About December 2013

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in December 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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December 2013 Archives

December 5, 2013

Advent Books - 2013

With our on-the-road, pop-up bookstore work keeping us up late and often away last month we've notcandles.jpg had time to properly think about Advent. The road trips were hard but rewarding - many thanks to friends at Montreat College in NC and Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, and St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore, MD, and, just after Thanksgiving, the Episcopal clergy from the Diocese of Pennsylvania who allow me to speak to them about books they might find stimulating and useful and their annual retreat. That we got to be with authors as diverse as Tim Keller, James Dunn, Phyllis Tickle (and, even better, the good folks who attend these events and talk over the book tables and buy our wares) is an immense privilege. This November schedule prevented us from doing a proper Advent book list here at BookNotes.  

I assume you are, in your own way, as busy as we are, so maybe you won't mind our tardiness, here in early Advent.  May these books prove helpful as you enter into this journey.  Send us an order right away (they are all on sale!)  and we'll ship them with all possible promptness.

You can also browse through a previous list from last year  -- most of these are still in print and I suspect we have most of 'em in stock now, too. (A few are real classics!)  Enjoy!

Rrekindling-advent----cover-8b-lo-res.jpgekindling Advent: Rediscovering the Season of Joyful Waiting  John Allen Bankson (Doulos Resources) $9.95 This good author loves Advent, and we learn that he is even called by folk in his conservative Presbyterian church circles, "The Advent Man."  Even though he is Presby, many of the citations herein are collects from the Book of Common Prayer -- so it is eloquent and solid. It is a very nice introduction to this "season of joyful waiting" and a fine guide for those who are new to this liturgical practice. 

I don't know if it is helpful to distinguish this little book from others that invite us to the celebration of Advent, but Doulos Resources is an sister imprint to the wonderful Kalos Press, which has brought you such great literary works as Margie Haack's The Exact Place and Matt Redmond's God of the Mundane.  Solid, creative, and very interesting, these books are all well worth having. I figured if you valued those (which we have raved about at BookNotes) you might like to know that these are from the same great indie press.

Tgreatest gift.jpghe Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas  Ann Voskamp  (Tyndale) $19.99  I cannot recommend this more highly, having loved every page I've tasted, and hoping to press it into your hands, so you can enjoy its deep truths, its wonderful, wonderful writing, its sturdy, attractive design and really helpful insights.  Who knows, maybe you will share it with others as a special holiday blessing, or at least read it out loud to those you love. It is that kind of book.

I trust you know the New York Times bestseller by Ms Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts (and the really nice little gift book edition, that has quotes from it, accompanied by very nice full- color nature photography.)  Voskamp was roughly criticized by some not so discerning critics who thought she verged on pantheism since she so colorfully writes about God's presence in the glories of the created world. She's from a farmingone thousand gifts.jpg family, and gets more than most of us about the ways of God and creation (she has a splendid chapter in my often-recommended all-time-favorite anthology of food essays The Spirit of Food) and she is fluent in the broad contemplative tradition, too, realizing how attentiveness to the mundane stuff of daily work and life is how we nurture grateful hearts.  Anyway, she's a good thinker, a fabulous storyteller, a broad-hearted, generous, evangelical, an accomplished wordsmith with a wondrous sense of things under foot.  In this very handsome collection of Advent readings - based on Older Testament texts, which she handles with aplumb - she does a modern update of the Jesse Tree custom, and besides the great insight of the inter-connectedness of the Biblical stories and the unfolding drama of the big picture, offers exquisite new designs for making your own Jesse Tree ornaments. (See the book's accompanying website for the actual patterns, if you'd like: www.aholyexperience.com.)

You have to love a book which offers this in the beginning:

Big and glossy and loud and fast - that's how this bent-up world turns.

But God, when He comes - He shows up in this fetal ball. 

He who cared the edges of the cosmos curved Himself into a fetal ball in the dark, tethered Himself to the uterine wall of a virgin, and lets His cells divide, light splitting all white.

Each day's Biblical reading in The Greatest Gift is printed out in full, her own take on thevoskamp page.jpg telling comes next, and there is even a section each day which offers an idea for further unwrapping the gift - that is, something to do.  These are not extravagant or guilt-producing, but just suggested small steps towards greater fidelity in this busy month. It is a pleasurable journey even as it makes you reconsider some things, and we think it is very much worth your time. We're happy to recommend it as the best new Advent/Christmastime resource published this year. 

Aa-stubborn-sweetness-and-other-stories-for-the-christmas-season.jpg Stubborn Sweetness And Other Stories for the Christmas Season Katherine Paterson (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  Oh my, were we excited when we heard that the amazing children's writer, the often-awarded Ms Katherine Paterson, had this new book coming out.  It is, in fact, a combination of most of the stories from her two other (frustratingly out-of-print) short story holiday collections, Angels and Other Strangers and A Midnight Clear. One or two stories from those two books have been oddly left out, and there is one included that was previously published in a Presbyterian denominational magazine.  For the price, this is perhaps the best bargain of the season, a very nicely crafted hardback with a textured cover and good paper and binding.  But, most importantly, these are great stories that can be read out loud in many settings.  I suppose they are mostly for personal reading or family devotions, but I know of Christian educators who have used them in Sunday school, and (since she is so esteemed in the mainstream world of excellent children's books) some have been read in public schools as well.  

There is a story about a shopping mall's night watchman, a lonely widower, a pregnantkatherine Paterson.jpg teenage runaway, a political prisoner in China, a grieving mother, and a privileged American, all "who have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas because of loss, pain, greed, or circumstances." As it says on the dust jacket, "through unexpected and uplifting ways, each is reminded of the first Christmas story and the vision of hope and peace it offers the world."

These stories, perhaps firstly written for middle school age youngsters, are not simplistic or preachy.  They are not primarily Bible lessons.  These are contemporary short stories, for older children and families, nuanced and beautiful, provocative and spiritually-alive. A Stubborn Sweetness And Other Stories are highly recommended, whether you have children or not. Why not skip some of the cheesy holiday Hallmark movies and the endless re-runs of romances set over Christmas that are mostly foolish and not related to Christmas, and spend an hour or two reading this for your holiday entertainment?  You won't regret it.

Twoman of christmas.jpghe Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna  Liz Curtis Higgs (Waterbrook) $14.99  Again, this selection is a good one, and a great price for a hardback which is over 200 pages!  You most likely know of Liz Curtis Higgs as a popular Woman of Faith speaker and knock-out comedian.  She has been known for being a bit loud and funny, and for over a decade has been writing modern-day novels and engaging Bible studies bringing "bad girls of the Bible" to life in modern times.  She is not trying to be a high-brow literati, nor a mystically deep contemplative, pondering the hidden mysteries of the season.  No, she's a bold preacher, a funny communicator, and a good writer, just retelling and helping us appreciate these stories with boldness and good humor, realizing how they are still good news for us today.  In the last few books Higgs has been less funny, and this one is, while good natured and winsome, not laugh-inducing. The Women of Christmas is a solid, entertaining Bible study book showing how, by following the footsteps of these well-known women, your own life can unfold in more vibrant and perhaps new ways this season. There is a useful study guide, too, making this a helpful resource for any last minute Bible studies or programs you may have to arrange.  Nice.

Eembodied light.jpgmbodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation Melissa Tidwell (Upper Room) $12.00  Upper Room can be counted on to produce warm and elegant paperbacks of Advent devotions, and this is the best they've done this year.  Tidwell is a good writer and this book is unique - it invites us to pray with our bodies, to literally embody seasonal practices through gesturing, conversing, walking and singing.  This is a four-week journey (with a Bible text, discussion questions, and prayer prompts for each reading) that walks us deeper into the mystery of the adventure of God's adventure of taking on human flesh.  The book opens with an epigram of a Mary Oliver poem ("Poem", since you want to know) and in the first section cites a Wim Wender's film (Wings of Desire, if you want to know.) It's that kind of book, artful, nearly sensual and quite thoughtful, showing literally what we mean by an embodied, incarnational faith.

Aadvent a to z.jpgdvent A to Z: Prayerful and Playful Preperations for Families  Sharon Harding & John Indermark (Abingdon) $11.99  This book maybe isn't for everyone - it is designed for families with young children and has tons of ways to explore Advent by way of studying a word starting with each of the 26 successive letters of the alphabet, followed by suggestions for simple, easy-to-prepare activities such as games, crafts, meditations, journaling ideas, even outreach or service projects.) The activities are based on that day's word and are ideal for parents teaching their children about Advent including those who obviously already know their alphabet.  (Which is to say, this is not primarily in the genre of an "alphabet book" even though it uses that device.)  Plus, there is a section in each entry called "for adults" which means (yes!) adults can play this game, too. And here is another thing: Indermark is a renowned Bible teacher (having done books on the prophets, the gospels, a great book on love in the New Testament, and others that gently invite us into radical, Biblical teachings.)  I think there is enough meat here to inspire nearly anyone wanting new ideas that are both Biblically-grounded and a bit experiential as we learn to live out the hope of God's coming reign. The two authors - one a Christian educator, the other a Biblical scholar and UCC pastor --  have collaborated before, on the much-respected Feasting on the Word and Seasons of the Spirit curriculum. 

Ajoy-to-the-world-the-lord-is-come-the-forgotten-meaning-of-christmas-1.jpg Joy To the World: The Forgotten Meaning of Christmas Isaac Watts and Paraclete Press (Paraclete Press) $16.99  This is one of those smaller-sized hardbacks, ubiquitous this time of year, as they make such a perfect house-warming gift, or as a book to share at a party or as a stocking stuffer.  Some of these nice-looking gift books are vapid, others are full of the delightful but often-used quotes and stories and classic poems we've heard before -- fine, but not particularly catching.  Well, at first glance, this is one you have heard before, too, but - hold on to your hat! - it will allow you to attend to the grand and glorious themes of the grand and glorious words of this grand and glorious hymn, and it could be life-changing!  You may recall that "Joy to the World" was inspired by Psalm 98 and was not written as a Christmas carol at all. The hymn is about the return of the Messiah who comes in glory, in victory over evil, setting (as NT Wright likes to say it) "putting things to rights."  As you should know, the liturgical season of Advent is not (in the traditional church calendar) a time of counting down til Christmas, really, but a season of recalling how we are awaiting the second coming.  To allow Isaac Watts to interpret his own song (as this book does, with excerpts of his own theologically rich insights) as a spiritual aid to deepen and enhance our longing for the final restoration, is a very, very special gift. This handsome gift book is light to hold, lovely on the eyes, and - if you have eyes to see and ears to really hear - will be theologically informative and transforming.  Kudos to the editors and writers at Paraclete Press who pulled this together and enhanced it with very appropriate design and historic art.  Very, very nicely done, and very, very important.

Thope of c-mas.jpghe Hope of Christmas  Jack Countryman (Nelson) $12.99  Jack Countryman's imprint is renowned for producing very, very handsome gift books, with heavy stock paper, great bindings, full color art and very nice page design. This is a 7 inch x 5 inch hardback, with a heavy card-stock sleeve, too, that nearly sparkles with the white cover and the overlay of silver and red touches.  Inside, this devotional collection offers standard inspiration, evangelical piety, wholesome Christmas hopes, and a reminder about the truest hope of the season.  It is a very nice gift book, for others or for yourself.

This is a great devotional aid, especially if you feel harried or hurried this time of year, and can't put in the proper time doing much serious Bible study. The Hope of Christmas is arranged in about 20 sections, each comprised of three parts: prophecy, fulfillment, promise.  That is, there is a Old Testament text, a New Testament text, and a reflection on the implications and promises of God inspired by this rhthem of promise and fulfillment (also drawn from the Bible.)  There are also poems and hymn lyrics, easy-to-read reflections and a few prayers scattered throughout.  The understated artwork evokes the look of hand-made stamp art or simple woodcuts, and the result makes a very nice book to hold, and certainly nice to use as a gift.  I'm sure you'd enjoy giving a few of these away, sharing them with those who may not know the bigger Biblical story that forms the real basis for the Christian celebrations this time of year. Prophecy, fulfillment, promise.  And, as it reminds us, patience, as we wait.  Nice.



Iincarnation.jpgncarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven & Earth  William Willimon (Abingdon) $13.99  I will read almost anything Willimon writes, and I'm sure some of our readers do too; many of our best Christian leaders admire his insight, his boldness, and his solid, clear writing.  Willimon is a bit blunt at times, occasionally funny with his warm Southern storytelling, and obviously is grounded in wide, wide reading in the best writers from throughout church history.  He is a consummate, communicator, not hip, but mature and eloquent. In this inaugural book in the "Belief Matters" series, Willimon does a quick study and creates a great layperson's guide to this complex theological doctrine, explaining what it means and why it matters.  

I love this slim book, and would recommend it no matter what month it was.  Since the time is now upon us to ponder this mystery, why not pick this up and use it a bit - maybe a quickly convened study club with some holiday cheer? Unless you are reading the little first century classic, On the Incarnation by Athanasius (in the SVS edition with the C.S. Lewis forward) may I encourage you to buy this one, at least?  My hunch is you will hear more than a bit of nonsense this time of year from various quarters in the media and church, and this will help you navigate it all. Friends, the incarnation is a core and important doctrine, and I for one am glad for this "Theology Matters" series. You will learn something if you read this, I'm sure, and you will be glad for it.

Wwhat-is-incarnation-william-b-evans-paperback-cover-art.jpghat is the Incarnation? William B. Evans (Presbyterian & Reformed) $4.99  Okay, if you don't want to read Athanasius, and you don't want to read Willimon, at least get a bunch of these very nice booklets and stack 'em around as life preservers in this wacky season.  Written by a Bible & Religion prof at Erskine College, this is no-nonsense, the solid truth, none-negotiable and clear-headed.  I love most of these little "Basics of Faith" booklets, handsomely produced by this conservative Calvinist publisher, and I believe that no matter what your theological persuasion, this is a study from which you will benefit. Scottish scholar and Presbyterian pastor Sinclair Ferguson says that "Evans introduces us to both the teaching of Scripture and the loving reflections of some of the best minds of the Christian centuries...will stimulate even greater love for and faith in the Lord Jesus."  How many books can promise that? (This really is mostly a very fine series, each about 35 pages with great colorful covers. You know we've often celebrated the one on worldview by Philip Ryken and the excellent one by our friend Stephen Nichols on vocation. We stock 'em all.)

Sstitches.jpgtitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair  Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $17.95  Oh my, you surely know this bawdy hippie author of fiction and nonfiction, as famous for her excellent prose as she is for being an admittedly messed-up, way-lefty, Jesus-loving Christian.  Her last little book was way cool, on prayer, entitled Help, Thanks, Wow, and was published in a nifty slim-lined hardback. This new one is a perfect companion volume, in a matching little hardback. I think the writing and storytelling is even better here - and the theme is, frankly, ideal for this time of year.  If God-With-Us is not about repair of the world, an offer of grace and goodness for our screwy little lives on this broken, broken planet, then it isn't much worth pondering.  But Anne gets that much, at least: God loves us and we, accepted and blessed, can be agents of repair, incarnations of hope.  Lamott knows that theanne l.jpg tough questions about where God is in the midst of our struggles are well worth asking.  Of course.  Maybe especially this month.  It is always a nice little escape anytime to enter her wacky world and read her stuff, especially if you are a fan, as so many of us are.  Given how urgent the topic, though, joining her and reading along offers more than a fun read -- it becomes a much needed call to care, to be present to one another, to help mend together the shreds, stitch by stitch. This is a very moving book, and could be a good companion and inspiration for those who can't quite do the more customary Advent devotionals. 

By the way, we stock the "audio book" on CD and she herself reads it.  Very cool. Even if you don't read it during Advent, it would make a swell gift for a fan.  You're welcome for the nifty idea.

Eembracing the transformation.jpgmbracing the Transformation  Walter Brueggemann (edited by K.C.Hanson) (Cascade Books) $14.00  This is the latest (brand new) little collection of Dr. Brueggemann and those that follow him know that he offers astute observations on the Biblical texts that are generative for daily discipleship, especially as we think about public life, the big themes of what is shaping our culture and our lives, and how a Biblical vision might provide other ways to be in the world.  Often surprising, sometimes deeply moving, occasionally mind-numbing, Walt is a genius, an inspiration to many of us, and a rare blend of the prophetic and the pastoral, the scholar and the preacher. He holds up these stories (explained with often amazing insight and remarkable vocabulary) and asks us to stake our lives on them. Can we be an alternative community, as the text invites us?  Can we catch of glimpse of thewalter-brueggemann.jpg gospel that dismantles the principalities and powers and deconstructs our ideologies?  If Advent is a time of "hungering and thirsting after righteousness"  or hearing the one who "cries from the wilderness" then doing this kind of intensive study that yields a prophetic imagination is a near-perfect seasonal practice.  That the second chapter is called "Advent: Departure and Homecoming" nearly makes this little volume a must-have resource this month.  Just like a few other little Brueggemann collections edited by Hanson, these essays were first published in Journal of Preachers.

Aspirituality of homecoming.jpg Spirituality of Homecoming  Henri Nouwen (Upper Room) $12.00  This is the fifth in the series of little, very handsome monographs published in cooperation with the Henri Nouwen Society, edited by John Mogabgab, and we are grateful for them all.  It seems that this one might work well in Advent (even though it is based on a set of Lenten talks) - the chapters are brief and few, but it is a little book to live with, to carry and ponder.  There are lovely pull quotes and some small design features that make it especially nice.  Here is how it starts:

The spiritual life is a journey to the center, the center in which we come in touch with the pain of God as well as with the love of God, the pain of our world as well as the hope of the world, the pains of our own lives as well as the light that breaks into our darkness. It is a journey in which we resist the many distractions that pull us away from the center with an endless number of things that quite literally "occupy" us. 

And it is a journey of prayer in which we stand in the presence of God with a listening heart...God is not in the distant heavens or in the hidden depths of the future, but here and now. God has pitched a tent among us.  Even more than that, God has made a home in us so that we can make God's home our home. 

There are some amazing Advent themes in almost every line, eh?   It's a nice little book, and thought maybe you might like to know about it, maybe even to use these days.

Ffollowing J.jpgollowing Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $14.00  This is one of the earliest NT Wright books, one of the first I ever read, and it remains a favorite.  The respected and energetic New Testament scholar here offers a wonderful study of Jesus, as expressed in Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, and Revelation.  Wow.  And those are just the chapters of part one; part two explores aspects of having a renewed mind and living into being "a living sacrifice" in a renewed world that is now and not yet. As Tom puts it, "The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him in his world. That is, of course, if it's the real Jesus you're looking at." This Advent, let us look to the "real Jesus." This overview of the portrayal of Jesus in six New Testament books and six New Testament themes is sure to help. A very nice study, ideal for pondering alone or with friends this holiday season or in the new year. 



