About July 2012

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

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July 2, 2012

An Essay on the Christain Mind in Politics and A Must-Read List of Books on Christian Citizenship

For news junkies, those who like to discuss on facebook, pundits and social activists, it has been a hard week.  There have been numerous controversial rulings from the Supreme Court---SCOTUS for those who write like wonks---and several of these rulings are deeply troubling to many of us or to our fellow citizens.  From the obvious health care ruling to thepolitical fighting cartoon.jpg HHS mandate forcing Catholics who work in partnership with federal programs to pay for contraception against their consciences, to the legality of colleges forcing campus ministry organizations to have people who do not share their convictions to be in leadership, there has been plenty of legal theories and legal rulings to consider.  Not to mention Attorney General Holder being held in contempt for lying to congress, which, oddly, some think is justifiable and has caused a lot of heat on both sides.   Some of us have ignored most of this, others are staying quiet, but reading, learning, keeping abreast, and others of us have been engaged in advocacy and debate.  I've spent a few too many hours typing too furiously last week, so I know.

Here, is why I bring this up. I am alarmed that too many brothers and sisters in Christ seem to be exceedingly loyal to one side or the other of our partisan divide without much qualification or without even much awareness or care that some sincere, informed, people of faith see things differently.  This second problem demands greater humility, civility and ecumenicity.  The first, however, is quite concerning to me because I don't think the Bible and our best faith traditions permit being ideologically partisan without some qualification or nuance.

I have written before about and suggested resources on civility, and my, my, do we need that now.  (See the Richard Mouw book, suggested, below.)

But we need more than civility. There is nothing wrong with being passionate and outspoken--we've tried to model and sell books about public engagement for decades.  Last year we named A Public Faith (Baker; $21.99) by Miroslov Volf as one of the best books of the year!   Still, with the loud animosities from both sides, not to mention the critical importance of the current issues and the upcoming election, I sincerely believe that now is the time to bone up on our views, dig deeply into what resources are available, and make sure we are truly thinking Christianly.  We do need to be involved as citizens, even within political parties, but...

bible-study.jpgWe are glad for your permission to speak into your already noisy world, and hope this essay is helpful.  One of our core convictions---part of the story that animates why we review and sell the books we do---is utterly germane: the Bible, we believe, teaches quite specifically that we ought not to align ourselves too closely with any worldly ideology.  Colossians 2:8 specifically warns us not to be "taken captive" by secular or pagan theories about things.  I don't know if you've heard sermons on this, but I think this means we shouldn't be fundamentally, unequivocally, aligned with, say, free market capitalism or, say, with new age cosmic consciousness or, say, the sort of statism that suggests the government must solve every social problem.  We must not carry water for alternative worldviews or, in this case, the political assumptions of the far left or the right.  We can work with and for folks in either party, of course, and can be friendly with all, but our minds and views should be discerning and able to reject ideas and assumptions that are inconsistent with a Biblical view.  For instance, I think we must distance ourselves from the collectivist visions that rely too much on Marxist views and I think we must distance ourselves from the individualist visions that rely too much on secular libertarians of the Enlightenment era of the 18th century.  Otherwise we are accommodating our faith to those theories and ideologies; we are essentially "taken captive."

Besides this warning not to be hood-winked by bankrupt ideologies or views on things that aren't consistent with a generous, thoughtful, Biblical understanding, we are called to do to more than resist bad ideas.  We are to "take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5) which, given the meaning of the Greek word and the context of the passage, means every "theory" or idea we have. (That is, this phrase isn't mostly about "taking captive" things like pride or lust or crummy thoughts about our self-worth, but ideas we have about, oh, say, the role of personal liberty or the task of the state or the use of taxes or the role of the military in foreign policy or how human develop should relate to the creation itself; it is about assumptions, ideas,  and theories that we are to claim for Christ.)  We are warned to not compromise our fundamental convictions by allowing them to be synthesized with other ideas that are not consistent with a Biblical view and we are mandated to think things through coming up with a positive, Christian alternative.  Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 are two sides of a vital Biblical teaching regarding our theories and ideas and presuppostions about things and we should be self-aware enough to ask ourselves if our concerns and viewpoints (including the stuff we spread on facebook) illustrates this sort of intentionally Christian perspective on the ideas and issues.  I know it is something I struggle with.  How about you?

So, just for instance, for most of us, it would be a pretty strained stretch to consider oneself a "Christian Marxist" since Marxism, by definition, is atheistic, and committed to a violent view of power, captured by any means necessary.   At best, we might be able to have a Christianly-influenced sort of Marxism, but even that would be synthetic.  It wouldn't be quite real Marxism anymore, but it wouldn't be quite real Christianity any more, either.  Nope, that just doesn't fit well with the teachings of Jesus. It would be sort of like "jumbo shrimp."  

Recently, a fellow told me that a guy in his conservative, theologically-serious church has the jones for atheist novelist and social critic Ayn Rand; he's a Tea-Party activist and a Glenn Beck fan and he thinks that the best way to counter what he thinks is our tendency towards atheistic socialism is by using one of the most significant atheistic libertarians of the 20th century.  Does that make sense?  Not weighing in on the details of Rand or the worldview embedded in her popular novels, I just want to insist that the Bible condemns yoking ourselves to pagan ideological movements that are rooted in their own idolatries.  According to Romans 12: 1-2 we are called to show forth God's perfect will by having "renewed minds"---that isRomans12_2.jpg central to the possibility of being "transformed."   We dare not be "conformed"--squeezed in to the mold of, as Phillips puts it--- to the typical ideas that are commonplace on the political left or the political right without a conscientious and intentional move to think things through in light of a Biblical framework.  "Don't be taken captive" by these sorts of ideologies, Paul shouts, and that holds for those who are drifting towards a socialist vision and those who are drifting towards a neo-con view of the market or an Randian view of human liberty; from MoveOn to the Tea Party, I sense that their foundational ideas are coming not from the Bible, but from political philosophers who themselves may not be consistent with a Biblical viewpoint.  That is, I am less interested, at first, about what  Noam Chomsky  or Thomas Jefferson says about liberty or the state or what is or isn't self-evident and I am firstly interested in what the Bible says.

(An aside: I want to tell one of my favorite Mark Twain stories, for what I hope is an honorablemark-twain-1.jpg reason.  Twain was once asked if he believed in infant baptism.  "Believe in it?" he retorted.  "Hell, I've seen it!"  Well, hell, I've seen Christian Marxists and Christian Libertarians.  I think they are wrong, in violation of the spirit of these two texts about the Christian mind. They should redoubled their reflections on Romans 12:1-2 and pray for a renewed mind so they can show off what God's will really is, which isn't Marxism or Libertarianism, at least not according to how the church has traditionally understood the Bible's view of these things.  But, having said that, Twain was right.  There are folks who identify themselves that way and as incoherent as I find their views, some of them are my friends, and I honor them as such.)

So, we need to "think Christianly" about the basic stuff that makes up our political views. We need to use our minds and allow the Bible to be the "light before our path" as it scrutinizes and informs our views and loyalties.

Yet, to do this Biblical work to develop a truly Christian political mind we must hear what brothers and sisters across time and across the globe have said about the relevant Biblical texts and consider what sort of public theology they have developed.  Others before us, some in other places and in other contexts, have done the hard work of proposing a uniquely Christian view of society, the role of the state, the nature of human liberty, our duties to the common good, the significance of civil society, and the prudence of this or that legal or legislative agenda, and we who are Christians should stand on their shoulders.

SaintsANGELICO1430.jpgFrom Augustine to Luther, Calvin to Menno Simons, Wesley to Wilberforce to Witherspoon, from the new England Puritans (and Roger Williams, God bless his freedom loving soul!) to Catholic human rights leaders like Bartolome de Las Casas, from the famous Catholic encyclical Rerum Novarum to Populorum Progressio, from Abraham Kuyper in Holland to Martin King in Alabama, from the pronouncements of the National Council of Churches and our mainline denominations and the NAE's "For the Health of the Nation" document, there have been many, many thinkers and political leaders who have been steeped in Scripture and engaged in the teachings of the church who have much to offer.  We don't have to reinvent the wheel, nor, frankly, listen mostly to Fox News, MSNBC, or Link TV to get our basic orientation.

(It is a shame---while I'm on a roll, here--- that most Christian bookstores don't carry much of this sort of thing; of course, there isn't much of a demand for such books, so maybe I can't blame them. But there is this legacy of riches and it's unfortunate that this stuff is not known better among us. Which is why I hope you support our efforts to promote historic resources like this.) 

Your---our---overall social vision, our values and theories about government, our views of the role of the state, the relative goodness of taxes, the need to work for the common good, the confidence in the legitimate calling of the government, by God, should be rooted and grounded and driven by Holy Scripture and the unfolding drama of thoughtful Christians trying to fruitfully and faithfully work it out over time.   When we weigh in on the issues on facebook or speak out at a local forum or chat over beer in the backyard, we obviously should be humble and civil--please!---but, also, we should try to align our views with the historic, Christian understandings of the nature of institutions in society, the role of the state, and the Bible's call for public justice for all.  In other words, we give witness to new angles of vision that may not be typically right nor left nor centrist and that might appear insightful (or idealist, if your conversation partner doesn't have a vivid imagination) and might offer fresh ways out of our impasses; moving forward by looking backwards a bit, perhaps.  At least it should be clear that we are non-conformed to the ideas of the ideologues, independent thinkers with our loyalties to the Christian tradition as it points us to God's will for shalom.  And part of God's desire is illustrated by Psalm 72:1,  a plea and a prayer, for an ancient ruler that still resonates down through the ages: "Give the King thy justice O Lord."  We want our leaders to be shaped by God's heart and God's views and God's justice.

And so, I will offer some suggestions for a few of the best books (most of which are easy to read, although a few are challenging) that will invite us to think more deeply about a Christian view of politics, and cause us to pause a bit before spouting off on one side or the other, without being aware of the weight of previously taught Christian perspectives and the history of those who have gone before us.  And, they are on sale -- a healthy 20% off.  

If somebody wants to be seriously involved in civic affairs---from blogging to educational work to actual partisan campaign activism---more power to them.  But maybe you can help them make sure they don't tarnish the name of Christ by using faith as an "add on" as if God will just bless "our side."  Left-leaning friends and right-leaning friends, unite on this: we should want some uniquely Christian views that are based on a Biblically-informed understanding of the role of the state and the meaning of politics from a faithful perspective.  Give the king Thy Justice, O Lord! 

