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April 23, 2017

BUY A BOOK, GET A FREE BOOK -- on the Christian mind, on science, or for Earth Day. THREE DAYS ONLY


while supplies last

The other night we had almost 20 guests in the shop, students from Shippensburg University, brought over here by their friendly CCO campus ministers. It's an event we host from time to time, having local Christian students in for a program about the spirituality of reading, the need to read well to nurture the Christian mind, to think faithfully about their studies, their majors, and more. Maybe I talked a little too long, but we so enjoyed these eager learners, reflecting on their callings, buying Christian books.

For what it is worth -- forgetting in the moment that it was the eve of both the March for Science and Earth Day -- I mentioned Psalm 119:91 which affirms the laws of God in nature and declaring that "all things are Thy servants." I invited them to think about the "things" they use and study -- a graphic calculator for an accounting major, a stethoscope for a nursing major, an anthology of Brit lit for an English major, a bit of programming for a computer science major, a book about early childhood development, the excellent espresso machine from Denim Coffee in Carlisle -- all things which the Psalmist says are to be understood as servants of the Lord. How exciting to think we are touching holy things. Who knows, maybe in our ordinary work we are fulfilling Zechariah 14:20 where it says the ordinary pots and pans will be as holy as the altar ware in the Temple.

I mentioned to the students that Psalm 111:2 goes further, and says we should ponder God's stuff in the world, even taking delight in it. A person of faith can find delight in anything if we find it related to the good reign of God, so that's the project: seeing how the things of our daily lives (and our studies if we are students), the tools of our trades, can be servants of God, which is to say, servants of the common good -- since we show our devotion to God by loving our neighbor. Do things -- material things like a telescope or an artist's paintbrush or an engineering project, or more culturally-developed things, like a marriage or a health clinic or a school or a business or a new public policy -- serve God? Do these things serve the greater good, helping society flourish in ways that are touched by shalom?  And can we learn to take delight in studying them?

Well, Beth and I have staked our lives and our livelihood on it.

We assume that people of faith will want to study the things God has made and that reading books about the nature of different aspects of God's world -- politics, cooking, science, art, family life, engineering, health-care, education, economics, architecture, sexuality and more -- can be woven into the spiritual practices of ordinary church folks.

That is, our Hearts & Minds is a bookstore which exists not just to equip church folks for churchy things (although that's certainly part of it) but all folks for all things. (As Os Guinness puts it in his must-read meditation The Call, it is "everyone, everywhere in everything." ) We buy and read books not just to nurture our interior spiritual lives nor just for our congregational church lives, but to figure out the whole-life implications of Psalm 119:91 and Psalm 111:2 and Romans 12:1-2 and Colossians 1:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:10 and all the other mandates in the Bible to study and read and learn, slowly developing the "mind of Christ" which shows forth a wise awareness of all things being servants of the Lord and taking delight in them.

It is no accident, I suppose, that I was drawn to share a handful of Psalms with these students who came to learn about learning and do some late night shopping. I've been teaching a class in my case for the psalms paperback.pngchurch about the Psalms and have read out loud large chunks of N. T. Wright's wonderful paperback The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential.  His important overview of the Psalter is helpful to understand the Psalms -- email me if you want a list of some other good resources -- but a main point is that praying these poems over and over roots us in the story of God, a past of God's great deeds, a present of great sorrow and turbulence, and a trust in the promises that have been somewhat fulfilled in the death and resurrection of David's heir, Christ Jesus.  And yet, the story isn't over, and we even now live in a "now but not yet" sort of world. We have to work at "seeing" life through the lens of faith, relating God's redemptive story to all of life.  The Psalms are not the only place the Bible talks about thinking or work or pondering the great wonders of God, but they are evocative and helpful.

Re-reading this Wright book about nurturing a truly Biblical worldview by way of the Psalter was a good reminder about why we have this bookstore. We want to resource folks to relate faith to all of life, and, as the students reminded us the other night, we all need all the help we can get. It is not, in this idolatrous culture, in this fallen world, self-evident that all things are servants of God. It is not simple to know the implications of a seeing that we live in a God-centered world for, say, the ethics of technology or the quandary of health care or the best way to thing about gender or how to bring the peace of Christ to the warring nations.  Being a Christian butcher, baker, candlestick maker -- or, shall we say, aerospace engineer, stay at home dad, high school teacher, EMT, salesperson, abstract artist or farmer -- isn't simple. We are called to think and pray and talk with others as we "work out our salvation" before God.  Because all things are God's servants and we are to ponder and take delight in God's stuff.

Only after my spiel about serving God in all things, using our minds, taking delight in the real data of real creation -- what the secularists call "nature" -- and studying it well did it dawn on me that it was the eve of Earth Day, the eve of the Marches for Science.

I wish I would have made the overt connection that Christians should agree with the premise of these public witnesses, and that we should rejoice that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ were involved in bearing witness at those events. God cares about good science and protecting the ecology of the creation, by using wise insight and solid thinking. Yes, and yes.

So, to play our little part to help you deepen your thinking after hearing about all this stuff about science and earth-keeping in the news these last few days, here is a Hearts & Minds special sale.

As is often the case, we will do this for three days only (the sale expires on  Wednesday, April 26th) and can only provide these promotional items for free while supplies last.  We're happy to give away some books, but our supply is limited. Why don't you visit our order form page right away? 


The-Transforming-Vision-9780877849735.jpgBUY The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View Brian Walsh & J. Richard Middleton (IVP Academic) $22.00  I have often said that this sweeping study of the history of the dualism between what we sometimes call "the sacred and the secular" and the secularizing rise of Enlightenment rationalism driven by the idols of scientism and faith in economic progress, literally changed my life. Anytime folks ask me for the most important books in our store, this one invariably comes up. This Biblically-informed call to a wholistic Christian worldview -- good creation, radical fall, wholistic redemption, future restoration -- came to influence N.T. Wright, and it mirrors the Biblical teaching of Al Wolter's Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview, with whom they studied, but adds a lot of scholarship about the need for a  a Christian social imagination, the Christian mind, an engagement with the ideas and structures of the culture, and even a rousing call at the end to consider reading interdisciplinary, even taking up Christian philosophy. I think Transforming Vision is an excellent example of thoughtful Christian scholarship for the sake of the common good and you will be know more about your world, your faith, and be more eager to read widely once you've processed it.

If you are interested in how this transformational vision relates to the fast-changing world of postmodernity, in light of some of the prophetic pomo voices of our time, see their powerful sequel, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age, another remarkably important book that illustrated a thoughtful Christian worldview that tells the story of Western culture and its idols, and how a Biblical view might provide healing, hopeful answers to our cultural dismay and angst. I know it's a bit heady, but this is important, passionate stuff and a good antidote to shallow, personalized faith or anti-intellectualism among God's people.  Really, both books are very important, by two gentleman I greatly admire. Very highly recommended.

Your Mind's Mission.jpgAND GET THIS FREE: Your Mind's Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $7.00 I mention this to college students quite often, but, you know, I wish non-students would read it, too, as it offers a wholistic vision of a transformed worldview, a thoughtful process of learning to think well, and a call to see our ideas shaped in ways that they become missional.

This great little book mentions Hearts & Minds, I'll admit, but I admire Greg for so many other reasons. This short book (just a booklet, really) is dynamite, and the implications he suggests in its powerful pages are life-changing. I promise you that readers will learn something new or be challenged to make connections they've not realized before.

We'll send it for free if you buy either of the above-mentioned Walsh & Middleton books.


The Language of Science and Faith- Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.jpgBUY The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions Karl W. Giberson & Francis S. Collins (IVP Books/BioLogos) $22.00  We have written from time to time about this book, always listing it on bibliographies we do about the sciences. We are fond of it and want to encourage you to get it, perhaps to share with someone who has somehow heard that religious people are disinterested in science, or that evangelicals are anti-science.

Given that the March for Science has been in the news, this is a good time to order a book like this.

We have more specialized books in this field, of course, such as serious studies of the philosophy of science (I'd suggest starting with Science and Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective by Del Ratzch) or academic work on the conflict between healthy views of science and the secularized ideology of scientism -- see Alvin Plantinga's brilliant Oxford University Press volume Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. There are good books that explore origins questions from a variety of faith-based views, and healthy, mature studies of all kinds helping Christians wisely relate faith to their views of the sciences.

Just out this week, in fact, is a major tome called the Dictionary of Christianity and Science: The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science edited by Paul Copan, Tremper Longman, Christopher Reese, and Michael Strauss (Zondervan; $59.99.) Weighing in at over 750 pages, with over 400 entries and a top-notch lineup of over 120 contributions (some who are scientists or other STEM-related practitioners, some Biblical scholars, some theologians, some philosophers) this looks like a major work. It has multi-view discussions, too, making it, as one reviewer put it, "sparkle with passion, controversy, and diverse perspectives." 

For starters, though,The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Collins and Giberson, done under the auspices of the BioLogos Foundation is a real winner, good for any interested reader, a lovely, inspiring, helpful book arranged in an easy-to-understand Q & A format. One may not agree with all of it, but it's a fine, fine resource.

I suppose you know that Dr. Collins is considered one of the leading scientists of our time, a pioneer in genetic studies and the former Director of project to map the human genome. In the Obama administration he served as the director of the NIH and is truly one of our heroes of contemporary faith. He wrote the New York Times bestseller The Language of God, one on genetics called The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, and a wonderful reader of primary source writings designed for seekers or the non-religious called Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith.  He founded The BioLogos Foundation as a think-tank and movement to help Christians relate faith to science, depending the faith/science conversation.

