About October 2014

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in October 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

September 2014 is the previous archive.

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October 2014 Archives

October 9, 2014

REVIEW: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Scot McKnight ON SALE

If you've recently dropped in to the Hearts & Minds Facebook page, you'll know we were just in Boston selling books with the Christian Legal Society, a fascinating organization of Christians who are lawyers, judges, law profs and such.  This is a large challenge and huge privilege for us.  When we work with these kinds faith-based professional associations or hang out with activist folks, we are glad for their ministries and service, scattered in the world. That God's Kingdom is advanced in some way through their witness and work - or at least signposts are created that point the way - seems evident and reminds us that God cares about God's whole world, not just the institutional church where believers gather. God's people are still church even when they leave the worship space, where they've first processed to gather, and then been commissioned to leave in service. It is obvious that the commonwealth of God grows - like that parable of the tree flourishing so that even the birds find refuge - and that the Kingdom of God is a unifying theme of the entire covenant story of Scripture.

 But what is God's Kingdom? 

Thanks for asking. It's a million dollar question, and we've got a new book that explores it well.  Unless one is willing to settle for an undeveloped simple view, or work to wade through weighty theology tomes, this may be one of the best ways into this important conversation.

We are very excited about the new Brazos Press hardback release, Kingdomkingdom conspiracy.jpg Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Dr. Scot McKnight (regularly $21.95; our BookNotes sale price is $17.60) and want to commend it to you.  But first, some of my own thoughts about it, such as they are.

One the large assumptions behind the nature of our store and the diverse array of topics we offer -- books on science, art, media, education, psychology, environmental science, war and peace, politics, film, outdoor adventure, engineering, urban affairs, parenting, nutrition, literature, and so much more -- is that the redemptive work of God in the world (Jesus called it the Kingdom of God) includes all areas of life (not just church and "religion") and He has inaugurated a trajectory that promises the full and glorious restoration of all creation.  I think it is our wide selection of books in so many categories, and our hope to suggest "Kingdom perspectives" in all fields that appeals to those who invite us to serve their events, like the aforementioned CLS.  If somebody asks us why we carry books on faith and law or faith and art or faith and science, we suspect they simply don't have a very fully developed understanding of the Kingdom of God.

There are many authors who in recent years have underscored this vision of the reformation of all things (think of N.T. Wright, just for instance, or our celebration of the For the Life of the World DVDs.) Many mainline denominational churches have an implicit vision of the restoration of all things, but seem a bit embarrassed by eschatology, not wanting to get mixed up in any goofy "left behind" stuff. So their own best resources for an "all of life redeemed" whole-life discipleship lie too often undeveloped or untapped.

One of our favorite authors along these lines who does offer a wide and wholistic vision is the remarkably productive New Testament scholar Scot McKnight. His excellent Kingking jesus.gif Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Zondervan; $19.99) and the very useful, fun, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan; $14.99) are both fine books. Both offer this broad Kingdom vision and are very helpful as we explore how to bear witness to the coming Kingdom "on Earth as it is in Heaven."  His book on how to read the Bible well, Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan; $14.99) offers the very story of God's faithfulness to the creation, and Christ's redemptive story to heal and restore all things, as the key to read the plot line of the Bible.  He really gets this big picture story of God's creation-restoring good news. (McKnight's very popular Jesus Creed, by the way, was just re-released in an updated and slightly edited edition; that guide helps us live out the way of Jesus in daily life, learning to love God and others - wow, what a book!)


Many of us have been wishing for McKnight to spell out more of what he means by the Kingdom, what the reign of God is and isn't, sort of a deeper follow-up to the very good King Jesus Gospel.  This brand new Brazos Press book, Kingdom Conspiracy, may be his best effort yet. Despite my own disagreement with its biggest conclusion, it is going to be very, very helpful and we are happy to help promote it.  It is a book that loyal Hearts & Minds friends, especially, should consider owning.  It is very seriously informed by wide reading of the best scholarship - how does McKnight do it, knowing so much about so many sub-categories? -- and offers learned, but clear and interesting explanations.  It is a fine, fine book.


Without a doubt, Mr. McKnight is sounding a bit of an alarm, and insofar as he is truly picking up concerns, I applaud his calling us to better formulations.  I don't know how many people really say this, but McKnight seems to think that some writers and leaders believe that any good effort in the world -- say, a social justice campaign or deeds of public righteousness, mercy, art, kindness, seeking the peace of the city -- necessarily builds God's Kingdom.  He claims that many younger post-evangelicals, especially (and he should know, he teaches them at Northern Seminary and is exceptionally involved in on-line writing and discussion) are not dissimilar to the older (mostly bankrupt) social gospel movement that seemed to think any decent human action could be considered a mark of the reign of God and in some way redemptive. God's Kingdom a-coming was so combined with the hopes of human progress that serious consideration of salvation, the role of the cross, and the necessity of the church was pretty much left behind. In that view, which McKnight cleverly calls the "skinny jeans" view of the Kingdom, there is such an emphasis on cultural engagement and social witness that there isn't much concern about evangelism or personal piety.  He contrasts this, perhaps with a nod to Willow Creek baby boomers, with the "pleated pants" gospel, which, as you can guess, overemphasizes personal evangelism and conventional views of constricted salvation aimed at getting people to heaven and perhaps a moralistic view of one's inner life.

(Of course there are also old school fundamentalists with a conservative, narrow faith who wear skinny jeans, and there are some pretty radical voices coming from guys in pleated pants. So, yeah, his clever set-up is only somewhat helpful, as if age or aesthetics were the determining factor as to whether one has a typically liberal view of a social gospel or a more typical evangelical view of a privatized one. These caricatures do help get the conversation started, at least, so don't let that trip you up. Skinny jeans or pleated pants.  Ha.)

In contrast to both kinds of wardrobe malfunctions (that's my little contribution to the cleverness afoot) Scot wants to say clearly that the Kingdom of God is more than personal salvation or the promise of a heavenly afterlife, but he also insists it is more than working for social justice, much more.  In The Kingdom Conspiracy, McKnight covers Biblical and theological ground that others have explored, although he brings his own urgent angle. The must-read book on this part of the story in my view is the impeccable Good News and Good Works: A Theology of the Whole Gospel by Ronald J. Sider (Baker; $20.00) which, interestingly, insists that the theme of the Kingdom of God is the central Biblical motif that brings together the personal and the public, word and deed, spiritual renewal and social action.

Still, in every age we need reminded of the epic tragedy of this terrible dilemma, this tendency for so many towards imbalance. How sad that there are still those that are all about social concern but care little for winsome evangelism, or those who ignore our cultural obligations and social witness due to their overemphasis of church planting or evangelism or spiritual formation. It seems easy to say it is "all of the above" and proclaim "the whole gospel."  Ahh, but it isn't so easy to convince everyone who follows Christ that it is "both/and" and that the gospel is multi-faceted, and the Kingdom is creation-wide.  Which brings us back to this question of what we mean by the Kingdom, the reign of God, Christ's Lordship, God's will done "on Earth... " And -- wait for it, there's more... and there is the questions of the relationship between the Kingdom and the church.  As you can tell from the subtitle of McKnight's book, this is his biggest burden.