We can move beyond any ultimate loyalties to either side and agree to be humble and willing to learn from others. We can be winsome and pleasant and agree to disagree about a lot standing united in our civility, our commitment to serve God and our neighbors well.  That is because we are not primarily involved in civic life for our own sake  -- we should be making arguments that are not about us, mostly, or our own rights or privileges, but about God's will, our neighbors good, and making the whole world a better place, so that God is pleased as all is done in the spirit of Christ who taught us to love everyone, even enemies.  Can we church folk agree that whatever political parties or policies we promote, we support them and persuade others to do so because we think their ideas are best for the common good, for the health of the nation and the well-being of others (not just ourselves and our kids or our kind)?  As my old friend Gerald Vandezande once put it, "Justice does not mean just-us."

Romans 13:1-6 gives us a high view of government, something that evangelicals on the right sometimes oddly miss.  Of course, this refers to the possibility of government, in theory, which is given by God, the structure for it built into God's creation, but not any or every particular regime. (As with, say, sexuality, we aren't opposed to God's gift of sex because it is sometimes grossly abused. Likewise, we aren't skeptical of God's gift of government just because it is sometimes abused.)  For those on the political right, this is important: please don't suggest government is evil, or that "they" are "stealing" "our" money, since that is exactly what they are supposed to do!  By the end of Romans 13, besides calling on government to wield authority for justice, and for us to pay taxes, we have been reminded to love all, to not pass judgement, to be humble and good.  Maybe these books listed below will help us learn these habits of neighborliness, of respecting our fellow-citizens, and of persuading others to new insights, not because we demean those whose ideas we find wanting, or even because we tout our own views as the best, but because we speak with such love and integrity that something of the grace of Jesus shines through.  These are some of the lovely "good works" the Bible says we are ordained to do, so that all will know about our Creator's love and God will be glorified.

But such trans-partisan, decent, civic-minded, humble, persuasive political advocacy doesn't just hint at a warm-fuzzy kind of cheap grace, with a quiet sort of tolerant Jesus, but it testifies to a coherent life that is ordered by this world-rocking vision of a true King who has left us with solid truth, truths discovered as we live in His regime.  Truth that has public implications, implications that have been struggled with for centuries.  Come, join the conversation, not as a partisan Republican or a loyal liberal, not as one whose identity is primarily one who is pro or con the current administration, red or blue.  But as one subjected to Christ's rule, willing to learn from His ways, thinking not as the typical ideologies want us to, but as the Bible demands us to, not being taken captive, but nurturing a prophetic imagination that sees things afresh.

What that looks like isn't as clear as I'd wish. This is in some ways new territory for many of us; we can be pioneers in a new kind of politics, based at least somewhat on the broad consensus of those who have thought about a uniquely and properly Christian vision for public life and responsible citizenship.  Admittedly, it's complicated.  These books can help.

Here's your guide to some greater insight and clarity and faithfulness.  

honoring god in red.pngHonoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason  Amy Black (Moody Publishers) $14.99  Okay, let's start simply.  I just had a review that I did of this short book published in the column I write in Capitol Commentary of The Center for Public Justice (CPJ.) They are a think-tank and educational outreach about citizenship and public life, and some of their former leaders (like Dr. James Skillen, Gideon Struass) have been important voices on this perspective for years  They do the sorts of integrated thinking about which I ruminated above.  So here's the little review I wrote for them about this book.

As most of us know, CPJ has several goals. Besides serious reflection of the sort done by think-tanks and some occasional legislative advocacy, the Center helps advance the cause of Christian folks taking their citizenship seriously and learning to do so more faithfully. For this, we need clear, useful resources that make the case that part of gospel-centered discipleship includes our political lives. Such vision-casting needs be interesting and accessible. This new book by a respected evangelical scholar and friend of the Center, Wheaton College professor Amy Black, is a perfect example of just this sort of resource. It is insightful about the Biblical call to enact justice in the public square as well as foundational ideas about political philosophy (what is the task of the state, after all?) Black also explains in interesting ways how bills become laws, how parties work and a bit about basic democratic proceedings. There are good discussion questions after each chapter including some ideas for greater involvement, making this fabulous for small group use or adult education classes.  The Center for Public Justice CEO Stephanie Summers also endorses the book, affirming its thoughtful, non-partisan perspective. Summers writes:

For Christian citizens who are weary from the fighting that too often characterizes current engagement in politics and are looking instead for a God-honoring approach, Black's book is a healing balm.  The good news: God cares about government and gives it, as well as citizens and other institutions in society, important roles to play and corresponding responsibilities to fulfill. This book invites readers not only to hope again, but to think deeply before deliberately taking action.

Body-Broken-Drew-Charles-D-9781936768301.jpgBody Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?  Charles Drew (New Growth Press) $15.99  This was out years ago as A Public Faith and we appreciated it.  I thought it was just so very sensible, wise, even.  Now it is updated and expanded, making it a strong, good book to read for anyone wanting a genial and solid study of Christian citizenship.  He does a couple of things here in mature and pastoral language, firm, and clear: our unity in Christ precedes and transcends our political differences, so regardless of how strongly we feel about certain issues, those who are in Christ are one.  I think the ideas presented in this book will be very, very important for some of us this fall.  Yet, we are citizens and whole people, so we certainly shouldn't avoid in church the implications of our faith for public life--we just have to learn to be thoughtful, theological, fair-minded, balanced and civil.  The church, as church, shouldn't become politicized but should proclaim the gospel in grace for all and create space of us to talk about the implications of God's Kingdom for all areas of life. Drew (who pastors a church in New York City) is very big on the sorts of things I care about---developing a uniquely Christian view of things, holding up first principles and the most basic ideas, first, and he is candid that good people can disagree.  He affirms a diversity of views that, within reason, can be held by faith-based folks, and he shows how to navigate the most urgent issues in thoughtful, faithful ways, without allowing our stances to get in the way of the unity of our faith communities. Drew is a sophisticated thinker and a strong, clear writer and would be good for anyone, including those in churches where there is some conversation going on about politics.  Fabulous!

scandal of ev pol.jpgThe Scandal of Evangelical Politics Ronald J. Sider (Baker) $15.99 You should know, if you've read this column for long, that I esteem Ron Sider immensely, that I appreciate his commitments to the Bible, and his humble spirit. I've read every book he's written and am continually amazed at his hopefulness, evangelical zeal, and tireless efforts to get Bible-believing Christians to think faithfully about global realities, societal reformation, and public justice. His Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been cited often as one of the most important books of the 20th century, and it has been my privilege to host him here in York, and to be with him at numerous events over the years. I view him as a cherished Christian brother. Sider is not nearly as "single-issue"  or extreme as some presume he is. (One of my favorite essays of his was about his joy of fishing and feasting on vacations, despite his reputation for living a "simple lifestyle."  I read and re-read his essay in Prism about the aging of his pious father, after his elderly mother had died.) That he has been called a Marxist is one of the dumber things that critics have written. He grew up a Brethren farm boy and surely doesn't want the government running everything! He does attend, though, to clear Bible teaching about the authority of the state to pass laws regarding social welfare, an exegetical debate to which he offers much Scriptural knowledge. Beyond exegesis, he is clearer than most that there are legitimate quibbles about how to best enact normative directives into contemporary policies.  I can hardly think of another Christian political thinker whose work is more admirable for advancing the right kind of method and process.

This book, then, is passionate and balanced, significantly informed by a variety of Christiantowards an evangelical pub policy.jpg perspectives and views.  Sider's fluency in, for instance, the Anabaptist peace witness, the evangelical mainstream,  two-thirds world global evangelicals, the Reformed/Kuyperian worldview thinkers, and the mainline/ecumenical contribution, makes him positioned to offer a bird-eyes view of the topic. (Several years ago Sider co-edited a very important book, Toward an Evangelical Public Policy [Baker; $25.00] with a rather conservative colleague and friend, the late Diane Knippers, about the NAE public policy statement, "For the Health of the Nation," which they helped draft. The statement, and even more, the book, illustrated a robust, multi-denominational, Biblically-balanced view of a whole batch of  issues.  It includes more foundational chapters by liberal mainline folks and Catholic scholars, reflecting on their experience trying to influence public policy, making it a truly ecumenical and interesting collection.) So, when in Scandal... Sider teaches us how to follow a faithful methodology of determining a viable Christian view on this topic or that, he has a keen sense of what that may mean, has much experience struggling through the move from Bible to theory to policy, and shows us clearly how it can be done, step by step.

While Scandal of Evangelical Politics begins by looking at the ways in which evangelicals have, in previous decades, ignored the Biblical commands about justice, the poor, peacemaking, the environment, and the like, his goal is to help any and all Christians develop a solid, Biblical framework and balanced, faitihful agenda. As one with moderately conservative theological views, he takes seriously pro-family matters, is clearly pro-life, and has deep concerns about the erosion of traditional sexual ethics and he does not abandon those concerns supported by social conservatives to advance concerns about poverty and creation-care that are more popular among progressives; he is not a partisan "leftist Christian" nor a part of the Religious Right. No, this fine book proposes am eclectic "third way" which is beyond or other than the typical sides of our typical bi-polar/two-party continuum. This is his call to develop a comprehensive and coherent public philosophy, a comprehensive and coherent view of the state rooted in the Christian mind and a distinctive political philosophy, and, finally, a grace-filled, yet urgent, prophetic witness and action plan for working in favor of God's ways for public life, across a wide bi-partisan range of issues. It may appear too liberal for some, it may appear too conservative for others, but that may be because our political imaginations are too constrained by these worldly categories and partisan positions, neither of which do full justice to a truly Christian view. As I wrote above, it is problematic that we have foundational loyalties to views and values that are not necessarily Biblical.  This book is without a doubt the most thorough study I've yet seen of a Biblical view of the state and a Christian view of politics and the process of discovering fruitful policy positions for the average reader.