Karl Giberson (PhD, physics) is an internationally known scholar, speaker and writer. He has written or coauthored nine books and lectured on science and religion at the Vatican, Oxford University, London's Thomas Moore Institute and many prestigious American venues including MIT and The Harvard Club. Dr. Giberson has published more than two hundred reviews and essays, both technical and popular, in outlets that include the New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, Los Angles Times and He is a regular contributor to the public dialogue on science and faith, and has appeared on NPR.

Dr. Tim Johnson, Senior medical contributor for ABC News (and author of Finding God in the Questions) might overstate it a little, but catches something vital about the importance of The Language of Science and Faith when he says, 

This book is destined to become a classic for those who, with an open mind, are willing to seriously wrestle with questions about the relationship of modern science with Christian faith. It is not for the faint of heart but is a treasure trove for those willing to dig deep into this critical subject.

Listen to Dr. Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of, among other titles, God's Universe and God's Planet (both published by Harvard University Press) as he endorses this volume:

Two challenging languages, one old and wise, one modern and awesome. Two very different accounts of human origins. Can the book of Scripture and the book of nature both be true in the age of science? We need sympathetic and enlightening interpreters. Happily Giberson and Collins here offer a guide to the perplexed that is reverent, relevant and very well-informed.

God in the Lab- How Science Enhances Faith .jpgAND GET THIS FREE God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith Ruth M. Bancewicz (Monarch) $16.99  First published in the UK, we are so glad to stock this book, happy about it for several reasons.  And we're happy to send you a free one with a purchase of one of the above mentioned science books.

Dr. Ruth Bancewicz is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University.  She explains in this book that science work can be "unglamorous and tough" but it gives its practitioners an opportunity to be fully human, to bring appreciation for imagination and wonder into their work. This is such a rich insight and it comes not from a pundit or theologian, but a working scientists, who experiences scientific research and explains what it is like "in the lab" as it where. In this good paperback she brings in six other scientists and narrates their stories as well. Dr. Deborah Haarsma -- a respected astronomer with a PhD from MIT and now President of BioLogos -- says that God in the Lab "brings a fresh and much-needed emphasis on wonder to conversations about science and Christian faith." 

 As Dr. John Polkinghorne, a beloved Anglican priest and former world-class astrophysicist, puts it, 

Ruth Bancewicz shows how creativity, beauty, wonder, and awe are essential experiences in scientific investigation. She demonstrates that there is no great discontinuity between science and other human questions for truth, including religion. 

The foreword is by another brilliant scholar with a couple of advanced PhDs in science and also in theology, the great Alister McGrath.  Whoever says there is a conflict between faith and science is not paying attention.  McGrath's solid endorsement illustrates that this is so.  Get it free, while supplies last.


Again, this is a topic that is close to our heart, and one I've written about before. We've listed new books as they come out in this field and have offered ruminations and longer books lists, for example, here. We're grateful that my mom had an interest in Rachel Carson and took our youth group at church to pick up litter on the very first Earth Day. 

For the Beauty of the Earth- A Christian Vision for Creation Care.jpgBUY For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $26.00  It is hard to pick just one favorite book in this field. We often recommend for starters, Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God's People by old friend Scott Sabin, and we have enjoyed telling readers that are new to the topic about Serving God, Saving the Planet: A Call to Care for Creation and Your Soul by Matthew Sleeth. We highly respect the seriously thoughtful work of Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis by Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler, and A.J. Swoboda.  And anyone wanting to get behind all this with good, Biblically-informed thinking should make it a priority to work through Norman Wirzba's potent little book edited by James K.A. Smith, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World.  If you want a really, really practical, down-to-Earth Biblical overview, see one that Dr. Wirzba co-wrote with farmer Fred Bahnson called Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation. It is mostly about food and eating, and shows how a good creation-care theology can influence our day to day lifestyle.

But, having said all that, I come back time and again to the brilliant, must-read work by Bouma-Prediger. He is a professor of religion at Hope College who has specialized in faith-based theology that pushes us to creation care. He has several major volumes on theologians who have done this kind of work (one published by Oxford called The Greening of Theology: The Ecological Models of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Joseph Stiller, and Jurgen Moltmann.)  Yet, his For the Beautify of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, is a masterwork, both accessible to non-scholars and yet serious enough to be nearly all you need to know. The back cover puts it well: Bouma-Prediger "argues that authentic CHristian faith requires ecological obedience, and he urges Christians to acknowledge their responsibility and privilege as stewards of the Earth." The book has been re-issued in an expanded second edition that brought scientific and environmental research up to date.

In these days of worsening climate change realities and derailed policy in Washington, it is more urgent than ever to read up. We highly recommend this thoughtful resource. For the Beauty of the Earth is simply excellent, very creatively written, what one reviewer calls an attractive tour de force.

I like what Richard Mouw calmly states:

An important book. Steven Bouma-Prediger combines theological depth with ecological savvy to issue a profound call to environmental discipleship. He makes his case in a way that both informs and inspires!

caring for creation.jpgAND GET THIS FREE Caring for Creation: The Evangelicals Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment Mitch Hescox & Paul Douglas (Bethany House) $14.99  Yep, these authors are the dynamic duo that we hosted in the store when this book first came out last fall, and we're still smiling about how fun it was.  Paul Douglas is a world-class meteorologist who happened to have invented some meteorology Doppler-type computer gadget that Stephen Spielberg used in Jurassic Park and Twister (and in which Paul made a cameo.) We have never had a Hollywood blockbuster actor in the store, but more importantly, his scientific discussion about global climate change and the energy crisis was fascinating, helpful, inspiring, even. To have a humble Christian man at the top of his professional field visiting with us and his friend and co-author Mitch Hescox -- a United Methodist pastor, former global energy corporation executive, and now full time Director of the Evangelical Environmental Network -- was one of the highlights of our year. You can read about it here.

These two co-authors of this fine little book have brought new vigor to this topic, explained things in a balanced and fair-minded way, and invited people of Christian conviction to live out their faith by being involved in some way working to care for the planet. The book is overtly Christian and the authors are themselves fairly conservative both theologically and politically.  No matter what you know about the issue or where you may stand on the economics of this topic, you will surely appreciate much that these guys bring to the discussion.

We are thrilled to promote it, and, for these next few days only, we're happy to give it away with the purchase of one of the above mentioned environmental science books.

So, how's that, friends? For the next three days, until end of day Wednesday, April 26, 2017, we will give you the free book mentioned that is paired with the one you purchase. Read the offer carefully for the explanation.  This offer is good while supplies last.  We hope you enjoy this free book option.  Thanks for caring about good books, surely some of the things that Psalm 119 says are servants of the Lord.


offer expires April 26, 2017

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April 19, 2017

10 New Books on Christian Growth and Serious Christian Living -- ALL ON SALE

bookstore sign.jpgLike any good bookstore, we have all kinds of books, shelves in dozens of categories.  Gardening, fiction, history, addiction recovery, film studies, engineering; we've got YA novels, cultural criticism, cookbooks, architecture, outdoor recreation, health, grief, and kid's picture books galore. We stand ready as a full service bookstore to help you with almost anything you may ever want -- just use our inquiry page at the website, or give us a call.  See a review somewhere or hear an author on Fresh Air or 1A?  Chances are we might be getting it in. Heard somebody reference a novel or prayer book? Give us a shout if we can help.

I suppose one of our largest sections in the store, some of our bread and butter, as they say,  includes books on growing as a Christian, deepening one's discipleship, enlarging the spirituality of one's heart and mind. We carry academic theology and lots of resources for congregational life, worship planning, youth ministry, and the like, but, still, books that offer rather basic Christian growth remain a vital part of what our customers are looking for.  But even here, folks tell us we are a bit different than many Christian bookstores. We try to avoid those that are too simplistic or cheesy, and stock books from a variety of theological perspectives or faith styles. These sorts of books are designed to help you flourish, to relate faith to real life issues, to bring together, as we sometimes say, the Bible and life.  Some are straight up Christian teaching which others might come as cleverly worded stories; some are youngish and hip, others pretty much no-nonsense. 

Maybe here after Easter you might do well to read or re-read an old classic from your book shelf or church library about the cost of discipleship or ordinary Christian growth. Ask your pastor or mentor or a Christian leader you admire for suggestions.  They should be able to advise you, finding something just right for your taste, your spiritual maturity, your level of interest, your life issues and setting. 

And, if you're up for it, maybe you can pass something on to a younger Christian, another person you know who might be in need of some Biblical wisdom, some faith-based assistance, a book to accompany them in their journey with God in life.  Believe me we have moving conversations about this sort of stuff with folks in the shop (and on line) every day.  There is a hunger out there for good books that are a bit more than the simple teachings they are used to, something beyond the predictable and blase, but accessible and sound.

Some older religious books, of course - good as they are - are a bit more demanding and a little less fun than they ought to be. If you are looking for something fresh, insightful, helpful, here are ten new ones to help you on your way. 