IMcKnight - KC.pngn this very contemporary assessment, our author is convinced that both the Biblical material and the needs of the day demand that we reassert the primacy of the local church as being the crucible of the Kingdom.  Yes, yes, the Kingdom of God is the longed for creation restored, and Christ's Lordship is to be proclaimed (and lived out) in all of life, across all of culture. The weight of the argument of The Kingdom Conspiracy, though, is that this happens through the local church.

Even now, I can imagine eyes rolling as some readers say - well, duh; of course. For others, I can hear the possibilities of them buying this book slamming shut from States away. Those pleated pants and skinny jeans are acting up again, resisting McKnight's challenges, even though both camps really need to consider this book. We all do.

Again, to be clear, this isn't a new idea. It seems to me that it has resonance in one way or another with both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions and with the Anabaptist views of the Brethren and Mennonites.) Consider, for instance, the exceptionally important work of Catholic Scripture scholar Gerhard Lohfink and his massive, celebrated work, Does God Need the Church? (Michael Glazier Books; $39.99) a title that McKnight surprisingly doesn't cite. Think of lovely recent books like Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (IVP; $16.00) that surely have a culturally-engaged, socially involved Kingdom vision, but put the locus of God's redemptive work within the community of faith living together in a world falling apart. (By the way, co-author of Slow Church, Christopher Smith will be here in Dallastown for a book talk on Friday night, November 7, 2014.)

Another personal favorite, a wonderful book that needs mentioned here is The Community of the King by Howard Snyder (IVP; $18.00.) It remains one of my all-time favorite books, and certainly one of the best on the local church, and he argues that the church, while not the entirety of the Kingdom coming, is at the heart of it.  McKnight agrees, and his willingness to assert this clearly is a large, important gift.  It is a good book about the Kingdom of God, but he laments our recent Kingdom visions to be somehow unconnected to the work of the church.



Some of us who have encouraged followers of Christ to have a prophetic imagination and Christian mind about all manner of things -- all spheres of life are being redeemed and we must be "kingdom people" in all we do, after all -- have drawn on the reformational worldview of what some call neo-Calvinism.

(Please note that neo-Calvinism is a theological tradition and social movement these days stemming from the feisty and wholistic cultural reforms of the Dutch theologian of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a journalist, academic, statesman, and Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper and is not the same as the popular, strict "new Calvinism" which is how some journalists describe the recent gospel coalition of those new to older forms of Calvinism and Puritanism. Neo-Calvinists are those who make much of the wide-as-life, creation-regained vision of renewed thinking in the line of the Dutch public theologian Kuyper; neo-Calvinism is the wholistic creation-being-redeemed vision that informs important voices as diverse as Francis Schaeffer and Brian Walsh, Neal Plantinga and Richard Mouw, Nicholas Woltersdorff and Calvin Seerveld, Herman Dooyeweerd and James Skillen, Anthony Bradley and Al Wolters, Comment magazine and Jamie Smith. I name these authors to offer further hints, spots on the map, for whom these names might ring a bell.)

It is a fascinating aspect of Kingdom Conspiracy that Scot McKnight interacts with this tradition, realizing that his Anabaptist vision is at odds with this reformational heritage.  You see, if, as Kuyper explored and as most neo-Calvinists proclaim, Christ's Kingship includes all dimensions of life and all zones of cultural affairs, then non-church spheres are every bit as much as God's Kingdom as is the churchly sphere.  Bankers and teachers and dancers and engineers are as much priests as are, well, priests in the church.

McKnight seems to realize that some form of Kuyperianism is capturing the imaginations of many these days (Andy Crouch's wonderful CT review of For the Life of the World was titled "Kuyper Goes Pop") and McKnight seems to realize that a robust creation-regained worldviewish vision of the Kingdom incarnated in all of life is one excellent way out of the dilemmas posed by the inadequacies of the individualized traditional gospel of the pleated pants crowd and the socially engaged emerging faith of the skinny jeans tribes.  And so, he takes on this ascending perspective. 

He briefly examines Mouw's delightful little book on Kuyper (Abraham Kuyper: A Shortabraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpg and Personal Introduction; Eerdmans; $16.00) and ponders "Kuyperian secularism." In a footnote he applauds Steve Garber's splendid book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) calling it "important" but suggests it doesn't talk enough about the church, a fault he attributes to Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00) as well.

I point this out because I know that some of our BookNotes readers will be glad for this conversation, and will want to follow the discussions prompted by McKnight's re-assessment of Kingdom theology.  It is great to see a good thinker and writer of McKnight's stature (and popularity) grappling with these themes of neo-Calvinism that have so influenced some of our favorite thinkers and writers and leaders.

Allow me a big aside, a story which might help you unpack this a bit, if you don't intuit where this is going. Or at least it might clarify my concerns with the implications of this.

I mentioned my appreciation for the great book The Community of the King by thec of the k.gif radical Wesleyan Howard J. Snyder.  I'm glad that book is still in print, and I still recommend it regularly.

You may want to know that it was the second book I ever reviewed in a real magazine, a brief review appearing in Sojourners back in the 70s.  I suggested, however, after glowing remarks, that to insist that the Kingdom is mostly found in the supportive relationships within the local fellowship, the church, is to not only to fail to enunciate the wide-as-creation scope of Christ's Kingdom, but to fail church members by not adequately honoring the complexity of their callings to work in the world, outside the proverbial walls of the sanctuary.  I took Snyder to task, as I recall, for telling the story of his friend and parishioner Archie, a good man and fine grocer, with nary a word of his Kingdom obligations as a grocer. From where does he buy his food, how does he work with vendors that mistreat their migrant workers, what is his role in the global food industry of cash cropping? How does Archie educate consumers about chemical additives and such? What does it look like to be a Christian grocer, not just a grocer who happens to be a good churchman? One person replied to me in a letter, those decades ago, suggesting I was nuts.  Another thought I was needlessly hard on old Archie.

Well, perhaps God has caused the stones to rise up, like Jesus predicted, since we now have a major culture movement about these very things, concerns about GMOs and healthy food and fresher produce and fair trade, most of which have been raised by folk not known for their Christian religiosity.  If the Kingdom is conflated with the church, you see, and the church therefore minimizes member's work in the world as holy vocations, we end up with a disconnect between Sunday and Monday, and guys like Archie, good church members that they may be, fail to create wholesome grocery stores, fail to fight for innovations in the supply chain, for more sustainable policies, for fair treatment of migrants, etc. etc.  Whole Foods has done that, of course, and the Biblical God of the renewed creation is pleased, I'm sure, although Christ should have gotten the glory.  This critique of over-emphasizing the communal/relational/liturgical aspects of the local church, a (minor) frustration with Community of the King remains my concern with the present McKnight volume.  He may criticize Crouch, Garber, Mouw, or Kuyper, but what does he say to Archie the Grocer?  He is right to poke the paucity of the skinny jeans kingdom and the old social gospel. But can his favored sources -- Yoder, say, or Hauerwas, even -- provide an account of Christian discipleship in the world that allows folks to make sense of their workplaces, their citizenship, their engagement with the arts, with entertainment and leisure, with the structures of media and technology that surround them? Without a full-orbed Kingdom vision, will a churchy faith enable us to make noble sacrifices promoting a prophetic imagination in these late modern capitalist times? Or does a vision of the Kingdom tied so closely to the church necessarily call us and our interests out of the institutions of life, and unwittingly promote an escapist pseudo-gospel?  I know McKnight does not intend for his church-based Kingdom approach to have this effect.  I cannot see how it would not.

