About March 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in March 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2012 is the previous archive.

April 2012 is the next archive.

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

March 2012 Archives

March 8, 2012

BOGO Scot McKnight books on sale---buy one, get one free.

Granted, there was a lot of hoopla here after Jubilee.  I hope you read my long reports, and my enthusiastic testimony about the CCOs good practices, coming along side young adults wanting to relate faith and career, spirituality and service, the reign of God within the empires of this world, and how they use good books to equip people to think wisely about this audacious mission --- the books listed are on sale, there, and those take-away points are good to ponder.  Post some feedback at the website if you care to comment; thanks to those who wrote me or forwarded the post-Jubilee round-up.

And then we were excited about our author appearance here and the subsequent sale on Margot Starbuck books.  (And, after that, a gruesome bout of the flu about which I should say very little; you don't want to know.)

So with all that, I never got around to telling you about another author we had the great privilege of serving.  Our friend Tom Grosh works for IVCF doing ministry with grad studentsscott mcknight.jpg, faculty, and others seeking a more intellectual approach to faith here in Central PA (including, for instance, in his work with the Emerging Scholars Network.)  Well, while we were at Jubilee, he brought in the extraordinary thinker and exceptionally popular author Scot McKnight.  Yes, that is one-t-Scot.  He is indeed a prominent Bible scholar who has done both very technical academic work but he is also a passionate communicator (and tireless blogger), wanting to bring his insight to God's ordinary people.  He is, if I may say so, our kind of guy, and it was a shame we didn't get to meet him, since we were away.  Grosh did the book selling duties, and we count it a great gladness to have such friends who support our efforts and help us help folks by making books available.

When somebody as prestigious as McKnight is around, one doesn't want to run out of books.  I'm just being honest. I ordered way too many.  By all accounts he was fantastic, the programs went well, and participants went away informed and enlightened and impressed.  Except I guess they wondered why the bookseller overdid it.

My misestimate is your gain.  We're selling these books now below costs and are happy to do so.  Beats sending them back, and you can consider it a benefit of being a BookNotes reader.

The following McKnight books are all being sold at what astute shoppers call BOGO. Buy one, get one free.  In this case, you choose the two you want and the less expensive one is free.  If you select four, two of them are absolutely free.  Buy One Get One, or Buy Two Get Two.  BUY THREE GET THREE. Got it?   OFFER GOOD UNTIL MARCH 14th.


fasting mck.gifThe Ancient Practices Series: Fasting (Nelson) $12.99  This is the time of the church year to try out this practice if it isn't a common part of your quiet experiences before the Lord.  You hopefully recall how I've raved about the seven books in this great series (on practices such as keeping sabbath, generous tithing, the sacred meal, the liturgical calendar, fixed hour prayer, going on pilgrimage, and such.) With a great foreword by Phyllis Tickle (the general editor of the series) and blurbs from the likes of Ruth Haley Barton, this book is solid, helpful, interesting, Biblical, calm and profoundly in touch with that for which we most yearn."  Highly recommended.




king jesus.gifKing Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited  (Zondervan) $19.99  With a foreword by N.T. Wright and another by Dallas Willard you may get the idea that this hardback is about the fuller understanding of the Kingdom of God and how we can be formed in the ways of Jesus.  This is the best simple clear overview of this central gospel theme that we know of.  Wright notes "The revolution Scot is proposing is massive and we all urgently need to allow this deeply biblical vision of the gospel to challenge the less-than-completely biblical visions we have cherished for too long."  Right on!  Pro Rege!





j creed.gifThe Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others  (Paraclete Press) $16.99  In over 300 pages, (although in a nice type font) McKnight explores and drives home this central re-telling of the shema, Jesus' call to love God by loving others.  Sounds simple, eh? Well, the power of religiosity hasn't been dismantled yet, and this profoundly Jewish creed could transform our lives, if we saw it as a new rule of life.  Fabulous.  A foreword by John Ortberg reminds us how very usable this is, how our lives will be enhanced if you learn from Scot the ways of Jesus.  (There is, by the way, but not on sale, a devotional guide, using this book for 40 days, and a teen version.)





praying with the church mck.gifPraying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today  Foreword by Phyllis Tickle (Paraclete Press) $15.95  A few years ago Phyllis Tickle helped launch a renewed interest in the monastic practice of "fixed hour" prayers, or "praying the hours" when she published her important three-volume prayer book.  When a Baptist scholar like McKnight writes about this use of such prayers, and does so so eloquently and helpfully, you know somethings going on.  Paraclete does very nice books, and although this may be lesser known than some of his others, it is surely one of his enduring classics.  Funny, some of us who do not follow this practice of doing the hours, still are deeply blessed by reading about the custom, and how it enriches those who do.
 


embracing grace.gifEmbracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us  (Paraclete Press) $16.95  I love this endorsement by Ross Wagner, a New Testament prof at Princeton Theological Seminary: "With grace, humility, and wit, Scot McKnight offers a compelling vision of the breath-taking scope of the gospel -- that in Jesus Christ, God is at work restoring broken people to full humanity in loving community with God, and with one another, for the salvation of all creation. This is a message to be pondered, savored, embraced, and embodied."  Grace is more than "punishment avoidance" and if we recipients of God's grace, we should be people who live graciously; as he puts it, we aren't just saved by grace, but we can "live transformed by grace."


blue para.gifThe Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible  (Zondervan) $14.99  I promise you this: you will find something in this book that will ping you, something you'll love, something you'll want to reconsider, something that will make you chuckle, and most likely something that will annoy the daylights out of you.  He is honest before the problems of weird texts, he is honest about how we sometimes get bored reading the same old passages, and he is honest that neither liberals nor conservatives do the interpretation thing very well.  He shows us the big story and he uses upbeat and helpful illustrations.  If I were teaching a class on Bible interpretation, this would be one of the many books I'd make mandatory reading.



comm called a.gifA Community Called Atonement  (Abingdon) $18.00  Tony Jones is a writer, about spiritual disciplines and the history and ethos of the emergent movement.  On behalf of Emergent Village he edited a book series called "Living Theology" and they are all excellent.  This was the first, a survey---and I don't mean a dry survey, but a truly vibrant overview---of the standard theories of the atonement, and how we need to honor the differing emphases and the diverse faith communities that seem most drawn to each.  That is, we must be honest before the Biblical texts, respect the diversity of theological insights down through the ages, and learn to do "living theology" in our communities.  An excellent book about theology, about the cross, and about the role of dogma within faith traditions and the church at large.  Hans Boersma (J.I. Packer Professor at Regent College) says it is "gutsy, orthodox, creative..."  Might I suggest it suitable as we draw near to Holy Week?

one-life.jpgOne.Life  Jesus Calls, We Follow  (Zondervan) $14.99  You know, we've pitched this book to ya before---I celebrated the slick design of the cover, I named it a book of the year, and we showed it as a Jubilee special, this multi-faceted, rich recovery of the notions of discipleship, vocation, calling, Kingdom vision and missional service.  Gabe Lyons of the Q Ideas wrote the forward, using the passionate rhetoric he and his generation are known for.  This book doesn't answer all your questions, he says, but he promises that you will see the Jesus life more clearer. This is a really useful book, a great resource, and masterful guide to living in the Kingdom that is now and not yet.  As Margaret Feinberg writes on the back, Each of us is only given one life, and after reading this book, you'll desire to live it with abandon to God."


BookNotes

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DISCOUNT
any Scot McKnight books mentioned
while supplies last
Offer Good Until March 14, 2012

BUY ONE - GET ONE FREE
BUY TWO - GET TWO FREE
 BUY THREE - GET THREE FREE
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March 12, 2012

Great New Books on Sale: Diana Butler Bass, Donald Miller, Leonard Sweet, N.T. Wright, Marilynne Robinson

150460875.JPGChristianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening  Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $25.99  I was doing a "book show and tell talk" last week with a group of gathered mainline clergy and told them that this will both be the most talked about religious book of 2012 and perhaps the most deserving.  I have a half a dozen reasons why I think this is important, even if agreeing with it all isn't one of them.  You know that we commend reading widely, learning from anyone who has something helpful to teach, enjoying the great gifts of good thinkers, writers, and cultural critiques.  Diana is all of this and more.  She knows mainline churches well, she understands and has some sympathies for some evangelical folks.  She has been in rural churches, poor inner city parishes, charismatic congregations, churches big and small.  She draws endorsements from high-jinxing radical activists like Shane Claiborne and from gentle Quakers like Parker Palmer.  I am not alone in predicting the popularity of this important book as Phyllis Tickle herself, the god-mother of religious book reviewing, says "It is one blockbuster of an analysis that is also a delight to read."  Brian McLaren says "Of Bass's many excellent books, this is the most substantive, provocative, and inspiring yet...It leads to a powerful finale of sage guidance for the future."

