About March 2016

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in March 2016. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2016 is the previous archive.

April 2016 is the next archive.

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

March 2016 Archives

March 1, 2016

It's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith by Dan Dupee ON SALE NOW

It's not too late.jpgIt's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith Dan Dupee (Baker Books) $15.99  BookNotes sale price 10% off  = $14.39

Right!  It is not too late for parents of older teens.

Or, as Dan Dupee says in his funny and lovely opening foreword, "There's hope for your Great, Scary, Expectations."

And, as I predict in my own endorsing blurb on the inside cover page, It's Not Too Late "will be reassuring and helpful to parents and change the tone of the conversation about emerging adults in churches."

We were so thrilled that this book was coming and so eager to promote it prior to its release that we had invited BookNotes subscribers to pre-order it from us back in December.  It was released in mid-February and we are eager to once again invite you to order it. 

(You can click on the link below which will take you to our certified secure website, where you may safely enter credit card info, or take us up on our offer to just send you the order with an invoice enclosed so you can pay the bill by check, later. Or, you can call the shop, old-school style.  We're eager to share the very good news of this very good book, and hope you get it from us soon. We usually ship through US mail, which is cheaper and just as quick as UPS, but we can ship it any way you select, or send it to someone else as a gift, if you'd like. We even gift wrap for free -- just ask.)

On one hand, It's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith is a useful parenting book giving wise and winsome guidance to parents of teens. The stresses and challenges of parenting teenagers and young adults are legendary, and there are many good books that we often recommend. We carry a lot of parenting books and many are excellent. Dan Dupee's new book is unique among them and for a number of reasons we are particularly thrilled to see it launched out into the world this season. Dan is a good friend, and we've chatted with him about his dream of writing this book - and we sold him some books as he's did his research for it! - and can assure you that, as I say below, I like and trust and respect him and his work immensely.

Yes, it is a handy and helpful parenting book, fresh and thoughtful and sensible. It will answer some of your questions and assist you in this season of parenting, I am sure. (Or prepare you well for it if your kids are younger.) It will encourage parents of teens and reassure parents of college age young adults. But it is more than a standard parenting book; it is unique, and significant, even for church leaders who aren't parents, but care about young adult ministry. There are some things about It's Not Too Late that make it truly exceptional. I have said before that there is nothing quite like it in print. (This is a claim that I only get to make rarely, and in this case I couldn't be happier and more confident about it.) I had talked with Dan as he was researching and writing and I read an advanced version of the manuscript - I have an endorsing blurb on it, in fact -- and am really excited to tell you about it.

It's not too late.jpgThis is a book that is bucking the trends and assumptions we tend to have, expressed in the media, in popular culture, and even in some Christian books that parents of college age students don't really have much influence anymore. Too often we hear people say that once kids reach that stage in their lives, the parenting work is mostly done, and the adults who care, parents and aunts and uncles and church friends, well, we just have to hope for the best. We pick this up -- the kids pick this up -- that in matters of faith, young adults will just naturally tend to drift from their spiritual roots. It is nearly assumed: after high school kids will leave the church, and, at best, will come back to visit their faith communities when they come home from college at Christmas and Easter. We hope that once they sow their oats, find a job, settle down, they might come back to active faith in their 30s, perhaps when they have kids of their own. Dan Dupee (and the staff of CCO, the campus ministry you lost me smallish.gifalmost christian smallish.gifsouls in transition smallish.giforganization he has led for a decade and a half) proves this narrative wrong.  He knows this from his keen observation of the fruitfulness of those doing campus ministry with church partnerships like the CCO, but he has done good research, too, drawing on the best work Like David Kinnamen who wrote You Lost Me:
Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith (Baker Books; $17.99) which documents some of the reasons young adults leave church.

Dupee shows that it doesn't have to be this way.

No, no, no, it doesn't have to be that way. Dupee knows better, and can tell you why the data suggests something very different: his research shows that parents and the local churches of college age students do still have a huge role to play, and that wise parenting of teenagers, even older teens, can pay off in vibrant faith and healthy transitioning after high school into Christian discipleship in the young adult years. (And, yes, helping students heading off to college or vocational schools find healthy Christian fellowship groups or campus ministry organizations and a nearby church congenial to collegiates, is vital.)  It's Not Too Late explains all this in fun and sparkling prose, drawing specific principles and practices that he has learned along the way. Dupee is a down to earth guy, a dad himself (of two sets of twins, I might add) and knows well the struggles of parenting adolescents who are growing into young adulthood. He tells lots of great stories, too, making this a top-notch and really fascinating parenting book, more interesting and more important than most.

daniel-dupee-web.jpgDan Dupee is a good friend and a person I admire greatly. I'll happily admit that I'm biased: Beth and I know Dan and his wife, Carol, and some of his kids, too, themselves now college students or graduates. Dan has been the President of our beloved campus ministry organization, the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) for which we used to work and still serve as Associate Staff and bookseller for the organization. You have heard me talk about Jubilee in recent posts, and it is that organization that runs that extraordinary college student conference. (In fact, we launched It's Not Too Late at that event in February, celebrating it with the gathered community, and especially the adult sponsors and church partners in attendance. He transforming college students to.pngalso got to present some of his findings to the important Jubilee Professional event sponsored by Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation the day before Jubilee.)

If anybody knows young adults, college students, and those who love and serve them well, it is Dan Dupee and his CCO staff. If anybody should have written a book like this, it is Dan.

In his prep for the book, Dan convened numerous focus groups. As the CEO and director of a para-church ministry that partners with local congregations near colleges, he knows churches that have effective outreach to students, and knows many, many collegiates. He had ready access to lots of folks in diverse settings who were very willing to participant in his gathering of stories, which gave him access to a wealth of input.

Some of what parents and young adults said in these many face-to-face conversation groups is reported in It's Not Too Late and you will be excited to learn what works (and what doesn't) in wise and effective parenting of teens and young adults transitioning out of the house and into college or adult life. From small town mid-West community colleges to urban and sophisticated East Coast universities, Dan and colleagues convened groups and listened well. The book is theologically informed and Biblically-wise, but these stories make it sing, and help readers realize they are not alone in this parenting journey.

There are clear and practical principles that he deduced from these vibrant, fascinating conversations. Many are refreshingly helpful, and a few matters that surfaced are nearly surprising; this make It's Not Too Late an exceptional book that offers insights that aren't always named in otherwise fine parenting books.  For instance, discussions arose in these focus groups about young adults discerning their vocation and whether and how parents, churches and youth group leaders can help students develop a robust sense of call, visions of vocation. (I have long noted that the church has this historic and transforming doctrine of calling but we usually default to the language and values of the high school guidance office as young people consider their choice of colleges and majors, and rarely help high school grads on this obviously vital matter. What might happen if we as God's people helped surround young people with caring and wise folks who can help them discern their gifts and passions and God's call upon their lives, if they viewed their choosing a major as part of their walk with God and their classroom studies as part of their discipleship?

learning for the love of god.jpgNaturally, Dupee cites a number of good resources along these lines, including Don Optiz and Derek Melleby and their lovely little book -- a must-read for every Christian college student -- Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness (Brazos Press; $14.99.) It was, after all, the CCO and their Jubilee conference and the many books on these themes that we've gotten into their hands that gave rise to writing that book on the integration of faith and learning for youngsters heading off to college. Mr. Dupee's It's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play... is the only book about parenting teens of which I know that gives considerable attention to this critical matter!  And the stories - oh, the stories about this key issue are tender and inspiring and urgent.

You can be confident that this is a book that is at once fun to read, upbeat and practical, and yet actually based on (informal) research, Dan's quest to learn what really works, and lots and lots of first-hand stories with students Dan has met through the CCO and their parents. It has big picture stuff (such as the aforementioned bit about vocation and calling, a Christian perspective on all of life and the like) and covers (yes!) the routine issues like how college students, after living on their own for a season or two, move home for Spring break or the summer, and don't expect to be treated like a high-schooler, with curfews and rules they didn't have in their resident hall at Big Time U.  So there's that kind of stuff, and it's good. It's a treasure of a book, and we couldn't be more happy to commend it to you.  

It's Not Too Late is a must-read for parents of teens, of course, and parents of college-age young adults, but it is also vital for church leaders, youth pastors, high school or college teachers, campus workers, student affairs professionals and anyone who cares about young adults.

And there is a short appendix written specifically for dads and men. Some things came up as he reflected on all he heard from students and parents, and it's a nice contribution to the larger book.

Why not order a few copies now? (We have higher discounts for larger orders of multiple copies, by the way.) Give one as a gift, and donate one to your church library - it is a book we believe can be a real God-send to many.  Maybe your church could sponsor a book club or class about these very things. Spread the word: it is not too late to do what God invites us -- expects us -- to do: care for our young adults as they move away from home, take up their own vocations in the world, and deepen their discipleship, for the rest of their lives.  This book will help.

Listen to what the important Christian writer - an old friend of Dan's from their college years - Dan Allender (professor and founding President of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and author of, among many others, How Children Raise Parents and the new Healing the Wounded Heart) says about It's Not Too Late:

Dan guides us to neither give in to the need to micromanage nor justify cowardly detachment. Your relationship with your child will grow far beyond your wildest dreams as you explore this glorious book.

I like these lines from a review by Jerusha Clark, author of Your Teenager is Not Crazy and a very popular author and comrade for parents of teensShe writes,

Encouraging and empowering. Dan Dupee deconstructs myths that leave moms and dads feeling inadequate to influence their children's faith and replaces them with God's wisdom, grounded in Scripture, sociological research, and anecdotal experience. You will find help and hope in these pages!

It's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith

It's not too late.jpg



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March 4, 2016

Good Faith by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons -- and 10 more helpful reads for cultural engagement ON SALE

See our links shown below if you want to order from our certified secure order form page at the Hearts & Minds website, or the "inquiry" button if you have any questions about any of these items or any concerns about your order.  Thanks for being in touch.

What a whirlwind month it's been here: my aging mom has moved to an assisted living place, we've battled repeatedly with a despised insurance company, we've not made a dent in transform everything.jpgunpacking book boxes from the huge Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, and I just returned from a fabulous trip to speak (about faith and books and reading) at the National Student Leadership Conference at Taylor University in the alluringly flat state of Indiana.  I have shed more than a few tears these past weeks, but the glory of Jubilee and the NSLC have been gifts to me.  I am glad about things, even as many of us ponder what it the world is happening in our civic life with the awful state of political discourse. 

gather.pngAt Taylor U. I met some very sharp students, some very admirable faculty, a few author acquaintances who it was nice to see again, and several authors I can now call new friends. It is so encouraging to know that there are strong, careful, Christian voices and young followers of Christ who want to express good faith in the public square.  How good it was that Taylor brought in such fine authors and speakers. Maybe you saw my twitter pictures of Daniel White Hodge (The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology), Mandy Smith (The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry), Lisa McMinn (To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming and Community), Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies), J.R. Briggs (Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure), Helen Lee (The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World), Chris Smith (Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus), and others. This small evangelical college in middle Indiana is nurturing students to think deeply about life and culture, how to take up their callings in the world with faithfulness and courage, and to serve church and society in the name of Jesus.  Like the CCO's Jubilee, Taylor's NSLC has been going on for decades and has hosted some of the most renowned religious leaders of our time. What an honor to get to play a small part in these things God is doing among rising generations. 

It strikes me over and over, but especially at these big events, that books connect us, that we have some mutually shared vocabulary as we read together, as we listen well to each other's influences, and to the way nonfiction authors as well as poets and novelists, some of them nearly prophetic in their wise analysis of faith and life, have left their fingerprints upon us, coloring in big or small ways how we think about life and how we talk about things that matter. 

jubilee bookstore 2016.jpgThank you for joining this far-flung reading community, being a part of the on-going conversations, even of breaking down old walls (oh, between, just for instance) mainline denominational church folks and para-church ministries, between liturgical traditions and more free-spirited charismatics, between progressives and missionals and evangelicals. Jubilee and the Taylor University events both bore witness to ethnic, racial diversity, with women and men from a variety of faith traditions pointing us towards a generous orthodoxy and inviting lived practices that are informed by Biblical and theological reflection and not civil religion or old school dogma.     (Above picture taken at Jubilee 2016 by Andrew Rush.)

These folks are embodying the adage "readers become leaders" and are leading the way towards helpful, fruitful ways to live our faith and create signposts of God's coming Kingdom.  It's a great story and project to be a part of and we think our bookstore is maybe playing a little role in it all.  And that means you are too, whenever you order books from us or pass on our reviews and BookNotes columns.

We hope you keep in mind this big, good story of God's redemptive work in the world as you order and read and enjoy books, allowing them to work their magic, seeing them as tools for transformation, facilitating growth in wise and faithful living.


First I will describe Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme, a fine new book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, two friends that help us continue this journey towards a public faith that is Biblically faithful and lived out with healthy relevance.  Then, I'll name some other books that strike me as very important these days, illustrating how robust faith can inform significant conversations about embodying faith in our current social situation. Perhaps these (a few brand new, a few older) would help you follow up the broad framework and practical ideas offered in Good Faith and the Q Ideas events where it was recently launched.

Good Faith- Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme.jpgGood Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons (Baker Books) $19.99

Perhaps you know of the very popular, excellent, classy events called Q (a national gathering) and the localized Q Commons events, each masterminded by the good folks at Q Ideas. (Their tag line is Stay Curious. Think Well. Advance Good.) We have stocked DVD presentations of older national Q gatherings (I described them here and here) and have promoted books by their founder Gabe Lyons.  Q Ideas is a remarkable example of a contextualized, thoughtful, generous, evangelical, movement that invites dialogue about public theology and living well in our times. Exploring their website is always time well spent and their TED talk-like presentations they share there are fantastic.  You can see Gabe's short talk from Friday night at Jubilee here, too, where he introduced this brand new book to the world. His co-author, the Barna Group President David Kinnaman, also presented at Jubilee and the CCO will post his good talk at the Jubilee website soon. David quipped that "spread sheets are my love language."  He knows his stuff and his passion to share research and data and trends in up-to-date info-graphics inspired him to curate the popular  Frames booklets. We've promoted them often and commend them as useful little tools about topics people are known to care about. 

We were so pleased to promote this new Good Faith book early on that we invited Hearts & Minds customers to pre-order it from us; my earlier brief review was based on the advanced manuscript we were honored to get. Now that it is officially out - it's so nice to hold the real hardback book with that strong black and gold cover -- we wanted to remind readers of its importance.

David and Gabe (who had collaborated several years ago responding to research about what unChristian.gifyoung adults tended to think about the Christian faith and American church life, a useful book called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters) told me that they poured several years of their lives into this, doing formal research through Barna and reading widely, conversing with many, and developing a specific response to the specific data they've discerned.  In a way, this is a manifesto for responding to the anxieties (in the church and the world) of our post-Christian culture.

I am sure many of us are more than tired of being lumped in with the worst sort of extremists and practitioners of bad religion.  From elite intellectuals saying that all religion is poisonous to the local media misunderstanding the nuances of differences between various strains of Christian faith, from hostile court rulings about religious liberty to pop culture jokes about toxic spirituality, it is clear that many in our world are suspicious at best and sometimes even hostile to even benign expressions of religious faith. (And, there are those who are properly multi-cultural and eager to make room for most world religions, excepting Christianity.) One only needs to read the letters to the editor column of any local newspaper or look at the bulletin board postings in any public university student union and one will see high-octane denunciations of religion.  How we can graciously and faithfully and effectively navigate these trying times is the project taken up in Good Faith.

And take it up they do.  

First, they have four chapters under the heading "Understanding Our Times" in which they show that many find Christian faith irrelevant and/or extreme and how we experience this tension, a tension many of us feel deeply in our bones.  They observe that even when many of us who regret the bad witness of the more extreme and uncivil voices and try to disassociate ourselves from them, living out a good faith, the watching world misunderstands. Nearly any faith is seen as bad faith.

Part II of Good Faith includes twelve chapters on "Living Good Faith."  This is must-read stuff, very important, and helpful, especially for those who haven't kept up on recent conversations about how the world sees Christian faith or how those committed to Biblical values have tried to winsomely explain those views to a skeptical culture.  Some of their analysis and some of their proposed responses, again, comes from social research done by Kinnaman and the Barna Group, and some comes from Gabe's growing experience hosting even interfaith dialogues through Q.  Each chapter asserts that "Good Faith Christians will..." and they offer a principle or strategy or practice. It makes for a helpful organizing format and feels right, giving us actionable practices based on appropriate postures or virtues.  And they tell lots of stories, giving lively and often moving examples of folks doing the stuff they describe or their own efforts, blunders and successes. 

Chapter 5 is called "Love, Believe, Live" and they spell out what it means to be "a counterculture for the common good." It is followed by a chapter nicely inviting us to ask "The Right Questions."  Many of us will find this fairly pedestrian - there's a very nice chapter called "assimilate or accommodate" and we could recite this message in our sleep - but for others, it will be novel, a life-giving, near-brilliant, faith-saving framework. I'm grateful that they invite us to live faithfully and well, in but not of the surrounding culture and give us examples of what that might look like. Political philosophers or public theologians such as Nicholas Wolterstorff or Miroslov Volf or Oliver O'Donovan or Stanley Hauerwas have explored these themes in the academy, but David and Gabe bring in home for ordinary folks.

Chapter 7 offers a very helpful, brief, principled study of pluralism and tolerance. "Good faith Christians," they say, "make space for people who disagree."  Gabe's opening story about a meeting on religious liberty in the White House is humorous and brings to the fore just how important this is.  (They offer a chart with some data about how different sorts of folks perceive public policy pertaining to religious freedom and that itself is fascinating. As with unChristian, Good Faith offers ways to respond well to the perceptions of our neighbors, fellow-citizens, and, often, family members and loved ones.) Again, this summarizes much serious thought about these kinds of matters, and suggests nicely, but with some urgency, just how we might fruitfully proceed.


Also in this section they tackle major issues of our time and give us chapters on disability rights, race and prejudice, what some call bioethics and "the life issues." These are each powerful, clear, and generally helpful chapters.

Some may wish they'd speak out with more zeal, others may think they should have offered more gentle nuance. That many will find fault is not necessarily a bad thing - I myself found some portions wanting - but it also is to their credit that they are not trying to tow some culture wars line, and are trying at least a little to bring fresh insights to polarizing topics. Nor are they advocating a boring, slushy middle ground, but they do try to (as one reviewer put it) "turn down the temperature and offer leaders a box of cultural engagement tools."  This is a strength of the book; it doesn't necessarily bring new ideas to the table, but it does bring new, calm, faithful, generous, strategies and tools for evangelical public engagement.

Of course, many of the most thorny and controversial issues facing Biblically-informed faith groups these days have to do with the GLTBQ community, and how Christian faith does or doesn't relate well to persons who are gay or lesbian or trans, both in our own churches and in our advocacy in the public square.  I appreciate that Gabe and David frame their intrepid efforts to speak into these painful and complex matters by framing some of our situation by studying the overall cultural trends about sexuality in a chapter called "After the Revolution."  They cite very interesting books like Jenell Williams' The End of Sexual Identity and the eloquent and thoughtful Wesley Hill, including his wonderful book Spiritual Friendship. They offer a chapter on "Marriage, Family and Friendship" with the principle assertion that "Good faith Christians allow their marriages, families, and hospitality to benefit others." Some of the stories they share about families who take in hurting kids or offer gracious hospitality to others are truly inspiring.  