Scot McKnight-Image.pngOf course, McKnight mostly expounds the Scriptures, and this is mostly rich, good stuff. I was thrilled reading much of this, and learned quite a lot by looking at his sources, his good footnotes and the two fabulous appendices. Along the way he reflects helpfully on the strengths and weaknesses of the old evangelical left and the Christian right, he explores the work of Tom Wright, Jurgen Moltmann, Rauschenbusch and the social gospel, James K.A. Smith, Brian Blount, and many more who have offered hints at the nature of the Kingdom and the relationship between the Kingdom and the local church. We always need reminded of "the Constantinian temptation" and in this, McKnight's project isn't unrelated to the much-discussed To Change the World by James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press; $27.95.)  Again, I like that he tweaks both the "skinny jeans gospel" of recent missional hipsters, and the "pleated pants gospel" of the mega-church baby boomers - fully aware (I think, anyway) that these are playful caricatures and goofy foils for his case. But with that, he leads us to a more full-orbed and Biblically-solid explanation of the Kingdom and the centrality of the church gathered.

So, his case, again, is two-fold: In contrast to the inadequate formulations of the exclusively personalistic or social gospels, he offers a robust, multi-dimensional, incarnational, wholistic Kingdom that is Christ-centered and promissory about the renewal of the cosmos. But he further insists, then, that this Kingdom of God a-coming is, in fact, seen most clearly in the moral community called the local church. "Kingdom mission creates communities of the redeemed" he insists.  So, if you aren't a church planter, well, I guess your work isn't related to the Kingdom of God. You know that lovely and provocative For the Life of the World we have been promoting?  Forgetaboutit.

Okay, sorry -- I'm being a little facetious. You'll have to read it yourself to see if I'm being fair. He deserves a fair reading, as he is a good author and important writer and this is his most significant work in years.

I will admit that I love reading nearly anything on the gospel and anything that helps us understand and love and promote the gospel is good. And McKight has always been a very reliable guide for me. (He has a book on Mary, a book on fasting, a book on the Sermon on the Mount, and more.) 

McKnight  inspires us with missional energy and visionary hopes and big dreams - note the word "radical" in the subtitle - even if he constricts the scope of the Kingdom and seems therefore to minimize the significance of so much of what ordinary lay people do in their day to day (non-church) life. Yet, I trust McKnight on this because, in his aforementioned books, he elevates the "one life" we live, in Christ, relating faith to our work, politics, recreation, sexuality and more. I don't know if his view of the Kingdom which is so thoroughly offered here will erode the importance of his books on whole-life discipleship like One.Life but it seems like it might. (If the church is really where it's at, the locus of the Kingdom, then, really, why must we fuss so much about public theology and aesthetics and justice and living faithfully across the many zones of life?)

This is a question I've hosted since the late-1970s when I studied both Richard Mouw (a Dutch Kuyperian) and the late John Howard Yoder (a Mennonite, who has influenced McKnight) as they engaged in Reformed/Anabaptist discussions about the role of creation and creation's order in our views of redemption and the vocation of being "in but not of" the world of the fallen powers.  I've heard Mouw tell how the distinctions between he and Yoder were once summarized when Yoder said, "Mouw, you always want to say reality is created, but fallen, but I want to say it is fallen but created." Ponder that!

The relationship of faith and real life, church and world, Kingdom and creation, Christ and culture, remains a burning question for me, and I think they are a constellation of questions that are some of the most burning for the church of our era, at least in the West. (McKnight certainly agrees that these matters are urgent, and he has followed the debate and contributed to it, as well as most. In The Kingdom Conspiracy he mentions many public theologians who grapple with these matters, influential thinkers as diverse as Miroslov Volf and Os Guinness, Walter Wink and Nicholas Woltersdorff; he discusses books such as the recently-re-issued Resident Aliens by William Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas.)  This is a living conversation that gets to the heart of what the Bible teaches, what Jesus said and meant, and what we mean by being Christians "for the life of the world" as the recent, popular DVD by that name asks.  McKnight's view of the Kingdom, it may seem, would resonate with the last episode of FLOW, which reminds us that the weekly gathered community worshiping together is a rehearsal of the wide-as-creation restoration that is promised. Church is, finally, eschatological.  Or at least I think that is what he'd say...

So, a few big thumbs up to the always-interesting Doc McKnight. Kudos for this good work, the inspiring reminder that the local church has a huge role to play in the "radical mission" of the Kingdom of God.

Still, as I've already suggested, I think he gets it wrong, here, or at least he overstates his case, but geesh, in these days, inviting people to church certainly isn't that bad of a fault (as long as it doesn't devolve into a fetish about churchy stuff and fail to equip the laity to serve in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and such.) Despite Kingdom Conspiracy being so very important, so very insightful in so many ways, so very interesting to read, I still want to insist that the local church need not be over-emphasized and our view of the Kingdom should be as wide as the Bible says it is - "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof!"  McKnight is a careful and generous scholar, and his serious, exciting book deserves to be studied carefully (and reviewed seriously, more seriously than I am able to do here.)

The blurbs on the back are notable and serious --- Soong Chan Rah reminds us that

the misappropriation of faddish terms can be an unfortunate reality for American Christians. The casual manner in which we toss around phrases like "kingdom theology" and "missional churches" can have an adverse effect on our efforts to form a robust ecclesiology... With prescient analysis and pastoral insight, Scot McKnight succeeds in providing a scriptural and theological text for those who have heard the word so often but failed to think through its meaning.

Greg Boyd says,

McKnight brings much-needed clarity to what 'kingdom of God' means -and doesn't mean - and how it relates to the church and its mission. This book needs to be read by everyone - scholars and laypeople alike - who want to understand and consistently live out what it means to be a follower of King Jesus.

I am glad for any author that calls us to church: to deeper liturgy, to worship well, to intentional body life, to parish commitments, to congregational revitalization. Yes, of course! We are confident that this is an important book that is sure to deepen your understanding of the Bible and contemporary theological trends, and make you think - hopefully with others - about the purpose of our discipleship, what it means to be Kingdom people, and the joy and implications of the Lordship of Christ, in the church and, yes, in the world.


Although they deserve much more time and space to review fairly, here are two other great books that came to mind as I wrote this, one quite new, one newly released in paperback:

Jjoy to the world greg forster.jpgoy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It  Greg Forster (Crossway) $18.99  When reading McKnight and his concerns about the hipster skinny jeans gospel that emphasizes social reform to the exclusion of evangelism or sound doctrine (not to mention his concern about the cheesy pleated pants gospel of merely personal salvation with little concern about betterment of the world or social reform) This is an amazing book and despite the fun retro cover, has little to do with any romantic return to the 50s.  With a stellar, foreword by rigorous Manhattan pastor Tim Keller, this offers ruminations on the cultural mandate, the Kingdom coming in all of life, the promise of restoration and hope, all inspired by lines from that marvelous hymn by Isaac Watts. 

I love the Timothy George quote on the back of Joy to the World: "This book is against sequestration - the sequestration of Christian life into 'spiritual' enclaves and churchly ghettos. But it also wants to the church to be the church - uncompromised, vibrant, and filled with joy." Our friend Amy Sherman notes that "Forster's deft grasp of history, philosophy, and theology enables him to offer up this rigorous yet accessible book."  Forster (PhD, Yale University) is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation, a socially engaged organization, even as he affirms the central role of the church. He laments that the church has lost its culture-shaping voice and civilizational influence.  He draws on the vivid and very public language of Joy to the World, where the "Earth receives her King" and blessings flow "far as the curse is found."  What would McKnight say about this?  How is McKnight's view of the Kingdom different than Forster's?