The scandal of The Scandal of Evangelical Politics is, then, that the politics of at least the spokespersons for the evangelical movement have not been evangelical enough; that is, conservative Protestants have largely not in their political lives been guided by the first things of the gospel, and their positions have not been truly Biblical. Even if you aren't interested in the specific matter of how and why evangelicals focused so exclusively on abortion and homosexuality, say, and why the far Christian right is not adequately guided by the whole counsel of God, this book is a must-read.  It is, actually, less a critique of the Christian right or recent evangelical failures than a vibrant and urgent and persuasive call to get our politics from a coherent and sane and honorable reading of the Bible. It may be one of the most important books  I've ever seen in this field, good for any denomination or tradition as long as they care about the Bible.  I hope it can convince a new generation of evangelical folk--and anybody else who cares--- to "think Christianly" and commit to a truly Biblical civic agenda. 

political-visions-illusions-david-theodore-koyzis-paperback-cover-art.jpgPolitical Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies David T. Koyzis (IVP) $20.00  Okay, I trot this out nearly every year when there are elections or political debates or if there are matters on the news that seem to exhibit the "culture wars" debates.  And now is that time, for sure.  This is a very serious work, exposing the background ideas and philosophical foundations of both right and left wing writers, pundits, movements. It grapples with the "every thought captive" idea as I suggested above, digging around the ground from which both conservative and liberal political thinking has come.   In this complex and important book Koyzis adeptly explains where ideas come from, what principled liberals and conservatives really believe (or assume) and whether those guiding ideals do or do not comport with a consistently Christian worldview.   How do legitimate ideas end up becoming idols and get hardened into ideologies?  What are the dynamics of ideological conflict in our new century?  Why does the typical "liberal vs conservative" story not really do justice to the more complex realities behind political movements?  This is beyond astute, it is genius, the best and most comprehensive overview of political thinking that I know of.  It uses words appropriately, explaining how political philosophers have used phrases and ideas in the past, and helps us all get a handle on what is going on in our heated civic debates.  Highly recommended, although it takes some deliberate study. If you are passionate about the political stuff going on these days, and find yourself involved with (or weary of) the movements and spokespersons, this will allow you to think it through very carefully, philosophically, and allow you, in God's grace, towards a more incisive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each camp.  If you know any smart political journalists or activists who are serious about faith, I hope you buy a copy of this for them.

church state and public justice.jpgChurch, State and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny ( IVP; $19.00) This back and forth debate type book shows that there are several major traditions or "schools of thought" operative within the church these days, and allows a proponent of each view a shot at explaining his view.  Then the other four, each representing their own particular understanding of the nature of a Christian view of politics, replies.  You get five views and each person critiquing the others, making for a learning experience that is rich and diverse---many college courses for which you'd pay hundreds of dollars wouldn't teach you this much.  It does, mostly, show the general commonality of the discourse (that is, they agree on a lot) despite the very large differences of opinion on many details.  That is, they all agree that there should be something like a Biblically-based, theologically-driven, understanding of the relationship of faith and politics, but they differ on what that actually looks like.   The five views represented include a very thoughtful Roman Catholic view consistent with Catholic social teaching, a liberal main-line Protestant proposing a standard social gospel view, an Anabaptist/pacifist Mennonite view, a Kuyperian, Reformed "pluralist" view and a strict separationist Baptist view.  I like this because it reminds us of the differing nuances and views---the media and many Christian pundits do us a disservice by suggesting that there are only "left and right" or "the religious right and the secular left" or "progressives and fundamentalists."   It is more complex, more interesting, more challenging, and more important than that overly simple way that plays to culture wars.  A great, great resource for serious Christians wanting the big picture of this specific topic.

left, right & Christ.jpgLeft, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics  Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) $22.99  All right -- I've been idealistic and invited you to think outside the box of "left vs right" and to study a "third way" option that draws on the best of radical Christian thinkers that have robust imaginations which generate trans-partisan political ideas.  I don't think we should wallow in the simple two-sided debate. I've suggested books that I think are very important.  But, let's face it, most of our fellow citizens (and, unfortunately, the best known candidates) are aligned with one of the two major parties, representing one of two major ideologies.  So, as the election season proceeds I am sure I will revisit this good book, 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.  They are friends and friendly, and both offer remarkable amounts of helpful insight. 

Marvin Olasky writes one forward to Left, Right, and Christ; he is known for his insistence on a staunchly conservative Christian worldview (he writes for World magazine) and he says here "If this isn't a conversation starter for Christians, than nothing else will be." Jim Wallis of the lefty Sojourners has another forward, again noting that this book will certainly stimulate good discussion and deep thinking. That both commend it is pretty awesome.  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) such as Carl Trueman and John Anderson, 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 district, 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 is a great little video of the two of them in a nice promo video.

case for civ.jpgThe Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It Os Guinness (HarperOne) $23.95  I reviewed this when it came out, declaring my huge appreciation for it, and have mentioned it time and again.  One needn't agree with all the proposals but it is a must-read for anyone interested in conversations about church and state, faith in public life, and the like. This is not just about public manners or civil etiquette---which itself would be helpful, but not quite the point of this volume--- as Guinness here explores how the first amendment offers a framework for freedom for and from religion. We must not move towards any God-based theonomy or any kind of state church, of course. But a "naked public square" that privileges secularism is equally faulty and unfair.  This "case" challenges the religious right and the secular left calling us all to take steps to solve the impasse of of our times through what he wonderfully explains in vigorous and inspiring prose as a "cosmopolitan public square."  I do hope you consider reading this and living out his important vision and urgent call to decency, civility, and, urgently, a robust commitment to the principles of our First Amendment.  If you tend to be liberal and are annoyed by Christians wanting their values enacted, this will help you appreciate the legitimacy of their desires (if not the substance of any particular policy they propose.)  If you tend to be conservative and are annoyed by liberals who think you should just keep your faith out of things, this might help you learn to be more civil and to counter their resistance in ways that are democratic and reasonable and compelling.  Here is a long C-Span interview with Dr. Guinness.  Watch the first six minutes, at least, to get a sense of what this thoughtful book is like.  Oh go on, listen to it all --- this is so very good, and it is very helpful to see how he is so quick on his feet, even with some pretty embarrassingly bad questions. And he is asked at the end why an intellectual like himself is a Christian.  Wow.  Os, you may know, is a friend and hero.  Check him out.

I am a fan of this helpful Case for Civility  (and commend it even if you don't agree with all of it) and suggest that it is very useful for all of us. It is serious, but, as always with Os, it
free peeps.jpg is wonderfully written, based on his wide reading, but aimed at helping ordinary citizens help our culture heal, working for a framework that honors the first ammendment and a civil public square.  Read it soon, as he will have a new blockbuster paperback on these issues coming late this summer. The forthcoming one will be called A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP; $16.00) and I have already read an early manuscript.  It is a very important, eloquent manifesto, indeed.  I'll dedicate a full review of it when it comes out. You can pre-order it now from us, if you'd like.)

U.D..jpgUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Revised and Expanded)  Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00  Here is what I wrote a year ago when this book was re-issued in an expanded version, explaining that it is one of my all time favorite books.  It, too, would make a great, fun, study this fall and it isn't difficult reading at all. 

I have loved---loved!---this book in the past and am giddy that it is now available in an updated, expanded edition.  A graceful new cover reminds us of the not-so-common grace that is called for as people debate public issues.  From sexuality to religion in public, from Biblical disagreements (about sexuality, or hell, say) to political discourse, this book reminds us of the need for public etiquette, for the need for persuasion and respect.  Rich Mouw is very wise, he's a clear writer, and his instincts about complex things like "toleration" are so very helpful (and needed perhaps now more than in recent memory!)  I've said in print before that I know of no other writer who is as clear about his own deep convictions and yet is so willing to listen well to others, to name the places of commonality, the stuff he appreciates in other traditions (even those with whom he shares very important disagreements.) He is candid about those with whom he respectfully disagrees and such humble candor is noteworthy, if not rare.  One gets the sense that not only is Rich a broad-minded thinker, it is clear that he thinks from deep within his own tradition, the line of the Dutch neo-Calvinist worldview of Abraham Kuyper that has made him who he is.  Yet, the call to gentleness and willingness to learn is clear, even in a favorite chapter "Abraham Kuyper, Meet Mother Theresa."  And, then, the hard chapter "When There Is No Other Hand."  After the Supreme Court rulings this week and the deep frustrations boiling over in the blogosphere, this book and its helpful advice is more urgent then ever.   Please, consider buying this.  Spread the word---this would make a great book club selection, an adult ed class, or a gift for anyone active or interested in public life.  It does not intend to talk much about what constitutes Christian politic ideas; that would be another book.  This shows us how to nurture a basic habit of the heart: political etiquette, public manners, being honest and fair and kind.  Nice!

raised right.gifRaised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics  Alisa Harris (Waterbook) $14.99  This isn't exactly a study of balanced and fully Biblical political views, but her sad journey might not have been so weird and dramatic if her family wouldn't have been so firmly and deeply involved in very, very far-right politics. I'm mostly astonished at this young woman's story, her being raised in a very active Christian right-wing family---she picketed abortion clinics as a child, holding signs that she surely couldn't have known what they meant---and becoming active (oooh, how she was active!) in Republican politics as a teenager. This memoir narrates how she has came to a different understanding of her faith through no small amount of serious anguish.  Ms Harris is a fantastic writer, making this one of those great memoirs that is easy to read, fun and well-told, and yet very memorable--what a story!  Has she just shifted, as many of her twenty-something young evangelical peers have, from a right wing faith to a left wing one?  Is her organizing demonstrations at the Bank of America and her advocacy for the poor, at the end of the book just the flip side of her still politicized faith?  As she untangles and rethinks things, she lets us look over her shoulder, watch as her rather exciting New York life unfolds, and we get to be a part of the religious coming of age of a very sharp young woman, who is a reporter and fine writer.  I suggest that the story isn't over and I predict she will write more.  I hope so.  I do hope she reads some of the sorts of books I list above.  Harris' conservative family and their passionate political life left its marks,  in ways that are good and not so good, and we can all learn from that.  One story, one family, one very thoughtful twenty-something.  I could hardly put this book down and trust you find pleasure, empathy and insight, regardless of your thoughts about faith, politics, or social justice.

on social justice svs.jpgOn Social Justice St. Basil the Great (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press) $15.00  It is important to realize that, these sermons were proclaimed long before representative democracy, even before the rise of the modern nation state. (See, by the way, Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights, and Civil Liberties by David W. Hall [Presbyterian & Reformed; $19.99] for a very important study that shows how the Calvinist Reformation influenced these rising notions and institutions.)   But, still, the power of these passionate words by the famous church leader, written 1600 years ago, about wealth, the demands of the poor upon us, the evils of usary, including stern words for lenders who abuse their power, might offer us an important reminder about the needs of the poor, the dangers of debt, and how Christians must care for their neighbors and the institutions that may do them great harm.  

from I. to G..jpgFrom Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought  edited by Oliver O'Donovan and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan (Eerdmans) $64.00  Okay, this isn't for everybody, but it sure would be good if every church had one in their church library.  If you are doing any academic work in political theory, or if you are active in speaking out as a Christian citizen or pundit, this is the masterpiece collection of some of the earliest sources from the first century fathers up to Grotius, who, it could be argued, influenced the West with ground-breaking ideas on the nature of human rights.  Almost 900 big pages. We need a second equally astute volume, but for now, this is a treasure-chest of primary source readings and an essential resource for serious thinkers.  Amazing.

