe-greg-paul.gifClose Enough to Hear God Breath: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy  Greg Paul (Nelson) $15.99  I was blown away by this author's earlier books about his raw ministry among the urban poor. (God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle) so I was thrilled when I heard there was a new,  creatively written study of God's deep desire to be near us.  Paul uses intense writing, moving prose and amazing stories---really!---and helps us, as he says, resist the "thousand voices telling me who I am.  Or who I should be."  Only God gets to define who we are and this book will help, I'm sure of it.  He uses stories from his own family background (to which many will be able to relate) and also from his own work with street people in Toronto.  And, he uses the "creation-fall-redemption-restoration" vision of he unfolding drama of Scripture that many of us find so helpful.  This guy has guts and clarity and yet has an enjoyably, creative prose style that is more than merely clever.  This is a notable book by an important writer.  Len Sweet says of it "This book has a heart that beats louder than most any book you'll ever read."  How's that for an endorsement?

25-books-every-christian-should-read-a-guide-to-the-essential-spiritual-classics_2485_220.jpg25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to Essential Spiritual Classics  selected by Renovare (HarperOne) $18.99 This is the sort of book I just love and I'll try to review it in greater detail soon.  It is a very thorough review of each of the 25 books listed, explained and described, along with study aids, discussion resources and an excerpt of the book in question.  Renovare, of course, is the contemplative spirituality ministry organized by Richard Foster so these are what is considered devotional classics.  The subtitle is true.  These choices and the apparatus developed to become familiar was led by a team of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, and Richard Rohr. Several who helped were Gayle Beebe, Emilie Griffin, Frederica Mathewes-Green, John Wilson amongst others. Besides these top 25 books----from On the Incarnation by St Athanasius to The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen---there are sidebars with many other authors listing their favorite 5 books.  And an appendix listing some of the best authors writing today.  Wow, this is a book-lovers delight, a must for anyone wanting to build a good library or who has a vocation of shaping or guiding others in their spiritual journeys. Highly recommended for our fans and friends.

Tutu Authorized.jpgTutu Authorized  Allister Sparks & Mpho Tutu (HarperOne) $29.99  It isn't every year we get to announce a "publishing event" but this is surely one, the mcuh-anticipated, eagerly- awaited authorized biography of the famous, South African Anglican leader.  To appreciate the global and prominent nature the book, get this: the blurbs on the back are from Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, The Dalai Lama and the President of the United States.  The forward is by Bono.  This is very exciting and will tell his life story and rise to fame in a manner that is legitimate and well informed (one of the authors is his own daughter, Mpho.)  It just came and a quick skim of the footnotes shows that the authors mention some things of great interest to me (Kuyper!) and some names I suspect would be important (like Stephen Biko and Alan Boesak and Alan Paton) so I'm impressed.  Look at that cover, just look at that.  This is a book many of our friends will want, and it is a book some of our friends might benefit from reading, even if they are not full fans of the Archbishop.

price of civ.jpgThe Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity  Jeffrey D. Sachs (Random House) $27.00  I'm not gonna lie.  This came today and I've barely cracked the cover.  I read the acknowledgements and, yup, he's really, really famous.  And hangs with the world class leaders you have come to expect from his important work. (I hope you know his much-discussed The End of Poverty and the one called Common Wealth.)   As you know, Sachs has spent his years as an economist working on global issues.  Now he is alarmed about the "moral crisis" and "decline of civic virtue among America's political and economic elites."

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October 17, 2011

David Kinnaman speaking for Hearts & Minds, October 25th at Living Word Community Church

It has been a whirlwind of a week, delivering books to the Christian Adventure Association (where we offer books about rock-climbing, backwoods safety, creation-care, and devotionals inspired by the awe of creation, and some important things on experiential education), a UCC retreat  on spirituality (using icons, so we sold some of our wonderful books on iconography), a book display with the prestigious scholar Philip Jenkins (Derry Presbyterian in Hershey brings in the best speakers!  We were the first place in the country to get his brand new Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses [HarperOne; $26.99]), and our beloved yearly trek to Wee Kirk, an event for leaders of small, often rural, congregations.  And we got boxes of books up to First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Erie, PA, where Eric Metaxas will be speaking, lecturing on his book on Wilberforce, his book on Bonhoeffer (now out in paperback) and his brand new spectacular collection of lectures by famous Christian thinkers (which I advertised on facebook, Socrates in the City:Conversations on "Life, God, and Other Small Topics.")  I might even be able to swing an autographed copy of any of his stuf if you email us in the next few days.