Texplicit-gospel.pnghe Explicit Gospel  Tim Chandler (Crossway) $14.99 I will admit that I love reading nearly anything on the gospel and anything that helps us understand and love and promote the gospel is good.  Chandler is a passionate young pastor of a successful Reformed church plant in Texas, and is a person who is increasingly known and respected. (That he recovered from a dangerous brain tumor is a great blessing. His latest book, btw, is a great study of Philippians, To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain.) We should always be immersing ourselves in these conversations - just what is the gospel, why did Jesus so regularly describe the gospel as the gospel of the Kingdom and what does that mean and look like?  We should so value Christ and his beauty and his saving work that we are explicit about our commitments. Ahh, but, again: what is the gospel about which we are to be explicit.  

This wonderful book compares and contrasts and holds in tension a mostly individual gospel understood mostly through systematic theology which unpacks atonement/justification and the more wholistic gospel of cultural restoration based on the Biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption-restoration. He wisely explains what happens when faith communities (or individuals, I suppose) dig too deeply into a personalized gospel of personal salvation without the Biblically-required vision of the Kingdom.  And, similarly, he shows how some of those who proclaim the full gospel of the Kingdom soon neglect central theological truths (about salvation, about the cross) dreaming big dreams of a renewed creation.  His point is clear: we need both vocabularies and both approaches to b speak about the Kingdom and the gospel as the Bible does. This isn't exactly the "pleated pants gospel vs. the skinny jeans gospel" of McKnight; as Chandler portrays these two ways in to the understanding of the gospel, both are strong, faithful, solid approaches (at their best.) We need to talk about Christ as simultaneously as savior and Lord; the good news includes personal salvation and cosmic hope. The Explicit Gospel would be a good book to frame why McKnight is so concerned about sloppy appropriation of Kingdom language and missional projects that are unhinged from the local church and confused about the nature of salvation, renewal, restoration and the like.   



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October 16, 2014

A Quick Listing: 10 Books that Sold Well at Wee Kirk, the Small Church Conference ALL 20% OFF

I hope you saw our Hearts & Minds Facebook page where I thanked the salt of the Earth folksbooks at wee kirk.jpg from small and struggling churches who we served again this year at Wee Kirk -- Scottish Presbyterian-ese for small church. Every year we gather at the great Laurelville Mennonite camp in Mt. Pleasant, PA, and hear great speakers, take in important workshops, and eat lots of food, laughing and worshiping with mostly rural and small town Presbyterians friends.  They buy a lot of books from us, and we thought we'd share a few of the best sellers, or at least some that were nicely discussed.  I have to be quick -- let us know if you have questions, or want other such resources.                                 

Sshrink.jpghrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture Tim Suttle (Zondervan) $16.99  I raved about this from up front, indicating how very well written it was, about how great the foreword by Scot McKnight was, and for all the great pull quotes on nearly every page that are themselves great gems for those who aren't serious readers. It is dedicated to pastors of small churches, and carries endorsements such as this by Chris Smith (author of Slow Church), "Shrink is one of the wisest and most significant evangelical books that I've read in the last decade; it is essential reading for every pastor and church leader!"  I agree. This book is extraordinary, offering critique to our fascination with bigness and growth, and calling us to fidelity and maturity.

Ffail.jpgail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure J.R. Briggs (IVP) $16.00  I have written about this before, and couldn't wait to share with these church leaders the great story behind this, Briggs own dis-ease with the "success" and big-time glitzy visions of so many other church conferences and books and websites.  His own "epic fail" lead to shame and discouragement, and not a few Wee Kirk friends share this sense of rejection and betrayal that comes with ministry failure.  The introduction by Eugene Peterson is wise and good, and if the story of J.R.'s coming to the transforming role of not measuring up to the heroism and big successes of the church-world enterprise can help folks recover from their pain and cope with their disillusionment, we are more than glad to promote this.  It was a big hit, for good reason. Highly recommended.

SSlow Church-Cover1.jpglow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison (IVP) $16.00  Okay, maybe I was a little prideful, showing off when I announced this, since our BookNotes blog was one of the first places to review this amazing book, and we are hosting Chris Smith to speak  here on November 7th.  But my own gushing aside, Wee Kirk folks -- who may or may not have heard of the "slow food movement" -- intuit that church is about quality, not quantity, and that relationships and patience are the way of the Kingdom.  We celebrated this good book, assured the gathering that it was perfect for book clubs and classes in their own small congregations, and -- yes -- it will challenge them, since even small churches often try to row faster, work harder, fret more then they should, trying to give the appearance of success.  This counter-cultural book commends a radical critique of the modernist worldview and the typical American "fast food" franchise habits, re-framing the way we even think about our lives, and re-imagining the very nature of the faith community. Slow Church is one of the most radical church books I've read, utterly faithful, and brilliant.

Abeautiful d.jpg Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness  Marlene Graves (Brazos) $15.99  Two things we find everywhere we go: many people are hurting, or have been through serious anguish in their lives, and people of faith long for greater experiences of God, and are interested in practicing spiritual disciplines which make room for God to work in their lives.  That is, the two things this book is about -- spirituality during hard times -- is exactly what folks need. Marlena (who grew up in rural North-Western Pennsylvania, where many of our Wee Kirk friends are from) has been through a lot, tells her story well, and offers Biblical insight about God making a way in the wilderness.  Beth and I knew it would be a hit.

Llila.jpgila: A Novel Marilynne Robinson (FSG) $26.00 What a joy to let people know that this new book released this very week.  As you hopefully know, it is a new novel, the story about the wife of the pastor in Robinson's beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead.  We sold Gilead, Home, and Lila. That Robinson herself is not only a brilliant storyteller but a Calvin scholar is pretty great. We had announced this as pre-order but Wee Kirk was the first place I got to announce it. Nice.

By the way, we've posted an interview with Ms Robinson at the Facebook page, and there are other good pieces about this important work on line. What a wonderful occasion to celebrate this writer and this new novel.

SSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good.jpgomewhere Safe with Somebody Good Jan Karon (Putnam) $27.95  Of course our small-town church folk loved hearing that there was a new Mitford book, and that we had autographed copies of this handsomely made hardback on hand made it that much better.  Fun. If you order any soon, we'll send a true, autographed copy (no extra cost.) While our supplies last.

Iimagining the kingdom cover.jpgmagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works
James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic) $22.99   Last year I regaled the Wee Kirk community with the urgency of reading anything by Jamie Smith, and challenged them to dig deep into the important Desiring the Kingdom. You can imagine how glad I was when one of the workshop leaders (doing a class on preaching) mentioned this sequel to it each time in her presentations.  This is serious, meaty, and one of the most important books on worship in ages.

Ffeasting on the word Advent Companion.jpgeasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship  edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (Westminster/John Knox) $25.00  Of course at any gathering where there are clergy, we take all four volumes of the Feasting on the World lectionary preaching series for whichever year we are in or approaching (we are approaching Year B, starting in Advent.)  We take the Feasting on the Word Worship Resources and Daily Feast, the compact, faux-leather, daily devotional based on these same lectionary-based resources.  This one is spectacular, with lectionary exegesis for preaching, worship aids, children's sermon ideas, Advent and Christmas hymn ideas, suggestions for mid-week services, etc. We sold a lot of Advent resources, but was struck by how popular this new volume was. 