An Eerdmans Reader in Contemporary Political Theology
edited by William Cavanaugh,Eerdmans Reader.jpg Jeffrey Bailey, and Craig Hovey  (Eerdmans) $50.00  When we got this book in the shop a month or so ago, I couldn't believe my eyes. It includes truly some of the most significant and influential political theology of the 20th and 21st century, writings from all over the globe.  This includes radical stuff indeed, post-colonial, prophetic critiques of power, some pretty arcane.  But some of the pieces are truly representative, making this a great primary-source reader of 49 major essays.  From Barth, Bauckham, Bonhoeffer to Cone, Gutierrez and Hauerwas; from Jean Bethke Elshtain to John Courtney Murray.  Where else do you see Ched Myers and Delores Williams alongside both the Niebuhrs and conservative Catholic, George Weigel?  I love that they have classic writers like Johann Baptist Metz and Alexander Schmemann and John Howard Yoder alongside third world women activists and global theologians like Desmond Tutu and Emmanuel Kotongole.  One drawback is that many are very academic, and most are, as the title suggests, examples of political theology or social ethics, not political theory, as such. Still this is an important new sourcebook for those who really want to dig in.


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July 8, 2012

A Round-Up of recent Hearts & Minds Posts, Columns, Reviews I did in Other Publications

typewriter.jpgI put a bit of time in each month reviewing books for at least two monthly on-line journals, and I am grateful that they allow me to offer input to their already great work.  Occasionally, I get to do a column in other places, too.  Unless you subscribe to BookNotes (getting a rough version of it via email) or follow me carefully on twitter, you may not even always know when we do a new BookNotes post.  Because these build up over time, telling a bit of the story of our work at Hearts & Minds (and because we really do believe that the books I mentioned are resources worth knowing about, maybe even buying from us) we thought we'd do a bit of a quick-link round up.  Not to be confused with the nasty toxic stuff they put on crops, or the genetically modified "round-up ready" crops that are designed to take the poison. Ugh  No, this is a good kind of round up.  Get ready to read.

comment.jpgIn the June 29th issue of Comment, published by the gloriously heady but down-to-Earth think-tank
messy quest.jpgCardus, I recently reviewed The Messy Quest for Meaning, a book written by Stephen Martin, a fellow who grew up here in Dallastown, went to our high-school, worshiped at the parish across the street, and is now a fine Catholic journalist, writing about the stages one goes through in discerning one's calling and vocation.  Also in that issue, I review the very important, brand new book on film history by William D. Romanowski, Reforming Hollywood (Oxford University Press.) It's a demanding book and I'm proud of my review.  We are co-sponsoring with the CCO a public lecture and book release party with Romanowski in Pittsburgh the evening of July 18th, and you'll be hearing more about that soon. In the meantime, I'd be pleased if you read my reviews here.

In the May 25th Comment, I tell about four really great titles: Work Matters by Paul Stevens, awork matters stevens.jpg collection of letters by Abraham Kuyper from his early 20th century visit to America (published by Dordt College Press), a fabulous book comparing the worldviews and relationships of William Wilberforce and Thomas Jefferson by my very smart friend, Ray Blunt, called Crossed Lives, Crossed Purposes and a serious anthology called Hearing the Old Testament edited by really astute Bible guy Craig Bartholomew. Please read those reviews here.


If you go back to the April 27th issue of Comment, you will see my description of five books,faith of our own smaller.gif including an elegant collection of essays by the wonderful writer Scott Russell Saunders, the brilliant study The Story-Making Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, and an easy-to-read, very wise, contemporary devotional on the Psalms.  Then I tell of two titles by friends of mine, one fabulously inspiring one on global justice issues by attorney and activist Jay Milbrandt (Go + Do) and the popular A Faith of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt.  Jonathan is an important author representing a new sort of young evangelical---mentioned in Gabe Lyon's Next Christians, and you should at least look at my brief review commending his story.  Read those reviews here.

capital_comm_header.jpgI also get to write each month for the thoughtful Christian think tank which explores faith-based citizenship, The Center for Public Justice (CPJ), in a column they call "Politics &shalom and community of.jpg Prose." That column of mine appears about once a month in their weekly Capitol Commentary, which is a very fine, faith-based, nonpartisan political newsletter.  In late June, I briefly reviewed three really interesting books:  a fabulous, introductory guide to thinking faithfully about politics, Honoring God in Red and Blue (Amy Black), a serious Biblical study that breaks new ground called Shalom and the Community of Creation (Randy Woodley) and the Oxford University Press current affairs title, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics (Frederick Harris.)  Read those reviews here.

In Capitol Commentary (June 1st) I describe three books: another review of the splendid study of leadership and social change in light of the comparison of Jefferson &drift.jpg Wilberforce, Ray Blunt's excellent Crossed Purposes, Crossed Lives, Rachael Maddow's powerful, important (and really interesting) book on the expanse of American militarism, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, and a quirky, theologically-informed collection of essays by Carl Trueman.  Read those reviews here,

In Capitol Commentary (May 4th) I describe three diverse titles, each one the sort that you canhow god became (small).gif hardly put down, realizing how important they are.  I tell about scathing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, then mention the critique of bad theology and cultural accomodation (in Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical movements) Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Russ Douthat, and lastly announce the latest N.T. Wright book, How God Became King, which certainly offers solid Biblical study on the theme of the Kingship of Christ in the gospels (and how we've tended to miss that.)  I heard CPJs founder Jim Skillen preach like that in the early 70s and it changed my life.  N.T. Wright's book is a must.  Read those reviews here.

hmlogoindex.pngAt the Hearts & Minds website, as you obviously know, we publish the BookNotes blog at least once a week, most often offering discounts on new books, important announcements, reviews, lists.  Some are long-winded, I've been told (moi?) but when I get a big head of steam up, and want to share a large list or a big idea or a ton of books, I usually post those at the longer-form monthly column, found by clicking the tab at the top of the website.  For instance, in July's monthly column I posted last week a reflection on our current political climate, the need for civility, but -- also urgent and less discussed -- I shared ourscandal of ev pol.jpg passion for nurturing the Christian mind and tried to suggest books that offer a very distinctively Christian approach to basic questions about government, the task of the state, the role of political ideologies, and why party loyalty is less important than honoring the Lordship of Christ over our political views and thinking through a coherent Christian political perspective.  This is not a general list about public justice nor an exhaustive compilation of books on religion and politics.  It is sort of my "best of" suggestions, essential to know about, vital to learn from, key resources that anybody who cares about faithful citizenship should consider.  Come on, buy at least one and start a study group for this fall!  It'll serve our nation well, and God will be pleased.  At least read the column and look through the list and see if any I tell about seem helpful.  The one by Ron Sider, shown here, is an excellent book about the process of developing something that might look like a Christian view on an issue---the methodology of reading the Bible, developing a political philosophy, discerning the times, survey relevant texts, and doing contemporary social research with an open mind.  If only the far Christian left and the religious right would take such careful steps, and then be humble about their tentative proposals.  Well that's the sort of stuff I talk about.  Check it out.

By the way, these columns and all the BookNotes posts are all archived and some customers enjoy browsing through our older reviews.  Unless we say otherwise, usually the discount offers are still good.  We have a search engine at the site, and if you put a book title in, perhaps in quotes, or an author, it might lead to you times I've discussed that item at some BookNotes or monthly column. Use that inquire tab, too, if you have any questions at all...unlike some faceless on-line places, you'll get a real answer from a real human.

One of the most fun and exciting things we've done at the shop in our near 30 years wasBy looking at Wright.jpg hosting a month or so ago the world-class, Church of England Bishop and Bible scholar, N.T. Wright. You can see me listening to him finish up, getting ready to highlight a few more of his books for our gathered crowd.  This is right behind the shop, in the yard behind the rear entrance.  Here is a long piece from the monthly column (May 2012) which I wrote in appreciation of Tom Wright's important body of work, and a bit of a reader's guide to his many titles, from the easiest to the hardest.  Enjoy.  

Here is another fairly recent monthly column (April) about something else very dear to my heart: the music of and a book about Canadian rock music hero, Bruce Cockburn.  Somebody at Rachael Held Evan's blog just the other day was blasting Christian bookstores for playing it safe and not carrying substantial stuff, like, oh, say, Bruce Cockburn.  I beg to differ.  We not only carry his stuff, I went on and on and on about him.  The piece was a window into my own life and times, I suppose, and I enjoyed sharing it with you.  And, hey, you should "pay your money and take your chance" (as Cockburn sings) and buy the darn Brian Walsh book, Kicking at the Darkness, on the formation of the Christian imagination, informed by a close study of Cockburn's allusive lyrics  You'll never read your Bible quite the same way again.

HighCalling logo.jpgI've occasionally suggested The High Calling, a fabulous on-line magazine and community of writers (and bloggers) who share short bits about taking faith into the marketplace, about work, the role of the laity, serving God in the daily grind, living life well, making culture to God's glory.  These are often beautifully written pieces, commissioned around themes or topics.  Someday I hope to get to The Laity Lodge who sponsors it all, but for now, I happily read the blog.  Not long ago I was asked to write a piece---with a nod to the phrase "culture making" from Andy Crouch's book of that name---in response to a swell essay by Sam Van Eman, about how different human activities can be seen as acts of contributing to culture, for God's sake. 

Here is the piece I wrote, Reading as a Cultural Act.  The accompanying picture is cool, even if the hipster is not reading a real book!  Haha.  Be sure to read the fabulous threads of comments, too.

Here is another one I did from THC which I was pleased with, brief but to the point, called Style Matters.  I hope you enjoy this affirmation of the way an author's style is so integral to a book's impact.

Lastly, I don't have a link, but what we mostly do, is talk about books to customers in our Dallastown shop.  Our great staff (Amy, Patti, Diana, Kimberly and book-keeper Robin) and my wife Beth are here six days a week, serving well, often searching for just the right title forByron & Beth.jpg just the right person.  We know some on-line followers are also in-store friends.

We really value our on-line community, those scattered across the globe that embrace our work, follow my writing, read our reviews, and send orders our way.  I hope this round-up informs you of some of the reviews you might not have seen at BookNotes, and reminds you of the ways you can stay in touch, join the conversation, and keep up with some of the places where I get to write, if briefly, about these wonderful things called books.  Great writing matters and we are honored that you care to consider our suggestions.  Thanks for reading.


