About October 2012

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

September 2012 is the previous archive.

November 2012 is the next archive.

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

October 2012 Archives

October 1, 2012

The Exact Place: A Memoir by Margie L. Haack (Kalos Press) -- 20% off

Texact place.jpghe Exact Place: A Memoir by Margie L. Haack (Kalos Press) $16.95

BookNotes discount: 20% off, $13.56
Use order link below.

A SENSE OF PLACE
You most surely know, and appreciate, the recent trend, nearly a part of the proverbial zeitgeist now, which could be described as a renewed attention to place.  Wendell Berry's astute and elegant essays and novels (there is a new collection of Port Williams membership short stories coming later this month) have helped many of us, and has illustrated this trend.  The "buy local" movement--saying no to big box sameness and the idol of efficiency at the cost of care and relationship (can anybody say amazon?) or, say, the foodie movement, reminding us of the importance of knowing from where our poultry or fruit comes---are all indications of our desire for real groundedness. I do not use the term rhetorically. 

As soon as it was released a few years ago, I raved about Beyond Homelessness:
Christian Faithfulness in an Culture of Displacement by Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger (Eerdmans; $27.00) which is one of the most insightful studies of home and place I've ever seen.  I celebrated far and wide last year when Craig Bartholomew published Wherewhere mortals dwell.gif Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (Baker Academic; $29.99), a major work that examines the role of place in the Bible, in the history of Western philosophy and theology, and how such a category of thinking can affect our daily discipleship.
 
The recent interest, also in religious circles, of the new urbanist movement (think of the popularity of James Howard Kunstler, and his anti-suburbia books Geography of Nowhere and Return from Nowhere) is just another example of this trend.  The Space Between: The Christian Engagement with the Built Environment by Eric O. Jacobsen (Baker; $22.99) is extraordinary as a uniquely Christian contribution to thinking about, as his earlier book put it, "sidewalks of the kingdom."
 
Foundational to all of this is the assumption that in God's world, our places matter---built and natural, both---and inevitably shape how we live.  The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton explores this wonderfully, and its popularity (even being mentioned in a hip Hollywood movie) again points us towards this trend, and the good truths we are ironically discovering in this virtual postmodern world.  When religious folk talk about going "home" these days, they may not mean being heaven-bound in the afterlife, but may more likely be talking about some longing for belonging, a true place, a place where stories cohere and life makes sense. Home.

We are, doubtlessly, for better or for worse, shaped by where we come from, so we'd be wise to attend to our roots and our places and homes.
 
Novelists and screen writers know this, of course, and they struggle to find the voices of their characters. (Just yesterday I heard on NPR an interview with an actress who told how she demanded to know more about her fictional character: "Where is she from?" she demanded of the director.)  

I think that memoirists know this best, as it seems inherent in the genre: lives unfold, from somewhere, bouncing around like pin-balls, hit hard by others, or just grazing them, shifting here or there.  A good memoirist tells her story, layer by layer, not just listing biographical facts; she struggles to discover and allow her readers to discern, some pattern, some thread, some making of meaning, from episode to episode, year by year.

THE EXACT PLACE
I start this short review with this long intro for two big reasons: Margie Haack's lovely,dakota.jpg interesting, inspiring new memoir, The Exact Place, is yet another example of a contemporary Christian leader reminding us of the importance of place. I wanted to put her story alongside heavier non-fiction studies in order to suggest this.  Indeed, in her beautiful, potent introduction Ms Haack cites Kathleen Norris' evocative phrase "a spiritual geography" as she tells how her own rugged Northern Minnesotan upbringing shaped her personal landscape. 

Margie writes...

There was a stark, even frightening beauty to the land just north of the Plains where I grew up; it was a constant reminder of the paradox of human strength and its inherent limits. These are stories about place and family, and are firmly rooted in the stark beauty of the northern Minnesota landscape. The people, the animals, and the physical nature of the land shaped my personal landscape. No matter how far I move from them, I cannot shed them. Nor do I want to. They are powerful reminders of both the strengths and the limits of human love, they have become part of the history of my spiritual geography.

margie haack.jpgMs Haack is certainly not trendy, and she did not long to share her childhood story to make some grandiose statement about place--that is my framing of it, the teacher/bookseller in me wanting to observe one important reason all of us should read these kinds of books, indeed, this book.  Whether she likes me saying it or not, The Exact Place: A Memoir is important for this very reason, and is therefore instructional; useful, even.  As with any good novel or biography, it raises good questions, allusively.  It certainly doesn't preach but intentional readers may be led to ponder many big questions.  How might you think about your own sense of place?  Do you live your life well-grounded, caring about real life in God's real world? Do you know your place, your exact place? Do you want to shed your past?  How would you describe your "spiritual geography" and personal landscape? This collection of almost old-fashioned storytelling will help you and those you give it to, I am sure.

By the way, I am not alone in this pragmatic consideration. Listen to Leslie Bustard, of Square Halo Books: 

Every time I have read her writings, I have fallen more in love with God, my husband, my children, my home, and the story God is writing in our lives. Notes from Toad Hall and now this lovely book, The Exact Place, makes ordinary life just what it is -- redeemed, beautiful, and full of grace.


Secondly, I start my celebration of Margie Haack's book by citing other important books, highlighting the renewal of the local and the celebration of local narratives, because, despite being shaped by our place - the land, the animals, the seasons, the mores, the schools, the relationships, the values, the stories--it becomes clear (for those who have ears to hear, at least) that there is, as the old Puritans might have said it, superintendence.  God is sovereign, we confess, and God is active, but few are the people who can say with much certainty what God has precisely done in their lives, which parts of our lives are truly right, known as God's gift, and which aspects are derived from some seepage of sin, from our own dumb choices, or the fallout and fruit of decades of inhabiting a very broken world.  We are not pin-balls randomly bouncing, but we sure do feel that way sometimes, don't we? 

You see, the very title of this charming little book is itself quietly profound, the sign of a prophetic imagination: God allowed her to be in the exact place she needed to be, for things to "come 'round right" as the old Quaker song puts it. What an amazing grace to be able to, with quiet integrity, say that about one's life.

The last paragraph of the book says this so very beautifully.  Do not fret my spoiling it here, though, as it will again hit you like a ton of bricks when you finish the book in your own good time, anyway.  This wonderful excerpt will show you the culmination of the story (not to mention her superlative writing, eloquent and casual, insightful without being highbrow.)  Listen to this.  It is as direct as she gets in this telling of her tale and these are words to savor.

Wendell Berry, the essayist and poet-farmer, asks the question: Is life a miracle? He answers, saying, "I believe that everything that exists is a divine gift, which places us in a position of extreme danger, solvable only by love for everything that exists, including our enemies."  I have recognized and loved many divine gifts in my landscape. It was easy to accept Norway pine, browsing deer, and falling snow.  Poverty and a stepfather who liked me about as well as a broken trailer hitch were more difficult to receive, and yet I sense the danger that awaits one who refuses such gifts. So it was here, in the midst of glory and brokenness, where I found a miracle --- or at least, pretty near to one: it was the thread of redemption that ran through my childhood, even through the dark hours after midnight. If I had been fat with well-being and contentment I believe I would have missed the love of God that still tracks through the wilderness heading me toward Home. I am, I was, in the exact place I need to be.

And so you can see why The Exact Place: A Memoir is one of the best books I've read this year.   It suggestively, by way of a good story, gets at place, and God, sorrow and redemption. It isn't hard to read, it is entertaining, but, as I've implied, it carries, below the surface and between the lines, a great and very relevant significance, made evident in those heart-breaking, hopeful last lines. Beth and I were quite privileged to get an early manuscript (Margie is a friend) and I literally raced through it, eager to read chapter by chapter, story by story, the pieces of her life remembered and retold.  It  is a very good book.  And she is a really great writer---if you subscribe to her Notes from Toad Hall you know her witty and honest style, and who know what I mean.  You can read a short excerpt from the book here, a portion called "The Yellow Lady Slipper."

ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE YOU
denis_margie.jpgMargie and her husband, Denis Haack, run one of the most wonderful ministries of which we know (with one of  most fabulously interesting websites, too, which you must visit.)  They call themselves Ransom Fellowship and they publish (for free, although a donation would be proper) the very wise and useful and sometimes a bit provocative Critique magazine, inviting people of faith into better conversations about complex things, nurturing cultural discernment, seeking (as their mentors Francis and Edith Schaeffer used to say) "honest answers for honest questions."  They often write (beautifully) about music and film and the questions of ordinary Christian life, coping with stress, cooking good food, trying to honor God in the mundane, learning to witness well in a pluralistic world. They have a good array of folks writing for them, and we respect them immensely.   Their home---delightfully called Toad Hall---is almost like an Upper Midwestern L'Abri and their ministry of hospitality and speaking and writing and hosting concerts and reviewing movies have made them low-key rock stars among some younger evangelicals who still can't seem to find a safe place to be mentored into wise and fruitful cultural engagement. 

Margie is a sassier writer than Denis and her candid look into the hectic craziness of their livescoffee.png is told colorfully in another newsletter, which she does, nicely called Notes from Toad Hall. You can browse great archives of some of the stuff Margie writes at the Ransom webpage, here.  You can click on her blog, or even listen to her read a few essays (click on the "audio" icon and spend a few minutes enjoying her fine writing and wonderful insights) and see some of her famous recipes.  You will love Margie and Denis and will revisit their website often.  

Those who subscribe to her Toad Hall know that Margie has the gift---a way with words, such an honest voice---and we are glad for both Margie and Denis' good writing.  Together they've served and cared and guided many of us for decades and we are glad to call them friends. (We are grateful that they have been supportive of our bookish work.)  Anybody who has heard a bit of her story has told her that she has to write a book.  

Haack was raised in very (very) Northern, and very (very) rural Minnesota, growing up in the harsh and lovely terrain of animals, subsistence farming, outhouses, hard weather, poverty, and country neighbors, the kind that, I gather, good fences should make better.  Although I adore the rural earnestness of Michael Perry (his Visiting Tom: A Man, A Highway and the Road to Roughneck Grace is just out and Beth assures me is it great) and the Lake Wobegone stories of humorist Garrison Keillor, nobody has looked at the rougher underside of a "little house in the big woods" like Haack.  

PATHOS, HILARITY, GRACE
Yes, there is some sadness here.  She writes fairly about a difficult father.  There is seriousexact place.jpg poverty. (The shack on the cover of the book, by the way, is a recent photograph of the home in which she was raised, which she now says is "haunting."  But there is glory, here, too, luminous insights, conjured by a young girl, and retold now through the lens of her candid but winsome memory. And oh, dear, how she can tell us.