Mmercy & Melons.jpgercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet: Thanking God for All Good Gifts, A to Z
Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $15.99  Lisa is nearly a neighbor to some of the Wee Kirk gang, and even for those who do not know her they have recalled that we had promoted her creative proposal for creative Bible study, Writing in the Margins, last year (with a contest of people who could show us their own scribbled-in, marked up Bibles.) This year, I explained about just how very lovely and very eloquent and very moving this new set of meditations is. I'm glad we've told you about it here before, but thought you should know how popular it was at this gathering.  How 'bout that tag-line? "Thanking God for All Good Gifts, A to Z" which wonderfully links the so-called sacred and secular.

Llong walk to freedom.jpgong Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela Nelson Mandela (Back Bay Books) $18.00  There was a wonderful workshop by a bold urban activist (and dean of student life at Pittsburgh Theological seminary, John Walsh) comparing and drawing on the social ethics of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela for our own contemporary social problems.  Despite the reality that most small churches in this region are primarily white, and not particularly political liberal, these good folks wanted to learn more about racism, poverty and resistance to injustice. Mandela's huge memoir was a national best-seller and the basis of a powerful movie. The Los Angeles Times Book Review reviewer said, "Irresistible. One of the few political autobiographies that's also a page-turner."  The Financial Times raved, "One of the most extraordinary political tales of the twentieth century... for anyone interested in the genesis of greatness."  Many have put it on their life-long, best-ever, must-read lists. Three cheers!



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October 20, 2014

6 Remarkable Books That Arrived Today at Hearts & Minds -- ON SALE 20% OFF

So I spent some of my extra time today working again on a review that I wanted to improve, to better express my enthusiasm for a book or two by an author I deeply respect and whose new work -- a recently-revised reprint and a new self-published book -- you might not be aware of. Man, I'm eager to release this impassioned review of these pair of powerhouse books.  But then, like Christmas morning, in comes some spectacular new books here at the shop, most which I ordered pre-publication maybe months ago.  When such a truck load of remarkable titles shows up somewhat unexpectedly, I feel almost jittery to tell somebody who cares.

So, I'm skipping my review for now, jumping in and winging this, quickly announcing six brand, spanking new books that we are thrilled to let you know are now available.  And that's not even counting the good stuff that trickled in a few days ago -- the new Mary Oliver poetry volume, the new Christian Wyman release, the eagerly-awaiting, prestigious novel Lila (a sequel to Giliad and Home by Marilynn Robinson) which we've been mentioning.

We have the BookNotes sale thing going on -- 20% off the regular prices which are shown.


Vvanishing grace.jpganishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $22.99  It isn't every day that a Zondervan book gets a wondrous blurb on the back from rock star St. Bono and evangelical popularizer Max Lucado.  Mr. Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace was nearly a landmark book and this could be seen as a long-awaited sequel to that contemporary classic. This new one showcases his trademark journalistic style, story-filled, thoughtful, accessible yet with no fluff. I am confident that it will be very, very compelling.  The back jacket says "Yancey explores how grace can bridge the gap between Christian faith and a world increasingly suspicious of it." Oh my.

There will soon be a DVD curriculum, too, which will be well made and eloquent and which we will stock.

Wwhy suffering.jpghy Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale (FaithWords) $22.00  Many people have wished for a book like this from Ravi, one of the most articulate, thoughtful and elegant apologists of our time. A convert (in his young adult years, after considering many, many world religions and philosophies) from Hinduism, he has been a caring, if rigorous, evangelist.  Not every evangelical leader grapples so honestly with Nietzsche, drawing on Alvin Plantinga and other stunning thought leaders. And (for any old Pittsburgh friends who may be reading) he cites Bill Rowe, who taught for a season at ICS in Toronto.  A great cover, too, for this moving hardback.

JJesus Prom book (good).jpgesus Prom: Life Gets Fun When You Love People Like God Does Jon Weece (Nelson) $16.99  My Nelson sale representative is a good man, and patient with me as I ply him with questions, sometimes needlessly snarky ones, suspicious as I am of some pop evangelical books these days.  "Jesus Prom"?  I almost cussed.  What in the heck does that even mean? And why does a book about Jesus need a disco ball on the cover? My ever-patient salesman pointed out the foreword by Bob Goff, a man I admire immensely. And then he explained that at the heart of this book is the story of a church that holds a full-on, big time prom for students with special needs. I almost cried hearing about it, glad for a church like this, doing stuff like this. Jesus loves people. Wouldn't it make sense, Weece asks, "that those who claim to love Jesus would love the same people Jesus loves?" This central Kentucky church pulls off this extraordinary event, and if Goff says it's the real deal, I believe him. I can't wait to read this, and am eager to promote the new DVD curriculum, too. When Beth and I used to work for an Easter Seal Society Camp in the summers, by the way, dancing with wheelchair-bound kids and young adults at the "Final Banquet" was a highlight of each week and, if truth be told, remains a highlight of my life. This book, I'm telling ya, will touch your heart.

GGod is in the City good.jpgod is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation Shawn Casselberry (Mission Year Life Resources) $17.00  Aww, I've been waiting for this. I hope you know Mission Year, an organization Tony Campolo started back in the day, that invites young adults to take a year to live in community in really rough ghetto neighborhoods, and share life with the poor, walk alongside those who are disenfranchised, and experience God in solidarity there, maybe bringing some fresh gospel light to often broken communities.  A hero/acquaintance of ours, Leroy Barber, was their Executive Director for years, and wrote a book or two that we have truly loved. (I hope you saw my review of Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White...) How folks come to learn neighborliness, and find goodness in raw places has been a theme in Mission Year -- it isn't about suburban college kids coming in to save the lost, poor people.  Shawn Cassleberry is an advocate for God's justice and the current head of Mission Year and this handsome volume (which is really attractively designed, and produced by them as a fund-raiser) looks splendid. 

Whether you live in an urban area or not, this book helps us understand many of our fellow citizens, dissuades us of dumb stereotypes, and will help you appreciate not only the hardships but joys of doing relational ministry in a fallen world. This is a fantastic glimpse into God's work, sort of a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" with guts and grit and true grace. You will thrill to read these stories, be glad for the hard work of these folk, and be glad -- inspired, even! -- that there are such stories afoot in the world. Dr. John Perkins, who wrote the foreword, says "I urge you to read this book. You will be inspired and transformed by what you encounter." Amen.

Jjust mercy.jpgust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00 Speaking of Campolo: years ago we heard Tony tell the story of an African American boy who grew up poor and ended up through God's grace at Harvard Law School.  He could land any prestigious job he wanted, a top-of-the-class black man with such a prestigious degree. The graduate eschewed worldly success and fame and wealth, though, discipled into the ways of Christ as he was, and went back to poor, rural Alabama, and served the oppressed there, working, then, with organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, and helping get those who claimed innocence a fair trail, often off of death row.  A friend of mine and I asked Campolo point blank if this was a real story -- Tony's stories are so flamboyantly told and so very moving the rumor is he makes some of them up (which isn't at all true!) Of course this story was indeed true and the kid's name was Bryan Stevenson. The CCO hosted him at their Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh years ago and even then, some of us realized that Mr. Stevenson was more than the real deal, he was one of the truly great people of our era. (Will he be nominated for something like the Nobel Prize one wonders.)  He now runs the Equal Justice Initiative, and has a deep passion about children who are in jail, cravenly tried as adults.