The Dawn of Christianity- How God Used Simple Fisherman.jpgThe Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fisherman, Soldiers, and Prostitutes to Transform the World Robert Hutchinson (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  Let's start here - at the time of rise of Christianity, right after the resurrection of Christ.  What a great time of year to dive into the fabulously interesting book which draws on the most recent discoveries and scholarship in archaeology of the first-century Near East.  Hutchinson (who studied Hebrew in Israel and has an advanced degree in New Testament) asks "How did a beleaguered group of followers of a crucified rabbis become the founders of a world-changing faith?" Using both Christian and secular scholars, Hutchinson reconstructs these post-resurrection accounts, tells about the persecution of the earliest church (at the hands of, for instance, a religious terrorist named Saul of Tarsus) and shows how they thrived as the gospel moved from Antioch, Damascus to Athens and Rome.  From ancient writers like Josephus and Philo and Eusebius to 20th century titans like J. Gresham Machen, N.T. Wright, Rodney Stark, John Dominic Crossan, Martin Hengel, Ben Witherington and more, Hutchinson weaves a narrative that is so interesting, informative and inspiring.

I think if you have any interest in the New Testament (the gospels, Acts, and the Epistles) and the history of that era, you will love this tremendous account of how it all took hold, spread, struggled, and became a transforming force in Western history.  There are references to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the gnostic gospels and fascinating historical stuff but don't be fooled -- this is a page-turning tour de force, an enjoyable and informative read.  There's is a timeline in the back and pictures throughout making this a really helpful volume. Highly recommended.

way of the d.jpgThe Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb? Searching for Jesus's Path of Power in a Church That Has Abandoned It Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel (Nelson Books) $16.99  I have mentioned this before but want to suggest it again.  There are oodles of basic Christian growth sorts of resources that help us in our interior lives, our understanding of the faith, books that strengthen our resolve to live well in the world.  But few take seriously the fallen nature of our messed up world, the seductions and dysfunctions that surround us, and those that do often are very scholarly, or utterly pessimistic. (God bless Jacque Ellul, if you get my drift.)  I benefited immensely from reading about this topic of how we should think about power and fallen institutions years ago - I recall the little book by Berkof called Christ and the Powers and a really important book by Marva Dawn which offered some friendly critique to Walter Wink and his impressive work on the principalities and powers. There is not enough discussion about this in most churches, not enough about what these authors call "The Way of the Dragon" let alone enough about the radical nature of Christ's "Way of the Lamb."  Andy Crouch, of course, has written very wisely about power in Playing God and even in the his must-read book from a year ago, the brief Strong and Weak.  There are many authors who write about Biblical nonviolence but, as much as I appreciate them, they somehow seem disconnected to the lives of ordinary middle class folks making their way through their typical lives.

But this. Wow, this is a book for our times, a needed supplement to your diet, a radical, Biblical, balanced, wise, and potent resource for figuring out how to relate to power, to status, to success, to be on guard about the devious ways of the world. This theologian/pastor team draw on authors we admire -- J. I. Packer, Dallas Willard, Marva Dawn, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, James Houston, Eugene Peterson -- to help you travel better on the path of Christian discipleship. 

This is, I'll admit it, is a book about weakness; the Way of the Lamb.  I know, you probably aren't searching BookNotes thinking "I want a book about being broken, weak, giving up my dreams of making a difference." (Although, many have read and greatly appreciated the artful reflection The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. That is a good sign.)  Perhaps, though, you do want a book to deepen your discipleship in ways that are consistent with our Risen Lord (the reigning King whose departing speech was a mandate to serve.) Perhaps you tire of the louder voices from the church and world that too often push us to false ideals, pushy ways, that erode the gospel call to love, humility, kindness. Perhaps you are seeking insight that goes beyond the typical evangelical cliches.

These two are very interesting writers and I admire them. They mean it when they say, "We want to cast a vision for the Christian life according to Jesus' way of power: power in weakness, for love."   As Goggin put it, they hope their book will help to help create "individuals with real Kingdom depth."  And as they searched for elders who could help them learn about this they found "the most holy, wise, and powerful people we have ever met."  Don't you want to meet and know and learn from people that could be so described?

In an interview about The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb?  Strobel (yes, the Jonathan Edwards scholar, and son of Lee Strobel) said:

We are called to be a people of power, certainly, but a kind of power completely opposite to the power of the world. So what does it mean to employ the power of Christ. What happens when the power of Christ comes head-to-head with the power of evil, even in our churches? These are the questions that drove us to explore the world and document our travels...

The Essentials of Christian Thought- Seeing the World.jpgThe Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing the World Through the Biblical Story Roger E. Olson (Zondervan) $18.99  You probably know that we believe that one of the best things to read for living Christianly in the world, books that can help us grow in our faith, are what we sometimes call "worldview books."  Daily discipleship and basic Christian growth resources are best framed by the big picture of a Christian view of life and an overview of the redemptive story that unfolds in the great drama of the Bible. This book does just that and it is fantastic! 

As it says on the back cover of my advanced promo copy, "Christians disagree on doctrine, politics, church government, certain moral questions - just about everything under the sun, it can seem. Yet a unity remains, centered around a core outlook on God and the world that is common to all believers."

Well, I don't know if that is even true - we should find unity, and that is the burden of this excellent new book.  As the promo copy continues,  "Alternative visions of reality often infect and corrupt Christian's thinking."

I couldn't agree more, even if putting it that way sounds a bit alarming. Just like the dumb comment from a certain political spokesperson on "alternative facts" taints our civic engagement, now, unbiblical ways of construing life, thinking about ordinary stuff -- God, the world, ourselves, what matters most -- damages our faith, cripples our discipleship and our way of relating faith and life.

This book (written by an imminent theologian and church historian) gives us a basic perspective on life and times, noting how the Bible story itself should inform and shape our ideas and practices about daily life.

This may be a bit heady for some - it is about what the philosophers call metaphysics, after all.  Meta is big these days, though, and this book is really useful to help us get the big picture.

Contemporary Western society is awash in competing visions of ultimate reality. Christians who do not know any better often absorb beliefs about reality from worldviews completely alien to the Bible and in radical conflict with it. This is known as after all.  Meta is big these days, and this book is really useful to help us get the big picture.

Listen to Olsen:

Contemporary Western society is awash in competing visions of ultimate reality. Christians who do not know any better often absorb beliefs about reality from worldviews completely alien to the Bible and in radical conflict with it. This is known as syncretism. There is both conscious and unconscious syncretism.

He continues to explain that sometimes we unknowingly buy into ways of thinking, talking, acting, that are inconsistent with general assumptions and ways of seeing taught by the Bible.  Other times we knowingly borrow from ideas that are foreign to the Bible's narrative.  (Uh, think of the oxymoronic statements like "the Christian right" or "the Christian left" that we hear often these days as if these historically-developed, secular ideologies can be simply baptized with religiosity.)

The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Realty... is meaty, but not scholarly, really. It is not mostly for academics, philosopher or even pastors, but for all educated believers.  I do believe all of us need this kind of thinking -especially if we want to live out our discipleship in the world of public life, work and culture and entertainment and science and business.  It is particularly important for educators, and a must-have resource for any teacher at a Christian high school or college.

With chapters with titles helping us to be "Knowing Christianly: Seeing Reality through the Biblical Story" and reminding us that  "Ultimate Reality Is Supernatural and Personal (But Not Human)" and that a "Biblical-Christian Perspective on the World" can lead us to a "Christian Humanism", you know this is important stuff to slowly, seriously ponder. I might quibble with a bit here or there -- I'm just not fond of the lingo of "ultimate" reality.  Realty is the really real, and creation is just as real as is God, so I don't quite get all that he proposes here. I've got to study more.  But maybe you do, too. How long have you been a follower of Jesus?  Do you really deeply know, as the Bible story shows, how to think about all of life as real and redeemed?  Do you see and understand and construe all of life through the lens of the Bible story itself?  If you want a model for the integration of faith and thinking, this will help.

The New City Catechism- 52 Questions & Answers for our Hearts & Minds.jpgThe New City Catechism: 52 Questions & Answers for our Hearts & Minds The Gospel Coalition with Introduction by Kathy Keller (Crossway) $7.99 This is a really cool little volume with classic evangelical truths portrayed in the once-popular Q & A format.  Beth and I are members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) so we happily have a good handful of creedal statements in our Book of Confessions, including a newly added one about racism and human dignity that emerged from Reformed churches fighting apartheid.  We crafted a fresh Q & A Catechism a few years ago but it didn't quite take off; it indicated, though, the desire for contemporary Christians of a variety of types to return to this kind of easily memorized instruction.  As Kathy Keller tells in her fascinating short introduction, even those working in hard, inner-city settings are finding success in teaching these pithy, theologically-sound answers. This is a very useful and timely idea and The New City Catechism is a very, very useful tool to use.  Whether you are young or mature in your faith, whether you've studied a lot or not, this set of orthodox formulations - sounding a bit like the Heidelberg Catechism or some of the answers to the Shorter Westminster Catechism - is highly new-city-catechism-open-spread.jpgrecommended.

Here are some useful features of this I love and which I trust you will appreciate.  First, it is a smallish size, but not tiny, designed with French flaps on the covers and glossy paper with some full color hints.   On each two-page spread the question is on the left and the answer is on the right.  There is a graphic under the question on the left to help visual learners.  There is the large type answer on the right and another graphic icon, indicating a particular virtue (love, joy, forgiveness, trust, humility, hope and the like) evoked by that truth statement. While the answers are formal, they are in contemporary language, a little bit more concise than the older ones. There is a Bible text as well for each Q & A pair.  This is really handsomely designed, cool to hold, easy to use, powerful to study.  It isn't all that young people or new Christians need, but it's part of it. We're excited about it and hope you'll give it a try.

