About November 2016

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

October 2016 is the previous archive.

December 2016 is the next archive.

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

November 2016 Archives

November 6, 2016

A Short Rumination AND 16 Books to Read in This Hard Post-Election Season: Finding Hope, Moving Forward. ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

Many times over the years at BookNotes I have listed books that might help Christian people think faithfully, Biblically, and well about politics and citizenship.  Those lists have never generated many sales and for decades, now, I have carried a burden that I have failed at my own calling to help contribute to the development of the Christian mind on politics. There are so many good books from many different angles but they just don't sell.

I have written essays and suggested books and have promoted significant and thoughtful resources about statecraft and government and citizenship such as, just for instance, God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics by Paul Marshall (Rowman & Littlefield; $27.95) which is less about the constitution, as such, and more just a fine introductory book about a Christian political vision.  For years it was my "go to" book, even though it is hardback and pricey.

I have repeatedly recommended James Skillen's major work called The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Baker Academic; $24.00)  which highlights and evaluates the history of various church leaders who have helped us think about the proper role of the state and guiding us towards reasonable, faithful principles for public life in a pluralistic democracy.  Wanting to be somehow Biblical and not accommodated to worldly thought isn't a new project, of course, and our best theologians throughout church history have taught about matters relating to the state's task and our duty as citizens.

Our BookNotes newsletter has for years and years reminded readers about the thoughtful and theologically rich method for thinking about political policies found in Ronald J. Sider's excellent book Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement (Brazos Press; $22.00.)  I think it is one of the most careful and helpful books to truly guide us well into thinking Christianly about policy choices.

Over the years I have touted the historic resource put out by the National Association for Evangelicals in 2005 after years of study and reflection called Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation, a remarkably thoughtful, diverse collection of essays of public theology from the likes of David Gushee, Max Stackhouse, Paul Marshall, Nicholas Wolterstorff and others, reflecting upon the NAE "For the Health of the Nation" document. That big book is edited by Ronald J. Sider and the late Diane Knippers (Baker Academic; $24.00.)  With scholars who tend more conservative, politically, and some more in other directions, they all bring deep and thoughtful consideration to bear in what is a model of thoughtfully Christian proposals. Many of the current evangelicals speaking out these days seem shallow, strident, and ill-informed about what the Bible actually says about social concerns in comparison.  Alas, the book is hardly known, I'm afraid, and we sit on bunches here in Dallastown.

Such books honor Christ by attempting to be judiciously Biblical and balanced, without too much loyalty to either major party or their respective worldviews, and offering nuance and insight -- not knee jerk reaction to this or that hot button issue. These books help us get first things first, seeing how the gospel might point us to principles that make for healthy public life and guide us in faithful citizenship. They avoid stuff like the foolish irresponsibility of Wayne Grudem's right-wing tax policy proposal inspired, literally, by one half of one Proverb in his thick book on politics, and attempt to offer a more thorough and consistently Biblical perspective.

Often I have invited folks to the deeper study of why Christians should not be ideologically committed to the far right or far left (since both have their intellectual and spiritual roots in the secularized ideologies of the Enlightenment) as explained in stunning intellectual works such as Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis (IVP; $27.00.) Not everyone agrees with his radical critique of left and right -- maybe it depends on whose ox is gored -- and I suppose not everyone even agrees that Christians are obligated to be "non conformed" to the ways of the political world by refusing the assumptions of worldly ideologies (for my take, see Colossians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5, or Romans 12:1-2.) In any event, Koyzis book is deep and serious.

Beth and I went to some expense to host a public lecture in Pittsburgh a year and a half ago with our friend Dr. Vincent Bacote where we celebrated the esteemed Wheaton professors simple guide to public faith, the handy and wise The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life (Zondervan; $11.99.) What a great little resource that is!  See my comments here.

I even have a blurb on the back of the paperback edition of Miroslav Volf's  A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos Press; $19.99) -- what an honor to get to endorse such an esteemed global leader. Nonetheless, we just haven't been able to sell many. His latest on this topic, by the way, is Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity  co-written with Ryan McAnnally-Linz (Brazos Press; $21.99.)

I hope you saw my long review this past summer of Five Views on the Church and Politics a fabulous new book highlighting how different faith traditions -- Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, Anabaptist and historic black church -- relate faith and politics which is delightfully edited by Amy Black (Zondervan; $19.99.)  In a way, it is similar to a book I've touted for a decade, Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny (IVP Academic; $22.00) which also has a hefty dialogue back and forth between five scholars who agree we must "integrate" faith and politics with a faithful, Biblical view, but who disagree with how that is done, what the task of the state is, and what that looks like in political life.

Even more simple and feisty and fun (and therefore both more accessible but, I think, less useful in the long run since it just has two views) is Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics a dialogue between Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes (Elevate Faith; $19.99.)  A bit more nuanced with more varied perspectives is the great collection offering a lot of views, showing how good people who are Christ-followers can disagree agreeably called Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues: Sustaining a Respectful Political Conversation edited by Harold Heie (Leafwood Publishing/Abilene Christian University Press; $17.99.)  I've mentioned it often and oh how I wish more had been bought, studied, and that readers learned to model this kind of wholesome, principled conversation and political discourse.

I guess this line of thinking -- an invitation to be responsible, "in but not of" the world, thinking faithfully, developing normative principles for our citizenship, presented with grace -- isn't as captivating for most church folks as I figure it should be.  Or maybe some readers just feel too overwhelmed to read such things, or want to get practical, reading books about activism and causes. (We don't sell many of those kind, either, but that's another worry for another day.) Perhaps many folks surmise, somehow, that they can intuit their way into a distinctively Biblical approach without help from Christian scholars of political science or reading and discussing the sorts of resources we plead with folks to read. I suppose that's plausible.


Besides listing books about faith and politics, we've made the previous case that good books help us develop the Christian mind, that our theories about things must be reformed by intentional Christian scholarship done in the light of the Word, which is to be a light before our path, also in our thinking about things like government, public life, citizenship, law, war, taxes, and the like.  How many times have we stood up at conferences and gatherings sharing our enthusiasm for the life-transforming Your Mind's Mission.jpgpower of little books like Greg Jao's Your Minds Mission or James Sire's Discipleship of the Mind and Habits of the Mind? We've spend decades promoting books to help us think about our social and political and economic duties corem deo by recommending titles such as Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton's book called The Transforming Vision or Al Wolter's Creation Regained or even Robert Webber's classic The Secular Saint: A Case for Evangelical Social Responsibility. Speaking of classics, might we revisit even Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture? It is little wonder we don't have a lot of bookstores selling a lot of books about, say, faithfully considered Christian views of politics, because we don't have much interest in developing a radical Christian mind.  We have Christian theology and morality and worship and prayer, but -- like that famous book from the early 1960s called The Christian Mind by C.S. Lewis's friend Harry Blamires put it, "we don't have a Christian mind." Although much has changed since Mark Noll's critical assessment in 1994s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the lack of a consensus about Christian political principles, on such horrid display this year, I have this sense that his word is still neededNo wonder when I say we shouldn't accommodate ourselves necessarily to a right wing or left wing agenda, people look at me like I'm talking nonsense.  And no wonder hardly anybody buys the books I suggest on these kinds of topics.

It just seems to me -- please forgive me if I seem disgruntled or judgmental -- that the evangelicals who are so loud for Mr. Trump or those who seem so happy with Hillary, haven't been paying attention to these kinds of books, taking cues about faithful citizenship from our best Christian political writers and advocates. Good people can disagree about much, but vivacious, unqualified support for vile candidates who don't talk about public justice or the common good seems to me a huge, huge failing. 


On the eve of this election I am deeply depressed, as many of you are, but feeling a bit of a particular burden, that if only more folks within the Body of Christ had taken up more intentional conversations about these kinds of things in light of the best public intellectuals and Christian writers who are not themselves accommodated to the right or the left -- those who are brave and faithful enough to say no to secular ideologies and pioneer some third way -- we may not be quite in the mess we are in now.

I am sad, just for instance, that in our own area a group of so-called Bible believing pastors have gathered to encourage one another in their social and public witness -- by which they seem to mean their work for Donald Trump -- and I suspect not a one of them have read a single responsible book about a truly mature Christian political perspective.  They get written up in the paper as some sort of admirable fellowship and I am embarrassed for the Body of Christ to see brothers so in bed with corruption in what seems to me to be crass idolatry and pastoral malpractice.  Perhaps they have thought it through more than it seems, maybe they've read widely and earned the right to call their press conference and lead their flocks in this, but I doubt it.  I do not know what other theological booksellers have done throughout the country but I do not think the best Christian books have been widely read or significantly applied. I feel like a failure tonight, and wish I had tried harder to sell better books more widely.

So, yes, I feel badly, sitting as we are on piles of great resources that might have helped deepen the conversation about faith and politics these past years.  And now, with a poor candidate on one hand and what I think is an evil one on the other, and many folks I know deeply aligned with one or the other, and many more of us wondering what to do, we are facing a very, very hard cultural moment.

I assume you feel anxious about this too.



Here are more than a dozen book suggestions that might be useful to read this next week or so. I invite you to order one or two for your own spiritual sanity and perhaps to use with others to deepen our conversations in these times. There are others, of course -- give us a call if we can serve you further.

The Cry of the Soul- How Our Emotions Reveal.jpgThe Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III (NavPress) $16.99  I certainly hope you know this dynamic duo who often co-write books together. Allender is a respected, moving, thoughtful psychologist while Longman is surely one of the best Old Testament scholars writing today. Here, they join up to explore how the Bible itself authorizes us to embrace our negative emotions and how the Scriptures themselves, especially the Psalms, can help us not only name, discern, and value our hard feelings and dark desires (anger, worry, fear, despair, and the like) but how they can reveal truths to us about God and God's faithfulness and redemptive work in our lives. In a way, this is an excellent book for anyone, anytime, about opening up the emotional side of life or, put another way, about being more deeply spiritual as we walk with God in our rawest aspects of our humanity.  So is it self-helpy psychology or Biblical spirituality? I'd say it is both. The Cry of the Soul is a life-line for those who are hurting, distressed, anxious, wanting tools to learn how to handle our pain in light of solid Bible teaching. 

