About October 2016

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

September 2016 is the previous archive.

November 2016 is the next archive.

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

October 2016 Archives

October 4, 2016

The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr -- my BookNotes review. (And a limited time offer of nearly $100 worth of free content.)

The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by RIchard Rohr with Mike Morrell (Whitaker House) regularly $23.99 ON SALE here for 20% OFF -- $19.19


TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW...

Divine Dance.jpgEvery now and then a book comes along that I have some degree of ambivalence about reviewing.  Often it is because it is a more complex book than I am equipped to adequately discuss; often it is because the book will be loved by many and hated by others and I feel rather caught in the middle, fearful I'll lose friends or business by liking, or disliking a certain author. Usually it is a book that is going to be a publishing phenomenon, one that people will hear about so the stakes are high, or they feel that way to me. Some days I wonder if it is worth it...


In my characteristic manner I want to make a case for reading widely; generously and critically. I think it is unfortunate if you read only stuff you already like, if you never stretch yourself to engage authors that you may be inclined to disagree with.  So it's what we do, invite people into civil and interesting conversations about big ideas, sometimes based on controversial books.  Do you remember my four or five part epic reviews of Rob Bell's Love Wins? I ended up writing more words about that little book that Rob himself wrote in the book. And then I did a short video feature.  At the end I basically advised that one read it for oneself and make up your own mind. Brilliant, eh?


I do not intend to spill so much ink about the brand new book by Wild Goose dude Mike Morrell and Franciscan mystic Richard Rohr called The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation but, well, I can't help myself. I announced it in our last post listing a few other books on spiritual formation and it is now out so I want to chime in with a few affirming notes and a few disappointments. 


FREE STUFF.  A LOT OF FREE STUFF.

Divine Dance gifts $99.pngTo encourage readers to buy it from indie bookstores, by the way, Father Rohr and his new old-school Pentecostal publisher - Whitaker House - have created an incentive which I didn't tell you about last week.  


If you buy The Divine Dance from us (at our discounted price) you can get absolutely free a digital package of stuff from Rohr and Whitaker worth about $100.00.  This  nice deal offers some Fr. Rohr lectures, some Biblical reflections, a download of one of the great books of all of church history, On the Incarnation by Athanasius. (A book beloved by C.S. Lewis, by the way) and more.  Click here to see the list of all that is being offered -- but do come back and order from us. You can see there the drop down box and all you have to do is select "independent bookstore" to show them that you got it indie.  We appreciate it.


We will be sending these brand new hardbacks out right away and can get this supplemental package of free content sent to you soon.  For those who aren't familiar with Father Rohr's teaching, his daily devotional emails, or some of the sturdy backlist books of Whitaker House, this package will be a great value.  THIS OFFER EXPIRES OCTOBER 16, 2016. 


I have some initial thoughts about The Divine Dance that I can't quite shake so I want to be among the first bookstores to discuss the great Franciscan's new volume now that it has officially released. I am aware that some of our friends will be dismayed to know I like him. Others will be surprised to hear my concerns.  I trust all our BookNotes readers will realize it makes sense; we truly believe in reading widely, ecumenically, and, with a discerning generosity to learn from others, even those with whom we are very different. In Richard Mouw's wonderful little book on civility, Uncommon Decency, he notes that curiosity and teachability are good and healthy traits that create trust and civility in our fraying culture.


I ADMIRE AND APPRECIATE FR. RICHARD ROHR'S UNITING SPIRITUALITY AND ACTION

Fr-Richard-FH-porch-300x205.jpgRichard Rohr is a great speaker and energetic teacher and I've followed him for years, on and off.  He is, understandably, popular literally all over the world. I have a big interest in his project of recent years, relating inner spirituality and outward action. His center in Albuquerque and its Living School for Action and Contemplation invites folks to monastic spirituality, contemplative reflection set in the rawness of the New Mexico desert, all to be transformed in ways that allows participants to be richard_rohr_smiling_slider.jpgagents of God's redemptive, healing work in the world. His calling to help build a new world of love and justice is founded upon the need for deeper ways to walk with God. Trust and Obey the old fundamentalists used to sing.  Pray and Work chanted the Benedictines.  Behold and Be somebody surely said.  You get the picture.


HE'S NOT ALONE

I really like this kind of stuff. Contemplation in a World of Action is a heavy title by Cistercian monk and literary figure Thomas Merton that captured my attention decades ago. Dear, wounded healer Henri Nouwen worked around the edges of that for most of his life -- just think of titles like Peacework on prayer and resistance or the one on downward mobility called The Selfless Way of Christ or his wonderful Making All Things New. I have conducted workshops and the active life.jpgretreats using Parker Palmer's lovely The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring. Richard Foster is an impeccable evangelically catholic writer about spiritual formation whose most beloved work, Celebration of Discipline, is arranged around a progression of spiritual practices that move from inward to upward to outward. He links meditation and study, worship and work, prayer and politics -- beautiful and so very good.  I really, really like a lesser-known book by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling called The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice.  Do you know it?  I trust you know the marvelous social justicy prayer book for god of intimacy and action.jpgfixed hour prayers created by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro called Uncommon Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Some of the great Protestant theologians I respect  -- think of Abraham Kuyper, just for instance  -- lived in this rhythm of being "near unto God" and yet working for a public life ordered by God's justice. He wrote treatises on God's goodness made manifest in the details of creation, works on the Holy Spirit, and on social justice. Near Unto God is a meaty daily devotional based on one line of Psalm 73. And let's not even start on Karl Barth.


Slow Kingdom Coming- Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly.jpgThink, while we're at it, of the world-changing evangelical piety of William Wilberforce or the prayers of Martin Luther King or the conventional doctrine of Dorothy Day and the simple honesty before God voiced by Saint Mother Theresa.  Rohr's overall project is neither new or unusual, really. Recently not a few activists and relief and development workers have ruminated faithfully on the inner characteristics of sustainable whole life discipleship for the sake of social change; see, for instance, Kent Annan's very moving and very helpful Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World. 


So I have great appreciation for Rohr's general charism and ministry project, glad for his witness from his Franciscan seat at the big table of the Body of Christ.  I hope he is as aware of the others as many of them are of him.


THE TRINITY

Rublev icon - Holy_Trinity_.jpgI am also very interested in the specific topic of Mike Morrell and Father Rohr's new book which explores how best to understand and live into the holy and awesome mystery we call The Trinity.  We have a dozen or more books on display here at the store on the Trinity and we've applauded publishers such as Eerdmans, IVP, Baker, Crossway, Abingdon, Paulist, Francisan Media, Zondervan, and others for having released thoughtful, important volumes in recent years. I can send to you a list of others that we like if you want. Fr. Rohr is, despite his insinuation, not the first one to say that we need a more robust and generative view of Trinity to fund our deeper spirituality and more loving service in the world.  


He is not the first to insist that knowledge of the Triune Divine One is not, as his Catholic elementary teachers implied "sort of a mathematical conundrum to test our ability to 'believe impossible things to be true.'" It's a good line though, and starts us into this long, complicated journey.


BUT...

mike morrell in circl.pngI think Rohr is simply wrong about much of what he says in The Divine Dance. I think some of it is beautiful and much is really interesting but other parts needed a more mature and demanding editor.  I found some of his tone pastoral and kind - he is an upbeat and pleasant guy and I suspect much of this was first given as talks so it feels chatty and teacherly - and he tells stories of his own epiphanies and Eureka moments as he read books and Scripture but it sometimes had this feel that I found troubling.  He is often sloppy, and contradicts himself sometimes on the same page! Perhaps this richard rorh in circle.pngcomes with the territory of being a movement leader, a guy on the road, on the run, who isn't firstly an academic. Or maybe it is because it is co-written; the book doesn't make clear what role Mike played.  I suspect the (maybe) young, evangelical editors at Whitaker House were in over their heads, working with 4th century church fathers, quantum physics, modern liberal Catholics and depth psychologists. I appreciate authors who draw on wild and interesting sources and Morrell and Rohr bring in Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ken Wilber; they explain Don Scotus and a bit of Thomistic philosophy's indebtedness to Aristotle. (I swear I saw some of this on the chalkboard in the classroom of Aquinas scholar Henry McCord, the husband of the Secretary of State on Madame Secretary last night!)


Of course Rohr cites the medieval women like Hildegard of Bingen (how could he not; it shows his bone fides, like a Shibboleth in some circles these days.) I sympathize with any editor trying to bring together this sprawling, jam-packed collection of chapters that are sometimes only a few pages long. Dipping into Meister Eckhart and describing the differences between kataphatic and apophatic ways of mysticism and relating it to questions of gender and science and inter-religious relations is heavy stuff.  Kudos to the publisher for bringing this to us and kudos to this dynamic duo of authors for allowing us to drink from this fire hose.  But, still, it needed some fine-tuning and clarifying, I'd say...  I hope you are willing to write in the margins of this one! And cross out a few exasperatingly clumsy sentences.  But I'm telling you, this is an invigorating book in many, many ways.


SCRIPTURE

There are tons of Bible verses footnoted, and some discussed well in the book, but, to be honest, I found their use of Scripture pretty unsophisticated at times.  Yes, the Bible says all things are "in Christ" but to extrapolate to a pantheist worldview - God is in all things - from Acts 17:28, Colossians 3:11, or Galatians 3:28 - is the sort of stuff that wouldn't pass an intro hermeneutics class.  


DANCE, FLOW, ENERGY

A very large contention of the book is one that I found confusing; I will study it more carefully and we invite you, too, as well.  Rohr has marvelous and often helpful meditations on the trinity.gifnature of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, but he also suggests regularly that God is not (only?) a "person" but is the glorious flow of love between and among the Trinity.  Trinity - mystery that it/they is/are - is described in Rohr's lingo not as much as a Dancer (which I like) but as the Dance itself. Not the Person but the process. Unhelpfully, for me, at least, is his insistence on calling this Flow. Yeah, I know.