Here is a link to the publisher's website that has a bunch of short videos about why they think it is important and how it can be used.  Do come back here when your done..

The New City Catechism Devotional- God's Truth for our Hearts & Mind.jpgThe New City Catechism Devotional: God's Truth for our Hearts & Minds The Gospel Coalition, with Introduction by Timothy Keller (Crossway) $19.99  This hardback devotional has the same hip design and similar look - sans dust jacket, Helvetica type, two-color pages design - and is a perfect supplement to The New City Catechism.  It has much to commend it. I might take issue with a thing or two, including the oddity that all the authors are men, but we're eager to have our customers use it. Supplement it with stuff from your own tradition if you want, use it as conversation starters to determine if you agree with their formulations of the answers, but these are standard, mature, solid ruminations on these classic answers to key theological questions.  If lack of theological awareness and superficiality of faith is a curse of our time, this could be an asset to rehabilitate weak knees and strengthen us all.

Here is what is special about this devotional: for each of the 52 entries there is a re-statement, in large type and two color ink, of the catechism question and answer.  Then, there is a page or so reflection about that truth from an older voice within the mainstream of orthodox Christian tradition; you'll hear from the likes of Athanasius and Augustine, Luther and Calvin and Cranmer, both Wesleys, Bunyan and Edwards, poet George Herbert and the great London preacher Charles Spurgeon. Following this older reflection on the matter, there is a contemporary writer (usually with affinity with TGC's classic evangelical views) who weighs in.  You'll hear good stuff from Thabiti Anyabwile, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Juan Sanchez, R. Kent Hughes, Mika Edmondson, John Yates, David Bisgrove, and more. There is a Biblical text and a closing prayer for each entry.  This is very nicely done, beautifully compiled.

As Gloria Furman says on the back cover:

This is perhaps the most concise and accessible resource I have read -- the questions are immediately relevant in every culture, the language is easily understood or translatable, and the brilliance of the gospel radiates on every page.

Jen Wilkin says of it,

Harmonizing wisdom from voices both ancient and modern, this book invites us to methodically internalize the categories by which we understand our faith, reechoing the good news for a new generation of believers.

.jpgThe Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs Peter Enns (HarperOne) $15.99  This came out to much discussion a year ago and was just released in paperback last week so I can list it as "new" - at least new in paperback.  I do not mean to be clever in listing this book after the important New City Catechism, although a cynic might think that I'm deconstructing the doctrinal Q & A approach in those books.  Nope, I'm just balancing the two; Enns is quick to tell us that any reductionism that equates proper beliefs with real faith is not Biblically faithful.  The strict Reformed theological tradition that he once was a part of left him with questions, fundamental things about what it means to trust God, what it means to truly know something, what the role of theological formulations play in faith formation.  He's a great storyteller and a passionate thinker who wants to call us to a more wholistic and deeper level sort of belief. It will be freeing for some and although not the final word, it is important.

Walt Brueggemann says that Enns offers a "puckish affirmation of the buoyant, sometimes outrageous, boundary-breaking capacity of biblical faith."  Sarah Bessy notes that Enns is "remarkable" because he is able to take big topics  "and then make those very places a meeting place with a God who is bigger and wilder and more wonderful and trustworthy than we guessed."  I like this call to know a wild God a bit more deeply than just memorizing truth claims and answers, no matter how reasonable and Bible-based those answers are. 

I was going to pitch this book as a "heart" compliment to the "mind" component offered in the New City Catechism. But that is way wrong: the Catechism has truth claims formulated well, but truly wants us to absorb them as heartfelt and live them with gusto. And Pete Enns does not at all suggest that faith is a matter of sentiment or feeling alone - he's written a whole book here nearly about what philosophers called epistemology, after all, so there's no "heart versus mind" dichotomy in either. While doctrinal books like the New City ones appeal to both heart and mind, that is mostly so because of the very stuff Enns explains here.  Intellectual clarity or confidence is not the same as faith and our trust in God, while enhanced by good ideas, cannot be reduced to mere intellectual assent.  With The Sin of Certainty we are set free to ask big questions, struggle with ambiguity and nuance and doubt and move forward in our spiritual journey in glad confidence that having all the answers isn't necessary. And, in fact, as his own story shows, churches or faith traditions that over-emphasize such demands can cause needless confusion and harmful kinds of pride and all the negative stuff that goes with fundamentalisms of all sorts. Enns's call to Biblical trust, he argues, offers a better way.

God Has a Name John Mark Comer.jpgGod Has a Name John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $16.99  I hope you recall how we've promoted Comer's Garden City which is one of the coolest, most interesting, clarifying, and inspiring books we've seen in recent years. It has been a big seller at the Jubilee conference, for instance, and seems to resonate well with its intended audience (mostly younger, upbeat readers who want a big picture of the meaning of faith and service in the world.)  This brand new one is paperback, but has some very hip design features, too (see that little orange slip on the inside edge of the cover?)  Kudos to Zondervan for showing how books can look and feel just a little bit different these days with color and graphics and page weight...

This book is simple to describe, although no short description can capture its insight, importance, or energy.  It is about God.  It is about God's name as revealed in Exodus 34.  It is about the whole Bible's grand story, in a way, but focusing on God's self-revelation to us, God's nature and work in the world.  It is about our ache for relationship, wondering why we "yet feel distant and disconnected from him. As if he's more of an idea we believe in our head than a person we relate to." It is conversational, simple to read (with lots of white space in his signature style) yet thoughtful and wise with very reliable Biblical scholarship behind his teaching.

Do you ever feel this gap he describes between you and God?  Could it be, he asks, that some of our ideas about God, what we think about God and God's character, are messed up?

john mark comer.jpgThis book carries oodles of endorsing blurbs by all sorts of great thinkers and writers, pastors and worship leaders.  

Here is what Evan Wicham, an artist and worship pastor and church planter has said:

This book is electrifying! I'm not sure who will find this book more earthshaking -- the jaded skeptic or the long time religious!  Either way, get this book.

One Riggs.jpgOne: Unity in a Divided World Deidra Riggs (Baker Books) $14.99  I love this author - Deidra is a fine writer, a wise woman, an involved editor in a variety of important social media venues.  She has worked at The High Calling blog, been a contributor to Dayspring's (in)courage online community, and been a speaker for TEDx.  She has been at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh and has written a marvelous previous book called Every Little Thing: Making a Difference Right Where You Are which is a fabulous read that helps you, literally, do just what it promises.  Although I suppose that one is mostly written for women, I really enjoyed it and found it wise and interesting and inspiring.  Want to learn to live out your faith in little ways, day by day, taking up your mission in the world? She's an ally and friend and understands your struggles.

This one is very, very important, and I believe is central to any seriously Christian way of living.  That is, in Jesus's final words to his followers he insisted that unity - being one in him - was the final message. The whole world will know if they see us love one another.  And, my goodness, how we have challenges that keep us apart these divided days.

deidra Riggs.jpgOne is more than a book on civility, although it moves in that direction, helping us learn to be more gracious in our disagreements in our public life.   It is more than a book about theological unity within various denominations and faith traditions, although it has plenty of insight about our essential unity in Christ and how we should seek ways to make that clearer.  It is more than a book on racial reconciliation although, as a black woman, she has much to say about this topic. That it carries endorsements on the back from the vital Jo Saxton and the important John Perkins speaks volumes.  

Here is what John Perkins says:

This book will challenge, excite, transform, and inspire everyone who dreams of an end to division and polarization -in the church, in our communities, in the work-place, in our homes, and in our very own souls.

 As it says on the back cover of One: Unity in a Divided World, "Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges.  Be a bridge builder."  To do this, we will have to grapple with questions of self-preservation, pride, and learn to be "secure in God's inexhaustible love, allowing us to love others lavishly." Perhaps after reading this, you will be inspired to be more proactive in this, taking first steps to be agents of reconciliation.  As Deidra Riggs makes clear, this could be revolutionary, but it has to start in our own hearts. "Who is it hard for you to love?" she asks.   Well, then.

And if that question isn't urgent, I don't know what is.  Sure, we have other great books about how the gospel calls us to reconciliation.  I highly recommend Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing written by Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole (IVP; $17.00.)  I think Lisa Sharon Harper's The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $19.99) is a punchy and powerful primer and very highly recommended.  Add Deidra Riggs's pleasant book to the short list of useful resources on this key aspect of basic Christian living, a book that is full of stories, touching insights, gentle pushes, and a great study guide. This really is important. 

Spirituality for the Sent- Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church.jpgSpirituality for the Sent: Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church edited by Nathan A. Finn & Keith S. Whitfield (IVP Academic) $30.00  We wanted to include this amazing new book on this list even though it is a bit demanding and on a premier academic press.  Still, it isn't that hard, and I'm currently deep in reflection about it, reading it carefully, chapter by chapter.  It is excellent.

I suppose I don't have to tell you that there has been in the last decade or more a recent phrase -- missional -- that suggests that North American post-Christian, modernized culture is itself a new mission field, and that we in the West have to re-calibrate our churches to be not just missionary (sending others to foreign fields) but missional. Our purpose should be to bear witness to the Lordship of Christ and his in-breaking Kingdom coming, and that such a missional project will take some evaluations and discernments about the nature of our culture so we can see how to best communicate the reality of the gospel in our new era in this place.  Lesslie Newbigin's Foolishness to the Greeks was a seminal book in this movement, and more and more, churches have gone beyond being seeker sensitive or outward focused to become true communities of the Kingdom and to become missional, equipping ordinary folks to live well as exiles in a post-Christian culture.  We have seen vibrant, fabulously energetic and insightful books about this -- see, just for instance, the recent To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities by Michael Frost and Christiana Rice -- that are about both the missional church and a missional sort of risky discipleship.  I don't want to brag, and I certainly don't suggest we have done it very well, but our bookstore promoted a missional sort of Kingdom vision before anybody coined that word. We've promoted reading about a wide-as-life wholistic discipleship, an in-bit-not-of-the-world local servanthood for 35 years. We used to say we existed to help people "read for the Kingdom!"