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December 8, 2013


Sshepherd girl.jpghepherd Girl of Bethlehem: A Nativity Story  Carey Morning, illustrated by Alan Marks (Lion Press) $14.99  Lion Press (from the UK) does some of the very best children's books of Bible stories available and this is a lovely, delightful, and at times moving story that invites every reader to enter the stable in Bethlehem and discover the the meaning of the Light -- accomplished by following the work and faith of a simple shepherd girl, the daughter of one of the shepherds of Biblical fame.  The pen and ink with full color watercolor is used expertly, with tender expressions on the faces of the people and animals, bringing us all close to this rural setting of caring for sheep, seeing those angels, visiting that manger.  Biblical and Middle Eastern scholars will fuss that the manger wasn't quite like a North American barn with hay and such (and surely the wise men didn't show up that night) but this tale still captures something very, very true about this wonderful night.  I love this book, for its fine telling of the story and the excellent artwork!

Ssong of the stars.jpgong of the Stars: A Christmas Story Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Allison Jay (Zonderkidz) $15.99  I hope you know of our fondness for the truly exceptional Jesus Storybook Bible (where "every story whisper's Christ's name") and Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, the book of devotions which serves as a sequel, both by Lloyd-Jones; we have described often why we think they are so, so good for the very young and those in the earlier years of elementary school. This splendid, artful Christmas book has a very different sort of artwork and cadence, but the gospel-based, theological insight and the joyful mood remains.  As you can guess, this works very well for those teaching the true Biblical story of God's redemptive plan for the whole (groaning) creation  -- a necessary emphasis to counteract personalistic, pietistic renditions of world-flight Christianity or mere sentimentality.  Yessiree, here, the whole creation gets in on the act, and it evokes wonder and praise!  It is majestic, but still playful and fun; what child doesn't like hearing about the animals praising their own Maker?  Fantastic!  Very highly recommended.

Tanimal's christmas.jpghe Animals Christmas  Elena Pasquali, illustrated by Giuliona Ferri (Lion Press) $14.99  I celebrated this book last year, also, and most of us agreed it was one of our favorite Christmas kids books of 2012 -- so I just had to list it again.  As with many other Lion Press books, the artwork is commendable, colorful and modern, neither silly nor sentimental.  As you might guess, this shows the various animals that were part of the Christmas story, and how the Bible points us to the hope of a renewed creation, where all creatures play a role in the unfolding of God's redemptive work. One parent in England wrote that The Animals Christmas is "filled with gorgeous, sumptuous pictures full of mood and emotion and with beautifully drawn animals...a really beautiful book." If you hear Isaiah 11 in your church  - and I hope you do! -- then this book will be great to read with your little ones.

Jjoy dePaolo.jpgoy to the World: Christmas Stories and Songs  Tomie DePaola (Puffin) $12.99  This is the Tomie DePaola book I've been waiting for -- a nice, paperback compilation of three of his best Christmas books, The Night of Las Posadas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and The Legend of the Poinsettia.  As Publisher's Weekly put it, reviewing Night... these is an "exquisitely wrought story...dePaula's talent for crafting folk-tales is honed to near perfection, and his pages glow with the soft sun-washed hues of the Southwest."  As with his other books, the artwork is the heart of it, even though the text is nice -- from his use of Byzantine and Romanesque art styles to his playful colors which are bright without being gaudy, to his symbolic touches which consecrate the glory of the everyday, we love his illustrations. 

Tthree gifts.jpghe Three Gifts: The Truth About Santa Claus M.P. Ilse $5.99  I happen to know the wonderful local woman -- M.P. Ilse is a pen name, I guess -- who wrote this, mostly out of a desire to share her research about Saint Nicholas with her own kids and other interested folks. (It started with the common question faced by parents -- is Santa Claus real?) There are a few other books on this topic for younger children, and a few that have some schtick to them, clever, but not too factual.  This is just a simple little paperback with clear type and clear-headed facts about the goodness of the original Saint Nicholas (born in Lycia, AD 280), his service to others, and how he can be a model to us to be "the hands and feet" of Jesus' love. It presents with clarity the gospel of Christ (and how the St. Nick tradition morphed into Santa Clause.)  Perfect for curious middle schoolers, or anyone who wants a quick summary of this fascinating chapter of church history.

SSis Wendy on Art of Christmas.jpgister Wendy on the Art of Christmas Sister Wendy Beckett (Franciscan Media) $14.99  Sister Wendy is a fine art historian and has served us well with many books explaining the religious significance of many art pieces, both overtly Christian and otherwise.  In this slim paperback she teaches us both about the Advent and Christmas season and about specific art works and icons that illustrate the Biblical episodes that are commonly considered this time of year. Fourteen wonderful paintings are gloriously reproduced and she "seamlessly draws out the intricacies of artistic technique and meaning."  By the way, following the church calendar, she has a painting and entry for Epiphany, Baptism, Wedding at Cana, Transfiguration, and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  This is not really for children, but her helpful explanations are suitable for the whole family.  Very, very nicely done.

Mmy freind Jesus- The Gospel for Kids.jpgy Friend Jesus: The Gospel for Kids  Kathryn Slattery, illustrated by Alida Massari (Tommy Nelson) $12.99  Oh my, this is great!  Slattery's simple overview of the life of Jesus, ending with an invitation to children to accept Him and know of his saving love and constant friendship, is simply wonderful.  (Years ago, Madeleine L'Engle said it was "One of the best books of jesus for young people I have encountered.) In this new edition it has been given not only a handsome, slightly padded cover, but exquisite artwork by the famed European artists and children's book illustrator Alida Massari. There is a nice place in the front to inscribe the child's name, making it a great little gift book about Jesus, his birth, life, death, resurrection, and promises.  Many other books that attempt to introduce Jesus to children are not as well written, nor as artfully designed.  Very, very nicely done.

GGod's Love for You Bible Storybook.jpgod's Love for You Bible Storybook Rich & Renee Stearns with Carolyn Larsen  illustrated by Martina Peluso (World Vision/Nelson) $19.99  My favorite new children's Bible, one of the best in years, has three or four great things going for it.  Firstly, it tells the Bible stories, well, creatively and clearly; the Stearns know the Scriptures well and their love for living into the Story of God is evident, with the good news of it all front and center.  (On the front of the book it says "Sharing His Heart with Children Around the World.")  Secondly it does have this global aspect, with lots of sidebars, delightful photographs of multi-cultural children, and full-page artwork about other countries, using maps and cool graphics showing kids in other parts of the world, both those who are obviously needy, and those who are less so.  It is mostly upbeat and informative, a nice touch to remind us that God's work in the world is certainly not exclusive to North American middle class kids.  Most youngsters will love these sections (including the neat pictures of animals and homes from around the world.) Thirdly, I just adore the artwork, with soft, full color illustrations that capture a perfect balance of winsome and realistic, contemporary and creative without being overly eccentric or off-putting. Ms Peluso is a very talented artist and the overall design of the book is remarkable.   God's Love for You Bible Storybook is very highly recommended.

WWomen of the Bible .jpgomen of the Bible  Margaret McAllister, illustrated by Alida Massari (Paraclete) $16.99  This is truly one of the most exceptional children's books of the year, a great combination of quite colorful writing -- for older elementary even up through middle school, I'd say -- and colorful artwork and design.  The illustrating artist grew up in Rome and studied at a prestigious European art school and the creative stylings, tinged with classical hints, are wonderful to carefully behold.  Here we have stories of ten women of the Bible (including, of course, Mary of Nazareth and the Christmas story) all told in the first person, from the point of view of the woman herself. These monologues bring such a fresh perspective to some common stories (and a few of the stories are rarely touched in books like this.) There is some literary license, making it really, really interesting, especially for those who are a bit older; I could see this being read aloud in adult programs, too.  The one about Mary, by the way, is very creatively rendered (she recalls parts of her life by showing items she has kept in a box as mementos) and you are sure to enjoy it this time of year.

RRazia's Ray of Hope.jpgazia's Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education  Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst (Kids Can Press) $18.95  We stock all of the Kids Can Press "CitizenKid" collection, and have featured several before, from One Hen to Mimi's Village, The Good Garden to If the World Were a Village. We love them all!  This new one is based on a true story about girls education in Afghanistan, and it captures the yearnings and joy of a child who gets to go to a newly built school.  This book is stunningly illustrated in a mixed medium style, with sophisticated, realistic watercolors combined with quilting that wonderfully captures the stark beauty of this complex land and the glories of the Afghan people.  (The cover art doesn't do it justice -- it is very, very wonderful to look at.) Ms Suneby was inspired to write Razia's Ray of Hope after meeting Razia Jan, the founder of the Zabuli Education Center near Kabul, and hearing the student's stories.

EEverybody Can Help Somebody.jpgverybody Can Help Somebody  Ron Hall & Denver Moore (Tommy Nelson) $14.99  Perhaps you know the fabulous story, a memoir called Same Kind of Different as Me  and its sequel, Same Kind of Different as Me, about a homeless man, an art dealer, a gospel mission, and a grand reconciliation that is being made into a Hollywood movie.  This new children's book is by those two same guys, one white and one black, telling the basic plot of Denver's story, illustrated with his colorful "Grandma Moses" style of folk art.  Denver loved children, and wanted to do a children's book which was fortunately completed before his death less than a year ago. A truly wonderful story, with colorful paintings, too.  Yes, we can all make a difference, everybody can help somebody.

XXander's Panda Party .jpgander's Panda Party  Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Clarion Books) $16.99  Don't let the underwhelming cover allow you to miss this wonderfully fun, very well-written, and cleverly illustrated picture book for younger elementary ages -- it deserves the attention it is getting.  (Ms Park has already won a Newberry medal for a book for older readers she did called  A Single Shard.) In this book, a Panda bear at a zoo draws up an invitation for a bear party and is momentarily perplexed when the Kuala bear reports that he is not really a bear (but a marsupial, technically.)  Is he still invited?  Well, the invitations are redesigned and the party is now for bears and other mammals, and you can imagine what happens next, when, one by one, birds and reptiles and... well, you'll have to read it yourself to see how your child or grand-child reacts to the lovely story of expansive generosity and hospitality.  What fun!  A great follow up to the "no room in the inn" references you will surely here in the upcoming weeks.

Iin the hall of the mountain king.jpgn the Hall of the Mountain King Adopted from Henrik Ibsen by Allison Flannery, illustrated by Vesper Stamper (with music by Edvard Grieg included on CD)  (Samizdat Press) $22.00  From a wonderful indie press comes this spectacularly cool project, a playful and modern book illustrating this classic symphony -- with a CD enclosed!  Kids will love this classy, if slightly off-kilter adaptation, and will come to appreciate the music, and ponder the lessons of the play Peer Gynt, upon which it is based. Flannery is a music-loving, story-telling kindergarden music teacher from Colorado and Vesper Stamper, a graduate of the prestigious Parsons School of Design (and one half of the Ben + Vesper  indie rock duo) is a visual artist from Jersey City, NJ. Kudos to Samizdat for releasing such an interesting project, and going the extra mile to get the CD enclosed.

SSnowflakes Fall .jpgnowflakes Fall  Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg (Random House) $17.99 Many of us have appreciated the colorful detail of Kellogg, but here he shines, and for a beautiful, beautiful reason: this book, without saying so in the story itself, seems a tribute to the children killed at Sandy Hook, and some of the publication's proceeds go to the Sandy Hook Schools Support Fund. This lovely, happy book shows kids playing in the snow, celebrating the joys of winter, and how each snowflake is special.  "No two the same -- all beautiful."  There is the hint of loss as they talk about snow melting; the "starred review" at Booklist says, "This is a graceful homage to the inevitable seasons of life and remembrances of loved ones and times past. Whether or not they are familiar with loss and grief, children will feel the healing power of this hopeful, uplifting book."  Ending with the imprint of the 26 snow angels the playing children had made in the snow is heart-wrenching, if one reads it knowingly.  Such a commemoration is tricky to do well, and this succeeds, movingly.  



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December 10, 2013

3 Exceptional Books -- CS Lewis and the Arts (by Square Halo Books), Reading for Preaching (by Cornelius Plantinga) and Encounters with Jesus (by Timothy Keller) ON SALE

Come on, people, give me some empathy.  It is hard work writing with a degree of zest and conviction about the new books that keep coming. But here's why I need your patience: each of these stellar books deserve full throttle, heavy-duty, really informative reviews.  I love these and want to pull out the stops to properly honor them. They are that good. 

And it ain't gonna happen.

It is that time of year, and my carefully plotted hopes of doing hefty posts is falling apart as time and snow and late-in-the-year releases continue to conspire.

So, here ya go.  Three reviews of three excellent suggestions, in one big BookNotes blog.

CCS Lewis and the Arts.jpg.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands  edited by Rod Miller (Square Halo Books) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE $17.09  I have started a longer review of this, and it would be great to tell you about each and every chapter.  That is what I did, after all, with the last spectacular Square Halo release -- It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard.  You can see my shorter rave of that one here, or the longer review here.

This new Square Halo one is easy to explain, even though no curt description does it justice.  It is, as is pretty obvious, a collection of essays about the ways in which C.S. Lewis thought about the arts.  Just when you thought there couldn't be any reason for another book about the Oxford don, this comes out and -- righto -- this is a must-have addition to the personal library for anyone seriously interested in all things Lewisy.  Of course, many of the contributing authors are fans, but not all are fully in agreement with Lewis' take.  Most, however, are confident that the more typical approaches of relating faith and the arts have much to gain by learning from Lewis. We always have much to gain by learning from Lewis, so we commend this book to you.

A few of these intellectual essays just glow -- I must admit I really liked the chapter by David Downing (who joked with me that some readers thought we weren't allowed to critique Lewis, as if he has some inerrancy clause) and the excellent ones by Charlie Starr and Will Vaus. The great painter and multi-media artist (and former head of the excellent art department at Messiah College) Ted Prescott, wrote the forward and it, though brief, is excellent. But I think I liked Bruce Herman's very human and humane piece the best.  He at once showed great familiarity with Lewis (and Gadamer and Steiner) and how their generous hermeneutics could transform contemporary art criticism and culture. This is not only a lovely, thoughtful essay, it offers a very important ideal and much hope for the state of the arts in our land.

A few of these are heady pieces, and I didn't agree with all of them. (I'm not sure I even understood all of them.)  Many draw naturally on the famous Experiments in Criticism, and not a few cite Abolition of Man.  One whole chapter (by Scott Key) is on Perelandra. There is much here -- from interviews with Lewis about Narnia to his ruminations on the Psalms, to his own autobiographical pieces.  A few lesser-known Lewis books or essays are plumbed and all in all working through this collection is a great way to deepen one's understanding and appreciation for this most-famous Christian thinker.  A few chapters are really interesting about specific things (Peter Schakel on Lewis' view of music and dance, for instance, or Don W. King drawing on his poetry  -- a vitally important chapter, I think.) All are accessible, but a few are quite learned (go, Jerry Root!) 

You could easily give this book to nearly anyone who likes to read Lewis -- it is new, and a bit rare.  Square Halo is an indie boutique publisher in Lancaster who specializes in books about the arts, so it isn't well known.  It is therefore, sure to surprise and delight.  I predict if you give it, the recipient (if they follow Lewis literature) will be delighted and you will be thanked profusely.

You could also easily give this book to nearly anyone who likes to ponder the intersection of faith, aesthetics, cultural renewal and the arts. I would have wished from some interaction also with some of the exquisite and important aestheticians of today -- I'm thinking Calvin Seerveld or Makoto Fujimura or Dan Siedell, for instance -- but that's another book, I guess. (Square Halo's It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God comes to mind.)  For a book that does something no other book has done -- exploring "creativity in the Shadowlands" -- this is a great achievement.  As such, it is one of the more important books in Lewis studies in quite a while.  

Lastly, it is wonderfully designed, as are all of Square Halo releases.  The striking Ned Bustard artwork on the cover, Saint Jack (which appears again inside) is perfectly complemented with a great typeface on the cover, which wonderfully sets apart each chapter.  (One small design criticism: no where does it tell us who these authors are.  Does it matter?  I want to know, quite literally, where they are coming from!  Trust me, though: google 'em up, and you will be impressed.  This is one splendid collection of authors and this is an exquisitely respectable  volume.  As the very creative contemporary artist Mary McCleary writes, C.S. Lewis and the Arts is "a must read book for anyone who loves Lewis and loves the arts." 

Rreading for preaching.jpgeading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (Eerdmans) $14.00 OUR SALE PRICE $11.20  I have to admit that, despite the splendid and important great non-fiction religious works that have appeared in recent months -- urgent works by authors which I have reviewed here at BookNotes such as Jamie Smith, N.T. Wright, Andy Crouch, Jim Belcher, Walter Brueggemann -- this is the one that I have been most eager to see. I got all queasy in the tummy when it came, and when I finally broke free to start it, I literally got choked up.  If you are a book lover, you will understand; Plantinga's opening introduction makes a wonderfully eloquent and interesting case for the power of good books. 

He features a lot of novels and poets, but he affirms the eloquence of historians and reporters and memorists. And he loves young adult fiction, too.  Oh my, oh my, oh my.  If you ever need reminded about why we care about these objects of paper and print, just read the first 8 pages of this great little book.

As you may know, Plantinga, has led Summer Seminars in Reading for Preaching at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids. With some help, I gather, from the prestigious and ecumenically-minded Calvin Center for Christian Worship, he has lead for years retreats with selected pastors who have read from a good list of books.  They gather to ask how these books can inform the preacher, and they are legendary.  I have a few friends that have been blessed to be involved, and Plantinga's ability to reflect on why and how books matter to the preacher is apparently just amazing.

And it is clearly apparent in this new book, with wisdom and stories gleaned from his years of reading great books with good preachers.  His own storytelling is charming and wonderful, his economy of words exceptional, his vocabulary and insight and wisdom nearly stunning at times.  It seems this project -- reading widely in fiction and creatively crafted nonfiction -- really is the ticket. Man, this guy can write, and he walks us through all kinds of good literature. What joy this book brings!

You should know two big things about this powerful little volume.  Firstly, it is not mostly about how ministers can quote good books.  There is a fabulous chapter on this -- how much of an excerpt dare one read out loud, how should one cite the quote, what sort of poems work in a typical sermon?  He tells fine and funny stories, gives good advice, and actually makes this pedestrian question really, really interesting.  But, as he says in the very first few pages of the preface, this is not the main reason a pastor should read widely.  

More significantly, reading good books shapes the character and vision and vocabulary of the reader. Such pleasurable, good reading helps a pastor -- or any of us, if you get my drift about why we all should read this book  -- gain greater empathy. It helps us learn how others narrate their lives, making sense of things, even hard things.  Reading fiction gives us texture and vocabulary and rhythms.  Reading the sorts of good writers he suggests gives can bring us wisdom and insight.  Plantinga offers many chapters, each on different sorts of things one can absorb from good authors, and the first is "tuning the preacher's ear."  He draws on good sermons, too -- from preachers like Barbara Brown Taylor or Frederick Buechner (who he begs us not to try to imitate) which is an added little feature, hearing these lines from these famous preachers.