I hope you know Bass and her important work.  She is a historian by trade, a scholar, writer, and church consultant who has studied congregations and has learned to tell their stories, beautifully and well. After years of Lilly-funded research (including a book written, and another edited, for the Alban Institute) she has been telling the good stories of smaller, mainline churches that were healthy and strong, embodying practices of service, hospitality, prayer andchristianity for the rest of us.gif mature worship (Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith [HarperOne; $14.99] is the best summary of all that, and I hope you have it. It is one of the defining religious books about congregational life of our time.) That book camped out on a big thesis: mega churches and conservative religion, while they get more press, are not the only sorts of Christian faith expression and not the only sorts of congregational life that is present in early 21st century North American culture.  Let's hear it for the little guys, the liberal churches that are vibrant, the mainline folks with their Henri Nouwen study groups and their dogged work in soup kitchens and their interesting willingness to be inclusive of gays and lesbians, their hospitality and social service.  Somebody said that she was, in telling of innovative and robust UCC churches in New England and United Methodist churches down south and Presbyterian congregations in the heartland, nearly describing "emergent churches without the body piercings and tattoos."  That's a good line, but it isn't quite true.  Christianity for the Rest of Us celebrated pretty normal, ordinary churches, those trying hard to live faithfully, despite declining numbers, often rigid denominational structures, and local communities that are in flux.  Since most of us, as a matter of fact, aren't in healthy, growing, large, conservative churches, she gave "the rest of us" a good pat on the back and a shot in the arm by telling us a bit about ourselves, our history and our future.

Now though, she is less sanguine.  "The jig is up" she boldly puts it in her talks.  Few  inner-dbb-sm.png institutional hierarchies are healthy, crises upon crisis has worn down many churches, no denomination or religious group's numbers are even holding steady.  When the Southern Baptists declare it a "decade of evangelism" she has said, "you know we're in trouble."  Christianity After Religion is asking one of the biggest questions to be asked nowadays: what should Christian churches and disciples of Jesus do in this era when so many are "spiritual but not religious?"

I think Diana may have--as many of us do--looked down on that phrase, as if it were cheap, individualistic, silly, almost.  ("What?" Eugene Peterson once retorted to a person saying he didn't like organized religion, "Do you want disorganized religion?" )  No more.  She wants to honor that question, take seriously those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot see themselves being a part of a church, realizing that God's Spirit may be moving in this de-churched yet spiritually hungry generation.  Religious historian that she is, she understands a bit about awakenings.  She ends the book with a (postmodern?) spin on the first Great Awakening, and brings her interesting angle of vision to bear, relating how that awakening happened and what might be in store for us today, in our lifetimes.  I don't have to tell you that she doesn't favor preaching "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" again, but it is very interesting, and I think fruitful, to ponder what she does propose.

The book develops in three big parts: several statistic-heavy, fascinating chapters on the end of religion, four descriptive chapters on the new vision of spirituality, and a final few under the hopeful rubric of awakening.  I will describe some of this more, later, I hope, but don't wait for me to weigh in.  This is a book that is important to read, a great resource, and a fascinating study. 

As Richard Rohr puts it, she is "rebuilding religion from the bottom up."  Perhaps you recall her fantastic book of how folks in different eras of church history understood and practiced their faith called A People's History of Christianity (HarperOne; $14.99.)  In some ways, this book emerges from thatphc.gif delightful, provocative study: how we think about God and God's work in the world, that is, our worship and our discipleship, our attentiveness to God and relationship to neighbor, is decisively shaped by our metaphors about God.  Do you recall how that book ended, the part she said is unfinished, being written, the stream that is flowing into the 21st century?  Well, this is her provisional answer to what that might look like.  Read any of her books, and find somebody with whom to talk about them.  You are going to want to talk about them.  You are going to want to underline stuff.  And, I hope, you are going to put some big 'ol question marks next to some parts.  What does she mean by that? And what do we do with this?  My, my, it is going to be a good year, pondering, debating, and struggling to take seriously what our sister has written in this important new book.  Is it true that (as Bill McKibben puts it) "experience, connection, and service are replacing theology as keys to the next Great Awakening"?  And if it is so, is that a good thing?  Read Christianity After Religion, think and pray and talk.

Here is just a little homily, for friends who don't appreciate my plug for this book because they don't agree with her left-of-center theology or her willingness to say that institutional religion as we know it is waning.  I wonder how the Hebrew prophets felt --- or, more to the point, how those who were surely threatened by their dire predictions against Israel's failing religion, felt?  This isn't the place to do an extensive Bible study, but there is no doubt that the prophets disturbed the religious status quo and their theology was considered hopelessly negative and inappropriate by those who thought they here heirs to the covenant promises of Yahweh. Some were even arrested for being offensive, sullying the piety of the religious.  I am not saying Ms Butler-Bass is a prophet.  I don't even know if she's a good social scientist.  I am wondering, though, if some who may be defensive about her call to think candidly, and outside the box, might lighten up a bit, lest they face the rebuke of Jeremiah or Jesus, who in no uncertain words reprimanded those who couldn't stomach hearing that God was doing a new thing.

viral.jpgViral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival  Leonard Sweet (Waterbook) $14.99  I enjoy telling the story how I interviewed Sweet years ago for an adult ed class I was doing on his work.  His thick and world-shaking Soul Tsunami had just come out, and I both read it, and listened to the tremendous audio book.  It was the most fascinating bit of cultural analysis I had read in years, and I was very intrigued.  I was irked at his too-quick dismissal of linear thinking, and he was bemused by my Reformed and bookish ways.  Let's just say I quoted Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death to him maybe just a few too many times, kept asking how we can not just "ride the waves" of what history is disclosing but shape, or at least help direct those waves. We talked about Marshal McLuhan and I generally showed that I was beyond my pay grade.  I like to think our goofy impromptu debate might have inspired him to pull together some other folks to have a better round-table conversation about how the Christian faith relates to culture.   Boy, I wish I would have been at those sessions, and am glad they were recorded in a fascinating book, The Church in Emerging Culture edited by Sweet, including Frederica Mathewes-Green, Andy Crouch, Michael Horton, Brian McLaren, and Erin McManus (Youth Specialties; $19.99.)  Sweet has been one of the main voices in our generation pushing God's people to energetic contextualization of the gospel, using contemporary containers to carry living water, even if, as this book shows, there is a ton of complexity and disagreement about how to do that.

Sweet has remained a friend and I read nearly everything he publishes. (I believe he wrote the first ever e-book for a Christian publisher, and at the time I thought "well, hrrumph, what the heck is that?"  He has another brand new e-book somewhere out there on the ethernet, too, now, I believe.)  His books are always rewarding, fun, probing and usually crazy-making in one way or another.  His cheery ability to come up with acronyms and acrostics and clever word-plays is seen all over his books---I can't even imagine what they were like before an editor convinced him to knock off some of the witty shenanigans.  Still, acquired taste that he may be, I highly recommend any of his informative, inspiring, playful titles.  If you don't learn something, I'll give you your money back.

In the last decade he has done stuff on relationships (11, which is a study of 11 Bible follower.gif characters that stand for certain types of people you should have in your life, and that you should be for someone, just came out in paperback.) He has several on leadership (the latest, I Am a Follower), on being a disciple of Jesus, one on the Holy Spirit, on the church, on evangelism, and a good one about what congregations can learn from Starbucks --- although, before you get in a hissy fit about that, he doesn't say we should simply emulate business models for parish life.  Not at all.  He has even co-written a novel, sort of am futuristic, theological Indiana Jones adventure romp.  All energetically written, creative and commendable in one way or another. 

But now, he is back to writing about the hot-wired, image-based, participatory world of social networking, the optimistic take on technology that has been a theme and sub-theme of his best work (I won't say it is at the center of his work because, as a old-time Wesleyan revival preacher at heart, he would protest if I said anything other than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was the center of his work.)