One reviewer (Andi Ashworth) says, "There are sentences in this book so wonderfully crafted, breathtaking, and insightful, that I had to read then over again and again to let the words seep into my soul.  Margie is a storyteller of the highest order."   Another reviewer says it is "artful, unpretentious, humorously self-disclosing.  The Exact Place tells of life in rural Minnesota with perception and insight that recall Leif Enger or Patricia Hampl."



Pathos and hilarity, introspection and adventure. And there are shenanigans. (She brought her horse into her house and fed him pickles?!) There are fights. There are guns.  There are country recipes. There is a glimpse into a world few of us have experienced - when she went off to elementary school she reports that it was the largest building she had ever seen.  She loved the school bathroom, since at that point her home only had an outhouse, and no indoor plumbing.

And yet, there is something universal afoot, recalling childhood pleasures, coping with kid fears, with the anxiety of knowing that some things aren't right (the overwhelming smell of kidney beans in their shotgun shack being only one such thing), and, too, the joy of discovery (learning to read!) and growing into adolescence, the search for a clearer sense of purpose, of finding a relationship with the God who was there.

The Exact Place by Margie Haack is one of our favorite books this year and we are eager to sell this rural memoir.  We are confident it will be one you will truly enjoy. We are quite glad it has been published by folks we respect, a classy, indie press called Kalos Press.

Maybe you should buy several, take it to book groups, talk it up, and wonder how, as Ms Haack so honestly does, God works to bring us to "the exact place" we need to be.  I mentioned that Quaker hymn, Tis a Gift to Be Simple, that assures us in turning, turning, we come round right?  This quiet, simple set of interesting farm-girl stories testifies that it is true, profoundly true. In many ways, this is one of the most urgent lessons to be learned in life, and it is a story of Providence and Grace.  In telling her own remarkable story Margie speaks honestly about all of us, our foibles, fears, and brokenness.  And yet she realizes that it comes round right.

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October 8, 2012

10 New Books - 5 Minutes


There are days when I am just so eager to tell readers and friends about books that I simply can't help myself.  Each one of these deserve thorough and thoughtful reviews, but I can't wait for that - you can't wait for that.  These are remarkable books, the sorts of things that are interesting and good, helpful and beautiful and I want to be sure you know we have them.  Agree or not with all the details, these are books we want to tell about, albeit quickly.  Our apologies to these authors for being so brief - each of you deserve much better.  But, hey, we wanna sell these babies, so come on.  Allow your interests to be piqued and click on our order form (at the bottom of the page.) They are all on sale -- we will discount them from the regular prices shown.  You won't be disappointed -- they will make you think and deepen your own convictions. 


Three cheers for 10 great new books.   And a goofy bonus book at the end.


Thanks for supporting our family-owned, eclectic, indie, bookstore. 


Ddc-book.jpgangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry  Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $22.99  You may know Tripp, a conservative, Reformed scholar and Biblical counselor who has written wisely about pastoral care, about personal issues, about the radical power of the gospel, about new life found in Christ alone, as we appropriate His grace. This is hard hitting stuff as he, after years of traveling and listening well during thousands of conversations, is greatly concerned about the spiritual life of pastors and leaders, but also of those who train, support, and are led by them.  That is, nearly all of us, at any and every level of church life! We should all care about playing a part in protecting the pastorate.  As it says on the flyleaf, this book "reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy -- an environment that actively undermines the well-being and efficacy of our church leaders, and thus our entire church body."  Joshua Harris observes that, for pastors, "this book is 'good' in the same way that heart surgery is good...and it just might save your life."  Seminarians, congregational leaders, and pastors -- as one reviewer put it "whether you've been in ministry 20 minutes or 20 years" you need this book. 

 

Nn and wm.jpgeighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places  Tony Kriz (Nelson) $15.99  You may know this author as Tony the Beat Poet from the best-selling Blue Like Jazz.  (The film version, by the way, was just released in DVD and we've got it!)  Tony was a missionary in Albania among communists and Muslims, people he grew to respect and love, and he nearly lost his faith there.  His mission agency returned him to a remedial sort of seminary study assignment, which didn't help much. He did his studies while hanging out at a Portland bar, found atheists and seekers there who were supportive of his journey. God used these skeptics, it seems, who told him to stay faithful to his discipleship.  Kirz ends up over at Reed College and the now-famous meet-up with one Donald Miller.  The last portion of this moving memoir is about living locally, pastoring and making a difference in an edgy house church outreach in his bohemian neighborhood.  In each leg of the journey, outsiders and religious skeptics speak truth and grace to him.  What a book! What a story!  Highly recommended.

 

AAGraceRevealed.JPG Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life Jerry Sittser (Zondervan) $19.99  In the category of basic Christian growth, this may be the book of the year.  That's right, you heard it here first.  It certainly is one of the most long-awaited and eagerly anticipated releases.  It is the sequel to the stunning A Grace Disguised, perhaps the best book on grief, bereavement and suffering that I have ever read.  Twenty years after the tragic accident that took his mother, his wife, and his young daughter, Sittser has grown much, seen much, continued to write and serve as an esteemed leader at Whitworth College. He has remarried and the plot-lines of his life continue to unfold to God's glory.  This is amazingly honest, written with what I can only call a light gravity.  It is eloquent, profoundly poignant, and hopeful, exploring how God's story of the rescue of His world effects our own stories.  Or, more accurately, how our own stories, such as they are, are redeemed and gathered up in God's redeeming story.  Sittser says in the beginning that since this is a book about story, he felt compelled to tell stories, and, well, his own is the one he knows best.  Form meets function perfectly as the style of memoir and autobiography is ideal for his profound ruminations on the gospel.  Wonderful!  I apologize for not saying more, or saying it better, but trust me on this: this is a man who has much to teach us and this is a truly wonderful, edifying book.  Thanks be to God!

 

Ddoes this church?.jpgoes This Church Make Me Look Fat? A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems  Rhoda Janzen (Grand Central) $24.99  Okay, I'm going to just say it.  This may be my favorite book of the year.  Sassy, fun, profoundly touching, heavy stuff told with a very light touch, this follow-up to the fabulous, fabulous Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, tells how this high-brow, liberal literary prof comes to her senses, finds herself oddly in a Pentecostal church, and tells the tale with glorious wit and nearly breathtaking generosity.  Her Lady Problems, by the way, include everything from decorating a house that is ugly as sin, her notable sex drive for her no-nonsense, righteous fiance, and a deadly serious case of deadly serious breast cancer.  She brings all this to us in a style which Barbara Brown Taylor says is written "with such spot-on honesty, spiritual humility, and disarming humor that I would follow her anywhere." You surely don't need to be formerly (but gratefully) Mennonite or newly (but  ambiguously) Pentecostal to love this.  You will cry.  You will laugh out loud.  I'm not kidding.  This, you have to see for yourself.  And Rhoda, if you are reading, sorry about the comma splices and misplaced modifiers. I can't help myself.  Still, you rock.

 

Aa sp of homecoming.jpg Spirituality of Homecoming  Henri J. M. Nouwenall 4 - Nouwen_P91.jpg (Upper Room) $12.00  This is the fourth in the lovely series of small books, handsomely produced, of posthumously transcribed talks of the late priest, mystic and author.  Hardly any religious writer of the last 50 years has been so appropriately popular, even as he gently resisted the stardom of the limelight.  This really is a sweet and wise meditation, quintessential, in many ways, of Nouwen's great insights about the shifts from fear to freedom, of how following Jesus returns us to our true selves and is a sort of homecoming.  Very nicely done.

 

JJesusBanner1.jpegesus: A Theography  Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola (Nelson) $19.99  This 400+ page hardback with a title which is obviously a play on "theology" and "biography" is a bargain at this price as it will provide you with months of study, written well for average, interested readers but (with the copious footnotes and solid content) useful for scholars, as well.  This biography by way of Biblical theology shows how the Bible, Older and Newer Testaments, finds all of its meaning in Christ, pointing to Jesus, a signpost to Him and His work, reflecting back on Him.  These authors are obviously well-grounded in the breadth of the Christian tradition, drawing on all manner of sources as they open up every portion of the Bible, carefully making their case that Jesus is at the heart of the grand narrative of Scripture.  You may know that we are fond of Sweet and appreciate his clever writing style, united with scrupulous research and solid Bible teaching.  You may be surprised to see them quote everybody from Berkouwer to Wendell Berry, Ratzinger to N.T. Wright.  The appendix includes pages of great quotes on the theme from Justin Martyr and Tertullian in the first century on through to the likes of Graeme Goldsworthy, G.K. Beale and Richard Hays in the 21st. Wow.

 

Tmystery of god.jpghe Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable  Steven D. Boyer & Christopher Hall (Baker Academic) $19.99  Boyer is a respected scholar (with a PhD from BU) and Hall is beloved as a teacher, administrator and leader at both Eastern University (where he is chancellor) and Palmer Theological Seminary, where he is dean.  You may know of the good work Hall has done in editing the Ancient Christian Commentaries on Scripture and a few books he has done on the patristics, and why they are helpful for our study and worship today.  This book will become a classic, I hope---an evangelical study of mystery, studious but written with a sense of wonder and awe.  Kelly Kapic of Covenant College assures us that "in these pages there is real wisdom."  Edwards scholar Gerald McDermott notes that it is "a refreshing challenge to evangelicals to reject rationalistic approaches to faith while at the same time learn humbly from the Great Tradition."  Not only is this beautiful theology, I believe it is very important in these times, a solid study of the dimensions of mystery, moving our angle of vision just a bit, yet preventing an overly subjective mysticsm.  This book deserves a wide, diverse audience.  An endorsement on the back from a scholar at the University of Chicago Divinity School seems to agree. Right on. 

 

TThis-Ordinary-Adventure-Cover1.jpghis Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down without Settling  Christine & Adam Jeske (IVP/Likewise) $15.00  We have stocked every single book released by this edgy, upbeat imprint, and none have disappointed.  This is just what that line is known for: youthful, outside-the-box thinking, well-grounded in a broad, socially-engaged evangelicalism, written with spunk and relevance.  I know a lot of younger adult Christian folks and these are the stories they dream of, these are the questions they ask, and, I am positive, this is a book they will love. The Jeskes have worked in global relief, microfinancing, and have traveled to nearly every continent doing mission, building bridges, engaging even in risky service. They do Kingdom travel and show Christian care, living as nomads, embracing Christ's call to serve. But they want to settle down. Christine is working on a PhD on cultural anthropology.  They want roots and community.  Can one "settle down" without "settling"?  What is the relationship between the American Dream and Christ's Kingdom?  Is "normal" bad?   No matter what your life stage, you will be inspired to live well, finding energy and courage to be bold. It will remind you not to forget the amazing things God has and can do.  Joyful, witty, and pretty darn challenging. Three big cheers!  I want to meet these guys!  I bet you know somebody who would love this book.