Some strident culture warriors might find them a bit "soft" on speaking about what they see as a non-negotiable Biblical teaching favoring only heterosexual marriage; they seem confident that this conventional view is correct, but they are eager to live it out with grace and care in a pluralistic society. They describe nice episodes such as when Gabe shared a stage with Bishop Gene Robinson (who is gay) and enjoyed his company, or the beautiful story of Gabe apologizing to someone to whom he came across as insensitive on this issue.  On the other hand, many will find their approach of kindness and civility "too little, too late" and wonder why they don't seem to grapple with contemporary, inclusive, Biblical interpretations or the implications of a framework of public justice that might honor all citizens desire to be wed.  While we should all admire their good faith efforts, these chapters are going to leave many unsatisfied.  I assume they know this, and I admire their efforts to bear witness to traditional sexual ethics in our complex social setting in a way that makes sense and is seen as healthy and good, not repressive or bigoted.  I suspect this well-intended chapter - written in a manner which writer Ann Voskamp says is "compelling in its humility" - will still not help many get beyond the culture wars divisions on this question.  In fact, there are moments in the book that I wonder if they themselves have adequately broken out of the alarmist, culture wars approach that they are trying so hard to avoid.

The last chapter in this middle section is really helpful, and perhaps nearly worth the price of the whole book.  They describe five ways to be faithful, or, better put, five stages or levels of public faith. Yes, "good faith Christians thoughtfully engage the most divisive issues of our time" but there is a wise and appropriate way to do this. (For what it is worth, Ron Sider's Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement has several detailed chapters offering a vigorous methodology for moving from a broad Biblical worldview to a Christian social philosophy to specific Scriptural texts, adding in sophisticated modern analysis, right on through to humble and provisional policy advocacy.) Kinnaman and Lyons are pitching this in a less detailed manner, so their five kinds or sorts of assertions or appeals are basic but very, very helpful.  Think of them as "five lenses to help Christians more clearly see opportunities to live in good faith."

In this section (which they even summarize in a fantastic little chart) they explore how to think well and make determinations and speak in ways that are influenced by our commitments to the five lenses:  theology, ministry, relationships, politics, and action in the public square.  As they say, "while this framework won't ease the burden of believing something vastly different than the dominant culture, we believe it clarifies the issues and gives good faith Christians a way forward."

The final Part III of Good Faith is called "The Church and Our Future" and it offers three very good chapters. Listen well to the titles of these three pieces:

  • "Firm Center, Soft Edges" (where "good faith Christian are grounded in Scripture and practice the art of seeing people.")
  • "Church in a New World" (where "good faith churches make disciples who bless the world.")
  • "Faithful in Exile" (where "good faith Christians love their neighbors, believe in God's power at work in his people, and live into God's call to be agents of reconciliation.")

Much more could be said about these three provocative, insightful, vital chapters, but each one will keep you and your book club or action group busy thinking and praying and talking together -- this is useful, good, stuff.  There is work to do.  As they say in the last line of the book: "Led by love, grounded in biblical belief, and ready to live as a counterculture for the common good, we trust that our good faith will be used by God to renew the world."

I appreciate what the serious Orthodox writer and social critic Rod Dreher writes of Kinnaman and Lyons when he calls them "trustworthy guides through the emerging post-Christian order."  Dreher writes,

What stands out about Good Faith is its unflinching realism, a quality that challenges the false but emotionally satisfying narratives of happy-clappy optimists and sky-is-falling pessimists. This prophetic book inspired me to rethink my own assumptions about how to live faithfully in our American exile.


the next christians.gifThe Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World Gabe Lyons (Multnomah Books) $15.99  The first third of this explores the demise of the end of American civil religion and Christendom, and offers a four-chapter-Biblical story that is more helpful then the typical dualistic fare, and the last two thirds offers seven key areas where the rising generations of Christians are leading the way to fresh practices across various spheres of life.  I really, really like it and recommend it often.

A Public Faith.gifPublic Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good Miroslav Volf (Baker) $18.99  I am honored to have a blurb on the back of this, exclaiming how much I appreciated it.  It is about more than politics as such, and argues for a robust commitment to the common good.  Very thoughtful, very impressive.  But don't take just my word for it. Listen to what Nicholas Wolterstorff says about it:

Why should Christians use the resources of their faith to speak to and to serve the common good rather than reducing the faith to a message that soothes individuals or energizes them to pursue success? And how can they do that without coercing those who are not Christians? Miroslav Volf sets for himself the daunting task of addressing these two deep and urgent questions in a way that is both widely accessible and that takes account of the scholarly literature. He succeeds on all counts.

uncommon decency.jpgUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00 I am not alone in suggesting this is one of my all-time favorite books. It is nicely written, very thoughtful, and helps us be honest about any number of quandaries and challenges in showing "convicted civility." I know you know it is one of the most needed topics these days.  Please, please, please, help us get this book into the hands of those who most need it, which, these days, is just about all of us.  That last thing we need now is a loud-mouthed and rude critique of the loud-mouthed and rude.  Mouw can help.

The Political Disciple- A Theology of Public Life.gifThe Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life Vincent Bacote (Zondervan) $11.99 You may recall that we hosted Dr. Bacote at a lectureship we sponsor in Pittsburgh each summer, and we promoted this little book with great joy.  It is part of a four-book series of "ordinary theology" and is maybe the best, most balanced, short book on public theology.  Bacote has served on the Board of the sophisticated Center for Public Justice in their efforts to offer a non-partisan framework for political life (drawing, among other things, the serious social philosophy of Abraham Kuyper.) Bacote gives us very accessible intro to public theology and Christian views of civic life.

Flourishing- Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.gifFlourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World Miroslav Volf (Yale University Press) $28.00 This is a major, new, academic volume, making a case that religion is important, even in the modern, global world. Volf is an important author; as he wrote with such acute insight in Exclusion and Embrace, his own experiences in the violent context of the Serbo-Croatian war has given him great sensitivity to God's call to be a peacemaker amidst inter-faith conflict. This is going to be a very important contribution, especially in a globalized culture where many are increasingly wary that religion can do much good, and often brings much harm. In a way, this project is taking up with scholarly rigor a similar challenge as Kinnaman and Lyons as they worry about living out faith when others think it extreme or irrelevant.

Reconciling All Things- A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing.gifReconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice (IVP) $17.00 This is the first book in a wonderful multi-volume series from the Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation, published in partnership with InterVarsity Press. It is a fabulous, refreshing, inspiring book co-written by a  global scholar and a US activist.  Oh my, if only we would embrace this big vision of God's reconciling work in all creation and see ourselves as agents of that restoration mission.  Their tone and insight and passion would have been a nice addition to the good faith project of Gabe & David.  This book (and the others in the set) are remarkable and important. This one, at least, should be on your shelf and in your conversations.

The Way of Love- Recovering the Heart of Christianity .gifThe Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity Norman Wirzba (HarperOne) $25.99 This is brand new and I am very pleased to announce it.  I'm eager to see how Wirzba writes about this chief Christian virtue and how he applies it to our strained cultural situation.  I trust you know his name - we awarded his most previous Baker Academic Press book, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World, as one of our Best Books of 2015. He is a a scholar of Christian environmentalism, has written widely  about agrarian themes (even with and about his friend Wendell Berry) and did a lovely, lovely book in the  aforementioned Duke Reconciliation series called Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation which is about food, farming, and eating. He has written other good stuff on food and faith, most rather scholarly.

This brand new book asks if Christianity is failing and if so, what we might do about it. Blurbs on the back are from Diana Butler Bass (who calls it "a gift") and David Gushee (who says it is "winsome and accessible") and Eugene Peterson who offers a very lovely paragraph about it, noting that "Wirzba wants to rescue this essential word [love] from the dustbin of everyday and restore it to usefulness. Connecting love and the hope of heaven, he provides a most satisfying and convincing conclusion."

I like what Tony Jones says about it, 

Wirzba reminds us that the Christian faith should be training us to love. But he also inspires, cajoles, and provokes us to live this out. If you want to love better - and who doesn't? - this book is for you.

Scars Across Humanity- Understanding Violence Against Women.gifScars Across Humanity: Understanding Violence Against Women Elaine Storkey (Cascade) $16.00  When I think of good faith Christian leaders who have done some of what Kinnaman and Lyons call us to -- living radically and yet winsomely in the public square -- I think of the UK scholar, activist, writer, Elaine Storkey (and, while we are at it, her thoughtful husband, Alan, author of Jesus and Politics.) I admire the broad and sophisticated work of many British evangelicals who seem to have avoided the polarizing rhetoric of the US Christian right and seem to be taken seriously even by secular authorities and agencies. (Elaine directed the Tear Fund for more than a decade and garnered international respect.) In this book, Elaine offers a very detailed, sophisticated and rather rare study of the crisis of how women are mistreated  -- as it is manifested throughout the world. From domestic violence in the so-called developed world to global concerns such as female genital mutilation or honor killings in the sub-continent or enforced under-age marriage, she brings a Biblically-informed Christian social theory and faith-based feminism to bear, exposing and offering proposals to reform complex patterns of injustice and abuse.  

As it says on the back cover, "combining rigorous research and compelling personal testimonies, Elaine Storkey investigates the different forms of violence experience by women across the globe today...  She considers the role that religion can play - for good or ill - in the struggle against this universal evil."  Elaine and Alan have both spoken at our Pittsburgh Jubilee conference in years gone by, raising big questions about structural injustice and God's passion for thinking Christianly about public action. It's the sort of good faith efforts we really need, and this latest project is powerful and important. I can hardly think of a scholar or activist who is more poised to do this urgent work.

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife- My Story of Finding Hope After Domestic Violence.gifBlack and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope After Domestic Violence Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan) $16.99 We have just received this new release, what looks to be a very disturbing narrative of missionary scholar and former seminary professor, Dr. Ruth A. Tucker, telling of her own abuse at the hands of her pastor husband in her allegedly Christian home.  This is going to be hard to read, but a story that needs to be known.  This will expose the lack of goodness lurking behind the scenes in too many Christian missions and churches and homes and offer a way to think about gender justice, and how to bring hope to those who are going through very, very painful times.  

Strong and Weak- Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing.jpgStrong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing Andy Crouch (IVP) $20.00  I know I have promoted this before and told our readers how much we value it.  Andy spoke at this year's Q this past week, and his new book is simply one of the most insightful, interesting, rewarding and I think important volumes you will read all year. It certainly is a good example of the kind of thinking that will fund our good faith efforts in the public spheres.  Kudos to Andy for doing this good work, and kudos to Gabe Lyons and his team at Q for hosting him speaking about this aspect of faithful culture-making and servant leadership in a world of power gone amuck (or, sometimes, ignored by those not wanting to take the necessary risks of vulnerability to exercise appropriate influence.)  His more lengthy rumination on power, Playing God, is a must-read (I hope you have not tired of us saying this) although you can read Strong and Weak without having read it. It's one of the best books of the year. 



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March 7, 2016

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press) review: PART ONE -- ON SALE at BookNotes

smith small head shot.jpgYou Are What You Love- The Spiritual Power of Habit.jpgI want to ease into a review of James K.A. Smith's important new book, a book that I am very, very impressed with, and found to be a joy and of great value, the much-anticipated You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit just about to be published by Brazos Press ($19.99.)  It will be shipping shortly and we will have it on sale at $17.99 very soon.

(We are still taking pre-orders of it, at the 20% OFF extra discount as when we first announced it late last year. or again early in 2016. Those early birds got the pre-order extra discount. See below to get that extra discount, even now, and get to join in an exclusive on-line chat with Mr. Smith, compliments Brazos Press. Extra discount good until the book releases mid-March..)

This new book is truly wonderful and so very important, and it is for me significantly connected to my own journey, my own years of reading and being formed by conversations with others about related themes, and somewhat related authors, so I want to place the release of this James K.A. Smith book within a certain context.  There are other contexts and other stories that could be told about this stellar new work (it is dedicated to worship scholars Robert Webber and John Witvliet, about which I will comment when I review it in earnest) but for those who read BookNotes and care about our bookstore work here, I wanted to offer this particular rumination about one or two pieces, so to speak, of the book's backstory, tributaries, if you will, that have flowed into it and brought Smith to this important point in his career.

I will review the book itself in the next BookNotes, but wanted to share this essay as a preamble to my review. I hope it is stimulating and a bit provocative, helping you come to appreciate the book's importance.  Maybe this is even consistent with the theme of the book - I might convince you to buy it by inviting you to feel warmly about it because it has a story we might care about and a trajectory that captures your imagination. We are what we love, after all, and I love this stuff. I am not saying this with a wink or in irony; not at all. I hope you love good books and big ideas, even ones that, well...

Take a deep breath, and let's begin.

In a remarkable book just out in paperback called How I Shed my Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood Jim Grisley notes how he quietly absorbed racism in the 1960s in his small North Carolina town, without really being explicitly taught about white supremacy, and, in his words, how he "inhabited a universe where certain things simply weren't imaginable." 

Like a black girl kissing a white boy in 7th grade in 1967 in North Carolina, or a white boy liking other boys; few talked about it, and but almost everybody got the message.  Some things just aren't done.  They couldn't even imagine it.

subversive 2nd.jpgWhen reading that line I immediately thought of the powerful collection of essays by Brian Walsh called Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time (Wipf & Stock; $15.00) which invites us to see deeply into our culture and its ideologies, its idols and dysfunctions, its pains and sorrows. Walsh makes the case persuasively that our very imaginations are held captive by the world and, given discipleship imperatives like those found in Romans 12:1-2, we must find out how to become "non-conformed" to these ways of seeing and being in the world that so profoundly hold us captive.

I have told the story before, but it bears repeating here. I thank you for indulging me a bit of reminiscence that I think will set the stage for my review of what I think is probably the most important book of 2016.

Let me explain.


When in the mid-1970s Beth and I were hanging around the campus ministry organization the CCO (the Coalition for Christian Outreach) we studied mimeographed notes from what we ICS_(Toronto)_logo,_RGB_150x100.gifcalled a "Perspectives Class" that we got from Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies which we sensed would be transformational for our lives and our organization. A Dutch philosopher and campus worker who I mention in my chapter in Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo; $13.99), the late Dr. Peter J. Steen, had given them to us. More or less, these notes eventually became the core of the book The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview (IVP; $18.00) which you may know is one of the books on my list of those that most influenced me.

The-Transforming-Vision-9780877849735.jpgcreationregained.jpgWhen I announced The Transforming Vision (along with the more succinct and less audacious Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Steen's good friend Albert Wolters) at the 40th anniversary of Jubilee a few weeks ago in front of 3500 eager college students, naming it a true Jubilee Classic, I was not kidding. The Transforming Vision was the first major book that systematically explored the full-orbed Biblical perspective that could be called a Christian worldview, and how the false division of life into hermetically sealed off compartments (sacred/secular) that was presumed, breathed in the air of our churches and culture, holding captive our imagination, arose from an unfaithful accommodation to pagan Greek dualism by the early church. In succinct chapters painted with a broad brush, Walsh and his co-author Richard Middleton showed how medieval and even reformation-era theologians continued to accept--sometimes explicitly, sometimes tacitly - this assumption: God really only cared about some things (prayer, church, theology, evangelism, the soul) and other more worldly concerns (politics, art, science, sports, urban planning, economics and such) were of lesser concerns, or at least could be considered as "secular" and disconnected from the heart of discipleship. (As one prof at a Christian college railed to his class in those years after hearing Walsh lecture, "There is no such thing as a Christian view of economics!"

(Regarding my claim that this was the first book of its kind, you can study for yourself the fascinating genealogy of the word weltanschauung -- world and life view/philosophy of seeing -- and learn how it was first used by Christian writers in the magisterial history of the subject by David Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans; $34.00) and consider the later struggle to use it wisely in After Worldview edited by J. Matthew Bonzo and Michael Stevens (Dordt College Press; $13.00.) Both books are important, foundational resources.)


In The Transforming Vision, Walsh & Middleton quoted Francis Schaeffer, who was still alive, drawing on Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, observing that if theologians presume a dichotomy between nature and grace, sooner or later, "nature eats up grace." Or, in other words, if God doesn't really care about, and the Biblical worldview doesn't really given an account for or offer normative principles for the stuff of culture such as economics or science or civic life, then faith is increasingly made small, marginalized, rendered toothless, and the idols of the age - unmoored from the Bible and Christian conviction - grow and become the dominant force of society. We turn away from culture saying it is "the world" or "the devil's territory" or, seemingly more benign, "it is what it is" and don't allow the gospel to truly have its way in transforming the world.  The Kingdom isn't seen as "creation regained" but as escape to heaven and some inner comfort, and, subsequently, the world develops as it does and we wring our hands.

(As John Stott used to say, though, we shouldn't blame meat for rotting; we should blame the preserving salt for not doing its job! Let those who have ears, hear!)


heaven is not my home Paul Marshall.jpgAnd, anyway, as Dorothy Sayers is said to have said, who wants to commit to a religion that is disinterested in most of real life? That's a good question!  Or as Paul Marshall, also at ICS in those years, wrote in his wonderful collection of pieces about Christian living in various sides of life and culture, Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God's Creation (Thomas Nelson; $15.99) such a constricted, narrow view of religious life ends up just being boring. How can we conjure much enthusiasm for a faith that disregards so much about life in God's world?

We experience the deformed textures of the world as we now know it in part because of our capitulation to this dualism - God doesn't really care about the stuff of life, it was commonly assumed in the middle of the 20th century evangelical churches.  We can't even imagine serious hope for the real world.  The secularizing spirit of the increasingly influential and brazen admen coupled with the often outright disdain for the world in our churches created a toxic faith orientation that was more gnostic than Biblical and allowed distortion and dysfunction to run amuck in society without much substantive challenge.  Such compromised faith and cultural apathy lead to an ethos in most churches about which Episcopal poet Malcolm Boyd could write that we may study the Hebrew prophets but wouldn't have the imagination to recognize one if he stepped in front of us.

The Transforming Vision not only offered very helpful study on the Biblical narrative (creation-fall-redemption-restoration - in a way that caught the attention of a young Bible scholar named Tom Wright, btw) but critiqued the rise of scientism, technicism, economism, the chief idols that reduced the multi-dimensional goodness of God's creation to stuff that can be managed. And it made a case for students to be a bit more attentive to the philosophies that informed (deformed?) their majors and invited them to be a bit more rigorous in their reflections about their callings. 

In a way the book was channeling into the late 20th century the insights of Dutch theologian and political leader Abraham Kuyper from a century previous who insisted that Christ's Lordship over all areas of life should lead to a public faith lived out with grace and holiness amidst a pluralistic society. Kuyper famously balanced "common grace" (realizing the goodness of the creation and the ways even those hostile to Biblical religion do many good things) and the antithesis between God's Kingdom of light and all other agendas and religious-like forces. (Can anyone say "resident aliens"?)  A transforming vision of God's missional project of redeeming creation which rejects as unbiblical the false dualism of sacred vs secular will free us to "think Christianly" about all of life and create social initiatives of distinctively Christian witness alongside more secularized projects of those in the world.


Such Kuyperian "world formative" believers will work for alternative labor unions based on reconciliation, media outlets that are fair and profound, Christian universities, faith-based businesses, Biblically-influenced counseling centers, art galleries guided by Christian insights into aesthetics, science think-tanks rejecting the religion vs science model, journals that invite conversations about Christians in philosophy, firms seeking normative, responsible views of technology and engineering, will work vigorously for environmental concerns and the like. Maybe even there could be a "third way" Christian political party like what Kuyper started in Holland. Churches will enable their members to take up vocations in the world as thoughtful, informed, change agents, seeking their own spheres of influence for the sake of pointing to God's Kingdom, not merely church growth.

abraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpgIf you are so inclined, you might benefit from pondering Prime Minister Kuyper's famous lectures given at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898 which are still in print under the title that doesn't do it justice, Lectures on Calvinism (Eerdmans; $18.00) or the very lovely little recent book called Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard Mouw (Eerdmans; $15.00) to connect those dots.  Smith himself has written about these things and their significance. I love his fabulous collection of essays, reviews, and articles found in Discipleship in the Present Age: Reflections on Faith and Culture (Calvin College Press; $14.99) discipleship in the present age.jpga book we are happy to letters to a young calvinist.jpgstock, or his more specific introduction to gracious, broad Kuyperian themes -- and Augustinian as well -- in his set of lovely pastoral letters to young Reformed Christians called Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition (Brazos Press; $14.99.)   I once (okay more than once) quipped that that particular little book might be subtitled "moving from Piper to Kuyper."