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July 13, 2012

Reforming Hollywood: How Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies (and the other important books of William D. Romanowski)

Beth and I are underwriting what we are calling the inaugural Hearts & Minds Summer LectureRomanowski poster.jpg in Pittsburgh next week, and we are grateful to the campus ministry organization, the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) for their co-sponsoring and hosting the program at their training event, being held at Robert Morris University in Moon Township.  You can see here the lovely poster that Ned Bustard of World's End Images (Lancaster) created for us, that invites one and all to this book launch party, public lecture and reception with Dr. William D. Romanowski.  Since most of our readers will not be able to join us in Pittsburgh, I wanted to go to some lengths to tell you about the author and the book, and our deepest reasons for caring so much about it. Skip to the end to order the book if you don't want my backstory.

So, to get it out in the open right away, Bill Romanowski is an old friend.  I admired him when he came to faith our first year in college, as he played guitar for our fun fellowship groups and young adult worship times. I drove him around a bit to churches and coffeehouses where he was doing concerts; he had a couple of albums out and a decent sound system and everyone in our circle of friends enjoyed his winsome leadership, his playful shows, and his commitments to good scholarship, even as an undergrad.  Some of the old gang still call him Ski. 

A group of us lived together one year and were committed to trying, as best we could, to do our academic work in clearly Christian ways, bearing witness to God's work in creation (whatever one studies, it is God's creation!) We hoped to allow our Biblical worldviews, such as they were, to inform how we discerned what was important in the philosophy of our fields and to influence how we did our academic work.  From political theory to  American history to the philosophy of education, we argued with our largely secular professors, tried to write papers that made some sense of how faith might illumine the issues of the classroom, and tried to convince our brothers and sisters in the large Christian fellowship groups on campus to care about making a respectable witness in the university.  We talked about God with our professors, wrote op-ed pieces in the campus newspaper, sponsored Christian concerts andA-plus1.jpg lectures, and tried to get decent grades for God's greater glory.  Bill wrote a major senior paper, as I recall, on Christian perspectives on music theory. Unlike some of us--ahem, I'm not mentioning any names or confessing anything---he got an A+.

Bill and I went on, with our new wives in the fall of 1976, to join the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) the Pittsburgh-based campus ministry who years later will host our lecture, the organization whose staff had so influenced us as students, helping us learn theology and nurture the Christian mindset, helping us want to do evangelism and make disciples, but also to engage the culture around us.  My concerns about world hunger and our passions for things like racial justice and creation care came alive in those years and many of us remain grateful to the older friends and mentors of the CCO who taught and modeled "whole life discipleship" which valued Bible study and politics, prayer and play, church life and work life.  Beth and I, as you may know, have continued to serve the CCO as their preferred booksellers and I'm glad to be allowed to be called an Associate Staff.  Reaching college students with a coherent and relevant gospel, articulated and lived in ways that are neither literal nor liberal, standing in the historic, orthodox confessional faith of the reformation, continues to be a great passion of ours and our bookstore maintains relationships not only Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.jpgwith CCO but with other creative campus ministry engaging god's world.jpgmovements, such as IVCF.  Our interest in helping students relate faith and learning is seen in our regular promotion of books like The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press; $14.99) or Cornelius Plantinga's elegant and wise Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans; $16.00.)  Romanowski and our crew would have given our right arms for resources like that when we were students.  Of course, he went on to write a few books, too.

I don't exactly know what the phrase "the past is prologue" means but I do see a grand strand, circuitous, perhaps, illustrating God's faithfulness in the time-lines of Bill and I, from our college years through our current vocations, author and bookseller, and I wanted you to know this, at least: Romanowski has been at this effort of "thinking Christianly" a long, long time.  I can vouch for that.  He remains a working scholar---I got an email from him a few days ago, in fact, where he was up to his ears all day in tedious research.  Further, as he is employed as a full professor of Film and Media Studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, it can be seen that he still works with collegiates.  Bill got his PhD in the early 1990s in the study of popular culture from one of the key places to study that field.  He helped a leading scholar publish a highly regarded book on rock music's first use in movie soundtracks; he co-wrote a major book on youth ministry (showing how the study of popular culture can enhance and inform culturally-relevant and contextualized work with teens.)  And he was just getting started.  

pop culture wars.jpgHe eventually wrote a book published by InterVarsity Press (still available, now with a new cover, issued by Wipf & Stock for $43.00) called Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life. When this came out the phrase "culture wars" was just starting to be used and he carefully showed how our very assumptions about popular culture are both influenced by our cultural situation and end up influencing how we think and talk about movies and rock music and such. The art of popular artifacts were being (mis)used by those with agendas in the so-called culture wars and he opened us up to a deeper understanding.

In a nutshell, Romanowski broke new ground by showing how the distinction between what some call "high culture" and "low culture" emerges from a certain ideological view, itself perhaps anti-immigrant and racist, from the early part of the 20th century.  He showed how Vaudeville and other emerging sorts of entertainment were despised by some, demeaned in ways that dishonored their artfulness, the legitimacy of entertainment, and was colored by all sorts of Victorian baggage.  To this day, we have preachers and conservative activists (and some scholars) presuming that one must think about and take seriously the ideas of "high culture" artifacts like Shakespeare, the classic books, theater, and serious cinema. Talk about the meaning of The Simpsons, dubstep or video games?  That's just lowbrow and thoughtless entertainment, many would say, and we should either resist it or enjoy it without much consideration.  Pop Culture Wars showed remarkable historical acumen and theological insight by exposing how the very ways in which popular entertainments were approached were fundamentally unhelpful.  He argued for a robust and multi-dimensional way to appreciate, critique and engage mediums like TV and pop music videos from within a thick Christian worldview.  That he was influenced by the likes of Calvin Seerveld, who is known for writing heavy books on Christian views of aesthetics and literary theory, ends up being no surprise.  We were all reading Seerveld's first books in college.  Did I mention that Bill got an A on his senior thesis?  The fingerprints of our late night bull sessions, prayer meetings, and his hard work as a Christian undergrad are seen all over that first major book and it remains important.  Later, when a collection of serious essays were compiled to honor professor Seerveld, then retiring from the heady Institute for Christian Studies graduate school in Toronto, Bill had a piece narrating how Seerveld influenced him, and how Seerveld's idiosyncratic theories gave him tools to think new thoughts about the quandary of popular culture.  (And, too, how he introduced some current popular culture entertainments to the good-natured Professor Seerveld!)

I tell you all this to show that Romanowski has, in many ways, followed a path that is both admirable, intentional, and perhaps even uncommon.  From an unchurched family, he bent the knee to the Lord Jesus in a college-age commitment that gave him new life and redemptive experiences in ways that some young adults never embrace.  His commitments as a servant of the Lord (and seeing his educational and career goals as avenues of that Kingdom service and not as part of a narrative of the American dream of financial success) is a major part of this story: Bill's artistic sensibilities, his creative work, his scholarship and his career goals all were transformed by God's good grace, and his life subsequently re-narrated.

It seems to me that describing this particular author's journey (about which he will be demurYouLostMe.jpge, perhaps embarrassed) may be helpful, especially as we think about young adults drifting from church, as explained so helpfully in the hugely popular You Lost Me by David Kinnaman (Baker; $17.99.)  Kinnaman, you may recall, insists that research shows that young adults drift from church and faith often because (among other reasons) they sense the church is not interested in popular culture or very affirming of creativity and the arts.  And, further, many interviewees---those who have left the church in their 20s---reported that they found the church disinterested in the notion of calling, vocation, work.  Bill committed his ways to the Lord, worked hard to come up with a way to integrate his faith with his life passions and skills, and ended up making a difference in his field of influence (and was helped along the way by many who had a vision of the faith as a worldview and not just a religion, a way of life, not just a set of doctrinal assertions.)  Not all of us will be as successful as Romanowski, and obviously most of us will not write books or become professors at a Christian college.  But, still, his story is instructive--his taking up this vocation of doing scholarly work on pop culture and, now, film history.  We can be thankful for his many years of serving young adults by helping them process the entertainment culture in which they are raised, the way he has spoken at scholarly conferences and church camps alike, offering a solid, refreshing understanding about being "in but not of" the world around us.  In an age of ipods, streaming videos, ubiquitous celebrity news and a grassroots renewal of indie film and music, it seems that Bill's insights about the very nature of culture and the role of the arts are needed now more than ever.  

eyes wide.jpgEnter Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture (Brazos Press; $22.99) which I believe is the very best book on the subject.  Bill wrote this shortly after Pop Culture Wars and it was written for a more popular audience -- even high schools kids have enjoyed it.  In that book, informed by his more academic research, he offers insights for us all to figure out how to be both appreciative and discerning of the popular entertainments we enjoy.  From Hollywood blockbusters to MTV, from HBO to classic rock radio, from video games to the latest advertisement talked about at the office water cooler, his principles help us enjoy and be discerning about the world of popular culture.  Few books are as accessible and insightful, as serious and as playful, as balanced and wise, as Eyes Wide Open.  And few books are as foundational, essential.  Since the release of its first edition, and through the expanded second edition, there has been a virtual cottage industry of books around these themes.  Some are quite good (I'm a fan of the witty and prophetic Everyday Apocalypse (Brazos Press; $18.00) by the very creative writer David Dark and the brand new, serious, Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective by Ted Turnau (Presbyterian & Reformed; $19.99)  Some are a bit reactionary---don't watch this, don't fall for that---and a few are a bit speculative, stretching hard to find some redemptive meaning in weird movies and odd-ball trends.  Bill's book is solid, helpful, interesting, and important.  

So, God has been faithful to Bill in his decades of steadfastness in doing this work.  He has appeared on countless talk shows, interviews, and has been cited as a specialist on everything from the contemporary Christian music industry to issues of class, race and gender in teen films.  Alongside his popular writing, speaking, and informal teaching, (not to mention his job as a college professor) he has been doing diligent research in Hollywood archives and within several major centers of film history.  For more than a decade he has been absorbed in trying to tell a particular story, to make a fresh contribution to the field of film studies.  And what interesting things he has discovered along the way; and what a sizable contribution he has now made!

reforming h.jpgThe new book, Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies (published by the prestigious Oxford University Press; $29.95) tells the story that he has been working on for more than a decade, a story that no one else has told heretofore.  I am not just saying this, but it is truly seminal --- anyone interested in the history of American cinema, anyone interested in the relationship of religion and film, will simply have to know this book.  And some major scholars in the film history field say so, too.

The story of how religious faith has influenced Hollywood---and it has been influential, believe it or not---has been told before.  However, the standard tellings have focused on those of Jewish faith and the dramatic role of Roman Catholics. The story of how Protestants have influenced early Hollywood has not been told well, and when it has been mentioned, it has not been told accurately.  It is complicated, and Romanowski is perfectly skilled to be able to tell it.