Look: if you have a preacher friend, give her this book.  If you've got a pastor, share this.  

But the second thing: this is not just for preachers, despite what the title says. If you like books at all, value good writing, enjoy fine novels or the occasional poem, if you take in the best memoirs and award winning journalists, you will love this.  Get it for your clergy friends, and get it for yourself.  If you are a reader or a writer, get this book.

(Further, if you sit through sermons, this is a great read.  It might help you understand what your preacher goes through, and it might help you hear the sermon better. I'm not making this up: reading an occasional book about preaching is like getting insider information from a banker -- it can help you get what's really going on when he or she stands up there. I've read a lot of homiletics texts, and this is certainly one of the best I've read.)

I might say more about it again -- how can I not, this book has "Hearts & Minds" all over it! -- but for now, allow me to assure you that it is well worth reading, and nearly any clergy person you know will like it.  Or should.  Buy this book for him or her, and enter "the conversation with storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists."  And then by one for yourself.

Here are some of the enjoyable blurbs on the back. I wish I could add my voice -- this is a very special book. 

Richard Lischer
-- author of Stations of the Heart and The End of Words
"Cornelius Plantinga's Reading for Preaching represents the gift of a lifetime. Plantinga has spent many years mapping great fiction, poetry, biography, and journalism. In this book he shares that map with technologized, digitalized, busy preachers who badly need what he has to offer. This is not a guide to 'pretty sermons,' as Niebuhr called them, but to human, deeply textured reflections. . . . I can't imagine a preacher who will not benefit from this gift."

Walter Brueggemann
-- author of The Prophetic Imagination and Truth Speaks to Power
"Two matters are unmistakably clear in this book. First, Plantinga loves words, phrases, sentences, and stories. He remembers them, relishes them, and knows their durable power. Second, Plantinga cares about ministers. He knows the burdens and wonders of ministry, and treats preachers with deep respect. . . . Preachers will find in these pages a colleague and fellow traveler who exudes courage and pathos and joy in our common calling."

Thomas G. Long
-- author of The Witness of Preaching and What Shall We Say?
"With wit, wisdom, and a fresh supply of his own compelling prose, Cornelius Plantinga invites us into the whitewater adventure of good reading. He speaks directly to preachers, to those who bear the load of weekly sermons and who wonder where they can find language that bristles with energy and faithful imagination. But he also gathers in all Christians who hunger for the old words of the faith -- sin, hope, salvation, providence -- to come alive in the vibrant metaphors, rich stories, and telling insights of great literature. This book is about delightful reading, and it is itself a delight to read."

Lillian Daniel
-- author of When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough
"Why don't preachers read more? Preachers are writers who produce more content each week than the average newspaper columnist. Why don't we ravenously read in order to feed the beast of each Sunday's deadline? The truth is that a million pressing callings invade the small space that pastors reserve for reading. And so I give thanks for the deep reading that Cornelius Plantinga has done over the years, and for this gentle guide to words that are worth reading."

John Ortberg
-- author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat
"Jesus once said we are to love God with all our mind -- I know of no one who does this better than Neal Plantinga. He seems to be incapable of crafting an uninteresting or unedifying sentence. To be able to learn from him how to stock a mind for greater preaching is beyond price. Whatever this book costs, it's not enough.

Eencounters with jesus.jpgncounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions  Timothy Keller (Dutton) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE $15.96  Interestingly, this is the second brand new hardcover to be released by the famous New York Presbyterian preacher this season.  We were glad to feature -- in NYC at the Redeemer Center for Faith and Work event -- the good one that came out in October, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering.  What an amazingly thoughtful book that is!  This one was released about two weeks later mid November.

Encounters with Jesus is similar in size and shape to Keller's other neat compact volumes like Counterfeit Gods, Generous Justice or The Prodigal God.  And it is every bit as good as those great ones, maybe better.  I have read three quarters of the chapters and have been very, very impressed.  It is certainly one that fans of Keller will want -- Keller on Jesus -- but I'd like to tell you just a bit about it, so you can consider giving it to others who may not be familiar with this sharp thinker and fine communicator.  It will make a fantastic gift, not too heavy, but full of substance. 

The first five chapters were first given as lectures at the Oxford Town Hall (yes, that Oxford) to an audience made up of a diverse, even skeptical crowd.  Each chapter is a Bible exposition of somebody from the gospel of John who met Jesus. These are astute studies -- you can tell they were given as lectures -- and they offer a seeker a perfect glimpse into the life-transforming encounters with the Nazarene.  Of course, each chapter builds as a series, as Keller walks through some of the biggest questions one can ask, some of the most important matters in life, and shows how Christ can provide what we so desperately need.  He is known (not unlike Lewis, or Schaeffer) for offering tough answers to tough questions, and he knows well the concerns of the modern sophisticate, the skeptic or those who are unclear or uncertain about the grace and gospel of God.  Any Christian will learn much and be inspired by these enjoyable chapters, but I believe they are firstly aimed at those who are not convinced of Biblical truth or who have not personally encountered the Christ.  The chapter titles, by the way, are inviting: "The Skeptical Student," "The Insider and the Outcast," "The Grieving Sisters."  The chapter "The Wedding Party" is my favorite one in the book and parts of it are just brilliant -- oh, if more preachers could proclaim essential gospel truths with such moral weight and intelligence. (What he observes by citing portions of the great DIckens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is fantastic.)

The second portion of the book includes five chapters which are also revised from talks Kellertim keller 12-10.jpg gave; this time, the lectures were offered month by month, at a breakfast meeting with thoughtful mid-town business people at the legendary Manhattan Club, where he was invited to hold forth.  Can you imagine?  Preacher and apologist that he is, he took to the second half of the book of John, working through themes and questions of utmost universality, and offering a compelling, upbeat, consistently Christian worldview.  Again, his chapters reflect the early versions that were spoken, and they are eloquent and moving. (How could they not be, as he walks us through the passionate episodes of Christ's last meal, his time in the garden, and so forth.) The last chapter, though -- a very good one  -- is a bit curious.  He backs up and explores, in "The Courage of Mary", the annunciation.  What a nice ending to a very useful little book. Perhaps you'd want to read it out loud this holiday season.

Below is an excerpt from the introduction is handsomely shown on the back cover.  Perhaps it will help you think of someone for whom you could buy this book.  It is that time of year, you know, when you are allowed -- indeed, sometimes required - to give a little gift.  Maybe this will work.

There are plenty of other ideas we would consider valid, or noble, or even beautiful, that came solely from Christianity. Therefore, if you want to be sure you are developing sound, thoughtful answers to fundamental questions, you need at the very least to become acquainted with the teachings of Christianity.  The best way to do that is to see how Jesus explained himself and his purposes to people he met -- and how their lives were changed by his answers to their questions.



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December 12, 2013


Although we don't write about it a lot here, friends who visit the store often comment on the widebibles on shelf.jpg variety of Bibles we stock -- most major translations and all manner of editions, covers, styles, fashions. (Not to mention Biblical studies and commentaries and tons of small group Bible study guides and DVDs.)  I suppose most Hearts & Minds fans and BookNotes readers know what sort of Bible(s) they like to use, which translations they favor, and what kind of study notes and page lay out they prefer. 

But maybe you want to try something new.

Or maybe you want to offer a very special gift this holiday season, to a growing Bible student or a real beginner. 

Maybe you are joining a Bible study group in the New Year and want to have a good resource to help you work through the texts.

Or just need something really different, a new look with a fresh take.

Great.  But here is one proviso before we share some ideas for you: we are glad to be enthusiastic about the Bibles shown below, but we are aware that many folks and some denominations have nearly set-in-stone preferences.  I don't have strong, strong opinions about most modern translations, and hope no one will think ill of me for highlighting an ecumenical and diverse batch of recent, interesting Bible editions.  This isn't the final word, nor even the best, necessarily.  But we are happy to share the good news that there are many ways into the gospel story, many recent editions of the Holy Scriptures that we can use to great benefit. Don't get in a snit if you don't like some of these. 

I often say that buying a Bible is like buying a car -- there are so many options and features andZondervan Bloom Bibles.jpg customized choices.  There are oodles of translations, of course, and compact and personal sizes, some with single columns, some with wide margins, some without verse numbers shown.  (And designs and colors? 


And then there are study editions, with introductions, background notes and commentary running across the bottom of the pages, explaining things, passage by passage. 

To cut to the chase, our three biggest sellers, because we most often recommend them, are the "Cadillacs" that have the most notes, the most balanced comments, the most helpful,  faithful info and the best layouts (in the three most popular English translations): the NIV Study Bible, the NLT Life Application Study Bible and thewheat bible.jpg ESV Study Bible.  They come in a variety of styles, of course.  Give us a holler if you need more info. (If you don't know these well, or have biases against them, I'd love to chat. I'm no expert, but can summarize the strengths and weaknesses of each.)

If you need to use the NRSV and want a less evangelical orientation, we most often recommend the New Interpreters Study Bible (produced by Abingdon) or the HarperCollins Study Bible (produced by the Society of Biblical Literature.)

We avoid study Bibles done by just one person, no matter who they are.

Here, then, are a few new study bibles that we think you should know about.  The style options and prices are shown after the Bible's description. They are all on sale, so we'll deduct the 20% off of the standard retail prices that are shown.

TCEB-Study-Bible.jpghe CEB Study Bible  Abingdon Press This recent translation (CEB stands for the "Common English Bible") was funded by the PC(USA), the United Methodists, the ELCA and several other mainline denominations who apparently felt that their standardly-used NRSV was a bit too dated, maybe even too stuffy.  The translation draws on contemporary Biblical scholarship -- even some anti-Empire notions, Middle Eastern insights about daily stuff like how to best translate "manger" (thanks, Ken Bailey!) and makes other user-friendly, contemporary moves in offering a solid but creatively done, easy-to-understand (and good to listen to) rendering. It has been out for several years in various sizes and shapes, and is gaining in popularity. Some serious Bible scholars I know esteem it.  Now, after a few years of work, they've released a premier study edition, and it is very, very nicely done.  From the heft of the volume, the pages and type fonts, the sidebars and notes, it is very appealing and looks really useful.

Most importantly, of course, you will want to know about the notes.  Well. It is tricky to explain in crisp sound bytes the nuances and complexities of the CEB translation, let alone the commentary, but I'd say it brings a moderately liberal tone, fully fluent in modern critical scholarship, not excessively so.  Yet, unlike the Oxford Annotated, say, (which I dislike for a dozen reasons) The CEB Study Bible seems to invite serious discipleship, warm faith, radical practices and communal discernment about how these ancient texts can change our lives and our churches today.  

Naming some of the wonderful folk who led the teams of scholars on these notes may be helpful, and we are happy to note that the very impressive NT Biblical scholar from Asbury Theological Seminary, Joel B. Green, was the general editor.  Seung Ai Yang (Chicago Theological Seminary) was the general NT editor, Mark Boda (McMaster DIvinity College), Mignon Jacobs (Fuller Theological Seminary) and Matthew Schlimm (Dubuque Theological Seminary) were the main Old Testament scholars.  Superb! 

Of course the notes for each book of the Bible were done by experts in those books -- Carol Bechtel of
CEB-300x242.jpg Western in Holland Michigan did Esther, Bruce Birch of Wesley in DC did 1 and 2 Samuel, Jerome Creach of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary did Joshua. There are older renowned scholars on board (Terence Fretheim of Luther Seminary did Job, J. Ramsey Michaels of Missouri State did John and Daniel Harrington SJ did Tobit. (for the edition that comes with the Apocrypha; it can be purchased without the Apocrypha as well.) Younger scholars are here such as Emerson Powery of Messiah College, Daniel Reid, a senior editor of IVP Academic and many more who are the rising stars of the newer generation of Bible scholars.

Our good friend Michael Gorman (New Testament prof and former dean of St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore) did Romans. That he hangs out with his friends Richard Hays, N.T. Wright and Sylvia Keesmaat may help place him, and the perspective of the notes, in this Bible, just a bit. (Gorman's books on Paul published by Eerdmans have gotten wide acclaim, too, by the way.) But you've just got to read the introduction and notes to realize how wise and helpful he is.  Joel Green and his colleagues picked some very, very solid contributors to this huge project.

It is simply a delight to see scholars from places as diverse as Baylor and the University of Findley, The University of Capetown and Candler at Emory, Boston College and Calvin College, Ashland University and Eden Seminary all involved.  This solid representation of a wide range of voices (from Episcopalian to Anabaptist, Presbyterian to Roman Catholic and more)  does not make this odd or uneven or even eclectic, as they contracted some of the best voices within moderate, contemporary, mainline scholarship.  The notes are very interesting, insightful, and useful and I think hold together well.  I haven't used them all yet, of course, but after spending some time with it, I am pleased to commend it to those who need this kind of a new study edition, grounded in a responsible, reasonable theological center. 

CEB first study bible banner.jpgBesides the helpful notes and moderate, upbeat theological voice, there are several feature in TheCEB leather im.jpg CEB Study Bible that make it very attractive. It is printed well with full color on many pages with photos and maps and charts, making it visually quite interesting.  There is plenty of great information -- a feast, really. The text is in a single-column format which many readers love. There are the standard features found in any good study edition such as cross references, a good concordance, timelines, maps throughout;  and there are 21 other full-page maps produced by National Geographic. There are over 300 articles on topics that will enhance your appreciation of the cultures and contexts of the original texts. 

I like that one of their tag lines is that this is "readable, reliable, and relevant." I think this could be a very good study Bible to add to your collection of Bible resources, or a great one to give as a gift to one new to serious Bible reading. 

HARDBACK                  $47.99

HARDBACK (with Apocrypha)         $59.99

IMITATION LEATHER (brown)    $69.99

BONDED LEATHER (black)     $74.99

Nchronological life ap.jpgLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible   Tyndale  NLT stands for the New Living Translation and it is a very solid, if colorful, modern translation.  (Those who worked on it are stellar, including my brilliant friend Al Wolters and respected scholars like Tremper Longman. It is not silly or unfounded.) I hope you have heard about this  fascinating study edition that Tyndale has done.  It has glorious full color maps and charts and photos, lots of archeological discoveries, cultural background and such, and gives the splendid NIV Archeological Study Bible a run for its money.  It is loaded with good stuff, and it has added to it the useful, practical notes of the popular "life application" study Bibles. In one really colorful, very sturdy, handsome Bible you get the Scriptural material arranged chronologically, offering the books of the Bible in more-or-less proper historical order, offering a conservative but interesting re-setting of the books, chronologically and the user-friendly, Life Application notes! 

Of course, this could be perplexing to some, but for many it is just brilliant, and so very helpful. Readers here at BookNotes most likely know that the Bible as we have it isn't quite in the proper historical order. In this edition, some of 2 Kings is split up (for instance) and the prophets are shown as either before or after the "splintered nation" and exile. Chronicles are naturally placed a bit later, after exile. The gospels are, of course, inter-meshed.  Many of Paul's letters are interspersed beside the accounts of Acts, offering a sense that these were real letters set in particular times, Paul in one city, writing to another he had, or intended to visit.  There are timelines galore offering real context and nearly tangible connection. 

And, just to point out how lovely the illustrations are, consider that there is a reproduction of Van Gogh's "Good Samaritan" on the page where parable is shown. 

Oh, and did I mention that running on the bottom of the pages of all this glorious chronological stuff are the helpful notes of the Life Application Study Bible Yes, I did. This Bible has a lot of stuff going on and will keep you busy for years and years.  Whew.

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Nwayfinding bible.jpgLT The Wayfinding Bible  Tyndale  Wow, this is a very interesting new kind of study resource and is great certainly for those new to Bible reading, but maybe for others, too.  It isn't a "study Bible" that has the customary notes and commentary.  But what it does have, quite inventively, is three routes, three pathways to "find our way" through the complexities of year long BIble reading.  The colorful ad on the back of the slip case showcases three routes for three sorts of readers. 

THE FLY-OVER ROUTE  This is for someone who says " I'm looking for the big story. How does all of this fit together?"  In about 50 Scripture readings, you'll cover the most important events in the Bible, gaining an overview of how these events tell one big story.

THE DIRECT ROUTE  Ever hear yourself or others say "I've tried to read through the Bible, but honestly, I get stuck in Leviticus every time'? This guided path offers 200 key readings that help develop a better understanding of how God's story develops throughout history.

THE SCENIC ROUTE  They say that this might be for those who say "I'm a wonderer. I love discovering new things in God's Word" and are willing to journey throughwayfinding brown leather.jpg about 400 readings, discovering the depth and richness of God's Word.

The cover looks almost like an office flow chart or a map in a big city subway station. It'll get you where you want to go, learning to handle the Bible in a coherent and helpful way. Obviously, the whole Bible is here, and it can be used in traditional ways.  But these colorful route markers and signposts help guide you along.  I think it is a cool idea.  Here is a link to their website, that explains a lot, and give you a feel of this fresh and helpful tool.

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TESV Inductive.jpghe ESV New Inductive Study Bible  Harvest House $49.99 The ESV is considered by many to be the most accurate translation yet done, blending the word-for-word rigor of the New American Standard, say, and the elegance of the old RSV from which it was largely derived.  The translators used a conservative, serious philosophy guiding their work of rendering the words properly and with a classic-sounding style.  It resists gender neutral language in some places, making it seem as if it is poking against modern conventions, but the translators did this certainly for sheer accuracy.  It is popular especially among newer Reformed folks, and the standard, but study edition is certainly brilliant.

This new edition is not done by Crossway (who does most of the other excellently made ESV editions) but a trade publisher that is known for publishing inductive Bible studies of Bible teacher, Kay Arthur.  Here, they offer "the simple, proven approach to letting God's Word speak.  It provides tool after tool for you to observe what the text says, interpreting what it means, and applying it to life."   It doesn't say it on the back, but it uses Kay Arthur's inductive study precepts as a guide.  As it says on the back, it encourages you to "Discover God's Truth for Yourself."  

The many sidebars and charts tend to offer helpful overviews, again, so that you can see the data and make sense of it all. They offer tips for studying each book of the Bible. It features "observation" methods and the resources they offer are designed to help reader gain insights directly from the text.   

I suppose I don't have to say to most BookNotes readers that even this seemingly unbiased method carries with it certain sort of assumptions.  No study Bible is neutral, not even this sort.  (In other words, one might ask why not draw on commentators from church history or tradition; why not use social or political historians to illuminate the deepest meanings of the text? These are ideological choices embedded in this very format. We might ask, is thegreen ESV inductive study.jpg Bible, as they say, perspicuous? And is it meant to be studied mostly by one's self, devoid of outside influences?  Well, despite all that, the inductive method offers what it does: pretty conventional aids to help you dig in and read carefully and studiously and it is useful. 