If you follow me on twitter you may have seen, too, that I spoke three times on Saturday at Shippensburg University to a gathering of students wanting to relate faith and life, thinking Christianly about their callings and college careers, and how to see God's Kingdom as a key to shaping their vision for passionate, meaningful, culturally-relevant faith.  The CCO staff over there put it together so of course we celebrated the launching of the new Jubilee 2012 website; the new slogan reminds us of God's care for all of life: "Everything Matters."  I loved meeting these young collegiates and thank them for allowing me into their lives.  I meant it when I read an excerpt of Gabe Lyon's great book The Next Christians (Doubleday; $19.99) and said it was a book about them!

Today we are busy ordering books on family life for a resource center at a great mainlinebusy_receptionist.jpg church in Townsend, MD and researching titles we'll take to a palliative care conference for nurses and hospice workers (sponsored by our local hospital) and I'm trying to work on book reviews that I do regularly for Q: Ideas, Comment magazine, and CPJ's Capitol Commentary.  And--oh yeah--Beth is packing a rented truck which we will drive to one of the coolest things we do all year: the Christian Legal Society's annual conference for lawyers and others working in the field of law.  What an inspiring, important organization!

All of this reminds me not only of how many friends we have all over and how grateful we are to partner with folks who need books provided for events, conference, book tables and such.

And it makes me wonder if most Christians get to see what we see---a vibrant and robust living out of faith in such varying venues and areas.  From conversations about making a living in farming in small towns (at Wee Kirk) to struggling with questions of global peacemaking and responsible interfaith dialogue (Jenkins) to how church and society can be transformed by learning about the radical social witness of evangelical leaders like Wilberforce or Bonhoeffer (or Metaxas himself, as his innovative work in NYC through Socrates in the City shows.)  The books we have and the way we are invited to get them to various sorts of faith communities and the good folk we meet along the way illustrates to us that God is alive and well, that the reign of Christ is bringing hope and renewal and new social initiatives to the fore, as a modern-day reformation is quietly bubbling here and there.

My friends David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon wrote in UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why It Matters (Baker; $17.99) several years ago about how, despite all these good ministries, an abundance of quality folks, and grace-filled, innovative Christian witness going on, many younger adults remained convinced that the church is stuffy (at best), irrelevant, even mean.  Of course there is enough truth in the accusation that we must sadly shake our heads and agree and say we are sorry.  Unchristian documented both the negative stereotypes and reputations which Christians and churches have these days and also offered stories and examples of folks who are working hard--out of faithfulness to Christ for the glory of God--to change the public reputation of the Christian community.   


As I said in my review of it in last month's monthly review column, David Kinnaman has aKinnaman.jpg brand new book out, in some ways a follow up to the best-selling Unchristian.  It is called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...And Rethinking Faith (Baker; $17.99) which is specifically a study of young adults who were once part of a faith community and who now reject their faith or have at least significant reconsider its role in their lives.  That is, it is about 20-somethings who have drifted or dropped out of their previous church involvement.

This is a tragedy, and it is an epidemic.  Kinnaman's book gives us good tools to understand these youth and their reasons for leaving the church of their youth.  In my review I offered a link to a video of David describing one part of the book (the part where he groups many who have left the church into one of three categories which he calls, Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles.)  I also had embedded a cool promo video of him describing You Lost Me inviting us to start a conversation about, and hopefully with, those who have doubts or dissents about church, and want us to talk with them "without freaking out," as one guy puts it.  It is worth watching, and worth sharing.  I am very, very excited about this book and think it deserves to be read in every church who has any youth still coming. Parents? Teachers? Campus ministers?  Twenty-somethings who worry about their own friends?  This book can help.

Will you do us a favor?  We would be very, very grateful if you passed that page of my review on to others so they can see that we are promoting this new, important book.

Here it is again: You Lost Me review from Hearts & Minds. Please send it on to anybody you can think of you might find it interesting or useful.  Thanks.