To get the story right, it is important that he is theologically aware--understanding fundamentalists and their instincts about culture as well as the more mainline denominations and their approaches.  And he knows much about the earliest days of silent films, Nickelodeons, the epics, the different cinematic styles, and such.  To make a long story short, as he poured over all kinds of archives one thing lead to another and soon he was becoming one of the leading experts on the ways in which church leaders did or didn't address matters of censorship and ethics in the rising art-form known by some as the House of Dreams.  He leaves no stone unturned (and no committee report unstudied) in this detailed investigation of who thought what, who did what, who paid for what, and which religious approaches held sway from the roaring twenties through the "new Hollywood" of the late 60s and 70s on through into the new, HD, 3D century.

Here is what this complex, thorough-going book explains: from the broad controversies of how the film industry was going to effect the values of Americans generally, to specific historic battles such as the infamous "damn" in Gone with the Wind, to even whether theaters were going to be permitted to be open on Sundays, American church leaders were actively involved.  It is well known that there was the Legion of Decency of the Roman Catholics, but Romanowski shows that standard books on the subject overstate their role.  Alas, it has long been taught (including in the major texts about film history) that Protestant Christians were similarly censorious.  In a story that takes a whole book to unpack, the truth of the matter is that Protestant leadership disagreed (not unlike today) and there were vying organizations and colorful characters who represented different theological models for what Niebuhr would eventually call the "relationship of Christ and culture."  There were those lined up with what today we might think of as the pious, conservative, Christian right, and there were those who favored structural, incremental reforms.  It is simply not so that most Protestants favored censoring or didn't appreciate the power of cinema for the common good.  Most favored self-regulation, and opposed censorship. You will notice the subtitle of his book, illustrating the heretofore largely untold story: how Protestants fought for freedom at the movies.

Early on, some church leaders saw film as a serious art-form, and as a valid way to raise in entertaining ways important issues about meaning and values ( and even to be used for Christian education!)  Protestant leaders affirmed the independence of the film industry.  Some of the boards and agencies disagreed just how to do that---and, yes, in the years of Prohibition there was this radical stream that was more strident and some opposed the movies (this portion of Reforming Hollywood might be best appreciated after viewing the tremendous Ken Burn's documentary of the 1920s Prohibition.)  Romanowski deftly walks us through the myriad of names and organizations and movements as film increasingly became a major influence in American society and as different sorts of church organizations manuevered for influence over production and distribution.  Richard Maltby, surely one of today's most significant film historians, has a very enthusiastic endorsement on the back of Reforming Hollywood, and reminds us how this book offers new insights, correcting how film history is considered.  "This is a well-told story," he writes, "with new perspectives and new information in every chapter."

As the story unfolds---and there are truly fascinating side trips and important excursions and we meet stars and moguls, preachers and congressmen---we end up in more recent years, and the very important creation of what is now known as the rating system.  Did you know that Protestants were very involved in the creation of what we all know as the rating system, an informative way of helping viewers understand the nature of any given film? (And do you see behind that a Christian insight about how social reforms ought not necessarily be censorious?) Here is a link to CARA, the Classification and Rating Administration, if you're curious. Or visit the Motion Picture Association of America website for their "How to Read a Rating" section. 

Romanowski landed an extraordinary audience and important interview with the hugelybill and jack v.jpg important head of the Motion Picture Academy, the influential and impeccable, late Jack Valenti, and he has long been friends with Reverend James Wall (who edited The Christian Century for a while, and was deeply involved in the ratings discussions in the 1960s and beyond for the National Council of Churches and who is a veritable treasure trove of information on the subject.)  With these vital contacts, Romanowski gained access to even more quantities of previously unavailable letters and minutes of meetings and first-hand reports of behind-the-scene conversations.  Maltby observes that "Romanowski reveals how Hollywood's relationship to the Protestant establishment was crucial to debates around film regulation, and charts the erosion of its influence in the post-war years."

Different theological views of what constitutes a faithful Christian approach to any social or cultural engagement lie not far below the surface of different instincts and impulses and therefore goals and strategies of what it means to reform culture.  Varying perspectives shaped how Protestants viewed what was becoming one of the most influential institutions in the world---the movies! By the 21st Century there were even more divergent approaches.  Some on the far right were boycotting and protesting; just this week, the Southern Baptist LifeWay "Christian Stores" chain removed the movie The Blind Side from their for-sale inventory because of a cuss word. Others were courting Hollywood to make faith-friendly films (especially after the commercial success of The Passion of the Christ.) For some, acceptable contemporary faith-friendly films were like Left Behind and Fireproof, while others promoted the abolitionist story Amazing Grace and serious films like Bella and There Be Dragons.  Again, Romanowski sleuthed out important voices, vital correspondence and conducted timely interviews with major players in the church and movie world as a new evangelical media movement unfolded.  The book documents well some of the helpful and some of the not so helpful moves made by both evangelicals and mainline denominational folks, offering not only illuminating descriptions of their efforts but also his own suggestions for a wise and effective way to have reforming influences in a pluralistic world.

Firstly, as I have explained, it is an example of top-shelf, uniquely Christian scholarship.  Friends and fans of Hearts & Minds know that we think that the world can be well served, we can love our neighbors and make the world a better place, as some of us, informed by Biblical truth and insightful cultural discernment, become wise thought leaders.  It is important that in each academic discipline and each sphere of life that ideas and ways of thinking about the field are shaped and guided by Christian insight.  (This is part of what it means to be "sons and daughters of Issachar" of I Chronicles 12:32, part of what it means to be "salt" and "light" and "leaven," and part of what it means to speak prophetic truth to all sorts of power.)  This book is an example of a significant Christian scholar retelling the historical story of a significant aspect of American life and it deserves to be celebrated.  This is one of the core values of the CCO, by the way, the campus ministry Bill and I used to work for, and remains central to his work as author and teacher and my work as bookseller: we need to nurture "the mind of Christ" and must find more young adults who will embrace the vocation of scholarship.  (There cheers, here, for IVCF's Emerging Scholar's Network, by the way, designed to mentor and equip just such young Christian scholars to take up their calling in higher education.)  Bill's book is a fruit of this sort of work, and it should be honored. I would say this if it were a book with significant and refreshing new insights in science or business or family studies, too, of course; that it is about film history makes it, well, just a bit more fun. Who doesn't have some interest in the glamor and drama of Hollywood?  You should buy Reforming Hollywood because it is an important example of serious Christian scholarship.

Secondly, Reforming Hollywood is not only an example of distinctively Christian scholarship, relating faith and film history.  It is a study of how to think about culture itself.  Romanowksi has explored this in fairly philosophical ways in his significant Pop Culture Wars.  He has presumed it in fairly practical terms in his upbeat and useful Eyes Wide Open.  Here, he documents the strengths and weaknesses, the drama of success and failure, the unintended consequences and the goodness (and sometimes corruption) of Christian efforts to cause social change.  In our day and age it is doubtlessly certain that we must grapple with what it means to be people of winsome fidelity regarding our own public lives, our own efforts to make a difference in the world around us.  This studious, detailed narrative of how some of our forebears did or didn't interact well with the powers that be (in this case, in the entertainment industry, from New York to L.A.) is instructive for anyone wanting to live out a transforming vision.  Whether you are a fan of the American Family Association and their warnings of the vulgarity and secularism of many modern films (and their consequent campaigns of boycotts and protests) or are more of a fan of celebrations of common grace as seen in books like The Gospel According to Hollywood by Greg Garrett (W/JK; $17.00) or, say, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers (Cathleen Falsani (WJK; $14.99) we can all learn from the past, gaining insight about how to engage well the culture around us.  Certainly if you are drawn to public leadership and desire to impact the the world around you, knowing how best to accomplish certain helpful goals (just think of forming the rating system as one way to put morals and values on the table of filmmakers, movie studios, as well as the viewing public, and what it took to create that possibility) then, this book will be an informative and hepful resource.  Romanowski, as a film historian, hints at ways that are faithful and ways that are not.  You should consider Reforming Hollywood to learn about better ways of being involved in social change in a particular field.

Everybody should read a serious book about history now and then. It is good to know our past and to exercise our gray matter thinking about how we got were we are, so to speak.  It's just good to read a great, academic book and fancy yourself a life-long learner.  This book will help you be smarter and a more interesting conversationalist when your talking about the movies or American social history.

reforming h.jpgSince this is a major scholarly work published by the world's most prestigious publishing house, it is not a tract for evangelical renewal or a formula for cultural reformation.  But for those with ears to hear, there is a striking invitation in the closing pages.  When Romanowski  gives a brief reminder of the fast-changing pace of technical innovations and new delivery systems and notes the troubling shift in the commonplace nature of vivid sex and violence in many films, always aware of the commercial aspects of the business of box office, he ends the book with a call for readers to be informed and aware of the long view and broad perspective needed to offer genuinely lasting insight.  I might have wished for more, more ideas about what to do, lessons learned, a reforming strategy spelled out for viewers and producers, too.  But, alas, that is not the sort of book this is; perhaps, like his beloved movie industry we must use our imaginations in the dark; like his beloved mentor Calvin Seerveld might say, we must learn to appreciate the allusive quality of the arts in God's world.  Reforming Hollywood is indeed a scholarly book of data and facts and people and history and stories and controversies.  It  offers much learning about our cultural past.  But it is also a work of (scholarly) art.  And artfulness, in movies and in books, leaves something to the imagination.  This book will stimulate your imagination, and for that reason, too, it is well worth buying, well worth reading, and well worth pondering.

Here is a shorter review of Reforming Hollywood which I wrote for Comment magazine.

Watch this short video clip of Romanowski talking about the intellectual detective work he did in researching this book.  Very interesting!



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July 23, 2012

Bigger than a blog, longer than a list, this is a catalog. Outdoor education, wilderness trips, nature writing, creation care and finding God in the great outdoors.

reading on a rock.jpgThis latest Hearts & Minds project includes annotations of all sorts of outdoorsy books, listed by theme, from mountaineering skills and backpacking stuff to finding God in creation and wonderful nature writing.  Some of these are overtly Christian, many are not.  All are selected for your reading pleasure, whether you are an adventure nut or armchair nature lover or just want to learn to be more attentive to God's presence in the beauty and wonder of the outdoors, perhaps in your own backyard.  You'll find things on experiential education and the ethics of back-country camping, leadership development for those mentoring others in church camp or wilderness trips, a few about the theology of play, and a few of our favorite memoirs.