Viral basically plays with his latest acronym: we live in a TGIF world.  That is, a world shaped and informed by Twitter, Google, Ipad, and Facebook.  Before you dismiss this as a simple invitation for churches to get more spiffy websites (they should) or for pastors to use twitter (ditto) realize that that is only a small part of what this book about social networking is about.  No, it is about the worldviews, attitudes, lifestyle habits and cultural ethos of those who inhabit the 21st century glocal culture.  He is not the first to notice that the current generation is driven by a desire to know others and be known---hence, the popularity of the most mundane sort of facebook profiles---and he is not the first to wonder out loud what it all means. But he offers a fast-based, multi-faceted, and intriguing account of its importance.  As with most of his books, the footnotes alone are worth the price of admission.  The reflection and experience questions are also well worth the price of the book.  This is an investment in contextual ministry and there are few church folks who wouldn't benefit from a few hours with this wordy report from cyberspace.

Years ago Sweet introduced the clever adage, reminding us that some are born here--nativesweet.jpg to the digital culture--and others of us are immigrants to the brave new world of screens and ubiquitous intra-nets.  This is not our native tongue, and we are learning it as a second language.  So he isn't just geeking out with other hipster techies, nor is he just waxing positive on the cool possibilities of using media in church.  No, he is ruminating pretty seriously on how those of us who aren't native to the 21st century TGIF culture can learn to inhabit and do ministry in this new google world, where, as somebody put it, referring to our expertise by a finger stroke through google, "the smartest guy in the room is actually in the room."  Or, similarly, he is inviting those who are digital natives to use their skills and sensibilities for God's glory.

Of course, key to most of what Sweet writes is not the hoopla of the latest gizmo.  On the surface he's all uber techie, all about keeping it current, and he knows about brain studies, laptops and more nifty websites than nearly anybody I know.  But not far from his view of ministry is his insistence that Christ wants to be in relationship with us.  We are called to be in relationships with one another.  Like I said, he's an old time preacher at heart.  He's friends with the Gaither Trio, for crying out loud. 

Here's a question: Sweet is about renewal and revival, and is well aware of the currents of contemporary culture (he never mocked the "spiritual but not religious" slogan or the vaguely spiritual vibe in modern music and movies, but saw it as an open door for creative ministry.) But he's a church-man, a Methodist, at that.  What would he say about Diana Butler Bass's "after religion" book, and what might she say about his?  I've read 'em both, and commend them both to you.  Hold on to your hats -- that's all I have to say.

Exploring Blue Like Jazz.jpgExploring Blue Like Jazz: A DVD-Based Study and Resource Guide  Dixon Inser with Donald Miller (Nelson)  Book only $14.99  // Combo pack book + DVD $29.99  I guess anybody reading BookNotes will know of Blue Like Jazz, Miller's fabulously written, bohemian story of his faith journey --- abandoned by his father, enfolded into a fundamentalist faith, ending up wondering about it all as he hangs out at one of the smartest and most secular campuses in the Pacific NW.  Blue Like Jazz has become nearly iconic for a new breed of post-evangelical kids---enjoyed by cynical Gen Xers and their parents, given out to millennials on campus by Cru, used in all manner of coffee shop book groups. To say it is a huge seller and well-loved is an understatement.  And now--after a good number of years, a "little project that could" and a book written about it all--it has been turned into a cutting edge, movie, produced by the inestimable Steve Taylor.  It premiered at South by SouthWest which, I think it is fair to say, is not too shabby and a good indication that the indie film might be taken seriously.    

Well, now, Exploring Blue Like Jazz is a new DVD and study guide designed to explore the book and the movie.  The DVD includes fifteen 3 to 4 minute video pieces that are topical discussion starters.  Most of the clips are from the just-released new movie (which, by the way, was screened during Jubilee at a classy nearby theater and those that attended were blown away.)  Some of the short clips are interviews with Donald Miller, or they are out-takes and "behind the scenes" footage from the making of Blue Like Jazz: The Movie.

This is for anyone who likes the book, is interested in a faithful but bohemian sort of take on life and life's big question, and certainly anyone interested in the new movie.  It is designed, especially for those who have just graduated from high school, inviting them to think through their "emerging adulthood" and help, as they say, "make growing up a little easier."  So it is perfect for older teens and 20-somethings.  Exploring... is arranged in five sessions and includes tons of supplemental stuff.  What fun -- ideal for a sophisticated youth group or young adult fellowship.  Here is a trailer for a short promo for the curriculum.   Pretty safe, provocative and thoughtful, but safe.  Here is a trailer to the movie.  Put on your seat-belt.

When I Was a Child.jpgWhen I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays  Marilynne Robinson  (FSG) $24.00  One of the most prestigious publishers has given us a new collection of essays by one of our great woman of letters, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, essays, and Calvin scholar, Marilynne Robinson.  You may have read Housekeeping, an early book happily reissued after Gilead made her famous, or you may have been taken with the slow, good story of Home (which, a reviewer in The Nation, opined, "rendered relationship with a new depth") which picked up where Gilead left off.  Robinson's essays were released in the serious collections The Death of Adam and, just out in paperback, Absence of Mind.  Now, she has a new collection of ten or so pieces, on topics as diverse as cosmology and Moses.  She has one on the flamboyant evangelical abolitionist, Oberlin, and one entitled "Imagination and Community" which reminds me of a topic of Wendell Berry.  The feisty scholar and novelist Doris Lessing says of her essays that they  are "a useful antidote to the increasingly crude and slogan-loving culture we inhabit."   She is serious, dense at times, and a public intellectual well worth reading.  Here is one good early review of it that came from the Kansas City Star which explains nicely the various sorts of essays.


how god became king.jpgHow God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.95  Yes, you heard it here before: we'll be calling N.T. "Tom" in no time after he visits here in Dallastown on May 12th when he comes to the bookstore for an autograph session and reception.  We hope folks bring books for him to sign and I hope lots of people buy this one.  One advance reviewer said this may be his best yet.  It is a study of the Synoptic Gospels, and a study of exactly how the theme of the rule of God seen in the Lordship of Christ came to be expressed so convincingly.  And how we missed it.  This is vintage stuff, important for our project here, as we try to sell books relating faith and life through the lens of the Kingdom of God.  Brand new today, this book is sure to be highly regarded, and will, some say, be soon known as a classic.  Long live the King!  And may the tribe of those who are passionate about the reign of Jesus, rediscovered by a careful reading of the Holy Scriptures, increase!  Start here: buy this book, get some folks together and imagine what to do with it all.  And come by and report it to the author if you are able, Saturday May 12th at 1:00 pm.  Of course we'll have all his books on sale then, but why wait?  Order today.
Use the links below to order or inquiry.  We'll take care of the rest.  Thanks.

BookNotes

SPECIAL
DISCOUNT
any book mentioned

2O% off
order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

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



March 14, 2012

OFFERS EXTENDED DUE to E-MAIL SNAFU. AND ANOTHER FREE BOOK OFFER.

We love discussing our BookNotes columns on facebook and twitter and are glad for friends that find us there. 

Those that have actually subscribed to BookNotes, though, so they can get my book reviews sent automatically to their in-boxes, well, they really set our little bookish hearts aflutter.  Anyone can easily enter their email address into that little field at the website; to do so means you are some kind of fan (or maybe just snooping, to keep tabs on us.)  We assume the former, and we are grateful.

So, thanks to the e-mail tribe.

And to you'all, we offer an apology for an e-mail glitch causing you to miss a few of my recent posts.  For the first time ever the automatic thingie didn't do its thing.  When we realized not too many people were replying to our post-Jubilee sale that came with a 30% discount on a whole batch of good titles, and a free book offer, or even that BOGO Scot McKnight offer we did after the two Jubilee posts, we knew something was fishy.

And then this morning you got a heckuva long one, maybe four long BookNotes all strung together.  Whew.  I don't blame you if you just hit delete.

However, if you did brave the email jungle and read through those reports and reviews and ruminations, we salute you.

Here is what we'll do: first, we have extended the deadlines for those offers---the two post-Jubilee 30% offer + free book deals, and the Buy One Get One Free Scot McKnight giveaway.  We'll keep the deals from those three posts going for subscribers through the end of the day, Monday, March 19th.

AND, as the late night commercials say, "wait, there's more!"  Since I'm asking you to hang in there with us, and are grateful for the graciousness you've shown us by reading my reviews and putting up with our small town ways, we are going to toss in another book with any order we get through Monday.  It is one you that you will love.

WE WILL SEND IT TO YOU ABSOLUTELY FREE.  All you have to do is check out those last three BookNotes columns from subscribers may have missed and place an order.

days of grace.jpgThe free one we are sending is called Days of Grace Through the Year  by Lewis B. Smedes (IVP)  Our friend Jeff Crosby did a great job combing through Smedes' extensive body of work and selecting excerpts of the very best pages, with the very best lines, to remind you of God's great grace, and the beauty of fine writing, and the goodness of a theologian who could talk to ordinary folks with such extraordinary kindness.  (Books & Culture editor John Wilson has a great foreword noting Smedes' direct approach, his lack of unctuousness, and his various voices.)  We have always loved Lew Smedes whether talking about forgiveness or finding hope in troublesome times or writing about sex or shame or social justice. 