There are customary timelines and maps and some good stuff on background culture and languages of the Bible.  The New Inductive Study Bible shares key events from Israel's history and even a harmony of the gospels. There are wide margins for note taking, since they presume readers are really going to pick up their pens and get to work.  

As Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary writes, "Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory. There is no jewel more precious than that which you have mined yourself."

This was produced by Kay Arthur Precepts ministry, and was previously available in the NAS.  Many will be glad that Harvest House has brought this out in the ESV. 

HARDBACK         $49.99

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IMITATION LEATHER (olive)         $74.99

GENUINE LEATHER  (burgundy) $94.99

Tguidebook.jpghe Guidebook: NRSV Student BIble  HarperOne   In our view, this is the best youth edition in the NRSV of which we know.  The great notes and guides were firstly done by St. Mary's Press and published as the Catholic Youth Bible, from which this was revised in ways that made it more ecumenical.  Included are over 700 short articles, lots of pull quotes and nifty notes, offered with cool (but not overdone or garish) graphics, a wonderful way to get young adults more attentive to the Scriptures and their call to a robust, spiritual way of being in the world. 

This has a full menu of tips, facts, and suggestions, introductions to each book of the Bible and so forth.  It invites lectio divina sorts of meditative practices -- the very front says boldly "Study It - Connect It - Pray It - Live It." It gives guidance for Bible memorization.  There is a glossary, some indexing, and other helpful youth-friendly aids. Very nicely done.



Tniv-essentials-study-bible-200w.jpghe NIV Essentials Study Bible  Zondervan  Okay, this sounds a bit like a marketing ploy, but I assure you, it is not.  The good people in Grand Rapids discovered that they have so many really good and popular study Bibles that get so much good feedback they wanted to somehow combine them, a study Bible mash-up, so to speak.  They call it "multi-faceted." 

Evaluating customer feedback and adding some scholarly discernment from the editors, they realized that most of their study editions each offer something rather unique.  As they put it here, each offers a certain lens.  They took some of the best notes from 7 different study Bibles and put portions of  'em in here, so you can easily use these varied methods and angles of vision to see essential truths in God's Word.  

I  think this is a perfect way to dip into different styles of notes, with the best content from the best NIV study editions available.  I call it a "greatest hits" study Bible, or a perfect smorgasbord. It isn't as thick or weighty as, say, the NIV Study Bible, and the print size is nice. Here is how they describe it all.

Fly-over Lens: Start each book of the Bible with the right perspective from easy-to-read introductions from the popular Essential Bible Companion.

Unpack Lens: Easily understand and interpret Bible passages with bottom-of-the page studyessentials brown.jpg notes and in-text charts from the best-in-class NIV Study Bible.

Dig Deep, Look Close Lens: Understand the fascinating historical significance of the Bible with articles and photos from the bestselling NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

Q + A Lens: Get concise, easy-to-grasp answers to your most perplexing questions about the Bible with questions and answers from the beloved NIV Quest Study Bible.

People Lens: View Scripture from the perspective of the 100 most important people in the Bible with notes for the student of any age excerpted from the timeless NIV Student Bible.

Guided Tour Lens: Get a bird's eyes view of Scripture with a Guided Tour, also excerpted from the category-leading NIV Student Bible.

Insight Lens: Find meaning in the Bible by reading these magazine-style call-outs from the NIV Student Bible

R + R Lens: Reflect and Respond with this quick inspirational focus time, which unveils the sweeping narrative of the Bible as seen in the award-winning The Great Rescue NIV.

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Egtb_header_white-1024x361.jpgSV Gospel Transformation Bible  Crossway  This is not a full study Bible, with commentary to illumine every passage, and in fact, may run the risk of missing some of the themes of the Scriptures with its single minded focus. But this is still remarkably useful with a great collection of serious, scholarly exegetes, theologians and pastors working to bring the themes of grace to the fore in this niche marketed Bible.  The working teams were over-all edited by the wonderful preacher Byran Chappell and the evangelical focus -- on the gospel of grace and it's power to redeem and restore -- is clearly seen throughout. With authors like Michael Horton involved you know it has a distinctively Reformed slant.  They are intentional about using the historical-redemptive "method" which sees the unified connection of the Scripture as a covenantal, Christ-centered, developing plot.

There are good notes, here, and lots of fabulous side-bars and study aids. I like the emphasis on the unified nature of the whole story. There are the renowned Crossway/ESV cross references, and they are put to good effect, showing how Christ's redeeming grace is not isolated or random, but holds together as the grand story of the Bible unfolds and develops. This Christo-cenetric, gospel-centered hermeneutic may not suit everyone, but the promise of "transformation" is beautiful here.  I appreciate the pastoral sense that Christ's work is sufficient, and that the gospel the final answer to any of life's needs.  I have not studied it enough to comment on whether its view of transformation adequately extends to all aspects of creation --  some notes really seem to capture a "Kingdom vision" while others seem to miss the broader implications of gospel transformation.  Still, overall, this is a splendid project, what one reviewer called a "modified study Bible." If it would be helpful to read the Bible in a way that helps to underscore how the gospel of grace frees us from our idols and points us to the healing work of God in Christ, and how that is seen from cover to cover in the grand meta-narrative of Scripture, the Gospel Transformation Bible might be a great resource for you.


HARDBACK (white)      $39.99

HARDBACK (black)      $39.99

IMITATION LEATHER (TruTone - various designs) $64.99

GENUINE LEATHER  (various designs)                  $89.99

TRagamuffin Bible .jpghe NIV Ragamuffin Bible  Zondervan  This is not, technically, a real study Bible. Rather, it is what we call a devotional Bible. These sorts of Bibles have brief readings, devotions, and meditations on pages alongside the Biblical text.  In some of these niche-marketed Bibles the devotional readings seem "dropped in" and nearly irrelevant to the passages on the pages on which they are shown.  (I happen to think this is mostly not helpful, btw.) 

This new one, though, seems to be created with great integrity; the tender and raw excerpts of Brennan's many books just glow beside the text of Holy Writ.  So, if you want "meditations for the bedraggled, beat-up and brokenhearted" and appreciate reading the writings of this ragamuffin priest of grace right alongside your regular Bible reading, this could be a great joy. 

The back cover explains that there are 104 devotions to guide you into a deeper connection to God and His Word.  Also there are 250 reflections linked to specific texts to help you understand what it means to be a child of God.  Scattered throughout the pages of this nicely printed NIV are 150 calligraphed quotes by Manning, as well.  

Look: the Bible is pretty complicated and a good study edition is an essential tool, I think.  A devotional companion Bible isn't quite enough. But being reminded by these passionate, poetic writings by the late author of God's deep love for us, despite our screwy sinfulness, is a fine, fine thing to help us understand the heart of the Biblical story. The occasional quotes and reflections that appear here very nice to see. Maybe it is just enough to keep a bedraggled one reading. If so, it is worth it's weight in gold. Amen?


IMITATION LEATHER (tooled brown)     $49.99

Cpoverty & justice Bible.pngEV Poverty and Justice Bible  (American Bible Society with World Vision)  The CEV is a great translation, perhaps the easiest to read Bible that is an actual translation.  It is not a new translation, although it isn't well known.  This particular edition came out a few years ago, but I thought I should list it again.  It highlights all the many (many) texts that deal with peace and justice, poverty and shalom, setting captives free and working against oppression. The "highlighting" looks literally like a hand-done highlighting job, giving this a rough-hewn DIY look.  Younger adults, especially, will appreciate the graphic design -- browns and oranges  --  and overall effect.

There are included some good testimonies of good justice work, some powerful photographs from brothers and sisters around the world, and some great study resources provided by World Vision.  My goodness, what an illuminating experience, reading this through for a while, and having such powerful teaching highlighted for you.  How do we read this book and miss this stuff? Of course there are other themes in the Bible (obviously) but these need to be underscored, in part because we so easily seem to miss or minimize them.  Highly recommended. (And kudos to some friends who read every highlighted verse out loud in front of the U.S. Capitol back when the Congress was cutting essential services for the poor. You know, this would make a very useful gift to anybody in Christian ministry.  Why not??

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December 15, 2013


I would very much like to tell you about a few books that could help with what you maybe sometimes call your spiritual life.  

Obviously, if you've read this blog more than once or twice you know that we believe that theSample-Life-Map.png Lordship of Christ extends to all aspects of life, every zone of culture, and our vocations to bear witness to His reign ("on Earth as it is in Heaven" inaugurated at the incarnation of which we sing this time of year) include thinking Christianly about daily life. (It is why we sell the books we do, after all.)  We take up our calling to be Christ's followers, agents of God's ways in our shopping and voting, playing and working, in our families and our entertainment and civic involvements.

No, we do not mean to suggest that our "spiritual lives" are anything other than our lives, lived out before God, in union with Christ, mandated with a mission, in the here and now, in the ups and downs of our ordinary days.  We read widely to get a vision for thinking faithfully so that we might embody counter-cultural practices that point towards God's restoring plan for our planet.

Yep, I love saying that kind of stuff, over and over and over.  When we talk about our spiritual lives we are really talking about it all.

But yet, there is this genre of books that focus on the growth and deepening of faith, books that equip us to be people who know God well and whose interior lives are deep and solid.  Call it basic faith formation or spirituality or discipleship from the inside out, but even those with a reforming vision to be salt and light and leaven in every sphere of culture, need all the help we can get about nurturing our faith.

Some books about one's relationship with God are frankly not helpful to shape us to live bodily in the real world, for and with God.  They draw us inward or upward and sound pious, full of lingo about intimacy with God, joyful victory over trials and having mighty faith.  A lot of books on the market within the genre of "Christian living" seem to have this kind of God-talk and religious piety which is often disconnected from God's Kingdom, or much of a sense that God's Kingdom is to be found in the real world as we know it.  These books and authors may sound amazing and super religious and their formulas may work for a bit to give us some religious buzz but many just do not have that much usefulness for one wanting to grow in quiet, confident faith and normal quotidian obedience.

I bet that even our readers who are the most fervent for Christ and His work know what we mean. 

Splashy talk and super-passionate spiritual books often just don't seem right, and they don't help that much.  And some religious books are just weird.

So here are a two new releases that I believe are really, really wonderful books. I want to invite you to not only get them for yourself but to use in your own ministry.  We realize that many BookNotes readers are those who pour out their lives for others, who are intentional about making an impact in their circles of influence, who give books away, who are in some sort of leadership (if not as pastors, perhaps as Christian educators, para-church workers, campus ministers, or as a respected colleague at work and a trusted professional in the community.)  You can use these books to get a better handle on what it means to have a deeper faith life, and how the inner journey can shape the outer, so to speak.  

In other words, these are books on basic Christian growth, spiritual formation, resources for living into the faith in good and fruitful ways that are winsome and mature. I think you could use them in your own life and among your friends.

I will tell you about these two and then also list a few daily devotionals.  Sometimes all a person can manage is a short bit of daily reading, and I wanted to list a few.

Tivp-formatio.pnghe first of these two is in the "formation" line of InterVarsity Press. formatio is my favorite line of books about the prayerful inner life, fostering a contemplative lifestyle and such, and we stock (and most often read) every book they do.  They are almost all grounded in a broad and ecumenical sense of the historic faith, although IVP is unashamedly evangelical.  This commitment to thinking deeply and writing well about the first things of faith -- and, in formation, how to enter disciplines and practices that allow us to grow in Christ-likeness -- makes their books almost without fail, very, very good. 

The second I will mention is also published by InterVarsity Press, although it is from their academic division.  Again, IVP Academic is broadly evangelical, but bringing forth fairly scholarly work for those wanting more mature or sophisticated reading.  Some of their academic stuff is really, really scholarly, but in this case, the one I'm now excited about it meaty but not arcane.  Not at all.

LLuminous .jpguminous: Living the Presence and Power of Jesus  T. David Beck (IVP/formatio) $16.00  I find it hard to explain just how wonderful this book is.  It is (how to say it without making it sounding insubstantial?) -- earnest and sincere.  The author's voice is urgent without being breathy, and joyful, without being superficial or glib.  He has had some profound experiences in his life, gleaned some insights, and has (as a pastor in a local church) done some significant teaching on his topic, and he badly wants to share it.  You can just feel it -- the content matters to the author and he believes it can help you in your faith journey.

We should be glad, as this makes for a wonderfully-written, compelling book that draws the reader in, that helps us gain the same sort of enthusiasm he has.  This book is well worth your time, not just because it relays some vital information about the spiritual life, but also because it is a delight to read.  He tells stories, does some fairly innovative Bible study, and guides us step by step through this profound rumination of what it means to be luminous.  That it is itself luminous makes it just right.

I don't think I've pondered in quite a while this large metaphor of being a light, letting our light shine, and so forth.  One of my early mentors use to preach on the verse that says we will shine like stars ((Philippians 2:15-16) and Mr. Beck is right, this may be connected to a passage that would have been well known to first century Jews, a promise from Daniel.  We've all most likely heard it - you are the light of the world, Jesus says - but what does that really mean?  Do we need some inner experience with the sacred that allows us to glow? (It's just a metaphor, isn't it?) What in the world does it mean to shine?  We love to talk about bringing light to the darkness (even now during Advent) but how does that happen, really? 

No book that I have read has unpacked this - I am not sure I know of a substantial book that even attempts to.  So, right from the start, I was hooked: Beck is exploring some common-sounding stuff, rhetoric I use maybe every day, but haven't really explored.  We are in his debt for giving us a solid explanation of how to become luminous, allowing God's own presence to spill out over all we do.  

Here is part of where he goes with this: it has very much to do with being present to God in a way that allows us to then be present to our own bodies and the lives of others.  

T. David Beck came to realize this rather suddenly, in a unique situation, and he tells us about it in a splendid opening story, beautifully told, that had me on the edge of the coach, eager to take in each word. Wow, those first few pages!  As he tells it, he is carrying a child on his back, a Haitian child, and taking this sick kid and his siblings through the rubble a week or so after the awful earthquake there. Beck tells it better than I can summarize, but he senses a mystical presence, God uniting him and the child on his back.  He was present to the situation, aware, but in a way connected to all things, but yet tuning everything out but the then and there.  He was experiencing something, he came to realize, of the "abundant life" Christ promises and was deepening his "practicing the presence of God" by being fully given to and alive in this moment. It sort of reminded me of a famous moment Thomas Merton writes about, set in a busy inner city intersection in St Louis, but there you have it.  Beck realizes in this moment that he and the children and the demolished neighborhood were all somehow profoundly connected to the Creator who sustained them, and to the redeemer who was saving them.  He says it more beautifully, and with more theological rigor, but you get the picture. The guy has never been the same since.

Beck has four main points to his book, nicely offered with four P words: purpose, presence,P.jpg power, and peace. He gives a few chapters to each theme, tells remarkable stories, and offers many suggestions (in little sidebars) for experiences to process this invitation to a deeper life. The book reads very well, but also would be ideal for a group to use together.

I have not done these exercises, but I pondered them. (Ahh, this is so typical - I really liked the idea of the processing exercises, and benefit from thinking what it would be like if I should do them, but, uh, well; you know.) Pastor Beck's desire to help us process this stuff, though, is another indication of what I said first: Luminous is an earnestly written book.  The author really believes we need to know this material and he wants us to not merely read a book about it, but he wants us to be transformed by it.  He wants us to take up God's purpose, he wants us to more fully be aware of God's presence, which will, he hopes, allow us to experience God's power.  And all of this - thanks be to God! - is focused on the call to be agents of God's transforming work in the world, the work of peacemaking.  We are, Beck insists, shalom-builders.  We live, as Walter Brueggemann puts it in a book on peace that Beck cites, "living towards a vision" and that surely is about shalom.

Again, this book is multi-faceted, has a missional vision, invites our actual growth into Kingdom ways, by helping us learn how to "practice the presence of God" and find His glorious activity in our very bodies, in our daily relationships, in our sense of vocation to be "lovers in a dangerous time."  The presence and power of God, that is, helps us attend to and love people.  Don't you need a bit of that?  Yes, Beck blends the personal and the public, the spiritual and the sexual, the devotional and the daily, loving God and loving others: by encountering the God who is Light, we become those who shine, who share that light, who helps others see in the darkness.  We are people who - as Love Does author Bob Goff famously puts it in his colorful style - "drip Jesus" on others.

Purpose, presence, power, peace. It dawns on me that some books are strong on the first andShalom-picture.jpg last--God's purposes for His world and our lives, and the need to be agents of redemptive mission, working for peace, helping reconcile things back to God.  Other books are about the middle two topics - the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives and how to tap into that power.  I love that these two core center chapters that could be most obviously considered the ones about spiritual practices, are so clearly framed by God's intentions in creation and redemption, God's missional purposes for peace.  I hate to say this is "balanced" as that can sound anemic or cautiously boring.  Let's just note that I'm glad for all four Ps and impressed how he weaves them together so deftly. You will be too.

Two important theological themes inform this lovely book and they are themes you already know but that we all need to know better: the incarnation and the mission of God.  It seems that talking about "being incarnational" is common these days - especially in the missional and emergent church movements - and it is helpful to have this nice rumination on it all. Luminous: Living the Presence and Power of Jesus is not an Advent book, but reading his opening chapters about incarnation while sitting near our Christmas tree was certainly very nice.

Mark Scandrette (whose great books Practicing the Way of Jesus and Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most you really should know) writes:

Luminous suggests the dangerously bright possibility that we can be tuned into and turned on by the same light that illuminates the whole universe with the love of God. We should pay attention to Beck, because he writes from lived knowledge of practicing the presence of God amidst the many details of life.

"Dangerously bright"?  Makes you want to read, it, no?

Old Testament scholar William Abraham of Perkins School of Theology (at Southern Methodist University) says, "Written with charm and simplicity, Luminous provides a point of entry into the spiritual life that is refreshing and engaging." 

I agree - it is written with charm and simplicity.  It is indeed very refreshing, and fullyluminous.jpg engaging.  Yet, it isn't just for those entering the spiritual life.  It is, I think, for any of us longing for greater presence, for those worrying about how to be more aware of our own bodies, and more available to the people around us. It is for those of us who are idealistic and eager to read more about taking on the needs of the broken world, and it is for season activists, needing to be called back to being with God, even as we serve God with all we've got.  It is for those whose lights are bright, and need a reminder of how that really works, and for those of us whose lights are flickering, needing some help getting the flame reignited.