I really don't like this approach, reducing God to energy; liberal Protestant's unknowable "Ground of Being" stuff has proven a near-fatal flaw for my own mainline denominational tradition; that Rohr tries to re-enchant this obscure and lifeless metaphor with passionate talk of love and mystery and "joy supreme" just doesn't work, in my view. (Oddly, when Rob Bell did that DVD called Life Is Spiritual on quantum physics or when Diana Butler Bass called us to be "grounded" in faith, I nearly swooned. Yet I sense that Rohr is simply off the rails on this, ungrounded.)


ORTHODOX

Divine Dance.jpgYet, I talked to a very well-read young theologian last night about this very thing - God as Dance, not only Dancer - and she assured me that, indeed, the church leaders like Basil and Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus who pioneered reflection on the nature of the Trinity used this very language.  Another ecumenical scholar recently wrote to me saying that while Rohr may not be "evangelically orthodox" he is actually very Orthodox.


Okay then.  Ready to buy the book now?  I hope so.


MAY WE DISAGREE A BIT WITHOUT ASSUMING WE'RE HOPELESSLY STUCK?

But here is something  else I worry about, although it is probably my own pride that arouses this anxiety: I fear that to say this - that I object to the tendency to describe God in less intimate terms and more cosmic ones, that is, that hydraulic metaphor of Flow - I will be accused of being trapped in some Distant Male Warrior Supreme Being That Can't Be Known view of a Bad God.  The book routinely sets up this false dichotomy (in a book that happily rails against dualisms!) between Those Who Get It and Those Who Don't. He's nice about it, of course, but I was nonetheless put off by this subtly arrogant tone that creeps in, as it often does by those who are reacting against stuff they see as wrong.  Maybe it's a bit of over-reacting, leading to a lack of seriously grappling with nuance, the old pendulum swinging too far.  Are our imaginations so limited that we can't think it might be both/and?  I'm trying to wrap my head around that, recalling phrases like "ancient future" and "conservative radical" and the like. Or Jude's "contending for the faith once passed down" and ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.


URGENCY

There is this urgency in the book that invites us to see Trinity as the key to renewal of authentic faith, to deep relational trust in a loving abba and oneness with the Christ, which can lead to Godly social transformation.  I don't disagree, really, but as with any book, we must notice that it is his view of Trinity that is the one being touted. It isn't a criticism as such, but Rohr doesn't just want a renaissance of awareness of and reflection upon the Trinity, he wants this particular view, the one that he believes invites participation in a way that other more static understandings do not. Fair enough, but that's my quandary: I'm cheering when he invites us to be more deeply Trinitarian, but then grow annoyed when it seems he wants more than classic Trinitarian spirituality. He wants something, else.


UGH

Just for instance, Father RR says, (in italics, no less) "God as Trinity makes competitive religious thinking largely a waste of time." Well, that's just silly, since there are mature and deep theologians who study and embrace Trinity who still think it is not a waste of time to make claims about which religious views are best. In fact, Rohr and Morrell are among them - they wrote a book making the claim that their view of faith is best!  Apparently caught up as they are in this mystical dance, it still isn't a waste of time to make arguments about why some views are better than others.  I feel like I'm making a cheap shot here, but I use it as an example of some of the muddled thinking here.


They say "only mystics seem to know that the only possible language by which we can talk about God is metaphorical."  Geesh, this is just so arrogant. And so obviously inaccurate. I know lots of non-mystics who are fully aware that our talk about God must necessarily be metaphorical.


Even Rohr, though, spends a lot of time in non-metaphorical images of God and it annoyed me.  He talks like a West coast New Age guy, which is funny, because he says more than once that he doesn't want to sound like a California New Age guy.  (At one point he says he would have sounded like a New Ager if he hadn't quoted the rather eccentric, dualistic, St. John of the Cross. So, yeah, there's that.)


In what I gather he doesn't mean metaphorically he says that "God is actually inter-being." I don't even know what that means. Rohr says, "Henceforth, you can know and love God on at least three distinctly wonderful levels, the Transpersonal level ("Father"), the Personal level ("Jesus"), and the Impersonal level ("Holy Spirit").  I do not think this is necessarily troubling and it may be helpful to some; words like "transpersonal" just don't roll of my tongue often. (And the Spirit called "impersonal"? Hmm.)


Rohr cites Merton's beloved philosophy professor from Gethsemani monastery, Daniel Walsh, who says (according to some class notes, apparently, which is cool) humans might best be described not as a creation but a continuance.  We emanate.  Again, who talks like this?  Is it helpful?  He delightfully cites Ephesians 1:4 there, but I didn't get the connection.  Do you?  Maybe if you like Tillich's "Ground of Being" you'll like being a continuance of it, too.  Me, I'll take imago Dei and Psalm 8, any day. 


THIS BOOK IS ALREADY HUGE - LOOK FOR IT ON THE BEST SELLER LIST

Divine Dance.jpgDespite these esoteric phrases Divine Dance is going to be a huge book this fall and is already a top seller in the main venues. It will be displayed in all the major mainstream bookstore chains. You need to know about it, and I think it would be fabulous to read and study together.  Do you have a prayer partner, clergy colleague, spiritual director or trusted friend who might want to take this up?


The blurbs on the back are remarkable - Bono loves it, as does Brian McLaren, Nadia B-W, and the usual good suspects. (Although I could imagine my old acquaintance Fr. Phil Berrigan cussing him out for leading folks into psychological navel gazing instead of serious protest.)  


I think there are good reason folks like this invitation to beauty and awe and mystery.  I'm glad to sell books that encourage us to think about the nature of God, what it means to know and what a loving/spiritual sort of knowledge looks like.  Don't we all want to join in the dance?  There is beautiful stuff here - I've underlined very good lines in every chapter, alongside my question marks and double question marks.


UNFORTUNATE CARICATURES: NOT EVERYONE WITH OTHER VIEWS OF GOD ARE QUITE SO BAD

I do think The Divine Dance occasionally traffics in stereotypes and caricatures. Again, this is a temptation for reformers, saying what they believe in contrast to the other. Richard is candid about his own struggle with ego and how his sort of spiritual mysticism and being caught up in the loving dance might dissolve that. 


Still, a better editor might have caught some of this; maybe Mike is himself too much in over-reaction to his fundamentalist background. Not everybody who has a more conventional view of the Triune nature of God is rooted in Cartesian rationalism or informed by Aristotelian metaphysics.  Not everyone views God as angry and distant and there are very lively agents for social shalom, creation care, justice and reconciliation who are deeply grounded in fairly conventional views of God. Despite Rohr's insistence that we ought not live in binaries and dualism, he seems to have a fairly constrained imagination: folks are either all mystical embracing his non-knowing eternal now of love or they are mired in Zeus-like views of an angry and distant God on top of a Mathematical Pyramid. (Okay, now I'm caricaturing with a touch of satire. Or am I?)  Read it yourself and see if I'm overstating this much.


TDD doesn't seem to affirm (although I suspect he would) that there are deeply, beautifully, fruitfully, spiritual Christian folk - charismatics, evangelicals, conservative Catholics, sacramental Anglicans and more - who don't talk about sat, chit, ananda -- being, consciousness, or bliss; they embrace and are embraced by Trinity, but they don't quite have his open/mystical view.  But they still have a mature and intimate walk with God, deeply aware of the creative, redeeming, and sustaining work of the Three-In-One. Maybe it is so that, as Rohr says, "The Father is Being itself, the Source of the flow, the Creator - the formless One out of which all form comes." I don't know if he's speaking metaphorically when he says we should know God as "nothingness, unspeakable Mystery."  I do know that that language is deeply rooted in well-respected mystical Christianity.  I also know that this is not how many mature and wise Christians describe their relationship with God. To call Jesus "The Unmanifest One" is just weird. And I'm not sure where it gets us, personally or missionally.


DO YOU ENJOY BEING INVITED TO REALLY THINK ANEW?

I enjoyed much in The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation including how it made me think and ponder; maybe it will help with this stubborn skeptical guy's transformation. I am curious about the very way, the ordered way, according to the Cappadocian Fathers (that's Basil, Greg and Greg) that the Persons of the Trinity relate to one another. Rohr says it is a circle dance, but the huge church schism of the 11th century was about the very steps of this dance: who leads who (Who leads Who?) Phyllis Tickle's book, co-written by Jon Sweeney, which I mentioned in the previous BookNotes (The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church) is a very nice introduction to that discussion and how it might effect emerging spiritualities today.  I'm going to be revisiting The Divine Dance and maybe some church history on this through the rest of the year, and hope to consider some of his other mystical works - Everything Belongs and The Naked Now are essential to understand him well.  


So I appreciate the learning opportunity, the challenge and invitation this offers.


And I am glad to read TDD because I'm reminded, as Rohr & Morell say,


Imagine this: the deepest intuitions of our poets and mystics and Holy Write are aligning with findings on the leading edges of science and empirical discovery. When inner and outer worlds converge like this, something beautify is afoot - the reversal of a centuries long lovers' quarrel between science and spirituality, mind and heart.


What physicists and contemplatives alike are confirming tis that the foundational nature of reality is relational, everything is in relation to everything else.


SOMETHING BIG IS AFOOT -- THANKS BE TO GOD

And, of course, there have been many religious thinkers who have been saying this very thing for decades.  From Madeline L'Engle to Leonard Sweet to Herman Dooyeweerd to Wendell Berry.  From the brilliant For the Life of the World DVDs put out by neo-Calvinist Kuyperians in partnership with conservative Catholic Acton Institute to the Russian Eucharistic theologian Alexander Schmemann.   I see it in the abstract art and beautiful writing of Mako Fujimura and the Evangelical Environmental Network's good work against climate change. (We've been happily promoting Caring for Creation by Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas, authors with pretty conventional views of God, the Bible, and who tilt conservative on social policy.) Obviously, the work of James K.A. Smith has been moving us this way for decades, now, and his best-selling You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit gets at some of these things, without quirky mysticism, in generative, even breathtaking ways. Even a conservative Reformed pastor, Thabiti Anyabwile, who is a leader in the Gospel Coalition, recently did a book on how we should experience and know God not only individually but communally - it's called The Soul of God in the Life of the Church.  The renowned evangelical publishing house Zondervan recently published a book about justice for animals called Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith. Wow!  Rohr is certainly right - something big is afoot!  But it isn't dependent upon taking up all his eccentric ideas about Trinity such as flow and love as energy and it isn't only found in the progressive wing of the broader church.