But get this: just as vibrant, missional-church, Kingdom-centered view of parish life pushed us into the world of real life, thinking deeply about the gospel and our culture, and living it out in whole-life discipleship, there has also been (thanks be to God) another movement trending in the last 30 years, a trend of deep interest in contemplative spirituality.  Recall the importance of the likes of Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen and Tilden Edwards and Joyce Rupp and Marj Thompson and Ruth Haley Barton and others; courses on centering prayer and lay folks going on silent retreats and interest in spiritual formation programs are all on the rise. Books about spiritual disciplines continue to sell, and that field has blossomed well.  One of our favorite publishers, InterVarsity Press, even started a spiritual formational imprint a decade ago called formatio, which has become one of the most reliable sources for good books on our spiritual practices.

I say all this just to exclaim how absolutely important this serious new book is, which asks how we should think about spiritual practices in light of a missional sort of church and a missional vision for discipleship. Or, but another way, how do we think about our Kingdom living and missional perspective in light of the call to be attentive to the deeps of our interior lives?  The long introduction written by Finn and Whitfield in Spirituality for the Sent explores these two big trends, reminding us of much about how these trends have developed in recent years, and itself is very, very important. Just a few pages in and I knew I was going to love this book and that I'd feel called to let people know about its riches.

It may have been Darrell Guder who was at Princeton at the time who coined the "missional" word and he his comments about the book refer to how generative it will be, how important of a contribution it is, how other thinkers and writers should adopt it, how our churches should be talking about it, joining the discussion. He writes:

Finn and Whitfield's Spirituality for the Sent is a welcome broadening and deepening of the missional church discussion... It should foster much discussion, encourage ever more provocative research, and embolden more contributions to the discussion.


Listen to Michael Frost, one of the great writers in this field, who has in mind practitioners, both those who are contemplatives and those who are activists:

In Spirituality for the Sent Finn and Whitfield have presented us with a framework for a spiritually rich and missionally engaged church... In their vision, spiritual formation is essential for missional effectiveness and sustainability. This book is generous enough in its scope to encourage contemplatives and activists alike. 

This great book features contributions by Hearts & Minds favorites, too.  Craig Bartholomew (whose recent book Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition I recently raved about) has a chapter on spirituality and the drama of Scripture.  Tim Sheridan and Michael Goheen have a chapter on spirituality and cultural engagement.  Soong-Chan Rah has a chapter entitled "Lament as Appropriate Missional Spirituality."  Mae Elise Cannon's chapter is about missional spirituality and justice --  yes!  The great Gordon Smith (whose most recent fully amazing book is called Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three) shows how spirituality helps us worship well (and vice versa.) There are authors with whom I'm less familiar;  Gary Tyra's chapter on Pauline spirituality is excellent and Diane Chandler's on "Godly Love" as the primary spiritual virtue is beautiful.  There is a chapter on congregational life, too - bringing to ordinary church life a vision of being both missional and spiritual.   This collection has plenty of good stuff for nearly anyone about nurturing a deeper missional spirituality and will reward readers for months and years to come.  (Two authors who have worked really well in this area that I wished had been included are Roger Helland & Leonard Hjalmarson whose 2011 IVP book Missional Spirituality: Embodying God's Love from the Inside Out was groundbreaking.)

Here is a little heads up: I am positive that Spirituality for the Sent: Casting a New Vision for the Missional Church will win a Hearts & Minds Best Book of 2017 award, so why not just buy it now?  We will tout this, as I hope others will, as it breaks significant ground, offers sweet insights, and, although a bit meaty, is excellent for anyone wanting to relate faith and life and worship and work and deeper spirituality and wholistic witness in the world God loves. Highly recommended.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally- Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture.jpgReading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture John Piper (Crossway) $32.99  Pastor Piper has retired from his position at Bethlehem Baptist but his writing career has perhaps reached a new zenith. He has over the years given us major works such as his hallmark Desiring God, Future Grace, and The Pleasures of God; he has written smaller volumes of deeply moving, passionate preaching in books like Seeking and Savoring Christ.  He has done scholarly work on Jesus's many demands (not enough have read his Love Your Enemies: Jesus' Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Paraenesis) and he has fueled a movement of God-drenched, neighbor-loving passion for mission; he has written about social issues (most interestingly, see his declaration that racism is a sin, in Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.) His call to have our lives count for God's Kingdom found in books like Don't Waste Your Life have affected tens of thousands. His book Think reminds us of how to think faithfully and Biblically.  He has written poetry, and written books about writing. He has done a series of short biographies that are fantastic called "The Swans Are Not Silent" -- he loves teaching about the past. He pays attention to the Scriptures and he applies faith with a God-centeredness that alludes to his hero Jonathan Edwards and a joy that reminds one of his beloved C.S. Lewis.

I believe he is mistaken about some things, and that he perhaps is a bit too self-confident at times, but he has been important in my life, and I'm grateful to have heard him speak a few times and to have met him and his wife.  Of course we stock most of his many books.

So I am eager to read this new one, which I've only skimmed for a few moments. At well over 425 pages it is a major volume; it even feels heavy in the hand and has tons of chapters and sub-chapters and sections and is laden with counsel both profound and practical.

There are other books that are more open minded about what the Bible is and how to get the most from your reading of it in non-literal ways. Of course. But this one, too, should be studied, even if one holds a view that different than Piper's.  I am sure is rooted in classic, serious study -- oh, if other pastors took the life of the mind as seriously as he does -- so don't be put off by the "supernaturally" in the title. For instance, there is one section called "God Forbid That We Despise His Natural Gifts" by which he means that there is no tension between a "natural" and a "supernatural" reading. We are to use, as good gifts that they are, the minds God gives us, the gifts of thinking, of logic, of appreciating poetry and beauty and how to discern the ways metaphors work and so forth.  He has a major section with nearly a dozen chapters called "The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally." 

The first sections are passionate -- there are powerful teachings about "white-hot worship" and "savoring Christ" and three parts of "Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty" and three more chapters on "Reading to Be Transformed."  One chapter title that caught my eye is called "Reading Toward the Consummation."  This is serious stuff, and while it is intense, it is not abstract. 

piper fists.jpgAnd some chapters are just really, really wise: one is entitled "Humility Throws Open a Thousand Windows." There are whole chapters about "querying" the text, about the author's intent, and about sound methods of exegesis.  I suspect that there is something here for nearly everyone (and nearly everyone who has considered any of this material before will find something with which they will disagree.) But who couldn't benefit from piper smiling.jpgthis kind of jolt, reminding us to pray for God's blessing as we read, to grapple with the very holiness of the text, to dig and dig and, as one of my hero's, Calvin Seerveld, put it, "take hold of God and pull."  (And to live with, as Piper himself says "paradoxes, pleasures, and the transformed life."  Reading this all will be a major project, but that's okay -- one doesn't have to read it all at once -- as Piper reminds us, "The Bible beckons us to look for a long time."  And, yes, good Baptist that he is, he has a few proof-texts. 

Here are some of the conservative, evangelical leaders who are speaking of this book in glowing terms.  Even if you are not a conservative or an evangelical, you cannot afford to miss this kind of stuff:

'Not many books should be recommended for both beginning Bible readers and mature Bible readers, but this is one of them. Utilizing brief and pointed expositions of often overlooked Bible verses, John Piper helpfully explains why we should be reading the Bible, the work of the Spirit in our Bible reading, and the fundamental skills and habits of faithful Bible reading. I cannot imagine a serious Christian who would not benefit from a thoughtful reading of this book."
--D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition

"I have been reading the Bible daily for thirty-five years. Reading the Bible Supernaturally challenged my motives, effort, and enjoyment. I doubt I will read the Scriptures the same way again. I look forward to deeper and more wonderful times alone in the Word in the days ahead. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to take Bible study seriously."
--Francis Chan, New York Times best-selling author, Crazy Love and Forgotten God

"Stunning. Profound. Powerful. Reading the Bible Supernaturally will move you to captivated and awestruck worship at the Divine's plan for his Word as an instrument to magnify his unrivaled glory. Seeing and savoring the God of the Scriptures is an extraordinarily high calling every believer must pursue, and no man can move us to that place quite like John Piper. This book, accessibly written and weighty in content, is so much more than a manual or study guide to the Scriptures. Rather, it's an invitation to the experience God intended we have with his Word--an experience that is Spirit dependent, faith building, and worship inciting."
--Louie Giglio, Pastor, Passion City Church, Atlanta; Founder, Passion Conferences; author, The Comeback