The CCOs Pittsburgh Jubilee conference developed in the late 70s out of this heady mix of reading philosophy, doing cultural criticism, seeking the "integration of faith and scholarship" and exploring what it meant to be faithful Christians at least somewhat in the line of Kuyper - not pietistic dualists who rejected culture nor heterodox liberals whose churches tended to accommodate to secularization and the spirit of the age. (See this extraordinary short booklet celebrating the impact of 40 years of this yearly gathering and you'll see in an instance what I mean. Do you know anybody doing quite this kind of work with young adults??)

Although Jubilee offers lots of basic, fairly conventional Christian content for young collegiate believers and is known for its commitments to social justice, racial reconciliation and promoting short term mission projects of all sorts, at its heart is this rejection of dualism.  "Everything Matters" it shouted a few years ago. "Transform Everything" was the slogan this year. A year ago when Richard Middleton preached Sunday morning drawing on his stunning, Biblical book A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic; $26.99) he came away from the event and wrote a blog post showing an old "no dualisms" button he found somewhere, having heard that was once a slogan among CCO staff. 

truth is stanger than.jpgAnd here is why I remind you of this: after The Transforming Vision found its way into the world Walsh and Middleton followed it up with a major work called Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (IVP Academic; $22.00) which explored how insights from postmodernity might deconstruct standard-fare evangelical instincts and how a raw immersion in a more knowingly Biblical story (including big themes of injustice and exile and lament) could offer to the broken pomo culture not easy answers of heaven after death, but costly discipleship that points to God's amazing grace that would bring social renewal and cultural restoration and hope-in-history.

But, as they helpfully showed, the Bible's own story isn't one of God bringing instant healing and spiritual revolution, let alone one of breaking promises with the creation and destroying it so we can live in a disembodied, ethereal heaven for eternity, but is a story in which we are called to take up vocations of prophetic denunciation of the idols of our age, serving as salt and light in but not of the world and thereby being a counter culture which bears witness to new creation. (I don't know exactly where Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman got the great phrase "counter culture for the common good" that they have used for years, as I noted in my review in our last post about their new book Good Faith, but it may have resonance with these themes from Walsh & Middleton and ICS and Kuyper and James K.A. Smith.)  Our being somehow in solidarity with the pains of the world is what allows us to be Christ-like and a true counter-culture.

In other words, as Truth Is Stranger... explored, we are called to enter in to the suffering of God's world and follow the upside down Kingdom of a King whose seemingly not-so-royal coronation is on a cross and whose crown is one of bloody thorns.

And that, my friends, is hard to imagine.


subversive 2nd.jpgWhich is why I was glad when Brian published that small collection of lectures, papers, sermons -- one given at Jubilee in the mid-80s -- that I mentioned earlier, called Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time (Wipf & Stock; $15.00.) These powerful, astute, demanding essays explored Biblical texts and contrasted the spirit of the age,  drew on the lyrics of Bruce Cockburn, mourned the agonies of creation, decried the plight of the poor often abused by the neo-colonialism of the US empire, and once again exposed as unbiblical the still too-often otherworldliness of most churches. A more recent new edition adds a prophetic, inspiring chapter exploring our current situation among God's people and within the world at large.  I was thrilled to hear just the other week that N.T. Wright (who wrote the forward to it) is using it in an on-line course he is teaching on Christian and biblical worldviews.

The heart of that potent book, though - that our tears of lament and protest against the idols of the age will prove subversive, eroding trust in the untenable promises of those false gods of modernity - is explored in light of one major truth, a truth hinted at in Transforming, made a bit more explicit in Truth Is Stranger and explored directly in Subversive, and it is this: changing our ideas alone will not generate the sorts of reforming Christian vision for life that Biblical faith demands. Getting a theology (or worldview) right simply isn't enough. (It is also why Brian wrote an amazingly insightful, learned, passionate and entertaining book exploring the lyrics of rock singer Bruce Cockburn called Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos Press; $22.00.) Poetry, music, and the arts can help us "see" things, allow us to be touched by them, using the right side of our brains, helping us mature our imaginations. As Cockburn sings of poets in Maybe the Poet "you need him and you know it."  Merely assenting to the ideas of a so-called Christian worldview, even one that unmasks dualisms and is grounded in a healthy reading of the Bible using the themes of creation, fall, redemption, restoration, will not truly bring the revival and renewal and Biblical grit that we need to make a difference in the world.

Because, you see, our imaginations are held captive.  Adopting better, bigger ideas in place of bad, constricted ones may help a bit, but -- as Walsh said bluntly in Subversive, after having written books himself about the need for a Christian worldview, which now Smith echoes and significantly develops -- this just isn't radical or effective enough.

We have muted the subversive, idol-challenging, big-picture, transforming vision of the gospel not only because we have thought bought bad ideas, but because we just can't see it.

We might even say that our hearts just aren't in it.


Which is to say this: (wait for it, wait for it...) we really, really need this powerful, important new book by James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.

You Are What You Love- The Spiritual Power of Habit.jpgYou Are What You Love makes the case that we come to embrace new ways of living out the faith not only by being lectured to, by reading books, by thinking well - not even by thinking well about the stuff I'm writing about - but by coming to care deeply for these things with our affections, which are shaped, Smith wants to say, mostly and most decisively, by ritual and liturgy and embodied habits. To live out a transforming Christian vision, we need to somehow learn to "learn by heart" and be transformed by the stuff we do, that in turn effects our desires and imaginations. In that sense, true change happens not, as the spiritual formationists put it, simply from the inside out, but from the outside in.  Rituals and habits shapes our tastes, our affections, we love what we do, and we are, then, what we come to love.  We aren't primarily thinkers but we are lovers.  That is how God made us.


Smith studied with Walsh & Middleton in those years that Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Then It Used to Be and Subversive Christianity were being debated and written.  As a Pentecostal kid from a small town in Canada, Jamie Smith came alive when realizing he could honor God - he could worship God--as he studied philosophy.  He describes this in an exceptionally interesting reflection in the first great chapter of his serious, philosophical book Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Eerdmans; $19.00.) Yes, Smith the neo-Calvnist Kuyperian postmodern philosopher whose new book is about liturgy is also Pentecostal. 


One might surmise that Smith's interest in postmodern philosophy was stimulated at ICS on 220 College Street in Toronto, as he observed there the deep discussions between their brand of "all of life redeemed" neo-Calvinist philosophy and the more rationalistic theological dogma promoted at places like Westminster Seminary or Ligonier, and was around Walsh and scholars who's afraid of postmodernism.jpglike James Olthius as they began to dig deep into postmodern philosophy. Think of Smith's own important little book, based on lectures given at L'Abri, called Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church (Baker Academic; $19.99.) These and his other books on postmodernism do not drift off into weird radical theology or the slippery trendiness of some in the emerging church conversations, yet give a rousing call for historically orthodox believers to engage and in some ways embrace insights from continental philosophy.  Which surely includes rejecting the straight-jacket of faith in autonomous reason that seems so prevalent in many theological circles and, he might say, distorted some of our best theological traditions.

I am not a philosopher (by any stretch) and I don't really know the details of Smith's journey, but I think I can can suggest this much: he is, in some important ways, working out the fundamental concern of Walsh & Middleton in their early books that have meant so much to me, a concern that insists that to be Biblically wise we should reject favoring the rational and systematic and modernist methods by honoring the God-given role of the imagination, the heart, the desires. 


Modernity - that big, sprawling worldview and societal movement linked to the intellectual principles demanding faith in Reason promoted by the secularizing and violent French Revolution at the time of the Enlightenment - left little room for the role of the imagination: everything that mattered (and, for the more extreme thinkers, everything that truly existed) could be measured, counted, named, reduced to some objective Fact.

Theologians - especially those of the late scholastic Catholic era and the seminal Protestant reformation - were so influenced by this modernist worldview, this unbiblically narrow view of knowing and truth, that theology became increasingly abstract, systematic, detailed, debated, becoming something so technical and considered so important that it was worth killing for. People could be burned at the stake for having some nuanced detail wrong about an obscure bit of theological arcana. Later, one could be arrested for reading the wrong novels. It is not the only story, but for some, novels and art was suspect. I know of a otherwise thoughtful Christian woman who disapproved of us selling fantasy novels because, well, this wasn't logical or true. Showing her Madeline L'Engle's The Rock That is Higher: Story As Truth or Calvin Seerveld on Biblically-inspired aesthetic theory didn't help. She was, in her fundamentalism, a child of the Enlightenment and only facts mattered.

In many ways, churches and their theology became as much a curse as a blessing and while church leaders fought (think, especially of the nearly one hundred years of war in Europe related to religion in the late 1500s into the middle of the 1600s) some of the culture went to hell in a hand-basket - and, the glories and good that were developed were disassociated with the grandeur of God. This itself is a shame and a scandal, but there you have it.  You know what the makers of parts for atomic bombs, GE, used to say: "We bring good things to life." Yikes!


You probably know how eventually theologically liberalism ran this into the ground and how American fundamentalism responded; in the US in the 20th century churches were more or less divided into liberal vs conservative camps with all manner of troubles ensuing.  Some of these conflicts and debates were very important, but behind them all seemed to be this larger, usually unquestioned story of the modernity of the Western world. By the end of the last century some had discovered inner spirituality, some had become progressive agents of social justice, some continued to argue theology, sometimes helpfully, sometimes brutally. Church and worship styles came and went, but everybody seemed to still live in the background of a story that said, in Descartes's famous phrase: "I think therefore I am."


Smith deconstructs this problematic view of what kind of creatures humans are. Descartes worldview and the subsequent rationalism of modernity said we are primarily thinkers, "brains on a stick" in Smith's colorful summary. And he also critiques what it means to truly know something (again, the modern view is that knowing is merely assenting to raw data absorbed into the mind as facts.) In a set of much discussed books (Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom -- see below, or search our BookNotes for times I've reviewed them) Smith shows - drawing on the insights he learned from Walsh and Middleton and Al Wolters and Calvin Seerveld and James Olthius at ICS, who were all influenced in those years by Kuyper and Dooyeweerd - that in the Bible the human heart is the center of the human person, not the mind, and that the Biblical word for knowing is yada - the same Hebrew word used to describe sexual intercourse.

Ahh - I helped the CCO a decade or more ago do a series of conferences about wholistic engagement with "heart and mind" that we called Yada, Yada, Yada. And if you don't believe me that this stuff is interesting and vital and consequential, see Esther Meek's small book called A Little Manuel for Knowing (Cascade; $14.00) which invites us to covenantal views of true, wise, deep, knowledge or the chapter called "Knowing is Doing" in Steve Garber's beloved Visions of Vocation (IVP; $16.00.).

With this view of the human person (rejecting Descartes and the modernist illusion of Man the Thinker) and this view of authentic knowing (rejecting the modernist illusion that there are neutral facts one can conquer and thereby truly know in one's mind alone) Smith is working way outside of the box of conventional assumptions, pressing us to think hard about very basic stuff -- what really is the human person, what do we most desire, what is the nature of the heart, what does it mean to really say we know something, how do we change as people and as a society -- from what he considers to be a more Biblical, theologically sound perspective.

the fall of interpretation.jpgSmith has for a long time in his many books explained that a Biblical vision of of the person is more than a "brain on a stick" and our knowing is something more wholistic/spiritual than mere objective assent to raw data. His first major work was on Augustine and hermeneutics  and was called The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic. (Baker; $22.00.) It is an important book, and it should be better known among us.

Especially in his last two recent books, though, and this brand, brand new one Smith helps us see - importantly - that knowing something is not merely intellectual, that we are people who imagine our way into new ways of living, and our imagination is held captive by our loves, that which we most care about. The defining question -- as Augustine said in the earliest centuries of the church -- is less about what we believe, but what we love.

jamie-teaching-seminar.jpgLook: Dr. Smith is a philosopher and writer of books and journalist and college professor - one of the most intellectually robust people I know! - so he surely isn't promoting anti - intellectualism or doing an end-run around the life of the mind. Of course he is writing a book about all this so just get over that seeming irony.

Still, as a scholar, he is adamant: most Christian theologians - and, in the late 20th century, even many of us who promoted the need for a Christian worldview! -- have too closely tied our invitation to "think Christianly" and have a Christian orientation and Kingdom vision to a view that assumed that if we just got our facts right, if we thought differently, if we learned the right stuff, read the right books, critiqued the false ideas, rejected dualism, attended conferences of the missional sort, and paid attention, learned the "Biblical meta-narrative" and understood "creation regained" and the like,  well, we'd start thinking God's thoughts and living in God's ways. The Kingdom might come if only we got rid of the bad ideas and adopted the right ideas about a Christian worldview and learned to articulate them in an orderly, clear-headed fashion.

As I might say in my review of You Are What You Love when I get to it in the next BookNotes, I think Smith maybe overstates this tendency, and that only some who talked about worldview talked about it in that reductionistic, modernist, rationalist manner.  But his point is well taken, nonetheless.  Many of us - liberals and conservatives, activists and pietists, progressives and orthodox, worldview thinkers and dualists, scholars and more practical folk -- somehow really believe (deep down) that if we just learn the right stuff and assent to the right assertions, then we can apply the right Bible principles and change our lives and maybe change the world.  

But, as we might ask nowadays, "how is that working out for you?"

As we will see, in You Are What You Love James K.A. Smith offers a very different approach to spiritual formation and cultural engagement and he greatly, greatly values the role of the local church and its educational and worship ministries to form us into the kinds of people that are able to be "a counter culture for the common good."

As you may know, Smith has developed very complex - some might say at times nearly tedious - arguments for how we know with the heart, and are truly most deeply shaped and formed by rituals (for better or worse, rituals from the world or from the church, thin, unsubstantial ones or thicker, lasting ones) in his last two books, part of what is being called the "Cultural Liturgies" series.


imagining the kingdom cover.jpgdesiring-the-kingdom.jpgProfessor Smith's first major work on all this was Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic; $22.99) and the second was Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker Academic; $22.99.) Within a year or so we are told there will be a third one in the "Cultural Liturgies" series, most likely called Embodying the Kingdom. These two are major works, and many have found it valuable to wade through them, both, perhaps with others.  I know some who say they are the most important books they have ever read in their lives.

Into this effort of much writing and speaking about "secular liturgies" and inviting us into a more imaginative view of worldview - he adopts Charles Taylor's "social imaginaries" - and promoting a storied view of how what he most love shapes how we live, Smith has realized the need to offer a book that has a less philosophical tone, fewer academic footnotes, and is more accessible and practical in its appeal. Much of his concern comes back to how we do church, so we wanted to write a book for pastors and church leaders, with more advise given to generate conversations in the local parish.  You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is that book although I am very glad to tell you that it isn't merely a "dumbed down" short version of the first two.

You Are What You Love- The Spiritual Power of Habit.jpgIn the last few months I tended to describe it that way, in brief, that that is what it would be, just a simpler version of his two others in the "cultural liturgies" project. Now that I have read it, though, I think You Are What You Love deserves to be known as its own unique and stand-alone book - again, not just a simplified edition of previous works. It is marvelous, interesting, thought-provoking, moving, inspiring. Yes, he is re-visiting some portions of Desiring... and Embodying... but even for those that read and understood those volumes, this book is going to be fresh, good, helpful material.  I can't wait to tell you about it.

As I said, I love this stuff.  I hope you care.  This is really, truly, life-changing -- good for the heart and the mind, and the hands and feet as well.  I'll tell you more about it soon.



Click here to see a bunch of quotes about the book, a wonderful, short video clip of Smith talking about the book, and an opportunity to pre-order it through us at an extra discount, 20% OFF and to thereby get access to a special on-line conversation with Jamie next month. This is a special way of saying thank-you to you, with thanks to Brazos for their generous partnership.



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March 9, 2016

TEN NEW BOOKS YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT on sale at Hearts & Minds / BookNotes

jkas-features3-bkr.jpgI hope you saw my long essay the other day about the importance of the forthcoming Jamie Smith book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99) at the previous BookNotes post. (All of my past blog posts are archived at our Hearts & Minds website.) A couple of folks said it was quite an education, and I enjoyed sharing, again, some of my own significant influences and some of my own favorite books and authors.  Trying to offer a bit of a backstory (my own or Smith's I can't quite say) that frames the new book was fun and meaningful for me, at least.  I do hope you considered it.  

Alas, I haven't gotten the real review of the book itself done yet, and I've learned You Are What You Love (can we call it YAWYL?) won't arrive for another week, so I'm going to sneak in a random, but no less important, shorter BookNotes list now.  Stay tuned for my eventual review of YAWYL and do check out that "part one" rumination about it if you haven't yet.  

In the mean time, it's usually quite invigorating being around here any given day at the Dallastown shop, realizing just how many great books keep coming and coming. There's lots of dumb stuff out there and plenty that is mediocre.  But, truly, there are wonderful reads and fine authors and helpful publishers; the book world and publishing industry really is a blessing to us all. I know I speak for all our staff here when I say that Beth and I are glad there are readers who care. I don't mean that only because your shopping with us keeps us afloat, tenuous as that project seems. It means that people care about words, about ideas, about being moved by the art of writing and the habit of reading.  That's good -- essential! -- for the health of our world, you know.

Some new and very good books that I shall list below just might scratch where you itch these days or they might make a good gift to somebody who you may know who needs some pleasurable and helpful resources this very week. Spread the word.


Love Kindness- Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue .jpgLove Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue Barry H. Corey (Tyndale) $15.99  When reading an advanced copy of Good Faith which I reviewed a week ago I noticed a footnote to this book that had not yet been released. Kinnaman and Lyons said very good things about it in that footnote and I made a mental note to be sure we had it on order.  It came not long ago and, as I expected, it is remarkable. And it has Micah 6:8 printed on the back -- the first verse I learned as a kid, my dad's favorite.  There are surprising blurbs on the back from David Wells, a serious-minded, no-nonsense and very careful thinker I great admire, a Distinguished Research Professor at Gordon Conwell, and a long, passionate endorsement by Miroslav Volf.  These are impressive signs. Alistair Begg calls Love Kindness "a thought-provoking, heart-stirring challenge to consider kindness as a barometer of a grace-shaped life."  I know some very kind people and admire them. You do too.  Maybe we need this book so we can be more like them.  The author, by the way, has a PhD in education from Boston College, was a Fulbright scholar and worked with the landless poor in Bangladesh. This looks really, really rich.

Letters to Jacob- Mostly About Prayer.jpgLetters to Jacob: Mostly About Prayer Fr. John-Julian (Paraclete Press) $7.99  This is a very, very small book and I intend to read it devotional here in the second half of Lent. Any title that alludes to Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis, and says "ordinary mysticism" on the cover has to be good!  And I hear it really is.  Desmond Tutu has a rave on the front saying "Wise counsel for all on how to grow in that life of prayer and what pitfalls to avoid."

Fr. John-Julian is an Episcopal priest who is what they call "semi-enclosed" and has had a wide, wide array of jobs from camp director to TV actor to the dean of an experimental seminary and a social worker -- even a bookseller!  (If only he'd have logged some time in the circus.) His wide worldly experience, his service as a pastor, and now as an Oblate (Order of Julian of Norwich) gives him a rare place in which to describe contemplative prayer to those of us who are not quite so oriented to stillness and solitude and deeper prayerfulness.  It looks like an argument for the contemplative life, but also an invitation to it, written to a young, 21st century seeker.  Might even be a slightly deeper version of the lovely Nouwen book called Letters to Marc, which I also loved.  Nice.