Reality,  Grief, Hope- Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.jpgReality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks Walter Brueggemann (Eerdmans) $15.00  This is the long, long-awaited sequel to Brueggemann's most beloved books, The Prophetic Imagination and The Hopeful Imagination.  Published in 2014, it deserves to be read and re-read, I think, as it points us in his deep, eloquent prose, to these three profound human tasks, tasks we must take up as Christians if we are to be faithful agents of God's coming regime.  To name reality as it is, to grief it well, and then -- but only then -- to proclaim gospel hope, these are what Brueggemann incisively explores. As only he can, he draws connections between the post-9/11 world and the destruction of ancient Jerusalem.  We simply must name and understand the catastrophe of our times. This is how we can escape "the deathliness of denial and despair."

Broken Hallelujahs- Learning to Grieve the Big and Small Losses of Life.jpgBroken Hallelujahs: Learning to Grieve the Big and Small Losses of Life Beth Allen Slevcove (IVP) $16.00  I suppose this Lutheran spiritual director and social activist doesn't have "losing an election" or "despair that the other side's candidate won" as one of the grieves she guides us through, but there's a whole lot that comes close. This amazing book is part memoir, part spiritual formation, part a raw and real guide into faith amidst hard times. In each chapter the author tells of a particular sort of loss -- some really large and looming, others maybe a bit less heavy -- and then offers a spiritual practice designed to help us process, cope, and heal from this "broken hallelujah." (I suppose you know the Leonard Cohen allusion.)  I agree with Tod Bolsinger who says "Beth asks and attends to the hardest questions of life and faith with candor, courage, vulnerability and a wit that will make you sigh deeply and smile amidst your tears. This is a simply splendid book."  As she narrates her own losses, you will relate. As she offers distinctive spiritual practices you can find renewal in your faith and joy, even as you discover hidden beauty in these dark days.  Highly recommended.

Keeping Hope Alive- For a Tomorrow We Cannot Control.jpgKeeping Hope Alive: For a Tomorrow We Cannot Control Lewis Smedes (Thomas Nelson) $14.99 Before his death a decade ago Lew Smedes was one of the writers who had this remarkable knack of using his impressive theological training to inform popular level writing that was pitched to ordinary folks. (Think, of instance, of his must-read, beautifully written best-selling book Forgive and Forget.) Smedes went to Calvin College as a young man, studied theology, and became a beloved professor of ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Near the end of his life he was so taken with God's grace and goodness that it just spilled out in lovely prose, inspiring, insightful, wise, profound, but always delightful and well crafted. This is one of the better books on hope I've ever read and every day when I see it on our shelves I think of how I should read it again.  Over 15 years ago he worried about the fearful age and the "doom and gloomers" who predicted calamity, the "fearmongers try to get us to hedge our bets on the future."  Ahh, here's a man who believed the promises of God about Christ's Kingdom coming and how we can run with joy into His reign.

In Keeping Hope Alive, Lew Smedes helps us sort through different kinds of hope, though, but insists it is vital. As he put it, "Hope is as native to our spirits as thinking is to our brain. Keep hoping, and you keep living. Stop hoping, and you start dying."

Slow Kingdom Coming- Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly.jpgSlow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World Kent Annan (IVP) $16.00  Kent has faced heartbreak and struggle in his work among the poor in Haiti. He has written passionately about social change, about wholistic mission, about God's care for public justice. Here he gives us a beautiful, helpful, extended meditation on the virtues of Micah 6:8, how to keep on keeping on. This is hard work and regardless of your own partisan loyalties, I trust you desire to be shaped by this kind of spirituality.

Many have raved about this book, but this is blurb by Shane Clairborne is spot on:

"Kent Annan is doing some of the most redemptive work on the planet. His newest book is a breath of fresh air he steps back from all the action to consider the practices, prayer and disciplined reflection that sustains the work of justice. Slow Kingdom Coming is about going slow in a fast world, going deep in a shallow world and going far in a world that likes shortcuts. Brilliant."

Word By Word- A Daily Spiritual Practice .jpgWord By Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $17.99  I have been working on a longer review of this marvelous new book by one of my favorite writers but wanted very badly to include it here, now, so I will be more brief that this wonderful work deserves. You may know that her Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies is one of my all time favorite books ever (and an exceptionally useful book for these days as well!)

Marilyn McEntyre's new book is in the genre that we sometimes call a devotional, but rather than reflecting on a Bible passage, it is a Christian reflection on words and phrases. As Shauna Niequist puts it, "I love this book. It reminds me of the power of language -- to heal and instruct us, to challenge and shape us."

 I think in these days of hard and even hurtful conversations, we need to ponder our use of words, our language.  Although this is not a book overtly about conflict resolution or being a better communicator, it does, in allusive ways, helps us care more about our words. She invites us to savor fifteen specific words -- listen, receive, enjoy, accept, leave, ask, welcome -- and some phrases:  let go, be still. Marilyn is a poet, a serious reader, a thoughtful student of linguistic and literature, so having her help us dwell with these words is a great, good gift.

As Marilyn herself puts it in the introduction, 

I invite you to discover, as I have, to my lasting delight, how words may become little fountains of grace. How a single word may, if you hold it for a while, become a prayer.

From Tablet to Table- Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed.jpgFrom Tablet to Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $14.99  Speaking of potent little books that are fun to read and yet stretching. The Rev. Len Sweet is a master storyteller, drawing on literature and science and statistics and quotes he finds who knows where -- making him always a fascinating, upbeat, captivating author. In this book he takes a hard look at our "tablets" and face-down habits of staring at cell phones and invites us to get back to face-to-face fellowship.  He does this by studying food, table habits, inviting us to real meals that can change our lives. Food is obviously mentioned from the beginning to the end of the Bible and Biblical folk should be attention to the theology and spirituality of eating. I like how he so winsomely calls us to notice our neighbors, to be hospitable, to care about real people in real time, and to take up the gift of fellowship by eating meals together. Can this change the world? I don't know, but it is a start, a healthy practice, which -- in Sweet's telling -- causes us to pay more attention to the storied nature of the gospel, and to tell stories of our own lives. In the second part he talks about setting the table at home, in church, and in the world.  It's supper time, ya'll.

Roadmap to Reconciliation- Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice Brenda Salter McNeil.jpgRoadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities Into Unity, Wholeness and Justice Brenda Salter McNeil (IVP) $16.00  This slim hardback is worth every penny, a great bargain for a beautiful, powerful book that can help us resist injustice through deep, gospel-centered work. Again, no matter who wins this election, we simply must continue to talk about race in America and focus on local efforts at bridging gaps, creating community, working with those who feel marginalized and those who are oppressed. Brenda is a passionate evangelist and social justice worker and this guidebook helps us take deeper steps into this hard, vital, blessed work. I do hope there are conversation about this topic at every fellowship group, campus ministry, church and nonprofit reading this. I'm sure this book will help -- it is honest, hard, but yet a joy to see how God might work. It is so very useful, we're eager to continue to tell you about it. Highly recommended.

uncommon decency.jpgUncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00  Yes, once more, I'll tout this lovely, wise, enjoyable book which challenges us to inner civility, graciousness, learning to become the sort of people that know how to be kind in our debating, gracious in our public life, knowing how to navigate diverse views in personal arenas and in public.  It is one of my top ten favorites of all time and I recommend it often. It really is so very, very good, I hope you'll consider it, now more than ever. These conversations we're having in our culture about ethnics, sexuality, politics, religion, theology, in our families, churches, and in the public square need to be conducted by those with what Mouw calls -- borrowing a phrase from Marty Martin --  convicted civility.  See also his remarkable, brand new memoir about his own intellectual journey as an evangelical, Reformed public intellectual seeking common ground with others called Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground (Brazos Press; $24.99.) I will write more about it later but it is clearly one of my picks for best books of 2016.  I mentioned it in the previous BookNotes.

Healing the Heart of Democracy- The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy.jpgHealing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass) $17.95  I suspect that after the election this week there is going to be significant backlash, anger, frustration, and deep disappointment among many (no matter who wins.) This book might help us navigate some of this calmly, with a bold proposal for meeting in small groups, talking together about our deepest fears and values, working locally to repair hurts and build bridges. Palmer knows much about listening well, about gentle approaches, about conflict and healing and hope. He's a liberal Quaker, bringing those particular sensitivities to this vital quest and he has written much over his career about such things. (An early book on renewal in public life was called In the Company of Strangers.)

The introductory prelude to this moving, thoughtful book is called "A Politics of the Brokenhearted."   Enough said.

Dare We Speak of Hope 2.jpgDare We Speak of Hope? Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics Allan Boesak (Eerdmans) $18.00  I wonder if you saw on my personal facebook page yesterday the PC(USA) video about the Belhar Confession, a Dutch Reformed theological document written in Belhar South Africa decades ago that is now an official part of the Presbyterian Book of Confession?  I followed it with a link to a lecture Boesak gave on Belhar; he was a leader in the Christian prophetic denunciation of apartheid in South Africa and, along with Desmond Tutu and the martyred Stephen Biko, one of the most powerful activist and leaders and thinkers for the dismantling of apartheid. Here, Boesak brings his theological insight to bear on the more general question of faith and social change, how to speak about God's reign of justice as it relates to political organization, and -- yes -- if it makes sense to speak of hope in this fallen, unjust world where shalom is routinely vandalized.  It is eloquent. Nicholas Wolterstorff says in the foreword that it is "challenging, a deeply spiritual book."  Curtis Paul DeYoung of Bethel University calls in a "masterpiece."   Boesak holds the Desmond Tute Chair for Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies, a joint position at Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

confident pluralism.jpgConfident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference John D. Inazu (University of Chicago Press) $29.00  Although published by the prestigious and scholarly University of Chicago, this Christian law prof's book is winsome, upbeat, thoughtful -- of course -- but practical. Perhaps you saw him in his delightful conversation just a few weeks ago (which was streamed lived) with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and Redeemer Presbyterian pastor and author Timothy Keller, moderated by the Center for Public Justice's Stephanie Summers. Pluralism is, Inazu reminds us, one of the founding creeds of our United States, with the famous motto E pluribus unum emblazoned on the Great Seal.