David K with mic.jpgWe are sponsoring "An Evening with David Kinnamon" hosted by the Liquid Tuesdays young adult group over at Living Word Community Church.  LWCC is on Rt 24 outside of Red Lion, PA, just a few miles from our shop here in Dallastown.  Other groups or churches might have hosted this for us, but LWCC has long been supportive of our work, has this great young adult group, and, frankly, serves the best coffee of any church around.  I'm not kidding, about the coffee or about that being part of my reason for wanting them to partner with us to host it.  As is the case in so many things, LWCC does a great job.  The event is free, open to the public, and there is ample parking.  There will be some worship music, a talk by David, some conversation replying to his presentation and then time to purchase his books and get them autographed. 


Beth and I opened Hearts & Minds as an indie business in South-Central PA 30 years ago next month.  In October '82 we were renovating the building with friends from Pittsburgh who moved here for a bit to help us.  It is amazing to think of God's faithfulness, our fantastic staff, and the many great customers we have had over the years.  This public event with Kinnaman sort of feels like an anniversary celebration of sorts, even though it is addressing a topic that is for some of use, profoundly heartbreaking. 

God is so good, the Kingdom way of living so exciting, and Christ's gospel so precious that I cannot imagine folks not wanting in on it. But, still, so many teens and young adults, including ones we all know and love, have said "you lost me."  In the last 30 years of bookselling, including a lot of time spent with young adults through the CCO and other campus ministry organizations, we've seen post-high school age folks whose lives have been transformed by the gospel, who are active in good congregations, who through God's grace have found their way to serious faith. Some of our best customers are youngish. We know there are ways to keep students from drifting, ways to keep young people involved, ways to attract twenty-somethings to congregational life and real faith. 

Won't you come and join us as we listen to David Kinnaman, the owner of The Barna Group, author of You Lost Me, as he speaks on Tuesday, October 25th, at Living Word Community Church, at 7:00 pm.  If you aren't in the area, could you help us spread the word?  Thanks.

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

October 25, 2011

My latest Comment magazine reviews

After driving all day, and, again, late into the night, returning from a fabulous opportunity to sell books at the national Christian Legal Society Conference in Chicago, we are bleary-eyed and disheveled, to say the least.  We've begun the daunting task of unpacking the rented truck. There are literally hundreds of boxes of books and all manner of random supplies--lamps and shelves, duct tape and invoices, left-over junk food and CLS paperwork--scattered everywhere.
While we were gone my monthly column at Comment went live so I thought I'd just copy and paste it here for you.  I've mentioned these titles before, but these were freshly written so you might enjoy seeing them. You really should read Comment, published by the stunningly insightful Canadian think-tank, Cardus.  They truly are from the deep-end of the gene pool and I'm so delighted to get the chance to suggest books to their reformational readership.
They call my column "Life-Long Learners" which is a nice touch, I think.  Enjoy.  I'm going to bed.

Life-Long Learners 10.0

October 21, 2011 - Byron Borger

Life-Long Learners 9.0 Life-Long Learners 11.0 (~Nov. 25)

Comment remains one of my favourite journals, publishing thoughtful pieces on a wide variety of subjects, often asking how best to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections about God's redemptive work in the world. Readers care about a lot of stuff, and want to learn how to live in these times fruitfully and faithfully.

Of course, as a bookseller, it is a joy to talk about books that might be of interest to this exact sort of engaged, open-minded, and discerning reader. Here are a few choice titles that Comment readers might enjoy.

work matters.jpgWork Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway, 2011)

At our bookstore we have dozens of books about the relationship of faith and work. It has long been a passion of mine to read about this topic since I was introduced to it in the 1970s by the Christian Labour Association of Canada. Happily, in the decades since, many Christians of various stripes have seen the marketplace as a mission field, have learned to think faithfully about the meaning of work, and have written well about "loving God on Monday" or nurturing "your soul at work" because "your work matters to God."

There are many good books offering a Christian perspective on this topic, but none as good as the brand new, visionary, and very well-written paperback by this Kansas pastor. Some who know Reverend Nelson know that he has emphasized the callings and careers of his flock for years (indeed, in a long and beautiful blurb in the book, Comment writer Steve Garber suggests that too few pastors have attempted to do this and done so well as Nelson.) When the footnotes include fascinating citations from Paul Marshall and Gideon Strauss and Dorothy Sayers, you know it will be an interesting read. Nelson balances broad, perspectival views with quite practical suggestions; he is a solid theological thinker and obviously a pastor who cares to serve his people well as they relate Sunday to Monday, worship to work. There are several very interesting two-page sidebars that allow professionals from his church (such as Comment writer and architect David Greusel, for instance) to share their stories, giving this, again, a practical and real-world feel.