Wholeheartedness- Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self .jpgWholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self Chuck DeGroat (Eerdmans) $15.00 We discovered DeGroat a while back, appreciated by many for his helping to found the Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco, but who is now a prof of pastoral care at the RCA's Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan and who also has a counseling practice. He wrote the wonderfully interesting and beautiful book called Leaving Egypt: Finding God in WIlderness Places and then a most helpful and very thoughtfulToughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life Including Yourself.  This new one looks remarkable -- just the footnotes alone show how wide of a reader DeGroat is, citing everybody from evangelical neuroscientist Curt Thompson to poet Mary Oliver, from David Letterman to Thomas Merton.

Wholeheartedness has a beautiful style about it, covers very impressive ground, helping us diagnose our unwholeness, awaken to wholeness, and then experience real wholeness.  It seems to me that this is a perfect example of a book that is designed for self-improvement, personal growth, but is mature, sophisticated, beautifully-crafted and nuanced.  Steve Brown raves on the back saying how "this came just in time to salvage this old cynical preacher from almost giving up on every finding healing in this busy world" and Ms Mica Boyett (herself a fabulously gifted writer and a bit of a mystic) says the book will "provoke and encourage and push you past the scarcity of anxiety and performance and into a fuller, more beautiful life of faith."  Not bad, eh?

Night Comes- Death, Imagination, and the Last Things.jpgNight Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things Dale C. Allison, Jr. (Eerdmans) $18.00  A very, very smart friend of mine, a world-travelled, small-church Presbyterian pastor who is remarkably well read, has confided in me that Dale Allison is one of the smartest and most amazing people he's ever met. Those of us that have heard him or worked with him know this is true: he is an eloquent and interesting writer, luminous at times, even. He has written major scholarly works, and a few probing, moving meditations, too (such as The Luminous Dusk: Finding God in the Deep Still Places.) Blurbs on the back of this new book include extravagant endorsements by John Burgess (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), the deeply thoughtful Orthodox scholar and writer David Bentley Hart, and Thomas Long, the well known preacher and prof from Candler.  Allison definitely is respected among evangelicals, Orthodox, and more mainline denominational colleagues.

When Dale was 23 years old he almost died in a car accident and we are told that that terrifying experience dramatically changed his ideas about death and the hereafter. As it says on the back, "In Night Comes Allison wrestles with a number of difficult questions concerning last things -- such questions as what happens to us after we die? and why does death so often frighten us?  He is a first-rate Bible scholar and mystic, and here he engages not only biblical texts but the church fathers and mothers, rabbinic scholars, poets and scientists and philosophers.  This is the spiritual and theological guidebook of big questions for the well educated and curious. As Burgess puts it, "Extraordinarily thoughtful and deeply personal, Night Comes makes a profound witness to the ultimate mysteries -- and certainties -- of religious faith."

Colors of Goodbye- A Memoir of Holding On, Letting Go.jpgColors of Goodbye: A Memoir of Holding On, Letting Go, and Reclaiming Joy in the Wake of Loss September Vaudrey (Momentum) $15.99  Oh geesh, I got choked up just reading the inside cover.  This very handsome book is a beautifully written story of a Christian mom whose young adult daughter, Katie, an artist, died in a car accident at age 19. There are a number of very moving, even profound, memoirs of this sort and I sense that this is one of them. (That the evangelical publisher compared it to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is itself notable.) I read the excellently-drawn several pages of a foreword by Shauna Niequist (a writer who just keeps getting better and better herself) who has known September Vaudrey and her husband, and has admired her her mothering for years.  Now, we see how her life changed with this grievous loss.  "It's a story of love and tragedy in tandem; a deeply personal memoir from a life forever changed by one empty place" the promo stuff tells us. I don't usually like it when there are photos and artwork in books of this sort, but this is very handsomely designed. Kudos to Tyndale for releasing such a rich, meaningful, valuable story.  

Making All Things New- Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church.jpgMaking All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church Benjamin L. Gladd & Matthew S. Harmon (with a hefty introductory chapter by G.K. Beale) (Baker Academic) $19.99  Wow --this just came and it is asking a very, very important question. If we believe -- as we've written about often, here, even in the last column which introduced the forthcoming James K.A. Smith book -- that God's Kingdom is in some ways now inaugurated, and that the "end times" of "all things new" and "creation restored" is breaking into history now in newness, well, how then shall we pastor? What should the shepherds to do prepare people for "now but not yet" sorts of lifestyles? 

As the respected Biblical scholar Michael Bird (of Ridley College in Australia) writes,

We stand in the middle of an old world dying and a new creation already born in our midst through Jesus Christ. How does this sense of living between the ages shape our conception of the church, pastoring, and ministry? In this book two young scholars, with the assistance of Greg Beale, show what it means to be end-times people. They offer some great theological reflections and practical advice on how to lead people who are waiting with patience and purpose for the day when God is all in all.

This book which surely deserves to be called remarkable just arrived today and I'm eager to see how (healthy) eschatology can permeate their views of ministry and what suggestions they might make at the intersection of (forgive the fancy-pants words) "ecclesiology and eschatology. Here is one odd-ball thing, though, that distresses me: they don't seem to cite Richard Middleton.  What?

The Dusty Ones bigger.jpgThe Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith A.J. Swoboda (Baker) $15.99  Last year about this time I read A.J.s A Glorious Dark which reflects profoundly on the triduum -- Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Through his own study and sharing of pain and doubt and darkness and trust, that book moved me deeply and I will re-read it this Holy Week I am sure.  (By the way, not only was Glorious Dark one of my favorite books of last year, he also co wrote the significant and commendable Evangelical Ecotheology.)

Now, in this brand new one with this great, allusive title -- The Dusty Ones -- Swoboda explores wandering, what it means to be a wandering people, why wilderness matters and how hardships of time in the desert might be formative for us. And what it means to "wander well."  On the back it says "If you're restless, doubtful, or questioning, you will emerge from this journey with the assurance that not all who wander are lost. There's hope and peace for all those who travel the winding path seeking to experience God in all his glory."  As the upbeat and feisty Jo Saxton puts it, "May we all have the courage to live as one of the dusty ones." 

One Dress. One Year. One Girl's Stand Against Human jpgOne Dress. One Year. One Girl's Stand Against Human Trafficking Bethany Winz with Susanna Foth Aughtmon (Baker) $12.99  Just earlier today I read of the awful slave  ships from Thailand that do much of the commercial fishing that sells shrimp to Kroger, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Red Lobster. President Obama last month signed a bill to ban all seafood caught with slave labor, which rocked the Thai fishing industry -- David Batstone at Not For Sale calls is a "major win against human trafficking."  But the slaves (many of whom are children according to an AP report) are sill on those ships. It is heartbreaking, evil, and solving global injustices is complex.  Just recall Gary Haugen's vital Oxford University Press book called Locust Effective: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.  We need big, structural reforms and, obviously, a healthy establishment of the rule of law.

Enter Bethany Winz, who, as a sixteen year old (who is Bethany Winz.jpgnow in college at Trevecca Nazarene University), learned about some of this sort of stuff and just decided she had to do something. She tells us that she processes the world and what she learns by blogging and writing, and this fantastic new book emerged from her one-year experience of writing about a social experiment.  Bethany determined to wear the same black dress (that she made, by the way) every day for a year to focus attention on the lack of choices people in modern-day slavery face and to raise money to help end human trafficking.  It is fascinating to see what all happened to and through her in that year -- her blog really was popular and she's a fine young writer, so it makes great sense to know this is now out as a book.

Big, global issues must be faced with sophisticated policy and international advocacy. But they also have to be cared about deeply, and each of us can play some small part.  This is a beautiful, great example of one person doing what she can, where she is.

Jim Martin (Vice President for spiritual formation at IJM and author of The Just Church) writes,

Raw, witty, and unafraid, One Dress. One Year. is a primer on moving from passion to action that is courageously honest about the inevitable stops at disillusioned and disheartened along the way. This book is a must-read for any young person passionate about justice but unsure where to begin.

How to Be Here- A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living .jpgHow to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living Rob Bell (HarperOne) 25.99  Again, this is brand new and I haven't spent more than a few minutes browsing through it. I can tell you two things, at least: even though the advanced buzz on this has been that Rob is seeing his own calling these days (at least in this book project and round of public speaking) as oriented to those outside of the church, doing what some dumbly used to call a "crossover" book, he is still clearly writing as a pastor, a person of faith, a media figure who is drawing people into the story of Jesus as revealed in the Bible.  Agree or not with all that he does or says in this good goal getting folks to consider the Bible -- how is that working for you in your own life, I'd ask before getting ugly in condemning Bell for sounding less evangelical than he once did, by the way -- he does cite the Bible and Christian theologians in this volume. He has not lost his faith or gone "secular" (certainly, not: this is a guy who did a bar and rock venue tour doing a lecture called "Everything is Religious.") He cites St. Ephraim the Syrian and  Dorothy Sayers and Cornelius Plantinga  (yes, Engaging God's World!) and Charles Foster, all right next to Rumi the poet and Abraham Heschel the prophet, Elizabeth Gilbert  -- he loves, as he should, her recent book on creativity called Big Magic -- and the podcast comedian Pete Holmes, not to mention the fun band Jimmy Eats World, who I think he's quoted before. Who I know he's quoted before, but I remember stuff like that.

This is a book for ordinary folks about finding a life of meaning and perhaps destiny, about honing one's craft and getting good at stuff and being more open to being more connected to people God brings into your life. It's about being present, attentive, aware in a too busy life.  Like others in this hip, recent genre (designers and artists and cultural creatives as motivational speakers) he is known as a person who can help readers wake up to live "more inspired, vibrant, and complete lives."  As Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers writes, Rob Bell is "a great storyteller, easily making the most complex theories understandable and ideas more fascinating... "  I agree.

By the way, I recently re-read most of Jesus Wants to Save Christians and his little book on grief, Drops Like Stars and found them to be once again very, very powerful and well worth considering.  And, come on -- who doesn't like Velvet Elvis Okay, maybe not everybody, but it's under-rated, I think, not only fun, but an important little book.  I'm looking forward to this new one.

Revelation- A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World .jpgRevelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World Dennis Covington (Little Brown) $26.00  Okay, I announced this a week ago in a listing, not unlike this one, of brand new titles I wanted to tell you about but had not yet read.  I stayed glued to a chair or a bed or another chair for hours on end over the weekend and finished this in one huge gulp or two.  As I expected it blew me away and I now really want to tell you about it.

As I noted the other day, Covington is renowned for his American Book Award winner Salvation on Sand Mountain which included quite a bit about his own faith journey, a story of his reporting on, and then being befriended by, Appalachian snake handlers. He has a penchant for the hard and weird and violent, and this has apparently again drawn him to ask what could possible be among the hardest questions: how does religion help people hold on in times of war and genocide, violence and gross injustice? And, perhaps even harder, how does religion sometimes fuel such awfulness.  This is a not an astute, profound study such as Os Guinness's essential Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil or Tom Wright's excellent, even inspiring, Evil and the Justice of God or a tirade like the eloquent War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by the righteous former war correspondent Chris Hedges, let alone a testimony of good medical mission worker organized by peace-maker Jeremy Courtney (Preemptive Love) although I wish I could send all four to brother Dennis.

This book, though, with the allusive title Revelation -- or should he have used a similar word Apocalypse --  is more of a travelogue, a mystery, a memoir of a guy who is driven, haunted (and at times, nearly hunted) as he tries to unravel personal questions about contacts he has along the Syrian -Turkish border.  If you want to know what it is like doing journalistic investigation among refugees and revolutionaries, bribing border guards, hanging out with possible terrorists, fearing for one's safety -- in cabs driven by crazy Middle Eastern drivers or because of the proximity to bombs falling or because one is trying to understand members of what we now call ISIS -- this book is for you. 

I was hooked by the first amazing pages, by his foray into the violence of the drug cartels (and the grace of those who minister among them) in an intense chapter set in Juarez, Mexico., one of the deadliest places on Earth. (He had spent time among the death squads in El Salvador decades ago so this kind of danger and this kind of evil felt somewhat familiar to him.  

The book takes a turn to the Middle East, though, and he's off to Turkey, wondering around places (such as Antioch, that town where Christians were first called Christians, he notes) that I had to get out an atlas to look up.  What a story of intrigue, of passion, of great interest.  Did I say I couldn't put it down?

Through it all -- perhaps not unlike his foray into Pentecostal snake handling so well told in Sand Mountain -- Covington is searching to determine, to find, or re-find his own (lapsed? unconvinced?) faith.  He narrates other portions of his life (including his sad divorce from Vickie Covington, already hinted at in the beautifully done, dazzlingly raw co-written memoir, Cleaving: A Story of a Marriage) and their stint as church leaders doing well-drilling mission trips.

One episode doesn't leave me. In his excursions exploring religious violence he necessarily writes about his growing up in the racist south, in Birmingham, where a otherwise proper Methodist Sunday School teacher was a Klansman.  He tells of being on a bus in 1963 with other kids in the school band, and how a white classmate had her arm hanging out the window.  A black youth passing by cut her with a razor or knife, the news of which inspired the awful bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Wow.

As the book's emotional momentum seems to grow, Covington's travels and his research pushes him towards his final goal -- meeting with the parents of a US hostage being held  by ISIS terrorists (without it being made public) -- he makes his way to the parents home in Arizona, doubting if they would even trust him to speak with him. Other journalists have been kidnapped and then brutally beheaded; no one takes this stuff the least bit lightly. The US doesn't negotiate with terrorists.  He isn't even supposed to know about this situation and doesn't trust the guy he met who gave him a message. You know, you can hardly make this stuff up. It is grim and beautiful, what one reviewer called "a harrowing pleasure" by "one of the most honest and interesting human beings writing today."




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March 12, 2016

8 excellent books for Holy Week (5 for adults, 2 for children) -- ON SALE at big discount, while supplies last

candle_spirit.jpgI don't know about you, but for many of us, the week before Easter is a time within time, a holy and meaningful time; I try to spend more time in solitude, the Lenten practices (some of which I do not keep well if at all) of spiritual reading, prayer, fasting, and mid-week church services are intensified.  I hope you have a faith community that does a Maundy Thursday service, and that you take in Good Friday services. Experiencing in some way the flow and rhythm of Christ's final week seems essential to our own being well grounded in the passion of Christ, our servant King.

Here are six exceptional books for adults, and two more for younger children, that you might find useful to have for next week.

We have them at 30% off, now, unless we sell out. THIS OFFER EXPIRES MARCH 25, 2016.

We can fill orders promptly and have them to you within a few days.

A Glorious Dark- Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience .jpgA Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience A.J. Swoboda (Baker Books) $14.99 SALE PRICE $10.49

In our last BookNotes posted a few days ago I announced A.J. Swoboda's brand new book, The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith, a beautifully-written and provocative study of exile and being in the desert and on the value of "wandering." In some ways, that new one is a bit connected to this one from last year which also sounds themes of the messiness of life, the difficulties of faith, questions about suffering and doubt and seeking God in the midst of our pain. The brilliance of this Glorious Dark book -- it would be fine to read anytime, as the questions are so universal and his Biblical insight so interesting and helpful -- is that it gets at these vital, urgent questions by way of a study of the last part of Holy week, what some call the triduum.

The title itself is wonderful, eh?  Here is what it says on the back cover:

On Thursday as they ate the Passover meal with Jesus, the disciples believed that the kingdom was coming and they were on the front end of a revolution. Then came the tragedy of Friday, and the silence of Saturday. THey ran. They doubted. They espaired. From their perspective, all was lost.

Yet, within the grave, God's power was still flowing like a mighty river beneath the ice of winter. And then there was Sunday morning.

undoing of death.jpgThe Undoing of Death Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE $15.40

I have a well-used hardback copy of this that I read portions of every Lent, and upon which I meditate every Holy Week. A few pages here mean much to me, and Dr. Rutledge's use of ancient art to illuminate her collection of Holy Week sermons is remarkable. I very highly recommend this. The Undoing of Death is a very precious book, meaty, thoughtful, eloquent, surprising, important.  Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III (a former dean of the Washington National Cathedral) says of this sermon collection,

Here is passionate, unstinting, full-blooded preaching on the deepest mysteries of Christian faith. Fleming Rutledge doesn't hold back. She brings her formidable intellect and her wide reading to bear on saying what is nearly unsayable: God has overcome the world's darkness, and what happened on a hill outside of Jerusalem has made all the difference.

The Seven Last Words from the Cross Fleming Rutledge.jpgThe Seven Last Words from the Cross Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $12.00 OUR SALE PRICE $8.40

You may recall that we got to met Rev. Dr. Rutledge this past fall and have been very, very impressed with her major, magisterial tome The Crucifixion. This smaller paperback is a lovely, thorough, solid rumination on each of Christ's last words and is both warmly devotional but filled with intellectual substance.  As Richard Lischer writes "Fleming Rutledge brings a profound knowledge of the atoning work of Christ to bear on a series of mediations for God's people. The result is a treasury of wisdom on the cross of Christ. I will continue to read this book." There is a recommended hymn after each meditation. 

between-midnight-and-dawn-a-literary-guide-to-prayer-for-lent-holy-week-and-eastertide-30.jpgBetween Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press) $18.99 SALE PRICE $13.29

I gushed over this at the beginning of Lent (as we had her wonderfully literary volume for Advent, Light Upon Light, and the excellent anthology for Ordinary Time called At the Still Point.) In each of these Arthur (a graduate of Wheaton College and Duke Divinity School) collects wonderfully appropriate readings of poetry, short stories, novels, hymns and other literary treasures, compiling them into a prayer book/devotional. It invites us to experience the liturgical seasons in the company of poets and novelists from across the centuries (and across the globe.) Kathleen Norris also gushed: "What a delight, to find so extraordinary a collection!" And the late Phyllis Tickle (herself a poet) declared her literary guides "a thing of beauty!" Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer... is a very handsomely designed paperback, a lovely, lovely book. We think it would make a much-appreciated gift, too -- especially for one who may warm to a re-envisioned sort of devotional.

Lent for Everyone- Luke, Year C- A Daily Devotional .jpgLent for Everyone: Luke (Year C) N.T. Wright (Westminster/John Knox) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE $11.20

This daily devotional includes stirring reflections for Lent -- or anytime - on the lectionary texts for each day from one of the world's leading New Testament scholars and most important theological writers. This is a great, rather brief overview of the gospel story, walking with Jesus through Luke.  N.T. here uses his own translation of the Greek New Testament (that is now available in paperback under the title The Kingdom New Testament) which is itself very interesting and at times quite illuminating. He then offers a brief reflection and prayer and (as it says on the back cover) "helping readers ponder how the text is relevant to their own lives today. By the end of the book, readers will have been through the entirety of Luke, along with Psalm readings for each Sunday." Lent for Everyone: Luke includes seven devotionals for the week following Easter, as well, and they are good. Readers really get a lot of content.

This jam-packed little volume is a great study for Lent, of course, and very good for Holy Week, but -- I hope it is obvious -- it is a great resource for anyone studying the gospel of Luke, anytime, or anyone who wants to dip into Wright's accessible meditations for a few weeks to see what he's up to.

just-in-time-prayers-for-lent-and-holy-week.jpgPrayers for Lent and Holy Week David N. Mosser (Abingdon) $12.00 OUR SALE PRICE $8.40

Designed for those who plan worship services, I know some people use this series of books ("Just in Time") for any time they need litanies or prayers for their small groups or church meeting or even family devotions. Not a few people prefer to read prayers instead of devotionals or Bible reflections and this little paperback includes all manner of prayers (invocations, confessions, assurances of pardon, pastoral prayers, offertory prayers, benedictions and the like) for worship experiences all during Lent and Holy Week.  Very useful.