Here is how the publisher describes the project of this very important book:

Yet free, liberal American society still faces certain structural problems in accommodating cultural anxieties, minority views, and significant heterodoxies. John D. Inazu takes stock of this ongoing problem and offers a theory of American jurisprudence that is intended to advance progress toward a formal legal regime that generally invites tolerance, humility, and patient persuasion. Inazu believes that members of our society can and must live together peaceably in spite of deep and irresolvable differences in our beliefs, values, identities, and groups. Written by the leading authority on the First Amendment, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference invites people to have the courage in their convictions, to assume a confidence built on security and comfort, and to avoid civic engagements built on anxiety and chauvinism.

playing god.jpgPlaying God: Redeeming the Gift of Power Andy Crouch (IVP) $25.00  I know you know that I love this author and love this book. I kept thinking it didn't fit on this list, but I kept sensing I was to list it. It does seem that much of our current malaise does, in some ways, relate to our deep anxiety about the use of power. Is power necessarily bad? How is it abused, and what are we to do? How much perversion of power might be expected in a fallen world, and what might we do to redeem it? How are institutions -- governments, obviously, but other socially formative institutions -- to be seen in God's world, and how might we relate to authority, healthy or deformed?  I am on the lookout for more books on this topic, and maybe others will write with different postures or tones or insight.

For now, this splendidly interesting book is simply indispensable, one of the best treatments of the subject to date. I think it would be wise to know this stuff well, and to ponder it together with others.

VoV.jpgVisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $17.00  I got to be with Steve again last week and we had too short conversations and I heard him give two great presentations. I am reminded again and again when I am with him what a great person of integrity he is, settling for no cheap solutions, no easy answers, holding up "broken Hallelujahs" as this fallen world is, in fact, the only world we've got. Things are not as they are meant to be, we know, and God's gracious Kingdom is, if "already" certainly also, also, also, "not yet." We are between times of Christ's victory and the long wait of Kingdom come.  So, we need visions of vocation to help us keep on, to stay at our posts, to do what we are called to do with hope and good humor. In Steve's eloquent book, he richly reminds us of the value of "making peace with proximate justice" as a practice and virtue to keep us from chronic disappointment. It is a good world, after all, broken and sad, but full of covenant promise and great beauty. 

And -- this is important -- it is also full of great folks doing great stuff in many corners of the world. Steve has a way of telling of lovely work going on, not necessarily heroic or grand, but small things done with great love -- common grace for the common good, in business, the arts,  education, neighborhoods, banking, politics, in families and in various spheres of society. These great stories will inspire you as many are pretty cool and his networks of influence will impress you; after reading or re-reading Visions of Vocation you will want to take up your own calling to care more deeply, even as we know just how messed up everything is.  Can we love the world as God does, broken as it may be? Can we learn to say that to a watching world that doesn't understand our theology and spiritual rhetoric? Can we translate the Biblical story of creation - fall - redemption and the promise of restoration into ways of living that capture the imagination of others? This is a book that is unlike any I've read and needed now more than ever.  If you've read it recently, why not order Garber's first one, similarly deep and profound and beautiful, Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP; $18.00) which ponders the ethics of knowing, the responsibility of action, and the things we must do if our faith is going to be sustainable over the whole of life, for the rest of life. 

The Roots of Endurance- Invincible Perseverance.jpgThe Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce John Piper (Crossway) $16.99  This third installment in the large, on-going "The Swans Are Not Silent" series offers three short biographies of three long-suffering men of God who endured great trials and yet stayed faithful to their posts. That they resisted bitterness even though they faced years of persecution or failure in their campaigns for renewal and social justice is inspiring and  the stories of their "long obedience in the same direction" deserves to be known. These three mini-biographies remind us that we are not the first to wonder how we can endure and persevere, not the first to feel things coming undone, not the first to be tempted to despair.  This whole series is good, but this one offers glimpses into three remarkable Kingdom servants who kept hope alive, despite all. Wow.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Press) $13.99  I haven't touted this much lately and it is a tiny bit awkward since it is my own book. My book as an answer to your deep post-election depression and as balm for our dangerous times in late 2016?  Yep.  I re-read all of these chapters again, recently (except by own, actually, on being sons and daughters of Issachar) and it dawned on me that what others have said is true -- this is not just for college graduates, although each of these pieces were first given as commencement speeches.  These lively chapters (and the reflection questions after each) really are invitations to make a difference in the world, to take up callings and careers with renewed vigor, to care about the common good, to draw on the past and what we've learned and come to believe and apply it afresh in our needy, broken world.  Some of our finest evangelical thinkers and authors contributed to this small, handsome book, and I am honored to again remind you of the great little chapters by Richard Mouw, John M. Perkins, Claudia Beversluis (who draws on a Wendell Berry poem), Nicholas Wolterstorff, Amy L. Sherman, Steve Garber, me, and a nice afterword by Erica Young Reitz, author of After College.

Yes, the primary, intended audience that we had in mind in doing Serious Dreams was young adults who need encouragement to live out their faith in robust, meaningful ways as agents of God's shalom in all of life, especially their careers and other callings.  It's a great college graduation gift. But others have read it and exclaimed how interesting these chapters were, how nice to dip into the words and grace and wisdom of these renowned leaders, and, well, I concur. I hate to sound proud or pushy but in dark times we need good messages to keep us going, we need good words, bread for the journey, and you will find them here. Some of these lovely speeches are well worth visiting and re-visiting; they each have a certain confident passion about them that seems especially important these days. God is good, and we are called to good work. This reminds us of gospel transformation and Kingdom visions. I called them serious dreams.  Maybe now more than ever we need such reminders.



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November 14, 2016



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 I believe this is my own choice for best holiday book this year (even though it is not a daily devotional, but a sustained short book.) I am very grateful for its clear headed teaching.  Keller is known for preaching to fairly sophisticated New Yorkers and he loves to draw in citations from sources as divergent as Bertrand Russell and J.R. R. Tolkien and Vaclav Havel.  Drawing on contemporary pieces in the New Yorker to old school theological voices from church history and plenty of episodes from his own life,  Keller knows how to weave together wonderful essays, powerful, compelling sermons, always relating the power of the gospel to help us realize that we cannot rescue ourselves, that God in Christ is doing the work necessary to bring us salvation, community, and a future of sustainable hope. Like most of our BookNotes readers, I have enjoyed many a Christmas and have read lots of pages of Advent devotionals. Too many seem scolding, urging us to do, or not do, this or that.  Hidden Christmas allows us to enter the texts themselves within the bigger picture of the whole of Scripture,  revealing the good news of God's grace. My heart sings as I hear such solid, gospel-centered preaching related so well to an audience seeking for deep truth.  Despite the blase cover, this offers eight really good chapters making one cogent case for Christmas's truest meaning. Highly recommended. 

Names for the Messiah- An Advent Study Walter Brueggemann.jpgNames for the Messiah: An Advent Study Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $13.00 Well, anyone familiar with Brueggemann's vast body of work (we carry all of his books, by the way, including a new one that came out this fall, Social Criticism and Social Vision in Ancient Israel) most likely has wondered if there would ever be a book suitable for use in Advent.  Here, Walt offers four succinct reflections on the mighty and beautiful royal names of the awaited Messiah found in Isaiah 9:6.  After the four messages there is a study guide, with thoughtful reflection questions for each of the four chapters.  This is a compact sized quite assessable book, laden with rich imagery from the ancient texts, often very helpful Biblical insight, all evoking the expected trajectory towards God's shalom found in Christ Jesus

As it says in the forward to Names for the Messiah:

This Advent study will ponder each title and how the people understood it then, and how Jesus did or did not fulfill the title, and how Christians interpret Jesus as representative of that title. 

Brueggemann characteristically continues:

As we ponder the use of those titles with reference to Christmas and the birth of Jesus, two things become clear. First, in the witness to Jesus by the early Christians in the New Testament, they relied heavily on Old Testament "anticipations" of the coming Messiah. But second, Jesus did not fit those "anticipations" very well, such that a good deal of interpretive imagination was required in order to negotiate the connection between the anticipation and the actual, bodily, historical reality of Jesus.

Prepare the Way- Cultivating a Heart for God in Advent .jpgPrepare the Way: Cultivating a Heart for God in Advent Pamela C. Hawkins (Upper Room) $17.99  We really appreciate the gentle, lovely tone of most of the spiritual formation books published by this classic publisher and this nice collection of readings is a fine example of their style. What does it mean to "prepare your heart"? Does Advent sometimes just slip away before we've prepared our hearts to welcome the Christ child?

This book is arranged in a particular flow:  Each of the four weeks starts with a reflection question to set the stage of deeper pondering. Monday has a brief reflection on the theme of the week --  a rumination on the one word topic; Tuesday offers an article or reading; Wednesday has an Advent Prayer of Intercession followed by an invitation to remain in intercessory prayer by using a prayer exercise; the fourth weekly entry offers a selection from the prophet Isaiah and some reflection questions (she notes that in her growing up she didn't hear much about the Older Testaments relationship to the gospels); the fifth weekly entry is a selection from the Gospel of Matthew, followed by a set of reflection questions connecting the reading to the week's theme word. Day Six has a guide to the spiritual practice of lectio divinia, a sacred reading, using verse from one of the weeks two scripture passages and the final day's entry has a reflection exercise prompting personal response to questions about how the theme word influences faithful living in the word, closing with an Advent Benediction. 