Just click here and it will take you over to the "monthly columns" of the Hearts & Minds website.  Of course there are links to our secure website if you want to order any of these, at the discounted prices.  It's a catalog of titles that I'm fond of, and hope you'll take a look. This big list appears in June 2012.

PS:  I'm sure I missed a few absolute must-reads, so if you want to make suggestions to enhance this particular book shelf, let us know.  Thanks!  Hope you get outside a bit this season.

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

July 30, 2012

Books on "thinking Christianly" about jobs, careers, college majors: do younger people care more? Order any book from this list and get a FREE BOOK.

I want to show you a few books that you might find interesting, or that you might want to tell others about, but, as is often the case, I want to tell you about them by way of a story.  It's part of who we are, to get these sorts of books out to those who are interested and we believe you, too, are excited about this; you'd click on some faceless internet site if all you wanted was a mass marketed thing, plain and simple and cheap.  If you read BookNotes, order books from us, are interested in our work, spread our reviews to friends or church members, or send me too-short notes on twitter, you are part of our story and we know you care. 

So, this week, I wanted you to join us in being glad for the way we get to talk about and sell books to college students through the Ocean City Beach Project in Ocean City NJ.  I'm too busy hanging out with the students to spend much time splashing in the waves, but I do love that town, and value the ministry of OCBP.

ocbp 2012.jpg
You've no doubt heard me talk about OCBP before---for over two decades I have had the great privilege of hanging out and trying to befriend remarkable young collegians who have signed up for a summer of discipleship training, church involvement and intentional living in a community house led by staff of the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) across the street from the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean City.  Most of these students will return in the fall to campuses where CCO is doing ministry and will rise to leadership in the local fellowship, outreach, ministry or para-church group at the college or university where they study.  This year I met some truly fantastic new friends and am grateful.

I get to set up a huge book display all over their summer living room (on pool tables, a big air-hockey table, windowsills, some kitchen tables we borrow and lug from the nearby church.)  And I get to lecture for more than 6 hours, most years about what they term (drawing on the book by Donald Optiz and Derek Melleby by this name) "the outrageous idea of academic faithfulness."

By the way, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for StudentsOutrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.jpg (Brazos; $13.99) should be in a care-package sent to every Christian college student you know!  It is so good and not at all difficult to read.  After they read that, they should read the truly lovely, elegant and very insightful Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living by Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans; $16.00.)  If you want to order either, you could give us their addresses and we will send 'em for you with a nice note tucked in...

Using these resources, I help college students deepen their vision of how doing their studies can be understood as a spiritual discipline, how learning about the world pleases God, how preparing for a career can be a holy vocation, and how they might be used by God as we point others to Christ's ways in every sphere of life, including our work and public life. This "creation-regained" and "transforming vision" worldview-to-a-way of life is exciting stuff for idealistic, passionate young adults, and they love our books, offered as tools for the struggle of social transformation.

I always come back from these sorts of events wondering why we don't sell more of these resources to ordinary church folk, our blog readers or here in the shop.  These students aren't Harvard PhD candidates or anything, most are from fairly ordinary state colleges or private liberal arts colleges, but they want to use their minds, learn to dig deep, not only into the Bible but into life in God's world.  Drawing on I Chronicles 12:32, I called them "sons and daughters of Issachar" (who understood the times, and knew what God's people should do.)  Sometimes I called them Kuyperians, in homage to Abraham Kuyper and his famous line, preached at his famous university in Holland, that Christ claims "every square inch."  Sometimes I called them Narnians, for obvious reasons.  Aslan is on the loose and Spring is a-coming, don't ya know?

A friend of mine years ago told me to specialize in young adult work because it is "too late" for most older, established adults who have already committed themselves to cares and concerns, views and opinions, shaped less by a missional vision of the reign of God and moresleeping man.jpg by the American Dream. For them, he said, faith is sincere, but private, and that's about as far as it goes.  It is heart-felt, but doesn't connect with their intellects much, unless, perhaps, they care about doctrine and will argue about that.  God can convert even old-timers to a wholistic vision of a Christian perspective, he assured me, but it doesn't happen very often.  I thought, and still think, that he was jaded and needlessly cynical, but it does interest me that even in fields where professionals are used to doing continuing education---health care providers, public school teachers, business executives, mental health professionals, real estate sales people, college teachers, engineers, for starters---few ever ask us for Christian material that might influence their thinking about their field.  I know there are sharp Christian friends who read widely and study up in their respective fields, but we hardly ever sell books helping to nurture the Christian mind across the various occupational areas.  We just don't.  Was my friend right, most middle age folks are too set in their ways to think like Christians in their respective careers?  Or maybe they've mostly figured it out and don't need books about it?  Or maybe they've just not thought about it much.

renew.jpgTo remedy this, we invite people---over and over and over---to see their daily lives as worship ("a living sacrifice" is how Romans 12:1 colorfully puts it.) To figure out what it looks like to worship with your body day-by-day, we must be "non-conformed" to the ways of the world (Romans 12:2). Further, we need fresh ideas and "renewed minds" --- we must think about what we do in light of God's views.  To "take every theory captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5) means we must do at least some rudimentary thinking about the notion of vocation and calling and what it might mean to do our work unto the glory of God (Colossians 3:23, I Corinthians 10:31) and for the sake of the common good.  We must see our work as worship, resist the typical assumptions prevalent in our field (insofar as they are distorted or wrong) and with God's help develop new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching the craft of our tasks. How does that work itself out in your career or sphere of influence? Why don't I hear much talk like this, except among young students?

We commend to all adults, as we did for the OCBP gang, books like Work Matters:work matters.jpg Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway; $15.99.)  Nelson is a brave pastor who started asking these very questions in his church, inviting more intentional thinking about the integration of faith and work. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman (IVP; $16.00) is a serious, thorough study of how our jobs can become avenues of social change honoring God and loving neighbor as we steward our vocations for the sake of the common good.  And, of course, there is the excellent, eloquent classic, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness (Nelson; $17.99.)  A smaller Bible study guide that we often suggest is What Do I Do with My Life? Serving God Through Work by Kenneth Baker (Faith Alive; 10.99.)   Smaller still is a great booklet about work, inexpensive and excellent, written by a Lancaster friend, Stephen Nichols.  It is just called What Is Vocation? (Presbyterian & Reformed; $3.99.)

A few of the OCBP students were very excited to hear that an author they know and respectevery good endeavor (keller).jpg, Timothy Keller from New York City, has a book coming out on work later this fall.  It will be called Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Plan for the World and I am sure it will be excellent.  It is due in November 2012  (Dutton; $26.95.)  You can pre-order it now, if you'd like, by just typing it into our order form page.  We will have it on sale for at least 20% off, for sure.  

This broad vision that affirms our callings and careers and relates them to "God's Plan for the World" as Keller puts it, is in many ways new to these young adults, although they intuit much of it, as most of us do, I suspect.  Still, many report that they haven't been taught much about the Christian mind, cultural engagement, work, science, art (or all that much theology or spiritual formation either, for that matter) in their home churches. Most didn't seem to know adults that were reading these kinds of books or having these kinds of conversations.  CCO does a good job mentoring these students in a gospel centered life with this wholistic Kingdom vision that teases out the implications of faith for life in the modern world, and it is great to work with them. 

And they do get fired up about this project, wanting to honor God by thinking theologically about every thing in life.  It is what propels them to get excited about the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh each February. 

How about you and your church?  Do you know anybody reading a book about a Christian view of science, or of work, or of a Biblically-informed view of politics or economics or film?  Why don't many folks buy those sorts of books?  (I'd ask why many other bookstores tend not to carry much of that kind of thoughtful Christian fuel for the fire of daily living in and for the world, but I don't want to digress.)  Still the question is important.  Why don't we do more with what we know?  Why don't we take up the "cost of discipleship" by investing in a mature Christian library?  Why have some of us not ever read a single Christian book other than a devotional or inspirational guide?  Why don't we invite others into the joys and rigors of thinking Christian about our work and citizenship and entertainment and such?    

Of course, being fun-loving, young adults, most OCBP kids weren't interested in heavy theology or deepLove_Does_240_360_Book.625.cover_-196x300.jpg philosophy.  Bob Goff's upbeat Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World (Nelson; $15.99) was a big seller. (And one gal called him up, but that's another story.)  We sold books about sex and dating, gender roles and relationships, basic books about coping with sadness, with sharing faith, books about how to pray.  We sold some C.S. Lewis, which is nice.  And of course about understanding the Bible better.  Sure.

But we also sold books on being responsible in the world, caring and contributing, like Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Couch (IVP; $26.00) which is always a fine place to start.  I read excerpts of Steve Garber's book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP; $16.00) which you may know as a serious book designed to reflect on many of these exact themes.  I pushed Colossians Remixed by Walsh & Keesmaat (IVP; $23.00.) I talked about Jamie Smith, and sold a few of his. We sold resources on faith and thethink.jpg marketplace.  We sold books on the Christian mind, such as Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper (Crossway; $15.99.) We sold books about making a difference in the world of poverty and oppression, about race and diversity, and general, but powerfully challenging books on discipleship like Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt (Waterbrook; $14.99.)

Was my old advisor right when he said older adults mostly don't care about these things as they've already sold out and given up to the American Dream?  Part of the American Dream, of course, is that faith is private, that we can all agree on some basic civil religion for our social spaces that don't need the gospel, much.  Church life is for Sunday, and our private home-life (and maybe a balm to the needy) and we needn't consider---we don't even imagine---how God comes to bear on thinking about work or science or art or politics.  Beth and I bank on the hope that he was wrong as we trust that our middle aged and older customers will remain on their cutting edge of growth, wanting to read and learn and study and relate faith to their careers and callings and public duties in the world.  Being missional and a Kingdom thinker isn't just for the lively and idealistic!  But it sure is great to be with these young folks, who seem to have a whole lot more earnest willingness to learn about their faith than most of us middle-age folks.  

Join us in rejoicing that we sold these books.  And prove us wrong that older people in regular churches care about Christ's grace worked out in all of life.  Join this story, talk about these kinds of books, share what you know, help us do our work.  Read for the Kingdom!