This attractive year-long anthology is our gift to you if you place any order yet this week. 

Hopefully, those who have subscribed will this time automatically get this post.  Let the order flurry begin!

BookNotes

SPECIAL
DISCOUNTS

as mentioned in the previous three posts
AND
A FREE COPY
with any purchase
Days of Grace (as long as the supply lasts)
order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

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

March 19, 2012

Fresh Expressions: Books for a Missional Church Renaissance

In my review last week of Diana Butler Bass' important new book, Christianity Afterc after r.gif Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne; $24.95) I noted that some readers and reviewers have already been pretty critical, both of her ecumenical/liberal theological bias and her conviction that a spiritual awakening is a-brewing, one that may take new forms of renewal and reformation that are not necessarily grounded in the traditional, institutional churches as we know them.  She gets push-back when she speaks---I have been little part of that push-back myself, asking questions of her during a lecture a few months back, wanting to clarify if she is too hard on those whose commitment to orthodoxy may make them less than fully eager to embrace new formulations of doctrine, or who may seem less than fully inclusive in their outreach.  I know there are huge anxieties these days whenever we criticize traditional theology or comfortable forms of congregational life and her pleasant demeanor and good stories are helpful, even though some church folks are always edgy when talking about change.  We here have lost customers because we have admitted to being eager to read and discuss and ponder and pray about (just for instance) the emergent conversation, and because I'm not wanting to throw emergent friends (or conservative friends, or liberal friends) under the proverbial bus. I know this is complex and scary business and it sometimes brings out our worst. 


(For what it is worth, I wrote a long piece in 2008 sharing why I was interested in that evolving "emergent" movement.  I should update it, I suppose, but I am frankly a bit less interested in their splintered light then I used to be.)  I believe it is no small thing to drift away from historic orthodoxy, and I hope those who study Diana's book are not cavalier about throwing out the old and embracing the new, as if anything old is necessarily outdated and everything new is naturally good and helpful.  Diana doesn't believe that sort of silliness and I don't think any serious author would want such a knee-jerk, superficial response; we ought not misread the careful, studious, valuable work presented in Christianity After Religion.  Some who have read it, or heard her lecture about it, have found it immensely helpful in drawing a portrait of the religious landscape as we move into the second decade of the new century.  Still, some are rather grumpy about it.

 

I start with this unhappy reminder of the sometimes unpleasant responses to provocative books and authors, especially given our current context of culture wars, ideological use of religion and prevalent mistrust of those outside of our customary faith traditions in order to be able to say this: Beth and I had a fabulously upbeat time this past weekend hanging around in one of the more diverse theological gatherings we've had the joy of being a part of.  The conference was called Fresh Expressions and was convened to explore new forms of missional outreach and congregational efforts---the question Butler Bass is asking, really---and nobody seemed to be uptight about anything.  We had Southern Baptists and charismatic Anglicans, mainline (ECLA) Lutherans and Church of the Nazarene, old-school Episcopalians and some pretty conservative Evangelical Free folk, singing Indian-influenced praise songs together in urdu (yes, you read that right!) A Presbyterian Church (USA) prof lectured on contemporary theology (and Karl Barth!) while Christian Missionary and Alliance leaders listened appreciatively.  Non-denominational church planters---old school and hipsters alike--listened to Graham Cray, a commissioned Bishop of the Church of England, as he walked us through a Church of England document from a working group he chaired.  We had a Calvinist ask if we had Armenian resources and a United Methodist guy was surprised to see a batch of new Abingdon Press titles.  A Baptist who had never heard of Henri Nouwen or Parker Palmer picked up some of those authors. A male pastor of an historic black church and a (white) female oil painter did a workshop together describing their arts ministry with inner city kids.  One of the speakers wrote a book on British versions of what we call the "new monastics" movement, so there was interest in that a bit, too.  Yep, this was truly a diverse gathering---left, right, and center within Protestantism, at least (oh, if there only there were some Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox folk there.) We were so blessed not to have folks snooping around the book display sniffing for something they disagreed with, but searching for new insights, fresh ideas, faithful ruminations to help equip and inspire them to get on with our high callings of imaging God in effective ways in our needy world.  It did our souls good to be with these folks----three cheers for the Virginia Baptists---and thanks to all who bought a bunch of books.

 

Fresh Expressions (U.K.), we came to realize, is a huge deal in the Church of England, a movement of encouragement to manifest fresh expressions of the church among unreached populations, from secularized youth in coffee shops to blue collar iron workers in the mill towns, from the eager-to-be-welcomed new immigrant communities to those languishing in retirement homes or prisons.  Wherever our traditional parishes are failing to reach folks, fresh expressions of church can be authorized and new (Holy Spirited) energies unleashed.  Because this is a British thing, it didn't surprise us to see Episcopalians and new Anglicans there.  The U.S. version of Fresh Expressions is largely funded by Baptists, who have a good history of outreach, evangelism and new church planting.  To see Presbyterians and Pentecostals (and, thanks be to God, a few Pentecostal Presbyterians, even) at this Fresh Expressions event was a delight.


M-Shaped Church.gifFor those interested of the working group on fresh expressions, a group chaired by our plenary speaker Bishop Graham Cray, you should know that he edited a book all about this (a book we sold out of at the conference) called Mission Shaped Church (Seabury; $20.00)  It is part of a series, actually, but this first is the one that describes the Fresh Expressions movement within the Church of England and it is recommended especially for more mainline denominations.  Cray is a wonderful man and, incidentally, ran the famous GreenBelt Festival for many years.  We chatted about mutual friends like Calvin Seerveld and Bill Romanowski and Jim Wallis and Brian Walsh, not to mention some sweet stories about Bono and the band and the times Bruce Cockburn played at GreenBelt. But I digress...


fresh e and the k of g.gifWe are taking pre-orders, by the way, for a forthcoming book by Bishop Cray, enticingly called Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God: Ancient Faith Future Mission  It will be published near the end of June by Canterbury Press ($24.95)

 

Parenthetically, not all the books we took were about missional outreach and new forms of congregational life construed to touch the lives of the "nones" (as Butler Bass tells us they are being called, as in those that say "none" on religious surveys.)  In fact, there is a sense that besides emerging new expressions of church, for some people, historic, older styles of church and worship will remain important and viable.  Duh. 


For fabulous examples of how serious thinkers these days are considering and reconsidering their denominational loyalties, often deepening their explorations of older liturgical traditions, see the brand new book (expertly edited by a Southern Baptist, at that) called Journeys of  Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism edited by Robert Plummer. (Zondervan; $18.99.)  Chapters are byjourneys of faith new.jpg Francis Beckwith, Chris Castaldo, Lyle Dorsett and Wilbur Ellsworth where each tell their story of how they have found a spiritual home within these historic traditions, traditions in which they did not originally belong.  After each chapter there are responses from the others, so you can read, for instance, a Catholic response to evangelicalism or an evangelical reply to Anglicanism, or an Orthodox reply to the others.  The whole journey begins with a nice foreword by Scot McKnight.  As Moody Bible prof Bryan Litfin notes, "If you have ever wondered, 'Why in the world would someone become that type of Christian?' this book provides the answer."


Fresh Expressions wasn't convened to debate theology as this book does, and yet, as we consider new forms and expressions of parish ministry, creative outreaches and provisional church plants, we must continue to think through these large doctrinal questions about our largest divisions and the nature of the apostolic faith handed down.  Kudos to Zondervan for releasing it.

 

The FreshX event had a very well-curated art display (thanks to the Washington Arts Group) and was a bit multi-ethnic, too and we all appreciated those intentional efforts.  There were women in leadership, too---what a joy to finally meet Jo Saxton, for instance, who has worked with our friends at Catalyst and Q in recent years, and whose new book More Than Enchanting:more than enchanting.gif Breaking Through Barriers to Influence Your World (IVP; $15.00) is a wonderful example of missional vision and Kingdom perspective for purpose-driven women.  (Jo is the director of 3DM which "helps train leaders for discipleship and mission in an increasingly post-Christian culture.")  What an exciting presenter, bringing stories of her native UK and her current setting in California.  I meant it when I told the audience that this book, while it is written to inspire women in missional leadership, it is good for anyone.  In fact, I think it is important for leaders who are male to read this book, learning what obstacles are sometimes before our sisters in Christ.