THE PARADIGM SHIFT IS URGENT

spirituality quote by RR.pngThe paradigm shift Richard and Mike call for is urgent.  The whole creation groans, church folks are increasingly polarized and distressed and many are just walking away into some sort of "spiritual but not religious" thing. We do need to deepen our commitments to this needed shift -- evoked in the passionate forward by William Paul Young, inviting us to life-giving, grace-filled, humble theology which bears fruit in wonder and love and goodness.  He is correct in saying that some kinds of bad theology which are propositional and transactional (rather than relational and mysterious) are like pornography - the image of real relationship without the risk of one.  And, Rohr reminds us, God's love is open to all, but God remains "a fussy lover" and holds out for true partners.


WHAT IS ESSENTIAL

Such a renewal or reform or revival does depend on us knowing God well, as God really is, and becoming true partners.  We must understand gospel grace and the good news of the Kingdom coming, redemption brought through incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension.  We must be honest about the Bible's teachings about the human condition and we From Nature to Creation- A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World.jpgsimply must affirm the full humanity and divinity of Christ.  We must affirm the lively, living role of the Holy Spirit, empowerer and comforter. And, we must understand, honor, and experience a profound sense of reality as creation, upheld moment by moment by God, in Christ.  Why not order from us Norman Wirzba's From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World as a fairly heady study of this extraordinary and urgent essential; see, too, the beautiful coffee-table gift book he edited full of nature photography and essays by the likes of Sylvia Keesmaat and Wendell Berry called The Gift of Creation: Images from Scripture and Earth for a more evocative, sensuous way into this deeper understanding of creation. We so enjoy having that here and would love to send a few out. I mention this here, now, because I fear that sometimes guidance about mystical experience and even this sort of dancing participation with God shifts us away from the theater of God that Christ so loves.


(Why oh why does Richard say -- after quoting the beautiful, beautiful Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem about creation, Aurora Leigh, no less, and offering some of the most beautiful words in the book -- that once one enters into some profound and earth's crammed with heaven.jpgpure awareness of God, that we enter "Consciousness" and "that is all there really is"? Does the beauty of things fade away? Is creation gone? What could this possibly mean?  He then cites James 1:17 which affirms good things in life, so he can't mean what he says. This is a fundamental flaw within most mysticisms that, try as we might with alternative ways of knowing and talk about the body, still is mired in gnosticism and/or Platonic dualism. If knowing the Triune God in the way Richard commends leads us away from or out of creation, then it is simply wrong and will not bear the transforming social fruit that he himself desires. I do not believe he believes that the Flow is "all there really is" but yet there it is on page 77. Maybe the charismatic tendencies of the editors at Whitaker House did not realize what a terribly bad way this is to express Oneness with God. I suppose I misunderstand Mike and Richard here, but it gave me the willies.)


These are all the things this circle dance of a book attempts to clarify.  As I've shown, I think it gets some of it a little off, a few things pretty seriously wrong. But much of The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation is wonderful, and almost all of it is grist for the mill, stuff to ponder, ideas and images and exercises with which to interact. As always, reading widely with discernment is a gift, and I hope many become conversant in this reflection on the space at God's table and the very triune nature of things. I hope you read it with others.  Reading such books together can push us to want to know more, to experience more, to be more. 


GROWTH FROM DEEP CONTENTMENT

"The authentic Christian life," - living inside the flow of Trinity, as Richard puts it - will be a journey of ultimate rest and yet deepening and growth.  Such a true life of discipleship,


will always be characterized by two seemingly contradictory things. First you're going to be constantly yearning and longing for more, the way the Three endlessly desire to give themselves and flow outward. It's a kind of sacred discontent, a holy dissatisfaction, and a holy desire for more life, love, generativity.


This does not arrive, however, out of a sense of emptiness or scarcity, but precisely because you have touched upon deep contentment and abundance. There's always still more I can do, more I can include, and experience, there are more people I can serve. There is more that God wants to give me, and more God wants to ask of me. Any of these will show themselves at different times in the life of the mature Christian. Never "I am fully there, I have it all." A person who is smug is not inside the Trinitarian flow. How can fullness and still yearning for more so beautifully coexist? I have no answer to that, but I know it to be true.


In the life of the Trinity, you can always rest inside a certain kind of deep contentment; it's all foundationally good and okay.... 


I like that Rohr brings us, after a good discourse on contentment and emotional snags and judgmental personalities and love of self and love of others, and this healthy sense of holy growth, to I Corinthians 8:1-2. "Knowledge puffs up, whereas love builds up.  Some may think they have full knowledge of something yet not know it as they ought to know things."  This epistemology of humility is beautiful and good, a gift many of us need; a spirituality of reverence is what Rohr calls it.  As he states, "Knowing without loving is frankly dangerous for the soul and for society." 


AND THIS: KNOWING WELL, COMMON GRACE, AND THE COMMON GOOD?

VoV.jpgWhat does it mean to deeply know, with humility, to be known, to care, to serve, to be aware of God's good creation and its hurts? Can we embrace the cosmic rulership of Christ for all of life without shifting to unhelpful allusions to pantheism and paganism? As is often the case, I think of the beautiful and substantive writing of my friend Steve Garber who in many ways is miles away from Father Rohr.  But Garber, like Rohr, was been deeply shaped by what Rowan Williams writes about in his book about Saint John of the Cross, The Wound of Knowledge. I think Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good is a broad, less mystical book that would be a good one to read alongside this more focused study of Trinity.  Can we love the world as God does, Garber asks? And who must we become if we are going to sustain that kind of love?  Do our aches transform us into people who can serve God, even in our daily work and  callings, in ways the world understands?  Garber is no mystic, but He knows God and loves God's world in all its deep and mysterious complexity. 


So, there's a lot to think about, a ton of great books, and this is one we wanted to tell you about. Buy it if it intrigues you, ponder it well, and, always, take to hearts Richard's basic teaching: we can know the Triune God, the One Who Made Us invites us to be in relationship in ways that are saving and transforming, and that allows us to see anew and love well. Somehow in God's great grace we join this Holy gospel dance and, with others, make the world a somewhat better place. It's a journey inward and a journey outward and it is joy. 


Divine Dance.jpg



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October 8, 2016

BRAND NEW N.T. Wright - The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion ON SALE and A FREE BOOK OFFER

Thanks to all you wrote notes in appreciation of our last BookNotes newsletter where my review I attempted to model enthusiastic appreciation for a book that I have fundamental disagreements with.  Perhaps this hermeneutic of generosity (in contrast to the often proposed "hermeneutics of suspicion") makes me look wishy-washy or passive aggressive but I think we really can find wonderful benefit in a book even if one disagrees or finds unhelpful parts of it. That was my take on The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr.  Other reviews that are written by true fans have done some lovely, positive reviews of how it has helped and challenge them.  A few have written strong critiques.  It felt right for me to express my frustrations and concerns in the context of a happy appreciation for much of Fr. Rohr's ministry and many of his teachings.  Thanks to those who said they value that sort of approach.  We have plenty of this handsomely made, much-discussed book in stock, on sale. Order from us using the link below and get $99 worth of free digital content as described in our review.


The Day the Revolution Began.pngToday's review of the brand new The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (HarperOne; $28.99, sale price $23.19) cannot be as thorough as that last one - unlike the Richard Rohr book, I didn't have an advance copy to work with so I've only dipped in for a few hours yesterday and again today.  But I've read enough to tell you that I am confident that it is in my top few books of the year. And it is certainly one that we recommend unreservedly. 


free-offer.png


We have it now on sale at a good 20% off and for those who act now we will throw in a free copy of a rare British import by N.T. Wright.  Yep, we'll give you New Heavens, A New Earth: The Biblical Picture of Christian Hope in the Grove Press booklet series - almost a $10 value - for free. We only have a limited number of these little gems so we will offer it only for the next three days, or until our supply runs out. (That is, that offer for the free book expires October 12, 2016.)  After that, the book is still on sale, but we won't be able to send out the other for free.


 That will be a very helpful booklet to read alongside this major work and a good reminder of the themes in Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $24.99) which is one of the most important N.T. Wright books and one that certainly is among his most favored. So many people said it really, really helped them understand Christian faith and its real world relevance.


Surprised by Hope-b.jpgIn some ways The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion  is a follow up to Surprised by Hope. Its basic project is to examine how the New Testament teaching on the cross of Christ is properly understood within the context of the goal or outcome of that violent death; that is, what's the point? Yes, yes, the cross is prelude to resurrection, but, for what?  One can believe in the centrality of the cross of Christ and affirm the bodily resurrection as the creeds and orthodox churches all have and still get that question wrong. 


(By the way, I don't know too many Adult Ed classes or Sunday School groups that want to tackle Surprised by Hope; it is a hefty book, even though it isn't as academic as his big fat "Christian Origins" series. Happily, there is a truly marvelous DVD curriculum on Surprised... in which Wright does a great job explaining the basics of the book, all in very creative and colorful settings. Send us an email if you'd like to order that. I've used it more than once and it has generated fantastic conversations and good learning.)


And a wrong answer to that question of what the death of Christ was for almost always leads then to less then Biblical and often convoluted and unhelpful ways to explain the meaning of the cross, the nature of our justification, the very vision of what faith is about. 