Just Mercy is his brand new book, carrying extraordinary rave reviews from top literary lights the likes of Desmond Tutu, Tracy Kidder, Michelle Alexander and Isabel Wilkerson, and a stunning quote on the front cover by the best-selling Baptist lawyer, John Grisham. Beth and I were incredibly moved when she saw that this came, feeling the great joy and privilege of carrying such books.  We were glad to see him on the popular back page of Time magazine this week.  I assure you that this will be one of the much-discussed, highly regarded, public affairs books of the year, a man lead to Christian faith who related his convictions to his sense of calling, and now is doing vital, powerful work in the world.  You really should read this book.  See what he says when folks compare him to Atticus Finch, here.

Ddisquet time.jpgisquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani (Jericho Books) $24.00  Well. This will absolutely need a longer review, but know this much: it is a wild and woolly anthology of all sorts of little pieces -- some remarkably well written, some really funny (Susan Isaacs) some a bit snarky (okay, a lot snarky) -- asking whether this or that weird part of the Bible is really so, or may somehow not, or something other, or whatever it all may mean. "The Bible is full of not-so-precious moments" they say (and if that doesn't win you over, you may not get the allusion to those awful little cutesy figurines.) From murder to mayhem to sex and slavery, the Bible is perplexing. Instead of turning a blind eye to the difficult ("and entertaining," they slyly note) passages, these authors take 'em head on.

Eugene Peterson writes the forward which gives this some appropriate gravitas. There are some important authors contributing here (from PCA scholar Stephen Brown to social activist Gareth Higgins to the spunky wordsmith Margot Starbuck.) Some of these folks are fairly conventional and quite thoughtful (Amy Julia Becker, Keith Tanner) and some are a bit edgy (Christian Piatt, Debbie Blue.) There is pathos, too, real honesty, humor, and some writing that you will want to ponder quietly.  And some parts you'll want to read out loud. I've got my advanced reader's copy dog-eared and can't wait to start conversations about some of this. Falsani is an amazing writer herself (and familiar with all kinds of pop culture, the art and the artists), a Wheaton grad, I think, with a bit of an attitude. (And she is the only person that ever confused me with Bruce Cockburn, for which remain bemusedly grateful.) Ms Grant has previously written two good books, one about the process of adopting a daughter, another about raising a family. Despite the throw-back goof-ball cover (although you have to love that depiction of raining frogs) this new release is a great collection, a very interesting book.  And we've got it!



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October 28, 2014

THREE BY BRIAN J. WALSH: Subversive Christianity (Second Edition), The Advent of Justice (reprinted) and St. John Before Breakfast (brand new) ALL 20% OFF

Ssubversive 2nd.jpgubversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time  Second Edition  Brian J. Walsh (Wipf & Stock) $15.00  

A few weeks ago the prominent mainline denominational magazine Christian Century did an interview with me, an honor in which we are still delighting. In that interview I was asked to name some authors that would appeal to the Century readership that they may not know well. I named the spiritual formation author Ruth Haley Barton, the Biblical scholar and philosopher of aesthetics Calvin Seerveld, and a few others they needed to edit out due to space constraints.  I was quick to mention the astute and provocative writings of Brian Walsh.  His several works are among my favorite books, each for different reasons. 

I am not sure if Subversive Christianity, a small paperback published in 1992, was the first book on which I was invited provide feedback on the manuscript, or if it was the first book that mentioned me in the acknowledgements, but I think it was. So I feel pretty connected to this, and hope our friends and customers will take notice of this brand new edition. The first edition has been long out of print - until now, with this new reprinted, expanded version.  My old copy was certainly one of my most prized possessions.  That is, until I gave it away, or maybe sold it out from under myself.  I've been personally awaiting this reprint for more than a decade!

The first edition of the book was published by a faithful little indie press, but was never well known. It was just four meaty chapters, each given as speeches or keynote talks, all delivered in the harsh Cold War years following the seminal Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview, co-authored by Walsh with Richard Middleton in 1984.  Brian was carefully reading Walter Brueggemann - your welcome, Brian, for turning you on to The Prophetic Imagination, which for some deluded reason I fancy having done, even though I suppose it isn't even true, since you thank Richard Middleton for that lead. On some pages, Subversive Christianity could be called "Brueggemann-esque." With a tone of lament and pathos and a profound belief in how the Biblical text can serve as a counter-narrative to imperial design, evoking a new imagination, it offers fresh energy to break out of the accommodated captivity of the people of God. 

Transforming Vision, published by InterVarsity Press is still considered by many to be the best book on the development of aThe-Transforming-Vision-9780877849735.jpg Christian worldview, and the socio-religious / cultural critique is strong there. (The brief history of dualism and rise of secular idols is exceedingly helpful.)  But it becomes even more incisive and impassioned in Subversive...  In some ways Walsh was following the journey of his favorite Canadian rock star, whose Humans and Inner City Front albums documented his shift from a pleasant, folkie vibe informed by his evangelical conversion ("Wondering Where the Lions Are" you know) to a multi-ethnic, urban neighborhood and the music's increasing awareness of the deep brokenness in our lives, personally and culturally.  Cockburn was singing more about "the falling dark," about regret and toxic pollution, social injustice, his divorce, even as Walsh took up similar concerns. Brian was involved in the work of urban mission and public justice, trying to say no to the idols of the age (so clearly explained in The Transforming Vision) and immersing himself in the edgy discourse that eventually found voice in Truth Is Stranger Than it Used to Be (still the best book on postmodernism, and a must read for those interested in the pain of our timestruth is stranger.gif and an authentic gospel response.)

Eventually, this engaged pathos and socio-col rm.jpgcultural resistance was explored in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (still the best commentary on Colossians, perhaps the best commentary on any Biblical book I've ever experienced reading!) Although separated by two decades it isn't that big of a jump from the punchy, succinct Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Babylon (catch that important sub-title) and the dense, wide-ranging, spectacular bit of analysis of the dislocating pressures of our nomadic culture in Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement coauthored with Hope College environmental science professor, Stephen Bouma-Predigar.

Subversive Christianity reveals a challenging style of faith that emerged from Walsh's worldview studies at the Institute for Christian Studies, perhaps his frustrations with the more rigid dogmatism of some of the more strict Calvinists in his circles, his friendship with Dutch economist Bob Gouzdwaard and his brilliant work in reforming the fundamental assumption about economics and growth, his deep,Beyond Homelessness.jpg deep love for the Bible, and his Cockburn-inspired poetic honesty about both (to cite Cockburn songs) the "Lord of the Starfields" and the rim of the "Broken Wheel." That is, Walsh understood in those years, as now, both glory and pain, creation and fall, goodness and grief. (I don't think I know anyone who reminds us of this so candidly, especially in recent years on his Empire Remixed blog from his current faith community at the University of Toronto and their Wine Before Breakfast services.) 