  Here is a talk Jo Saxton gave at the Q Ideas conference a few years ago.  Check it out and order the book from us, asap!  She is a dynamo!

 

mcneal.jpgWhat a delight it was to hear Reggie McNeal. We have sold McNeal's books over the years, and we stock all the books from the Leadership Network Publication line that he helps oversee.  I think the first of his I read was his book on the spirituality of leadership, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (Jossey Bass; $24.95) which is a study of the life of David that has been recently reissued in a revised second edition.  You should know that he has taken much of his learnings from being a coach and mentor to pastors and other leaders and published Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (Jossey Bass; $24.95.) We even have his 4 DVD set The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Jossey Bass; $149.00.)  I knew he was important, but had no idea he was so funny.  And passionate about the church getting involved in ways that help solve problems of poverty.  Thank goodness.


So, you've got to read some Reggie McNeal.  His Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass; $24.95) is widely considered his most important and we highly recommend it. 


Missional Renaissance has been promoted in ourmiss renaissance.gif own Presbytery, even, illustrating that it is vital for mainline congregations as well as the energetic new church developers.  It invites us to measure and celebrate other things (he was powerfully clear about this---we go after than which our metrics measure, so if more members, better numbers, bigger offerings is what we report on, we'll see that as some "end all."  What would it look like, he teaches us to wonder, to find ways, rubrics and rhetoric and habits of conversations---re-languaging, he called it---that promoted God's work in the world, the fidelity of folk in the marketplace and neighborhood, the social flourishing breaking out through the Spirit's work, here and there?  If disciples are called to be salt and light and leaven, how to we honor and celebrate that?  Can that be on our "missional scorecard?"


Of Missional Renaissance, Victor Pentz of Peachtree Presbyterian writes, "If you are a pastor or church leader ready to get down to the raw specifics of turning a Christendom club into a missional community, you will love this book.  The concepts are easily understood as they are radical and breathtaking. There are a number of brilliant missional theorists, but no one can speak the language of our American context and put the rubber on the street like Reggie McNeal."


kingdom calling.gifIn my book announcement time I was trying to illustrate this idea of attending to God's work in the world (not just within the walls of the church) by pushing the must-read Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway; $15.99) and the visionary, multi-layered missional work Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman (IVP; $16.99.)  Ha --  I forgot that Reggie McNeal, in fact, wrote the very positive preface to Kingdom Calling. (My friend Steve Garber, by the way, wrote the afterword.)  Not enough churches talk about--let alone measure and testify about and celebrate successes of marketplace ministry---so I was happy to bring that contribution to the FreshEx gathering.  And glad that Reggie affirmed it as he took in my energetic book recommendations.

 

missional communities.gifMcNeal's latest book, Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church, (Jossey-Bass; $24.95) is an evangelical and practical work that would be excellent to read on the heels of the new Diana Butler Bass.  Rather than fret much about the post-Christian culture or await some ill-defined awakening, he invites us to get involved now in what these Brits and Baptists are calling fresh expressions of church.  He calls it "post-congregational" and is picking up on the work of guys like Neil Cole, who wrote Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (Jossey Bass; $24.95) and like the insightful The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now by Hugh Halter (Jossey Bass; $23.95.)  These are all practical resources helping congregations ponder and apply missional principles, reconsidering their very nature, the way they do ministry, and how to form communities on the move, reaching out and making disciples.

 

People sometimes ask me where to begin, or what to read next, in this on-going missional movement.  The one's listed above are excellent to start with.


For what it is worth, though, the seminal 1998 book which was the first to use the phrase in print, is Missional Church: A Vision of the Sending Church in North America edited by Princeton Seminary prof Darell Guder (Eerdmans; $29.00) who was at Fresh Expressions, too.  It seems to me that this idea of being missional---being a church that realizes we are not to be civil religious chaplains to the status quo, but view post-Christian North American as a mission field to which we must contextualize our own discipleship and outreach--came from this important conversation, drawing largely on the missionary insights of Lesslie Newbigin. His The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans; $24.00) is a true classic, a bit slow-going, but important and worthy of repeated, careful readings. His earlier and briefer Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Eerdmans; $16.00) is a bit more readable and I think more important.  The Gospel and Our Culture Network, by the way, was a co-sponsored of the FreshEx conference.  They are, as they say, spot on.  Anyway, Guder channeling Newbigin, is one of the grand-daddies of the movement, and we've stocked their books since they first came out.

 

Here are a few more recent must-reads if you want to get up to speed with these missional conversations.  There are so many, and many are good.  This is the essential short list.

 

shaping of things.gifThe Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Missions for the 21st Century Church   Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch (Hendrickson) $19.99  As early articulation of cultural exegesis, looking at secularization, the rejection of Christendom, the need for a wholistic Kingdom vision and all the rest.  This is one of the most often-cited works in this field, perhaps the most important missional book to read. I can't say enough about it.  This is the book that put these guys on the map, and set the stage for a whole new generation of very astute cultural critics and whole-life discipleship visions, contextualized for our brave new world.

 



exiles.gifExiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture  Michael Frost (Hendrickson) $19.99  I'm very fond of this, maybe because of its radical social critique.  Again, this reminds us of the dysfunction of a "churchy" view of faith, and affirms the spirituality of the ordinary, the importance of the Kingdom themes, the way we are called to resist ideologies in the culture.  Shades of Brueggeman and Willimon, drawing on the themes of the Hebrew prophets during the time of the Babylonian captivity.  Wow.  This will get your motors running!



 

forgotten ways-by-alan-hirsch2-196x300.jpgThe Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church  Alan Hirsch (Brazos Press) $19.99 Okay, this is it.  A must read.  Period.  You can't be fluent in this conversation without knowing about Hirsch, and this is the first one to read of his.

 

The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches Alan Hirsch (Brazos Press) $13.99  I sometimes am a bit cynical when a publisher does a companion book or workbook like this. Is this really necessary or just milking the thing a bit more?  Well, thanks to Brazos for offering this---it is a guidebook for congregational use that is very helpful and highly recommended.  Get your church pals reading this, sooner than later.

 

M Joining God.gifMissional: Joining God in the Neighborhood Alan Roxburgh (Baker) $16.99  Not sure why, but this is very popular, I think because it is so very clear about local outreach, about caring enough to be creative in reaching out.   It is one I often tell people to start with. All the reviewers insist this is Roxburgh's best, and any of his are great.  This explains the shift to an "outwardly focused" church as well as anything in a reasonably sized paperback. David Fitch, says, "It is sure to be a tour de force for the missional conversation. I am not being excessive when I say this book is brilliant."

 


mmm.gifMissional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition  Alan Roxburgh (Jossey Bass) $24.95  Others have used the map metaphor before, how the maps we have and use themselves shape our journeys.  What if the cityscape has changed?  What if we are using outdated and consequently inadequate maps?  This is one of the most interesting, creative and generative resources for big thinking leaders that I know of.  Craig Van Gelder (professor of congregational mission at Luther Seminary) notes "Roxburgh continues to move the missional conversation forward!  His Missional Map-Making creatively builds on his previous publications offering critical perspective on how to navigate the overwhelming complexity of today's world. This important book provides insightful historical perspective toward clarifying the contours of our present landscape, while also being deeply instructive for helping reflective and courageous Christians develop skills for creating new maps toward participating more faithfully in God's mission."  That's a mouthful.  Read it again, and tell me that this doesn't sound exciting and fruitful? 

 

church in present t.gifChurch in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What's Emerging  book + DVD Scot McKnight, Peter Rollins, Kevin Corcoran, Jason Clark  (Brazos Press) $21.99  This book is less about the missional movement as discussed by McNeal, Roxburgh, Hirsch, Frost, Guder, et al.  It really is a roundtable discussion about the state of the emergent conversation.  There are rave reviews by John Franke (theologian in residence at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, PA), David Fitch (North Park Seminary) and Tony Jones of Solomon's Porch---one of the clearest  (that is, most funky) examples of the emergent way of being church these days, and they all recommend it as exceptional.  Phyllis Tickle (author of The Great Emergence) writes "This is the most complete, detailed, critically sympathetic, and totally remarkable overview I have yet seen of where Emergence Christianity presently is and appears to be going. McKnight's two essays alone are worth the price of admission."  The DVD is fun and comes with the book making this a fabulous bargain for those who want to listen in to this provocative convo. A bit heady at times, as you might imagine...Corcoran, who mostly put it together, is a philosphy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.