This format is followed for four weeks.  It is fine for personal, daily use, but there is also a leader's guide in the for using this as a weekly class, Bible study, or other small group sessions.

The four themes of the four weeks are captures in these chapter titles: 

The Way of Peace

The Way of Justice

The Way of Fearlessness

The Way of Faithfulness

The Wonder of Christmas- Once You Believe Anything Is Possible.jpgThe Wonder of Christmas: Once You Believe Anything Is Possible Ed Robb & Rob Renfroe (Abingdon) $14.99 I like the small shape of this handsome paperback and how it has room for journaling and answering some reflection questions. I suppose it could sound trite to say this is about "rediscovering the true wonder of Christmas" but that is what this has on offer. At it's heart is the gospel itself -- God's love for us!  As one serious Bible professor (Craig Hill from Perkins School of Theology) says, "For many, the wonder of Christmas is buried beneath an avalanche of tinsel and wrapping paper, tradition, and sentimentality. We are reminded to "Keep Christ in Christmas" but how?" 

The much respected and beloved preacher Maxie Dunnam says "I can't imagine a more inviting and challenging reflection on Advent and Christmas." Wow -- that's quite an endorsement.  

This really is a nice teaching guide -- there is a Wonder of Christmas DVD ($18.99), too, a leaders guide ($12.99), even a youth study ($9.99) and a children's leader's guide ($18.99) if you want to do an all church study.  It could very easily go along with an Advent wreath and candle experience (they encourage you to use one.) If you are familiar with the themes of the Advent candles, you'll see how this captures that tradition. 

The four weeks explore these wonder-filled elements of the Christmas story:

A star, a name, a manger, and a promise. (Which is to say, hope, peace, love, joy.) After each week's reading there is a set of discussion questions, a meditation, some Bible verses and a prayer.) Ed Robb is the senior pastor and Rob Renfroe is pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Woodlands, Texas.

The Redemption of Scrooge .jpgThe Redemption of Scrooge Matt Rawle (Abingdon) $14.99  This is the third in a series of small group discussion guides that are to be used with exciting video footage on the accompanying DVD that use literature and pop culture as a springboard into conversations about the gospel. The first was The Faith of a Mockingbird which explores religious themes in the classic novel by Harper Lee.  The second used the sci-fi TV show Doctor Who to generate conversations about faith and life.  This third one uses the classic Christmas novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  This explores the world of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the Cratchits, with an eye to how the Christian faith is embedded in this beloved tale.  You will (of course) meet the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come and "learn about living with and for others in a world blessed by Jesus."

There are four solid chapters in this paperback and many will enjoy it as a quick study of the classic Victorian novel.  If you want to dig further and enjoy the wit and verve of Matt Rawle, you can get the DVD ($39.99) and Leader's Guide ($12.99), and a youth study book ($9.99), too. There is even a flash drive with worship resources ($34.99.)  Fascinating!

Advent 2016- God Is With Us -- An Advent Study .jpgAdvent 2016: God Is With Us -- An Advent Study on the Revised Common Lectionary Robin Wilson (Abingdon) $12.99 This yearly release in the "Scriptures for the Church Seasons" series is usually a good seller for us, a no-nonsense, always interesting, inductive study of the texts found in the Revised Common Lectionary.

There are short meditations each of the five weeks and then reflection questions making this ideal of an Adult education class.   It's designed to be used in Bible study groups or in adult Sunday school.  God Is With Us -- An Advent Study draws on the Old Testament readings, the Lectionary Epistle, and usually the Year A Matthew texts. (Year A gives us Luke, of course, on Christmas week.)  Robin Wilson is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Duke Divinity School and is now a co-pastor in Alabama.

Down To Earth- The Hopes and Fears of All The Years Are Met In Thee Tonight .jpgDown To Earth: The Hopes and Fears of All The Years Are Met In Thee Tonight Mike Slaughter & Rachel Billups (Abingdon) $16.99  Do you know Mike Slaughter? He has been the pastor of a nearly progressive mega-church, if you can imagine such a thing. He has a pretty successful, quite large, very evangelical church with progressive political concern; he's outspoken and yet practical -- he has numerous books about Christian living on being spiritual entrepreneurs, about resisting the allure of idols, even a few books on finances in Biblical perspective.  It's good to see a visionary who gets down to earth, with wisdom for all. (Brian McLaren says "if you're a churchgoer or not, if you lean conservative or liberal, if you vote Republican or Democrat, if you're a fervent believer or a wondering skeptic... Mike Slaughter will challenge you and inspire you.) There is a bit of social concern stuff explore here and some of the profits from the sale of this book go to the UMCOR "Beyond Bethlehem" program offering "hope for refugees this Christmas season" Good stuff.

This four session video and accompanying four week study focuses on these chapter titles:

Down to Earth Love

Down to Earth Humility

Down to Earth Lifestyle

Down to Earth Obedience

The Epilogue is called "Be Loved. Do Love."

This book is a handsome paperback with a few photos of snowy wintry trees, a few shaded sidebars that offer fresh meditations, and, of course, provocative questions to reflect on or use in a small group.  As with other Abingdon curriculum books there is a DVD ($39.99), a Leader's Guide ($12.99), a youth study book ($9.99), even a children's curriculum ($18.99) focusing on these central themes of incarnation, God's love, and our response of sacrifice and care.  There is a small devotional that goes with, it, too, Devotions for the Season ($9.99.)

A Season of Little Sacraments- Christmas Commotion, Advent Grace.jpgA Season of Little Sacraments: Christmas Commotion, Advent Grace Susan H. Swetnam (The Liturgical Press) $14.95 Oh my, I have restrained myself from reading this because I really want to experience it this Advent season. Forgive me for not knowing all the details but I love her use of the language of sacraments -- I suppose more precise Catholics would call these things "sacramentals."  I've just started the spectacular book The Liturgies of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison (I'll review it more thoroughly soon) and this seems to be nearly a holiday version -- written from the wilds of Idaho -- of this same notion.  And don't you love the subtitle, too -- Christmas Commotion, Advent Grace?  Swetnam invites us along into this ordinary day-by-day walk through Advent, showing that the very "distractions" accused of taking Christ out of Christmas can be, kin fact, "little sacraments" -- occasions for grace to break through and faith to deepen.  As it says on the back cover "For readers who want to experience a truly sacred Advent without fleeing completely from contemporary society, A Season of Little Sacraments will be a welcome source of nourishment and delight." 

I wish I had room to show you the whole fascinating table of contents of A Season of Little Sacraments but know that there are very interesting chapters within the structure of four December weeks.  Week 1 is called "Opening to a Season of Longing and Hope" and has suggestions such as "making an Advent playlist" and "hosting a wreath-making party" and shows how to find God's ordinary presence in stuff like putting up Christmas lights and how to cultivate hospitality by planning a big party.

Week 2 is entitled "Taking Stock Before God" and includes reflections on managing seasonal stress and examining conscience by writing a Christmas letter and "reconsidering what's important" by de-cluttering the pantry.  I don't know if I'll do it, but I can't wait to read the chapter called "Honoring Holy Silence: Spending an Afternoon Alone Outdoors."

Well, it goes on, with Week 3 helping us "Leaning into Community." One chapter is called "Facing Mutability" and redeems the moments trimming the tree while a chapter on cooking with children is rather surprisingly called "Acknowledging Generosity."   Week  4 is called "Celebrating on the Doorstep" and there are four great-looking chapters (including "Feeding Birds in the National Forest" and one about the temptation of shopping at the last minute.  

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year- A Countdown to Christmas.jpgThe Most Wonderful Time of the Year: A Countdown to Christmas Ace Collins (Abingdon) $16.99  Here is why I want to list this great little paperback -- it isn't so much the recipes for delicious-sounding holiday snacks nor the recipes for making little satchels and gifts for friends and neighbors. Those are nice, giving the book an upbeat and fun-loving DIY feel.  But the major point of this, as with other Ace Collins books, are the stories. The stories behind the Advent and Christmas hymns.  Collins guides us through 31 readings starting in December through the new year, offering joy and wonder by pondering the meaning of not only Christ's birth but the songs and carols that have developed around this joyous season.  This book of daily Scripture readings and activities and often very touching stories about popular Christmas traditions, carols and movies would make a lovely gift for someone you want to share with but for whom you may not want to  "come on too strong." Who wouldn't like this handsome paperback chock full of lovely ideas and inspirational stories?  Buy a couple and give 'em away. Cheers.

Christmas Playlist- Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas .jpgChristmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas Alistair Begg (The Good Book Company) $9.99  I hope you know Begg -- he is a passionate, Scottish Reformed preacher who is known for his exceptional clarity and solid Bible exposition. We've known of his evangelical ministry and good books and were delighted to met him at a C.S. Lewis conference years ago. He's a sharp, clear preacher of the gospel.  The strength of this book is, somewhat, admittedly, the clever title. (And the cover -- the Christmas tree made, if you look carefully, from earbuds and their white cords.)

So what is one the playlist of an esteemed expository preacher like Begg?

Mary's Song: What Is God Like?

Zechariah's Song: Why Do You Need God?

The Angel's Song: How Did God Come?

Simeon's Song: How Did God Do It?

Oh yes, there's another tune he explores in a concluding chapter: "Once in David's Royal City."   I think such good sermons on these key texts are good for any of us, but this is, I gather, designed to be given to those who are unsure of the meaning of Christian faith and the holiday itself. Perhaps you know someone who needs this sort of evangelistic prompting? Perhaps God will guide you to somebody to share it with.  Kudos to Good Books (from England, actually) for making this little hardback handsome and affordable.

All Creation Waits- The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.pngAll Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein (Paraclete) $18.99  What a truly beautiful book this is, both in its simple but somehow luminous prose and in its large size woodcuts.  It is a wonderful read, great to read aloud as a family, even -- I don't think it is necessarily a kid's book, but it could be enjoyed by all ages.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

Here are twenty-five fresh images of the foundational truth that lies beneath and within the Christ story. In twenty-five portraits depicting how wild animals of the northern hemisphere ingeniously adapt when darkness and cold descend, we see and hear as if for the first time the ancient wisdom of Advent:  The dark is not an end but the way a new beginning comes.