 

Rrob-bell-and-a-new-american-christianity.jpgob Bell and a New American Christianity  James K. Wellman, Jr. (Abingdon) $17.99  I've been waiting for something like this, a solid study of Rob Bell's work and ministry, placing him within the broader conversations about the nature of Protestant faith in 21st century North American culture.  Bell has been a very important figure and his life itself has been fascinating, perhaps illustrative - being in a rock band during his Wheaton College days, his study at Fuller, his work on staff of Ed Dodson's (post Moral Majority) church, the founding of the Grand Rapids Mars Hill congregation and its extraordinary growth, his Nooma videos and speaking tours and increasing national fame.  After the Love Wins book became an international sensation, his popularity and notoriety revved into hyper-drive, and he was found to be either helpfully innovative or crassly heretical; a self-indulgent fraud or a good pioneer of a culturally-relevant form of witness, parallel to, but not exactly the same as the much-discussed emergent movement or missional church perspective.  Wellman studies all this, fairly, if with a favorable bias, including a bit of attention to how mainline churches have seen and reacted to this squabble within the evangelical community.  Historian of evangelicalism Randall Balmer, after noting how significant (and controversial) Bell has become, tells us that "James Wellman's prodigious research and astute analysis helps us understand why."  Not the final word, but an important study continuing to ponder the shifts within evangelicalism.

 

WWhy Did Jesus Moses Buddha Mohammed Cross the Road cover.JPGhy Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World  Brian D. McLaren (HarperOne) $24.99  McLaren, even more than Rob Bell, has been a pioneer and lightning rod, writing books and using media, organizing conferences and building networks, trying to find, as he put it in a controversial book "a new kind of Christianity."  It should be clear that Brian isn't exactly an evangelical any more, but that also isn't quite the point: he wants to be faithful to Jesus, handle the Bible well, and forge a reasonable sort of way of being Christian in the world as it is, akin to, but not exactly the same as the liberal wing of mainline ecumenism. Agree with his conclusions or not, he is an important thinker and a good man. In this case, he is asking million-dollar questions---how do we have a clear sense of our own religious identity without having that identity fuel religious antagonism and violence? (The symbolism of its release date, 9-11, is not accidental.) Can we have profound inter-faith conversations without pretending that we all agree, which, obviously, we do not?  Forging a third way beyond fundamentalisms and liberalism, McLaren here carefully develops a plausible way of approaching this painfully awkward matter.  He doesn't back away from controversy and yet he writes in a way that seems to me to be so utterly sincere and devoid of gall that it cries out to be read and kindly discussed.  Highly recommended for discussion and discernment.


AND AN ADDED BONUS, JUST FOR FUN:

Josiah for President: A Novel  Martha Bolton (Zondervan) $14.99   Maybe you are likejosiah.jpg me and need a really light read sometimes, something fun and easy, but not utterly vacuous.  And, maybe the dishonest and harsh noise from both sides of the partisan divide in this election cycle is nearly driving you to drink.  Well, maybe this will be a way to take the edge off - or make you long more clearly for something good and different in our public lives.  Yes, this is outrageous, but, in this upbeat novel, the story is plausible.  When former Congressperson Mark Stedman throws in the towel on his presidential bid, he meets Josiah Stoltzfus, a Lancaster County Amishman, who ends up being drafted to run for President. Did you like the old movie Dave?  Or even Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?  Well, this isn't as good as either of those.  But still, ya gotta love a story where corn gets planted in the Rose Garden.


BookNotes

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DISCOUNT
any book mentioned

20% off
order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

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

                 Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333
                                                              read@heartsandmindsbooks.com


 

 

October 16, 2012

In the Absence of God: a new novel by retired Dallastown teacher, Richard Cleary

There are so many kinds of novels, with such different qualities and styles of writing that it hard for me, without a lot qualifications and hedging of bets, to heartily recommend many.  There are many we love, lots that are obviously worthy, and we love reading the many reviews that are available of the latest and best.  For instance, we, like many, are waiting eagerly for the soon to be published next novel of Tom Wolfe, Back To Blood (Little, Brown; $30.00), his first since the much-discussed I Am Charlotte Simmons over a decade ago. 

Some novels are written for the sheer art of it, and we read them for the play of words, the interesting characters, the intricate plot; insight might be gleaned along the way, but that is certainly not front and center.  For serious art, of course, a message ought not be didactic; Calvin Seerveld, in books such as his quirky but seminal A Christian Critique of Art and Literature (Dordt College Press; $15.00), insists that the norm for art in God's world is allusiveness. That is, the best artists allude, they suggest, they evoke.  "Tell it slant," Emily Dickinson said.  Yes, yes.  Religious painters, musicians, script-writers and novelists have too often taken the easy way out, preaching in their stories, with predictable trajectories, sentimental conversions, and happy endings. These have not endured or been taken seriously, unless they are particularly unique, like say, the hugely popular parable about suffering, The Shack.  Not incredibly well written, and a bit overly allegorical, it still worked for many, and did what a good story can do.  We look forward to William Young's next novel, due in November, to be called Cross Roads (Hachette Publishing; $24.99.) So, there are more literary novels which are suggestive, at best, and there are some that are more didactic, knowingly.  They tell a story but they are created to bring home a point.

A very good friend of mine, Mr. Richard L. Cleary, a retired Dallastown high school teacher (the head of the science department) who currently teaches introduction to philosophy classes in three different colleges,  recently wrote a novel and it stands between the genres; I doubt if he would mind me saying it isn't great, high art; and I suspect he'd admit readily that he wrote it as somewhat of a parable.  A born teacher, he loves to explain and teach, to invite conversation and challenge others to consider new views.  He blogs (often about the limits of naturalism as a worldview and how the latest in scientific research erodes the old-school Darwinian orthodoxies that the universe evolved from nothing, by sheer chance.)  And so, when Cleary decided to do a novel---his second, actually---he picked up the pen not just to entertain with a curious plot and engaging characters, but as a tool to teach.  His story was a device.  And I think it works well-it's a great idea which forms a good story which illustrates and explores important questions, questions of the utmost importance for us all.

Icleary.JPGf the title When God is Absent (Xulon Press; $24.95) sounds a bit like some heavy philosophical study, it is because this novel is, at its heart, an extended riff on a few very basic philosophical assumptions.  That authors like Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky are cited by the characters, that the college professors and students that inhabit this story read Dawkins and C.S. Lewis, should, therefore, come as no surprise.  This is an intellectual novel, a book about worldviews and ways of life. Some of the dialogue---over coffee, in the classroom, between friends and among enemies---are quite deep.  The characters are trying to figure out what they believe (well, some of the characters are, at least) and how to explain their convictions, their doubts and concerns, to others.  In the course of the novel there are realistic conversations among college professors and students about the truth claims that they hold, offered in snippets at parties, in college dorms or in professors offices.  Some of these feel natural, complete with private jokes and teasing, the way friends do.  Occasionally, one or another of the characters may be a bit long-winded (as some college professors are prone to be, after all.)  Through it all, or at least through most of it, readers are drawn to the characters and their development and their lives.  We are pulled right along, listening in, and learning a lot, along with the characters themselves.

So, no, this isn't a quick bit of mindless entertainment, but - happily -- it is quite entertaining.  There are colorful characters, true-to-life plot lines, drama, romance, sports (Cleary was a football coach, too, so the athletic scenes of locker-rooms and game films and bus-rides to away games and inter-racial comaraderie and tensions on the teams are realistic and believable.)  And there is violence.  Did I mention this is a tensely wrought, suspenseful crime story?  I don't think Dick was being intentionally commercial (he just isn't that kind of a schemer and has too much stubborn integrity to allow anything to alter his vision) but as a bookseller, I can say that, as popular novels go, this truly has something for everyone.

In the Absence of God travels some of the same territory---the search for meaning and values on the modern college campus---as the aforementioned Tom Wolfe. (I know Dick was a serious fan of Charlotte Simmons for how it so artfully exposed the emptiness of the secularizing milieu of the Ivy League campus) But In the Absence... includes more intellectual repartee and includes more crime scenes that did the genteel Wolfe.  At one point, I called it Karamazov meets CSI Special Victims Unit.  Yes, there is some mayhem and  dramatic action, but there are mostly episodes of of pondering, characters involved in sincere philosophic searching; the heavier scenes from Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors come to mind -- if it were set among earnest football players and professors prone to honest ruminations, on a  small East Coast liberal arts college.

The plot of In the Absence of God is fairly simple to tell, but the long conversations and the numerous sub-plots are many, so I don't want to summarize it too briefly.  In a nutshell, the plot revolves around several college professors and their generally friendly intellectual debates and a handful of students that are struggling to determine which basic philosophical starting points are true.  Cleary's thesis, comes up posed as a question over and over: can we truly say anything is actually wrong/immoral if there is no God?  At a garden party near the end of the book, some free thinkers take exception to what they've heard of Dr. Peterson's view, and attack him rudely for daring to believe that atheists cannot be moral.  Of course, Peterson has never said this---even in a novel, that would be outrageously dumb. Peterson's position is not that atheists cannot be good, since they obviously can be, but that there is no intellectual basis for saying something is good, no coherent foundation for ethics or morals, no way to really say that something is right or wrong.  That is, there cannot be, if there is no universal right or wrong that transcends personal taste or social convention, which there cannot be if there is no God.  In a recent talk, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias reported that in a conversation where a cultural relativist was saying that there really isn't any real truth, that every culture has its own truth, Ravi, retorted that, indeed, he knows of people who esteem and welcome strangers, and knows people who kill and eat them. "Do you have a preference?" he inquired of his incredulous relativist. Of course, none of us prefer to be eaten.  But whose to say what is wrong?  Is there a God who is there and has this God somehow spoken?

That Ravi story could have appeared in this book.  It is the kind of debate that the characters in In the Absence of God  just naturally take up. The book recounts these kinds of discussions, page and pages worth.  If you like books about apologetics, or like to listen in to feisty debates, this book will thrill you.  Cleary has himself entertained many a dialogue like this - the ones in the novel that are interesting and cordial, and the ones in the novel that are rude and unsatisfying. There is a sense that these discussions in the novel are offered firstly to move the plot along----you can see one character slowly unpacking his own baggage as his father dies, and as he struggles with the logic of a student who insists that if he does not believe in God then there is no basis for saying much about meaning or truth or ethics.  The kind and thoughtful professor surely doesn't want to descend to the nihilism of his brutish student, but he realizes that there is weight to the logic of this view.  Does he have any basis for the claims he makes, the life he lives?  How does he live out in his own life the philosophically viewpoints he professes in the classroom?  Should one be expected to actually live by the worldview one claims to believe?   