Science & Christianity (Four Views).jpgScience and Christianity: Four Views edited by Richard Carlson (IVP) $20.00 This great book offers for serious Christians who have firm ideas of how their faith and Biblical orthodoxy relates to their work as scientists.  None rehash the tired "faith vs science" debate since they all agree that faith and science must be related.  But how? After each chapter, the other three reply.  I recommended this to science majors not only because it introduces them to some of the major schools of thought about the integration of faith and scholarship, but allows readers to be critical thinkers and make up their own minds which method strikes them as most helpful.  For what it is worth, we sold a few other books on the sciences and a few on the discussion about intelligent design and theistic evolution.  We have a "three views" on that, too.


psych and christianity- five.jpgPsychology and Christianity: Five Views  edited by Eric Johnson (IVP) $22.00  What a remarkable book, very useful to hear the stories and learn the methodologies of five different Christians who each--again, like above--agree that there is a uniquely Christian perspective and faith and psychology must be related.  But how?  Each presents their take and then each reply, so you really learn a lot of views, each making their case for how best to understand the way Christian faith influences their work.  How does one think theologically and Biblically about counseling?  For those in this field who are followers of Jesus and thereby mandated to develop the Christian mind and serve God faithfully ("nonconformed") to not grapple with these sorts of questions is professional malpractice. This book isn't the final answer but it well get you part way down the road.


church state and public justice.jpgChurch, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P. C. Kemeny ((VP) $19.00  Thanks to the political science major who, despite his own rather developed opinions, was willing to pick up this book and hear five different schools of thought from five different Christian faith traditions, on what, exactly, constitutes good government and public justice and what good citizenship looks like.  I love this book and, as I've suggested before, anybody with strong political opinions should at least know about the best thinking represented by Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Anabaptist and mainline denominational social thinking.  There are more basic views for ordinary citizens, but this is excellent for those wanting to compare and contrast the foundational thinking assumed by various folks in the public square.  I hope you saw my politics-oriented post a few weeks ago where I highlighted a few other foundational resources of this nature.  I can't figure out how to explain the significance of this kind of thinking, but am confident that these kinds of books will be appreciate by those wanting to repent of fraudulent ideas and deepen their resolve to theological integrity---wherever they find themselves on the spectrum of legitimate options.

Sociology Through the Eyes of Faith  David Fraser & Tony Campolo (HarperOne) $19.99  This is a series of books created as entry level Christian college texts, and one would think that if one is a sociologist who hasn't had the opportunity to integrate faith and sociology, one would be gleeful to see such a resource.  One gal at OCBP sure was and it made my day.

Mathematics Through the Eyes of Faith  Russell Howell & James Bradley  (HarperOne) $19.99  Uh huh.  Very, very interesting.  It is curious how many books about numbers and math are in the typical bookstore, but not to many that are overtly framed by solid, Christian insights.  Wow.

Music Through the Eyes of Faith  Harold Best (HarperOne) $19.99  We have a large selection of books about the popular arts, about rock music, and other sorts of basic books about the role of music in our lives.  For serious music teachers or music majors, this is solid.  Best teaches at Wheaton College.  Ask us about the one by Indigo Girl Amy Saliers and her organ-playing United Methodist dad, Don.  Or the excellent books about music by Jeremy Begbie.

History Through the Eyes of Faith  Ronald Wells (HarperOne) $19.99  A very fine historian done good work, generally, writing about the integration of faith and scholarship, and here he offers his overview of what a Christian doing history acdtually does.  Wonderful.

technopoly.jpgTechnopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology  Neil Postman (Vintage) $15.00  We have more sophisticated and updated critiques of our hot-wired world, and I suppose critics like Jacque Ellul may be more theologically profound. We stock a number of thoughtful books on technology and engineering, many a bit critical of our technological milieu.  And of course we have positive books, like the excellent volume edited by Stephen Monsma,  Responsible Engineering: A Christian Perspective (Eerdmans; $26.00)responsible-technology.jpg which is an interdisciplinary treatise on Christian views of technical design (kudos to the Calvin Center on Christian Scholarship for publishing this years ago!)  Still, the passionate, clear-headed overview by the late Professor Postman is a great conversation starter and his call for us to be "loving resistance fighters" draws on our best desires to make a real difference to change things.  Love it.  It is increasingly hard to sell, since younger folks don't see much wrong with reducing life to technique and find it hard to see the ideologies and idolatries in this sort of worldview.  They appreciate Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death (about "public discourse in an age of entertainment") but less so this one.  I try.

whybusinessmatterstogod.jpgWhy Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)  Jeffrey Van Duzer (IVP) $20.00  How many business people have thought deeply about their work lives, about the role of profits and such?  This author grew up presuming that greedy corporations were the major cause of damage in the world and now he leads a Christian business school.  What a transformation, but he is still passionate about ethical principles and the call for business to serve the common good.

I was glad there was an economics major there this year, too, who bought a book on two on thinking about economics from a Christian view.  There are some good resources of various levels and from various perspectives...

crisis and the kingdom.jpgThe Crisis and the Kingdom: Economics, Scripture, and the Global Financial Crisis  E. Philip Davis  (Wipf & Stock) $18.00  I was glad that one young woman, an international student with an eye on high finance, immediately asked me about a book for her work beyond Wall Street.  This author is a solid theologian who has worked in the banking industry in London (and has a technical book on Oxford University Press --- not too shabby, eh?) This is a balanced, thoughtful, Christian critique of some of what went wrong in the financial crash and how wise leaders of faith could contribute helpful insights.  Do you know any faith-based stock brokers, traders, bankers?  This book would be a good gift to spark faithful thinking.

christian teachers in public schools.gifChristian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom  Darlene Vickery Parker (Beacon Hill) $12.99  I was so happy to sell this to a few elementary ed majors who want to honor God in the classroom, being good teachers and thinking Christianly about everything from models of learning to the nature of the student to how curriculum develops to daily things like discipline, honesty, empathy and prayer.  Nice.

metaphors we teach by.jpgMetaphors We Teach By: How Metaphors Shape What We Do in Classrooms  edited by Ken Bradley & Harro Van Brummelen (Wipf & Stock) $19.00  This was a bit more academic, but for serious educators, thinking through how worldviewish metaphors color and shape how we think about teaching (and, particularly assessment) is remarkably insightful.  If you are a thoughtful Christian teacher and have read some basic stuff about integration of faith and learning and developing a Christian perspective on teaching, this will provoke you to deeper consideration.  What a great example of profound Christian scholarship, tools to resource faithful professionals serving God in the classroom.

viral.jpgViral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival  Leonard Sweet (Waterbrook) $14.99  Of course most young adults are pretty wired and I was a little sad to see many listening to music privately on their ipads----OCBP used to be loud with music, shared communally.  Having said that, these guys do realize they must be self-aware of their technological choices and we had a few great conversations about facebook and the like.  Naturally, I mentioned Len Sweets insightful book about TGIF culture (Twitter, Google, ipad, Facebook.) This interactive book is not the last word on our post-Gutenberg/Google world, but it is a great start for the social-media generation.

space between jacobsen.jpgThe Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment  Eric O. Jacobsen (Baker Academic) $22.99  Okay, I'll admit, I didn't sell this one, but I almost did.  I don't think there were any architecture majors or city planners at OCBP but one day guest heard about our "Christian worldview leading us to thinking faithfully in every academic discipline and every career area" and our unusual book selection he quipped that he bet I didn't have anything on architecture.  When I showed him this he couldn't believe his eyes!  I told him about Til We Have Built Jerusalem by Philip Bess, a thoughtful Catholic whose book is worth reading, the very heavy A Theology of the Built Environment (in the Radical Orthodoxy series) by Timothy Gorringe, and the caustic, but fun and very engaging (if rather irreligious) books by James Howard Kunstler, which I adore (The Geography of Nowhere, Home from Nowhere, City in Mind, and more.)  I suggested, though, he start with Pastor Jacobsen's primer (with the lovely forward by Eugene Peterson) called  Sidewalks of the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (Brazos; $22.00)  I will be writing more about Jacobsen's brand new Space Between, soon.  If you know anybody working in this field, it is, I insist, a "must read."  If you know anyone who lives in a town or a village, a city or a....well, you get my point.  Important for us all. 

game-day-for-glory-god-guide-athletes-stephen-altrogge-paperback-cover-art.jpgGame Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes Stephen Altrogge (Crossway) $9.99  I somehow mislaid a whole box of sports books, and was embarrassed not to have this on display at OCBP---this is certainly an area many enjoy and we have spiritual books for this arena, too.  Found the box at the end---under that pool table--so really want to give this a shout out, now.  It's brief, passionate, and a great starter. For a more serious study, see Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports by Shirl James Hoffman (Baylor University Press; $29.99) or Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons from the World of Sports by Josh Tinley (Pilgrim Press; $15.00.)  I hope you know the riveting read InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by former Baltimore Colt and urban kids coach, Joe Ehrmann (Simon & Schuster; $24.00.) He has been dubbed the "most important coach in America, and this tells you why.  Great!


real love for real life.jpgchristian view of hospitality.jpg

Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring
  Andispirit of food ingram.gif Ashworth (Rabbit Room Press; $12.00) and A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises  Michele Hershberger (Herald Press; $12.99) and The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Towards God edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (Wipf & Stock; $30.00)   Although OCBP students were college-bound, many are setting up apartments, perhaps for the first time.  There were conversations about cooking, about shopping, about home economics, and a lot on hospitality.  (They had had a teaching on that earlier in the summer, with a special attention to being hospitable to international students and others in need of a home away from home.)  When I told them Andi Ashworth's book is a favorite of Beth's and mine (and that her husband, Charlie Peacock, produced the Civil Wars fine album) they perked up.  I suggested these two books, among others (like The More With Less Cookbook) for basic home-making skills. I also noted that my favorite chapter in The Spirit of Food mentions, in passing, something strangely like OCBP.  Denise Frame Harlan ("And She Took Flour") deepened her cooking chops in that very CCO  community in its early years. (She tells how she first heard tell of Robert Farrar Capon's Supper of the Lamb during CCO new staff training, too, a book that continues to haunt her sacramental imagination!)  That anthology may be a bit too literary and a bit too expensive for young student's tastes, but you should know about it.  Some of us are called to the marketplace and public square, many more of us are called to make homes, cook, and care for others in our families.  We are glad to have such rich resources to help us think deeply and live abundantly with God's help..

FREE BOOK with any purchase. A $16 value. Free.

While supplies last we will give you free with any purchase a complimentary copy of a book by
god at work.jpg Lutheran scholar and writer Gene Veith, a great book simply called God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All Of Life (Crossway; $15.99.)  Interestingly (as Luther taught) our paid work is not our only vocation, and God is at work in and through us in many spheres.  We wear many hats in our many offices---family member, citizen, employer or employee, church member, neighborhood dweller, and more.  Anyway, Veith explores wonderfully this full-orbed view of our many callings, and how God commissions us to serve Christ's Kingdom in these various spheres.  It is not a hard book and I think it will be a helpful supplement to any you order from this list.  


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