Short, daily reflections that paint vivid, poetic images of familiar animals, paired with charming original wood-cuts, will engage both children and adults. Anyone who does not want to be caught, again, in the consumer hype of "the holiday season" but rather to be taken up into the eternal truth the natural world reveals will welcome this book.

Beautiful, huh? We're very happy to promote it, but have some misgivings about it being pitched as an Advent book.  As most Advent customs teach us, it is a time of longing for Christ's coming, and well, somehow related to the first coming of the Christ born in Bethlehem.  This book uses the meditative time of Advent to point us to metaphors of darkness and light, of animals hibernating or surviving. It is wonderful as a Winter book but seems a bit of a stretch to make this about "the true meaning of Advent" (although there is some mention of Jesus in the final reflection.)  It is a great book, lovely and insightful and important, even, just not exactly pushing us to the gospel of Bethlehem.

Still, Richard Rohr is right, if a touch allusive,  in saying that:

Each of the beautiful creatures in this little book is a unique word of God, its own metaphor, all of them together drawing us to the One we all belong to. Adapting to the dark and cold they announce in twenty-four different ways the Good News of Advent: that through every dark door the creating Love of the universe waits.

I like very much what Luci Shaw writes of it, too; Luci's wonderful poems and her recent Thumbprint in the Clay remind us of a gospel-drenched sense of creation as God's handiwork. She's right, here, too:

This book reminds me of what St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:19--All creation waits!  In this invigorating view of Advent the contrasts are beautifully presented-- between darkness and light, waiting and arrival, sleeping and waking, human and animal creatureliness. The stories and illustrations partake of the kind of reality Christ exemplified in his Advent.

How lovely that Gayle Boss and David Klein has taken Paul's insight-- "all creation waits"-- and translated it to include the creatures whose lives are caught by winter. How helpful it is to join the animals during their Advent waiting. 

henryschristmaslargefront1.jpgHenry's Christmas John Elton Pletcher (Crosslink Publishing) $17.95  I want to persuade you to try this short Christmas novel, but want to be clear. It is a lovely little story written by a local friend and very good pastor. He has encouraged his flock to think faithfully about discipleship in all of life, including their work and callings in the world, so this alone makes us respect him.  Happily he wrote a book about the faith and work stuff, but didn't just rehash the many good works already published calling us to connect "Sunday and Monday, work and worship." In Henry's Glory Rev. John Pletcher wrote a novel to explore a Christian view of work. With a bunch of interesting characters, the main protagonists Zach and Maggie learn to see their work as part of God's intentions and how they can use their own callings missionally, for the sake of making a difference in the world.  There is a wrench on the cover and Henry, by the way, is an old Ford pick up truck.

Well, Henry makes a repeat appearance in this story as Zach and Maggie and a cast of colorful characters figure out some of the deepest lessons of faith.  It's a fun and interesting holiday story, a parable for our times.

There are 28 chapters in Henry's Christmas and it includes four sets of Advent questions for group discussion making it ideal for a seasonal small group or book club.  Looking for something somewhat Advent-oriented but maybe not a full on Christmas devotional? This short novel could be just what your group or class is looking for.  I think families could read it out loud together.

In a way, this fits the genre of those much-loved holiday movies. It isn't heady or heavy -- although it is raising breathtakingly significant matters with huge implications -- and it includes a lovely little romance.  Maybe a little cheesy at times, it is still sweet and good and just a great thing for this time of year.  Set partially in Pennsylvania (although the opening truck smash-up with a hotdogging Chevy happens in small town Southern Ohio as Zach is visiting his grandmother for Thanksgiving) Henry's Christmas will resonant with many of us who live in small towns and try to live out our faith in day to day work, families, career decisions and lifestyle choices.  Who try to learn to live with integrity and care about our neighbors and those who suffer.  Zach -- owner of old Henry (the Ford truck; get it?) -- is a young architect and his romantic partner, Maggie, is a veterinarian who owns her own practice. 

This story isn't going to win a Nobel Prize for Literature; Pletcher is a sweet and thoughtful pastor, a wise teacher, and an interesting writer. Serious lit lovers will cringe here and there at the dialogue, but for an enjoyable read that raises great questions about both Christmas and the meaning of work (not to mention a key plot device about a mission trip to Haiti and our mission priorities) will be more than happy to read this. There is nothing quite like it.  Call up some friends, buy a couple copies, and use the very useful study questions to plumb the depths of this Advent parable. 

Or, like those old Christmas movies, get some popcorn, curl up with some hot chocolate and read it in one or two binge sittings between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You'll be glad you did. 


Watch for the Light- Readings for Advent and Christmas.jpgWatch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas compiled and edited by Plough Publishing (Plough Publishing) $24.00  We have been so proud of this anthology of beautifully written, substantive writings and continue to promote it each year. This sturdy hardback  includes short daily pieces by a real variety of sophisticated authors such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, T.S. Eliot, Evelyn Underhill, and Dorothy Day. From Thomas Merton to Philip Yancey, from Madeline L'Engle to Henri Nouwen these pieces are provocative, thoughtful, lovely.

This really is a great resource, good to have on hand beyond Advent.  See also their fabulous Lenten volume, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.

god-with-us-rediscovering-the-meaning-of-christmas-reader-s-edition-epub-version-3.jpgGod With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (Reader's Edition) edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $18.99  We so loved the larger hardback with so much lavish, full-color art, but that is now fully out of print. This very handsome paperback, nicely designed and produced, is still a gorgeous book and so full of mature, seasonal reflections. Here you will find reflections by Eugene Peterson, Richard John Neuhaus, Scott Cairns, Lucy Shaw, Kathleen Norris and a final piece about Epiphany by Emilie Griffin. Beth Bevis offers an informative and lovely history of various feast days.  The best.

Light Upon Light- A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent.jpgLight Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press) $18.99  This was one of our very best sellers of last year and I'm not sure what I wrote about it that so captured the imagination of the friends of Hearts & Minds, but it is a wonderful, wonderful devotional book drawing on literary excerpts, poems, short stories and the like.  (Ms Arthur also has a similar one to use during Ordinary Time called At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time and one for use during Lent called Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide.)  In each she offers a devotional with prayerful readings compiled from great, great writers.  This really has the structured format of a prayer book, with an opening prayer for each day and suggested Scriptures and then readings (followed by suggestions for personal prayer and a closing prayer.) The suggested readings, day by day during Advent and into Epiphany, include poetic lines from writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson or pieces of novels from Frederick Buechner or Oscar Hijuelos. There's plenty of good use of poetry, older and contemporary, hymn-texts and literary essays. For anyone that loves great writing, this is a beautiful and meaningful way to ponder the Advent season through the lens of these wonderfully-selected writers.   A very handsome cover, rich and warm.

Advent of Justice big_W&S.jpgThe Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen (Cascade) $10.00  I have raved about this over and over, use it every year, and insist it is the most deeply Biblical Advent devotional I know. The readings are usually just a page, but they are thick with Older Testament insight, reflecting as they do on the ways in which the ancient Isaiah texts so famous for generating Advent hope, are much like today with our militarism, idolatry, injustice, and cultural captivity.  Can God's covenant people break out of such captivity? Can we truly hear these texts for their modern implication?  This was first done as a resource for a Canadian peace and justice organization and now is offered to help us see how awaiting God's Kingdom can shape us into people who care about justice and God's righteousness in contrast to modern idolatries and ideologies. If you are unfamiliar with this, think of Keesmaat and Walsh's Colossians Remixed or Walsh's Habakkuk Before Breakfast or  Middleton's A New Heaven and a New Earth or Vander Vennen's role in a book on global concerns co-written with Dutch economist Bob Goudzwaard, Hope in Troubled Times.  These are all good friends, respected leaders, extraordinary BIble scholars. Whew.

advent conspiracy book and DVD.jpgThe Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? DVD with Participants Guide

Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder (Zondervan; $29.99)  We have promoted this each year since it came out, have used it in my own adult education class at church and remain convinced that it is splendid -- really useful, very interesting, well made (if a bit edgy, with some ironic nostalgic film footage of consumeristic Christmas circa 1965.) This video and the study book is a really great call to return to the distinctive practices of authentic Christian Christmas. You can read what I said here, in a previous BookNotes, for instance, and learn about this four-pronged approach to:

Worship Fully---Because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.
Spend Less---And free your resources for things that truly matter.
Give More---Of your presence, your hands, your words, your time, your heart.
Love All---The poor, the forgotten, the marginalized, the sick, in ways that make a difference.

This is truly remarkable -- creatively done with great wit, offering solid Bible teaching presented casually, and some very interesting, even inspiring, real interviews of folks who have taken up this challenge to spend less and serve more.This will help us ask, "Whose birthday is it, anyway?" Right on.




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November 21, 2016

Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground by Richard Mouw -- a book we need now, a delight for the intellectually curious, a must for Christian thought-leaders. ON SALE (WITH A FREE BOOK OFFER.)

Yes, a free book offer.  But first I need to, as the support group leaders used to say, share.

I hope you saw two weeks ago my missive about my own sense of frustration in achieving the goals of our own calling here at Hearts & Minds -- selling useful books about the Lordship of Christ over all of life, about wise and faithful ways of relating faith to work, calling, career,  the arts, culture, education, civic life, politics and such.  Although we carry tons of books about church, worship, liturgy, and personal matters like spirituality, prayer, Bible study and personal growth, our deepest passions are for getting Christian folks - shaped well by worship, Bible study, spiritual practices and healthy family relationships, to be sure - to think more carefully about serving God outside of the walls of the church.