The Garden The Curtain The Cross.jpgThe Garden, The Curtain and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again Carl Laferton, illustrated by Cataline Echeverrt (The Good Books Company) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE $10.49

We are fond of much of the up-beat, contemporary, and theologically sound work of this evangelical publisher from the UK. You may recall that last December we raved about their Christmas book, The Christmas Promise, which emphasized Christ's Kingship in a way both playful and serious. In an energetic manner similar to that one, this new one tells the story of Easter starting with God's creation of a good world (the garden is not the Garden of Gethsemane, as you might presume in an Easter book, but the Garden of Eden) proceeding to show God's rescue plan for creation, as unfolded in the dramatic big story of redemption in the Bible.

Jesus' death is not explained in any unconventional way, except that it seems to remind us that it isn't an isolated part of the Bible or unrelated to God's promises and plan and love for all creation. There was once a very good world; we know it know as marred and hurtful; Christ died and rose to bring healing and shalom to his beloved planet. It's few pages about the temple and Christ's death causing the "keep out" curtain to be torn is extraordinary. A powerful, artfully rendered two page black and white spread about Jesus "taking" our sins is stunning, simply stunning. The focus on Christ is clear.  This is a very entertaining (even at moments, nearly zany), truly educational, and delightfully inviting book for young children.

he Story of Easter Mary Joslin illustrated by Alida Massari (Lion Press).jpgThe Story of Easter Mary Joslin illustrated by Alida Massari (Lion Press) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE $10.49

We loved this gifted storyteller and Italian illustrator's beautiful work in Lion Press's The Story of Christmas and so appreciate how this similarly fine book -- with helpful text and beautiful, rich, pictures that evoke a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern feel -- walks us through the life of Jesus, leading up to his last week. With dignity and purpose, the book clarifies the Last Supper (with a beautiful scene of the "new commandment") and the betrayal and arrest, trial and death and resurrection of Jesus.

This wonderful The Story of Easter makes it clear that Christ's sacrifice was a cruel power play by the Empire's leaders, but that the point is Jesus's joyful coming alive again, ascending, and commissioning others to carry on his work of spreading His love. There is no discussion of penal substitution or why Christ predicted his own death, but the goodness, sorrow and joy of the story is palpable. Very, very nicely done.


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March 15, 2016

REVIEW: YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE: THE SPIRITUAL POWER OF HABIT by James K.A. Smith (Brazos Press; $19.99) ON SALE now at HEARTS & MINDS - our price $17.99

YAWYL in a box.jpgThe new book by my friend Jamie Smith has arrived, and we couldn't be happier. The endorsements on the cover of the nice hardback are stellar. It is doubtlessly one of the best books of the year. Read on.

Please notice the handy order link at the bottom of this BookNotes column that takes you to our certified secure order form page.  We hope you value the reviews we offer and we trust that if you want to buy the books you will send the order our way.  Thank you, warmly.

I hope you enjoyed my long essay about what I called the backstory of James K.A. Smith's spectacular new book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, that we offered in a BookNotes post a week ago.  I named authors who have been significant for me, that influenced us to open Hearts & Minds, and for the development of the CCO's Jubilee conference I talk so much about.  Some of these, in fact, were also significant influences, friends, conversation partners, and teachers of James K.A. Smith. Every one of the books I mentioned is important to his project and I hope you paid attention.

Smith quote.jpgThat long rumination mostly went like this: influenced by Dutch neo-Calvinists -- old-time theologians and civic leaders like Herman Bavinck,  Abraham Kuyper and serious philosophers like Herman Dooyeweerd (and, to a lesser extent, Francis Schaeffer) --  The Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto influenced in the 1970s both Reformed and evangelical folks, including some of us in Pittsburgh who caught their "wide as life" vision of redemption, that understood salvation as "creation regained" and challenged the church's anti-intellectualism and cultural 3d-glasses-bw-570x383.jpglaziness. This shifted the tone of our faith conversations and our understanding of discipleship towards a more culturally engaged and wholistic vision, a transforming vision.  We started using the phrase world-and-life-view, shortened it to worldview and regularly explained how bad ideas (like the pagan Greek notion adopted from Plato by the early church of a big divide between the so-called secular and sacred and the subsequent general disregard for culture, work, the arts and sciences) could deform our discipleship and harm our witness in the world.                      3D glasses picture from FEVA Ministries

We resonated with the critique offer by Richard Neibuhr in his classic Christ and Culture and wechrist and culture niebuhr.jpg secular saint.jpgran with that taxonomy - dualists of the right were fundamentalists who despised culture; their faith often opposed Christian social concern, while more liberal dualists accommodated themselves to culture; the Reformed "Christ transforming culture" option gave us the most helpful posture: in but not of the world, eager to make a difference with holy relevance.  As a book by Richard Mouw put it in those years we were "called to holy worldliness" and as another by Robert Webber put it we were to be "secular saints."  Some of my very best friends in the CCO wrote a book (now long out of print) called, simply, All of Life Redeemed.


Alas - and it is a lot more complicated than I am putting it here, and more complicated than I described in that BookNotes - other folks started using the word worldview, too, sometimes hitching it to a far-right (dominionist) agenda, and usually using it to merely categorize the wrong ideas of others about the nature of the world.  The notion of a worldview was in some places reduced to mere ideas - good ones or bad ones - and some seemed to think that if we could only get people to believe the better ideas (dualism is wrong, God loves the creation, humans are made as God's image-bearers so we are called to vocations and work and history-making, Christ is Lord of all of life, Christians are to denounce the idols of the culture, the Kingdom of God is more than just the gathered church on Sundays) then they would be able to become true agents of God's Kingdom, culture-makers, ambassadors, restorers.  God's Kingdom could come if we just thought harder and better, usually by reading the right books and got our "worldview glasses" polished up correctly.  

naming the elephant 2nd.jpg(For the record, although beyond the scope of my overview of and run-up to Smith's new book, I think this telling is somewhat overstated.  Some odd-ball right-wing dominionists and some interested in evidentialist apologetics started using worldview language, but many who used it - from James Sire to Nancy Pearcey, Al Wolters to Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Bertrand to NT Wright - mostly did not reduce the notion of a deeply held, often subconscious heart perspective, shaping how we "lean into life" as Sire put it,  to mere ideas. Suggesting this is, in my view, a small mis-step made by Andy Crouch in his splendid Culture Making and it is a trope in Smith (especially in Desiring the Kingdom) that ought to be clarified somewhere along the line. In recent years, James Sire attempted to clarify the notion of worldview as a concept in a book called  Naming the Elephant, which is worth reading. I've already cited in that previous BookNotes the collection about all this called After Worldview published by Dordt College Press. In any event, there is a huge difference between, say, James Olthius (and his 1985 Christian Scholars Review article "On Worldviews" citing Clifford Geertz and Michael Polanyi and Kierkegaard and David Tracy) and any number of far-right televangelists who started using the word promiscuously without much understanding of its best usage. But I digress. ) 


In that BookNotes the other day I not only explained the influence of the Dutch worldviewish authors from ICS that influenced CCO and Jubilee in the 70s and 80s but named a second sort of influence within some of those same circles (my circles, the friends and conversations that shaped the founding of Hearts & Minds.)  Call it worldview 2.0 or the second (postmodern) wave. I explained a few reasons why a new way of talking about worldview developed and a few books in which some like Brian Walsh and Jamie Smith made a bit of a postmodern turn and came to realize the limits of overemphasizing the role of thinking, the notion of the Christian mind being developed mostly by depositing new ideas into our brains. (The aforementioned, little-known book published a few years back by Dordt College Press, After Worldview, edited by Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens, documents the papers presented at a logic of incarnation.jpgheavy conference - bracing, contested, important -- on this very matter and a whole academic book was edited in 2008 by Neal DeRoo and Brian Lightbody dedicated to Smith's views, The Logic of Incarnation: James K.A. Smith's Critique of Postmodern Religion.) Walsh, Midddleton and Smith were not the only ones in evangelicalism to write favorably of postmodernism, but they were pioneering and prescient. They started to write more about the role of the heart and the imaginative stories that conscript us into visions of the good life. Perhaps we should talk more about stories and visions, and less about worldviews and ideas.

Maybe, as Saint Augustine said, we are not primarily creatures who firstly think, but creatures who primarily love. The decisive question is not so much what we believe, but what we love.

As Smith puts it in the splendid preface to this new book: Jesus asks us "what do you want?"

I wrote that last BookNotes column so you can see, again, a bit of our backstory, our own journey, the ideas and visions that excite me and that inspired Beth and I to start our bookstore nearly 34 years ago.  And because I think some of that backstory and naming of titles illumines the great passion and urgency with which James K.A. Smith now writes, seen in books such as his good collections of pointed, shorter essays like The Devil Reads Derrida and Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts and Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture, or his deep and exceptionally thoughtful Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (2009) and Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (2013), and the brand new, much-anticipated, very accessible You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.


You are what You Love baker.jpgYou Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is an amazingly rich book, and it explains Smith's thesis in many ways, using lots of analogies, illustrations, and teacherly examples. Throughout the book he switches the words around, rephrasing his basic points so often that one is not only learning these new ideas about the role of habits that shape our loves, but we are acquiring new ways to talk about these things, ways to describe our faith, our discipleship, our worldviews, and our worship with language that seem to now carry fuller, richer meaning. He talks about "curating your heart" and "calibrating your desire" and "refining your yearnings." He drops great little lines, over and over, such as "love is both a habit and hunger." He notes how liturgies "govern our rhythms" and asserts that "the church is the place where God invites us to renew our loves, reorient our desires, and retrain our appetites."

YAWYL is exceptionally quotable - I have more sentences underlined in my copy than not. I promise you, reading this book -- just over 200 pages - you get your money's worth!

Smith's writing at times just sparkles, and there are fabulously generative and sensible sentences like this, where he is summarizing some very good pages about the relationship of daily Christian life in the home and the story arc rehearsed in serious Christian worship among the gathered people of God:

When we situate our households in the wider household of God and extend the liturgies of worship to shape the ethos of our homes, we re-situate even the mundane. When we frame our workaday lives by the worship of Christ, then even the quotidian is charged with eternal significance. Our "thin" practices take on thicker significance when nested in a wider web of kingdom-oriented liturgies.


I am not trying to be cute, but I think this book works as an old-school text (we really do learn a lot) but also as an influence of this deeper, formative process - by immersing ourselves in this story, Smith's winsome, teacherly ways, his pop culture and literary examples, his love for church and worship, his creative use of phrases, his new rhetoric, we are ourselves transformed. Our affections are stirred and our hearts enlarged. We are carried into a better story, inspired to feel differently about church and worship, life and times. This truly is a book for hearts and minds.

Is this itself a contradiction, saying that a book can get to us like this? If Smith is saying that our worldviews, our practices of daily discipleship, our truest desires, are shaped more by rituals of worship and habits that are less didactic and more imaginative, can a non-fiction book about all that be effective and truly transformative? Maybe we need an interactive mime troupe or a play about this, at least, or maybe, if he's really right, we should just skip the book and attend Episcopal  liturgies each day, practicing worship rituals over and over.  Ha, that's part of the seeming irony of this, and a hint that, at times, Smith verges on overstating his insights.  Books about big ideas really can be formational and our whole-hearted engagement with them - maybe doing something like lectio divino, processing the content -- can be transforming. (Especially if it is read and processed together, in community.)  Smith doesn't disagree, of course, and says so in several clear pages in the first chapter. He is a professor and writer of non-fiction books, after all.


I should like to explain the overview of Professor Smith's project and describe a bit of how he says what he says.  You can be assured that You Are What You Love is a thrilling book to read, substantive and stimulating, but it is not so academically rigorous to be tedious or inaccessible.  It is much, much more than an abridged and simplified version of the admittedly complex Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom although I suppose that is one way to describe it: accessible summaries of the gist of those two exceptional works.  Educated, ordinary readers will find YAWYL a pleasurable read and will enjoy it with ease; I am sure many will be moved deeply by some of it. I am confident that its inviting, clear style will make it widely used and a game-changer for many.


I started my overview in the "Part One" review in last week's BookNotes by citing a memoir I recently read (highly, highly recommended, as well) written by Jim Grimsley, called How I Shed How I Shed My Skin.jpgMy Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood. Grimsley grew up in rural North Carolina, one of the students at one of the schools in the late 60s that were the first to become racially integrated. Without excessive flourish Grimsley described how he was born and bred to be a racist, by otherwise good people in his small, religious town. While most frowned on the public usage of the "n-word" (it was considered "course") and several of the Klansman his parents knew were disrespected for their excessive violence, he, nonetheless, was unknowingly conscripted into a culture of white supremacy.  The goal of his captivating memoir was to ponder how he, over time, "shed the skin" with which he was raised.  How does one's heart become taken with bigotry and how does one unlearn such disordered prejudices?   Although the book is not heavy-handed, it seemed to me a spot-on parallel to one of Mr. Smith's central arguments, namely, that we are not primarily or firstly "thinking things" and therefore, "thinking-thingism" (one of the very few clumsy phrases in the book) will not do if we desire to deepen our discipleship and live more consistently Christian lives.

Bad orientations/views/ ideas/practices (like Mr. Grimsley's racism) are absorbed and developed and embodied into bad habits largely not by overt or didactic teaching but via bad liturgies - civic rituals that form us and shape us.  Such (dis)ordering character (mis)formation must be countered by other sorts of better rituals and more powerful liturgies which embody and cultivate within us other sorts of habits of heart that will, in turn, shape and form our sense of what story we are a part of, re-indexing our desires in more wholesome ways.  Character and virtue and life's orientations are shaped pre-theoretically (a word we learned from ICS in the 70s, mind you), Smith insists, and this is exactly what Grimsley describes in his poignant memoir.

Grimsley tells of reciting children's playground doggerel, rhymes and rituals to determine who was "it" in a game of tag, that used the n-word -- thoughtless, but toxic nonetheless.  (Add to this the background wallpaper of overt racism in the Jim Crow south, separate but not equal, and one can easily see just how toxic such seemingly innocent childhood play could become.) As Mr. Grimsley narrates his own life, we see ourselves, if we have eyes to see, that common habits, small phrases, typical customs, rituals and games and stories and social forces shape us deeply, encoding in us ways of seeing and ways of being. It is brave of him to tell his own story, and it illustrates much of what Smith is getting at in the first portion of You Are What You Love.

So that is the major project of the first part of You Are What You Love. We may be overtly taught things as true but we might end up caring for what may even be the opposite when our desires are conscripted into another story; if our hearts are calibrated to the tunes of other value systems or ways of orienting ourselves to the world, we will learn to love those things, regardless of what we've been taught or even what we claim we believe. Our ways of being are influenced by how we come to see life - in Smith's explanation, what we come to desire - and our desires are usually caught, absorbed, breathed into the subconscious, snuck into our imaginations.


As Smith explains, in an example I myself have used for years, it matters little if one has plaques of Bible verses in one's home if the family assumes wrong things about itself or is oriented around an non-Christian vision of family, home, or life: if dad is a brute or mom is a social climber or the kids are considered mere mechanisms for the parents to re-live their own dreams of eternal youth. If the values of the American Dream (individualism, upward mobility) have captured the heart of the family in one bad way or another, slapping a few Bible verses around the fiefdom isn't going to sanctify it.  The same can be said about a business, a counseling center, an art gallery, a school, or a church.  Saying it is Christian, even loudly, doesn't make it so, and what is imagined is more formative then what is asserted.


Smith has analyzed things like this in helpful ways for quite some time and at the risk of redundancy allow me to point you to the excellent chapter written as an open letter to modern praise bands and worship leaders in his anthology Discipleship in the Present Tense where he wonders if the forms of modern entertainment (the rock concert) have subtly influenced how contemporary worship is structured and perceived and experienced. He is not opposing contemporary worship as such, but asking in pastoral ways what other baggage comes along uninvited when discipleship in the present age.jpgan (appropriate) structure/form from one arena (my pun intended) is inappropriately imported into another. That is, it is little wonder that those who grew up with "worship leaders" rocking out with lights and amps performing with cool affectations aping what they learned from rock stars for our consumption in worship experiences end up leaving a church if the musical stylings change or their favorite worship leader moves on. They've been taught - without any words but by the structures and forms and ethos and unspoken narratives, rituals, symbols - that worship is for me and an expression of my own heart and is to be taken in the same way I consume the experience of a big rock show. The "lessons" about what worship is and what it is about and how to participate have been "caught" no matter what is really taught.  Even if a pastor or church school teacher verbally instructs more nuanced and proper views of worship, the ritual of how worship is experienced trumps.  Smith's dear letter in that book is much clearer and better written than my quick summary here and I commend it. It's important for what it explores, but I mention it here as another example of the sorts of things that matter to him and that inspired YAWYL. We are not "brains on a stick" and our understandings of life usually are captured by stories and myths and values that are embedded in rituals, habit-forming liturgies.

So, from James Grimsley learning to shed his (racist) skin in his recent memoir to Smith's many helpful illustrations throughout this new book, we learn that rituals and habits matter, that most of what captures our heart and imagination and forms our deepest hungers and yearnings do not come from didactic teaching, but is picked up, caught, like the flu.  Stuff is in the air, and unless our disciple-making programs and faith formation groups and spiritual direction sessions are rooted in robust, intentional, thick rituals of Christian worship, it is most likely that those programs and groups and sessions will be merely messing around the edges of people's deepest lives. Their hearts will have already been captured by ways of seeing and serious dreams that were subconsciously absorbed from the secular liturgies in which they have participated.

Here is how Smith puts it, more eloquently and helpfully then my descriptions.  In talking about healthy, historic forms of worship in contrast to the ubiquitous seeker-sensitive services, he writes,

The problem, of course, is that these "forms" are not just neutral containers or discardable conduits for a message. As we've seen already, what are embraced as merely fresh forms are, in fact, practices that are already oriented to a certain telos, a tacit vision of the good life.  Indeed, I've tried to show that these cultural practices are liturgies in their own right precisely because they are oriented to a telos and are bent on shaping my loves and longings. The forms themselves are pedagogies of desire that teach us to construe and relate to the world in a loaded way. So when we distill the gospel message and embed it in the form of the mall, while we might think we are finding a fresh way for people to encounter Christ, in fact the very form of the practice is already loaded with a way of construing the world.

As he has explained in a previous chapter about the "liturgical" construction of the mall and the way a mere stroll through these "temples of consumerism" seduce and form us, he continues in his astute critique of mixing the subliminal messages of the mall and food court with church and worship,

The liturgy of the mall is a heart-level education in consumerism that construes everything as a commodity available to make me happy. When I encounter "Jesus" in such a liturgy, rather than encountering the living Lord of history, I am implicitly being taught that Jesus is one more commodity available to make me happy. And while I might want to add him to my shelf of stuff, we shouldn't confuse this appropriation with discipleship. 


So, whether we are absorbing assumptions, which lead to disordered desires, from our habits of taking in secular liturgies, or absorbing those same bad assumptions by their being imported unwittingly by how we do church, we need to be vigilante. But we can't just suppose that this is a matter of offering intellectual critique of bad ideas and replacing them with better points or principles. We need character and worldview formation of the deepest sort which include must deconstructing the influence of our secular liturgies and being intentional about how our imaginations might be sanctified by more appropriate, truly Christian liturgies, in church and in all of life.

Yes, we need to be on guard, and discerning out the habit-forming, love-directing, heart-capturing impact of modern life.  But, mostly, we need to very wholistically and liturgically enter a better story.