Wright has used the apt example of a child doing one of those connect the dots drawings.  They may get all the dots just right and connect them to every other dot.  The dots are connected.  But if they aren't connected in the right way they end up with a different sort of picture than the one that was intended. How one connects the dots will determine if one comes up with a jumble, or maybe a nice picture, but a wrong one.


Another way he sometimes says this is that some other theologians and popular preachers and authors and church traditions provide "the right answers to the wrong questions."


To wit: we must not only get the theories of atonement Biblically-accurate, we must not just read all the related Biblical texts and read them well, we have to put them in connection to the bigger story the author is intending, we have to see the work of the cross within the right picture.  The Bible is, we know, a mostly coherent narrative, an unfolding drama from Genesis to Revelation, creation to new creation.  It is that big picture - what fancy pants scholars call the meta-narrative - that frames any given episode in the Bible and any particular teaching about it.  Jesus's own understanding of his death and resurrection, the testimonies of the eyewitnesses and gospel writers, and the sophisticated explication by Paul and the other writers of the earliest church (set as they were within their own time and place and context) all are to be understood as pointing to the climax of the Biblical narrative, the Big Event that is understood within the bigger story of creation, fall, covenant, Israel, incarnation and the announcement of the Kingdom.


Yes, the cross is the center of the Biblical story. But why? How does that work in the Scriptural meta-narrative?  As a younger Christian my teachers in the faith captured this in the phrase "promise and fulfillment."  And what is the promise? Nothing short of restoration of creation, a cosmic healing, good -  great? - news of renewed sky and land, new heaven, new Earth.  We must understand the death and resurrection of Christ - and any subsequent theories or explanations or understandings of the atonement and how redemption is accomplished within this Kingdom vision.


simply good news .jpg(By the way, Wright's last book was written at a popular level and without studying atonement theories or justification or the particular role of the crucifixion, he told this bigger picture wonderfully well. It was a nice summary called Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good [HarperOne; $24.99.])  If this is all really new to you or you haven't read anything about any of his books, it is a great one with which to start.

 

So, oh man, this big picture, whole-life discipleship, creation-regained, transforming vision stuff preaches well.  I love Wright, as he is a world-renowned scholar who can teach like an expert professor, knowing much about history, theology, and Biblical studies, but he is also a pastor and preacher. He also has served as a parish priest and an Anglican Bishop. Tom knows how to take his academic work - published in some exceptionally hefty volumes that are widely debated in the scholarly world of conferences and journals - and make it more accessible.  And can he ever turn a phrase and use a helpful illustrative story!  Even this 440 page book reads easily and is packed with inspiring challenges and fresh ideas that are made compelling -- if in a reasonably subdued British manner.  


And Tom loves his hymns.  He makes his points often by citing sacred music or old Anglican hymns (or some from the more American revivalist tradition) often in beautiful and helpful ways.  Or, effectively, as he shows that bad thinking is embedded in some of these beloved songs and we end up being shaped by unbiblical ideas less from bad preaching than from bad singing!  And how right he is!


BIG, URGENT QUESTIONS TO SUSTAIN FAITHFUL DISCIPLESHIP

And so, this remarkable book is serious, obviously thoughtful, even demanding at times. But anyone who knows even a little bit of theology and a bit of the Bible will be able to follow it. His goal couldn't be more urgent - he wants to really know what happened on the cross, how the earliest Christians understood it, and how did Paul, especially, explained it? And how does it relate to the Resurrection?  And what difference does getting all this just right make for our daily lives, our faith, our churches and our mission in the world? 


N.T. Wright insists we cannot get any of that fully right for long without knowing well the kind of the truth that his book is attempting to express. We may intuit our way into earnest faith and lively churches and exciting ministry but sustainable, culturally-engaged, Biblically-faithful reformation is going to take a solid foundation of good Biblical theology.


So we have to get the cross and its meaning right.


OUR CROSS IS TOO SMALL

The-Adoration-of-the-Lamb-009.jpgDo you remember hearing about (or even reading) a famous book from 1958 called Your God Is Too Small?  My friend John Armstrong wrote a marvelous book called Your Church Is Too Small (by which he means your view of the church.)


Well, Wright doesn't say this (or at least I haven't come across it yet) but the back cover proclaims "Our Cross Is Too Small."  As ugly and harsh of an event as it was, as controversial and complicated as theological discussions of it can be, we ought not diminish or make small the role of the cross. We should understand its extraordinary significance and all that it accomplishes and all that it points us to.  We call it Good Friday for a reason.  What really is that reason?


As I hinted earlier, and as Wright goes to great pains to show, what the death of the Messiah Jesus accomplishes is the inauguration of the restoring, healing, redemptive reign of God "on Earth as it is in Heaven." This Kingdom is launched on Good Friday and the first great act of vindication and proof is the defeat of death in the resurrection.  Jesus did not die only to forgive our sins or to give us the free gift of eternal life in heaven. The Bible simple doesn't teach that. The Bible - as Wright helps us see over and over and over - has a bigger picture, even bigger than the forgiveness of sins. More than taking punishment from an angered judge.  It is the revolutionary project of defeating the idols and powers and restoring us to our task as humans co-reigning with Christ; God in Christ is rescuing the planet and uniting Heaven and Earth.,  What's that line in "This Is My Father's World" - "and earth and Heaven be one."  Or, if you'd rather, all things are summed up, to use the language of Ephesians 1:10.


A MASTER CLASS WITH A MASTER TEACHER

tom wright in front of wall.jpgThe Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion is essentially a master class with Dr. N.T. Wright - offering a synthesis of his major work on Jesus and Paul; he sometimes says (without any noticeable pride or pushiness) something like "I covered this in Evil and the Justice of God" or "This line of thinking is different then what I wrote in my New Interpreters Commentary on Romans."  Of course he explains how all this new material relates to his important volume Surprised by Hope and How God Became King. This is a beautiful summary, yes, but it is very new stuff, too. And, interestingly, provides an occasional change in focus and/or reformulations of some of his previous writings.  (Is this common in the academy, Itom in our back yard.jpgwonder, a fairly matter of fact admission that he is re-thinking some things. In some church circles that would be a sign of some great weakness, an admission of error - heaven forbid! - but he's fairly nonplussed by it all. He just explains he's rethought a few things and is breaking some new ground. I liked that a lot.  So this is both an overview, a summary, a serious bit of Biblical research and a whole lot of new, new ground.

                                                               And, yes, here he is teaching in our backyard, behind the shop. 


By the way, if you want to enroll in a video course with Wright, watch this trailer about the book, the class, and how to be involved. This is a great opportunity.


PART ONE                                            

The Day the Revolution Began.pngThe first part of The Day the Revolution Began is called - wait for it... "Introduction."  (I told you he was somewhat reserved as a Brit!)  


But Wright gets a bit more vivid in the title of the first chapter:  "A Vitally Important Scandal." Wright is asking why the cross matters so much and delightfully draws us in by showing how much great art and music and literature has been drawn to trying to help us enter into the drama of that event.  It's a really good, helpful way to start.


His "Wrestling with the Cross Then and Now" is a fine, fine overview of how various epochs of church history have understood the cross.  Wright is a historian, after all, and says so much of this so clearly and helpfully.  From the late medieval world into the time of the reformation so much developed, at least in the Western church. ("The East had no Anselm," he wryly notes.) This great chapter will be very informative for some readers, a good bird-eye overview for others. It is a good chapter for all as he brings his incisive but (mostly) gracious analysis to each of the major writers and church leaders.   This introductory setting of the stage is clarified by going back a bit -- the third chapter is called "The Cross in Its First Century Setting." I'm sure he has covered some of this kind of stuff in various articles, lectures, and books, but some of it seemed new to me.


PART TWO

Part Two is the sort of thoughtful Wright stuff that can benefit anyone; it is called "In Accordance with the Bible": the Stories of Israel.  Oh my, this is material we need to get straight and, again, while it may be a bit of a reviewing overview, for many it will bring the contours of the Old Testament story-line, the plot of the narrative, into clearer focus.   Helpful, if with a bit of bravado, maybe, he isn't just doing a Bible overview, here, though, but contrasting a coherent and faithful interpretation on key matters by comparing them with other views.  For instance, in the very first chapter in this second section he takes up what the Westminster Confession calls "The Covenant of Works" which he thinks is unhelpful and unbiblical.  He replaces this vexing legalistic approach and unwise nomenclature with what he wants to call "The Covenant of Vocation."   


This is a hugely important reflection on the meaning of being human (made to image God and steward the creation as true worship) the nature of the Hebrew law, the blessedness of covenants and what, finally, Christ accomplishes for those of us who have lost our true calling; namely, to image God faithfully.   I know I am going to re-read this chapter again as it seems really generative. I talked to one friend about it today and we both thought this was indeed something very, very interesting and even urgent.


The other chapters in this second section are called "In All the Scriptures" and "The Divine Presence and the Forgiveness of Sins" and "Suffering Redemption and Love." 


I've only skimmed these parts but it seems, in characteristic fashion, Wright is in conversation with others views, some way off base, some insightful but not fully adequate. Anyone who follows any of the debates about justification - think of the critique even of Wright made by John Piper on one hand, and maybe those who are formulating "non-violent" atonement theories, trying to get out of the understandable discomfort of legal approaches that seem to evil and the justice of God.jpgunderstand God the Father as mostly angry and in need of some bloodletting.  I don't think he explores the complex scapegoat theories of Rene Girard, but he is at least in that ball park of trying to understand mysteries and confusions, juxtaposing various Biblical models, metaphors, images, and formulations.  I hope you have read his profound and moving Evil and the Justice of God; this pushes further in that direction.