My BookNotes piece written the day after the election suggested that I was feeling like a failure: we have all these books and I have written all those columns about faith and citizenship, about public justice, about the Biblical demand to be somehow distinctive about our political loyalties, and yet we hear people of faith offering fairly non-theological justifications for this or that candidate. Many evangelicals seemed particularly inarticulate about a Christian reason for their voting habits and it saddened me.

Some of our good friends on both sides of the isle could articulate profound and deeply Christian accounts of our political life and could explain why, given theological, Biblical, spiritual, reasoning, they vote as they do.  Our hats are off to them. Chances are, they've read some of the books we've recommended, or something like them.

But most religious folks, you know, simply cannot.

They follow their gut, they buy popular pagan notions like "self-interest" or fret exclusively about the size of government or about the rate of economic growth; they wish for American greatness without much Biblical justification or they cite unbiblical notions from Jefferson or Ayn Rand or Trump or Hillary, with little or no connection to the grand tradition of Christian political wisdom handed down over the years.  Some preachers preach and some pundits write, telling us what we should do, but too often they seem to be radically disconnected from the best thinkers and the tradition of theological reflection on these things. The disconnect between our worship on Sunday and our work in the world seems ever so evident.

I shared, in that post, my anguish that we've got the resources here to help us be more informed and mature, thoughtful and faithful, but the sad truth is that hardly anybody buys them. Hardly any churches of which we know host classes or book clubs or conversation groups using the sorts of books we tried to sell about political life.  There are good exceptions, but we've not resourced enough folks to make a difference. Like I said, I feel like we've failed in doing our job.

So, I cry in my beer and lament not only the state of the Christian mind and the lack of consensus among church folks on the principles that should guide our public life, but I worry about the state of the union. And I worry about the role of the small town theological bookseller, too.

But, worried and sobered or not, we keep on, you and I, taking courage -- and even joy and hope -- in the grace God has shown us, the burden and gift the Spirit has given us, this burden inspiring us to want to be life-long learners, wanting to relate "heart and mind" and to be formed in the ways of the coming King. We keep trying to spread the word, literally.  We promote books like Chris Smith's Reading for the Common Good and Greg Jao's little Your Mind's Mission. I will keep telling all who care (God bless you!) about new books that I think will inspire and help you in your own journey as Christian thought leaders -- if you read more than a book or two a year and talk about them to others you are a thought leader, you know! We will keep on reviewing and trying to sell books that we think will be helpful for the broader Christian community and our witness in the world.

We know that all of this helps some of you and we know you value our efforts. Thanks. More than you know, thanks.

ADVENTURES IN EVANGELICAL CIVILITY- THE LIFELONG QUEST FOR COMMON GROUND .jpgThe brand new intellectual biography of Richard J. Mouw, a scholar and leader who has influenced us considerably, is called Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground (Brazos Press; $24.99.) It is just the sort of book that will help us redouble our efforts to think Christianly by reading widely, generously, and to engage in creative initiatives to find common ground with others. I think it is one of the best books of the year and for some of us, it is going to be a true blessing to read -- just what the doctor ordered.  Mouw is a theologian whom I admire, a pious and Godly evangelical, a 'world-and-life-view' sort of Dutch neo-Calvinist with some hefty degrees behind his career in political philosophy, who can write clearly and well. There are many reasons I like his work so much and they are all on display in this remarkable new memoir.

But, please, forgive me, bearing with me as I ruminate just a bit more about the malaise this month before telling you a bit about this fine, thoughtful book. I want to make the case, yet again, why such a book is so very important here, now, in late Fall 2016.

I assume most Hearts & Minds friends will understand this, even if it is weighing on some of us more heavily than others, but the weeks since the election have been hard.  Very hard.

Eruptions of racial violence - from a variety of quarters - has horrified us; vile ideas about registering Muslims have stunned even those skeptical of Mr. Trump's civil liberties; frighteningly violent targeting of GLTBQ persons has occurred this week; terrible complexities in Syria makes us wonder if anything can be done to alleviate the suffering there and how Mr. Trump's obvious misunderstanding of the details on the ground will affect the region. U.S. policies have been a hot mess forever, there, it seems, and it isn't going to get better any time soon, we now know that. As Romans 8 reminds us, the whole creation groans...

In the last week I have read deeply moving pieces by women who were sexually abused in their teen years and how awful it has been for them knowing that some of their neighbors and fellows citizens (and family and church members) voted for Mr. Trump knowing how he bragged about walking into the dressing rooms of half-naked girls.  At Redeemer Presbyterian in New York last week we heard Nancy Jo Sales, author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, a thick, disturbing book based on interviews with girls about their social media habits, documenting cyber-bullying, sexting, the presence of porn and other hurtful things often coming from from boys.  Ms. Sales not only reminded us of some of the negative effects of our on-line cultures, but told through angry tears of the emails she has gotten from her young friends, school teachers, and parents last week who have experienced sexual predators and cyber-bullying who are deeply alarmed that we now have a President-elect who reminds them of the creepy, hormone-driven boys who disrespect them, who make their lives feel threatened, who gawk and swear and reduce them to numbers or pussy to be grabbed.

I've heard a lot of pain expressed this week, we know there is a lot of understandable fear. No matter who you voted for, you must consider this anguish bubbling up among our neighbors and friends. But feeling the pain and dismay of those who are on the front line of showing Christ-like care for immigrants or those working for racial justice or those who fear the loss of any small smidgen of policy reform about ecological stewardship and climate change issues, of those who are working against rape culture and sexual abuse, is not the only sort of anguish I'm noticing.  

Some of my best friends are most distressed about the statistic that 80% or so of white evangelicals proudly voted for this very bad man who offered confusing, peculiar policy proposals.  They are concerned about what this says to the watching world, to those already on the fringe of evangelical faith and how this might set back the outreach and growth of the gospel itself.  Oddly, those who desire to be known by the first things of the gospel -- evangelicals, supposedly -- have now allowed other things to clutter their witness.  We're seeing articles now asking  "What is an evangelical?" and saying things like "If this is what it means to be a Bible-believing Christian, count me out!"  As a person who cares very much about the reputation of evangelical Christianity (and as many of our BookNotes friends do, too) you know these are trying times.  For some watching this unfold, it has become an existential crisis, a faith crisis, a worldview crisis.  And that can be traumatic.

I have my own thoughts about this - see that previous post where I name my own frustrations about the lack of a Christian mind informed by the best books and scholars writing these days and how in many ways this bad situation is the faith community's own fault - but one of the things that I want to say here is that the pollsters and media (including some that really ought to know better) have seemed to have conflated moderate evangelicalism and hard-right fundamentalism.  And, as is too typical, folks confuse being theologically conservative and politically or culturally conservative. The one does not necessarily follow from the other.

Whether serious fundamentalists -- Bible believing, blood bought, Jesus-exalting, holiness-seeking, truly saved, properly baptized, non-compromising, world-hating, Holy Ghost-inspired, King James only fundamentalists -- voted for Trump I don't really know.  But the religious right led by the likes of Junior Falwell are not primarily evangelicals. They are fundamentalists and they are not the same tribe as those who read Christianity Today, follow the Gospel Coalition, or send their kids to Wheaton or Calvin or Messiah or Gordon, whose pastors went to Fuller or Gordon-Conwell or Trinity or Covenant or Moody, who take advanced learning degrees at Regent in British Colombia or Seattle School of Theology or Denver Seminary or take extra courses at RTS in Charlotte or enjoy adult learning with the C.S. Lewis Institute or the Gotham Fellowship in New York or the Laity Lodge in Texas or attend stuff like the Passion Conference or the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship Symposiums or Urbana or Jubilee or the Justice Conference. That is, mainstream evangelicals are simply different than fundamentalists. There are theological differences and there are cultural differences.  I know very few self-identified evangelicals who voted happily for Donald Trump. If the polls are saying conservative Christians voted for him, I suspect they are referring to fundamentalists and prosperity preaching Pentecostals. And that is a difference that makes a difference.

As an ecumenically-minded Christian I am very interested in how Catholics and liberal Protestants and evangelicals relate.  Sometimes the Orthodox join in, but often not.  True-blue, fightin' fundies (as they used to call themselves) usually aren't interested, either. For them it would be pointless to take seriously the faith claims of those who they think are not even saved. 

Evangelicals, though, even quite conservative ones, are deep in conversations these days in places like the Society of Biblical Literature, in Christian Churches Together, and in other efforts that invite a bigger tent of conversation within the Body of Christ.  Some of the brightest theological scholars are at evangelical institutions and they are respected in their fields.  Some of the most respected scholarly theological books come from IVP Academic and Baker Academic, say.

It is my experience that mainline progressive and liturgical Protestants are less tolerant of evangelicals - often confusing them with fundamentalists and seemingly unaware of the sea-changes within evangelicalism in the last 30 years - than the other way around; many evangelicals read Richard Rohr and Nadia Bolz-Weber and Harvey Cox and  Diana Butler Bass and although they may disagree with them, they are in respectful engagement. Interestingly, non-evangelical authors like Walt Brueggemann and Jorgen Moltmann speak at evangelical confabs.  In our earliest days of book-selling nearly 35 years ago, evangelicals (who sometimes still called themselves neo-fundamentalists) were still pretty antagonistic to mainline folks, but that is changing, and we are grateful. 

Which brings me back to this: the media endlessly conflates old school Pentecostals, modern renewing charismatics, evangelicals (both conservative and more progressive) and hard-core fundamentalists.  More progressive voices that were once evangelical - think of Brian McLaren or Sojourners, say, who are now more aligned with mainline denominational impulses -- are in the mix, too.  Not to mention the great increase of third-world Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians that are now involved in Christian communities across North America. (You've got to read the brilliant and pioneering story of that new reality in the great book by global Christian leader Wes Granberg-Michaelson, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church.)

I doubt if the news reporters seem to get that historic ethnic churches -- black and Latino, at least -- and Mennonites, maybe, are somehow different than mainline Protestants and yet not grouped in the same caricature of white evangelicals.  They may be fiery but they usually aren't fundamentalist.  I'm sure you know that some African American and Latino churches are passionately upbeat and preachy about the gospel in evangelical ways but are, largely, politically liberal, and sometimes perplexingly (some might say delightfully) uneven theologically.  It's complicated, eh?