I find it a nice touch that throughout the book, Beck indicates that some readers may not be followers of Christ, that not all readers are in agreement, or have had the same experiences.  This makes it a generous and hospitable book.  As one reviewer puts it, Beck has "the head of a scholar and the heart of a pastor."   I bet you know somebody who needs this kind of reflection, so they, too, can reflect the light.  This is delightful book that is warm, but challenging, pleasant but powerful, about God's life in ours, and our life in the world.  God intends for his children to be luminous.  This book will help you shine.

CCalled to Be Saints.jpgalled to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity  Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic) $26.00 A few things have conspired to make me think, yet again, about this question of how one grows up in Christ.  My own failures, the bland religion of many church folk, the overly-zealous peppiness of those who seem alive but are too often just masking terrible immaturity with loud God-talk., my own travels in so many different quarters of God's church reminding me that there are so many different kinds of Christian experiences, different qualities and standards and expectations. What's a middle-aged ecumenical boy to do?

And, I'll admit, like others I know, I'm doing a bit of reading and a lot of talking with friends about what constitutes a gospel-centered life.  I am grateful for those using the small group resource of that name and glad for those who are clear about salvation through grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone. I still ove the old hymn "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand", and the Advent hymns that are clear about Christology move me to tears some Sundays.  But yet, is what the theologians call sanctification merely a reassurance of the facts of justification?  Luther said we must daily preach the gospel to ourselves, and yes, recalling the sufficiency of the cross is a vital, comforting spiritual discipline.

But Christian growth into union with God and maturity in the ways of Christ takes more than being what many are now calling being "gospel-centered" -- as if only a recapitulation of the victory of Christ's work and reminding ourselves of God's sovereign grace is all that is needed.  There are other things we must embrace, disciplines to be learned and practiced, ways of death and dysfunction to set aside, new vocabulary and values to embrace and embody.   If we are called to live into grace, what does that entail.  How to take next steps?

The lovely and good insights of Beck's Luminous (described above) get us a good way there.  That is a deceptively simple book, and I think would do us all well to read and embrace it. God's presence and power and peace in our lives? Yes, please!

But, still, some of us need more.  More guidance, more detail, more theological categories and more systematic, careful reflection on how it all works.  And Called to Be Saints is one of the best works I've seen on this in quite a while.  I think it is a very, very significant book -- and, it is a joy to read.

I've always appreciated Gordon Smith's good books, even if I once thought they were just agordon smith.jpg tiny bit dense.  Once I heard him present live, though -- thanks to United Methodist pastor Russell Hart and the Center for Spiritual Formation -- I was excited to re-read some of his books, and realized they are truly marvelous; they are great gifts to the church!  Gordon Smith who teaches at Ambrose College in British Columbia is a born teacher and has written seriously about the interior life. As a CM&A pastor, he of course knows the intense piety of the likes of A.W. Tozer, but he is also very fluent in the medieval mystics and Catholic contemplatives. He has a fine book on the nature of the Lord's Supper (A Holy Meal) and he has written about the art of discerning God's presence and guidance (The Voice of Jesus.) In a personal favorite of mine, he has written wisely about discerning one's vocation (Courage and Calling.)

Perhaps this new one -- on ongoing Christian growth, sanctification, holiness and maturity -- was inevitable. Smith has written a splendid book on starting one's faith called Beginning Well: Christian Conversion and Authentic Transformation and another very studious and important one on church membership and catechesis called Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation.) Called to be Saints about how to grow in mature faith seems almost a natural follow up to those two.  And as good and helpful as those two are for those who need to study this process of whole-life transformation, this one is perhaps a capstone! Can it get any better than this?  Can it get any more important for most of us?  Let's get busy thinking it through: what comes next and how to we get there?

Called to Be Saints can help.

Here is what it says on the back cover, and I think it explains the book well:

Christians need a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with the means of formation and transformation. Gordon Smith provide a theologically rich  account of our participation in the life of Christ.

Both profound and practical, Called to Be Saints offers a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and justification, both union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others, and enjoy rightly ordered affections. Christians in every walk of life with find this a rich resource for learning what it means to "grow up in every way ... into Christ (Ephesians 4:15.)

If you follow contemporary writers on these sorts of important themes (not so much scholarly theology written for and within the academic guild, but seen in applied theology for the church) you may know the name Simon Chan from Singapore who has written heavy but rich stuff on liturgical spirituality. Steve Harper is a wonderful professor of spiritual formation at Wesley Theological Seminary in Asbury, KY whose books on the devotional life have been immensely helpful to me.  James Bryan Smith is the renowned author of the trilogy Good and Perfect God, Good and Perfect Life, and Good and Perfect Community. They all and extraordinary thinkers and they each have glowing endorsements on the back, saying that this book is compelling and contains "profound insights couched in disarmingly simple language" and is a "much needed book" which is "a wise guide to abundant living, not through self-help techniques but by learning how to live an abundant life in Christ." James Bryan Smith says, "Read this book, study this book, live this book, and you will find wisdom, goodness, love, and joy." 

Not a bad promise when you realize these are mature, ecumenically-sensitive authors, writing about a fairly serious book. 

I've not studied it carefully, but I am happy to report that it covers a lot of ground, anCalled to Be Saints.jpgd discusses things important to me. I think they are things that are important to you. And there are great touches -- a nice story here, a truly vital insight there, a quote by a mystic poet or a liberation theologian or a Puritan thinker,  a connection I didn't see coming.  An old friend of some long-time Hearts & Minds customers, the late Kenn Hermann of Kent, Ohio, is cited in a footnote about the academic discipline of thinking Christianly about all of life.  There is good teaching on wisdom, on work, on our involvement in the church, and how worship shapes our deepest longings.  Although it is only a brief shout-out in a footnote, it is evident that Smith is conversant with the argument advanced by James K.A. Smith -- no relation, even though they are both Canadian. Again, Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity is a far-reaching, good book, important and very helpful for anyone wanting a somewhat deeper, more mature handbook to the meaning of life-long, serious Christian growth.  I am very, very happy to commend it to you.


PPrayer as Night Falls.jpgrayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline Kenneth V. Peterson (Paraclete) $19.99  Well, this isn't a typical daily devotional, but I want to list it here for this sort of intentionally reflective reading.

I know a small group of young adults, scattered all over the continent who for a season committed to praying the Compline prayer service every evening via Skype or conference call.  It was very rewarding, and when this book was announced I of course thought of them.  Which is to say, you can do this. This is a practice that is catching.  Maybe you will not start an evening phone prayer group, but you might, like me, truly enjoy and in some ways benefit from reading about this historic Christian custom.  And this book will help you do just that.

Kenneth Peterson is a former music teacher and now software engineer as well as a medieval music aficionado who has had a long interest in chant and early music. Importantly, he has sung Compline at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle since the mid-1960s, which serves as the core of what this book is really all about; he unfolds that story in a beautiful, fascinating narrative.  

One reviewer notes that it "offers us the riches of this ancient monastic practice" but continues to explain something vital about Prayer as Night Falls.  Christian Valters Paintner, author of Eyes of the Heart, suggests that a value of this moving book is how it "invites us to consider the grace of night wisdom. Our lives are richer for embracing night's mysteries and invitations."

One of my favorite Bruce Cockburn albums, by the way, is called The Charity of Night and Brian Walsh has a whole chapter in his book Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination about images of darkness and night in Cockburn's music called "What Do You Do With Darkness?" But I digress.  Paying attention to night rhythms may just help us to deepen our Christian lives. Fascinating, huh?

The phenomenon of doing Compline, Peterson provocatively argues, led to the resurgence of contemplative spirituality and the rediscovery of Christian monastic traditions during the last half of the 20th century. Prayer as Night Falls is really a personal story and a history of spirituality as well a study of sung end of the day prayer.

Phyllis Tickle, who has her own book called The Night Offices writes,

"This is perhaps the most beautifully constructed and reverently written book about the Divine Office I have ever seen or hope to see... a totally satisfying experience for mind and soul."

TOne Year Holy Land Moments.jpghe One Year Holy Land Moments Devotional  Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein & Dr. Tremper Longman III (Tyndale) $15.99  That this book even exists is remarkable -- a Jewish Rabbi and a thoughtful evangelical Old Testament scholar ruminating together on Scripture, arranged for daily use!  Much of the book, it seems, is written by Rabbi Eckstein, with uniquely Christian contributions by Longman. It is very illuminating and has a fabulously interesting tone.

There are 52 weeks worth of devotional reflections here, each week focusing on a particular theme.  Each Sabbath day offers a guide for pondering questions that have come up in the week's readings, doing a little journaling and prayerfully resting. The dates of celebrating major Jewish feast days differ from year to year, but the major holidays are included when they are most commonly celebrated.

This is a very, very neat idea, and is a rich, thoughtful daily devotional. I think any number of different sorts of folks might like it a lot.

Listen to Longman's old pal, Professor of Counseling and educator, Dan Allender,

Dialogue is never easy when there are core differences that make conversations difficult. It takes a patient and kInd heart to be open and learn from others. The benefit for this labor is always a richer and more complex engagement with reality,but for most,  the fear exceeds the promise of goodness. Rabbi Eckstein and Dr. Longman offer immense and practical wisdom about the holy text of Scripture and also paint a beautiful portrait of how differenT perspectives of Scripture can refract, inform, and bless one another. This devotional guide will intrigue and instruct -- and, far more, will invigorate your engagement with God.

AAwakening-Faith.jpgwakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church  James Stuart Bell with Patrick Kelly (Zondervan) $24.99  I love these chunky, slightly smaller sized hardbacks, and, more important than how this feels in the hand, is how it feels in the soul.  It just seems amazingly right to reflect on wisdom from nearly 2000 years ago, from the first few centuries of early church history.  Of course, much that was said and done even in the first years of the church was bizarre, if not harmful. But much was good and wise, radical and inspiring. I am grateful for the wise guides who picked these readings, edited them into nice little daily chunks, allowing the voices of Irenaeus, Polycarp, Gregory the Great, Clement, Augustine, Columbanus, Tertullian, Ambrose, Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and a host of writers I've never heard of (Asterius of Amasea, Venantius Fortunatus, Pseudo-Chrysostom, Zeno, and so many more) guide our thinking about the Scripture of the day.    

There is a nice index in the back which gives a very brief biographical sketch of these early church leaders.  They have foreign sounding names, but they were the preachers and pastors, elders and bishops of their day.  We should know them.

I like what Christianity Today editor and good, good writer himself, Mark Galli says about this:

In the age of social media, where glib sayings abound, on years to read some deeper wisdom about life and faith on a regular basis. Well, here you have it, a compendium of wisdom, devotion, and biblical insight from some of the most thoughtful and faithful Christians from the early eras of the church's history. And in blog-sized posts.  A nice change of pace!



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December 19, 2013


Yred christmas ball.jpgep, here is the annual better late than never last minute shopping guide where we suggest unique books for that person who has everything. Or has very specialized tastes.  See, I am in true solidarity with all you last minute shoppers.  I've wanted to get this list up for a week, but all manner of nutty scheduling stuff just... well, enough excuses.  You understand.

We can ship these out (while in store supplies last) right away.  Shipping to the mid-Atlantic takes maybe 2 days.  Other parts of the country can pay for expedited delivery (sorry, that is rather expensive, but we can do even next day air if you'd like.)  Just let us know how we can help.  We've got all hands on deck here, eager to serve.

By the way, we can send things directly to your loved on, gift wrapped (for free.) Of course we do this all year 'round, but we can tuck in a little card saying the gift is from you.  Just let us know what to say on your behalf.  (Putting that in the "shipping instructions" is fine... or after you list the books at our order form page. We'll see it for sure -- we've got humans involved here, not automated gizmos.) 

Let's do this.


Cwendell-berry-music.jpgD Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music  Andrew Maxfield, Eric Bibb, and Wendell Berry (Yalecrest) $30.00  I could go on and on about this, but here's the skinny: this lovely boxed set includes one CD which is a choral piece inspired by Berry's lyrics. The next CD is of the young African American acoustic blues guy, from Kentucky, doing songs inspired by Berry and his writing.  And the third CD is Mr. Wendell Berry, reading his own poems.  Go to www.wendleberrymusic.org to learn a bit more. Get 'em ordered right away -- this will make an awesome gift that will surprise and delight. It is, in many ways, the coolest thing we've discovered all year.  And hardly anybody knows about it.  What a great gift idea!

(By the way, I am assuming you have given Berry books before, that you have Berry fans, and that you've exhausted the poetry, essays, short stories, and novels of this great man of American letters. If not, give us a holler and we'll tell you where to begin.)


Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets andreading for preaching.jpg Journalists  Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Eerdmans) $14.00  I hope you you saw my rave review of this a week ago -- I couldn't be more sincere to say this is one of the best books I've read for clergy in ages and ages.  It is eloquent, insightful, funny, and will rekindle a spark by inviting them to do good work (especially in the pulpit) by reading good books.  If you love books, if you long for more literate, thoughtful, wise and powerfully-crafted Sunday messages, I am sure this book will help. And they will love it -- it is very new, but getting some nice press.  Did I say I raved about it in a previous BookNotes?  You know what to do. If you are a real book lover and like thinking about how literature impacts us, get one for yourself.  I'm not exaggerating, this splendid for pastors, but good for any of use book geeks.  You know some don't you?  Come on, make their season bright!


Hhumans-of-new-york.jpgumans of New York Brandon Stanton (St. Martin's Press) $29.99  Again, the backstory here is thrilling and the reviews have been rave, but the short version is simply that this cool photographer has been taking impromptu portraits of New Yorkers on an amazing blog he created that has already touched millions around the world. I said this is good for die-hard New Yorkers.  I think it might be a nice gift for any die-hard lover of the human race. It features exclusive new portraits and stories and I promise you will have hours and hours of delight (and perhaps concern and empathy and joy) beholding these vivid, amazing shots.

Go here to see how wonderful this is, and imagine who might appreciate getting this nice book under their tree.  


Iis reality secular.jpgs Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews Mary Poplin (Veritas Books/IVP) $18.00   With a foreword by the late Christian philosopher and spiritual formation guide, Dallas Willard, you know this will be substantive and important.  Veritas does the most thoughtful books offering evangelical thinking to the modern academy (and anyone who appreciates clear, intellectually mature, compelling books about the intellectual basis of Christianity.)  You hopefully know Ms Poplin's amazing memoir Finding Calcutta in which Mother Teresa recommends that she not stay serving the poor in India but rather that she go back to her work in higher education, finding the lost and hurting there.  Poplin is passionate about making a credible witness among her secularized peers in the university and is also passionate about helping students navigate life's thorny questions.  This is the amazing, thorough, nuanced and richly detailed account of how naturalism secular humanism, pantheism and Judeo-Christian theism compare.  She is convinced that "at the root of our deepest political and cultural divisions are conflicting principles of four global worldviews..." This is brand new, and you'll be hearing more about it in the new year, I'm sure.


Wwild and wonderful.jpgild and Wonderful: Tourism, Faith and Communities  Stan L. LeQuire and Chantelle du Plessis (Resource Publication) $19.00  Now this will be a surprise gift -- who knew there even was a book like this, let alone one that is so well done??  Stan LeQuire is an old pal, a guy who has worked admirably for years on sustainable development issues, creation care, and evangelical environmental networking.  He is now at Eastern University and in this book he explores ecologically-influenced, wise tourism, what we mean by ethical travel, and how we can help the poor of the third world by culturally-sensitive, environmentally sustainable economic development. Some sort of joke about eco-tourism as if it is some quirky fad, but reading this moving book you will see that getting to really know indigenous peoples and their lifestyle practices is an amazing way to learn. Blurbs on the back of this new book are from the Executive Director of A Rocha, Tony Campolo (who is renowned for his educational work in Haiti), Nancy Sleeth, and Ron Sider.  Sider writes, "This delightful, carefully researched book tells encouraging stories and offers helpful analysis on how to expand and improve this exciting, important development."   Ron is right, this almost sounds "too good to be true."  What a great idea, and what a fantastic little book, telling all about it.  It will make a very special gift for anyone who travels, leads mission trips, or is interested in global justice.  Stan's co-author, by the way, is a South African who lives in Bogota Columbia.  With Andres Umana, she owns and operates the tourism business Andres Ecotours.


Hhospice-voices-lessons-for-living-end-life-eric-lindner-hardcover-cover-art.jpgospice Voices: Lessons for Living at the End of Life Eric Lindner (Rowman & Littlefield) $22.95  This new hardback has gotten exceptional reviews and we are glad to suggest it.  The author is a part-time hospice volunteer so he provides companion care to dying strangers. In each chapter he reveals the lessons he learned of lives explored in their final days.  He says he's "just a volunteer lending a hand" but he is one great storyteller.  Another who knows or loves someone working through end of life issue will find interesting episodes with helpful insights in this fine book.


Tgood funeral.jpghe Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch (Westminster/John Knox) $25.00 It is a standard cliche to say that the foreword alone is worth the price of the book, but fans of Barbara Brown Taylor will understand when I say that, again, here.  What an introduction she gives to why this splendid book by two of our most thoughtful writers about funerals and grief-- one a pastor and theologian, one a poet and undertaker -- is so very, very good.  Stunningly good.  Give it to anyone you know who has to go to funerals. 


Coffee with Jesus David Wilkie + Radio Free Babylon (IVP) $16.00  I am sure you know somebodycoffee with jesus.jpg who is a zealous fan of RFB and these sardonic, off-beat and often brilliant little cartoons.  Poor Jesus has to put up with all kinds of stupidity and when he isn't putting these too devout Christians in their place with a well-honed barb, he is showing immense grace and patience, sometimes with real tenderness, and sometimes with a bit of a skewering kindness.  I loved seeing these retro-looking, snarky cartoons as they came across the internets -- and forwarded my share of them, I guess.  But seeing them in a book, page by page, is not only a heck of a hoot, it is actually pretty inspiring.  Jesus comes through, time and again, and the spiritual wisdom here is greater than you may at first realize.  Susan Isaacs -- herself pretty darn funny -- says that "Wilkie's characters demonstrate our worst flaws, and Coffee With Jesus skewers them with a wry balance of humor, solid theology, and love." I understand why she wrote "The day I discovered Coffee with Jesus, I felt a little less alone in Christendom."  I also like that one the back, next to her blurb, Jesus says "Hyperbole much, Susan?"  Ha. You should give these out, you really should.  Christmas dinner won't be the same.


IIn the Neighborhood- The Search for Community on an American Street,.jpgn the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time  Peter Loveheim (Perigree) $13.95  This is not brand new, but I sense it isn't well known -- and it ought to be! What a fun gift for anyone who likes modern memoir, the longing for a good life, stories about the quandaries of the suburbs and the breakdown of our social fabric.  But it is upbeat and fun because -- as you can tell from the subtitle - it is one families' quirky, heartfelt quest to meet the neighbors and  to rediscover what it means to live as more than strangers.  His is witty and generous and he takes us inside the homes, minds, and hearts of his neighbors.  As one reviewer suggests, "this book, so gentle and unassuming on the surface, is in fact deeply radical. If we all took its lessons to heart, our world would be a different, better place." Cool.