 

remixing the Church.jpgRemixing the Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology  Doug Gay (SCM) $30.00  Yeah, it is pricey, even for an import, but this is a huge (too often missing) piece of the emergent, missional, (and now, Fresh Expressions) conversations.  Graham Cray, the Church of England leader of the Fresh Expressions team (and missioner appointed by the Archbishop) spoke about this at the conference and as an Anglican he has certain important sensibilities about sacraments and ordination and ecclesiology, or at least I assumed he did.  He was surprisingly less anxious about this than I was, and I was glad for a helpful, if brief conversation with him.  At what point does an organic outreach, forming a discipleship community, become a church?  What is an expression of The Church?  What is a missional, Kingdom eccesiology?  I still lovec of the k.gif Howard Synder's Community of the King (revised and expanded) (IVP; $18.00) and often say it is my favorite book on the nature of the church.  Also a favorite is a more recent book by Tim Chester---I sometimes called it "gospel centered church"---titled Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community (Crossway; $15.99. ) I do think it is important to revisit this regularly and this new one by Gay is good. 

 

I've helped start and have spoken at dozens and dozens of para-church fellowship groups over the years, but have routinely reminded them that their coffee-shop Bible study or Bread for the World citizens lobby group or college ministry fellowship are not real churches; I am very grateful that unlike some para-church campus ministries, the CCO has written into their goals a hope for partnerships with local congregations, insisting that college kids should not view their campus fellowship group as a substitute for an established parish church.  I still have a fairly traditional set of assumptions---the maps that inform my worldview---about real church and para-church, I guess.  The esteemed Bishop Cray invited us to lighten up a bit, since any and all congregations, no matter how formal, sound, large or well-established, are only but "expressions" of the full Body of Christ, after all.  "Wherever two or three are gathered" he reminded us...and called for risky experiments of outreach, hopes for new nests, new start-up projects, fresh expressions, disciple-making, worshiping bodies.

 

And so, it shouldn't have surprised me to see Bishop Cray's rave commendation on Remixing the Church, and his affirmation of this study.  He writes, "We owe Douglas Gay a debt of thanks.  Through this book he has made it possible to continue a conversation about the emerging state of the church...with courtesy and humility.  This is a gift from Scotland about the catholicity of the church."

 

Jonny Baker (whose latest book published by Seabury offers a new way to think about worship and worship leading is interestingly called Curating Worship [$20.00]) writes of Douglas Gay's Remixing... "I was very moved by this book.  It's a creative, mature piece of practical theology that maps contours of the emerging church movement over the last few decades and offers reflections on ecclesial practice into the future. Doug's passion for a generous and humble ecumenism is inspired and much needed.  I am so thankful he has written it and so identify with the sensibilities and themes."  I've followed Baker's work since his days as a student at Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies, and am glad for his input on this.  


I liked the phrase "ecclesial practice."  It reminded me a bit of Desiring the Kingdom:d the k.gif Worship, Worldview, and Christian Formation by James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic; $21.99), a book I wish I would have sold at Fresh Expressions since it is about how we need thick and rich liturgies and other "ecclesial practices" to counter the shaping influences of the secular litanies that so inform the habits of our hearts.  If we are going to offer fresh expressions by doing edgy little church plants and forming house churches or communities of discipleship, what is it about those communities that will truly transform us?  A great love for Jesus and desire to serve Him well a radically transformative body does not make, I'm afraid.  Hmm.


Well, such a phrase takes us back to Diana Butler Bass' new book and Reggie McNeal's latest one.  Listen carefully to the titles and subtitles.  Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening and Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church.  What might congregations look like in a time of "Christianity after religion?" Will we be "post-congregational?" It is no wonder those of us loyal to denominational churches and their sturdy status quo are a bit shaken by these questions... 

 

Well, here is one more.  It is truly a gift from God, a wonderful little book that I am very eager to chat about.  I hope you consider it, and read the various short pieces reflectively, talking about them as you listen to the pain and hope they represent.


130551479.JPGLetters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals edited by Chris Lewis (IVP) $15.00  This is creatively written, exceptionally passionate, and diverse in orientation.  I promoted it at the Fresh Expressions event and wish I had more time to explain it better.  Lewis is the cofounder of the Epiphaneia Network, yet another movement to equip and inspire Jesus followers in Kingdom ministry, this one focused mostly on Canadian Christians.  This intriguing book came out of one of their projects, the "Eighth Letter Conference" which, as you might guess, invited leaders old and young to offer pastoral letters to the church.  Exiled on the island of Patmos, the apostle John was commanded to write about what he saw and heard and to record and send messages to seven churches. (Get it --- these are the "eighth letters.")  What might the Spirit say to our North American churches today?  There is a fabulous opening piece by Andy Crouch the bears several good readings,  and then there are short letters by Canadian evangelical leader Aileen Van Ginkle, Soong-Chan Rah, Peter Rollins, Makoto Fujimura, Ron Sider and more.  Imaginative notes are offered by Walter Brueggemann, Shane Claiborne, Tim Challies, Rachel Held Evans, David Fitch, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Janell Anema, Kathy Escobar.

 

There are four main sections, grouping the epistles around mission, truth, art, and hope.  There are some playful letters from a girl's diary offered as interludes, and plenty to ponder as these folks draft their manifesto-like letters, appealing to the church, sometimes with whimsy, sometimes through tears...


The final appendix  "Letters to a Future Church from the End of a Millennium" include short pieces by older leaders, aimed at certain sorts of churches.  We hear briefly from John Ortberg, William Willimon, Gardner Taylor and Eugene Peterson.  (Is this the first time IVP has published the legendary black preacher, Gardner Taylor?  Wow!)  These are rich and thoughtful, little works of writerly art.  They read well out loud and I think you could use them in many settings.

 

Reading Letters to a Future Church is a good way into this conversation, listening well to these creative pleas which describe our contemporary setting so well, inviting us to reconsider what, really, the mission of God is, and how we can best embody and create signposts pointing the way of restoration promised by the resurrected Lord.  Hearing these folks offer their letters, their hearts, their pleas, will touch your own heart, and perhaps compel you to further seek how to be an agent of conversation in your own congregation, raising the urgent questions of change, outreach, mission, and the nature of "Christianity after religion."   More than ever, now, I want to use my little book-selling slogan: Read for the Kingdom!  These books will help us think through some of the most basic things of the Christian life, the very nature of our churches and their work.


ADDENDUM:  Just saw this cover story in The Christian Century that discusses church planting.  It mentions Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Scott Sundquist, a quote well worth reading. And Darrell Guder, and other good folks.  


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March 25, 2012

Missional Preaching (Al Tizon) and other great books on preaching for the Kingdom

Hope you enjoyed our previous BookNotes post, a hopefully energetic recommendation of a few of the very best books about the missional church.  It is a topic I wrote about not only because we have a huge inventory of books about church--- traditional, missional, emergent, liturgical, wee, big, deep, neighborhood, multi-site, simple, house, practicing, and every other sort---but because I've been thinking about these sorts of "outwardly focused" books since we worked at the Fresh Expression conference in northern Virginia last weekend.  Hearing the Church of England "Fresh Expressions" guru, Graham Cray, alongside church consultants like Reggie McNeal, author of many books, including The Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass; $24.95) was energizing for us. 

We are taking pre-orders, by the way, for a forthcoming book by Bishop Cray, enticingly called Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God: Ancient Faith Future Mission  It will be published near the end of June by Canterbury Press ($24.95) and I can't wait.  Order it now and we'll give you the 20% discount, and ship it the day it arrives.

And, we are very eager to start creating some awareness, and even taking pre-orders for a provocative book another old acquaintance---and Fresh Expressions workshop leader---is releasing from IVP perhaps by the end of the summer.  Creating a Missional Culture:creating missional culture.jpg Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World will be by J.R. Woodward (IVP; $16.00) and we it will be great.  This will be a serious book---although the author is as cool as can be, a surfer-type dude living in Southern California who reads widely and hangs out with tons of interesting, artsy types---and it may be almost one-of-a-kind (a claim I don't make often.) It is about new models of shared leadership for the contemporary church, ways to organize our organic life as a worshiping community that will allow for shared energy, shared vision, and shared authority for getting the missional work done.  I am not kidding when I suggest that this will be intellectually stimulating, much-debated, and, I think, very, very important.  We'll have it as soon as it releases in early September 2012.  You can say you first heard about it here.  