I do wish there were more footnotes, but there are not many at all. It makes the book more readable, I suppose they think, but I sometimes wished for more background which endnotes or fPaul and His Recent Interpreters.jpgootnotes would have facilitated. Even as he has read so much (just see his magisterial volume Paul and His Recent Interpreters if you don't believe me) and interacts with all kinds of scholars and church groups he does what I almost always think is always so  -- he draws on various schools of thought with a "both/and" generous approach, trying to see how each insight relates to others. It makes him less ideological, it seems to me, and folks on the left and right both think he's wrong about much. Which I guess is why I trust him so.


PART THREE: THE REVOLUTIONARY RESCUE

Part Three of The Day... now brings us to the heart of the book, and the exciting vision of just what is going on in Wright's understanding of the cross. It is nicely called "The Revolutionary Rescue" and each chapter helps us understand with Biblical images and echoes a fuller understanding of the cross - the cross that dare not be "too small." Here, the dots are getting connected, and, I think, properly so.  The vision of the new Eden of Easter and the restoration of all things promised from old are coming into focus.


The chapters are themselves evocative. I hope they inspire you to buy the book - this is rich, good, helpful content. I am sure it will make you think and perhaps give you greater passion for the Kingdom coming. It is surely one of the more important works of its kind.


The chapters in this third part, the part called "Revolutionary Rescue" are:


  • New Goal, New Humanity
  • Jesus's Special Passover
  • The Story of the Rescue
  • Paul and the Cross -Apart from Romans
  • The Death of Jesus in Paul's Letter to the Romans (The New Exodus)
  • The Death of Jesus in Paul's Letter to the Romans (Passover and Atonement)

You can hardly do better than to ponder some of this creative Bible teaching - even if you know the Scriptures well (and especially if you don't!)  Just for instance, see his section called "The Usual Reading of Romans 3 - and Its Problems") or how he frames Romans as "A New Exodus."  This is really, really good and will generate lots of discussion, I'm sure.  


PART FOUR: THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES

start-a-revolution-e1469280180589.pngFinally, the fourth part (less than one hundred pages, but still a substantial, provocative, motivational portion) is called "The Revolution Continues."  This is laden with Biblical explication but it pushing us to the "so what" question - how do we live this out? What difference does it make?


I've jumped ahead to both of these exciting chapters and can't wait to hear what people think.  Of course, Wright has invited us before to think about the broader mission of the church as partners with God in God's redemption of the world.  In his seeker-friendly introduction to the faith Simply Christian he invites readers to ask what it would look like if the big Biblical story (the middle part of that book) answered or made sense of some of the most burning question of our era - identity, community, security, environmental concerns, war and peace and justice, and hope.


In Surprised by Hope, Wright's powerhouse study of eschatology he calls the church to take up work of justice for the poor as well as to promote the arts and create culture in ways that enhances beauty. In this new one, he cites Makoto Fujimura, honoring his new book Silence and Beauty that so honestly draws on themes of lament and sorrow for a broken, unjust world, and asking of beauty can help us make sense of the gruesome times in which we live. Fujimura's meditation is inspired by Japanese novelist Shusako Endo and his moving novel, Silence.)


Surprised by Scripture.jpgWright's great collection of various talks and speeches and sermons he was asked to give about contemporary culture - found in the great paperback Surprised By Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues - he weighs in on (sometimes tentative, sometimes adamant) Christian perspectives, in light of his Biblical work, on creation-care, global poverty, the role of women, the relationship of faith and science, public justice and the like.  He has always wanted to relate ancient faith to modern times. His work in Kingdom coming which he calls "the revolution" is just making that more urgent, more natural, more beautiful, and he is offering insightful ways to relate the cross and justification to our own being just and living in service to our neighbors and world.


As Wright puts it in the chapter called "Passover People" we are "the rescued rescuers, the redeemed human beings called to bring redeeming love into the world - the justified justice-bringers, the reconciled reconcilers..."


So, yes, The Day the Revolution Begins ends big. There is the fabulous chapter called "Passover People" and another very important one called "The Powers and the Power of Love."


New creation can happen," he tells us - in italics! - because the power of the satan, of Babylon, of Pharaoh has been broken. That is how the story works. That is what is different by six o'clock on the evening of Good Friday, although Jesus's followers don't realize it until the third day, which is the first day of the new week, the start of the new world.


And if a whole new world has begun, then we are living as hopeful agents within it.  In, but not of, already but not yet. It is a mystery, and symbols and rituals and liturgies and new habits will shape our hearts to "see" this new age dawning.  Many of us have said this sort of thing for decades, and Tom is not alone in offering this solidly Biblical, evangelical, wholistic view of realized eschatology celebrated in church and lived out in the world. But he is one of the world's leading scholars of this view, and one of our most compelling preachers about it all.  After a bit on the "gentle, sad irony" of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 13, he writes:


With all this we lift up our eyes and realize that when the New Testament tells us the meaning of the cross, it gives us not a system, but a story, not a theory, but a meal and an act of humble service; not a celestial mechanism for punishing sin and taking people to heaven, but an earthly story of a human Messiah who embodies and incarnates Israel's God and who unveils his glory bringing his kingdom to earth as in heaven.


The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion remarkable book is certainly one of N.T. Wright's most important, and certainly one of the most important this year.  It is methodological and at times painstaking in his study of the range of Biblical material. Yet it is vibrant and at times he waxes beautifully - like when he says, contrasting some of the rather turgid and combative debates about theories of atonement -- that we stand near "the vast and dangerous ocean of the gospel story, inviting us to plunge in and let the wild waves of dark glory wash us, wash over us, washes us through and through, and land us on the shores of God's new creation." He pushes us to take up our roles as renewed ambassadors of the Kingdom coming.  And he reminds us that it may not be easy - perhaps taking a cue from his friend Michael Gorman (who has developed this theme in Pauline spirituality) Wright has a section called "cruciform mission."  I am not ashamed to say I urge you to buy The Day....  It will help you embrace the "covenant of vocation" - or, rather, he continues, in the last paragraph,


be embraced by it as the Creator calls you to a genuine humanness at last, calls and equips you to bear and reflect his image. Celebrate the revolution that happened once for all when the power of love overcame the love of power. And, in the power of that same love, join in the revolution, here and now.


The Day the Revolution Began.png


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October 16, 2016

ANOTHER FREE BOOK OPTION -- Pick one of these six with the new "The Day the Revolution Began" by N.T. Wright

As you probably noticed (although we know not everybody subscribes to or keeps current with our BookNotes newsletter each week) we've recently put some hefty energy into telling you about some very important books.

Two weeks ago I highlighted a handful of excellent books on spiritual formation.

Divine Dance.jpgNext, I did a pretty major review of the new (and instant best-seller)The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House; $23.99) by the beloved mystic Franciscan Father Richard Rohr. I had some frustrations with the book but allowed that it is sure to bless many. Since it is being discussed so widely we again want to remind you of my critique and our good offer.  We are happy to suggest that you buy it and tell us what you think. As you can see at that review we have it at a special discount of 20% off.

And then, a week ago, I jumped quickly to tell you about the brand new book by N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (HarperOne; $28.99.) It is a serious book, although not as dense as his uber-big ones in the The Day the Revolution Began.png"Christian Origins and the Question of God" series.

It is a bit thicker and includes more detailed Bible study than his last few HarperOne releases such as How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels or Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues, The Case for the Psalms (each now in paperback) or Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It (still only in hardcover) all which I absolutely loved and recommend for book clubs and discussion groups.

But this new one deserves even more attention. I explained  quite a bit about it in that last BookNotes, and here just want to entice you a bit more to pick it up.

The Day the Revolution Began is, in many ways, a follow-up to the quite readable but rigorous Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church which remains a much-discussed book and solid seller since it came out early in 2008Or, put another way, it asks how to best understand the cross in light of the restoration of creation that is promised in the Scriptures -- not ethereal heaven, but (re)new(ed) creation! It's a bit different  -- broader in scope -- then his systematic exploration of justification (Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision -- also now in paperback) which was written in response to criticisms by John Piper. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering... is his best study yet of New Testament teachings about the death of the Messiah and the implications of the cross. It is not as expansive or complex as last year's magisterially thorough work by Fleming Rutledge (The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ) but it is in that ballpark. Part theology, part Biblical study, written with pastoral care and including inspiring and visionary stories and some good degree of missional energy, The Day the Revolution Began is one of Wright's best.

We really want to encourage you to buy this one. It's important, it's helpful, it's good. Agree or not with every line about every Biblical passage -- heck, even if you don't understand every line -- this is one of those grand and lasting books we are eager to promote and which you will be glad to have in your library. 

AND SO, OUR FIVE DAY OFFER:  CHOOSE YOUR FREE BOOK.

The Day the Revolution Began.pngIf you buy The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (at our previously announced 20% discount) we will send along a free copy of any one of these lovely Eerdmans paperbacks, each very strong, with handsome covers and lots of good content.

Most of these sell for $14.00 (except the one on the Lord's Prayer which sells for $11.00.) We aren't making much on this, giving away our profits on the big hardback and giving away these smaller paperbacks but we just want to get these books into your hands. We are grateful for our friends who send orders our way.

Just tell us which one you want.
(If we run out we will substitute another.)

This offer is good until Friday October 21, 2016.  While supplies last.


HERE IS THE LIST FROM WHICH YOU CAN CHOOSE
ONE FREE BOOK:


crown and the fire.jpgfor all god's worth n.jpgThe Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit




For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church







following jesus n.jpglord and his prayer n.jpg
Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship 
    

The Lord and His Prayer











way of the lord.jpgThe Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today



  
 









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Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion

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October 27, 2016

TONS OF NEW TITLES -- short reviews of important releases. ALL ON SALE at Hearts & Minds Books.