Ccinematic-states.jpginematic States: Stories We Tell, the American Dreamlife, and How to Understand Everything* Gareth Higgins (Burnside Books) $16.99  We have a pretty large and diverse film studies section and we have our favorites on this or that. But this one is brand new, from a very cool indie press a Christian friend of ours manages.  The author had a previous book on film that was very good (published by the now defunct Relevant Books.)  In this one, the colorful Irishman brings it to the good ol USA by doing a state-by-state survey of movies that are set in and seem to be about each and every state.  Wonder what movies he describes from you state?  Ha -- you gotta buy the book!  In the chapters about most states he brings in more than one movie, and often it is an older classic and a more recent one.  Occasionally he soars with great insight and always his passion for film is evident.  Sometimes he reviews movies that aren't exactly known as high-points of cinematic excellence, and I'm still trying to figure out why he chose a few he did  when other options might have worked (but he still finds something meaningful to tell about them and what they offer.) But that is half the fun, reading this theologically aware study of film art that comes to us as "common grace for the common good" --  and a geography lesson as well.  Man, this is soooooo cool.  You know that your film buff friend will be blown away.  


On Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World  Calvin Seerveld (Welch) $8.99  I bring thison being human.gif chestnut out every now and then and remind folks that, although it is not new, it is hardly known at all.  Seerveld is renowned for two of the most significant books on faith, the arts, and Christian thinking about aesthetics (Rainbows for the Fallen World and Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves) but this short collection of meaningful devotional reflections is every bit as good, and lovely to read.  Each of the seven chapters has artwork shown and Biblical texts upon which he offers his passionate, reformational sermons of grace and cultural responsibility.  Each of these moving artworks, as he explains, reveals something about being human.  


Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel Sherill Tippins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $30.00  This is a thick and handsomely constructed hardback full of the stories of this legendary hang-out  for writers, bohemians rock and rollers and punkers, poets and theater people. Here you will learn about Thomas Wolfe and Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and Sid  Vicious.  As one reviewer noted, Tippins "captures the mad magic of this storied building.  She has written a history, not just of a hotel, but of a dream: the dream that art can change the world.  Tippins is an indispensable urban historian and Inside the Dream Palace is an unforgettable read."


DDedicated-to-God-An-Oral-History-of-Cloistered-Nuns-Hardcover-P9780199947935.JPGedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns  Abbie Reese (Oxford University Press) $34.95  Yes, this is a beautifully researched, amazing contribution published by one of the most prestigious publishers in the world.  There are some stunning photographs includes and the author's work as a storyteller "has the ability to peer into people's lives...not as a voyeur, as is often the case with photographers wanting to be 'in vogue', but one who cares about people and desires to bring others to a broader understanding of the human condition. Reese focuses on the Poor Clare sisters in a way that is evocative and insightful.  A wonderful glimpse into another world of spirituality and vital service.  A very classy gift, and quite powerful.

HHow to Be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job .jpgow to Be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job  Brother Benet Tvedten (Paraclete Press) $14.99 This book is a bit less academic than the previously listed one as it is designed, as the subtitle suggests, to help ordinary people learn form the monastic experience in ways that are plausible and helpful.  It is written by a Benedictine Brother, initially as a guide for oblates. There are many books out on the monastic life, books about contemplative spirituality as learned from the monks, and a ton of recent books about Benedictine spirituality, and this is one that is sure to please those who are interested in learning about this alternative way of being in the world.  Very, very nice.  This is a brand new edition of this book which was out years ago with a different cover.


Evangelical Peacemakers: Gospel Engagement in a War-Torn World edited by David P. Gusheeevan peacemakers.jpg (Cascade Books) $19.00  You can see my slightly longer review at my "Politics and Prose" column in the CPJ Capitol Commentary newsletter. These are wonderful, wonderful papers presented at the 2012 Evangelicals for Peace Summit organized by Peace Catalyst, an evangelical ministry founded by former missionary Rick Love.  This brand new book includes good scholarship, compelling calls to deepen our Biblically-based, Christ-centered work of peacemaking, and some extraordinary stories of those who have reached out (even to terrorists!) in evangelical reconciliation ministries. From significant diplomats who are aware of the role of religion in statecraft to peace activists and Middle Eastern missionaries, these voices must be heard!  A great collection for those who are interested in the gospel call to peacemaking, and perhaps for those who need to be invited into the conversation.


What's So Funny? My Hilarious Life  Tim Conway (Howard) $25.99  Yes, we've got the new Billy Crystal book that everyone is talking about, and we are happy to sell it.  But this Tim Conway book is a sleeper, getting less glitzy press, but will be a great gift for anybody who recalls those classic antics from what some call the golden age of US television.  Not only does Conway talk about his work with Bob Newhart and Don Rickles and Steve Lawrence (and his work in McHales Navy and, of course the Carol Burnett Show) but he tells of his own faith and inner life. Mel Brooks says it is funny on almost every page, and Publishers Weekly said it is "heartfelt and sweetly revealing." Nice. 


Sshare.jpghare: The Cookbook That Celebrates our Common Humanity Woman for Woman International (Kyle Books) $40.00  What a beautiful, wonderfully designed, colorful, coffee-table-sized cookbook this is.  It is worth giving to anyone who loves third world cultures, or who value striking photo essays of the lives of folks in other parts of the world.  Yet, this is more -- much more - than a visual gift about international women. It is, in fact, a cookbook gleaned from recipes and cooking styles from poor women in developing countries all over. The only book in print to which I can compare it is the wonderful Extending the Table published by Mennonite Central Committee, in their series that includes the More With less Cookbook.)

Perhaps you have seen Meryl Streep on TV talking about this (she has been somewhat of a spokesperson for the Woman for Woman project.)  This deserves so much more acclaim.  Here is what it says on the back: "There are contributions here such as authentic Afghani bichak pastries and Congolese sticky doughnuts, to spicy cashew and tomato soup, beef rendang and orange-scented almond cake.  The recipes range from everyday dishes to meals for special occasions. Interspersed throughout are inspiring stories of women who, with the help of WfW, have gone from being victims to active citizens."

In this glorious celebration of our shared humanity there are not only stories of women whose lives are being restored to dignity, but also international celebrities and activists. There are contributions from writers and actresses, church leaders and chefs such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Madela, Desmond Tutu, Alice Waters Emma Thompson, Dame Judi Dench, Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Alhley Judd and more.  (Even Ben and Jerry show up.) 100% of the publishers profits go to Women for Women International.


Aland without sin.jpg Land Without Sin  Paul Huston (Slant) $27.00  This is a solid hardback, the second in the much-discussed recent imprint edited by the impeccable Gregory Wolfe of Image Journal.  As I explained when it first came out, it is a serious, but not dense bit of literary art, with a  provocative story set amidst liberation theologians and the struggle for justice in southern Mexico. Ron Hansen linked it to Graham Green's The Power and the Glory, and a recommendation doesn't get much better than that!  It is a moving book, "tragic and tender" as one reviewer observed.  You should give this book to anyone who likes good fiction about things that matter.


Revival: A Folk Music Novel Scott Alarik (Songsmith) $22.00  This would make a great gift for the folk music aficionado.  Sure they'd like you to buy them a Martin guitar or a signed Kingston Trio LP, but that isn't going to happen.  And you don't want to give up your own old PP&M records, now do you?  This is an amazingly cool novel, set in the subterranean world of modern folk music. Alarik covered music for the Boston Globe for over 20 years (and Pete Seeger called him "one of the best writers in America.") This is set in the very urban world of modern folk circuit, the struggle for good art within the tradition, and is "highly entertaining and informative glimpse into the inner workers of the business of folk music." Endorsements are from the founder of Compass Records, a few record company executives and agents, club owners and contemporary troubadours such as Dar Williams.  Cool, eh?


HHeretics Book Cover.jpgeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World Thomas Cahill (NanTalese/Doubleday) $29.99 I am sure you know the first award winning and much-loved book in this "hinges of history" series (How the Irish Saved Civilization.) Cahill has gone on to write brilliantly assessable books that capture the genius of the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Middle Ages. This is apparently the second to last book in his series, and it the biggest, and perhaps most glorious. (How the Irish is a must-read, in my view, and the Middle Ages one is truly beautiful.)  It could be considerably more expensive, and it a wonderful addition to anyone's library. 

Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past John Fea (Baker Academic) $19.99 This is a small book, a great stocking stuffer for any history buff that is very well done.  You may recall that Fea is a friend, a great prof at nearby Messiah College, and a nominee for more than one exquisitely important literary awards. He's a top-notch scholar, a good teacher, and, in this case, offers an excellent overview of a Christian view of of the study of history, and why it matters to us all.  I hope this volume becomes very well known.  Buy a few to give away today!

The Spiritual Practice of Remembering Margaret Bendroth (Eerdmans) $16.00 This is an odd book to describe as it, too, is written by a faith-based historian. This is a different sort of book than Fea's though -- it is a beautifully-written contemplation, a spiritual rumination on remembering (not quite a philosophy of history.) What is the value of recollecting our lives, of recalling? What does it mean to honor the past?  This is an lucid and luminous reflection, profound and evocative, reminding Christians of the implications of the "communion of the saints."  


Uunapologetic.jpgnapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense Francis Spufford (HarperOne) $25.99  This book came out in England over a year ago and when the reviews started zipping around the internet, with great accolades, we had a bunch of folks express interest in this. Alas, it wasn't available in the states then, but now it is. Christianity Today has named it a book of the year.  Blurbs on the back are from the likes of novelist Nick Hornby (who says, "Unapologetic is exactly what those who've followed Spufford's career might have suspected it would be: an incredibly smart, challenging, and beautiful book, humming with ideas and arguments."  The man writes like a dream, is exceptionally articulate, and has been called "effortlessly brilliant" and "a rare gem." The Times Literary Supplement says Spufford "succeeds to an exceptional degree."  Just saying.


WWeAreTheOnes-Cover.jpge Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For:The Promise of Civil Renewal in America Peter Levine (Oxford University Press) $29.95  Again, this is a book that would make a wonderful gift for a serious thinker (it is Oxford, after all) who cares about life in these modern times.  Peter Levine is "a scholar whose research is rigorous and unflinching but whose passion for democracy brims with optimism and engagement" and who can bring into focus how change happens, what organizing and education for cultural renewal looks like. He is eloquent and passionate and can energize those who deeply desire to reinvigorate democracy from the grass roots up. A  prestigious author, an important book that will revitalize the interests and inform the skills of nearly anyone who wants to be involved.  The author clearly tilts to the grass-roots left, but should be read by any and all who care about citizenship and social reform.


MMy Dyslexia.jpgy Dyslexia Philip Schultz (Norton) $21.95  I ran an excerpt of this a year ago (maybe at facebook) and still recall how thrilled I was to share this guy's story of learning to read, despite his neurological handicap.  He was a "lonely embattled boy" who couldn't read -- but grows up to win the Pulitzer Prize.  This is a fabulously written, gentle, moving memoir, not brand new, but not known widely.  It would make a lovely gift to anyone who cares about reading, or learning disabilities.  Sweet.


Ggood god, lousy world.jpgood God, Lousy World & Me: The Improbable Journey of a Humans Rights Activist from Unbelief to Faith  Holly Burkhalter (Convergent) $22.99  Just  a month old, this new book is one that is finding readers, and their lives are being touched by this remarkable story.  The subtitle says the journey is "improbable" because many people, it seems, think that immersing oneself in the ugly stuff of life (in this case, sexual abuse and human trafficking) makes one turn from God.  In this case -- I cannot summarize the moving narrative or the intellectual journey simply -- the story is more or less the opposite. With such evil present, only a fool would think there is no clear right or wrong.  And such a realization of the need for God drives this activist to faith.  Andy Crouch (who explores themes of the abuse of power in his book-of-the-year Playing God) writes, "Holly's story, from a distance, is absolutely fascinating -- one of the world's top experts in human rights turns out to be a person of deep Christian commitments. But her story up close is even better: by turns laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, wrenching, and hopeful. I think this is a voice the wider world needs to hear." You should buy one for yourself, and give one to somebody you know.


In the Absence of God: A Novel Richard Cleary (Xulon) $24.99  I know I promoted this last year, butcleary.JPG I suspect that since this as released on a very indie press, your friends or family members do not know of it, and unless they heard about it from us last year, it would make a great surprise gift here at the end of the year.  Dick is one of my best friends and near-neighbors here in Dallastown. I so admire his desire to have people see that what we think about ethics and how to make wise judgements about right and wrong is all wrapped up in our search for and construal of meaning -- and our beliefs about God.  This is a gripping novel, set on a college campus, with stretches of dialogue about philosophy and truth, God and morals, politics and political correctness, science and the philosophy of science.  In the Absence of God is a football story, a young-lovers romance, and, at times, a pretty intense crime novel, filled with the suspense of danger and the drama of pursuit.  It is a good story but it is more -- Cleary wants people to consider how if there is no God who reveals what is truly so, there can be no intellectually sustainable basis for determining right or wrong.  What happens or is justified "in the absence of God"? You'll have to read this to find out.  Give it to young college men, especially, Dick thinks.  As a former high school football coach and current college philosophy prof, he should know.


Ffrom times square to timbuktu.jpgrom Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church  Wesley Granberg Michaelson (Eerdmans) $20.00  I will be explaining why I'm choosing this as one of the best books of 2013 later in our end-of-the-year awards columns, but for now, allow me just to simply note that this book carries a foreword by the prestigious James Billington, the head of the Library of Congress!  And that alone is pretty telling.  Also, anyone who is anyone in the academic study of the rising Christian faith in the global south  -- Andrew Wall, Philip Jenkins, Lamin Sanneh -- all rave about it.  The title may not be clear, as this book is actually about how, through patterns of migration and immigration, Christian brothers and sisters from the global south and far East are increasingly coming to North America. is very interesting, well written and informative, but it is more; Granberg-Michael reminds us that as folks from other countries make their way to our towns and cities, and into our own churches in North America, the nature and texture (and theology and practices?) of our own congregations will be forever changed.  We are in a hinge of history, as they say, and the religious make-up of the global church has been duly noted.  Now, in this important book, we see where it is going.  From Timbuktu to your town and mine.  What a great book.


AIt was Good Making Music.jpgnd It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God  edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $  You know I've raved about this before, having done a chapter by chapter summary in a long review earlier this fall.  There are over thirty chapters reflecting on a uniquely Christian sort of appreciation for the art of music making.  There are pieces on jazz, on blues, on classical.  There are ruminations on listening to music, rehearsing music, writing music.  There are chapters by church organists and rock stars, fascinating pieces on hosting concerts and on hymn writing, on music in grief, and music in worship.  This is nothing short of spectacular, something for everyone, whether you can carry a tune or are, like some of these authors, seasoned musicians.  Give this to anyone you know who cares about music, and they might even break out in song to thank you!


CCommand and Control- Nuclear Weapons.jpgommand and Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety Eric Scholosser (The Penguin Press) $36.00  You know the award winning muck-racking journalist, Eric Scholosser (who gave us the brilliant Fast Food Nation.) Here is studies one of the scariest features of modern life, the dangerous mess of high-tech gods known as nukes.  Do you know of "the Damascus Accident"? Do you like reading about cover-ups and conspiracies? I read an early excerpt of this and knew it would make my hair stand on end, as that one chapter had, so we figured we should promote it.  It isn't a sweet "Merry Christmas, Darling" sort of gift.  But it will intrigue some soon-to-be whistle blower, and I think it is very, very important. A helluva book.


Hholy is the day.jpgoly Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present  Carolyn Weber (IVP Cresendo) $15.00 Do you know the wonderfully-written, intriguing, stimulating story of Carolyn Weber going off to Oxford (Surprised by Oxford)? What a great book that was!  This is even better written, staring with a riveting tale of a problem pregnancy, and on through her daily life as a college professor who was writing her first book (yes, that one) while parenting three children under the age of 3. Her struggled and spiritual insights are narrated beautifully and realistically.  These pages reflect on "eternal beauty that lurks within the present." One of my favorite colleagues in the Christian book-selling industry, Dave Lewis of the Logos Bookstore in Dallas writes, "Read this one carefully as it is a gift from a heart that has grown in wisdom."  Wouldn't you love to give a gift like that?  You would!  Just figure out who should get it -- it's highly recommended.


Both-And: Living the Christ Centered Life in an Either-Or World Rich Nathan & Insoo Kim (IVP)both-and.jpg $16.00  I have read several books by Rich Nathan and respect him a lot. Here, he rejects the culture-war rhetoric that has hijacked faith, and refuses to buy into one side or the other.  He shows that we need more than one voice, and more than one tradition, bringing a "both/and" approach rather than an either-or.  I suppose you can imagine how we here at the bookstore feel this way, and how our heads spins some weeks as we work with this group and that, these sort os Christians and those sorts of churches and yet again those ministries and organizations over there.  Yep, I'm convinced.  And I think there are others like us -- maybe you know them, and maybe you can give them this nice book. Thoughtful spiritual leaders such as RIchard Foster and Richard Stearns have endorsed this which transcends polarization in the church.

Nathan and Kim (both who are pastors at Vineyard Columbus) explore questions like "What is our Identity?" and want to hold together being evangelical and charismatic.  In the chapter on community they look at unity and diversity. In the chapter about their concerns, they insist on mercy and justice.  Nicely,  in the question about methods, they call for proclamation and demonstration.  I like the way in which their ethic is both personal and social.  One great chapter is on the "already and no yet."  Throughout the book naturally comes up the big question of needing to have relevant practice and orthodox doctrine.  This is not a mushy drift towards an ambiguous middle, but a robust invitation to hold various solid streams together.  It would make a nice gift for any thoughtful Christian leader.


Mmake-college-count-a-faithful-guide-to-life-and-learning.jpgake College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning Derek Melleby (Baker) $12.99 You may not have been paying attention to this if you didn't have the need before, but this little hardback is the absolutely best book to give to a youngster soon to go off to college (or even a college first year student, just come home for Christmas break.) It winsomely asks them who they will be in college, helping them think about why they feel called to the vocation of being a student, and what these years will be about.  Derek is a specialist on the "college transition" and knows how to speak into the lives of those young folks facing this big matter. He has also co- written a somewhat more extensive reflection on the call to being a Christian student (The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness) which you should give to every college kid you know. Our bookstore is even mentioned in it, which I hope you think is an indication of something good.  But if they are just starting out this journey, Make College Count will help them do just that, help it make sense, help make it count, and help them think about the integration of faith and life.  A perfect little stocking stuffer that just could change their lives at this critical time.  Please?  Tell em Santa wanted them to read it if you've got to.