JR Woodward also edited a little book that we stock called Viral Hope: Good News From theViralHope-Front--221x300.png Urbs to the Burbs (and everything in between)  (Ekklesia Network; $14.95.) In a nutshell, the book is a collection of pieces that were published in local newspapers, op-ed columns that shared a particular churches dream for their community.  The question is at once arresting and interesting, a playful way to rethink your mission statement: what do you imagine to be the contribution you bring to help human flourishing in your town?  In other words, what is good about the good news, for this particular place?  Almost all of these short essays are worthy of small group conversation, inspiring ways to think through whether this vision or that hope or this dream or that call might be your own.  Is this way to articulate the great news that is the gospel really helpful?  If not, why not? Do you resonate with this particular congregation's vision for their outreach? How they explained the good news?  Is their hope a faithful expression of God's dream, and if so, might you, too, embrace that vision for your own town?  It isn't prescriptive though, which is what makes it so useful--it invites prophetic and hopeful imagination, invites you to name your own sense of vocation in the world, asking how the gospel and the culture of your place interact.  What you would say, if asked to put something the public paper, what you offer, how you understand your Christian witness?  And can you say it in ways that are coherent and interesting for the watching world?  How do you describe the gospel, what good news your church brings?  What ways do the gifts and passions and strengths of your own faith community bring some particularity to the evangelon?  I love this little book, was glad that a number of the contributors in it were at Fresh Expressions, and happy to have a few left to sell to you. (Some of the authors, by the way, include J.R. Briggs, Jim Belcher, Christine Sine, Jon Tyson, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Sonja Andrews, Winn Collier, and many more.  The foreword is by Scot McKnight and the afterward is by a new friend, Chris Backert, of Fresh Expressions!)  Order a bunch of Viral Hope for your small group or elders or leadership council at your church.  I think it is pretty nifty.

HOW TO GET YOUR CONGREGATION THINKING MISSIONALLY

I believe the books I mentioned in our last post are all quite worthy.  I picked good ones to get this conversation started or to help you go a bit deeper.  But maybe they didn't seem right --- too much about congregational strategies or perhaps seemingly too different in rhetoric or discourse.  Maybe most churches aren't quite ready to use the "missional" moniker. 

Here are three remarkable books about preaching, three very different ones, each that seem to me to be central to this process of creating a Kingdom ethos within the local parish.  I bet these would help.  Then, two more that are more general about preaching, but wanted to share them as they are fairly recent and I think quite useful.  Forward this on to any preachers you know, if you'd like.  Thanks!

missional preaching.jpgMissional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform  Al Tizon, and others (Judson Press) $16.99  Al Tizon is, quite simply, an amazing man, a fine Christian leader, an upbeat and solid leader.  He did his PhD in this whole area of "wholistic" ministry and now is Associate Professor of Holistic Ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Seminar.)  He is the Director of the Word & Deed Network of one of our favorite organizations, Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) founded by Ron Sider.  Tizon is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church.  And, he is a great thinker, a great writer, and a great preacher.  So he is perfectly suited to create this important book.

There are a couple of fabulous reasons why we think so highly of this power-house of a book.  Firstly, it is wonderfully and unambiguously rooted in the Word of God.  Al is an evangelical, and although he is ecumenical and catholic, there is no fishy theology, nothing trendy, nothing experimental or weird.  This is just good solid teaching about how God cares about all of life, is restoring His world through Christ, about how we simply must teach about justice and shalom in our congregations since the Bible is just loaded with these themes.  It offers reliable reminders and fresh teaching about how to maintain high standards in preaching and teaching, especially preaching and teaching this wholistic, incarnational, radical Kingdom vision stuff. 

Tizon is also pastoral---when I said he is a great guy, I mean that he is kind and fair and compassionate and wise.  There are some who are all about speaking "prophetically" and sometimes, frankly, they turn folks off, lead from their own partisan loyalties, maybe even turning the gospel into an ideology, whether of the left or the right.  Tizon understands how true spiritual formation happens, how congregations work, how to strengthen the call to do God's work without blowing people away with needless controversy.  And how we are to be shaped by the gospel, not "use" it to beat people up or accomplish our own social agenda.

Yet, this book is, indeed, prophetic, even if it is pastoral and gospel-centered.  If we are to hold up a fully Christ-like Kingdom vision, inspiring and equipping folks to serve with abandon, including in ways that embrace the poor, stand for justice, work for social change, well, then a preacher is going to have to have courage and stamina.  And know the Biblical and theological basis for this whole-life discipleship approach.  Tizon knows this material well, and offers wonderful insights here about how to preach the "full gospel" in effective, compelling ways.

The first part includes three fantastic chapters under the banner of "The Essentials of Missional Preaching."  It is highly recommended, good for new, younger preachers or old-timers.

Another enjoyable and very useful feature of this book comes in the very stimulating second part which lays out particular outcomes, topics, issues the missional preacher will have to address. After each chapter in the second section Tizon has found a great sermon to illustrate this exact point.  The second part is called "The Goals of Missional Preaching" and, as I've said, it names several topics or issues or outcomes that the missional preacher will want to approach.  These include things like "Preaching for Reconciliation" and "Preaching for Alternative Community" and "Preaching for Holistic Transformation" and "Preaching for Shalom: Life and Peace."  One bold chapter is on stewardship, one on justice, one on the particularity and scandal of Jesus.  After each of these topical chapters, there is the sermon, which is set up briefly by Tizon, giving us a thing or two to notice about the sermon.  And, wow, are these ever rich, preached by good folks who I greatly admire. (In fact, I've heard some of these preachers and they are good!)  From Shane Claiborne to Brenda Salter McNeil, from Ron Sider to Ruth Padilla DeBorst, from Heidi Rolland Unruh to Greg Boyd, these are really great messages, designed to illustrate ways to proclaim in sermon form how to nurture a congregation's commitment to the reign of Jesus.  Just these sermons make the book worth having!

At the end, there is a little self-survey, designed to help any preacher evaluate if their sermon is adequately missional.  Friends, this is important.  As Christine Aroney-Sine says in the fantastic foreword, after noting how many churches have little or no engagement with the world outside of their doors,  "When we learn to preach in ways that help to galvanize congregations into action, we will once again have a Body of Christ that brings transformation to our world."

We are all called to "go, therefore, into all the world" and most of us need all the help we can get.  Preaching is central to the formation of the faithful congregation, and can inspire and equip missional discipleship.  This book is interesting for anyone, it really is, but it is most important for preachers and teachers.  Dr. Tizon is doing good work, writing for ESA's Prism magazine, networking churches to live out the faith through serving the needs of their communities, standing for justice, reconciliation, peacemaking and such. He is passionate and helpful. This book on how to preach all that is a rare sort, and we very highly recommend it.

practice of prophetic imagination.jpgThe Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word  Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $25.00  For years, Brueggemann has given us collections of sermons, and several books about homiletics.  And, for years, he has been asked to do a sequel to his most famous book, the breath-taking The Prophetic Imagination.  This new hardback is, in a manner of speaking, a sequel to The Prophetic Imagination, in the guise of how to proclaim and enhance and nurture and celebrate it.  John Buchanan is a renowned mainline Presbyterian who notes that this shows "a wise sensitivity to the realities of the church and an effort to make common cause with those of us who presume to stand in pulpits on Sunday morning and say something faithful."  Well, yeah, it is and it does.  And it does that by offering a view of preaching as "sustained, disciplined, emancipated, imagination."

 There is stuff here about loss and grief, about "a lingering place of relinquishment" and "the burst of newness amid waiting."  It is rich and dense and must, like its name-sake book, be read carefully, more than once.  But if you believe that attending to the "world-disrupting Word" is essential as we become congregations fit for God's Kingdom, this may be worth studying, pondering, and, yes, imagining.  

By the way, we will be selling books at a very special Biblical studies conference, Making Sense of the God of the Old Testament: Examining God's Sacred Story with Walter Brueggemann, Peter Enns, and Carolyn Sharp, and you should come if you can.  It is on April 27-28th at St Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, (Fort Washington, PA, near Philadelphia.)  Let us know if we can send you a brochure, or contact the church for more information.

choosing the kingdom.jpgChoosing the Kingdom: Missional Preaching for the Household of God  John Addison Dally (Alban Institute) $17.00  This provocative work is part of the "Vital Worship, Healthy Congregations" series co-published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  Here, Dally--a professor at Seabury-Western in Evanston--wonders what preaching looks like "as a post-Christian church reorients itself toward the mission of God."  The back cover puts it with punch: "Do we speak as bureaucrats in an imperial hierarchy or as servants of the reign of God? Is the announcement of the gospel a demand for submission or an invitation to wisdom?"  It gets practical, though, too, even offering ideas about sermon preparation.  As Lucy Lind Hogan of Wesley Seminary says, as she raves about it, "preachers are sent not to perform, but to proclaim; not to inform but to invite. Before we undertake our exegesis and investigations, preachers must understand what it means to be those who are sent to proclaim the reign of God."  Thought-provoking, offering both pretty serious theology and "how-to" guidance for rethinking not only the content but the form of preaching.