Work Matters is not lofty or abstract and is ideal for workers of all sorts. And for pastors and theologians, too, who need to incorporate this approach to Christian living into their own work. Thank God for Nelson's church and their message of "common grace for the common good," even in the work-a-day world.

Kinnaman.jpgYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . And Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker, 2011)

Kinnaman was catapulted to fame when he produced for the Barna Group the research that became the bestselling book UnChristian which explores what unchurched North American young adults thought about Christianity and church life. Kinnaman continued his research, this time documenting the views and attitudes and stories of younger adults who were, in fact, raised within Christian churches, but who have chosen to leave. Why is this? Kinnaman uses the punchy phrase (used by more than one of his millennial interviewees) "you lost me" to indicate that these folks were once open to faith, perhaps deeply involved in Christian practices and life, and at some point determined that they were no longer on the same page as their adult congregational leaders. Kinnaman is passionate that we must understand the demographics of this cohort and we must "start a conversation" about this crisis of generational loss and, more importantly, with this cohort themselves. Why are younger Christians disengaging from church? Why are they rethinking the way theology and spirituality is construed? One nice appendix to this important book is a listing of 50 suggestions for "passing on a flourishing, deep-rooted faith," from 50 different authors and leaders, many of whom are writers for Comment (including Steve Garber, Gabe Lyons, Charlie Peacock, Kara Powell, Donna Freitas, Derek Melleby, David Greusel, Kenda Creasy Dean).

(Editor's note: Comment will run a feature-length review of the above two books, together, in late December.)

socrates in the city cover.jpgSocrates in the City: Conversations on "Life, God, and Other Small Topics" by Eric Metaxas, editor (Dutton, 2011)

For years now, Veggie-Tale smart-aleck and truly smart evangelical author Eric Metaxas (Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer) has been inviting some of the world's leading Christian thinkers to a lecture series and friendly conversation program in the heart of mid-town Manhattan. Inviting others to seek the wisdom of Socrates in the city of man, Metaxas has held forth with remarkable guests, creating space for good dialogues and consequently doing important ministry of intellectual depth and wise apologetics.

A book loaded with some of these lectures was just released and it is a stunning collection. There are essays that were first given at his Socrates series by Sir John Polkinghorne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, Os Guinness, Peter Kreeft, and more. From the call for pluralism and civility by Os Guinness, to a great piece on Bonhoeffer by Metaxas himself, to Elshtain on the meaning of the human (drawing on C. S. Lewis), to several good speeches on the relationship of faith and science, this book is a treasure-chest. I can hardly think of any other single-volume anthology with such weighty, clear-headed pieces. Charles Colson shines in a piece about "the good life," McGrath respectfully critiques the new atheists, while the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus asks if "atheists can be good citizens." New York psychiatrist Paul Vitz movingly writes of the importance of fathers. Catholic philosopher and creative writing star Peter Kreeft reminds us of the joyous value of asking good questions, a perfect piece inspired by the Socratic tradition which summarizes much of what Metaxas surely intended for this project.

"Small topics?" These are anything but, and the editor's impish good humor is evident not only in the grand introductory chapter but in that small phrase in the sub-title. Get this book and find some inquisitive friends. Such "small topics" demand good conversations.

Silenced.jpgSilenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea (Oxford University Press, 2011)

In a longer review at our BookNotes column, I wondered out loud if Marshall and Shea might themselves be in danger in writing a serious book exposing those who would issue deadly fatwas against writers, repress those with the wrong religion, or imprison people who don't tow a certain Islamic party line. This book is shocking, even with the tone of a scholarly tome, as it painstakingly documents, region by region, country by country, the efforts to pass blasphemy laws, forbid religious conversion away from Islam, or enforce Sharia law. There are chilling stories of beheadings and murders--some official and others committed by vigilantes. (Think of the still-endangered Salmon Rushdie, for instance, or the brutal ritual murder of Theo Van Gogh, or the horrors promoted by jihadi forces now commonplace in many Central African nations.)