There is really very little in print that opens all of this up so richly, and I want to suggest this book is nearly singular in its clarity and wisdom and importance.  But that isn't exactly right. At the very least, we should name a pair of other books that are in a similar ball park, by gifted authors who appreciate Smith's work, and who Smith surely would commend: the spectacular volume Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David Naugle (Eerdmans; $18.00) and the beautifully-written reflection Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel (IVP; $16.00.) If you liked those, you will love You Are... And if you are a Smith fan, you must know those two.

little prince.jpgJames Smith cites, more than once, a lovely bit of counsel from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince that summarizes and captures much of the point. De Saint-Exupery writes,

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

You see (as Jamie explains),

To be human is to animated and oriented by some vision of the good life, some picture of what we think counts as "flourishing." And we want that. We crave it. We desire it. This is why our most fundamental mode of orientation to the world is love. We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires. We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions of the good life, not usually because we "think through" our options but rather because some picture captures our imagination.


And, for people of historic Christian faith, this "picture that captures our imagination" comes to us, most powerfully, in worship.  As he puts it in one clever section, "worship restor(i)es us."

Perhaps you can see why Smith dedicated this book to two of our most important writers and activists for worship renewal in our time, John Witvliet (founder of the highly regarded, exceptionally ecumenical, Calvin Institute on Christian Worship) and the late, great Robert Webber.  He calls Witvliet a co-conspirator, and of Webber Smith writes, 

ancient future faith.jpgancient-Christian worship.jpgRobert Webber's work had a significant impact on me at a crucial phase of my life, and in many ways I'm simply writing in his wake. This little book is a dingy bobbing along behind the ship of Webber's "ancient-future" corpus. If I can help a few people board the mother ship, my work here is done.

I did not know Webber well at all; I was with him on two occasions, including once at a long and leisurely dinner that lead to a serious late-night conversation. I was surprised how much this Wheaton College worship scholar knew about my own unique journey - central Pennsylvania EUB boy whose imagination was captured by Kuyper et al and yet kept a foot in both mainline Protestantism and progressive evangelicalism, had done a stint at the radical Thomas Merton Center, and passionate about campus ministry and the CCO's Jubilee conference. I was very grateful for our conversations.  I think I understand why Jamie Smith found Robert Webber's work so appealing and instructive for his own current project. Webber had a way of helping us "long for the endless immensity of the sea."


You Are What You Love helps call us to a profound and embodied whole-life discipleship grounded in a deep Christian worldview - all of life redeemed, all creation ablaze with the presence of God, all followers of Christ equally called to vocation in the world - and helps us realize that this sort of truly transforming vision must grow deep in our lives not just by reading books about it or taking in podcasts or classes about it (betraying our assumptions that we are primarily "thinking things") but, rather, our hearts and loves and desires must be converted and sanctified (indexed or curated, he might say) so that we are (re) oriented to the Christian story, not the American Dream. We need to appreciate "the spiritual power of habit" as the sub-title puts it and he explains how that happens, for ill (in the often very power secular liturgies) and sometimes for better (as we are shaped by thoughtful, intentionally crafted deep liturgies of historic Christian worship.)

Smith then does two major things in the remaining rich chapters.


First he writes wonderfully and wisely about worship. 

In Chapter 3 he offers an excellent overview of "historic worship for a postmodern age." It is excellent.

Then in chapter 4 - entitled "What Story Are You In? The Narrative Arc of Formative Christian Worship" - Smith offers what I take to be just about the best stuff I've ever read on worship.   I have almost every sentence of every paragraph underlined and thought of many friends (mostly professional clergy or others involved in church work) would love it.

If just some of our pastors and worship leaders across the denominations could articulate this stuff in the way Smith does, or would articulate it, I think more and more folks would hunger for worshiping well, and would more deeply appreciate renewed forms and styles and aspects of worship renewal.  (Heck, pastors, get your flocks yearning for more conversation and deeper appreciation of this stuff and they might free up more monies from the budget to send you to something like the annual Symposium on Worship of the Calvin Institute on Worship from which Smith has learned much of his insight about healthy, robust worship.) I respect so many pastors, including my own, and have been drawn to deeper worship by so many good liturgists, preachers, and worship leaders, that I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not trying to sound critical and certainly not cynical. But it is notable to me how little of this kind of stuff I have heard spoken out loud in our churches, in worship classes or adult forums.  I really wish pastors and elders and worship planners would read this book, at least chapters 4.


Ahh, I know, I know: if you are tracking with this you will see that I am still somewhat tied to a "thinking thing" view, that if only pastors would read this book, adopt these ideas, learn to explain this perspective, things would change. Yep, there it is, a basic irony of this book - it is a book demanding to be read and discussed by thinkers and explained, even taught, in churches. The role of the mind in all of this (which Smith affirms clearly on pages 6 and 7) is a bit of a mystery, but dare not be minimized (even if Smith perhaps unwittingly nearly does so throughout the book.)

It is my own contention that rituals (in this case, the habits and practices of deep Christian worship) might have a more powerful effect upon us if we understands what they are supposed to do to us.  Not unlike other multi-faceted activities that are not primarily intellectual exercises -- eating, making love, watching movies, say -- by reading and learning about those those topics and understanding how they work in God's good work, those experiences can then be fully engaged with the whole self, experienced better if one is aware or has some insight about what is going on.  (We have a section in our bookstore called "books about books" for this very reason.) Perhaps it is a bit of a cycle -- we are shaped by the pre-theoretical power of habits and liturgies, but those can impact us more fruitfully when we understand something about them. (I never knew that "passing the peace" in church was more than a time to greet one's fellow pew-sitters with a hearty good morning, but was a freighted, liturgical act, a practice in hospitality and peacemaking. I hope that once I embraced a thicker account of what that part of the worship service was really about, what it was to be doing among us, that it could then make me a better peacemaker, and not just a guy who's cheery as a greeter.) I assume Smith agrees that learning about how this gut-level stuff works is key, since he wrote such an impassioned and informative book for us to think about.  Duh. Hearts and minds, after all; hearts and minds and bodies.

So, I believe it should be obvious that we can come to appreciate non-cognitive, pre-theoretical, imaginative influences and embrace their formative impact, even realizing they come to us most potently through ritual and story and habit-forming "liturgies" when we study and learn about it.  Again, this may be a tad ironic but it isn't contradictory. Of course we learn stuff by reading and thinking (it is what Smith is paid the big bucks to do, after all. ) His astute philosophical considerations (such as the embrace of a Dooyeweerdian view of worldview rooted in the human heart which set the stage for his embrace of the postmodern turn which rejected Cartesian dualism and the idol of autonomous rationalism) led him quite naturally to this realization that humans whom God has made as lovers are shaped also by -- perhaps he is correct to say primarily by -- dreams and visions, habits and rituals, rather than mere ideas deposited in the noggin. But that surely (surely!) doesn't diminish the need for intellectual development, for thinking, talking, arguing, discerning the truth of his claims here, and the ways we might teach them in our faith communities and reform our practices. Even if he is only somewhat correct, we've got work to do.

So, ironic or not, I say again: this chapter on the "narrative arc of formative worship" is splendid, some of the best writing I've ever encountered on worship, short and sweet, radical and wise, useful and commendable. We need to learn this stuff.  If your pastor or worship leaders don't say these kinds of things from time to time, buy them this book, ASAP. Start a book club, even if it is just on the worship chapter, ready by your own worship planners or pastors, for starters.  Implore them to explain this to the worshipers in your congregation. Help the ritual aspect of worshipful practices be more effective by helping the people of God understand.


You are what You Love baker.jpgThe last three chapters of You Are What You Love are worth their weight in gold.

(What kind of metaphor is that, and why is "gold" so appealing to us? Ha! Maybe I should watch what I write, question what values are implicit even in how we talk, eh? Yeah, you can take that to the bank! Wink, wink.)

Seriously, one doesn't have to be a linguist to observe that words we use shape how we think about things. The aforementioned Jim Grimsley writes passionately about how he came to value "whiteness" over "blackness" by the constant way our vocabulary affirms one as good and clean and the other as bad and scary. I don't think Smith mentions the habits of speech and how they might subtly conscript us into ways of thinking and caring and acting.... one little piece of the puzzle he leaves unaddressed. (Although he has written a whole book somewhat about that, a heavy philosophy work published by Routledge called Speech and Theology.)

Chapter 5 of YAWYL is called "Guard Your Heart: Liturgies of the Home" and Chapter 6 is called "Teach Your Children Well: Learning By Heart."  Oh my, this is rich, good, stuff.  Jamie is transparent about his own life, a bit, at least, and credits his wife, Deanna, for helping shape their own family's desires and rhythms and home ethos, much of it learned at the kitchen table.  She has a big heart and a lot of skills in home economics, hospitality seems to come natural to them, and she slowly got Jamie interested in eating more wholesome food and appreciating the finer tastes of a more normative diet. 

This is shared in a lovely, helpful way, and he had already written nicely about his own need to change his diet, exercise and - of course - learn to want to do this. Knowing in his head proper stuff about food and nutrition, about health and stewardship, about global justice and sustainable agriculture, about feasting and fasting, wasn't enough: one cannot think one's way to new tastes. So his wife gets a whole lot of credit as helping guide the Smith household in Grand Rapids into new flavors, new tastes, new hungers, new lifestyles.

(Aside: you won't want to miss a couple of pages about Smith learning to care more deeply about these things, and, literally, reading a Wendell Berry book eating a bad hotdog in the stupid food court at the big box, cost-cutting, mega-store, Costco.  After making this rather humbling revelation he writes, "There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don't know where to begin." Kudos, Jamie, for sharing such a hilariously warped episode. "Reading Wendell Berry in Costco" is one of the great contemporary parables of our time, and a fabulous, fabulous few pages. It is fun and helps makes the point remarkably well.)


james smith shot from video.jpgAs you might expect, as much as I loved the chapters on worship and agree with Smith's insistence that intentional consideration of the significance of church life and Christian worship is essential, I really loved these chapters about how we worship God in all of life, see Christ's redemption of all creation, and find ourselves in a story of the renewal of all creation.  His last chapter on making a life called "You Make What You Want: Vocational Liturgies"  almost made me cry.  Oh, how I long for this kind of thing to be better known, to be in the bones and on the lips of my fellow Christians and the church leaders we know.  Smith isn't saying stuff that is that different or unusual or rare, really, yet his way of phrasing things, his vision of inviting people into a deeper, more meaningful sort of Christian discipleship, seems to me - and I suspect it will to you, too - nearly revolutionary in its freshness, its appeal, its implications.  You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is one of the most interesting, visionary, important books I've read in years.

For instance, in a section called "Tradition for Innovation" he offers remarkable and rare wisdom (that is neither conservative nor liberal, traditionalist nor progressive.) He is grateful that many younger evangelicals are beginning to affirm an "expansive sense of mission and a more holistic theology of creation that affirms not only the Great Commission but also the cultural mandate." But, on the other hand, he notes that evangelicalism continues to be a hotbed of almost unfettered religious innovation, ever confident of its ability to compete in the shifting marketplace of contemporary spirituality. 

His concern is succinct and incisive:

The entrepreneurial independence of evangelical spirituality (which is as old as the American colonies) leaves room for all kinds of congregational start-ups that need little if any institutional support. Catering to more specialized niches, these start-ups are not beholden to liturgical forms or institutional legacies. Indeed, many of them confidently announce their desire to "reinvent church."

These are, I want to suggest, competing trajectories. For we cannot hope to restore the world if we are constantly reinventing the church.

(An aside to those few who might care: does this conversation echo concerns of Nevin and Schaff of the 18th century Mercersburg Theology movement from German Reformed folks in Pennsylvania? That spiffy innovation and spirit of entrepreneurialism that marks passionate revivalism, while honorable for missional intensity, may be its own worst enemy?  And isn't this what Os Guinness predicted in his allegorical novel The Gravedigger File, now available as The Last Christian On Earth?)

Smith continues,

The cultural labor of restoration certainly requires imaginative innovation. Good culture-making requires that we imagine the world otherwise - which means seeing through the status-quo stories we're told and instead envisioning kingdom come. We need new energy, new strategies, new initiates, new organizations, even new institutions. If we hope to put the world to rights, we need to think differently and act differently and build institutions that foster such action.


But if our cultural work is going to be restorative - if it is going to put the world to rights - then we need imaginations that have absorbed a vision for how things ought to be. Our innovation and invention and creativity will need to be bathed in an eschatological vision of what the world is made for, what it's called to be - what the prophets often described as shalom. Innovation for justice and shalom requires that we be regularly immersed in the story of God reconciling all things to himself.

And that happens in worship, and not just any kind of worship. So we are back to the interplay and relationship of the local church and our public faith, good worship and the good life.

As Smith puts it here, we need to be immersed "in intentional, historic, liturgical forms that carry the Story in ways that sink into our bones and seep into our unconscious."

I cannot tell you how much I loved these last chapters of You Are What You Love, how I long to talk about them with others, to hear what you and your friends and fellowships make of it all.  This book is one I want to promote, want to encourage you to buy and study and talk about and - please Lord! - maybe it will make a difference in how we worship and how we live.


It will be a truly great read for those who are interested in cultural engagement and social action but wonder what kind of people we need to be to take up those vocations with lasting faith.  In this regard, I might suggest it would appeal to those who were taken with the profoundity and eloquence of Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior or Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good or the fine work of Andy Crouch or any number of recent books or websites or local action groups helping us get involved in social action.  If you were one of the many who viewed the Acton DVDs For the Life of the World, you really need to follow it up with a book just like this. If you appreciated Scot McNight's call to root our public theology and Kingdom language in the local church (Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church) you will really appreciate You Are What You Love.


However, more conventional pastors of more ordinary churches will find much about this that will remind them of why they do what they do, how the language and symbols and rituals of the gathering, worshiping body are so very, very important. (Does anybody recall the important work decades ago of John Westerhof? Or does anybody use Godly Play curriculum?  Or even appreciate the way some anti-hunger activists have rooted their local activism in the open celebration of the Lord's Supper? That is, I think those who work with most common place stuff that goes on in typical churches will find in YAWYL a solace and a proverbial shot in the arm. I hope it is read among young and old, evangelicals and mainliners, those drawn to simple church and those from more high liturgical traditions. There is something here for everyone. I mean that with all my heart.

At the end of this fascinating journey, Smith offers to us a lovely blessing and a closing short piece he calls "Benediction." It starts with the famous lines from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding" about how after our exploring we come back to where we started "and know the place for the first time."  He then offers a lengthy quote from Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Alexander Schmemann , who wrote a very rich work called For the Life of the World which inspired the great DVDs by the same name. There, Schmemann reminds us of the significance of the word "Amen."  It's quite profound.

 Smith's benediction?

"May you say 'Amen' to everything you love."

You are what You Love baker.jpg



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March 23, 2016

Five Views on The Church and Politics edited by Amy E. Black ON SALE NOW

the good wife season 1.jpgSee our order form link, below.  All books mentioned, 10% off.

Perhaps you have been taken in by the stories of law, politics and political campaigns in shows like The Good Wife or one of the best shows ever on TV, The West Wing, or even the comedy hit Veep. For a bunch of reasons, Beth and I have been really enjoying Madame Secretary. (How cool is it that the show features a major character who is, among other things, a religion professor and Aquinas scholar at the Army War College?) But despite these shows dramatizing the moral ambiguities of many social issues and underscoring the hardball maneuvering of campaigns - yeah, I'm thinking of you, Eli Gold -- nothing in fiction has prepared us for the stunning weirdness of this current election cycle. I've tried to avoid thinking about why so many of our fellow citizens (and, apparently, fellow Christians) are attracted to Donald Trump, and I've not shared the many thoughtful on-line opinion pieces about our current situation. Kudos those who are doing reasonable work on this, but I have hardly been able to bear it.

Strong and Weak- Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing.jpgRather, I have taken an intentional step back, reviewing books that, if read  and discussed among us, could have significant, long-term, civic implications, books like Andy Crouch's wonderfully insightful Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, & True Flourishing (IVP; $20.00) and James K.A. Smith's significant new work about how habit, liturgy and realigned desires can be shaped by Christian worship, for the sake of the world.

If you haven't, I hope you studied my two recent, long reviews of Smith's You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99) first here and then here.  The first, especially, is somewhat of a backstory, written in anticipation of the You are what You Love baker.jpgrelease of YAWYL; the second also included a bit more of my take on how Smith came this recent project and why I care so much about it, and then dove into a fuller review, chapter by chapter.  We've really appreciated that some have shared this review among their own friends and tried to generate some sales for us.  It is our joy to tell people about these kinds of books and hope that one of the things people desire, one of the habits that shape their wants (to use Smith's phrases) is spending money at places they believe in.

Anyway, it's good to recall that political life is part of a bigger cultural story, informed by the zeitgeist, and that our views and behaviors as citizens, as Crouch implies, and as Smith specifically shows, emerge from our deepest character, our virtues and habits and longings and the story we see ourselves to be a part of.  If we hope to re-calibrate our attitudes and practices in our civic life we must deepen our discipleship by allowing our hearts to be changed.  And that, my friends, happens best in church.  In YAWYL, church and worship are not alternatives to civic life, or a super-spiritual move of "world flight" Christianity disengaged from public concerns, but is a worldviewish radicalizing of us and our desires, in church and home, for the life of the world.  As we become more Christ-like and long for His Kingdom ways, then all of life will begin to be seen as inherently religious, with the possibility of Godly transformation, starting with our own convictions and lifestyles.  Including our understanding and involvement in politics as citizens.

I don't mean to be melodramatic, but it may be, therefore, that Smith's You Are What You Love and Crouch's Strong and Weak may be among the most important books to inform your politics that you'll read this year.

Of course, if our deep desires are for imagining God's Kingdom, and living coherent lives shaped by Biblically-informed visions and virtues, if our hearts are truly longing for God's glory to be seen more in our broken world, then we will necessarily want to develop some kind of uniquely Christian view of the common good, of public justice, and of the role of politics.  You will desire a "Christian mind" about what the best Christian traditions and writers have said about government, politics, the task of the state and the nature of responsible citizenship.

I have written a number of BookNotes columns for our bookstore blog over the years inviting us to think more faithfully and live more graciously in the public square, and I have named my favorite books on faith and politics. Read two of my columns with lists HERE and HERE.   There have been newer works on faith and politics released, but those lists are still useful and we'd be glad if you shared them.

power made (Sherratt).jpgOne book that just came in to our shop last week that ought to be mentioned as similar to those on those previous book lists is Power Made Perfect? Is There a Christian Politics for the Twenty-first Century? by Timothy Sherratt (Cascade Books; $18.00.) Blurbs on the back include a rave by a political mentor of mine, James Skillen, a wonderful endorsement by the always brilliant Gideon Strauss (Associate Professor of Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies) and remarks by Stephanie Summers, CEO of the Center for Public Justice, who says,

Here we have the resource many citizens have longed for...Christians who are tempted to give up on political engagement will be refreshed by the wise and practical counsel contained within.

I myself am looking forward to reading this, as I very much respect the author, a Professor of Political Science at Gordon College.

But there is another new one I must tell you about, and I am jazzed about it for several reasons, not least of which is that one of the shining parts of this multi-authored, back and forth volume, is the contribution by James K.A. Smith. Sometimes (well, quite often, actually) I wonder how some of these authors do it.  As Smith was writing the profound and beautiful YAWYL he was also writing a long and great chapter on Reformed views of Christian politics, and responding astutely to four other co-authors from other Christian traditions, replying to their own claim of what Christian politics looks like for a brand new volume.

Welcome to Five Views on The Church and Politics edited by Amy E. Black (Zondervan; $19.99.)

the church and pol z.jpgAt the risk of sounding like a political geek or a Jamie Smith groupie, I want to tell everyone about this multi-authored book about politics for reasons I will state below, but also because of Smith's very good role in the book. I am partial to Professor Smith's writing, his ecumenical flavor, his knowledge of the Dutch tradition of public theology (such as Bavinck and Kuyper and Dooyeweerd) and his great gift of being able to write about complex matters with incision and clarity and what seems like joy.