So that report of 80% of white evangelicals happily voting for Mr. Trump may not be quite right and it is important we keep in mind the diversity of thought and practice within the big Body of Christ. Our bookstore is passionate about being ecumenical, and we think it matters.


ADVENTURES IN EVANGELICAL CIVILITY- THE LIFELONG QUEST FOR COMMON GROUND .jpgWhich brings me to one of the great values of Adventures in Evangelical Civility, this vital new book by Richard Mouw, one of the unsung ecumenical leaders of our age.  

Rich Mouw is, as much as anybody I read, a lovely voice that recognizes and calmly names different sorts of Christians with truly earnest regard.  Mouw used to teach political theory at Calvin College in Grand Rapids which is run by a ethnically-particular denomination and after a while ended up President of the most ethnically and denominationally diverse seminary on the planet. This appointment suited him well because he, unlike anyone I know, is both deeply placed within his own specific tradition, and is aware of, eager to learn from, and fluent in conversing with others.  This new book helps explain why.

That Dr. Mouw's memoir is about civility will come as no surprise to those who know his work; the subtitle is about the search for common ground - that the noble sounding word quest is even used is very important. It is one reason why this book is so significant. (Don't we need that quest for common ground now more than ever?) Mouw illustrates for us not only what a mature evangelical leader thinks about, and thinks like, but it helps us see how his particular sort of evangelicalism compares and contrasts with others. And he does this not only because of his personality or style but because of serious theological and philosophical convictions, rooted deep in his theological ground.

As such, Mouw seems to represent the sorts of folk who simply aren't showing up in the "white evangelicals who voted for Trump" demographic. He represents something much more interesting, nuanced, considered, and, I pray, the wave of the future.

I will admit that it is quite natural for me to promote Dr. Mouw's work - he is one of the finest scholars and interpreters of the late 19th century/early 20th century theologian/scholar/statesman Abraham Kuyper, a tradition I was enfolded into during my college years. One of my own mentors in Western Pennsylvania, Dr. Peter J. Steen, who taught of these things knew Mouw in those years, as did CPJ founder James Skillen, another late 70s hero who was influential. I hope you might realize how important this is for Beth and me, how influential it has been informing the tone and texture of our work here at the bookstore.

abraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpgWe have drawn on Mouw's previous books often, starting with his two 1970s books on political witness and how the Biblical drama -- creation, fall, redemption, restoration -- is a helpful lens through which to understand God's perspective on politic life. His more recent, accessible, inspiring books have been helpful for those of us struggling with questions of civility (Uncommon Decency, which I will mention again, below), a Biblical theology of common grace and cultural engagement (He Shines in All That's Fair), or about the nature of uniquely Christian scholarship (the recent collection of short pieces Called to the Life of the Mind is very nice.) His must-read Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction has been immensely helpful in offering a brief overview of that titan of a Christian when the kings mouw.jpgthinker and "every square inch being redeemed" sort of faith.  And, one of my all time favorite Biblical studies books is his small but potent When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem that asks about the relationship between our cultural activities now and how they might endure into the new creation.  Oh, how I wish his fantastic book (part of a Fortress Press series about the role of the laity edited by the crusty Anglican Mark Gibbs, which Mouw tells about in Adventures... ) entitled Called to Holy Worldliness was still in print!

Dr. Mouw's early days of being a Christian scholar - his college years, his years of graduate studies, the early seasons of his marriage to Phyllis while at University of Chicago and then teaching in Canada, and his eventual appointment to Calvin College in Michigan - are documented here. It is exceedingly interesting to learn about what books he read, how he struggled with this idea or that, how he compared or contrasted this prof and that one, this textbook and that one, this seminal work in a field with yet another vital scholar and how he did his teaching, the work he took up.

calvin-gang.jpgFor anyone who cares about the development of the Christian mind, Adventures in Evangelical Civility is illustrative and (okay, at least for we geeky types) nothing short of thrilling.  Dr. Mouw ended up at Calvin College in the middle of a nearly legendary period in the late 1960s and became friends with other renowned scholars such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, George Marsden, Mark Noll, and others who went on to produce extraordinary scholarly output achieving exceptional academic fame. When your colleagues get their books published by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses and are nominated for Pulitzers and are invited to do some of the most prestigious scholarly lectures in the academy and you yourself end up at one of the most storied and significant religious institutes in the world, well, you've got to tell us how you got there. 

And tell he does.

In a typical chapter early on, Mouw reflects on the struggle to understand the doctrine of the image of God in humankind. As you probably know there are several important theories, and as the theological consensus began to shift, Mouw was in the thick of it, reading Berkouwer and Berkhof and Bavinck (in Dutch, no doubt, but he doesn't say) and Emil Brunner and others pioneering an emphasis that the imago Dei  isn't some aspect of our human-ness like our reason or morality, but our task or role, our mandate to "image" God in the world. This is a notion of our "culture making" calling which influenced Andy Crouch so beautifully causing him to write Culture Making and which Richard Middleton explores with exceptional scholarly depth in the highly regarded The Liberating Image. I have not read seriously in any of those original primary sources Mouw tells about (well, I carried Berkouwer with me as I hitch-hiked across the country in the early summer of 1976 and maybe read a few pages in the back of a truck somewhere in the Southwest, but I digress.)

I assume most BookNotes readers don't read heady European theology, either, but in Mouw's bookish memoir, he tells us what he read, what he got out of it, how it did or didn't sit well with him, and what other books or professors or Bible teachings he had to grapple with and mix together to form his own view. And it is perfect for those of us who need the quick overview, the example of a serious scholar at work and the upshot of it all, clearly, calmly explained.

Mouw does this with other topics - always with clarity, with grace, illustrating his spirited eagerness to learn, and, now, even in this pleasant memoir, with an eagerness to teach.  He has a section about what we can learn from Sartre and Camus. He ruminates on what he learned about human nature from those with other perspectives. He has a whole chapter on "when truth is distorted." He explains different sorts of philosophers within the Reformed movement.  I'm sure fellow scholars of near retirement age will smile along, having read perhaps the same seminal thinkers, struggled with the same heady ideas, but I'm also sure that the readers Mouw hopes for as well are younger folks, rising scholars, friends and fans of BookNotes, even, who want to be informed but are not called to that level of scholarly engagement in the academy.  Maybe you, like me, feel called to be a bit of an armchair observer; we're not going to read all the scholarly primary stuff, but we sure will find it helpful to have a guide over whose shoulder we can look, a distant-learning mentor who lays it out for us by way of simply telling his tale.

Mouw is perfect at this, diligently explaining this and that, walking us through the best quotes and important notions in the most significant of books and authors and what it all meant to him, and what it may mean to us. In a way, Adventures... is a undergraduate  crash-course in Christian social thinking and whole-life discipleship. For those who like to learn, there's just so much here that is fascinating and edifying.

mouw smiling.jpgRichard is, as we've suggested, not only a fine Christian scholar - wanting to discern the good and the bad, the normative and the distorted, the faithful and the wrong-headed in the books he reads and the ideas he formulated as his own - but he does this with a highly developed sense of what Kuyper called "common grace."  That is, he searches for the "all truth is God's truth" sort of stuff that even when proposed by pagan scholars or philosophers whose fundamental loyalties don't comport with Christian faith, are still right and good and beautiful and true.  Or maybe somewhat right, just pretty good, nearly lovely, and half true.

Can we discern the good, receiving as true blessings the insight of scholars, writers, artists, cultural reformers, civic leaders who offer some partial truth, some good inspiration?  Must we be curmudgeonly, always naming the negative?  Must we be mostly critical and say an uncompromising "no" to some stuff?  (This was, in fact, another robust stream in Kuyper which he called "the anti-thesis." Mouw tells us about this, too, and how this lead to the formation of uniquely Christian organizations in early 20th century Holland, including Kuyper's own Free University and the Anti-Revolutionary Christian political party.)  Mouw is Kuyper for today, balancing "common grace" and "the anti-thesis."  He draws some lines in the sand and then eagerly builds bridges.

He's a master at this generous but principled sense of seeing the good and the unhelpful in books and scholars and cultural trends, and a good part of Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest... chronicles his journey in this process.  It is, as I've said, important work for most of us, and thrilling for any of us who are armchair scholars, generalists who want in on some of this without being called to the primary work of being a philosopher or public intellectual. I loved reading it, and hope many of our fans will trust me on this and pick it up.

smell of sawdust mouw.jpgAs much of an evangelical and a "world-formative" ("transformationalist") type neo-Calvinist as he is, Mouw has great loyalty to his old pietist background. (And, relatedly, he loves quoting old hymns!)  I so enjoyed an older book he called The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from Their Fundamentalist Heritage where he looks less at what is constricted and bad about fundamentalism, but what he and other progressive, evangelical intellectuals might what to honor and value from that tradition. (What did I tell you -- he's generous and kind to a fault.) 

Wherever you find yourself - in college, in business, in a church with varying viewpoints, at work with a diverse team of co-workers, or even in your extended family - this effort to see the good in things and work for common ground intellectually is a practice on display from which you can learn. How can we navigate faithfully the good and the bad around us, the wise and the foolish, saying yes and saying no, with grace and clarity? I trust Mouw on this as much as anyone and this book gives us a glimpse into how it's done.

uncommon decency.jpgMouw, you may know, wrote a popular level book called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP; $16.00) which I've promoted for years, now. It is an all-time favorite of mine and I've read it several times.  In it, he swipes a line from Martin Marty about how easy it is to be civil when one doesn't hold passionate principles (and how easy it is to passionately promote one's principles if one isn't interested in civility.) Mouw, inspired by Marty, develops this theme of how to practice both: convicted civility.  It's a great book and you can see its fingerprints here in this more serious new one.