Ever hopeful, however, the authors offer positive examples of both international legal efforts to ensure religious freedom and of pro-democratic moderate Muslims who dare to oppose their radical co-religionists. Dr. Marshall, as you may know, has a vision of religious affairs and human rights rooted in a profoundly Reformed worldview (he replaced the legendary Bernard Zylstra at Toronto's ICS and helped mentor the brilliant Jonathan Chaplin who took his chair when Marshall took up a position doing international human rights research.) His realization of the profound role of religion as a foundation for views of human rights and freedoms put him early on a path to expose religious persecution and to attend to ways in which Islamic faith does or doesn't comport with notions of public justice. As a Western, Christian pioneer in this work, he has Muslim friends literally all over the world--there can be no accusation that he is Islamophobic.

Included in Silenced are three quite significant new essays by internationally known Muslim scholars insisting that there is nothing within Islam that demands Sharia or blasphemy legislation. An extended forward to the book was written by the late President of Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim nation) who was a friend and advocate for Marshall's work on human rights. A large book, it is a serious and monumental contribution to our knowledge of one of the great threats of our era. Pray that it is read, discussed, considered, and heeded--and that those who dare discuss it are kept safe from those who see violence as a divinely approved method of silencing opposition.

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October 30, 2011

12 brand new books: Keller, Wright, Stark, Giglio, Tchividjian, a great new debate, and more...

One of the fun things for us about being away--besides meeting so many faithful and friendly customers on the road---is returning to a batch of books that have just been released.  Being with CLS and CCO took us off site for a while.  Coming home to a week's worth of new titles is like Christmas in October.  The crazy snow makes it feel that way, too, but that is another story.

Here are 12 brand new ones, briefly highlighted.  Notice the 20% off BookNotes special and our handy order form link at the end.

simply jesus.gifSimply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters  N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.99  I listened to some old N.T. Wright audio CDs this week and seeing this new book promising to "unleash the full story of Jesus" made me so eager to read more.  I suspect he has said much of this before and it is written in a way to follow up Simply Christian.  He has a way of distilling erudite scholarship, making it understandable and helpful.  As Rowan Williams puts it, it is "yet another of his great gifts to the worldwide church."  If you haven't read Wright on Jesus (Following Jesus is a wonderful collection of sermons; Challenging Jesus is a masterful summary of the first three volumes of his magisterial "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series) this would be a great introduction.  By the way, as he says in the forward, there is new material here, too---"twists and turns" that he was unaware of when working on his previous books on Jesus.  This is not a simple adaptation, but fresh, good kerygma.

meaning of marriage.gifThe Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Tim Keller (Dutton) $25.95  I have not read much of this yet but it is a winner, no doubt.  The footnotes are intriguing, the text nearly beautiful at times, the feel of the attractive hardback very fine.  This originates in a sermon series the Reverend Keller preached in his solid New York congregation although some portions have been co-authored by his wife Kathy.  It is more intellectually substantive than most religious books on marriage and it is surely a deeper look than some might be used to.  But, as always, Keller is a master of speaking wisely into an urbane and sophisticated culture of younger professionals and he is more than willing to speak truth to power.  This is an honest, intellectually-engaging, clear-headed book on how serious Biblical insight could have vast implications for our day-to-day marriage and family relations.  Not in a relationship?  No matter, this is important gospel-centered stuff, well thought through.  A must read.

Jesus-+-Nothing-Everything-Cover-196x300.jpgJesus + Nothing = Everything Tullian Tchividjian (Crossway) $18.99  While we were in the Chicago suburbs at the Christian Legal Society conference last week I drove to Crossway's offices to snag a few of these, having heard they were just shipping.  The nice stack here on our "new book" release table makes me happy---Billy Graham's grandson is smart and very cool and an excellent writer. His books strike me as gutsy and real and loaded with grace.  If you picked up his outstanding Unfashionable or the one on Jonah (Surprised by Grace) you'll know his finely tuned ability to relate faith to vibrant, culturally engaged living, but always out of a gospel-centered life.  The title says it (almost) all, and his ruminations here look very, very helpful.  Steve Brown suggests (well, really, he probably booms) "If you give a book to anybody this year, give this book.  If you yearn for awakening in the church, underline this book and share what you've learned." Very good advice.