If you are a James K.A. Smith fan, you will want to read him in here.

As I read each essay in this new book, each one representing a different take on the relationship of church and politics, faith and government, and each of the five author's rebuttals of each other -- it is one of those "counterpoints" books -- I found myself appreciating Smith's pieces each time.  He is a remarkably well-read scholar and he is spot on in bringing just the right insight at just the right time.  I would guess that had this been a live debate, most of the other conversation partners might have been nervous being in counterpoint with him; in this, though, they all are exceptionally cordial and more than civil. This book was a model of pleasant, if at times pointed, discussion and a great learning experience. Each author obviously knows their theological tradition quite well.

black-cont.jpgThe five views represented in this volume were pulled together and helpfully introduced by Dr. Amy Black, herself a serious political scientist (with degrees from Claremont and MIT) who now teaches at Wheaton College and is widely published. Kudos to Ms Black, not only for creating such a helpful volume, but for her own writing in it -- not only is the introduction very well done, but the closing chapter ("Christian Witness in the Public Square") is practical and useful as she tries to draw on the best practices of these varying traditions and suggesting which strengths of each might be fruitful for our own growth and fidelity in the political sphere and public life.

The views represented here are arranged in a bit of a spectrum, I suppose, with some language borrowed from Richard Niebuhr's taxonomy in Christ and Culture. The five perspectives and traditions presented are:

  • Anabaptist (Separationist) by Thomas W. Heilke, Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of British Columbia
  • Lutheran (Paradoxical) by Robert Benne, formerly of Roanoke College in Roanoke, VA
  • Black Church (Prophetic) by Bruce L. Fields Theology prof of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL
  • Reformed (Transformationalist) by James K.A. Smith of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI
  • Roman Catholic (Synthetic) by J. Brian Benestad of Assumption College in Worcester, MA.

A feature of this book that should make it widely appealing for thoughtful church classes or book groups or even in colleges and seminaries is how it is shows how the views of the church and the basic ethos of each theological tradition shapes how they then tend to approach public life.  In many ways Five Views on The Church and Politics is as much about church and theology, adding to a needed ecumenical conversation between and among us church folk as it is on Christians as citizens or those active in political life.

The authors are not political scientists, it should be noted, which, I suppose, is both a strength -- making the book more widely interesting for any who care about the wider church, but may therefore be a little weak in terms of its goal of nurturing the Christian mind in politics as such. In fact, this approach, and even the book's title - am I over-thinking this? - points to this assumption; it is not just about varying views of statecraft or policy, but about how each faith tradition sees church life, and how church life relates to daily life and society.  Yes, each chapter does get around to thinking Christianly about politics as such, eventually, but the chapters are by design as much about theology as they are political science, and as much about church history as political history.

Five Views on The Church - Politics.jpgFive Views on The Church and Politics will thrill church history fans and will be a boon to any of us who long for greater ecumenical awareness and inter-denominational dialogue.  I think that all but the most focused politicos will find its broad themes -- how various church traditions have related to the world, to culture, to public life -- a great place to start (rather than digging too deeply into nuances of political theory as such which it mostly does not do.) For some of us we might wish for a bit more specificity about politics and the messiness of voting well, party involvement, policy proposals and such, but for most of us this big-picture view will bring us up to speed quite nicely.

Bring us up to speed?

Exactly.  You see, I suspect that most of us -- even the sharp and well-read fans of BookNotes -- are woefully unaware of the ways in which great Christian thinkers that have come before us have written and taught about Christian political life.  This is why I have offered lists like the ones mentioned above, or done extensive reviews of the very, very important historical overview of Christian thinking about the state, The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction written by James W. Skillen (Baker Academic; $24.00.)  Do check out my review of that, here.  Skillen helps us see -- through his own particular lens and opinions, of course -- the strengths and weaknesses of many great public thinkers who wrote about politics and justice down throughout history.  Who knew?

Listen to Amy Black in her introduction to Five Views of Church and Politics,

Not every theological tradition has a robust and distinctive set of teachings we might call a "political theology," but four in particular (Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and Anabaptist) stand out for their enduring influence on conversations about church and state over many centuries. A fifth tradition, that of the Black Church, is specifically rooted in the United States and represents a distinctive theological perspective, not to mention forms of communal practice, that is too often discussed in isolation or simply ignored.

In telling about the rich and diverse views represented in this five-way conversation, Black notes that each tradition has developed and evolved.  "The endurance and adaptation of each of the traditions in this book, despite vastly changing political contexts, highlight their value for understanding present and future contexts, not just the past." 

What a good spectrum of views, and what a good way to learn about some of the strengths and weaknesses of these five enduring faith traditions.  As I said, it seems this book works well as a primer on inter-denominational/ecumenical discourse and the ups and downs of church history and differing theological impulses as much as a guide to thinking about modern citizenship. I commend such inter-denominational conversations to you.

I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt such conversations are going on in your town, let alone in your own congregation, so you need to read books like this once and again to remind you and yours of other members of the Body of Christ and how they think and speak out as they do, and why. Especially in this season when Christians are courted as a voting block and evangelicals are routinely cited in the news for supporting candidates who are pretty obviously not very Christian in tone or substance. What the heck is going on?  Well, part of what is going on is that good Christian people haven't read books like this.

In each chapter, the representative author first traces the historical developments of their own tradition, explaining some of the "foundational principles and theological distinctives." Eventually, they get to their tradition's view of government and its role in society. Some are, Dr. Black observes, "primarily optimistic, emphasizing the ways in which government promotes human flourishing and contributes to the common good" or they tend to be "pessimistic, focusing on the need for government to restrain the effects of sin."  Or, perhaps some are a mix of the two.

(I am reminded here -- although bringing it up here may seem a bit simplistic, and Black's book is not simplistic -- that Richard Mouw has written that when he used to debate his Mennonite friend John Howard Yoder, Yoder once said that Reformed and Presbyterian types said the world and public life was created but fallen, while Mennonites and other Anabaptists say created but fallen." Hmm.)

So. Of course, with these theological impulses or tendencies or postures made more forthright, they then explain what their tradition or church might say about how ordinary Christians should be involved in political life and the role of churches in addressing political questions. "Engagement with these questions", Black says, "helps outline the hallmarks of each perspective, but it focuses primarily on the theory animating each view."

In a helpful move, each chapter in Five Views on The Church and Politics ends with a case study, asking how that faith tradition might address the situation of domestic poverty.  How might their perspective address policy questions (if they do at all) about this?

And, of course, then there are the rebuttals - often mostly affirming what the diverse authors appreciate about each other and what they share in common.  I am not sure I am remembering correctly, but it seems to me that Professor Smith is the most pointed - gracious, always - but clear about differences. Perhaps it is because, in many ways, Smith's Reformed view may, in fact, stand apart in singular ways in insisting that the doctrine of creation yields a positive view of culture and subsequent institutions (such as government) and that therefore, God's redemption can be seen breaking into all areas of life, including politics. When his Kuyperian faith says "no dualism" it seems he really means it!

For instance, in one of Smith's critiques of another view, he insists, after a page lamenting violence shown centuries ago over disagreements and offering key appreciations for his interlocutor:

I continue to find Anabaptist principles of political engagement (or disengagement as the case may be) to be rather simplistic and naïve in their account of political life as an aspect of human culture. Or, to put it differently, it seems to me that Anabaptist stance vis a vis the political falls into the trap of treating political life and institutions as "givens," as a kind of black box that operates apart from our understanding of its emergence or inner workings. We just find ourselves thrown into the world, and there are political powers, authorities, structures, and systems that we have to deal with, and those political systems are taken to be simply synonymous with "the world" of, say, John 17:15 - the world that is under the control of "the evil one."

Behind this assessment of government and politics is a problematic theology of creation that seems to write off swaths of creation as not only fallen, but almost diabolical. There is a kind of all-or-nothing take on government and politics here that is problematic.

james smith shot from video.jpg(And, then, in a footnote, stemming from Smith's blunt accusation of unwarranted pessimism about the state, Smith avers, "Conversely Anabaptists are much more confident in the purity of the church than Reformed folks would ever be. Thus, when Heilke identifies "the 'good city' of political philosophy" simply with "the church," Reformed folks will express eschatological caution, emphasizing that 'the good city' is one we await (Rev. 21:2.)"

Later, in the same response, Smith says "While the Reformed position does not simply baptize the status quo, it is characterized by a hope for the possibility of political transformation rooted in a theology of creation and culture coupled with a conviction about the creation-wide scope of Christ's redemption - through still tempered by a deep sense of eschatological waiting."

I cite this not to underscore any particular animosity Smith may have against Mennonite brothers or sisters (close readers know my own personal appreciation for some Anabaptist thought and practice) but to clarify how clarifying this book at its best really is. Particularly in the rebuttal sections, where each author says what they don't agree with, brings to the fore some of the theological quandaries we must ponder. It is a good theological and spiritual exercise and very, very informative.

To be honest, there are times in this book when the debate might have been a bit more feisty.  I Jesus_for_President.jpgsort of wish the Anabaptist voice had a bit of the passion and prophetic edge of, say, Shane Claiborne's Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan; $16.99) and that the Roman Catholic scholar, alongside his good explanation of natural law, might have talked more energetically about the consistent life views of the US Bishops.  Indeed, it was Smith who noticed that Professor Benestad didn't talk at all about the historic reading of Pope Leo XIII's famous Rerum Novarum that has lead Roman Catholics to be generally supportive of labor and labor unions. Smith observes, politely, that Benestad offers a "selective" reading of Catholic Social Teaching.  And while Dr. Bruce Fields, the black theologian and professor, cited many great sources (such as Cheryl J. Sanders, Renita Weems, Cain Hope Felder, the essential J. Deotis Roberts, and Peter Paris) it would have been interesting to have this dialogue with somebody like a James Cone or Cornel West or someone more overtly connected to the historic civil rights movement. To put a better spin on my small frustration I can assure you that the book is exceedingly fair, civil, no-nonsense, studious and is hardly contentious at all.

Five Views on The Church and Politics is a fine introduction to key theological traditions, to trans-denominational conversations, and to various models and approaches to the big question of faith and culture, social change, politics and the common good.  But, again, I think it is best seen as a guide to understanding and appreciating differences among the church, and becoming more alert and wise and in some ways appreciative of each other.  We don't have to - the authors of this book would probably say we don't get to - make up our own rules or ideas about all this. We stand within a great (diverse) tradition and within the communion of saints; from within the big Body of Christ we can learn from each other and honor one another, even as we sometimes disagree with one another.  This book is, therefore, as much about ecclesiology, about church and theology as it is about government, legislation, policy or politics. But it is an example of mature conversation, an invitation to join in learning more and broadening our views.

Kemeny-Church-State-and-Public-Justice.JPGCompare and contrast this with another similar book I've often recommended, Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny (IVP Academic; $20.00) which tends to be more about different Christian views of the state, how public justice is defined within different Christian schools of thought, and what sort of ways different traditions answer the question about how the government should (or shouldn't) work to bring about a just social order.  That book, too, offers five noted contributors who each offer a major chapter and then respond to the other four positions.  It seems a bit more eager to jump to the political science, but is, like Dr. Black's, delightfully broad and ecumenical. The five traditions represented in that book edited by Dr. Kemeny are a Roman Catholic perspective (written by a Roman Catholic political theorist, Clark Cochran), a Classical Separation perspective (written by a Southern Baptist attorney and liberal arts Dean from Baylor, Derek Davis), an Anabaptist perspective (written by Ron Sider, a Brethren scholar and political activist), a "Principled Pluralist" perspective (written by a Calvin College political science prof, political pollster, and board member of the Center for Public Justice, Corwin Smidt) and what seems to be a "realist"  social justice perspective, written by a mainline Protestant social ethicist and Washington DC-based United Methodist pastor, J. Philip Wogaman.) Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by Professor Kemeny, is deeper, a bit more heady, not primarily written by theologians but by politicos, and is therefore exceptionally useful for those serious about thinking about political questions, as such.  Perhaps it would be a good follow up to the broader, more theological approach taken in Black's Five Views on The Church and Politics. 

I like what Amy Black writes of her new Five Views on the Church and Politics collection, although it would serve to describe Kemeny's work as well:

We have focused on these differences to help readers think more deeply about the dynamics of Christian witness in the public sphere and consider alternative perspectives. But the purpose of this book is not to convince readers they must choose a side as if in the midst of a raging debate. Instead, we invite readers to compare and contrast central ideas and themes from each tradition to help them develop a more thoughtful, careful, and Christ-centered approach to politics and government.

And that is an urgent need.

Because if you think the characters and politics and campaigning in The Good Wife is outrageously flamboyant, welcome to US politics in real time circa 2016. We who follow Jesus simply must be discerning and thoughtful about how we can most faithfully respond.  But we don't have to reinvent the wheel, or fret that we are the first to face times such as these. God's people have been here before and people smarter then most of us have considered these things deeply. These books can help.



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March 26, 2016

Reading After the Resurrection: finding big hope and so much more -- 17 books listed, all on sale at Hearts & Minds

A few years ago I did a BookNotes post suggesting that, in light of the vast implications of Easter, we should embark on what we might call a plan of "resurrectionary reading." That is, we embrace God's merciful grace, the victory of Christ over Death, the nearness of the Kingdom of God restoring all broken things, and assert that new creation realities are breaking into life -- all of life. If we are "new creations" in Christ, and the day in the Christian calendar set aside to Christ's resurrection reminds us of that newness breaking forth from the great news of the empty tomb -- think of the simple brilliance of N.T. Wright's last book called Simply Good News which explained why the gospel is good, and why it is news! -- then we should be somewhat intentional about thinking through the implications of resurrection for life.

Such a plan of discerning how to "sing a new song to the Lord" in light of the resurrection for all of life might be called resurrectionary reading.  Alas, the phrase never seemed to catch on, and even I forgot to use it again.

To wit: Beth and I and the team here at Hearts & Minds wish you Happy Easter, or Resurrection Day, as some wisely call it. And welcome to this installment of "resurrectionary reading."

More specifically, here are some books that are about the implications of the resurrection life, or on the topic of hope.  At the Sunday morning Jubilee talk I gave at that large conference a little more than a month ago I talked about Big Hope. That is, if the full vision of the future is as the Bible says -- true forgiveness, restoration, all of life redeemed, re(new)ed creation, the redemptive healing of the cosmos into the New City of Revelation 22 -- then we, indeed, should be pulled by that true future into a new way of life; our hope in the final goal and goodness of God's plan should compel us to live now as people of hope, people of the future, if you will. At the very least, we bear witness to, create signposts of, what we think life will be like someday. We anticipate, we wait, but that is done in hope.  Resurrection hope, I'd say, today.

Indeed, the New Testament (I Peter 3:15) tells us to "always be ready to give an account of the hope that lies within us." As I quipped to the Jubilee crowd, that really does presume that people are asking, doesn't it?  Why be ready to explain if nobody wonders, if nobody asks?  Our lives should be so full of hope -- this seems particularly counter-cultural in these cynical days -- that people should be curious, wondering what's gotten in to us.  Why in the world aren't we jaded and cynical, broken and forlorn?  Why, even in our sadnesses and griefs do others catch a glimpse of some profound tone, a confidence born of hope, underneath? Why does our hope manifest itself in such realism that we offer solidarity with the hurting and abused (even the Earth itself)? What does it look like to offer real, substantive, sturdy hope -- not sentimentalized or cheaply reduced to glib cheer -- to a needy, needy, world?

Here are a handful of books that might inspire us to be more confident in our being harbingers of hope. And maybe more articulate about our answers when people ask.  Always be ready, it says.  So here's some resurrectionary reading.

taking god seriously.jpgTaking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know J.I. Packer (Crossway) $14.99 If we are going to be people of hope we must be people grounded in the gospel and serious about the historic Christian faith. This book is said to be a "plea for sober, modest, thoughtful and orthodox theology" and is very much designed as a much-needed adult catechesis.  I do not agree with Packer on everything, wouldn't ascribe the same sort of importance to each matter that he seems to, and I believe that in his mostly helpful analysis of the drift of the contemporary mainline churches he misses some things. He is a British Anglican, and writes about the lack of unity in the worldwide Anglican communion in part due to the bold moves of Canadian Anglican and US Episcopalians to affirm same sex marriages which he sees as a betrayal of Biblical fidelity; it is that complex rive that also inspired this book. But that particularity aside, Packer is helpful in clearly and rather carefully outlining the core commitments that are common to those that profess belief in Christ and includes, as he says, "vital things we need to know." In a good preface he laments that the church is losing strength and vitality for being undernourished -- which he suggests comes from shepherds not adequately feeding their flocks. Hence, this little book, clear, systematic, interesting.

From themes of the authority of Scripture to the importance of the unity of the Body of Christ, from reflections on repentance to the role of the Holy Spirit in renewal, from understanding baptism to a healthy, regular practice of the Lord's Supper, each chapter in Taking God Seriously invites us to serious formulations rooted in historic, conventional, orthodox faith. There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  Those of us that are not in denominations or faith traditions that are contentious will still learn much from this, and for those of us who are in troubled communions will -- even if we wouldn't put things quite like Packer does here -- benefit from this clear-eyed, warm-hearted, mature business of taking God and faith seriously. This is not a razzle-dazzle call to commitment, although Packer wants full-life dedication to the things of God. But it is, more, a careful, brief, exploration of what many feel are nearly non-negotiables of historic, creedal faith. This, to me, is a sign of hope for only in the life-giving resurrection of Christ can we have any plausible expectations that the faith can be renewed in our churches and that our theological confusions can be clarified and reformed and understood afresh. 

Surprised by Hope-b.jpgSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $24.99  In case you are one of the few BookNotes readers who have not yet heard of this extraordinarily important book, allow me to commend it to you now. Tom Wright, as I assume you know, is one of the leading New Testament scholars of our time, and a curious fellow -- he is a former Bishop in the Anglican Church (yes, he is a Brit) who writes both popular level stuff for church folks and super scholarly works for the academic Biblical studies guild.  He is exceptionally prolific, a musician, tireless lecturer, an active churchman, and somewhat of a rock star in our circles. Some who are more progressive in their faith think he is way too conservative theologically and some strictly Reformed conservatives think his views of justification are suspicious, making him too liberal.  Gotta love it when both sides want to crucify you.  When we hosted him at Hearts & Minds we were deeply touched by the diversity of folks that came out to meet him, and we were -- as we expected -- dazzled by his eloquence, his scholarly clarity, and his evangelical zeal for the Kingdom of God. (The book about the Kingdom that he lectured from that day, How God Become King just came out in paperback, by the way. Yay!)

The hardback Surprised by Hope: Rethinking... is a major work, much discussed, and very thorough. There are moments when it is even a bit tedious, but he is being careful, detailed, covering all the options before making his compelling conclusions. I think it is perhaps the finest book on the significance of and daily implications of the bodily resurrection of Christ and the subsequent promise of new creation ever written. I simply know of no other book like it, and very few that even come close. Highly recommended.

The six-session DVD of the same title, by the way, is truly excellent and would be a perfect resource for an adult class or small group this season.  Agree or not with every detail of his view of "heaven, resurrection, and the mission of the church" I guarantee that you will be very, very impressed by the quality of the production.

Surprised by Scripture.jpgSurprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $15.99  If resurrection reading might include reflecting on how Christ's death and resurrection vindicates his claim to be the true King of the world, and, therefore, how we as his followers should live, then this book could be a fine, fine guide and resource. Here, Wright weighs in on a variety of contemporary issues, offering Biblical insights on topics as diverse as art and science, the role of women, creation-care, and international peacemaking. These are all talks he was asked to give at conferences or seminars, apparently indicating an interesting in seeing how his fairly detailed theological vision plays out in real life, in our culture, today. Wright would be the first to admit that he is speaking into these spheres of influence not as an expert but as a pastor, a New Testament scholar, trained in history and a bit in theology. These are lively, upbeat, sometimes provocative and, for some, life-changing. How good to realize (surprising to some) that God cares about all of life and that thoughtful Christians can engage the arts and sciences and civic life.