As is clear in these four original chapters, Walsh thinks the true gospel of God's Kingdom offers a radical deconstruction of the wrong ideologies and hurtful ideas and sinful structures that are the idols of our time and that have facilitated human folly and dysfunction and dis-ease. The reign of God - the journey out of exile and through the desert and towards a new Jerusalem - is the penultimate story (Christ, his Jubilee inauguration, his move towards the cross, his passion and resurrection being the ultimate story) which should shape the imaginations and lifestyles of the people of God, and such a drama is truly a subversive message.  One cannot build a glad new world, or, more precisely, testify to its promised coming, unless one firstly renounces the grim news of the false gods, deconstructing and resisting the dominant narrative of the American dream and its bankrupt ideals.  Which is to say this gospel story subverts the (ab)normal, frames our lives with new hopes and desires and dreams, which, of course, brings into greater clarity the cost of discipleship.  Being counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, subversive, revolutionary, even, is hard.  But such a discipleship, grounded in real life and real hope bears fruit in lasting, deep joy (even through shed tears.) 

The shift from grief to hope, from Good Friday to Easter, isn't easy, but it is the arc of the Biblical story, even though too many churches and Christian TV preachers and Christian books don't push us too deeply to consider these things. This book helps us with that, immensely so.

In the first pages of Subversive Christianity Walsh confesses to not dealing much with suffering insubversive 2nd.jpg Transforming Vision and this personal remark is important. Indeed, the third chapter, about grief and lament, was delivered the night of the death of a dear colleague, an IVCF staff worker at Brock University; again the pathos is palpable, as we lament the human condition, our own souls, and particularly the sadnesses of a culture bent on war and materialism, led by scholars and leaders who promote false hopes and harmful ideas. This critical demeanor, grounded in grief, is abundantly clear in Walsh's feisty insistence that there is a malaise loose in the land, and that it is urgent to name it.  And name it he does.

From the false prophecy of uber-conservative intellectual Francis Fukuyama to the far left politics of Bruce Cockburn, Walsh draws on contemporary thinkers, artists, ideas and trends, to bring into focus the fundamentally subversive power of the Biblical texts that erode all false gods and upset all false hopes. These passionate, playful, creative, powerful sermons were worth their weight in gold, and became a life-line for some of us who rarely heard such evangelical faith proclaimed with such verve and guts.  This wasn't merely Marxist liberation theology, it wasn't inspirational humanism or the incipient social gospel, this was full on evangelical Bible study, Christ-honoring, orthodox stuff.  Walsh's good friend Tom Wright wrote the foreword, saying it is a "powerful little book." After extolling his study of contemporary culture and his patient academic work, Wright says of Brian, "he has also drunk deeply from biblical theology, and provides clear and creative exegesis of several passages in a way which breathes new life into them. Walsh brings together the Bible and the modern world in a way which is as original as it is compelling."  

This is exactly right, and these chapters do indeed bring together very insightful cultural studies and socio-political analysis with tremendous, exciting Bible exposition.

The first of the four chapters is titled "Imaging God in Babylon" about which he summarizes, "Christianity is a subversive cultural movement; the Christian community and worldview conflict; we are called to image God." He offers a contextual rehearing of Genesis 1:26 - 28 that is nothing short of brilliant.  I'm sure he thanks Richard Middleton for some of this (who later went on to write the magisterial Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 which is now footnoted in the updated edition.) This chapter may be a seminal project for those that know the importance of Richard's Liberating Image text and I'd guess they worked some of this out together.  Brian preaches it really well! (And had nicely dedicated the book to Richard.)

Chapter two is called "Beyond Worldview to Way of Life: A Diagnosis." Here he explores the "worldview/way of life gap." There is a profound diagnosis of Western culture (by way of Cockburn's song "The Candy Man's Gone" and Bob Goudzwaard. Here, he invites a truly prophetic response and pushes us to realize that merely getting a new "worldview" - incanting stuff against dualism, affirming a wholistic gospel, realizing the connection between creation/fall/redemption and the like - simply doesn't seem to carry the capacity to change lives and lifestyles.  This frustrating gap between a multi-dimensional, Kingdom worldview and the way those who hold to such broad visions still live in the world - captive? --- is named and explored. (Did Jamie Smith read this long before he cooked up his good stuff in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom?  Surely, yes, since Smith was with Walsh at the Institute for Christian Studies in those years. Smith's criticisms about how some quarters define and explore worldview may be related to Walsh's own concerns, preached so well, here.)

By the way, I think this talk was first delivered at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh.  Besides dancing with Brian to "Brown Eyed Girl" that year, this talk was a true highlight in the history of great Jubilee talks.

The third chapter of Subversive... is "Waiting for a Miracle: Christian Grief at the End of History" and, as you might guess if you followed much-discussed books from those years, he contrasts the then-popular scholar Francis Fukuyma who released The End of History that year (and who has another new much-discussed wonky book out this month, by the way) at first with Bruce Cockburn's song inspired by Central American peasants, "Waiting for a Miracle,"  but then, surprisingly, in a brilliant section, with the true prophet, Jeremiah.  This is a fabulous example of an incisive critique of aJeremiah Mourning by Rembrandt .jpg modern scholar and his role in shaping North American political and economic policy, and then a shift to profound Biblical lament.  

It is hard to say which of the chapters in this book is my favorite, but each offer profound insight, and reward repeated readings. And this one is stunning.

The last chapter is "Waiting for a Miracle: Christian Hope at the End of History" (notice the one-word switch in the sub-title.) In this chapter he cites Cockburn's "pilloried saints" and Jeremiah (again.) I love the "real estate at the end of history" piece, about the stunt where Jeremiah buys land behind enemy lines, and how Brian uses that as a parable for our times.  Wow! He insists we are all still "waiting for a miracle" but this time, with hope, hope that we can embody and live into.  

I have to admit when we got the new edition in a week ago, I turned to this chapter first. 

This brand new expanded edition offers a new chapter, oddly called a "post script" which offers much more than a post script, but which is a full on, serious piece.  This   new chapter brings us up-to-date and                                                                               Jeremiah Mourns Over Destruction of Jerusalem  Rembrandt

is called "Subversive Christianity 22 Years Later." Here Brian asks "what time was it" and "what time is it?"                

These questions about our social location and the ethos of the age sets him up for amazingly rich, thoughtful, Bible-infused social criticism,. (And, yes, Bruce Cockburn's recent work comes in to play once again.  Walsh has written a whole book on Cockburn, after all, so you can't blame him using that rock poet as an inspiration.) I rarely say this about new editions, revised and updated books that have a meager new foreword or afterward, but I will now: even if you have the first edition, that thin black paperback, it is well worth it to get this new one, if only for this new last chapter.

My goodness, am I glad this new edition has been released! (The abstract oil painting on canvas on the cover isn't given justice in the thumbnail above -- it works well on the real cover and you should ponder it.) The new chapter is good - strident, passionate, honest, but yet full of Biblical hope. His work on Josiah (applied to the regime of President Obama, event) is fantastic, I think.  Walsh amazes me; his ability to name gross sins and profound cultural disorientation, and yet call us to a joyful and upbeat kind of new way of life is unique. 

Look, I read a lot of books (and many of you do too.) And most of us listen to a lot of speakers, take in weekly sermons. There is hardly anybody who writes or preaches like Walsh does, and I am more than happy to commend this -- I am compelled to.  It might shock you, you might not agree, you may be driven to ponder your own faith community and its cultural accommodation and the maturity of its prophetic imagination. I know this is touchy stuff, and I don't mean to sound negative or critical, but the diagnosis and re-envisioning going on here is so very useful. You will be better for it, I am sure of it.