"The seemingly mundane topic of reading the Bible ushers us into a world of supernatural grace for sinners. With constant reference to the Holy Scriptures, John Piper shows us how to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and to read by the light of Christ. Yet Piper commends no passive mysticism, but studious labor over the best of books; he is thorough, practical, and engaging throughout. Take up and read!"
--Joel R. Beeke, president, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"Reading the Bible Supernaturally reminds us why we cannot rest until every person on earth has access to the Bible in their own tongue. Tribes, languages, peoples, and nations are perishing without access to, or opportunity to know, this glorious God through this glorious book. John Piper stokes the urgency of our calling as the church of Jesus Christ to deepen our appreciation for the Word that God uses toward a missional end--his global and eternal glory."
--Michael Oh, Global Executive Director, The Lausanne Movement

"Reading the Bible Supernaturally is a thorough and compelling wake-up call to lethargic, passive, resistant, mechanical Bible readers (which is all of us at one point or another) to become hungry, eager, inquisitive, aggressively observant miners for the treasure in the text--fully expectant that God will bring us from death to life, from foolishness to wisdom, from damning despair to glorious hope through his Word."
--Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher; author, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow

"If you disconnect the Bible from God's glory, you lose your grip on both. What terrible things we hear people say about each of them, taken in isolation. John Piper puts them together, and finds himself preaching an astonishingly high doctrine of Scripture, right alongside an intimately experiential doctrine of God's glory. Reading the Bible Supernaturally is not just one of the helpful activities that make up the Christian life. Kept in proper context, seen in full perspective, and received in wide-awake recognition of the living voice of the triune God, reading the Bible is the central act of Christian existence. This book, a kind of extended Christian hedonist gloss on Psalm 119, is an invitation to the miracle of Bible reading."
--Fred Sanders, Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University; author, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

"No book has inspired me to approach Scripture with as much anticipation as Reading the Bible Supernaturally. Read this book at your own risk, for it will ignite your devotional life. You will find yourself actively hunting for treasure in the Bible, looking carefully at each passage, praying and trusting that God himself will open your eyes to see and savor his glory. Don't let the length of this book fool you; it is clear, accessible, and inspiring. In fact, it is the most practical, passionate, and motivating book on reading the Bible I have ever read. Read it. Apply it. Test it. It will transform your approach to God's Word."
--Vaneetha Rendall Risner, author, The Scars That Have Shaped Me



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April 12, 2017

"Mother Tongue" (Leonard Sweet), "Holy Spokes" (Laura Everett), "My Utmost" (Macy Halford), "The Tech-Wise Family" (Andy Crouch), "Love Lives Here" (Maria Goff), and more: Fun, Happy Books to bring Inspiration, Insight -- ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

It may seem a little incongruous this week, but I want to suggest some happy books. Fun, well-written, upbeat, and very inspiring.

I know that most of us are absorbed in the drama of this moment in our church season - reading the gospels, going to extra church services, focusing on Christ and his execution, longing for hope.  We coloring lent.jpgcontinue to recommend books from Rowan Williams' The Sign and the Sacrifice- The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection.jpgThe Sign and the Sacrifice: The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection (WJK; $15.00) to one by our UCC pastor friend Chris Rodkey, his lectionary-based Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection (Chalice Press; $12.99) an adult coloring book that includes some thoughtful and provocative meditations and great art.

These next days and following we really, really recommend A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda (Baker; $14.99) which is perfect to read on Holy Saturday.  I've been pondering A Glorious Dark- Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience .jpgInto Your Hand: Confronting Good Friday by Walter Brueggemann (Cascade; $11.00) which were a set of sermons Walt preached at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Cincinnati one long Good Friday afternoon. We suggest classic books about the atonement, justification, Christ's suffering, and, of course, the Resurrection.  I know many of us are in the thick of this hard stuff.

I know many of us are also deep in the thick of hard stuff happening in the world.  We are faced with hard policy choices about the budget, the terrible gutting of environmental projects, some services to the poor being cut even as we plan to spend more on armaments. The ongoing brutality of the Assad regime breaks our heart and the bombing of Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday reminds us what we all know - these are painful times for many and God calls us to at least try to figure out how to be responsible citizens in the midst of the injustices. In an increasingly globalized world, we know even more than we used to, and Jesus calls us to be faithful and good neighbors, complex as things may be.   As Robert Benson put it in his last book, swiping a good line, Punching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World.

Even debating what we should say and do, what policies we should promote, where to put our limited energies, is itself a matter that causes many of us great tension. May God help us as we talk together as church friends, citizens, neighbors about what should be done.  

Hearts & Minds continues to attempt to be a resource center for faithful Christian thinking and living, from your own personal growth to church and congregational renewal to nurturing Christian citizenship that helps us work on issues of peace, justice, racial reconciliation, environmental stewardship, and the like. I will continue to attempt reviews about social concerns that we hope are helpful - as some say we did well a few weeks ago in our review of Rod Dreher's important The Benedict Option and in my assessment of what one friend has called Princeton Seminary's Kuyper/Keller-gate. (You can see my list of books by and about Abraham Kuyper and Timothy Keller, here.) Keller, by the way, spoke at that event last week mostly about the importance of Lesslie Newbigin, commending his profound little book Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western CultureWe've promoted that for years, have included it in our displays at book tables for conferences for decades. Nice to hear Tim so astutely describe its importance to mainline denominational folks and conservative evangelicals alike. 


Mother Tongue- How Your Heritage Shapes Your Story.jpgMother Tongue: How Your Heritage Shapes Your Story Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $15.99  This remarkable book deserves a bigger review than I can give it here, but I can tell you this much: if you have liked any of Len Sweet's many books or are all curious about his colorful approach to faith and discipleship and congregational renewal, this book is one you simply have to read.  He has described it as his most personal and he seems to be feeling a bit vulnerable about it all.

Sweet's the literary critic, you know, a flamboyant, handsome guy who is known for using screens and digital stuff, postmodern in some quirky Victorian way, a "post-modern pilgrim" as one of his books is called.  His playful use of words is unsurpassed and his gift of weaving quotes from the most random sources into a coherent evangelistic message is legendary.  Where did he come from? How in the world did somebody who wrote seminal works about semiotics -- okay, I'm trying to keep up, but I suppose he'll just roll his eyes at my pedestrian alliteration there -- and who danced the Soul Salsa (noting, cleverly that older folks will think of a condiment but younger folks will think of a dance!) harness this trend-mesitering into a call for radical church renewal?  He offered remarkable insights about the coming waves of post-modernity in Soul Tsunami - waves, get it? - and he gave us stunning sweet, coffee cup.jpgnew metaphors for doing church. Aqua Church remains a must-read in my view, and hope you'll order it from us if you haven't read it yet. He has a clear-headed but really interesting book on using digital culture for renewal, perfectly called called Viral. Who tells Protestants that we should stop with our individualistic, modernist slogans like "Here I Stand" and replace them with "There We Go"?  Who writes books about clever, contemporary preaching and authors books like his recent Bad Habits of Jesus?  What kind of edgy, outlier is he?

Well, here's the thing: his mother was kicked out of her own denomination, the Primitive Methodist church (for whom she was a passionate preacher and evangelist) because she accepted and wore a wedding ring offered by her husband (Len's father) who was a more liberal sort of holiness guy, a mere Free Methodist.  If he was a Marine Corp type of Methodist she must have been part of the Navy Seal commandos, fit and serious. They were both hardcore and - as Len says in the first chapter of this book mostly about his mother - not only was she removed from her church for wearing this tiny bit of forbidden jewelry, they later got kicked out of the Free Methodist congregation for having a black and white television (or what the preacher called a hell-a-vision.)  So, this Christ and culture stuff runs deep in a kid who was forcibly removed from a Wednesday night prayer service. What should the church do about the world? 

The lovely, exciting, well-written, and very moving Mother Tongue accomplishes at least two big things (and, for a Len Sweet book, this is underestimating it: there is always a whole bunch of stuff going on at once, and all of his books repay repeated readings!)  

Firstly, it is somewhat of a biography or at least tribute to his colorful mother.  There has been, he eventually tells us, some remorse shown from what is now the Wesleyan denomination about the mistreatment of Mabel Boggs Sweet, and she is now honored with a plaque somewhere.  And, man, she deserves it, because this book is loaded with fascinating stories, good teaching, interesting stuff she taught and stood for.  She was a Christian leader and she took her Godly role in pushing her sons into the ways of righteousness very, very seriously.

He tells us that they were Appalachian people, his father from the mountains in upstate New York , his mother from West Virginia, where they spent some of the summers. Len ended up living in Ohio (in what Len informs us is really a West Virginia city) and his mother lived with him there, although often returned to her West Virginia homeland.  Do you know that road that memoirist J.D. Vance writes about, that well-worn road from Ohio rust belt towns back home to Appalachia, so regularly traveled in the mid to late 20th century? This road, or one like it, tells the Boggs-Sweet story, too, and Leonard and his brothers (one who is a Presbyterian pastor, by the way - what in the heck happened to him I often wondered)  -- were raised as Appalachian kids.  They ran free in forests and open lots and they came home to supper as mom yelled out the door. They were disciplined sternly and loved well and the Bible and the church and the work of advancing God's Kingdom played a central part of their self identity.  Going to church camp and revivals and camp meetings were non-negotiable. His mother is a more legendary character than I can say and their upbringing is more interesting than I can tell and this book offers just glimpses.  But the glimpses are wonderful to read.

The book is about his mother, after all, but he shares in vulnerable ways episodes that are revealing, shaping, formative.  I like very much the method of this madness where Sweet names a particular item, a bit of material culture as the scholars call it, to illuminate the story of Mabel Boggs Sweet and her TV watching fundamentalist husband and the boys that didn't quite remind me of My Three Sons.