I like the way Publishers Weekly puts it:

Pithy prose and compassionate and serious biblical interpretation. . . . To reveal some of Wright's conclusions would be like leaking cinematic spoilers; such is the inventive and surprising way that Wright brings the Bible to bear on current, and vexatious, affairs.

Reconciling All Things bigger.jpgReconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice (IVP) $17.00  I have often recommended the six books in the series called "Resources for Reconciliation" from the Duke Seminary Center for Reconciliation. This is the first one in that good series, authored by an African  church leader, scholar, and theological professor and a US civil rights activist and professor. If the gospel means anything it certainly means that we can be reconciled, in Christ, to God, self, others, the creation itself. Our alienation is healed, that which is broken can be bridged.

This is a wonderful manifesto-like call to see the Biblical basis for a transformational vision of reconciliation. Marva Dawn says it is "a critically important book and an incisive beginning to what promises to be a world-changing series. Christians have a unique vision to live the new creation of wholehearted community!" Do you believe people can forgive even the most horrific abuses? Can the most hostile enemies be made one? Can the power of Christ's victory do that? What amazing grace, what amazing love as the old hymn puts it. 

Living the Resurrection- The Risen Christ in Everyday Life.jpgLiving the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $16.99  I so love this book, and can't believe it isn't better known. I have read it more than once; years ago I taught an adult ed class based on this book and we really appreciate it.  Here, Peterson gives wise and useful guidance towards how to live out the implications of the resurrection, by studying the post-resurrection stories in the gospels. I trust you know that Peterson does a close, literary reading of the Biblical texts, often tells stories -- not breathy dramatic ones, but those of homespun wisdom about ordinary life. And he writes so very well. As a long-time pastor and Biblical scholar and lover of great books and poetry, he is the sort of author I say to read anything he writes!  And this: is is short and solid and really, really good.

There are three long chapters in Living the Resurrection -- an opening one called "Resurrection Wonder" and a second called "Resurrection Meals" and the third which is called "Resurrection Friends."  Peterson says, "When the resurrection becomes the core reality of our spiritual formation, our dimmed eyes and dull souls are lifted to a place of continual renewal." Perhaps in reading this you'll discover anew what life is like when every day is resurrection day. Yes!

res life augsburger.jpgThe Resurrection Life: The Power of Jesus for Today Myron Augsburger (Evangel Publishing House) $12.99  What a great read, a fabulously written and very thoughtful invitation to explore the significance of the resurrection. Christ is alive -- we say that. His resurrection is a victory, somehow, not just over physical death but over evil forces and disorder.  Augsburger carefully studies much of what this means, and what it "looks like" in daily life. It is a very fine book, serious, but not dry. I like what Dr. Jay Kesler, President Emeritus of Taylor University wrote about this fine work: 

Myron Augsburger has written into the postmodern world the same argument and the same truth claims that the Apostle John wrote into the Greco-Roman world in his reflecting gospel. The audacious claim of the Christian gospel is validated by the actual physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and that resurrection power is transformational to all who truly believe that it is so. The Resurrection Life is not only powerfully written and illustrated, but also demonstrates half a century of the author's faithful global ministry.

I hope you know of Dr. Myron Augsburger who is an esteemed Mennonite scholar and evangelist, leader within higher education and inter-denominational church work. It seems he may not have done any books recently, but this "oldie" is one I really, really like.  The Resurrection Life is a rare and good book, highly recommended for your stimulating reading this season. 

This Changes Everything- Unleashing the Power of the Resurrection in Your Life.jpgThis Changes Everything: Unleashing the Power of the Resurrection in Your Life Ray Johnston (Biblica) $13.00  This is a book full of great messages, good guidance, basic Christian living stuff about applying the truth celebrated in our communal cry "He Is Risen!" and ordinary, daily life. Popular writer and hip church dude (at LifeChurch TV) Craig Groeschel says "The power of God in Ray Johnston's life is undeniable. In his book This Changes Everything Johnston shows us how Christ's resurrection power can transform our lives."

He starts the book with a great story of a married couple who were disappointed when the lavish honeymoon suite they check into for their first night of marital bliss was, well, a bit dumpy. They slept on a foldaway couch, lumpy and bumpy. The next day they realized what they thought was a closet door opened to the bridal suite bedroom -- lavished with roses and chocolate. All there, available for them, but not even used.

What a story -- and a good way to start this book about the often untapped power of the resurrection that is available but often not appropriated. For those wanting a rather simple guide to the personal aspects of the resurrection, this is a fine collection of practical messages.

The Awakening of Hope- Why We Practice a Common Faith.jpgThe Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Zondervan) $14.99 I know if you are a Hearts & Minds BookNotes reader or friend of the shop you know we have been raving this month about the brand new book by James K.A. Smith called You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit where  (among other things) Professor Smith calls us to pay more attention to church life, liturgy, worship, and other habit-forming practices that can re-index our hearts, even our longings and desires. We may not love what we think we do, and the way to unite "heart and mind and hands" in a unified lifestyle is to be engaged in local practices of a local church. In this book Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove describes the visions and practices of his own community of faith and the stuff they do to make the congregation a true faith community that is formative over the life and discipleship of the members.  This is historic, robust, solid stuff, brought with a bit of feisty missional energy by one who shares life with the poor, having been a partner in crime with "ordinary radical" Shane Claiborne (who wrote the foreword and appears in the accompanying DVD curriculum.)

The first chapter is called "Pictures of Hope" -- so good!

The rest of the book, then, explores (and invites us to embrace our own forms of) seven key practices of their faith lived out in intentional community, and what those practices look like in Rutba House, their little community in North Carolina.  Wilson-Hartgrove explains "Why we eat together", "Why we fast", "Why we make promises", "Why it matters where we live". "Why we live together", "Why we would rather die than kill", and "Why we share the good news." 

In a way, this book serves as a contemporary "new monastic" catechism -- but, again (think of James K.A.Smith and his arguement in You Are What You Love) this isn't just about teaching core truths and having readers agree with them, adopting some ancient-future, radical catechism. As it says on the back cover, "by communicating the hope that Christianity offers through the discipline of seven ancient practices you will learn what it means to build community among believers by nurturing a faith that leads to action."  Indeed, creation and fall, covenant and community, ethics and evangelism all matter, as we embody Easter hope. This is a really fascinating little book, and reading it may inspire you to gather some folks together and watch the DVDs, too.  Sounds resurrectionary!

Hopecasting.jpgHopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen Mark Oestreicher (IVP) $16.00  I raved about this remarkable book last year, suggesting -- maybe helpfully, maybe not -- that it was, in some ways, a perfect introduction to the work of Walter Brueggemann, who Oestreicher draws on a lot.  You may know that Brueggemann is known best for his studies of The Prophetic Imagination and The Hopeful Imagination. More recently, you should know his Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.)  All of these are relevant in this "resurrectionary reading" mode -- offering profound hope, subversively profound hope.  In Hopecasting Mark O wonders "why some people are so full of hope while many of us struggle to get past the snooze alarm?"  Kenda Creasy Dean calls it "part memoir, part mentor, part prayer for the journey."  There is nothing cheap about this, though -- this is substantive, thick, sturdy hope. Gary Haugen (of IJM) says "Mark Oestreicher offers deep encouragement for those of us who have ever struggled to cultivate transformative hope in hard places." 

I like the Texan recording artist David Crowder's blurb on the back:

Oestreicher redefines hope, or, better yet, pulls us back to a workable set of postures for receiving hope. This book reminds us that hope is a beautiful gift, an influx of Jesus into our dark and dry souls.

Keeping Hope Alive For a Tomorrow We Cannot Control .jpgKeeping Hope Alive For a Tomorrow We Cannot Control Lewis Smedes (Thomas Nelson Publishers) $13.98  Smedes was an important figure in the life of one of my best friends who studied under him, and he was the very first person who I knew arranged a book in light of four themes -- creation, fall, redemption, restoration (see his Sex for Christians.)  He has written about ethics, about forgiveness, about union with Christ, about the ten commandments and about promises for ordinary people; I think I have read every book he published. He was a remarkable person and his teachings moved me deeply.  (As did his memoir My God and I: A Spiritual Memoir) that came out right after his untimely death in late 2002.)

This one is loaded with common sense and is exceptionally down to Earth, offering deeply Christian wisdom in nice prose that is not off-putting or odd. It is an old favorite of mine.  Keeping Hope Alive... shows how to "develop hope-building habits" and how to "discern false hope from true hope." He reminds us to trust God and guides us to access God's "hope-giving Spirit." Smedes explains his ideas about prioritizing your hopes (fascinating) and, of course, how to face the worst without loosing hope. In order words, it really is a very wise, pleasant, helpful guide to this amazing gift that can "fuel our dreams, lighten our spirits, and lift us out of despair." Highly recommended for anyone who likes good books, or who needs help maintaining Christian hope.

Curious Faith- Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility .jpgCurious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility Logan Wolfram (David C. Cook) $17.99  This book is written especially to and for women, and in it Ms Wolfram chats as a friend, an honest friend, inviting readers to be open-minded, curious, eager to unfold more as life-long learners. Her own willingness to entertain the risks of hope, leaning into life in this particular way, came from the death of an unborn child which she describes in a raw first chapter. Can we be curious about how things might be -- enough to allow God to write our story? Can we long for more of God in ways that bring meaning and joy, not obsession or unhealthy religion? With endorsements from well-known, contemporary evangelical women writers such as Ann Voskamp and Emily Wierenga and Lysa TerKeurst, Curious Faith will appeal to many, I think.

I really liked the moving foreword by central Pennsylvania author Sarah Mae who assures us that

Logan is one of the most authentic, generous, faithful, open-the-door-wide-to-possibility souls I know. She is a gift, and her hard-fought wisdom words are a gift to us all.

Sarah continues, that, "mostly, she learned to curiously pursue the unfolding of hope." Now that's a resurrectionary phrase, isn't it?   Nice.

The Case for Hope- Looking Ahead with Confidence and Courage Lee Strobel .jpgThe Case for Hope: Looking Ahead with Confidence and Courage Lee Strobel (Zondervan) $14.99  I really like Lee Strobel and his brand of storytelling, testifying to the goodness of the gospel, and candid questioning -- he was a hardscrabble Chicago investigative reporter, after all -- has always made him a good, entertaining, and edifying read.  This small book is designed as a gift book -- some nice color ink inside, some handsome pages, but also with plenty of fabulous stories and very solid content. As it says on the back "Hope is the inextinguishable flicker God ignites in our souls...when we are surrounded by utter darkness."  So where do we find that kind of flicker? What is the reason for such a hope? Part encouragement, part apologetics, part 30-day journey journal, this compact hardback is a very nice book to give for those who don't read super heavy stuff or want something to inspire.

Renaissance -  Os Guinness.jpgRenaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  Although this book came out two years ago, it is needed now more than ever, and calls us to realize that "no matter how dark the times" we who believe the first things of the gospel must rely on God's own power to transform the culture around us. Is there hope for societal redemption and renewal?   Yes, we must take up efforts to reverse the inroads of secularization and respond well to our pluralizing world. And, yes (as it says on the back) "The Christian faith has transformed cultures and civilizations, demonstrating God's goodness, beauty, and truth through art and literature, science and medicine, philosophy and social justice." The explanation of this book continues,

Christians may yet change the world again -- if we answer the call to a new Christian renaissance that challenges the darkness with the hope of Christ.  So have courage. Take heart. And let a thousand flowers blooms!

I love the blurb on the back by Becky Pippert, a good friend of Os Guinness and his wife, (who, by the way, herself has written a wonderful book entitled Hope Has Its Reasons) who says,

"no other writer I know offers such a rich background of astute cultural analysis combined with a deep understanding of history. I finished this book feeling a deep sense of hope."

A Wilderness of Mirrors- Trusting Again in a Cynical World.jpgA Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World  Mark Meynell (Zondervan) $18.99 I think that being taken up in the God-drenched experience of "all things new" means a lot of things. As I've recommended in this list we should ponder the realities of the resurrection itself, the implications of Christ's defeat of evil, the way in which God's grace and mercy and forgiveness sets us free, free to live in world made new. What does that mean, what does it look like? The other books on this list will help you be a person of resurrection, a person of hope.  If, that is -- and for younger readers, especially, this may be a big "if" -- if you don't fall for the understandable way out of jadedness and cynicism. Why are we in this "whatever" world of superficial distractions and hip irony? In this brilliant book -- may I suggest it rises to the level of sheer genius without you rolling your eyes in distrust? --  author Mark Meynell explains the implications of the breakdown in trust in many social spheres, and how that impacts us all.  Having been mislead by authorities and institutions, we are stuck in a deep malaise. It is good to have him walk us through this, getting a bit of distance from the "mirrors" and being given a gift of clearer sight.

The back cover isn't as eloquent as the book itself (and I am afraid I didn't speak of it adequately in my previous BookNotes review, although I did rave), but here is their explanation:

In A Wilderness of Mirrors Mark Meynell explores the roots of the discord and alienation that mark our society, but he also outlines a gospel-based reason for hope. An astute social observer with a pastor s spiritual sensitivity, Meynell grounds his antidote on four bedrocks of the Christian faith: human nature, Jesus, the church, and the story of God's action in the world.

Ultimately hopeful, A Wilderness of Mirrors calls Christians to rediscover the radical implications of Jesus s life and message for a disillusioned world, a world more than ever in need of his trustworthy goodness.

Maynell is well suited for writing this book. He has lived in Europe and in Africa. His evangelical faith (mentored by John Stott) allows him to speak passionately about the basics of the gospel and about the contours of culture.  For instance, in one chapter he notes the "personal cost of mistrust" which he describes as alienation and finally loneliness. (He was a pastor, after all.) But in other chapters he is doing fine cultural criticism and incisive social critique.  His "hope for a broken world" chapters are solid and, yes, hopeful.  This is a very good book and I very highly recommend it. You will be invited into a better story than the damages caused by our dubious culture and a better story than many churches proclaim. He offers the richness of the gospel story -- which allows us, as he puts it, to "relish a true ending."  That's hope!

 The Justice Calling- Where Passion Meets Perseverance.jpgThe Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance Bethany Hanke Hoang & Kristen Deeded Johnson (Brazos Press) $19.99  Maybe you saw our earlier reviews of this where we commended it as one of the best recent studies expressing the Biblical and theological basis for concern about social justice. Many resurrectionary Christians believe God is making all things new, and certainly that includes a public faith, a commitment tot he common good, a passion to work for the suffering and oppressed. This book says on the back, "Root your passion for justice in persevering hope."

Persevering hope. That's what I'm talking about here after Easter: how to keep on keeping on long after the cause de jour moves on, long after the initial energy drains, long after the good feelings of helping others gives way to a hard realism about how messy it all is, this changing the world business. That takes a deep and abiding "vision of vocation" as Steve Garber puts it, which, it seems, offers the virtue of steadfastness, maybe even hopefulness.

Dan Allender calls this a "glorious book" and that, too, is a good example of hopefulness, that such a book would garner such good praise. Lynne Hybels has written nicely about "the thread that stitches this whole book together: the possibility and promise of persevering hope."  Yes.

Thumbprint in the Clay- Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace Luci Shaw.jpgThumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace Luci Shaw (IVP Books) $17.00  One of these days I might do a BookNotes blog books about a genre of books I call "the spirituality of the ordinary." We have a lot, about seeing God's beauty, sensing God's presence, and experiencing daily life knowing that the Risen Christ is ever-present.

This sort of "down to Earth" faith that honors God's presence and power in the mundane is a real Easter theme, I think: after the resurrection, of course, Jesus went to the beach and had a breakfast of fish.  The hearts of the discouraged disciples "burned within them" while Jesus taught about himself from the Old Testament, but it wasn't until they blessed and broke bread that their eyes were opened to the His Divine presence among them.  And so, it seems to me a major aspect of post-Easter resurrectionary reading would be to learn the art of discerning God's hand in God's handiwork, what Luci Shaw calls "the thumbprint in the clay."  Call it practicing the presence of God or sanctifying the ordinary, I think we can benefit much from reading books about that.  This brand new one is beautifully written and full of wonder, as such a book should be, so I wanted to list it here as a sign of hope, a gift of shalom, a result of the realities of Easter.

I hope you know the wonderful writer, Luci Shaw, who has spent a lifetime working in publishing, offering many volumes of poems and good books of thoughtful prose. Her most recent nonfiction works have included books about aging and the spirituality of her own "ascent" (as she puts her own maturity in aging.) She is an artful and vital author and person we esteem and enjoy, and we hope you do to. She is one of the best.

This brand new release that came a few days ago is a rumination on God's own thumbprint found in all things.  It is, she says, "for me, a singular clue to human identity." God is, of course, the creative and ever-creating One.  The publicity about the book reminds us that "We reflect God's imprint most clearly, perhaps, in our own creating and appreciation for beauty. A longing for beauty is inherent to being human."  Is there some sense in which beauty is redemptive?

Novelist Brett Lott writes,

Luci Shaw is a treasure, and Thumbprints in the Clay shows us again precisely why: this book is wise beyond measure, the writing beautiful beyond compare, and its heart a reflection of the one true God... This is a beautiful, ruminative and necessary book.

Listen to Leslie Leyland Fields, herself a great writer (who works in the Alaskan fishing industry) as she colorfully commends this author and this new book:

Luci has thrown clay upon a wheel yet once more and fashioned it into a delightful vessel filled with my favorite drink: the ambrosia of art, faith, and creativity. Yes, I am besotted: but who can turn away from the poetry of a life lived so beautifully in service to God.

The Spirituality of Wine  Gisela H. jpgThe Spirituality of Wine  Gisela H. Kreglinger (Eerdmans) $24.00  I will write about this brand new book more, later, I am sure, but I mention it here as one example of how the new life offered by new creation/resurrectionary theology might shape our thinking of fairly ordinary things (in this case, eating and drinking, farming and marketing.) Kreglinger, a Lutheran born in Germany at her parent's vineyard that dates back to the 17th century, writes about wine and wine-making, about the blessings of good food and drink (and the dangers; there is a very good chapter about alcohol abuse.) She is both a farmer and vintner as well as a theologian and spiritual director. To explore the spirituality of wine she interview many serious vitners (in Europe and the US, from Bordeaux to Napa Valley.)

Although Kreglinger is a contemplative and deeply spiritual writer, this really is a book about wine -- in the Bible, in church, in culture, and on our own daily tables and special occasions.  It isn't every Christian book that has such great endorsements from such esteemed foodie writers as Alice Waters (owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley) who writes,

Gisela Kreglinger writes with good humor and real piety about the transformative power of good wine. This is a thoughtful, prayerful, wide-ranging book, reminding us on every page that spirituality and gastronomy are inextricably linked. I will not soon forget Kreglinger's theologically informed and deeply perceptive analysis of Babette's Feast, one of my favorite stories.

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Alice Canlis of the famed Canlis Restaurant in Seattle says, beautifully,

I wept upon reading The Spirituality of Wine. Our restaurant has received Wine Spectator's Grand Award for twenty years, so how is it that I had only tasted the tip of this reality, only touched the knowledge of its gifts? Profound and potent, intertwined with practical and tangible application, this book has completely astonished me. Like an exquisite wine in a bottle, I've been transformed from within.

Now that sounds like "resurrectionary reading" to me -- potent, astonishing, transformative. Yes, yes, yes.  Happy resurrection folks!



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