flunking sainthood.jpgFlunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor  Jana Riess (Paraclete) $16.99  Riess has edited a bunch of books, reviewed oodles others (and penned the very odd What Would Buffy Do? which was one of the very first vampire-related books I ever read part of.)  This new memoir is fabulous--really, really good on a number of levels. The back cover calls it wry, but I've been reading through my advanced copy and it is more than wry, it is hilarious!  And very wise.  It has endorsements by A. J. Jacob (and if you haven't read The Year of Living Biblically yet, drop everything and send us an order asap.)  Lauren Winner writes of this that is is "the best book on the practices of the spiritual life that I've read in a long, long time."  A vulnerably shared, real story---see the fine print of her mishaps and failed efforts on the top of the cover to get a sense of what it's like.  Note, too that "sainthood" is misspelled on the cover art.  Ha.  Unless you've already arrived (and I suppose some of you have) this book will be like an encouraging companion to keep on keeping on.  It is a blessed joy, helpful and fun.  David Dark calls it "freaking wonderful" and the opening line by Orwell is enough to ponder for a month. I love it!

indescribable illustrated.gifIndescribable: Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe  Louie Giglio & Matt Redman (Cook) $14.99 (paperback) and $24.99 (full color coffee table gift edition)  Many know Giglio's passionate young adult worship conferences and even more know, now, the often viewed talk (we sell the DVD) where he invited people to an awesome awareness of God's immense glory by showing slides of deep space (from Hubble telescopes.)  Contemporary worship leader Matt Redman had written about worship, is interested in the awesome hugeness of God, and has a curious interest in science.  The two were great as they collaborated in a moving presentation blending science, stunningly artful super-graphics, and of course the powerful songs.  The much-anticipated book has released based on those presentations.  The gift book is hefty and handsome and the paperback (which still has some b/w outer-space photography) is extraordinary.  Get this on your Christmas wish list, or think about who you can share it with.  A lot of people are fascinated by science, and many need to be reminded of the great goodness of our awesome Creator.  Highly recommended.

Missional-Spirituality-200x300.jpgMissional Spirituality: Embodying God's Love from the Inside Out  Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson (IVP) $16.00  Wow, all I can say is wow.  I've studied the copious footnotes and am delighted at the vast array of fascinating sources, the important books, the astute authors, the edgy social theorists, and solid Bible guys they draw upon.  The book is both stimulating and--I truly believe--helpful as an important corrective to an overly pious, inward sort of spirituality.  (And, conversely, an popular rhetoric of being missional that seems too often unhinged from profound spiritual formation and significant church life.)  The authors are a Canadian Baptist and an evangelical Mennonite.  Alan Hirsch wrote a great forward.  Michael Frost declares "This book is a triumph!"  Other rave reviews come from Gordon Smith (whose word I always trust), David Fitch, of Northern Seminary, whose End of Evangelicalism puts its printed finger on a ton of important insights about the shifts within evangelicalism) and the popular missional cheerleader, Reggie McNeal.  This is certainly one of the most important missional books to date.  Kudos to IVP for well written, important and timely insight.

cslegacy.jpgCreating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom   Daniel Taylor (Brazos Press) $14.99  Leave it to Brazos to turn a typical (and sometimes overly sentimental) practice of scrap-booking into a major opportunity for serious theological reflection.  Well, the book isn't really about scrapbooks, per se, but it is about how to discover your own spiritual legacy and story.  It helps you learn how to foster a storytelling ethos in your family, church, or organization.  Taylor has previously written a marvelous book on how we over-value certainty and another on the role of stories.  He has a lovely book called Letters to My Children and here he has combined the insights of them all, lovingly creating a philosophy of storytelling which offers insight into how to discern and communicate the central narratives of our own lives.  Endorsements include a fine recommendation by John Wilson (of Books & Culture), the remarkable literature professor, Dale Brown, of the Buechner Institute at King College, campus pastor Ben Patterson (Westmont College) and the always eloquent Calvin Miller.  This is a book like no other and should appeal to many BookNotes friends.  It deserves to be celebrated for its beauty and unique topic and it deserves to be honored for seriously tackling a very, very important side of life to which we rarely give sustained attention.

in_visible_fellowship_cover-200x300.jpgIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer's Classic Work Life Together  Jon Walker (Leafwood Publishers) $13.99  You may know that Costly Grace (also by Jon Walker) is one of the finest studies of Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship we've yet seen.  It walks us through it and explores in very readable prose just how it might apply to our daily discipleship today.  Thank goodness that Walker has done this new one.  This is one of the only studies (the only one of which I am aware, at least) about Bonny's great book, Life Together.  With the loud and urgent cry for community so ubiquitous these days, and a hunger in our churches to be more relationally supportive, this helpful guide should be a mega-seller.  If only.  If only we get the word out that Walker is a reliable guide to a true Christian classic.  Please help us spread the word. 