It has been an adventure for him to learn this habit and that little civility book is wise and beautiful and helpful.  Adventures in... is less overt about how to do this, live with civility, but it bears witness to a life doing so in both the church and the world of higher education. Mouw is quick to admit (and tells some honest stories about) his failures in this regard. One can only admire such a person and pray that his tribe increases. Maybe if enough of us pay attention to this carefully-developed intellectual memoir we will see for ourselves, how it happens, the pitfalls to avoid, the quandaries of such commitments, and difficulties that ensue in this particular calling. I don't have to tell you - again, see above - that not everybody wants to "think Christianly" let alone do so with gracious awareness and appreciation of others.  Mouw shows us here how to go about being a thoughtful, open-minded, orthodox Christian thinker and how to translate that heady behind the scenes work -- he calls these exercises in thinking well "mental calisthenics" which prepare us intellectually --  into efforts of public goodness.

Mouw's own lifelong quest has not always been pleasant and he has found, as I have, and as you may have, too, that sometimes common ground is a thorny ground. Sometimes we are blasted by "both sides" with few appreciating our well-intended efforts to see good all around. lt is, after all --i f you can picture it -- a cruciform posture to hold arms outstretched.  Mouw only alludes to this on occasion, but he gets it; such "common ground" mission is often misunderstood and is sometimes, despite all the lovely rhetoric about higher ground and generosity, painful and hard. It hasn't always been easy and Rich tells us a bit about this hard part of the journey.

The book ends on this very theme, in fact, as he cites a passage from an inaugural address, this time not of Kuyper, but from Edward Carnell, one of Mouw's predecessors in the Fuller presidency, having served there in the 1950s, enduring some stressful controversy as he navigated, even then, the shift from fundamentalism to evangelicalism to "neo-evangelicalism." Mouw writes of Carnell's own quest for common ground:

Carnell's quest for common ground required what was for him - and for some other evangelicals who have attempted to travel a similar path to common ground in the past  -- much painful rejection. These days some of us can pursue the journey with fewer obstacles. This does not mean, though, that the quest is without its dangers - which is why it must always be carried on under the illumination of the Word that "is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path" (Ps. 119:105.)

ADVENTURES IN EVANGELICAL CIVILITY- THE LIFELONG QUEST FOR COMMON GROUND .jpgSpace does not permit me to reflect on each of the fascinating and stimulating chapters in  Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest... He covers a lot of ground and it occasionally gets pretty deep as he explains, say,  significant insights from political theorists (Hobbes, Locke,Rousseau - fascinating!) or post-modern philosophers and the notions of "social location" in feminist or liberation theologies.  He calmly narrates his own history of reading, of learning, of grappling, of appreciating the book or author or idea that perhaps at first blush is troublesome or wrong-headed.  I myself learned much from these few more demanding sections in the book.  And I was reminded about this process, this balanced, thoughtful, discerning, project of being a life-long learner (for the glory of God and the common good.)

Other chapters, though, were not so intellectually demanding, and were fabulously interesting and truly inspiring. Mouw, as I hope you know, helped draft the famous 1973 Chicago Declaration of Social Concern that was so influential for the rise of evangelical social justice movements among then young leaders such as John Perkins and Jim Wallis and groups as diverse as the evangelical feminists of Daughters of Sarah, the rather Kuyperian Center for Public Justice, and the consistent-life activists of Ron Sider's Evangelicals for Social Action.  Mouw's moral-minority.jpgown ruminations about that heady week-end and how he became Chicago Declaration.jpgfriends with the Mennonite scholar John Howard Yoder (with whom he often did speaking engagements, contrasting the cultural engagement approaches of Anabaptists and his own Reformed worldview) mean a lot to me and I commend the book to many of our friends just to read those powerful reflections.  Again, this isn't really a memoir - not too much inside baseball, telling of dramatic stories, revealing gossip - but a calm chronicle of the wisdom from this premier evangelical public intellectual about his own ideas and commitments, forged as they were over the years. But he does reveal some great stuff, and it will be gratifying for those who have been culturally-engaged Christians a while, now, and (I am sure) very important for the rising generation who need to know the story into which they are emerging.

For many, Professor Mouw's ruminations about how he is at once ecumenical, evangelical, and Reformed, will be very helpful. I hope mainline denominational folks read it, and I hope thoughtful evangelicals pick it up.  (And I hope each learn to be as self-reflective of their own particular traditions as Mouw is about his own strand of Calvinism.) Again, in this era when even the public media tosses around the word "evangelical" without much nuance or understanding, Mouw's storytelling will be very valuable.

In fact, as Public Radio star Krista Tippet (of On Being and The Civil Conversation Project) writes,

Richard Mouw's account of his 'adventures in Christian civility' is, for the reader, an adventure through American, evangelical, and ecumenical evolution between the last century and this.... importantly, it winsomely brings into relief the virtue of Christian humility with which he has walked the faithful, exacting, intersection between the positions one holds and the way one treats kin, strangers, and enemies along the way. How grateful I am that Richard Mow is in the world , and how glad I am that he has written this book.

richard mouw photo.jpgOne of the most fascinating examples of Mouw's eagerness to engage in dialogue with others is in his surprising passion for evangelical-Mormon dialogue. This has been a hard journey for him and perhaps the area in which his peacemaking and openness to "common ground" has been most controversial and misunderstood. He has published a bit in this field, summarized nicely in the Eerdmans paperback called Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals. Some of this is explained in a wonderful chapter in Adventures In...  on interfaith conversations - again, he calmly narrates his learnings, tells some stories of certain conferences or events or how he came to write a book on the subject.  Interfaith conversations are increasingly common and to get this right, framed by a nice balance between commitments to Biblical teaching and a generous commitment to humility, pursued with intellectual rigor among real friendships is so important.  Again, Mouw represents a wise and faithful approach, not drifting towards an untenable universalism on one hand or an overly strict narrowness on the other. 

The other day a friend with progressive leanings teased me a bit when he saw the title of this book - "evangelical civility is an oxymoron," he exclaimed - and I wanted to sit him down and read some of this exact chapter out loud. Mouw is evangelical with fairly conventional views of what the Bible teaches and what traditional "mere Christianity" orthodox demands. And he is indeed civil, generous, always searching for common ground, human commonness. If he can do this in interfaith circles, even within the greatly contested world of Latter Day Saints discourse and politics maybe it could happen among mainline church folk and their evangelical community church siblings across town. We can pray, and we can read this book.

And I'm not alone in declaring how wise and thoughtful and valuable this book is.  Take a look at the rave reviews on the back cover.

Besides the beautiful endorsement from NPRs Krista Tippett, here are comments from Grant Wacker, church historian from Duke Divinity School and conservative writer and thinker Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the popular Baptist policy advocate Russell Moore and the journalist and scholar Molly Worthen.

I like that they have such diverse critics commending this book to us.  Krista Tippett is right --  "Adventures in Evangelical Civility is written in the fullness of his voice - as a teacher and leader, a Christian public intellectual, and an immensely wise and gracious human being."  

Fine gems often come in small packages. With graceful prose and elegant simplicity, Mouw draws on classical Calvinists, biblical scholars, Mormon leaders, recent historians, Catholic and Anabaptist theologians, and theist and atheist philosophers to explore the manifold links between common and particular grace. As the premier evangelical public intellectual of his time, Mouw finds a mandate squarely within historic Christian orthodoxy for 'convicted civility.' This mandate calls for a principled effort both to speak to other ears and to listen to other voices that have similarly sought to see the glories of God's self-revelation in the wider reaches of contemporary culture.

-- Grant Wacker, Duke Divinity School

Richard Mouw has helped many of us make sense of so much over the years. Now he gives us a fascinating and intimate portrait of how his own convictions were formed. It is a lively and spirited tale of his journey through studies in philosophy, theology, and political theory, interspersed with stories of ecumenical dialogues and important encounters with religious leaders from diverse traditions. In the evangelical community, no one has more effectively defended and encouraged bringing orthodox Christian faith into the public arena with civility and clarity than Mouw. As Christians face the ongoing challenges of living faithfully in public life, this book is an inspiring testament by a man who has served as a model to so many. 

-- Michael Cromartie, vice president, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Richard Mouw and I were walking together to a dinner meeting in Washington, DC, one evening when we realized we were lost. It took us an hour to get where we were going, and I consider that God's providence. I learned more in that hour's walk than I had in a long time, and I'm still quoting what I learned from Dr. Mouw that night. This book is much like that walk. You, the reader, will find here deep insight into important topics, told with a gleam in the eye, all at a brisk, entertaining pace. You will ponder what you read here often. Even on those few points when I as a reader would argue with Mouw (on Mormonism, for instance), he kept my attention and sharpened me in ways I hadn't anticipated. Richard Mouw's life, brilliance, experience, and prose are extraordinary. Read this book. You will be the better for having walked alongside such a humble genius.

--Russell Moore, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention

What a treat to wrestle with modernity alongside a first-rate theological mind! At a time when the culture wars frequently shut down civil debate and fill our public square with rancor, Richard Mouw offers a powerful antidote. His reflections on a lifelong encounter with the great thinkers of the modern age--aimed at understanding the burden and beauty of our common humanity--will edify and encourage believers and nonbelievers of all stripes.

--Molly Worthen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism




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HERE'S THE DEAL: BUY Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground by Richard Mouw (Brazos Press; $24.99) at our discounted price ($22.49) AND we will send to you at no charge with our compliments one of these two wonderful collections of short pieces by Rich Mouw.

Mouw's a master of the short essay, an art he even mentions in his ruminations on being a so-called public intellectual in Adventures in...  Take your pick.  If we run out of your first choice, we'll send you one of these two. Don't wait, this deal only lasts a few days.  After that, of course, we'll still honor the discount, but don't ask for the freebie after this week.

 We can send, while supplies last, either of these two. Just tell us which you want as your free gift by using our secure order form page -- use the link below.  We'll get back to you and confirm everything.

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