We've been on the road in our busy season, and I wish you could have seen our large and interesting book displays among the good small town folk of our regional Wee Kirk, the PC(USA) small church conference and the somewhat more upscale national conference sponsored by the  Christian Legal Society that brings together faithful lawyers, law professors, judges , human rights and religious liberty activists as well as legal scholar (and students - three cheers for law students preparing for their high calling in the legal profession.) Different sorts of events from a Mennonite camp surround by the turning Western Pennsylvania leaves to the hustle of Crystal City in Northern Virginia, it is our privilege to serve God's people working to advance Christ's Kingdom of grace wherever we can. Thanks to those who support our bookish work on line, too, for you enable us (insofar as we can remain solvent through your purchases) to help these various sorts of groups flourish and be encouraged. Thanks for being a part of this exciting story of Hearts & Minds and the way we get to serve groups that are doing good work.


Pray for us, too, as I speak tomorrow at a student conference (FLOW) at Penn State, and then drive to Montreat, North Carolina where I'll join a stellar group doing an event there helping students and faculty and staff relate faith and scholarship as they prepare for various callings and careers.  In between we'll be setting up small displays at other events, from a woman's retreat to an annual Luther lecture here in Central PA.  Whew.


So, I don't have as much time to carefully explore these books as I might wish. And I'm pretty tired from too many late nights. For now, just know that the new titles keep coming in. This is only a small portion of the many new books we get - sorry our inventory is not on line. But if you are looking for a title it may very well be that we have it here.  And if not, you know we usually can order quite quickly.  It is our pleasure to do research and serve your book needs, no matter what. Give us a call or send an inquiry through our website. Our staff here are at your service.


These are brand new and look great, don't they?  Enjoy.  Send us an order by using the link at the end that takes you to our secure order form page.


broken way.jpgThe Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life  Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $22.99  This just released and will be one of the biggest selling and most appreciated books of this year; we can be glad, too, as Voskamp is a great, energetic, poetic, artful writer. She has done two great family-oriented Advent devotionals, and a ton of forewords and endorsements; her presence in the world of popular religious writing is notable. But, actually, other than the lovely holiday books, she has not released a brand new work since her best-selling One Thousands Gifts nearly a decade agoIn some ways, then, this is truly major release, one that has incubated for quite a while.  I dipped in to some of it already and the quality earned from polishing her craft these years is evident. And her guts in sharing beautifully her own brokenness is notable. Her discussion of love and giving and a meaningful way through our broken hearts -- give it away! -- is intimate and powerful.  The Broken Way is handsomely designed, too,  with a few nice touches well worthy of such a good author. Rave endorsements are from Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Christine Caine, Lysa Terkeurst and many others which point us to the value of this raw look at pain and brokenness; honoring such hard stuff is, Voskamp says, the "daring path to abundance."  Check out the artful video clip trailer for the book, here.


Gabe Lyons says she "penetrates the soul with words that arrest us, convict us, and compel us to the arms of our Father. Ann Voskamps come along once in a generation. We best pay attention."  Nice.


The Faithful Artist -  Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts .jpgThe Faithful Artist:  A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts Cameron J. Anderson (IVP Academic /CIVA) $26.00 We are particularly excited to announce this major work by a friend, the well-loved Director of the astute national organization Christians in the Visual Arts. This is the second volume in the serious and important new series called "Studies in Theology and the Arts." The first was a very detailed study and rebuttal of the aesthetic judgement of the seminal Hans Rookmaaker.


This second one is more positive, making a systematic and lovely case for evangelicals taking the arts more seriously. Cam has been working on this a long time and it could be seen as one of the most important books offered in this field in a very long time. That is, it is surely excellent. If you know any artists who are interested in faith, they simply must get this!  CIVA is a premier professional association and we respect their work so much; it is a delight to announce this essential book by their director.  Highly recommended.


Putting Art (Back) In Its Place.jpgPutting Art (Back) In Its Place John E. Skillen (Hendrickson) $24.95  Wow, what a fascinating book. I've been waiting for this and haven't even gotten to read a chapter, yet. But I guarantee you some of our BookNotes newsletter readers are going to love this.  John Skillen is a specialist in medieval and Renaissance literature and taught at Gordon College for years before launching an arts-oriented semester abroad program in Orvieto Italy (in 1998.) This book emerged from his teaching in Orvieto on the cultural context of Renaissance Italian art, storytelling (including Dante's Divine Comedy.) With students of all ages he has been able to captivate them, sharing his passion and (Christian) insight about Italian masterpieces.  For anyone interested in art history, in the Italian Renaissance, or in Christian views of art, this book is going to be fabulous.


But here is what else you need to know: Skillen's Putting Art (Back) In Its Place  is particularly concerned about the spiritually formative role of art within the body of Christ and particularly within our church buildings and worships spaces. As it says on the back cover:


takes readers on a fascinating journey through the world of Christian art in medieval and Renaissance Italy to rediscover the sacred role artwork can play once again in our churches.... For centuries, works of art were commissioned and created to tell stories, inspire faith, and unify communities in their daily rhythms of work and worship. In medieval and Renaissance Italy, art filled the streets, churches, businesses, and halls of government. The whole body of Christ played a part in the creation and use of art... 


I do not think that Skillen objects at all to the themes of Cam Anderson's wonderful call for evangelicals to embrace the arts, also the arts in culture, Christian and otherwise. If CIVA  (and Cam Anderson's book)offers a broader vision for artists -reacting to a cheesy and self-referential and too often squelched sort of churchy insistence that art be "religious" or "inspirational" and liberating artists from supervision by the church - Skillen tells the other side of that. When done with grand and majestic aesthetic excellence, art can indeed not only bless the culture at large (and through common grace, pagan art can bless us!) it nonetheless can and should be situated also within the worshipping community.  Has art been displaced from the faith community? What can we do to "put art back in its place, at least within the church? (Look at that cover, eh, with the large art piece by Bruce Herman!!) 


 Skillen's vision, here, I gather, is something broader than exclusively liturgical art for use in worship; indeed, his hope is that "for Christians to foster a vibrant culture of the arts again, we must cultivate relationships among artists, patrons, scholars, communities,  and the art they create..." This book argues for a flourishing of the arts just as CIVA would affirm, but focuses particularly on (inspired by Orvieto and the Renaissance) how the visual arts have and can again play in the life and mission of the church.


The Invisible Bestseller- Searching for the Bible in America.jpgThe Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America Kenneth Briggs(Eerdmans) $24.00  A veteran journalist and good writer visits all sorts of places where the Bible is taught, sold, studied, used, abused... a travelogue through how the Bible is appropriated in American culture. Why is it such a huge bestseller, year after year, and yet its impact seems negligible?  This has been my own bedtime reading this week and I'm really, really enjoying it - and learning a bit as the author weaves together all kinds of curious stories, from Christian bookseller conventions to prison Bible studies, from Presbyterian church services to trips back in time learning about how the Bible was used (or not) in American history. The Bible remains a bestseller, but it may be nearly invisible. Why?


You have to look carefully at this odd cover -- it's the Bible casting a shadow on an old school road map.  Clever, eh?




Just Capitalism- A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization.jpgJust Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization Brent Waters (WJK) $40.00  There are plenty of rather doctrinaire Christian assessments in books  about free market capitalism, praising the market as if God Himself spoke to Adam Smith and baptized Western capitalism;  similarly there are some that are overly critical, informed more by Marxist analysis than Biblical insight.  This brand new  one , Just Capitalism,  is one of the rare ones -- astute, mature, serious, and very balanced.  It's witty, too, sophisticated but accessible.  It looks really great.


James K.A. Smith says of it,


This is a book I've been waiting for: a careful, nuanced, but bold argument for the good of markets that neither demonizes them nor idolizes them.  In other words, I no longer have to wait for Oliver O'Donovan to write a book on economics. 


The Market as God - Cox.jpgThe Market As God Harvey Cox (Harvard University Press) $26.95  Speaking of tendencies to deify the market...  this new book exposes such idolatry. Harvey Cox has been a major theological voice for a generation, and has shifted and deepened his own faith and analysis. The Market as God is a notable new book, obviously, and on an important, internationally respected publisher. I suspect it will be much discussed.  I'm eager to see how professor Cox (perhaps informed by the likes of Smith's "cultural liturgies" research) writes with,  as E.J. Dione Jr. puts it, an "ingenious sense of how market theology has developed a scripture, a liturgy, and a sophisticated apologetics" which "allows us to see old challenges in a remarkably fresh light." I wonder if it is somewhat similar to last year's brilliant, provocative Eerdmans book The Altar of Wall Street?  According to one review, this is not like all critics of the market, either, because the book is "trying to redeem it so that it might serve its proper ends."



Hidden Christmas- The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ.jpgHidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ Timothy Keller (Viking) $20.00  Let me say we've got bunches of great new Advent books and maybe some are even more pleasant than this slim one. But it's Keller, so I'm thrilled.  It just came out a day or two ago, and I've only looked at the table of contents.  Yes, it's a tad pricey for less than 150 pages, but in Keller years, that's like, uh, maybe 350 pages of content from a more ordinary author. So it's well worth it, with 8 lovely sounding chapters. I like that he says that "Christmas, therefore, is the most unsentimental, realistic, way of looking at life." Yep, there's that: the incarnation is crazy, showing us God's remarkable love and grace, and suggestion pretty strongly that we are truly in need of a savior. We cannot rescue ourselves. The world is a mess. It is worse than we may know. But the good news is better than we usually realize. I think this hard-hitting, quite logical explication of the truth of the holiday may be the best thing we've got on this in hears. Thanks be to God for authors and preachers who shoot straight: "There is a light outside of this world, and Jesus has come from it to save us." We are not trapped. This is Christmas joy, for sure.  Highly recommended.


The End of Protestantism- Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church.jpgThe End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church Peter J. Leithart (BakerAcademic) $21.99 Leithart may be one of the most interesting theological voices writing today, and his last few books have placed him into that rare circle of the "must read" theological scholars. Anyone interested in the nature of the church, the role of confessional truths, and the call to ecumenism will want to have this. I surely hope many are drawn to it as the unity of the Body of Christ is Jesus's own passion.  The rave reviews of The End of Protestantism are themselves so stimulating that it makes me really, really eager to read this carefully. (There are woefully few books on ecumenical theology from anybody, let alone from such a rigorous evangelical. Thanks be to God for this kind of work.) 