However, this novel is more than a bunch of arguments, retorts back and forth. (Think of the way Brian McLaren's first novel of his "New Kind of Christian" trilogy devolved into a set of email exchanges back and forth between the protagonists; they were certainly interesting enough, but the plot sort of petered out as they two characters just wrote missives back and forth.  The dialogue became more connected to the characters and the plot in the second two of that series, by the way, which are well worth reading as novels that raise certain theological questions.) Cleary has given us plenty of dialogue, but also characters, plot, and well-described settings.

In the Absence of God contains episodes that are quite believable for anyone who has worked in higher education: the Christian prof, a biologist that is generally liked in his department, comes to blows with his department chair.  There is a debate sponsored by the political science department about U.S. foreign policy and the left-wing perspective gets much more voice in an imbalanced panel - what a show that was, and what a good conversation some of them had afterwards.  There is a sub-plot about interracial dating, a sub-plot about middle-aged professors caring for their aging parents (which I found very, very moving.) And there are some exciting football games, described without too much detail, but offering enough sports coverage to qualify as a bit of a novel for sports fans.  One might say that it is something like Friday Night Lights  where the action on the field is interesting but not central.  The funny chatter between the team-mates and the goofy theory of communal bio-rhythms of the coach give this part of the book color and interest even if it isn't central.

I am not a fan of books about true crime and I rarely read detective fiction. I love J. Mark Bertrand for his mature writing and gritty approach in his Roland March trilogy (Baker; $14.99 each) which may be the best crime fiction published by any Christian publishing house.  I know Bertrand has thought deeply about a coherent worldview -- he wrote the excellent (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Live,Think, and Speak in This World (Crossway; $16.95.)  His Roland March trilogy is a must-read if you like crime fiction, if you watch shows like The Wire or read hard-boiled detective stories.

Dick Cleary's In the Absence of God isn't primarily a who-dunnit nor is it gratuitous in describing the violence of rape or murder.  It could be said he was too demur, that his own concerns about the coarsening of pop culture kept him from being too tough.  But there is mayhem, and it is a very important part of the story.  It had my heart racing when I read an early draft of the manuscript a while back and it kept me turning pages quickly as I read it again in book form.  It is an important part of the story and makes certain chapters of the book truly page-turners, and, as you might guess, becomes a vital foil for the fundamental project of the book: on what basis can we say that human cruelty is wrong, and how does the worldview of secular naturalism give account for the human feeling that certain vile deeds are truly and without qualification wrong? And, get this (as it is crucially important, and I believe will become even more important in the decades to come): what happens when a culture becomes unmoored from Judeo-Christian truths, and we are left to live out the implications of a relativistic worldview? How do we determine what is right or wrong? On what basis can we denounce anything, from adults having sex with children to governments using torture, from abortion to cheating, from personal dishonesty to industrial polluting --- how do we persuade anyone that anything is or isn't wrong (let alone is or isn't true?)  Is Dostoevsky right that without God, everything is permissible?

Allow me to warn devotees of literary fiction that this book is both thought-provoking and yet may be just provoking at times.  In the thick of a several page dialogue you may want to jump in---but what about this?  Why doesn't he ask about that?  How can the conversation partners not move the conversation in this direction, or move towards that questions?  Listening in on or overhearing a debate is just or like that, of course, so it isn't surprising that in the book not every discourse---good friends chatting over coffee, teachers leading a conversation in a classroom, a controversial symposium in the college lecture hall, lovers whispering big questions about their future--will  be completely satisfying for every reader.  Or at least they were not for me.  There were certain debates or exchanges that seemed to me to driven by Cleary's desire to make the point, so may not have sounded fully natural. Would college professors really talk like that to one another, so very astute about every detail of this or that philosophical position? Was some of the dialogue a bit wooden?  Sure. But there were plenty of times when the conversation partners said dumb stuff, when they joked, when they tripped up their words, and those have the better ring of truth.  Whether I fully appreciated the language and philosophical reasoning of each debate, I kept reading, soon smiling as I realized -- oh yeah, I've had conversations just like this. In fact, I've had them with Dick himself!  If you like to argue with friends about theology or politics or art or philosophy, well, you've been there.  You'll get a kick of this for sure.

It may be that the voice of the narrator of the book is a bit stiff.  I don't know if any college students have "retired" to their rooms in the last fifty years.  I am not sure if there are many college professors who have described their office suite as "copious."  Cleary has this thing for good vocabulary, and I have chided him in conversations and in email exchanges: who talks like this?  Well, he does. And he ain't gonna change his ways to pander to the limited vocabulary of his readers. That doesn't mean the book is unaccessible. It just makes it occasionally quirky.  I think that is part of the fun, actually, that a few of these characters are, well, quite interesting.  It makes for a good story, and makes it unique.  The tone isn't hip or ironic or bawdy or funny.  It is dignified and earnest, serious, even when the characters are fooling around. I am not sure of an author's voice I can compare it to, but it isn't Jonathan Franzen, let alone Dave Eggers or Steve Almond, if you get my drift.  If they make it into a movie, there won't be any goofy "existential detectives" running around.  It is an enjoyable story, and the characters are realistic, with boyfriend/girlfriend issues, fears and hopes and the stuff college students and teachers face.  It is straightforward, earnest, written to make a point.

In the Absence of God is an enjoyable way into one of the biggest issues in the life of anycleary.JPG person: is there a God and how then shall we live?  Does theism offer a basis for lasting values and meaning, and what happens if we abandon those values for Western style atheism or secular materialism?  You will learn a bit about Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Dawkins and you will feel the weight of the arguments of Nietzsche and Camus.  You will learn how to follow interesting discussions and you will smile at the behind the scenes stuff of typical college campuses---the wonderful teachers, and the petty ones, the idealistic youth, and the distressed ones, the office politics and the office romances.  You will cringe as you hear what some people think and you will feel like you've been punched in the gut when you hear what some people actually say and what some actually do.  You might think the book is too didactic, but, again, that is the genre it is.  You may not have the good fortune of studying with a clear-headed, though-minded conservative theist like Professor Cleary in the real world, but you can learn much from his years of pondering and writing by taking up this story.  Reading In The Absence of God is an interesting and profitable way into an essential core of the many debates in philosophy: is there a God and does it matter?  If you work through this book you will be better prepared to think about that, and much, much more.

On a personal note, it is a true delight to have one of our most regular and faithful customers (for three decades!) publish a novel.  I have had more long and rewarding and vexxing conversations with Dick Cleary than I have with maybe any person alive. That he puts up with my questions, emails, and poking little debates is to his credit, as he is gracious and thoughtful with me. We here at the bookstore have appreciated and admired him for years.  We think you may like this novel, and we think you should grapple with the questions facing the characters in the book.  We happily recommend it.  Congrats to Cleary; thanks for putting these philosophical questions into the form of a story.   May the book cause many to think more deeply, to ponder the biggest questions of life, and learn how to engage in meaningful conversations with others.  

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October 22, 2012

Run Home and Take a Bow : Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals by Ethan D. Bryan (Samizdat Publishing Group)

Run Home and Take a Bow : Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals Ethan D. Bryan (Samizdat Publishing Group) $14.99  SALE PRICE $11.99 Click on order form below.

run home.JPGIt is World Series season and, well, that is kinda like being in the run-off for the Nobel Prize.  True baseball fans might even say that getting the Nobel Prize is almost like winning the World Series.  Even those who don't follow baseball regularly tune in and pay attention: there is something, for Americans, at least, about baseball. And a great body of literature has developed about the sport and, like the World Series, a lot of folks who may not be passionate baseball fans, or sports fans at all, really, love the genre.

My friend Ethan Bryan's wonderful, wonderful new book is about baseball - and a whole lot more.  And it is like that: baseball fan or not, you are going to want to pay attention.

Due to what might in sports lingo be  called a "delay of game" the book came out near the end of the 2012 baseball season just a few weeks back; I held off posting this review until now, just to make this timely point  This is a World Series caliber book, exciting and lovely and somehow important.  Other famous writers of baseball books (such as George Will and Robert Benson, two guys any coach would put on their all-star writing team, by the way) agree, noting in letters to Ethan how very well done it is.  As we sometimes say, Mr. Bryan "knocked it out of the park" on this one.  (And how 'bout that hand-drawn cover, almost like a vintage baseball card?  Love it!)

Ethan loved baseball as a kid, and his well-written introduction (the warm up? the bull-pen? Okay, I'll quit with the baseball analogues) tells his story, loving the game, wanting to play catch with his dad, being on a Little League type team, going to a big league game.   He played well in high school, oddly gave up his dream of going pro, and took up golf.  He did well enough in that, but drifted from that sport, too, for which we can be grateful, as I'd hate to have to review a book about putting and birdies.

Ten years after quitting baseball, after graduating from George Truett Seminary (at Baylor University) and, hoping to land a job as youth pastor and worship leader, Bryan is taken to a KC Royals game, a game in their new stadium,  seeing the team he adored as a youth, as part of a job interview for a position at an area church.  He says that "the church was an answer to prayer" and wryly adds "The Royals won in the thirteenth inning on a Mike Sweeney home run. I took it as a sign from above."

And then, this important line, which leads, years later, to the writing of the book: "My passion for the game and the boys in blue returned almost immediately."

Ethan, through an odd bit of luck or providence got a chance to play catch with a retired Royal, a boyhood hero.  He wrote up the experience, and Mike King published his account of it all -- beautifully rendered, with some good insight drawn from the thrilling episode -- in an on-line youth ministry magazine, Immerse.  Also, against great odds, he entered a contest to come up with an original song, an anthem, for the Royals, and his song won.  Luckily, he didn't have to preform it at the stadium as he says he'd have been so nervous he'd have thrown up.  He did win some big league swag and a bit of fame as an up and coming very serious fan.

Well, a serious fan he is.  And, as Run Home and Take a Bow explains, he sees God's hand in it all.  He is not the first to note that we can "practice the presence of God" in all things, and find God's goodness in all manner of human experience, including the seemingly secular.  Authors like Abraham Kuyper or Richard Mouw call it "common grace."  Here is how Bryan writes about it:

It took me a long while to realize that baseball in and of itself is one of the ways God speaks to me.  Watching the Royals play this season led me on a journey of faith and reflection, one that softened by heart to hear God share His story through this marvelous game.