So, the chapters are given titles like this:

Ma's Wedding Ring, Dad's Hellevision

The Yellow-Painted Pot-Metal Boudoir Light


Polio Braces

Yellow Cheese

Lye Soap

Grandfather's Chair

Glover's Mange Cure  (yep, you read that right, mange cure.)


There are other chapters laden with Americana and old timey tales and what may be some exaggeration, but I bet not.  These stories end up being parables that reveal the heart of this Godly woman, perhaps the sort of sturdy Christian disciple that we don't find much anymore.  As Sweet says, "Mother didn't look for burning bushes. She was one."

But it's fun, too, just really nice storytelling. You won't want to miss one on his mother's prayer habits called "The Nautical Door." Be sure to read "Mounds, Mars Bars, and the County Home" and "The Doctor's Script."

As the fabulous writer Karen Swallow Prior says, "I found myself hanging on every word in this tenderly written and carefully crafted tribute..."

Mother Tongue- How Your Heritage Shapes Your Story.jpgI said there are at least two big things going on here.  Yes, Mother Tongue is a tribute to Leonard Sweet's mother and a window into his own formation; anyone wanting to know how Sweet himself has been shaped and why he tends to see things as he does, calling on churches to be creative in seeking renewal, more disciplined and committed, well this will help. But also, there is this broad call to us all to understand our roots, to know where we've come from and to wonder, as the cover puts asks, "How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story."  (Sweet, you may recall, has a very interesting look at the heritage of the United Methodist Church called The Greatest Story Never Told: Revive Us Again (Abingdon; $18.99) that might wisely be read after Mother Tongue. Or, for the more stout and convicted that there should be some connection between ancient and future ways, see a book he edited, Postmodern and Wesleyan?: Exploring the Boundaries and Possibilities (Beacon Hill; $15.99.)  

Of course we must always contextualize our faith, relate the "old, old story" to the realities of our own age.  But how we do that is the big issue, isn't it?  We can learn much from Mabel Bogg Sweet's sage teachings, but Len's own telling of the tale - what he has recalled and why he told it and why it is important to us - is a major contribution. This book says that "you will be challenged to steward your faith so that those who follow may likewise be rooted, established, and in pursuit of God's call on their own lives."  That is, in listening in to Sweet tell his story we are invited to ponder our own. As we see how he frames his own upbringing and offers just a little insight on how this might effect him (and us) today, we learn to do the same.  It is wise to attend to our own roots and places and background and heritage, so see how it might shape us today.

Isn't that one of the reasons we tell these tales of our loved ones, pass the faith stories on, as the Bible commands, from generation to generation?  God, apparently, loves history. God obviously loves storytelling. I suspect strongly that God loves Mother Tongue. 

holy spokes  big.jpgHoly Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels Laura Everett (Eerdmans) $22.99  I don't even bike and I was eager to see this; the book-lovin' folks at Eerdmans in bike-friendly Grand Rapids had assured us this was going to be a huge book this spring, that it would be very interesting, a lot of fun, and very well written.

Now that it is here, I can only say "Amen!" even though it isn't what I would call gospel-focused or evangelical.  Well, it is loaded with evangelical zeal about the gospel of cycling. Everett is a pretty serious cyclist and urbanist.  I enjoyed her descriptions of different sorts of cycling enthusiasts -- the hard-core fixed gear guys in Boston are called "Freds" - and cheered as she deepened her own commitments to ride more and ruminated on her life choices.  The author is the Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and tells us very little about her work or life outside of her transportation choices (I really wanted more!) but, my, my, does she tell us about her transportation. 

As with any embedded study of a serious hobby or sub-culture, there's some amazing passion, insider baseball, and quirky writing about stuff that many of us wouldn't know was so darn interesting.  From the inevitable sore bum to the dangers to the sexist hassles, Everett tells us more than you might first want to know about the history of bikes, the different weights and kinds, or how chains work, and, a bike enthusiast or not, on every page, you will be sighing and smiling, wanting more. Holy Spokes is a page-turner - believe it or not - and a very holy book.

I happen to think it would be holy even if it were written in mostly a secular approach; she gets how practices are formative, how a sense of place makes us better people, how it is a virtuous thing to know notice stuff, and to know a bit about the very ground on which you walk (or ride.) Her love for life and her honesty about her journey is so real (but never sentimental) that it is beautiful. The title of the book is not just a bit of cleverness. For Laura Everett, and many of the people she introduces us to in this memoir/reflection, her spokes really are holy.

holy spokes riding.jpgAnd here is how she helps us get it: the book is, although a study of urban biking, of two-wheeled transportation, it is, as the subtitle says, a book about spirituality.  Every chapter starts with an important quote from Brother Lawrence's enduring Practicing the Presence of God (or from a letter by or about him, one even from a sermon preached at his eulogy in 1666.) Everett has obviously worked with this classic spirituality book and it shows; in every chapter readers will learn how to apply the humble monk's insights about finding God in the ordinary. Her weaving through frantic traffic, getting "doored" in downtown Boston, or wondering what to wear in below freezing temps is a bit different than Lawrence's tales of peeling potatoes.  But it works.  Her urban spirituality is deeply shaped by this monastic rule, this daily practice, this ordinary spirituality.

The book's chapters, even though they've got that Brother Lawrence quote and includes his teaching, is, in fact, truly about biking. The chapter titles are based on various parts of her bike, with some sort of metaphor attached to each.  Here are the names of the chapters and what insight she offers, just to give you a sense of how nifty this is:

Frame - Rule of Life

Wheels - Habit

Saddle - Endurance

Tires and Tubes - Border-Crossing

Lights - Visibility

Fork - Rest

Handlebars - Adaptation

Gears -- Pacing

Chain -- Embodiment

Helmet  -- Particularity

Brakes - Limitations

You -- Joy

There are very handsome line drawings throughout - reminding me of an old classic monastic cookbook we used to have - showing off that part of the bike. This is going to bless cyclists and mere watchers, those who find God in the great outdoors and those of us who live this part of life vicariously through entertaining and wise books just like this. It is a beautiful book.

There is an appendix that shows a Blessings of the Bike service and, movingly, a litany for a Ghost Bike service, marking those killed on the roadways. 

As Publishers Weekly put it, Holy Spokes is:

Fresh and delightful... With a window into cycling culture, Everett never loses her focus on her belief that commuting by bicycle can be a cosmic and soul-enriching good.

Or listen to William Lamar, who says of it:

For anyone who has longed to look at the beating heart of their city through the lens of faith, Laura Everett provides a winsome, two-wheeled tour.

My Utmost Macy Halford.jpgMy Utmost: A Devotional Memoir Macy Halford (Knopf) $26.95 This remarkable book has brought me much pleasure, has caused me to ponder--about my life, faith, Christian growth, and the curiosities of Oswald Chambers (author of My Utmost for His Highest, a staple here) who was a much more complicated and curious person than I ever, ever knew. Ms. Halford wonderfully tells the story of her own fascination with Chambers and his famous devotional. This would be good even if it were not so well written, but it just glows at times, making it a truly luminous, artful and sophisticated read. But more, there's this: Halford's memoir tells of her growing up in a fundamentalist Texas family, heading off to Barnard College, and landing a prestigious writing job in Manhattan at The New Yorker. Her taking inspiration from this old evangelical chestnut in the city that never sleeps, working with folks who (we can only imagine) never heard of any daily devotional, is quite a plot for a story, no?

There's a great chapter telling of an awkward meeting she attended in the city (mostly to appease her evangelically Baptist mother) with some other evangelical women who work "in Christian publishing"- some of it very conservative and very cheesy - which has a spot-on feel about how a thoughtful, less theologically dogmatic, maybe less pious, if still God-haunted, serious professional in the elite field of letters and literature relates to these other zealous, pleasant, mostly Southern women who so earnestly want to pray for her witness in her job among the pagans. ("Do you review Christian books in your job there?" they want to know.) Halford has very little in common with these women - her faith seems somehow different than theres, her expression of faith is certainly different, and her intellectual, social, and political convictions are much different - but then one of them quotes by memory a bit from Oswald Chambers.  Another knows his work well, and Macy bonds immediately.  How curious.  

She is, admittedly, not where she once was, but continues to read this Godly devotional each day as she has since she was 15. She is alarmed when it becomes known that then-President Bush, waging an unpopular war in the Middle East and generally despised by the elite among whom she works, said that My Utmost for His Highest was his favorite book. (We've learned a bit about her life by this time, in the fashion of a good memoir, about her early days, her churchy memories, her baptism at church camp, the awkwardness of being an evangelical involved in a rather rowdy theater group where there was drinking and more.)

Eventually, she leaves her job at The New Yorker to work full time on her story, mostly working around the question of how it is that some are so deeply the writing of the late 1800s Scottish preacher. She moves to Paris, and, oh my, that's interesting.

macy-halford_0461-1.jpgI won't spoil too much, but besides the good writing, the story of a Christian woman finding her way in the work world, discerning her call to be a writer, the element of a subtly told faith journey, telling how a young adult comes to clarify her own faith, once she has moved beyond her fundamentalist past, there is much here to supplement other biographies of Chambers. The book is as much about him as it is about her. The allusive Oswald Chambers was a mystic, an artist, a preacher, a colorful writer, an eccentric thinker - influenced as he was by romanticism and in tune with Scottish characters like George MacDonald.  Chambers died while serving as a chaplain among British soldiers in World War I in Northern Africa. His Oswald Chambers.jpglegacy lives on as one of the best-selling authors in all of history. That such a fascinating, artful, intellectually rigorous, missionary zealot is so popular among ordinary and often culturally conservative American evangelicals - some who would blanch if they knew of the artists he admired, the philosophy he read, the books he loved - is a wonderment.