Stanley Hauerwas says that "Leithart simply cannot write a dull book. He cannot because he has the courage and intellect to go to the heart of the matter."  Richard Mouw, in a blurb on the back admits that he had given up finding "an alternative to the tribalism of divisive denominationalism and the 'unity' efforts of mainstream ecumenism." Leithart convinced him that he gave up to quickly; Mouw continues: "This groundbreaking book combines exciting ecclesiological explorations with some practical steps for moving forward."  The fabulous Hans Boersma calls it "urgent and fearless." I commend it urgently and fearlessly to mainline Protestants, evangelicals of all sorts and also to Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.  I fear we won't sell any at all, though, but let us pray that we do. We've got a stack here.  I hope you know this means a lot to us. We should all care about the broader church.  I hope this helps.


Adventures in Evangelical Civility- A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground  .jpgAdventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground  Richard J. Mouw (Brazos Press) $24.99  Speaking of ecumenism, and of Mouw's search for good books, this new memoir shares some of the inside scope. I wish I could call Mouw a mentor -- his early books were among my favorites in the mid 70s and he remains an author I'd eager read, no matter what the topic. (You know he'll quote Kuyper, probably a Catholic nun or mystic, and always a hymn or two.) He's sensible, visionary, down-to-Earth, and, one of those scholars who has a particular calling, it seems, to translate the world of academia to the church and world. As a political theorist, an ethicist, and and active Presbyterian -- who used to teach at Calvin College, even  though he wasn't raised in the Dutch Calvinist worldview tradition -- he is my kind of guy. If you've followed by own Facebook you will know that I recently used his lovely Uncommon Decency (a very wonderful book on civility) in an adult education class.


This biography tells of the journey of one of the premier evangelical public intellectuals of our time. Blurbs on the back are stellar -- Krista Tippett (I hope you know her "On Being" radio on NPR) says, after a lovely, lengthy description, "How grateful I am that Richard Mouw is in the world, and how glad I am that he has written this book." Me too.  I trust you will be too.    Get it today!


Calling in Today's World- Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives .jpgCalling in Today's World: Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives edited by Kathleen Cahalan & Douglas Schuurman (Eerdmans) $25.00 There has been  much written at a popular level on calling and vocation in recent years (yay!) and there have been a few very substantial theological reflections as well. This new volume is a fascinating work, a rather unique contribution, offering various takes on the notions of vocation, explaining how calling is perceived and practiced in eight different world religions and faith traditions. Included are how this key Christian notion is explained, construed, taught and lived out within not only Protestant and Catholic churches but within Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, among  Confucianism and Daoism and even within more secularized humanism.   Kristin Johnston Largen of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg notes how useful this is for Christians in our increasingly interreligious world and that it is "interesting, accessible." Calling in Today's World is co-edited by Kathleen Cahalan of Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville  who recently co-wrote the excellent Christian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters and Douglas Schuurman who is professor of religion at St. Olaf College and the author of the  thoughtful, must-read Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life. Some of the authors are themselves practitioners of the faith being described and a few are scholars but not adherents. It's a fascinating work.


Lived Theology- New Perspectives on Method, Style and Pedagogy .jpgLived Theology: New Perspectives on Method, Style and Pedagogy edited by Charles Marsh, Peter Slade & Sarah Azaransky (Oxford University Press) $29.95  Do you know the "lived theology" project at University of Virginia? It's heavy, serious stuff, even as it is bringing sophisticated scholarship to ordinary life as the context for doing theology.  As Cheryl  J. Sanders (author of Saints in Exile) puts it, the  methodology and rationale of lived theology movement is to use "the primary source of data of social change, such as field reports and oral histories, in order to discover vital theological conversations, convictions, and commitments" in the real world lives of people and cultures. They have held conferences and published papers and done think-tank stuff exploring ways in which theology is done  "on the ground" as a lived practice for years, now, and this thick hardback is a long-awaited compilation of good pieces.  Our friend David Dark has a chapter called "Insert Soul Here: Lived Theology as Witness."


 Lauren Winner says,


"Lived theology" has been among the most vivifying and necessary scholarly movements of the last decade and a half.  In illustrating how to read the texts of people's lives for clues about God, this book inspires, tempts, informs and provokes.


Attending Others- A Doctor's Education  in Bodies and Words.jpgAttending Others: A Doctor's Education in Bodies and Words Brian Volck (Cascade) $25.00 I feel badly that this stunning book can only be mentioned quickly here, now, as it is precious, artful, and wonderful. I hope to tell you more later.  What a fine author this is, a poet and writer with an MFA who is a practicing pediatric doctor.  He has co-written a previous book on medicine which is very important, but this, this, oh my, it is a beautiful work!   There is a bit in here about his travels in the developing world, doctring in service to the poor in rural Guatamala, for instance. Much of what he has learned about medicine, he say, he has learned form listening well -- to patience, to people, to children, and, yes, to books, literature and poetry.  Warm and glowing endorsements are on the back from Wendell Berry, Paul Farmer, and other important writers. Attending Others is quite simply one of the most beautiful and thrilling and moving books I've read this year -- it is very highly recommended for anyone who cares about medicine, health care, illness, bodies, justice, literature, life -- whether one is a health care provider or not. Thanks, Brian, for your attention to work and to words.


Biblical Authority After Babel- Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity .jpgBiblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Baker Academic) $21.99  Vanhoozer's latest, long awaited book just arrived and is already being discussed in many places on the internet. You will be hearing more about this, I'm sure.  A major work by a significant author -- not unlike Liethart, Vanhoozer is somebody who you simply must read if you are a working theologian.  This one offers a "fresh appraisal of the core principles of historic Protestant Christianity." As Reformation scholar Timothy George says  it is "written with conviction, nuance, and wisdom, this is Kevin Vanhoozer at his best - a treasure."  Wheaton College prof Beth Falker Jones says "I've been waiting years for this book!"  Even though the book is a call for Protestant unity around Reformation themes, Catholic theologian Matthew Levering raves on the back, insisting that those of other traditions should "listen to Vanhoozer's rigorous, gracious, and erudite defense of the truth of Protestant Christianity."  We are entering the 500th year of the Protestant reformation, as I'm sure you know, so why not make this one of the books you read to help you enter the conversations.


Upstream- Selected Essays.jpgUpstream: Selected Essays Mary Oliver (Penguin Press) $26.00 This is nearly a publishing event, the first collection of essays by the esteemed poet, one of the most loved and respected of our time.  I haven't had time to read any of it yet - heaven help me if I'm too busy for Mary Oliver! - so what can I say? It's dedicated to Ann Tyler. I've held the book itself with it's lovely cover quite longingly.  I am sure it's pages are beautiful, honest, life giving.


Of course, some of it may be almost what we might call nature writing -- as anyone who loves her poems would expect. She reuminates and reflects in prose about some of the same themes that animate her poetry.  But also, there is some writing about her "artistic labor" and that, surely, will be wonderful to behold.


Some of you want this, some of you should read it, really.  You know who you are.




Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To.jpgTired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To  Lillian Daniel (FaithWords) $22.00 I suppose those who know Lillian will want to order this right away - she's a respected, lively author, feisty as a progressive UCC pastor and yet eager to be clear about the centrality of the gospel.  This may seem a bit like a variety of chapters (which is fine, given her writing talents) but it is more than a collection of her great essays  even though each chapter could easily stand on its own (making it great for small group use) it does hang together. Like the title suggests, it  is relentless in making a case for liberal church folk to stop apologizing for the worst of Christianity and redouble efforts to affirm and celebrate and invite people to open, good-hearted faith found most often in ordinary mainline congregations.


Some of this new book found its genesis in the way liberal Christians criticized her last book (When 'Spiritual But Not Religious' Is Not Enough) and especially one widely circulated chapter that mocked those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious." Mainline liberals, of course, are reluctant to criticize those hurt by the church or those whose spirituality is vague and sunshiny or unorthodox; some are so generous as to suggest we dare not criticize anyone (well,  except for fundamentalists, but that's another story.) Rev. Daniel offered a sharp and witty call to the so-called 'nones' in that book to grow up, get serious, and join a faith community that is more realistic, more gritty, more substantial, more lasting (built, as authentic  faith is, on the Scriptures and traditions and ways passed down through the ages.) Well, now she's pushing back a bit against those friendly fire critics, once again insisting that the most real faith is lived out in community with those gathered to worship and pray and serve and live out faith together.


Lilian Daniel's Tired of Apologizing... is at once what we might think of as liberal and yet calling us to solid, lasting things. It is witty, acerbic, tender, sharp, kind, funny and, at more than once, made me scratch my head. What a book! I hate the cover, but the writing is wonderful, the flow energetic and captivating.  It is a good read for anyone trying to figure out the "nones" and how moderate, lively, progressive faith can gather people, not by always, always, complaining about the bad things of Christianity, but holding up the positive call to robust spiritual community.


Gospel According to Star_Trek.jpgThe Gospel According to Start Trek: The Original Crew Kevin C. Neece (Cascade) $24.00 Nearly three decades ago one could count on one hand (actually, a few fingers of one hand) the respectable books that explored the interface of popular culture and Christianity and even fewer were those that wisely approached popular culture in light of a robust, orthodox, Christian perspective.  A seminal figure in the rise of a generation of scholars in this field was my old pal William David Romanowski whose Eyes Wide Open remains an essential read.  The colorful, popular and at times breathtaking writer and thinker David Dark followed up with the must-read Every Day Apocalypse and, I'd say, by the turn of the century we were off to the races. We have shelves and shelves of pop culture studies, Christian views of contemporary music, video games, film and TV reviews. In the last year there have been some fun books on Star Wars, sci fi stuff, and, of course, the marvelous little book by Square Halo Books, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who.