Preaching-for-Church-Transformation-Easum-Bill-9781426710629.jpgPreaching for Church Transformation  Bill Easum (Abingdon) $13.00  Easum has been a church consultant for decades now, it seems, and is serious about change, sometimes pushy, with books that are full of energy and hope and insistence that the typical church can raise the bar on outreach and growth.  One may not need to apply all his ideas about congregational revitalization to appreciate that he has seen a lot of different kind of churches and is really experienced in this sort of work.  I was struck by Reggie McNeal's big endorsement on the back, indicating he has long wanted a simple book that will help pastors figure out how to fast-forward their missional engagement with the community.  "Preaching for Church Transformation is for those of you who have something to say every seven days, and want that 'something' to help your congregation be the church God intended -- partnering with Him in his redemptive mission in the world."




ex in pr.jpgExcellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers  Simon Vibert (IVP) $16.00  Let's face it.  Many pastors are frankly not that good at communication.  They aren't that inspiring as preachers.  And many homiletics books---and we have dozens and dozens of them here at the shop---just aren't able to teach how to be more interesting in the pulpit.  There have been other books like this, and this one looks great.  It is a survey of some of the best evangelical preachers (in the U.S. and England) holding up something they do really well, and ways in which more ordinary preachers can learn that attribute, skill or notion.  I like that it uses the language of craft, which indicates that there is stuff that can be learned, but it isn't merely a technique or simple skill.  I like most of the preachers the author studies, and the things he draws from them are presently clearly.  It does not say that you should copy them, of course, but only that you can learn from their techniques and passions and strengths.  The author is vice principal and director of the School of Preaching at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University.  He has taught preaching (through John Stott's global ministry) to preachers all over the world.  Vibert's study of twelve strengths from these twelve preachers just might help you improve in your communication style, which surely won't hurt.  The preachers VIbert studies includes Tim Keller, John Piper, John Ortberg, Nicky Gumble, Vaughn Roberts, J. John.  All are men, all are evangelicals.  Oh, and one chapter on Jesus.  Marshall Shelly writes, "Vibert identifies elements that are transferable from these marquee pulpiteers to the rest of us. Excellence in Preaching gives us 'ears to hear' what we wouldn't have heard otherwise."  Interesting.

preaching as w.jpgPreaching as Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church  Michael J. Quicke (Baker) $17.99  Do you know his book 360 Degree Preaching?  It's good.  This newer one is a fascinating, thorough study of how to move your church from "small-picture to big picture worship."  I love this "big picture" image...  Part of this must include reconsidering and perhaps understanding afresh the role of the sermon within the broader work of the people's worship of the Triune God.  As Bryan Chapell of Covenant Theological Seminary puts it, "Quicke's winsome and insightful exploration of preaching as an intregal component and reflection of Trinitarian worship is a welcome contribution to thoughtful literature on both preaching and worship. For too long, one has been viewed as simply a prelude or culmination of the other.  Quicke helps us understand how worship and preaching function organically...." Very well put ---how can we see preachomg as worship, and the sermon as an integrated aspect of the full worship service?  Important stuff.



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March 28, 2012

The Province of Joy (Angela Alaimo O'Connell), Song of a Scientist (Cal DeWitt), and Hiking Through (Paul Stutzman)

Some days are just fun, seeing new covers, new authors, holding the books that have arrived like it's Christmas. We order books sometimes months in advance and sometimes forget to expect them. Then they show up and there are smiles and sighs and much ado.  Here are three such brand new ones that look spectacular.  Click on the link at the end to be connected to our website order form page (which is certified secure) allowing you to place orders for anything you care to write down, and to get the great discounts we offer for our faithful BookNotes readers on these three brand new treasures.

Province of Joy.jpgThe Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor Angela Alaimo O'Donnell (Paraclete Press) $16.99  Well, what to say?  The book feels nice, has lovely French flaps making it is a higher quality paperback. There is a peacock on the cover which, as you know if your an O'Connor fan, is significant.  Flannery O'Connor (1925-1941) was a rugged Catholic novelist and short story writer in the deep South whose bent tales helped us see grace in, well, in just about everything.

 O'Donnell offers astute observations in small meditations about Flannery O'Connor--from her novels and short stories and from the pieces about being a faith-informed writer, about being an artist, and about the spiritual life amidst the dreary secularity of the 20th century--and offers them as a supplement for "praying the hours."  It has some O'Connor quotes, but these readings are mostly devotional reflections by Ms O'Donnell, about O'Connor's work, her characters, her plot lines, her aesthetic or moral or theological judgements.  James Martin, the funny Jesuit writer, says it is "something wonderful: a prayer book that is old and new, timely and timeless, comforting and provocative."  Now here's the thing: this really is a prayer book (written by a Roman Catholic) so there are Scripture texts and intercessions and canticles and Nunc Dimittis, etcetera.  There are some lectio opportunities and a few prayers to saints, and devotional writings such as "The Breastplate of St. Patrick" or from St. Teresa of Avila.   Some good poetry shows up, such as lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson, and a citations from Dostoyevsky and Weil and Newman  You get the picture.  O'Donnell teaches creative writing at Fordham and she obviously knows Ms O'Connor's body of work.  By the way, we carry a number of other books about Flannery O'Connor, and her own literature and letters. But, I must say, this new one looks very, very special.  Thanks to O'Donnell for helping us pray, by praying with O'Connor.


song of scientist.jpgSong of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation  Calvin B. DeWitt (Foreword by Bill McKibben) (Square Inch Books) $14.99  I love Cal DeWitt.  I loved his great Bible study Earthwise, out now in a nice updated edition from Faith Alive.  I loved that he was an early Christian leader in creation- care and co-founded the EEN (Evangelical Environmental Network.)  I like that he spoke at the IAM arts conference in New York city last year.  I like that this square sized small paperback is on the newish "Square Inch" imprint, which, you should know, is an allusion to that famous line of Abraham Kuyper about Christ presiding over "every square inch" of creation.  I love that environmental activist and remarkably skilled Methodist nature writer Bill McKibben wrote the forward to this Reformed, evangelical book.  I like that the blurbs on the back are from Richard Rohr (a Roman Catholic spirituality writer) and C. Rene Padilla (an evangelical theologian from Latin American with a keen sense of social justice, a man who has been in our store, and who I could hardly esteem more highly.)  I love all this, and I've not even started to tell you about the book itself.  I can only tell you, this is the real deal, a wonderful little package for an author who deserves to be taken very seriously.  DeWitt is professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the director emeritus of the Au Sable Institute.  Many of us have eager been awaiting a new book by him for a decade or so.  Song of a Scientist is it!  It shows, as Rene Padilla puts it, "the harmony between God's creation and God's salvation."  Spirituality, science, Reformed theology, the work of a researcher and professor?  Of course!  This beautifully written book---yes, I've dipped in a bit already---quotes Aldo Leopold, J.S. Bach, John Calvin, John Muir, Rachel Carson, John Douglas Hall, Wendell Berry, and a ton of Bible passages.  It is both about his work as an environmental scientist, and, more generally, about this wonderful vision of being a scholar, a scientist investigating a "God-soaked" creation.  This paperback is a serious delight, important, and yet beautifully done and readily accessible to any interested reader.  Highly recommended.
 

hiking thru.jpgHiking Through: One Man's Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail Paul Stutzman (Revell) $13.99  Nature writing, adventure story, life-changing journey, Christian testimonial, struggle to overcome obstacles both physical and internal, recovery from great grief...this is a book that may have something for nearly everyone. But it is custom-made for those who like the story of a challenge, the call to pursue a dream, a human interest story about growth and redemption.  If you know anyone who has done the AT (or other similarly extensive wilderness hikes) you know the thrill of accomplishment, the goof-ball people (and critters) you met along the way (just read Bill Bryson!) the ups and downs of making it in the great outdoors.  This book tells of God's presence and power as this backpacker makes his odyssey Northward. Plainly written, with humor and good observation, this will be a perfect gift for somebody you know; it seems like the sort of thing that will truly touch folks.  I look forward to checking it out, maybe later this summer with a day pack.  I ain't going the 2,176 miles through fourteen states.  Just sayin.  You can check out Paul Stutzman's own Hiking Through website, here.
 Hiking header.jpg
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