As the subtitle, "Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals" suggests,ethan and fam.jpg this is one of those memoirs that narrates not a whole life, like an autobiography, but a small slice of life, a season, an experience.  Like A. J. Jacobs trying to follow every verse of the Bible or Rachel Held Evans doing the same, taking a year to follow the commandments for women (we just got her A Year of Biblical Womanhood) or Jana Reiss flunking sainthood as she tries to read a year's worth of spiritual classics, Ethan Bryan goes to twenty Kansas City Royals home games one summer, writing about each one.  In a sense, you could read them in nearly any order, one a day, even, like some mature sportsmanlike Chicken Soup for the Soul, but, yet, it does seem to hold together with a bit of an unfolding plot.  Game by game, month by month Ethan (and his companions, often his children) learn and come to appreciate more and more, about the sport, the players, the experience of taking in the game, about other fans, about God and God's redemptive work in the world.  Clearly, his faith colors how he experiences the games (even one that he missed, stuck in bad traffic!) and his own life as a follower of Jesus is shaped somewhat by this summer following the boys of summer.

So this is a baseball book, but it is set in one interesting summer.  Bryan tells you about his life, his work, his passion for helping church youth learn about social justice and become better servants in their community.  As you might imagine, there are family issues, spiritual questions, ups and downs, and a bit of his colorful life shines through, between the innings and between the games.

Some of the lessons learned along the way are quite instructive.  One very cold day early in the season the weather was so bad, few fans filled the ballpark's seats.  He and his pal jumped around, sitting where they were not supposed to (who would care?) and checking out the better seats.  It is a truism that we learn to appreciate other's viewpoints by trying to see things as they do, that our very worldview is shaped in part by where we sit as we look out on life.  He develops this vital lesson as he sees the game, literally, from new vantage points.  It is a great chapter, and a fun bit of writing (they do get in a bit of trouble; even in the nearly empty stadium, rules are rules.)  And the worldviewish lesson is brought home with fresh clarity.

Others stories are quite poignant.  Once, leaving the stadium, his young daughter noticed ankcrew20group.jpg older woman, clearly struggling to walk with her canes, a person afflicted with cerebral palsy.  Kaylea, by the way, sometimes reminded me of Coach Boone's daughter in Remember the Titans; she knows her baseball, and loves her Royals.  Innocent, though, still, in many ways, she thought the disabled woman reminded her of one of the KC Royal cheerleaders.  In a move I can only imagine Bob Goff making, Ethan took his daughter's observation seriously, and approached the woman, explaining that Kaylea thought maybe she looked like one of the cheerleaders, and asked for the woman's autograph.  Without any condescension to the child's mistake, or to the woman who was surely not a cheerleader, they made her day, reminding us all that beauty need not be culturally bound, and that there is wonderful worth in every human face and body.  And that we should dare to bless others in ways that may seem a bit crazy. I wiped tears from my eyes as I closed that chapter. There were some wild foul balls or stike-outs or double-plays, too, I think, maybe an argument with the ump, but who remembers those kinds of things after an ending like that?

buck.jpgAnother wonderful feature of Run Home... is how easily Bryan weaves a small bit of another narrative throughout the book.  He quotes (as an epigram before each chapter) a man I bet you have never heard of: Buck O'Neil.  Buck O'Neil was a vital and important African American sports announcer, whose pithy wisdom was apparently renowned.  Perhaps not as nutty as Yogi Berra,  he, too, was a real character, and in the last few years of his life he was a tireless ambassador for the Negro Baseball Leagues. It seems as if Bryan had come to know him, although he died in 2006.  Near the end of Ethan's summer of writing about Kansas City baseball there was a special tribute to O'Neil at the stadium, and that chapter is very well done, informative and moving. (Ethan says that one of his own all-time favorite baseball books, by the way, is Joe Posnanski's tribute to Buck O'Neil, entitled The Soul of Baseball.)

There is a lot of good baseball history, trivia, and storytelling in this chapter, and there is a bit of family drama, too, as Ethan explains some turmoil in their lives that particular week.  There is a bit about O'Neil's work against racial discrimination, and his low-key kindness to one and all.  And then Ethan brings the whole chapter around (as he does in expert, literary ways in most chapters) by writing these two simple final paragraphs:

As the dad of a couple of girls, and as someone who is familiar with the rampant sexism within the evangelical Christian culture, I wanted to teach my girls that they are free, they are equal, in Christ.  Their job is to love and to see the good in all people.

Major League baseball ultimately listened to Buck O'Neil, and members of the Negro Leagues were admitted to the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The church could learn a thing or two by listening to Buck as well.

So, there is plenty here about personal growth, human foibles, raising kids, marriage matters, social ethics, the ups and downs of daily life and implications of Christian discipleship. Some of it is fun, very pleasurable reading, as any memoir of an experiment like this would be, and as the best contemporary long-form journalism often is. I think those that like reading human interest stories, with some inspiring meditations woven through the tales, will really love this.  It is one of my favorite books of the year.


But, let us be clear: Run Home and Take a Bow is a baseball book.  Ethan knows the players and their stats like only the truest devotees.  In fact, he has been chosen by the  Kansas City Royals organization to be a blogger for them, and his work has been published alongside some other pretty fanatical sports voices.  He's no newbie to the game and no light-weight fan merely using the game asKauffman-Stadium.jpg a foil for doing spiritual reflections.  Nope, there is plenty of solid baseball talk here, lots to keep the true fan turning the pages. But like most of the best baseball fans (I don't know if this is true of other sports fans) there is this propensity to ask bigger questions, to ponder, through the graceful rhythms of the game, life's deeper matters.  And so if feels natural, mostly, when he moves from a story of a good game to a story of growing faith, or when he tells of something learned from another spectator or when he reports something he realized by ruminating on something that happened.  Yes, there are upbeat, Christian conclusions.  But it is first and foremost a lovely story of a lovely summer, when a dear, lively, loving Christian renewed his love for his team, and shares his memories of it all with us.  As his pal Mike King notes, it is "as life-giving as Opening Day, as sensory as pounding your glove and smelling the leather."

There is a website for the book, here, and there are some great endorsements there (including a beautifully written one by Mark Yaconelli, who rather wonderfully calls Ethan "a baseball contemplative.") Here is what I wrote, which is shown there, a blurb I was truly honored to write after having read the manuscript.  I hope you enjoy it as it tries to convince folks to buy the book. I should mention, I guess, that I'm briefly mentioned in it, but of course that isn't at all why I'm promoting it.  I'm unashamed about by enthusiasm for this indie book on an indie press --- I hope it becomes a quiet little underground classic.  It would make a great end of the season gift, or, of course, a great Christmas gift for any baseball fans.

run home.JPGI'm not a big sports fan, and care little about the K.C. Royals, and I loved this book!  You will too, I'm sure.  Just a few pages in, you just know that Ethan Bryan is a truly good man, a caring dad, a fine writer, and a great storyteller.  His childlike joy in his beloved game is a delight to behold and along the way you will meet some true athletic heroes, from Hall of Fame stars to historic sports writers and some memorably diehard fans.  And there is a cast of characters unrelated to the game, from Mike the Theologian and Chick-fil-A Jake to Bryan's sweet baseball-loving daughters, not to mention bunches of Bible guys, drawn vividly from the pages of Holy Scripture as they are set alongside the boys of summer. This is light reading that pitches some serious life lessons, is as entertaining as peanuts during the 7th inning stretch and, like a last-ditch homer in the bottom of the 9th, has you on your feet, leaving you truly inspired.  Take a bow, Ethan, author and writer.


Read an excerpt of Run Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals featured at the Burnside Writers Collective. Then come back here and pitch us an order.  We'll send it back quick like a fast ball.  Sorry.


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Run Home and Take a Bow
Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals
(Ethan D. Bryan)

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October 27, 2012

Nurturing the Heart & Mind of the Christian (Lawyer): Books Old and New. A handout from a workshop at Christian Legal Society, October 2012.


At a recent workshop I did for a group of Christian lawyers and spouses, one participantbyron portrait.jpg quipped that they sure got their money's worth---I preached for an hour about why reading is important so we can think and live Christianly, and I went over a massive bibliography.  I thought I'd share that biblio with you here. I wish I could somehow tell you all about each of these books; my brief annotations don't do them justice, and some are very, very special books. 


This short essay and long bibliography hopefully will be of interest even now, for any readers who enjoy seeing some of the resources we promote when we are out on the road.  Granted, we custom designed this for the interests and dispositions ocls booklet.jpg that particular gathering (especially the books at the end of law and lawyering) but we trust you will like looking over it.  Sorry we didn't list the prices. Email us at read@heartsandmindsbooks or use the website inquiry page if you have any questions.


You may order any of these at 20% off. Use the order form link at the end.




                                                                                                                   The CLS conference proceedings book with a quote by Abraham Kuyper




Nurturing the Heart & Mind of the Christian Lawyer:

Helpful Books, Old and New

Christian Legal Society

Colorado Springs, CO

October 2012


Being Sons & Daughters of Issachar (I Chronicles 12:32)


We must consider what many observe as an ongoing weakness, if not a crisis, of the faithful relevance of evangelical discipleship in twenty-first century culture.  There are pressures from the culture--change, choice, speed, technology--and weaknesses from within, even for those who sincerely affirm the Lordship of Christ and count "the cost of discipleship."   Still, too often, as Richard Foster writes in his classic Celebration of Discipline, our age is defined by the "curse of superficiality."

 

Cultural critics have reminded us of the secularizing forces of modernity For a fancifully-written but trenchant analysis see Os Guinness' novel, The Last Christian On Earth:  Uncovering the Enemy's Plot to Undermine the Church (Regal.) Neil Postman prophetically exposed our trivializing tendencies in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business (Penguin.)  Perhaps the most important book along these lines in recent years has been The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr (Norton & Company. )  A more positive view is offered by Leonard Sweet in his recent Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival (Waterbrook.) These studies alert us to the cultural context where it is easy to not think as deeply or live as wisely as we might.  Attention to this will help us be "in the world but not of it" knowing how to wisely proclaim that Christ is Lord of "every square inch" of His creation.

 

THREE PROBLEMS

 

1.     Crisis of compartmentalization (dualism)

2.     Crisis of erosion of the Christian mind (anti-intellectualism)

3.     Crisis of cultural captivity (accommodation/ideology) 

 

These problems contribute to a crisis of vocational distinctiveness and innovative faithfulness in public life generally, and the work-world specifically.  Some may describe this as a failure to robustly embody uniquely Christian ways of practicing one's career, related to a thin view of integrating faith and thinking. 