TGlobal Public Square.jpghe Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity 

Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00 You know that we routinely say that Guinness is one of the finest authors of our lifetime, a brilliant Christian leader, thoughtful, learned, articulate and most often right about the many causes and concerns for which he has become known.  Here he offers a multi-faceted, thorough-going, lively call to insist that religious liberty is a first freedom, and offers an audacious plan to underscore and develop the religious freedom clause of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.  In light of the trends of some religious nearly taking over (think Sharia Law and blasphemy codes) or the "naked public square" of the secularists, this project is more than timely, it is urgent. A splendidly informative and truly inspiring book about a burning, global issue.


PPray for Me- The Life and Spiritual Vision  of Pope Francis,.jpgray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope from the Americas   Robert Moynihan (Image) $19.99  There are oodles of biographies out now about the rise of this amazing, third world Pope.  I think this is a very good one, reputable and well written. The author is the founder of Inside the Vatican magazine, so is a respected journalist and expert on the papacy. 


The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of An Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church PhyllisThe Age of the Spirit.jpg Tickle with Jon Sweeney (Baker) $19.99 We got an early shipment of these forthcoming books since we were selling books with Phyllis at a recent clergy confab. It is an amazing example of her broad, sweeping insights about tends within church history, and she deftly relates the great schism of the 4th century-- about the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and who gets to determine if the foundational creeds should be reformed -- to the issues of the emergent churches and the shifts within congregational life today.  She says, as the title proposes, that we are in the era of determining the role of the Spirit.   As Tony Jones puts it, in this book "the ancient and the postmodern world walk down the aisle, wedded, once and for all." 


Oof games and god.jpgf Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games  Kevin Schut (Brazos Press) $16.99 I have talked about this before, and I often say this is without a doubt the best (just about the only) book on the subject. There is a very good one that came out a few years ago, but it was very academic.  And, there are a few really cheesy ones that are hardly worth reading.  This one gets it just right.  Hooray.  What a book!  I am sure that if you know any gamers, they will be impressed to see a thoughtful integration of their passion with the Christian faith. Give it away, and have fun.

Twinescratchsniff.jpghe Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert by Richard Betts  (Houghton Mifflin) 19.99  Okay, I'm not kidding.  This is not a joke.  It is like a little kids "board book" with thick pages, and really good scratch and sniff patches.  It is illustrated in a cool cartoony style, and is the clearest, best, most helpful wine book I've ever seen with this very nifty olfactory touch. Some will like that one the front it says "wine is a grocery, not a luxury."   Of course, it also exclaims "Take a whiff of that!"


JJourney into the Heart of God.jpgourney into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year Philip Pfatteicher (Oxford University Press) $35.00  This is a very sturdy, handsome hardback, an exquisite book of scholarly, warm prose about the rise of the liturgical calendar.  The raves on the back are strong by serious professors of religion (such as Canon Paul Bradshaw, Professor of Liturgy at University of Notre Dame, or Karen Westerfield Tucker, Professor of Worship at Boston University.) Interestingly, the author is an Episcopal priest who is also a literature professor so there is a lot in here from Rudyard Kipling to John Bunyan.  This is a rich account of his own journey on being shaped by the church year and leads to an affirmation of wonder and joy.  This is a truly amazing book and any clergy person or church leader from liturgical traditions would surely be glad to receive it.


TThe Ghost in the Glass House.jpghe Ghost in the Glass House Carey Wallace (Clarion House)$16.99  This book has so much going for it -- Wallace is a very, very good writer, a mature woman of faith herself, and the meandering ruminations of the youngsters in the novel are thoughtful and intelligent. The whole romance with a  ghost thing is approached with appropriate moderation, not overly dramatized at all. Some may think there isn't enough adventure or zany capers in the plot of a girl that may not want to grow up into womanhood but if one likes thoughtful conversations about recalling one's earlier life (grief, regrets, fears), and how relationships can be healthy or not, this story could be very appealing. 


GGaining Ground.jpgaining Ground: A Story of Farmer's Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm  Forrest Pritchard (Lyons Press) $18.95  We have always stocked books on farming and agriculture (and have some lovely books about food and eating and cooking well.) This is a recent one, and it is quite wonderful.  Not every farmer also has a degree in literature and geography from William & Mary. And not every localist or new agrarian gets Joel Salatin to write a forward.   Even a founder of Newman's Own Organics writes, "Beautiful and nourishing...the truth of organic farming is so much more challenging and fantastic than I could have imagined." You will love this book, and if you give it to somebody who cares about sustainable food systems, they will too.


Mmanly men.jpgansfield's Book of Manly Men  Stephen Mansfield (Nelson) $ 19.99  As one who doesn't place much stock in traditional gender assumptions -- gasp! -- this is as much a tongue in cheek as a serious Christian view about masculinity.  But the cover is so retro cool (with that oh so hip retro mustache!) I just wanted to show it off. I respect Stephen Mansfield as an author (he did the great book God and Guinness about the beer family) and here he tries to sift through what one reviewer (Jonathan Jackson of the ABC Show Nashville) refers to as the "myriad counterfeits and stereotypes" and rather, offers a "vision of manhood that is refreshing and challenging ideal."  The back cover, in cool 19th century type, declares this is witty, compelling and shew. It is about virtues and habits, disciplines and duties. You get the picture.  And you may want to gift somebody with it.


Theologian Trading Cards  developed by Norman Jeune III (Zondervan) $26.99 

I raved about thesetheologian cards.jpg last year, and have to reprise our recommendation and say it again. Who knew such things existed?  Anybody who likes theology will be amazed by these spectacular trading cards.  And they will learn a lot, too.  I'm not kidding.  These are well made, come in a cool box, and are grouped in all sorts of categories. If you have a geeky loved on, this is something that they will thank you for for years to come.  Or at last mock you at the New Year's Eve party.  Wrap this box of these fellas up, and surprise your most-loved local theologian. 


HHoly Luck- Poems.jpgoly Luck: Poems Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $12.00  I have read a few  of these out loud already among groups and it is fascinating to see how folks respond.  This is the power of poetry, of course, and you could call us for others that we have in stock these days -- from Mary Oliver to Aaron Belz to Wendell Berry to some you've maybe never heard of.  This is a nice little gift book, square sized and smallish, and would make a great stocking stuff, thank you gift, or a nice token of appreciation for anyone in your life (not to mention your pastor.) Peterson is respected by almost all normal Christian folk these days, and this would be a truly nice gift. 


Pandy and playing god.jpglaying God: Redeeming the Gift of Power  Andy Crouch (IVP) $25.00  I've hinted more than once that this is  what I deem to be the most important book of the year.  I cannot say enough about it, and almost everyone who starts it is enthralled, drawn in by the good stories, and challenged to think carefully about power, servanthood, influence, leadership, and how to engage institutions reformingly in ways that are substantial and lasting. Ideologues on the far left or religious right may think he's too calm and reasonable, but most of us -- I am confident -- need this voice, and will come away agreeing it is a truly wonderful book.  Give it to anybody who is serious about their vocation in the world.  Unless you know they are super Hearts & Minds fans, as they may have already bought it from us.  We have mentioned it often.    If you want to give a really wonderful gift, and bless your friend or loved one, why not to a combo pack: wrap up two books in one nice ribbon: give 'em Andy's previous seminal Culture Making and Playing God both.  Ho. Ho. Ho. 

And speaking of great gifts, you know the BookNotes blog has been recommending some great, great books here of late.  Do review those reviews; we are serious about promoting those books, you know, and think they are great.

Call us at the shop (717.246.3333) right away if you have any need for suggestions for anyone ongift wrapped book .jpg your last minute Christmas list.  An athlete? A middle aged boy?  A scientist? Youth pastor? New parents? Bee-keeper? Business leader?  Public school teacher? A Bible scholar?  Come on, there's still time to bless somebody with a custom-selected book, just for their taste, need, or interest.  We're at your service.  

I even have a white beard, and it is cold enough to feel like the North Pole here, so I'm thinking we can help you during these wintry days.



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

December 22, 2013


I've got this? Really??  

I'm desperate here, you know.

Well, here is a reminder of our popular really last minute deal, the do it yourself, make it tonight, simple as can be (and fun as you'd like) Hearts & Minds gift certificate.  Yep, you make it, email us sobook wrapped in brown.jpg we can get payment settled and give you a little official number to hand letter on the back and presto.  You've got yourself anything from a hostess gift for tomorrow night, a stocking stuffer for Christmas morn, or a huge, one-of-a-kind, let 'em buy a whole library of books big-time gift.  Get the details here.

We also know another way around your last minute goof-up: plead the 'ol 12 days of Christmas church calendar argument.  We've got almost two weeks of this soon-to-be-upon us Christmas season.  Ignore those commercialists who are, I swear, selling Valentine candy now, and savor the real season.  The idea of gift-giving this

twelve-days-of-christmas.jpg time of year comes from the Magi, of course, and they didn't bring their wise guy gifts until Epiphany.  I hope you sing that song at church (not now, please!) at Epiphany. 

So you can order some special gift now, and teach your loved ones the real nature of Christmas celebrations: that it is a season, capped off by Epiphany.

I'm not making this up.  Although it is a Christian retailers dream, huh? I have another shot at telling you about some random books that just might be nice Christmastime gifts. Or Epiphany gifts.

So, back by popular demand, here's a PART TWO of a curious listing for hard-to-buy -or book lovers.  PART ONE this year is HERE.  Enjoy.  Happy book giving, and happy reading!


CConsider the Birds- A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible.jpgonsider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible  Debbie Blue (Abingdon) $16.99  This ought to win an award for the most attractive paperback book of the year: there are very nice woodcuts in front of each chapter, and a spectacular cover with french flaps -- it is very nicely designed, befitting an aesthetically-rich and creative reflections on, yep, birds mentioned in the Bible.  Blue is a great writer, a fabulously colorful preacher (so much so that she is in that rare list of preachers who have had a collection of their sermons published.) This is a must for any bird-lover, but, I truly think anyone who likes outside-of-the-box unusual messages about God's unusual ways will love this. She's amazing how she uses the Scriptures, connecting the dots.


CCMYK book.jpgMYK: The Process of Life Together book and/or CD  Justin McRoberts (Justin McRoberts)  book $24.99 CD $10.99  I have raved about this before, this full color, amazingly designed, artful book that offers the backstories of songs Justin has recorded, letters to the people who are in the songs, and ruminations and reflections about the people, stories, and songs, all written in a very honest, insightful, and caring way. (And, also, there are in the book interviews with four edgy visual artists who were commissioned to create original art pieces to enhance all of the above.) This multi-media project , then, is just amazing, and is sure to delight anybody who likes the acoustic singer-songwriter genre of indie rock, and/or anyone who likes this visually-dramatic way of presenting a book.  I hardly know anything like it -- and it is so tenderly written, poignant and good and inviting.  We sell all four discs that Justin put out (C, P, Y, and K) but suggest this as a package: get the book and the CD K, which is sort of a greatest hits compilation of the previous three.  His music is strong, his wordsmithyness exceptional, and now we know that beyond being a hip young songwriter and stortyteller, he's a great author as well.  This is a rare gift that is sure to please.


TThe Pioneer Woman Cooks- A Year of Holidays.jpghe Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays  Ree Drummond (Wm Morrow) $29.99 At almost 400 full color pages, this could be priced much higher and few would mind -- it is a spectacular looking cookbook, a wonderful companion to the popular show, a glimpse into Ree Drummond's coyboy family and her love for the holidays. Most importantly it is a great into to this solid, American cuisine., beautifully shown, especially for anyone who loves to cook throughout the many unique holidays of our land. 


Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality  William Edgar (Crossway)

Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross for the World  Stephen J. Nichols (Crossway) $17.99 each.

Ischaeffer on.pngf Bonhoeffer - SN.jpgyou follow our BookNotes blog or our work, you know that we sponsor a major lectureship in Pittsburgh each summer, hosted by our friends at the CCO, and this past July we booked Bill Edgar to talk bout Schaffer, L'Abrai, and, particularly, the significance of Schaeffer's book True Spirituality which he explores in this great recent book.  After it was released it was followed by the new work on Bonhoeffer by another writer we admire: Lancaster's own Steve Nichols.  Steve is a genius at popularizing the best scholarship and is a master of the biography (he's done several others.) It was great to have him in this "Theologians on the Christian Life" series, providing accessible introductions to the great teachers of the Christian life. Since these have uniform covers, why not allow us to wrap 'em both up for you.  What a neat gift that would be!


OOxford University New Concise World Atlas .jpgxford New Concise World Atlas (Oxford University Press) $39.95  There is little doubt that Oxford is one of the world leaders in creating the very best atlases available.  This year saw a new release of the Oxford Atlas of the World, nearly a publishing event, a stunning (and very expensive) new one, considered the best every done in the history of the genre. The New Concise edition, which we have in stock, is a somewhat smaller and more reasonably priced version of that  huge one,. This one, itself, is stunning, with fully digitized maps providing detailed political and topographical information, a great selectin of satellite images and even detailed maps of the ocean floors. There are more world maps than ever before, including entirely new maps covering such areas as Kazakhstan, Egypt, Moroccos, Peru, and Brazil. There is a comprehensive gazateer, a new series of tables and statistics, and an index of over 64,000 items.  THis is so cool, with some of the best cartography done in the modern world.


God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America  Larry Eskridge (Oxford UniversitGod's Forever Family- The Jesus People Movement in America.jpgy Press) $35.00  This solid bit of social history is both a study of one stream of the counter-culture of the late 60s and early 70s (The Jesus Movement) but is also an evaluation of the religious nature of these young evangelicals, and the way in which it shaped the later half of the 20th century.  From parachurch organizations to the rise of the religious right and the religious left, from the Contemporary Christian Music industry to the formation of Protestant house-churches and intentional communities even today, the Jesus People movement has been influential, and Eskridge gets it.  By focusing especially on the Chicago-based JPUSA community, the narrative comes alive, more than another overview, but a lively and fabulous, in-depth study.  As William Romanowski (author of Eyes Wide Open and Reforming Hollywood) writes, "Blossoming amidst the fads and frenzy of the youthful counterculture, the Jesus People blurred traditional boundaries between conservative religion and consumer popular culture. With clarity and insight, Larry Eskridge unearths the backstories and central dynamics of this curious phenomenon to show how it left a lasting mark on American evangelicalism. 

Au courant?  This book just won the Book of the Year Award from Christianity Today. Tolle legge, dudes.


Tthe prod.jpghe Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story  Brennan Manning with Greg Garrett (Zondervan) $15.99  I have blogged about this before; it is the last book dear Brennan was working on when he died. Greg (a very good memoirs, essayist, film critic, and theologian of grace himself) finished it. It is a powerful contemporary retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  The main character is an seemingly successful pastor named Jack Chisholm who falls -- and boy, does he. Phyllis Tickle reviewed it saying "What they have created is the Ragamuffin at his best, full of hope, full of love, and finally, full of belief in the goodness of God."


WWords for Readers and Writers- Spirit-Pooled Dialogues.jpgords for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues Larry Woiwode (Crossway) $19.99  Larry Woiwode rose to high-brow literary fame in the 70s and 80s, writing for The New Yorker, etc. He had a serious conversion to Reformed Christianity and he has continue to write well, teach about literature, and speak about writing.  This collection of over 20 essays by a critically acclaim scholar and writer is a perfect gift for anyone who is serious about the integration of faith and the world of modern letters, and who still believes in the transforming power of words.

I hope you know Larry Woiwode, as he is a very good example of the sort of serious writer that is faithful to faith and considered expert in his craft and field.


Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew Volume 1

Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew Volume 2

edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and Efeasting on the g vol 1.jpgfeastin on the g 2.jpg. Elizabeth Johnson (Westminster/John Knox) $40.00 each

These two beautiful, large volumes are the latest installments in the beloved and highly regarded Feasting on the Word project. Just like the lay-out of the earlier ones that follow the lectionary, offering commentary only on the lections (Years A, B, and C) this new series has four reflections, by four different authors, on the entire gospel of Matthew, passage by passage.  There is offered for each text a theological perspective, a pastoral perspective, an exegetical perspective, and a homiletic perspective. The editors invited the sames sorts of mainline scholars and pastors as in the Feasting ones, so you have contributions by renowned preachers such as Barbara Brown Taylor, Tom Long, Sally Brown,  Alan Culpepper, Edith Humphrey, William Willimon. Strong, diverse, helpful.  This would make a great gift -- and they are very new.  Volume two arrived just a day or so ago...


Sstations of the heart.jpgtations of the Heart: Parting with a Son  Richard Lischer (Knopf) $25.00  Lischer is a Lutheran pastor and pastoral theologian and in this breath-taking book he tells of the death of their young adult son.  It is a classy and wonderful memoir, funny at times, interesting and curious, and, of course, heart-breaking.  Called a "poignant love story" where a young man teaches his entire family "a new way to die" with wit, candor, and, always, remarkable grace." The jacket flap promises "This emotionally riveting account probes the heart  without sentimentality or self=pity." So it is not for everyone.  But you may know someone who will value this, perhaps as the most important gift they receive all year.


Ppreemptive love.jpgreemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time Jeremy Courtney (Howard) $24.00  I do so hope you read my longer review of this, and I do hope you give one or two of these away this holiday season.  It is a wonderful, wonderful story, and some of the proceeds supports the Preemptive Love Coalition, which gets necessary heart surgery for kids in Iraq.  There is an epidemic of heart disease among children there, mostly due to radiation we left behind with our radioactive-enhanced weapons and also from the heinous poison gas Hussein used in the North.  The crisis is severe, this fabulous ministry is doing life-saving work, and it is well told in this great, great book. 


TThe Beauty of Broken.jpghe Beauty of Broken: My Story and Likely Yours Too Elisa Morgan (Nelson) $15.99

This is a very, very good book  -- from the great cover to the honest storytelling to the evangelical faith that redeems her very hard situation. Who knew that the mother of the exceedingly popular and successful MOPS ("Mothers of Preschoolers") ministry had a background which involved a family struck with alcoholism and drug addiction, teen pregnancy and abortion, infertility and adoption, divorce, loss, grief, sexual confusion and "broken family values" (as she calls their situation.) She offers hope that allows families to grow and thrive. There can be "beauty and hope by facing and dealing iwth the messiness of family life" she says.  Do you know anybody who needs a book that says on the cover "there's no such thing as a perfect family"?  Very nicely done. 


CChristian Philosophy- A Systematic and Narrative Introduction.jpghristian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction  Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (Baker Academic) $22.99    Bartholomew studied the philosophy of aesthetics under Calvin Seerveld at Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies, so knows all the Dooyeweerdian and Vollenhovian philosophical stuff.  He and Mike Goheen are also Bible scholars, and together they have offered this lively overview of what they claim is a diminutively Christian perspective on the history of philosophy, hinting at how to create a comprehensive, alternative way of doing the discipline. There is a nice device of a story which unfolds, too: a young man and young woman are at two different colleges and are both taking an intro to philosophy class.  As they literally compare notes, things become a bit clearer.  Very cool, very helpful, and a very good introduction to a significant school of thought, allowing faith to influence even the doing of the history of philosophy. 