Here is the last paragraph of the last page of the new post script, Jeremiah Revisited, so to speak:

Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open. Multiply in a world of dept. Have children at the end of history. Seek shalom in a violent world of geo-political conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah's word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah's subversive word to us. And in this vision we just might see, with Jeremiah, a future with hope. (Jer. 29:11.) This is what is means to work and wait for a miracle. This remains at the heart of a subversive Christianity.

This was an inspiring, important, under-recognized book when it came out more than 20 years ago.  It is a great grace that it is now available again, expanded just a bit, and I hope our friends and fans buy it, share it, study it, discuss it.

May its inspired, subversive resistance to the idols of the age motivate you to say no.  May its joyful, costly hope of a cultural restoration based on Christ's Kingdom coming motivate you to say yes.  No and yes.  Lament and hope. Guilt and grace. This book is a gift. Thanks be to God.

Brian's meager royalties from this book, by the way, all go to our friends Rob & Kirstin Vander Geissen-Reitsma and their creative community development work through *cino and their Huss Project in Three Rivers Michigan.



Advent of Justice Brian J. Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Wipf & Stock) $10.00 

Iadvent of justice CPJ.jpg have long said that there is no other Advent devotional like this, nothing in print that comes close.  It has been out of print for a few years, and we are glad it has been re-issued, with a nicer, full-color cover. (Otherwise, the inside, the handsome fonts and nicely designed pages with a few art pieces by Willem Hart remain.)  

This is a set of 4 week's worth of daily readings, studies of lectionary texts (mostly from Isaiah coupled with seasonal NT texts) with a serious contextualized reading of these passages.  Some of the Isaiah passages are familiar to us while a few may be less so.  The hard-to-pronounce names of kings and prophets, nations and armies, are made more clear, brought into focus so we realize what was going on, geo-politically and religiously among the divided kingdoms and such.  That they invite us to ponder this and to apply the lessons to our own times, indeed our own lives, is a great holiday gift.  It is not sentimental and there is nothing about Christmas ornaments or hot cider or snowy winterscapes. This is Bible study with cultural analysis.  Dare I say it is an urgent antidote to some of the ways we've, well, you know... One friend who appreciated it a lot called it "Advent with a Vengeance."  Well, sort of.

I have read through these short pieces many times, and get something new with each reading.  Walsh brings the big picture gospel to bear, as always, and Middleton especially explains the intricacies and drama of Old Testament politics.  Mark Vander Vennen - an old pal and peace activist from our days in Pittsburgh, now a wise and respected family therapist - brings his own well-trained Old Testament scholarship to the plot, with very nicely written daily meditations, journeying with us as we wait expectantly.  The last week New Testament scholar (and organic farmer) Sylvia Keesmaat eloquently brings it all together. Dr. Keesmaat, by the way, served as chief editor for this whole project, and brings the touch of a scholar and creative wordsmith. 

This thin book is not light-weight, and for those not used to Old Testament prophetic literature, or forCitizens for Public Justice.jpg Advent being a time to inhabit the broad Biblical drama, this may even be challenging. Not surprisingly, it has some themes of social criticism, a faithful emphasis on justice and the common good, even as the texts point us towards these concerns.  That Advent of Justice was firstly produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a Canadian social justice advocacy group - the Citizens for Public Justice (formerly the Committee for Justice & Liberty) - is fitting. Old heroes of mine, such as the late, great Gerald Vandezande, led that ministry for decades, and this little devotional reminds us of the rich Biblical heritage that served to shape CJL and CPJ.  These authors live this stuff, and their own rich Biblical reflections have emerged out of their own engagement with issues in the public square, service to the marginalized, and taking stands for public justice and the common good.

Still, even though this is dedicated to the justice activists and citizen advocates of CPJ and brings themes of justice to the fore, it is - let me be clear - an advent Bible devotional, short readings, day by day.  They invites us to read the Bible text first, spend time pondering their explication, and then to return to the Bible text again, reading and hearing it with new eyes and ears.  They do this to help us have a meaningful and joyous holiday season, to await well, to make time for God's Word during Advent. They really do hope you have a good holiday season. May it help you wait well.

St. John Before Breakfast  Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast Community (Books Before Breakfast) $18.00 

WSt John Before big.jpgow -- we are just jazzed to tell you about this.  We may be one of the very first bookstores to carry this, and it is an honor to be in on its distribution.

St. John Before Breakfast is a self-published set of studies/reflections done mostly by Brian Walsh for his "Wine Before Breakfast" early morning Eucharistic service among his rag-tag "Empire Remixed" community at the University of Toronto.  Walsh is a campus minister for the Christian Reformed Church and has developed a band and worshiping community that meets before classes once a week (and others times, too, of course.) I have followed (as you may have) their "Empire Remixed" blog, and some of Brian's poetic ruminations on the Scriptures there have been simply stunning. (This past summer they did a weekly reflection on the book of James which was some of the best stuff I've ever read from that popular New Testament prophet.)  

Brian does a passionate and wise pastoral letter to his friends in the academic community at U of T right before Holy Week each year, inviting people to attend to spiritual practices that week - to read and re-read the gospel accounts, to attend church, to grief and wait and watch and pray as we move towards Resurrection Sunday and our joyful celebration of Christ's Victory.  It is my own Holy Week custom to read and re-read Brian's letters and these are doubtlessly the best stuff I read every year.

And they remind us of the pathos and power and truth of Scripture.

Which is to say I am sure these Biblical ruminations - some written in free verses, as poetically delivered, live -- will be potent, powerful, maybe a bit controversial, perhaps. As is his custom, he offers creative, contemporary exegesis of the Biblical text -- yes, the gospel according to John --  in engagement with pop culture.  One week it is a set of Joni Mitchell songs, maybe Leonard Cohen, maybe Springsteen or U2 or Mumford & Sons.  But mostly John, opened up and read and proclaimed with an edgy honesty.  Walsh loves the Scriptures, believes the book is subversive and, properly opened up, God's Word to subvert and challenge, heal and offer hope.  

On the back cover it asks, "How does the Word made flesh take on new flesh in the urban heart of a city like Toronto? What happens when you allow the evocative narratives, symbols and imagery of this gospel to direct your prayers, shape your liturgy and transform your life?"

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I can't wait to read this self-published, handsome volume of "Wine Before Breakfast" Johannine messages.  I hope you are curious, too.

Each chapter of St. John Before Breakfast includes an opening reflection, maybe a story, setting the stage, sometimes using the music or something from the news of the week) and then a homily on the passage.  Many weeks there is a litany, a responsive reading, some sort of liturgical/poetic response. (These are very useful, by the way, and could be used or adapted in your own group or church service.)  A few of the chapters are offered by other "Wine Before Breakfast" members and friends. It is truly amazing stuff and I am hard pressed to think of any other book quite like it.  

This self-produced book is a fund-raiser for Walsh's campus outreach there, and we are glad to be able to help him sell it. It is a nicely done project, not widely available.  We hope that as you consider ordering Subversive Christianity or The Advent of Justice you will also consider picking up this, trusting that it will draw you into the extraordinary story John tells of this extraordinary Messiah, fully God, fully human, a suffering servant and healer of the cosmos.  John, who points us to Jesus.  A transforming vision, indeed.

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