 

THREE (PARTIAL) SOLUTIONS

 

1.     Reading widely:        God cares about all of life.

2.     Reading seriously:    God wants us to learn much.

3.     Reading attentively:  God calls us to be discerning.

 

Such wide reading helps us realize that all of life is being redeemed in Christ, that we can witness to His grace and point towards His Kingdom most fruitfully as we live out a uniquely Christian perspective in our callings and careers.  An integrated Christian way of working and living requires a framework, a foundation, a coherent narrative, which some call an intentionally Christian worldview.  Reading faithfully is one tool for developing a Christian worldview, way of life, and normative way of working.  In order to grow in such faithfulness, we must see ourselves as life-long learners.

 

WORLDVIEW


Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God  Michael Wittmer (Zondervan)  One of the most accessible, practical and enjoyable books on a Christian worldview.  A great book for those new to this approach.

 

Creation Regained: Towards a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans) Nearly a classic, very influential; very Biblical, showing how a Christian way of seeing life must recall the goodness of creation, the seriousness of the fall, and the broad scope of Christ's redemption.

 

The Transforming Vision: Developing a Christian Worldview Brian J. Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP) The history of dualism, the rise of secularization, the idols of the age, and a feisty, wholistic Christian agenda... follow this up with their provocative Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (IVP.)

 

(Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live and Speak in This World J. Mark Bertrand (Crossway)  Bertrand is a close pal of CLS emcee Michael Schutt---and he's written three gritty detective novels!  A wonderful contribution to the field of worldview studies...

 

Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity  Nancy Pearcey (Crossway)  Magisterial, perhaps a bit more philosophical than some, tracing the rise of the dichotomy between facts and values, and how our dualisms erode Christian conviction as public truth.  Are secular gatekeepers using this as a strategy to banish Biblical truth? Are Christians themselves guilty of hold a merely subjective faith?  Some say Pearcey is the Francis Schaeffer of our time.

 

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation  James K.A. Smith (Baker)  One of the most talked-about worldview books in years, this is the first of what will be a three part series. (The much-anticipated sequel, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works will release in February 2013.)  This is a fabulously rich rumination on how worldviews are not merely constellations of intellectual notions, but are imagined and lived out, largely informed by our deepest desires, which are shaped by our rituals/habits.  Perhaps our ubiquitous secularizing rituals have formed us more than our rather thin and inconsequential worship liturgies...

 

Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church Soong-Chan Rah (Moody) There is little doubt that our ethnic background and relationships with those of other races has a profound and often unconscious influence of how we see the world.  This explores cross cultural concerns and is a helpful survey of this complex and interesting matter.  Read his excellent first book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (IVP)

 

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O'Brien (IVP) Brand new, this provocative study--drawing on the insight of Rah's first book about "Western Cultural Captivity" perhaps--this shows how we too often read into the Bible our own (Western) cultural bias.  This is a worldview expanding experiment, helping us not only see our own "cultural blinders" but allowing us to read the Bible more honestly and fruitfully. Wow.

 

VOCATION AND CALLING


The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose in Your Life

Os Guinness (W Publishing Group)  One of my all time favorite books, this is richly written, thoughtful, and very inspiring. Christ calls us so decisively that it effects all that we are and all that we do.  A must-read.

 

A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World Charles Drew (Presbyterian & Reformed) Informed by the same vision as Guinness about the need for a thoughtful doctrine of vocation and calling, this is more systematically developed following the unfolding Biblical themes of creation, fall and redemption. Excellent.

 

Your Work Matters to God Doug Sherman & William Hendrickson (NavPress)  For years, this has been my go-to book, inviting Christians to a profound approach to our callings in the marketplace. Very well done.

 

Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway) Written by a pastor who expertly equips his congregation to serve God in their various occupations and professions.  Since it was published just one year ago it has become one of the most popular and esteemed books on the subject.  Sidebars tell of several workers in different careers at his church (including a lawyer) explaining how they related worship and work.  Very highly recommended.

 

How Then Shall We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work Hugh Whelchel (Westbow Press)  Whelchel has served for decades in the business world and then became director of the Washington DC branch of Reformed Theological Seminary.  This is a theologically robust example of a worldviewish sort of Calvinism that is well-rooted in the Biblical narrative that anticipates the restoration of all creation and affirms the essential dignity of work. Short, no-nonsense, and remarkably clear.   Love it.

 

Work Matters: Lessons from Scripture Paul R. Stevens (Eerdmans) Stevens is a master of this topic, having published many books on the interface of faith and the marketplace, Christianity and work, the role of the laity, etc.  In his insightful hands, these "jobs in the Bible" come alive, profound, insightful, useful.  Very, very good.  Read any of his many books!

 

Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good  Amy L. Sherman (IVP) No book explores the ways in which a serious approach to vocation can equip us to make a difference in the world as thoroughly and thoughtfully as this.  Sherman explores four "avenues" or levels of how to serve God in one's career, making sure that our best efforts are, indeed, serving others and being a blessing.  A moving afterward by Steve Garber.  Highly recommended for those who mean business!

 

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Dutton) Not yet released, due November 2012  This soon to be released book is already gathering quite a lot of anticipation.  Keller makes a good case explaining God's intention for people to work, on His behalf,  serving and sustaining the common good.  He will give solid Biblical and theological foundations for marketplace mission and, in the practical second half, offer helpful observations and guidance for keeping faith in the work-world.  I've seen most of this already and very highly recommend it. 

 

CHRISTIAN MIND


The Mind of God James Emory White (IVP)  I love this wonderful little book, and re-read it often.  Inspiring, handsome, full of insight and encouragement.

 

Your Mind's Mission  Greg Jao (IVP) This not yet released inexpensive booklet -- due out in December 2012 -- is a beautifully written invitation to the life of the mind, teaching us to use our thinking and scholarship in missional ways for God's glory and the world's good.  Our bookstore is mentioned, so we're particularly pleased to tell you about it.  Short, insightful, and very useful for students or anyone wanting an overview of the call to use our mind in Christian ways.

 

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God  John Piper (Crossway)  A very thoughtful, passionate call to think well for the glory of God, to avoid the temptations of the life of the mind, and to redouble our efforts to think well and faithfully.

 

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind  Mark Noll (Eerdmans) The long-awaited  serious follow-up to the seminal Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  Beautiful and stimulating, asking precisely what our theology about Jesus has to say to the project of nurturing the Christian mind.

 

Philosophy: A Student's Guide David Naugle (Crossway) This is the best brief overview of the need for a Christ-honoring strategy of integrating faith and learning, essential for learners of all sorts.  Very wise and truly enlightening.

 

Life, God and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City  Eric Metaxas (Plume)  Just out in paperback, this wonderful anthology (previously released as Socrates in the City) brings together some of the finest Christian intellectuals of our time, offering insightful pieces about the coherence of Christian conviction. Authors include Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, Sir John Polkinghorne, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Os Guinness, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and others... (Guess who has a blurb on the back?)

 

Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art Abraham Kuyper (Christian Library Press)  Newly translated from the Dutch, these essays were written by the famous Dutch pastor, journalist and statesman about how the doctrine of common grace offers a unique way to approach both the arts and the sciences.  Important stuff!  A great introduction by Wheaton College's  Vincent Bacote. Kuyper, as you know by now, spoke the "every square inch" line on your conference proceedings book.

 

CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT


The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World Gabe Lyons (Multnomah)  The first half of this upbeat book explains the ways a more wholistic and nonpartisan vision of the Kingdom can help us avoid the distractions of the culture wars and the second half makes a case for seven key shifts that younger evangelicals seem to care deeply about.  This book is important for the bell-weather shifts it helpfully explains, and, I believe, because it is truly Biblically faithful.  We indeed need to hear these concerns and embrace this vision of being God's agents for cultural restoration.

 

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith David Kinnaman (Baker) After the research done for his important book Unchristian, this fine author, head of the Barna Group, offers conclusions drawn about how to keep young adults involved in church and faith.  Really interesting and exceptionally important for most churches, wishing to keep our 20-something engaged and faithful. 

 

A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good Miroslov  Volf (Baker) Volf is one of the more popular theologians working today and these lectures wonderfully capture the need to be involved in faithful Christian witness even as we recognize the quandaries of pluralism.  Highly recommended. For a lovely and profound collection of short essays by Volf, see his Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities (Eerdmans.)

 

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling Andy Crouch (IVP) If you haven't read this yet, you owe it to yourself to consider his call to honor the joys of taking up the cultural mandate and reflecting more intentionally the image of our creative God.  The section evaluating various postures towards culture (just critiquing? merely copying?) is worth the price of the book.

 

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement David Brooks (Random House) Brooks, as you surely know, is one of our best and most balanced pundits and he here offers a novel--with tons of excursions into social research---pondering what causes human happiness.  One of the most interesting and insightful books of recent years.  What a fun and compelling way to learn!

 

Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction  Richard Mouw (Eerdmans)  Mouw is a gracious and clear writer and here he tells why discovering this Dutch theologian of the ninteenth century, a social critic (and Prime Minister) was a life-saver for him.  The best simple explanation of Kuyperianism --- very highly recommended!   This is the guy, you know, who preached that Christ claims "every square inch" of his creation.  I love this little book, and am grateful for Mouw's contribution.

 

Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different Tullian Tchividjian (Multnomah) What a wonderful, wonderful study, challenging and yet hopeful.  Perhaps we ought not too quickly attempt to be relevant; maybe the best thing we can do is be unfashionable.  A powerful critique of cultural accommodation and less than principled ways of engaging the world. 

 

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christian Faith in the Late Modern World Davidson Hunter (Oxford University Press)  Again, this is a much-discussed and often-debated book about how best to embody a "faithful presence" in the workplace as a way to slowly and effectively bring God's hope to a hurting culture.  Erudite, significant.

 

Incarnational Humanism: A Philosophy of Culture for the Church in the World Jens Zimmerman  (IVP Academic) One of the most rigorous, thoughtful, interesting, and helpful studies of this sort.  What a fabulous example of mature Christian considerations, invoking "Christian humanism" as a helpful way to appreciate a redemptive sort of attention to God's world.

 

Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil  Os Guinness (HarperOne)  One can hardly talk about witnessing in the real world or engaging culture without giving some coherent account of suffering and evil, how to understand it, and what to do about it.  One of the best studies about this, eloquent and honest, deep and yet very engaging. 

 

Evil and the Justice of God  N.T. Wright (IVP)  Again, any effective and faithful approach to living out the social implications of the gospel simply must relate to the problem of evil and embrace the brokenness of our times.  Wright is a solid scholar and faithful preacher of the resurrection.  Few have so helpfully related Christ's death and resurrection to this question.

 

The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment Eric O. Jacobsen (Baker Academic)  What a splendid, interesting, helpful, inspiring call to care about our world, the culture we inhabit, and how to "see" things anew.  Does God care about "sidewalks of the Kingdom"?  Should we?  What a tremendous study, teaching us so much about culture, society, lifestyles, worldviews, and Christ's invitation to live in ways that enhance true community.  Very highly recommended.  Part of a series of books called "Cultural Exegesis."