grace effect.gifGrace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief Larry Alex Taunton (Nelson) $16.99  There has been a bit of a cottage industry from Christians debating the so-called "new atheists."  Several are quite good and we stock them all.  This seems to be a different tack, a thoughtful engagement with the debate, but focused on the documented evidences of the implications of the Christian worldview.  "Simply defined, " he writes, "the 'grace effect' is an observable phenomenon--that life is demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes."  The Grace Effect describes the authors debates with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins but is anchored in the compelling narrative of a girl named Sasha, a Ukrainian orphan whose life had been shaped by atheistic theorists, and the story of her life's redemption through the transforming power of God's grace.  Dr. Olivera Petrovich, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, says of it, "This highly readable book is a collection of powerful insights into the long-term consequences of spiritual indifference and, above all, a remarkable example of how to conquer it."   This is a smart book (laced with wonderful quotes from classic literature from Milton to Dostoesvsky to Huxley to Elliott) but the emotional power of the story of Sasah reminds us that this is a very down to Earth, human story, and story that can change lives and the lives of nations.  Here is a short video with the very engaging author telling of a late night dinner with Christopher Hitchens, their trip to the Ukraine to adopt Sasha, and the way the gospel reverberates through lives and cultures.  Do check it out and if you want the book, do come back and buy it from us.

triumph of christianity.gifThe Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion  Rodney Stark (HarperOne) $27.99  Several different scholarly titles showed up while we were away and they are all so interesting.  This, though, deserves special mention, as it is in many ways a top-shelve, major contribution that will be taken very, very seriously in the scholarly guilds of religious studies, history and sociology. Stark has written other major works such as The Rise of Christianity.  He is given rave reviews from popular journals such as The Christian Century and Christianity Today (who awarded Discovering God, a 2008 book, an Award of Merit.)  Stark is the Distinguished Professor of the Social Science and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. Just over 500 pages, some of our customers will know this is a must-read.   

left-right-and-christ.jpgLeft, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics  Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) $22.99  As the election season proceeds I am sure I will revisit this often, drawing on each author's important points as I write, teach, and talk about a Christian perspectives on politics.  Perhaps it will serve you in such a way as well. As you might guess, this is a co-authored debate-style book, with a Christian who is a committed Democrat and a Christian who is a committed Republican each explaining how their faith and Biblical insights compel them to align themselves (even if always provisionally, as they both insist) towards more-or-less liberal or conservative public policies.   D.C. Innes is a popular professor of political science at The Kings College in New York (and an Orthodox Presbyterian minister) while Ms Harper is an activist for Sojourners in DC who has worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. 

Marvin Olasky writes one forward to the LR&C; he is known for his insistence on a stauchly conservative Christian worldview (he writes often for World magazine) and he writes here "If this isn't a conversation starter for Christians, than nothing else will be." Jim Wallis of Sojourners has another forward, again noting that this book will certainly stimulate good discussion and deep thinking.  I hope to write more carefully about this book in the future but don't wait for my input.  You get the point: this is ideal for book clubs, conversation-starters, to tweak our ideas by reading more than just one viewpoint, to give to that person who just doesn't get your viewpoint.  There are six or seven endorsements on the inside, each by folks I really respect (who hold to pretty diverse socio-political viewpoints, in fact, from Carl Trueman and John Anderson to Jonathan Merritt and Nicole Baker Fulgham. David Gushee says "One might have thought there was nothing new to say in or about this burnt-over disctrict, but in their sharp, yet civil, dialogue Innes and Harper offer provocative and creative new reflections."   Thanks to Mark Russell for his good work in shepherding this project and for designing such an attractive, clear, fair-minded, interesting, contemporary book.  Here's a fun video piece they did to capture the usefulness of this vibrant conversation.  Enjoy. 
Notice how the advertisement at the end says something like "wherever fine books are sold."  We would be one of those places.  As I hope you know we care about these very fine books and stock them because we think they will helpful to you and yours.  Let us know what you think, and use the handy link to the order for page if you'd want.

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