But, oh my, haven't we been waiting for a really good book on Star Trek?  Friends, the wait is over. This is the book to read. It's been in the making for years - the author studied under worldview scholar and Christian philosopher David Naugle (who calls this new book "a treasure") and has been pondering this for years.  I am so excited to announce it to the world.  It is not simplistic or cheesy at all, but plumbs the episodes and deep ideas for gospel truths.  This really is a wonderful new book. 


Here are what a few others say Neese's The Gospel According to Star Trek, the brand new book on Gene Roddenberry's own spiritual quest as seen in the continuing voyages of Kirk and company aboard the Enterprise "from the Original Series to Star Trek and Beyond tell us more about our human quest for God than you ever imagined." 


By the way, besides giving this to any Trekkies you know (Christian or otherwise - it's that good!) it might be interesting to anyone with an interest in pop culture, history, big questions, and who enjoys pondering the sorts of stuff that has been being asked by sci-fi for a century. Star Trek itself premiered  on NBC on Thursday, September 8th 1966. The show was entitled "The Man Trap." This stuff has endured for a reason, and the market for this book is surely bigger than most of us might imagine. Why not get a few to give out, offer a class at church, or start a book club on campus. or at your local coffee shop?  I bet it will attract all sorts of thoughtful conversation.  May this help us to, as Jesus offered in John 10:10, "live long and prosper."  Okay, sorry. I had to say it.  Congrats to Kevin Neese for this marvelous new work.


Becoming a Pastor Theologian- New Possibilities for Church Leadership.jpgBecoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership edited by Todd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand (IVP Academic) $25.00  What an amazing collection!  I hope you know Vanhoozer's book from a year ago insisting that the best pastors are "theologians in residence" and that renewing the theological vocation of pastors is especially needed in these complicated days.  This new collection came out of what must have been a fabulous conference around these concerns, offering both pastors and congregants with new ideas about how church leaders can live into this calling of being a "pastor theologian."


It looks really well done, with chapters on the identity of the pastor, examples from history (Calvin, Boston, Newman, Bonhoeffer) and six hefty chapters on the Bible and its commission for thoughtful  pastors.  Good contributions by Kevin Vanhoozer, James K.A. Smith, Peter Leithart, Lauri Norris, and others. At the risk of seeming like too much of a fanboy, I read the Jamie Smith chapter and, yep, it is worth the price of admission just for that one. Highly recommended.


The Road Back to You- An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery .jpgThe Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery  Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile (IVP) $24.00  study guide $9.00  I have not been one to warm up to the Myers-Briggs personality tests, the "Strength Finders"  and other such assessment tools,  let alone the weirder Enneagram. I know some folks have found it very helpful  -- Richard Rohr has a very good book on it -- and spiritual directors and contemplative types use it to help folks not only with self- knowledge and better relationships with others but as a tool for spiritual formation in one's deepest relationship with God. I get that, but it still has just been a bit too eccentric for me - when I hear people say their number (and their "wing" number) it just sounds too Gnostic, full of insider info, too much to keep straight.


But, hey: this is the book to unlock the mystery, make learning this stuff fun (and useful) and help anyone grow into better self-awareness. (And, geesh, remember what Calvin said about the close relationship between self-knowledge and knowledge of God! So there, I say to myself.) The Road Back to you is a blast to read and helpful.


I have loved the wildly well-written previous books of Ian Cron (you have to know his hilarious, poignant memoir Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir, of Sorts and his novel Chasing Francis) but The Road Back to You is his funniest yet. He's a born storyteller, there are tons of great examples and illustrations in this energizing book. His co-author is apparently one of the best trainers in E stuff anywhere (and quite a raconteur herself.) They tell you what their numbers are, and the numbers and wings of their spouses -- and it all starts to make sense!  Yes! I don't care what triad or number or wing you are, or if, like me, you have no idea what any of that means -- this is a fabulously interesting and enjoyable book and bound to help you find what they call your true self.  That's got to be good, eh?


For what it is worth, the Enneagram system tends to categorize people by their personality trait that is informed by a certain sinful tendency, created by a particular woundedness. This self-awareness of the roots of our weaknesses and foibles and the messages of hope we most need to counter-act these deep wounds can be very, very helpful, even if you don't buy the whole nine yards of this ancient template. There's a good workbook to and I suppose only certain "numbers" will want to use it. I think it could be fruitful to actually process this stuff -- maybe even do it with a small group that you trust.  Could be fun. The book offers Christian insight, too, but it isn't heavy handed. Did I mention that it is funny? And helpful?


Tracing the Lines- Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship.jpgTracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship ("Currents in Reformational Thought") Robert Sweetman (Wipf & Stock) $24.00  As a younger man I was inspired, and I guess influenced, by the mostly Dutch neo-Kuyperian intellectuals who founded the truly remarkable grad and PhD-level college Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. Professors and former PhD students from that small, rigorous graduate school such as Al Wolters, Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, Sylvia Keesmaat, Paul Marshall, Jim Olthius, Robert Goudzewaard, Calvin Seerveld, Adreian Chaplin, James, K.A. Smith, and friends of ICS such as Jim Skillen, Evan Runner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Elaine Storkey, Gideon Strauss, George Marsden, and Elaine Botha are all among those who pioneered the language of integrating faith and scholarship in the 1970s and on.  ICS has carried on with this unique blend of reformational scholarship, holding up a vision of God's shalom in all of life, including the mandate for an inner reformation of the fields within the arts and sciences, particularly as influenced by the philosophy of Dutch Christian scholar Herman Dooyeweerd. To serve God well in the world, we have to think well about the creation and the idols of the age. They do this at a pretty in-depth philospohical level, much of which is beyond those who are not professional scholars. But folks all over have understood the importance of their witness and have sacrificed to support their educational mission.  Many still do.


Recently the new generation of leaders at ICS have  created a parallel think-tank called the Centre for Philosophy, Religions & Social Ethics (CPRSE) and it is in cooperation with them that ICS Professor Sweetman - a medievalist, professionally - offers this long-awaiting reflection on the very nature of distinctively Christian scholarship. This remarkable new book, Tracing the Lines, is a must-read for anyone interested in serious-minded but spiritually alive thinking and for anyone working within the halls of the academy wishing to point the way to God's healing grace in those academic disciplines.  


Calvin Seerveld offers this endorsement:


This learned book reads like an exciting detective story. A 'Christian scholarship' whodunit? Rather than give a traditional argumentative judgement, Sweetman ends up surprising us, and invites every scholar into the confessional: What is the shape of your heart aligned with the Scriptures? A genial, engaging, profound book.


Deborah Bowen (chair of the English department at Redeemer University College) notes that, Tracing the Lines is:


A lovely, challenging book for all Christian scholars concerned with a real connection between their scholarship and their hearts.  Sweetman writes with the generous humility he advocates; describing Christian scholarship as 'a beloved folk-recipe,' he manages to simultaneously be philosophically rigorous and spiritually winsome. I want to be part of the scholarly community of mutual trust and correction to which he calls his readers.


Perhaps this description will intrigue you: as a Reformed thinker, Sweetman (the H. Evan Runner Chair in the History of Philosophy at ICS) specializes in Dominican thought - in particular Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, and the florescence of women's contemplative thought supported by Dominicans in the thirteenth century. As a reformational philosopher he stands particularly on the shoulders of Dooyeweerd's colleague D.H.Th. Vollenhoven.  


Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple- Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship .jpgEssential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship Greg Odgen (IVP) $15.00  Perhaps you've used the big collection called Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ.  That one includes pretty demanding lessons and 24 of 'em. We are real fans of it, and its sequels such as The Essential Commandment: A Disciple's Guide to Loving God and Others which is also quite thorough, but only 12 in-dpeth, practical sessions. This brand new one is a more easily used version, with 8 shorter lessons. I think this could be one of the very best little guides to introduce basic Christian stuff for beginners.  Or anyone who needs a clear, empowering, refresher on discipleship. I trust Ogden a lot, and enjoy these lessons -- which, by the way, carry an extra benefit: folks learn to look up Bible verses and study the Scriptures for themselves.


Ogden's classic guide to mentoring others -- in triads, he mostly recommends -- is called Transforming Discipleship: Building Disciples a Few at a Time and it, too, has been revised and recently reissued. Nice.


By the way, Greg Ogden used to be at one of the Pittsburgh churches (Bellefield Presbyterian) where the CCO was first working. His passion for outreach in the campus community was significant, and his training others to disciple young Christians in helpful ways was legendary.  I'm glad to have met him years ago, and respect these fine, Bible-based, lessons for growing in faith and practice.


Essential Worship- A Handbook for Leaders.jpgEssential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders Greg Scheer (Baker Books) $19.99  Speaking of Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, this author used to be the organist and worship leader there. I recall as a young man -- I love telling this story -- how he told me he was going to write a book. If I knew him better I would have realized he was gifted, insightful, creative, and would, in fact, write a book. We recommended any number of important resources to him in those years and, sure enough, as he was moving to the wonderfully liturgically rich CRC Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, his first book came out. We love The Art of Worship and feel glad that we sold books to him in those years, surely setting him on a path towards what he is today -- one of the most esteemed liturgists, contemporary worship leaders, and creative worship pastors in the country. Greg is a contributor to several well loved hymnals, is a music associate with the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship, and his music has been published by publishers such as Augsburg Fortress, GIA, Abingdon, and Worship Today.


I can't wait to explore and use this new Essential Worship volume. It looks just tremendous.  With blurbs from important authors such as Zac Hicks (you should know his good book The Worship Pastor) and John Witvliet, you know it is solid and useful. I like singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken's endorsement when she writes:


Greg Scheer offers personal and fresh perspective on the inter workings of corporate worship with is unique blend of levity and insight. This book is a good springboard for conversations and growth for both worship leaders and congregations.


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