SStory Shaped Worship .jpgtory Shaped Worship: Following Patterns From the Bible and History  Robbie Castleman (IVP Academic) $20.00  I wish I had a half an hour just to talk to you about this book.  Or, better, to acquaint you with the amazing woman who wrote it (a professor of both Biblical studies and theology at John Brown University in Arkansas.)  She is a friend of the store, here, and an amazing evangelical leader who has thought through very, very well, how the texture and plot of the very story of God as revealed in the unfolding drama of Scripture can and should shape our worship practices. There are heavy-weight liturgical theologians who rave on the back cover (Simon Chan) and top shelf theologians (Timothy George.) Jeremy Begbie (a brilliant musician, aestheticist, and professor at Duke) has a very nice endorsement, saying why we so badly need books like this "that reorient us to what really matters." And Luci Shaw, the ever-popular poet even offers her blurb on the back.  This is a serious book, a wondrous bit of scholarly research, offered as gift for the people of God.  Highly recommended.


Through Your Eyes: Dialogues on the Paints of Bruce Herman Bruce Herman & G. Walter Hansethrough your eyes - bruce herman.jpgn (Eerdmans) $5000  I have often named this painter as one of my own personal favorites, and have savored his good writing from time to time -- an essay here, a piece in a Square Halo book there, a talk given, a chapter written.  But this is a remarkable, thorough, great coffee table book collection of his actual art,  art work done by the very talented and wonderfully thoughtful faith leader at Gordon College.  Here, his mutli-media, slightly modern stylings shines through, and it would make just a perfect gift for anyone who follows Bruce's work in CIVA or IAM, or who just values solid, evocative, allusive painting, created by a good man, a good friend, a talented Christian leader.  Further, the Biblical scholar, and friend of Bruce's, Walter Hansen, ha;s his own interactions with the paintings.  What a novel,  interesting idea. This is a great book, and would make a great book to own, or to give for a special occasion. Highly recommended.


Aa k modern calvinist.jpgbraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat  James D. Bratt (Eerdmans) $30.00  I've raved and raved about this, the biography of Kuyper we've long awaited, and have reviewed it affirming Bratt's great historical acumen, his good writing, and his painstaking detail of this amazing early 20th century Dutch leader.  You know we fancy ourselves Kuyperians, and much of the impetus from how we do our store and why we sell the books we do come from a broad, vague interest in the revival of cultural engagement that emerged from the revival Kuyper lead in Holland.  I think the best evangelical thinkers of our day -- from Gabe Lyon to Andy Crouch to James K.A. Smith to Mako Fujimura, from Richard Mouw to Nicholas Wolterstorff to Anthony Bradley (not to mention events like our beloved Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh or Redeemer Presbyterian's Center for Faith and Word gatherings in NYC) -- simply wouldn't have gotten the traction they did without the legacy of Kuyper the pastor and Prime Minister, his famous Stone Lectures at Princeton, and the movement of "creation-fall-redemption" worldview folks standing on his shoulders and embodying some of his vision in the new millennium.  So, anyway, know anybody into "culture making" or evangeical relevance or thinking about how faith impacts daily life for the common good? Kuyper is the most important mostly unknown figure of the last 500 years of church history.  Give this book to those who care.


TScrewtape Letters- Annotated Edition.jpghe Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $26.99 Who doesn't love Screwtape Letters? But what to give the serious Screwtape fan?  In the past we've recommended the great audio dramatization.  Now, this year, we have seen the release of the "annotated edition" in a nice, slightly over-sized hardback, handsomely designed with a touch of two color printing. A great Lewis scholar (who has done teaching with our friends at the C.S. Lewis institute in DC) does the annotations, which are helpful notes in the wide margins (printed in a classy red ink.)  Very nicely done.


QQU4RTETS.jpegu4tets  Makoto Fujimura, Bruce Herman, Christopher Theofanidis with essays by Matthew Milliner,  James McCullough, Jeremy Begbie  (Fujimura Institute ) $29.99  I did a whole BookNotes review of this magnificent, rare volume, a gem of a book which is not widely available, and exclaimed how wonderful it is. It is slightly oversized, and includes visual art pieces and the description of the score of a music piece created about, and inspired by, T.S. Eliot's  famous poem Four Quartets. Further, besides the art and music inspired by the Quartets, there are also insightful, learned, essays by people of faith who are evaluating this project.  There is, simply, nothing like this in print, and we are honored to stock it.  Magnificent. 


DDeath By Living.jpgeath By Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent N.D. Wilson (Nelson) $19.99  I absolutely adored his earlier "whirly-gig" of a book, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, which pondered the raw experience of living in a real world. There is blood and grass and God and life, and it was stunningly weird, anti-gnostic, and, well, weird.  Some paragraphs made not too much sense, or at least I couldn't decipher the sense of it.  But the impression was strong, the book was brilliant, and God was pleased, even as Wilson pokes at sentimental evangelicals and secular political correctness, too.  Here, rather than focusing on the goodness of the real created order of things, he is offers his verbose and poetic skills in service of talking about the end of things, the downside, the fall. I don't think I agree with all of this (heck, I don't think I understand it all.) But you may know it is a thrill-ride of a book, a long rumination that is funny and beautiful and crazy and, just maybe, life changing.  His bit about story and reading stories to his kids (not to mention the puking episode as they traveled to Rome) is worth the price of admission.  I think I mostly agree with Eric Metaxas who says "Our sad, dark and decaying culture needs more salt, light, and joy from such authors as N.D. Wilson. He reminds me of a young Chesterton."  I guess you can extrapolate who to give this too.  


Ttt.jpgalking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro (White Cloud Press) $16.95  I really hope you saw my heartfelt endorsement of this when I reviewed it a month ago -- I celebrated the opportunity to read short, well-written, and usually quite entertaining auto-biographical essays by various sorts of women.  There are conservatives and liberals, lesbians and straights, Pentecostals and those in liturgical churches.  Some are up, some down, some happy, some not.  I think many women of faith will find this a great, great comfort, knowing that frank conversations about the good and bad of religion in our culture, especially as it impacted them as girls and women.  Beth and I have a good handful of friends in here, and some are very good writers. Blurbs on the front and back are from Parker Palmer and Rachel Held Evans. You gotta gift this to somebody, eh?  Maybe a woman you know, or maybe a man who would enjoy spending some time in the company of these ladies.  Do it.  Buy it and give it.  


Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked Lynn Austin (Bethan  Pilgrimage.jpgy House) $14.99  At first, I thought the key selling point of this was that it was written by a well known Christian fiction writer, a lady who is beloved by many of our customers who read her stuff.  She has sold more than a million copies of her books and is an eight-time Christy Award winner!  So you know she is a thoughtufl, talented, wholesome writer.  As you can tell from the sub-title, here she encounters God in ways that deeper her faith and discipleship, kicks her out of her spiritual dry spell, and awakens new desires for God's Kingdom -- all by going on a Holy Land tour.  This really is the real deal, and she tells of her journey (the literal one, and the metaphorical one) in this very, very nice book.  There is gripping honesty and lovely, basic Bible reflections, created while "on location" throughout Israel. 


TExperience of God- Being, Consciousness, Bliss.jpghe Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press) $25.00  If you know of anyone who reads First Things or any other serious venue where this Orthodox philosopher shares his thinking, get them this brand new book, and they will be impressed that you could track it down, and knew enough to give it to them. One reviewer from University of Notre Dame says "Writing at a high philosophical level with a sharp sense of humor, Hart argues for an ecumenical Theism. Devastatingly accurate, imaginative, and immensely readable, this is David Bentley Hart's best book." It is "stylist and substantial" as one Duke professor put it, and one overseas scholar says it is "nothing less than astounding." Rowan Williams insists that in this "masterpiece of quiet intellectual and spiritual passion, he magnificently sets the record straight as to what sort of God Christians believe in and why."


JJesus First Century Rabbi.jpgesus: First Century Rabbi  Rabbi David Zaslow (Paraclete) $23.99  THis book deserves a better, more nuanced review, but for now you can know this: if you want to give a book to one who needs to realize the Jewishness of Jesus, or to one who wants a book not written by a Christian, or who wants a fresh, interesting study of Jesus (but not written to proselytize) this one by a Reformed Rabbi would make a very nice gift. 

The blurbs on the back are from a variety of mainstream scholars (from Princeton Theological Seminary, say) and from several different denominations (from Episcopalian to Presbyterian.) Yet, another Rabbi also exclaims "Rabbi Zaslow has brought Rabbi Jesus home to us so that we may hear him among his own contemporaries whom we honor and learn from." 


TTheology of Mission- A Believers Church Perspective.jpgheology of Mission: A Believers Church Perspective  John Howard Yoder (IVP Academic) $45.00 Stanely Hauerwas says of this brand new text,  "This is a major work...I suspect in the future it will become one of the crucial books necessary to understand John Howard Yoder." Mark Thiessen Nation writes, "Of the dozen or so of Yoder's books that have been published since his death, this book is near the top in terms of importance." Darrell Guder loves it, too, but listen to Will Willimon: "The discovery and publication of John Howard Yoder's notes on mission is one of the great events in the history of the church's missionary impulse." Wow.  Maybe you should get it for yourself!


HHarriet Beecher Stowe- A Spiritual Life.jpgarriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life Nancy Koester (Eerdmans) $24.00 It isn't every book published by a religious publisher that gets a rave endorsement from the likes of Pulitzer Prize winning historian James M. McPherson, but he says Nancy Koester's lucid narrative and penetrating analysis carry the reader along unfailingly on this fascinating quest." Debby Applegate, another Pulitzer Prize winner says "It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Harriet Beecher Stow, who was in her lifetime the most famous and influential woman in the United States, bar none." Even the prestigious Booklist says it is "a top-notch read" "engaging and intelligent." You have to know somebody who would appreciate this brand new book.


PPastrix.jpgastrix:The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint Nadia Bolz-Webber (Jericho) $22.00  Those of us who follow -- approvingly or not -- the emerging conversation and the edgy, younger theologians and pastors in that outside-of-the-box, missional movement, have long known of this former brash, hip comedian cum Lutheran pastor with the symbols from the liturgical calendar tatted across her arms and chest. We know that she swears like a sailor (not unlike many un-churched younger adults) and that she is progressive and emergent and fluent in the nuances of liturgy and the Nicene Creed.  This is not the time or place to review this wild book seriously, but mainline folks have loved her, her talk on Krista Tippett's NPR show got her a huge new following, and even conservative Reformed radio guy Steve Brown has appreciated her, just like he has honored the faith of Sarah Miles, Anne Lamotte, and other deeply committed Christian women who are serious Christ-followers, but very, very unconventional.  Phil Yancey, in a recent column about enjoying her book called her "a sheep in wolf's clothing" which was kinda funny.  Give it to somebody that doesn't mind her inclusive GLBTQ theology and her boisterous commitment to Jesus the Christ. Whew.

Do feel free to let us know if you have any special shipping needs -- if we are sending it to someoneGiftWrappedBox_498x500.jpg on your behalf, we would be happy to gift wrap it (with our compliments, of course.) Just be sure to let us know if we should put a note in saying the item is from you. You can type instructions into the order form page (unlike some internet sites which are less responsive.)  We are so glad to help this time of year -- for these glorious 12 days and beyond.  Thanks for caring about books of all sorts and for supporting our shop.  Merry, Merry Christmas.



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December 27, 2013

PRE-ORDER forthcoming book by Steve Garber: Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good

I mentioned that for many Christians who follow the customs of the church calendar, the long season of waiting known as Advent gives way to 12 days of celebration; Christmastime is a season leading up to a day of gift exchanges in many parts of the world, Epiphany. We encourage folks to celebrate the whole season of Christmas (and perhaps to give meaningful gifts through-out --- gifts like, oh, say, b-o-o-k-s.) 

So we continue to share ideas as you continue to enjoy spreading that Christmas cheer. Or, as fans of Sufjan Stevens' might put it, "Come on, Let's Boogie to the Elf Dance."

So, here is a spectacular idea.  

You can download or somehow copy the cover art of the (not yet released) book that I have shown below. Then, you just make up a little card indicating that you are buying this book for your friend, which they will have shipped to them when it releases in February. This is a very eagerly awaited, very important new title that, for the right person, will truly make their season;  just knowing you selected this anticipated title for them will bless them. I seriously would not be surprised if this could be the favorite gift of all this year for some fortunate recipients.  

We are pleased to announce the forthcoming book by Steve Garber, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good due mid-February 2014.

You can place a pre-order (with us, please), make up the promissory card in any way you'd like andVoV.jpg give it to your loved one, friend, colleague or pastor. We will ship the book right to the recipient (or to you) when it is released.  We can gift wrap it, then, if you like, or tuck in a little note reminding them it is from you.  Just let us know what you prefer.

There are lots of good books coming out in the next few months -- a new set of books of occasional writings of Calvin Seerveld are due soon from Dordt College Press, a new anthology about and in honor of Phyllis Tickle is due any day (Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future), a new book by Barbara Brown Taylor (Learning to Walk in the Dark), a last book of Dallas Willard (Living in Christ's Presence), a new Margo Starbuck (Not Who I Imagined), and a long-awaited book on politics by CPJ founder, James W. Skillen (The Good of Politics) are on my short list. You can always pre-order and give away any forthcoming book.

But this.  This is something very, very special, and not too many people know it is going to be coming out so soon, although there have been rumors for years that Steve was working on it.  Among many of our most astute BookNotes readers, it will doubtlessly be the publishing event of the new year.  

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good  by Steven Garber is to be released in February by InterVarsity Press (and will sell for $16.00.) If you've read BookNotes for long, I suppose you know that Steve is one of my best friends, and a person I admire almost as much as anyone. His mid-1970s college years included studying at L'Abri; developing a friendship with Os Guinness and John Stott; working for the CCO for a while, reaching out to med and law grad students in Pittsburgh.  He ran our beloved Jubilee conference, years ago.  He has worked at the CCCU American Studies Program mentoring students about "weaving together belief and behavior in the university years."   His first book, Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior is mature and rich, well written and substantive, full of questions about how to build in to one's learning the habits of heart and patterns of practices that yield a life-long, sustained sort of full-orbed, whole-life, missional discipleship. It is one of my all time favorite books. 

For Fabric of Faithfulness, Steve interviewed a bunch of folks who were approaching mid-life at thfabric of f.jpge time of his research and invited them to reflect on the earlier years of their faith formation. The things he learned from these conversations, the stories people told him about what worked for them in their own deepening faith journey, were different versions of the same three themes. Three things kept coming up, aspects of sustained, deepening faith, namely, conviction (believing the Biblical witness to be truly true), character (realizing and learning from a mentor that truth must be embodied and lived out), and community (yep, every person insisted that life-long friendships are the relational crucible from which authentic faith can develop and be sustained.)  

Anyway, FoF is nearly a "cult classic" as many people (and not a few significant Christian leaders) suggest it is one of the most important books they've ever read. I know colleges and para-church ministries, seminaries and non-profits, who have re-calibrated their programs around Garber's early work.  

One of the things that kept coming up in Steve's speaking and teaching around the themes of Fabric is how one lives out one's faith in one's own place, one's own career or job or ministry.  Indeed, a few years back Garber started the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation & Culture to continue to reflect upon, teach, mentor, network, and advance the cause of robust evangelical faith, lived out for the common good, especially in the spheres of vocations and careers and callings.  He started inviting people to "vocare" dinners, guiding them as they reflected on short readings (an excerpt from Lesslie Newbigin, or a Wendell Berry short story, or something from Abraham Heschel's The Prophets) with others in their own profession, applying faith and vocation in ways that were "integral, not incidental."

ASteve Garber Jubilee headshot.jpgnd so, this new Visions of Vocation book is very, very much in the Garber trajectory, not a sequel, really, of FoF, but an ongoing exploration. VoV bears his unique style -- eloquent, beautiful, deep, yet honest and real with plenty of stories and illustrations (drawn not only from real life-- he is a good listener -- but from literature, film, and the lyrics of pop music.) Not every author who cites Vaclav Havel or Geerhardus Vos also quotes Mumford & Sons.

This much-anticipated book will carry some of the best endorsements I have ever seen on a book, from authors and leaders and good folks I trust. (I've seen them, already, and I am not exaggerating.) It will surely be one of the best books of 2014 and, I predict, one of the most talked about books of the decade.  I will tell you more about it next month, and we will review it here more carefully at BookNotes when it arrives.

If you know anyone who cares about the world and its deep brokenness, but still wants to nurture a piety of caring, a way of knowing that holds together the fallenness of our times and the hope for restoration through Christ's redemptive work, and ours, this is a book for them. If they want to ponder the implications of being implicated, if they hunger and thirst to be responsible, this is a book for them.  Steve asks, over and over, in different ways, through different windows, can we know the world and still love it? (It is so easy to get jaded or cynical or stoic, even, apathetic, after the idealism of younger faith dies down, especially once we've come to realize how the world really works and how hard it is bring about positive change.)  Do you know people who want to attend to the hurts of this world, but not in a shallow way? Who wants to "integrate faith and work" in a profound manner? Who care about the common good, shaped by faith, but not always "wearing it on their sleeve"?  This book is for them.

Visions of Vocation will be ideal for anyone who reads (for instance) the Biblical studies of N.T. Wright on incarnation and hope, or the fiction or essays of Walker Percy or the social vision of Wendell Berry or the Anglican piety of J. I. Packer or the responsible rock and roll sensibilities of Jars of Clay or U2, or appreciates the moral seriousness of many contemporary filmmakers -- yes, Garber knows well these sorts of folks. His life has not been lived in the ivory tower and he has been a lively observer of signs of goodness in culture and in vital conversations with solid folks.  Some of those conversations have made it into Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, again, making it a wonderful read, alive and hopeful. 

I hope you enjoy getting this advance word on this soon to be released book and to have it officially announced here. We thought you might like to give a promissory note to somebody, pre-ordering it from us now. 

To have your recipient be among the first to see this stunning cover, to know they will be among the very first to get it, to know that you selected this good book for them; well, this could be a very, very special gift this holiday season.  

You can pre-order this any time. We now have it at a 20% discount, and our offer to ship it anywhere you'd like.  We will, of course, not run your cc until the book is here and shipped to your loved one.  We will confirm everything with you when we do.  Perhaps you could be ambitious and send them Fabric of Faithfulness now, and Visions of Vocation later.  Nice idea, eh?

visions of vocation.jpg 


Visions of Vocation
Steven Garber
(shipping mid-February 2014)

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regularly $16.00
now $12.80
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                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333