 

SPIRITUAL FORMATION


Reordered Love Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness  David Naugle (Eerdmans)  What does it mean to love the right things, in the right way?  Can we be happy as we allow God to change our desires and give us the right priorities.  I think this is one of the great books of recent years, one that should be better known among us. Naugle writes out of a very intentional, distinctively Christian worldview, with a keen awareness of the importance of our interior lives.  Wonderful.

 

Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior Steven Garber (IVP) Garber did advanced scholarship researching how young adults apply what they know, how we take advantage of our college experiences, and how new-found faith can be lasting into mid-life and beyond.  With great theological and literary depth he identifies three things that allow learning to last, faith to grow, and belief to be woven together in the whole of life.  A long-time friend of CLS, Garber is the extraordinary director of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture.

 

A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life James Emery White (IVP) White takes us on a virtual journey around the world, teaching an essential Christian truth at each place.  Go with him to the Eagle and the Child,  Billy Graham's NC home, the Ten Boom House in Holland, Chartres Cathedral, Iona Abbey,  Luther's Wittenberg, Dachau, to  and more.  A wonderful way to learn so much, about Christian history, about the world, and about our daily discipleship.

 

Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ Dallas Willard (NavPress) This newly  re-issued paperback is a gem, perhaps his most accessible and useful book.  What does it mean to become transformed into the ways of Christ?

 

Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality Bruce Demarest (NavPress)  This is another under-appreciated gem, a treasure-chest helping anyone seriously interested in spiritual formation.

 

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eat This Book, The Jesus Way, Tell It Slant, Practice Resurrection, Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) All five of these meaty "conversations on spiritual theology" are well worth working through - each illustrates Peterson's profound and mature ways of relating Bible, theology, spirituality and daily discipleship with great insight and a no-nonsense style.  In years to come this set will be considered as among the most important  enduring Christian books of the last decade. If you've never read Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (IVP) is still his most popular.  Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon Us From Self to Community (Eerdmans) is a personal favorite.

 

Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation Ruth Haley Barton (IVP) I highly recommend any and everything this wonderful writer does, but this may be my favorite.  One of the best studies of the classic spiritual disciplines, inviting and vital.  See also the companion volume Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence (IVP.) 

 

Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home Richard Foster (HarperOne)  I suppose you know his many books, but these two are the most true and enduring classics.  Read any and all of his, regularly.

 

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World Paul Miller (NavPress)  I do not list this one just because he is speaking here with us this year---this is our biggest selling book on prayer this year, and certainly in my top three or four books about prayer, ever.  Nicely written, very helpful, mature. Wow.

 

25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to Essential Spiritual Classics edited and compiled by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, and Richard Rohr et al (HarperOne) Foster's Renovare team compiled this very useful resource book helping us all more greatly appreciate some of the best spiritual books of the last 2000 years.  Other contemporary writers chime in with sidebars, interviews and their own eccentric lists making this a book-lovers delight and a reliable guide to years of fruitful devotional reading. Kudos to our friends at this years CLS bookstore for stocking all these books! 

 

JUSTICE


The Little Book of Biblical Justice Chris Marshall (Good Books)  This is as succinct and basic as it gets, with solid, Biblical teaching, quite detailed, full of the nuance of the Bible itself, yet  inexpensive and brief. (75 pages.)  Makes an excellent small group study...

 

Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just Timothy Keller (Dutton) Clearly rejecting the tradition which sees evangelical faith concerns about personal salvation and the "social gospel" concerned with only societal reform, Keller insists that the classic doctrine of justification should give us great passion for social justice.  We dare not bifurcate doctrine and action, and true evangelical piety should lead to commitments to care about justice.  Very, very helpful.

 

The Good News About Injustice and Just Courage Gary Haugen (IVP) The International Justice Mission may be one of the most exciting and fruitful international Christian legal organizations of our time. These are foundational, evangelical studies of God's heart for justice and how we can be involved as agents of His healing and reconciliation. Powerful, basic, vital.

 

Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor Robert Lupton (Gospel Light) This thin paperback packs a wallop as it instructs us on how to meaningful engage in advocacy for the poor, standing for justice amidst great need.  She his very moving classic Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America and the important Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) recently published by HarperOne.

 

The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation Jim Martin (Tyndale) Co-published with IJM this is a guidebook moving us "from apathy to action." Passionate and Biblical, this is loaded with helpful examples, ways to take "next steps" and things congregations can do.  Foreword by Gary Haugen.

 

When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor  Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert (Crossway) Seasoned activists explain the ins and outs of serving the poor, reforming social policy, and working in sustainable ways for the good of all.  Very popular, because it is very impressive.

 

Go + Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time  Jay Millbrandt (Tyndale)   Active in CLS activities, this vibrant young leader directs the wonderful Global Justice Program at Pepperdine School of Law.  Great, great stories, helpful motivation and helpful insight.  This is more than just interesting and inspiring, it is remarkable.  As his friend and mentor Bob Goff writes, "Jay is equal parts guts and grit. Go and Do reminds us that we all have an important role to play in transforming the world.  Jay illustrates how you might be surprised what you will accomplish when you take you passions out for a lap around the world."

 

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang (IVP)  There are only a few Biblically-based and socially relevant books on a Christian view of this vexing issue, and this is my favorite. The authors work with World Relief, the relief and development agency of the National Association of Evangelicals and their work is highly respected. Kudos.

 

Justice: Rights & Wrongs Nicholas Woltersdorff (Princeton University Press) Recently reviewed in the CLS Christian Lawyer journal, this is serious, philosophical stuff, by an eminent Christian philosopher. Anyone called to legal work in any capacity needs to reflect long and hard on the nature of justice, and this scholarly work will help. Important and weighty.  See the vital continuation, deep ruminations called Justice and Love (Eerdmans.)

 

CITIZENSHIP & POLITICS


Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World  Richard Mouw (IVP)  I continue to say this is one of my all time favorite (and so very necessary) books, delightfully and reasonably calling for public etiquette, charitable but vibrant public witness, offered with principled civility. If only...

 

The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It  Os Guinness (HarperOne) This thoughtful and passionate work goes beyond the obvious call for public manners, but offers a framework and structure, based on the strengths of the American Bill of Rights, for freedom from and freedom for expression of our deepest convictions.  This is an urgent and necessary contribution, an important, balanced perspective.  One need not agree with every detail to recognize the genius of this pluralistic approach.

 

A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future  Os Guinness (IVP) Here, Guinness has finally written out further work on a topic for which he is known, offering a brilliant assessment of the genius of the American framers and the brilliance of the American experiment.  Yet, as he painstakingly shows, to sustain freedom requires certain habits of the heart, civic virtues, including freedom of religion, and the subsequent virtue that emerges from a freely religious people.  This is a civic education essential for freedom to flourish, offered by a Brit who has deep gratitude for, and fears about, the American ideals.

 

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?  John Fea (Westminster/John Knox) Nominated for the prestigious Washington Prize, it is good to see such balanced, thoughtful scholarship that takes into account the diverse religious convictions of our founders and framers.  Wonderfully written and quite helpful.

 

God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics Paul Marshall (Rowman & Littlefield) This great hardback is somewhat mis-titled as it is not really about the Constitution as such.  It is the best overview of a distinctively Christian view of government yet done, relating properly explore Christian principles to contemporary political philosophy in a very balanced way. Very helpful for anyone pondering the role of government and a Biblically-informed view of politics.

 

Political Thought: A Students Guide  Hunter Baker (Crossway) This is another volume in the brief but potent "Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition" series edited by David Dockery.  Baker, who holds a PhD from Baylor and a JD from the University of Houston, is a dean at Union University.  Here, he succinctly defines the important terms,  explains the basics of political philosophy, offering conservative Christian insight into the classic questions, the vital debates, and the ongoing quandaries.  Nicely done.

 

Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P. C. Kemeny (IVP) Five scholars offer their take on uniquely Christian politics, and then the other four respond. Excellently presented views include a Catholic perspective, a classical "separationist" view, a moderate Anabaptist approach, a "principled-pluralist" neo-Calvinist view and a mainline Protestant social justice emphasis. Wow.

Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies David Koyzis (IVP) No one volume is a profound and readable in its study of the roots of Western thought and the history of the development of political theory. Koyzis astutely exposes the Enlightenment roots of both liberals and conservatives, and helps us understand the dynamics of ideological conflict in the modern world. Very significant.

Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement Ronald J. Sider (Brazos Press) If I were to pick one book on politics for educated lay readers, this would be it.  Sider offers a faithful methodology, starting with the Biblical narrative as it shapes our worldview and public philosophy, to a coherent view of the state, to an examination of the pertinent Biblical texts, to a judicious study of various sides of the contemporary issues. Biblical, gracious, balanced, this is a fine example of the way evangelical thoughtfulness can make a contribution to our civic lives.   An early friend of CLS, James Skillen, says "Ron Sider builds on years of experience and conversations with Christian across a very wide spectrum. His balance is better than that of most who want to influence politics for the better.  And biblical faith is the solid platform on which he builds and balances. Listen to Ron carefully before taking your next step." 

Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media) There are two forwards to this fun, feisty back-and-forth conversation --- Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Marvin Olasky of World magazine.  That should get you interested!   These two evangelical leaders are friendly and fair as they offer points and counterpoints, offering Christ-honoring insights based on serious Bible study and faithful action in the world of political activism.  Harper is a former IVCF evangelist who now works at Sojourners.  Innes is an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor and esteemed professor at the King's College in NYC.  Very interesting!

Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew? Charles Drew (New Growth Press)  This revised version of the very moderate and thoughtful A Public Faith comes with wise endorsements from the like of J.I. Packer and Timothy Keller.  As William Brewbaker (professor of law at the University of Alabama) writes, "This book is a needed antidote to the worldliness of much Christian political involvement whether of the conservative or liberal variety. It should be required reading in our churches!"  It is low-key and gentle, allowing that we have great freedom (indeed, obligation) to be involved in civic life, but that we must put "first things first" and honor one another within the unity of the Body of Christ.  This is not only sensible, it is essential. 

 

CRIME, LAW & LEGAL THEORY


Crime and Its Victims Dan Van Ness (IVP) When Chuck Colson moved from only prison evangelism and ministry to include work for more structural reforms, he commissioned Van Ness to do a foundational Biblical study of crime and punishment. This is the best volume on the topic.

Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime & Justice Howard Zehr (Herald Press) With Van Ness' contribution to evangelical discourse around "restorative justice" as a basis, other (Mennonite) activist-scholars have developed the idea into greater clarity around reforms, values and proposals for more Christ-like approaches in criminology. A very important contribution, which should be considered.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  Michelle Alexander (The New Press)  Few current events books have been as discussed as the author meticulously shows the horrific imbalance of African American incarcerations for drug charges in relative comparison to the relative number of Caucasians.  Whether you concur with all her serious conclusions, you should be familiar with this book.

Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition Harold J. Berman (Harvard University Press)  A true classic, this, like other books of the esteemed Dr. Berman, is essential.  See also his Law and Revolution Part II:  The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Traditions (Harvard University Press.)

Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought  edited by Michael McConnell, Robert Cochran and Angela Carmelia  (Oxford University Press) Quite simply magisterial, a fabulous anthology of some of the best serious thinkers on various aspects of Christian legal theory.  Very useful, although is it mostly quite serious.

God's Joust, God's Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition John Witte, Jr (Eerdmans) I would be remiss not to note something of the prolific, substantive scholar, Dr. Witte. He is one of the leading scholars in this field, now the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. This "traces the historic struggles that generated the constitutional separation of church and state..."

Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide   Paul Marshall & Nina Shea (Oxford University Press) One of the urgent concerns in the world today (and a fascinating one for those interested in law, justice, and religious freedom) is this movement to restrict religious speech and conscience in many Islamic lands.  This is a passionate, well-documented, and important overview of this growing crisis.  The forward is by the late President of the world's largest Muslim organization, and the former Prime Minister of Indonesia.

Natural Law for Lawyers J. Budziszewski (ACW Press) This is as slim and basic as it gets, the theology of natural law explained succinctly for students or those needing a quick refresher.  Happily, this applies the theory to and for lawyers.

The Believers Guide to Legal Issues Stephen Bloom (Living Ink) What a joy to see a simple, clear-headed, spiritually-based introduction to legal issues. Most Christian attorneys would know all this, but it is an ideal tool to share with others in your church or practice, framed by simple gospel insight. Nice.

The Lawyers Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice Joseph Allegretti (Paulist Press) One of the best overviews of the ways in which faith shapes legal practice, the metaphors that are used to imagine what lawyers are and do, and how to be a responsible, ethical, attorney. Semi-scholarly, readable, insightful, from a Roman Catholic lawyer drawing on many Protestant sources. Very helpful.

Can a Good Lawyer Be a Good Lawyer? edited Thomas Baker (University of Notre Dame Press) An ecumenical collection of essays, sermons, meditations, and reflective pieces, including some written by active CLS leaders. You may not love each and every entry, but most are good, and a few are great.

Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession Michael Schutt (IVP) I believe that every career and profession should be so fortunate as to have such a winsome, readable, and yet profound and scholarly treatment of nearly every aspect of the foundations of the field. Not necessarily the most simple or practical, but it is the most essential book for every Christian lawyer's library. Highly, highly recommended. Great footnotes lead in many good directions for further study, and the discussion questions make it ideal for personal growth or small group conversation. Get several and pass 'em out!

First Be Reconciled: Challenging Christians in the Courts Richard Church (Herald Press) Many attorneys struggle with the Biblical verse about not going to court, and this Mennonite lawyer take is most seriously. Provocative and important, attempting to be serious about Biblical obedience in the reformation of legal attitudes and practices.

TOP 12 MISCELLANEOUS FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2012 (SO FAR.)

 

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels N.T. Wright (HarperOne) I love reading books about Jesus and I love reading books about the centrality of His Kingdom coming.  Here, in clear but thoughtful prose, one of our most important evangelical New Testament scholars offers large concerns about how we have come to miss the core themes of Jesus' own teaching, and have consequently misunderstood the heart of the gospel.  It garnered rave reviews from J.I. Packer and Dallas Willard.  We are grateful for two Wright books about the gospels this year -- Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (HarperOne) which is also a great gift to God's people.  Very helpful, balanced, thoughtful.

 

Crossed Lives -- Crossed Purposes: Why Thomas Jefferson Failed & William Wilberforce Persisted in Leading an End to Slavery Ray Blunt  (Resources Publications) A truly unique historical study, this wonderfully-told story compares and contrasts the two famous leaders, both who started out resolved to fight slavery.  One kept his commitments and deepened them over a lifetime of struggle; the other, of course, ended up not only reneging on his youthful convictions, but compromised in the worst of ways.  Why?  Not only does Blunt discover fundamental worldview differences between the two great men, but shows that while WIlberforce had accountability and support (in his famous Clapham sect) Jefferson has no truly intimate friends.  Besides this excellent overview--he unveils so much in such an informative manner--Blunt draws helpful leadership lessons for any contemporary leader making this a doubly useful resource.  Blunt has taught this material at the Naval Academy, in churches, and in the setting of a classically-oriented Christian prep school.  Very, very impressive.

 

Charity and Its Fruits  Jonathan Edwards (Crossway) Newly edited by Kyle Strobel, this is a wonderful new edition of an under-appreciated classic.  Many know the formidable mind and deep passions of the Puritan scholar, pastor, and college President, but too few know his hefty study of 1 Corinthians 13 (and more, besides.)  This new version will hopefully make this treasure into a standard.  The greatest of these, after all...

 

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World  Bob Goff (Nelson) One of the most exciting, audacious, hilarious, inspiring collection of life stories we've ever read.  You may know Goff, either as a former CLS Conference Keynote Speaker, as global justice advocate who has fought sexual trafficking and worked for the rule of law in Uganda, or as the crazy mentor of Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story (Nelson.)  Read even a few of these wild episodes and you, too, will want to have more "skin in the game" and find ways to "get to the do part" of faith. 

 

Run Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals  Ethan D. Bryan (Samzidat Creative) Ethan is an energetic youth worker, worship pastor, singer-songwriter, social justice activist, husband, dad, and neighborhood friend.  But he's also a very serious baseball fan and this memoir tells of a summer going to all the home games of his beloved Kansas City Royals  -- and what a season it was!  Baseball fan or not, you will enjoy reading about his weekly discoveries, what happens along the way to, during, or after the games.  This well written book will thrill baseball fans, of course (George Will called it "outstanding") but, better, will help you see God in the ordinary, realize how to be more faithful as a Christian parent or friend, and will deepen your own resolve to discern God's hand in the ups and downs of your daily life.

 

The Exact Place: A Memoir Margie Haack (Dulous Press) Haack was mentored by Edith and Francis Schaeffer and she and her husband, Denis, run "Ransom Fellowship" and edit Critique, a journal helping Christians develop skills of cultural discernment.  Margie is a spectacular writer, funny and poignant, and this memoir tells of her growing up rural and poor in Northern Minnesota.  God had her at the "exact place" as her life unfolded, she comes to believe, in order to have her open to Christ's amazing grace.  This is a story you will not forget.

 

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor Jana Riess (Paraclete)  I have read a number of great books on spirituality this year, but this, well, I'm almost embarrassed to admit, was my personal fav.  Each month this snarky, witty writer tackles a great devotional classic (and a spiritual discipline to go with it) and, well, shall we say, it doesn't go well.  Yep.

 

A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth Matthew Dickerson (Brazos Press) There are plenty of books about Tolkien, and many seem very interesting and rewarding.  This is extraordinary, though, bringing the deepest questions of Middle Earth to contemporary ethical issues. As Jeffrey Overstreet writes of this, "Tolkien's stories are countries full of treasure that will go undiscovered and unappreciated unless we learn how to be attentive treasure hunters. Matthew Dickerson writes as one who has spent his summers in the Shire, hiked every trail in Mirkwood Forest, taken counsel from Gandalf, and argued with Gollum and Smaug. It's as though he sharpened the tools of his intellect in deep conversation with Tolkien himself."   Thomas Shippey, Tolkien's biographer, says "If anyone should still doubt Tolkien's applicability and relevance to the twenty-first century, this is the book to put in their hands."

 

Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters Phyllis Tickle (Baker) Like it or not (understand it or not) this is a great writer's observant ruminations on the shifts in Western culture, the trends in Christianity, with special attention to the emergent conversation within what some call post-evangelicalism.  Fun, breezy, but very important, this is a great overview, up to date and well-informed.  For a somewhat parallel, but more theologically serious (and global) anthology, see the brand new The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions edited by Ryan Bolger (Baker Academic.)

 

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Timothy and Kathy Keller (Dutton)  Keller is known as an astute, Reformed preacher, a sophisticated urban church planter, a top-notch, urbane apologist, and a passionate advocate for the cultural transformation that happens when people of faith apply their convictions to their work.  Who knew he was such a kindly pastoral counselor and that, along with his wife, could speak so tenderly about the deepest purposes of sexuality, relationships, and marriage.  Of course, he does some theologizing along the way, as well as placing the Biblical perspective within the changing contexts of the late modern world, but, still, this is Keller doing a self-help type marriage book.  One that is also very good for those not married.  Three cheers for his candor, for his wife's good voice throughout, and for their honesty about their own lives together.

 

Art as Spiritual Perception edited by James Romaine (Crossway)  We stock a large selection of books about the arts and (as we do with CLS) try to encourage organizations like IAM or CIVA with book lists and affirmation of their best authors.  This is a collection put together to honor the recently retired art history professor of Wheaton College, Dr. John Walford.  A dozen of his students, colleagues and friends write amazing chapters about how to see to the root of the religious orientation of various artists.  From Calvin Seerveld to William Dryness to Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, this is an anthology that will impress anyone seriously interested in the arts or anyone that wants to learn more about the art of Christian cultural analysis.  Full-color art reproductions on heavy stock glossy paper makes this a wonderful, beautiful volume.  Kudos.

 

A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership Wendell Berry (CounterPoint)  Berry may be the most often cited contemporary novelist among serious Christian literary buffs and his essays, poems, novels and stories have been acclaimed by lovers of words from across the cultural and political spectrum. I hope you know his wondrous novels such as Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter or The Memory of Old Jack.  This brand new collection of short stories is sure to please, taking its place beside the previous Port William collection, That Distant Land.  A new book by him is truly a publishing event, and this collection of stories just arrived!  I hope you have read at least some of his elegant, thoughtful essays (about farming, sustainable communities, agrarian values, God's care for the Earth, the erosion of social life brought on by fast-paced modern culture, the dangers of  pesticides, the trouble with consumer capitalism, etc.)  And, oh, by the way, his prestigious Jefferson Lectures of the Spring of 2012 were just released: It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lectures and Other Essays (CounterPoint.)  Thanks be to God for prophets and writers such as this.

 

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Continue reading "Nurturing the Heart & Mind of the Christian (Lawyer): Books Old and New. A handout from a workshop at Christian Legal Society, October 2012." »