That a very prominent, respected secular publishing house (Alfred Knopf) published this evangelical memoir about a young woman's study of Oswald Chambers, is also a wonderment. (How did that even happen?)  It received a wonderful, insightful review in The New York Times just a week or so ago. And, I suspect that most Christian bookstores won't stock this, which, although perhaps ironic, is part of the sub-sub-text of this very book.  How do Christian books make a difference in people's lives and how to those raised in the strict confines of a deep sub-culture learn to navigate the wider world?  Mr. Chambers helped Marcy Halford, and now her story helps us all.  What a book.

Jackie Robinson- A Spiritual Biography --The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero.jpgJackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography --The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero Michael Long & Chris Lamb (WJK) $  I don't have to say much about this; we all know who Jackie Robinson is, and we may also know that there haven't been quite enough voices really telling his remarkable story that well.  This is the best book, I have reason to believe, that has yet been done about the great black player who also was an outspoken critic of racial segregation and early advocate for civil rights.   He was a hero to many and he paid up, using his fame as a way to speak wisely about this hard, hard, stuff.

You may know that Michael Long - a central Pennsylvania religion prof near us at Elizabethtown College - has a real knack for drawing on primary sources to create biographies that are more than pop studies or overviews, but are rigorously informed by behind the scenes stuff that few have bothered to study.  For instance, he did a biography of the Rev. Mr. Fred Rogers based mostly on his own letters and private correspondence called Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers. He has previously released an amazing collection of Jackie Robinson's letters called First Class Citizenship: The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson. (That was actually named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.)

Chris Lamb, by the way, is a professor of journalism so knows a thing or two about researching, writing, and telling a good story.  And he's written about this, too, including Blackout: The Untold Story of jack Robinson's First Spring Training and Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (which was called one of the best baseball books of all time by the Huffington Post.)  That these too socially conscious sports fans have both written niche books about Jackie Robinson before makes them perfectly suited to create this, what should be considered the definitive book on the great man. The last page, telling about his funeral procession from Harlem (saying what songs the choir sang, and the old spiritual performed by the great Roberta Flack) into Brooklyn is the perfect ending to a great biography.

 42 Faith- The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story.jpgIf you are a real fan, follow this insightful one up with another very good one that just came out, 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story written by Ed Henry (Thomas Nelson; $24.99.)  It has a great cover, a nice hardback heft, and has gotten some good advanced buzz. The author is a lifetime baseball fan, and a world-class reporter. In fact, Henry has been the primary Fox News Reporter covering the White House throughout the Obama years. He has also served in the prestigious post of president of the White House Correspondents' Association from 2012-2013, after being elected in an unopposed election by his peers in the White House press corps. Prior to joining FNC, Henry was at CNN from 2004-2011, where he served as the network's senior White House correspondent. Henry began his career working for Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Jack Anderson.

tech-wise fam better.jpgThe Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place Andy Crouch (Baker Books) $13.99  Well, what can I briefly say about this brand new book by one of the most important writers in contemporary Christianity?  You know how much I insist we should all read -- a couple of times! - his Culture Making, his reflection on power, Playing God, and his little, very wise book about human flourishing through embracing risk and strength, simply called Strong and Weak.

This fabulous new book, which starts with a foreword by Andy and Catherine's teenage daughter, Amy, is a reflection on the deeper meaning of life in these techy days. Yes, it offers some good advice for parents about making good choices and "reclaiming real life in a world of devices." There is stuff about family life and models for how to get kids on board, uniting around certain limits and practices and appropriate uses of technology. Although not as lengthy or dour as books like Amusing Andy Crouch laughing.jpgOurselves To Death or The Shallows, this is one of those great books that meanders through a lot of great truth. There are chapters like "Shaping Space" and "The Deep End of the (Car) Pool" and "The Good New About Boredom."  There is a chapter on embodiment (okay, it's about sex) and a lovely chapter called "Why Singing Matters" and a powerful one called "In Sickness and Health."

This is much, much more than a book about limiting screen time, as the beautiful writer Shauna Niequist says. Just listen to this:

To be honest, before I opened this book I expected to be challenged on the topic of screen time for my kids. I was, certainly.  What I did not expect was to be offered a vision for family life and faith and character so compelling and inspiring that it made me weep, made me reconsider many aspects of our home, made me profoundly thankful for this beautiful and important book.

ATech Wise Family Barna graph.jpgnother helpful bit of The Tech-Wise Family, besides its wise rumination on walking through ordinary days with a deeper sense of family living in a particular place with particular habits and postures, there is some brand new data presented with some fresh insights from the Barna Group. Sort of like their wonderful little Frames books, these considerable essays surround info-graphics and comment a bit on some of the latest data about technology, our habits, and our deepest longings as found by this useful research project.

Besides these helpful and interesting charts and colorful info-graphics there are occasional "Realty Checks" portions that give us an honest look through a real window into the Crouch household. He is a broad social thinker and good cultural critic and a wise theological voice - if often positive, inviting us to a pro-active approach of doing good stuff rather than merely avoiding the bad - so these little bits from the Crouch household brings it all down to where you and I live.  This is just one more feature making this a very, very useful little book.

If you follow Mr. Crouch's work carefully you will know he's a thinker, a fine writer, musician, speaker, and - among other influences - has been informed by the Montana Catholic philosopher Dr. Albert Power Failure- Christianity in the Culture of Technology..jpgLiving into Focus.jpgBorgmann. Borgmann's work (somewhat influenced, perhaps, by his friendship with Presbyterian Eugene Peterson) has become very important to many of us, from his engagement with post-modernity, his worries about the way technology has shaped the quintessential American character, and how, to navigate this well, we need to discover attentive focal practices, as he calls them.  (See the wonderful book about all that by called Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions by Art Boers. See also Professor Borgmann's most overtly Christian reflection on our technological age called Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology.)

Well, Andy has absorbed much of all of this and he himself says this in an afterward to The Tech-Wise Family where he notes the influence of "the life work of Albert Borgmann, especially his 1987 book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry." 

supper of the lamb.jpgBut Andy then says this:

Dr. Borgmann's work is, entirely appropriately, far from light reading, so you may want to warm up with one book that influenced him and has delighted and directed our own family: Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb.  Although published nearly fifty years ago, Capon's theological cookbook is still the ideal summons to something better than our technological shallows - in the kitchen and everywhere else. Bon appetit - and bon courage.

The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea- Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition.jpgThe Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea: Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition  Russell Rathbun (Eerdmans) $21.99  I loved this book I'm going to re-read it.  I described it briefly before here at BookNotes, but just have to suggest it again - in an allusive, odd-ball way, it offers much great wisdom in one helluva read.  Here is what I said, suggesting it as a Lenten read, actually.  Okay, maybe that was a stretch, and if I had time, I'd love to just write a whole new review, since I'm so taken with this book. But, for now, here ya go:

Oh, man-o-man, this deserves a longer review and I hope I can get back to this to tell you even more about how I liked it so.  I've been pondering this since I lost a bit too much sleep staying up reading (you've heard that phrase "I couldn't put it down," right?)  This is an odd book, about an odd topic, and it is hard to say if it is creative nonfiction, a memoir of sorts, a travelogue, a family history, or some crazy-eyed, made-up novel. I say this mostly because a book he wrote a decade ago, a kind of novel called Post Rapture Radio, was so genre bending and spectacular (don't get me started on how that wonderfully messed with my mind.) Since that dive into the deep end of the creative waters, Rathbun remains a pastor at the non-traditional House of Mercy (serving along side the excellent wordsmith and preacher herself, Debbie Blue) in Saint Paul, MN.  That dear Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a great introduction to this makes sense. She's a fine, rather non-conventional pastor of a church for the "accidental saints" and other assorted odd-ball, unchurched, so a soul-mate of RR, I suppose, and a great storyteller.  So she gets him.

But more importantly, as Nadia says in the preface, and as Debbie Blue says on the back cover blurb (sharing space with, I can't not tell you, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes) Russell Rathbun loves people, loves stories, loves that liminal place where story and words and history collide, even as he "hilariously unravels tales of our folly." Which is to say (stay with me here) this is a Lenten book for those who don't want a Lenten book. It is very enjoyable but, without being heavy handed, it is a study of the somewhat dark and twisted side of human foibles.

The plot line, such as it is, is simple: he criss-crosses across the globe visiting the legendary Salton Sea in Southern California's desert and the Great Wall of China, the only two man-made objects (or so he heard growing up) that one can see from outer space.

He then launches into some remarkable re-telling of Bible stories, not only the flooding narrative from Noah and Ark et. al., but also the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.  I'm not spoiling much (you can read it in the subtitle) to say that at the end of the day, this entertaining romp through his travels trying to visit these wild, storied, places, ends up being a book about hubris. Or, as Bolz-Weber says, since there is "no purity in the world," it is about "the ambiguity of ambition." 

Rathbun's reporting from China is riveting and his quick history of the rise of Chairman Mao and, importantly, his wife and the notorious Gang of Four is worth the price of the book.  It tells you more about his fluency in pop culture to note that he also talks about the 1980s punk band of that name. 

Years ago I read a book by one of my favorite writers, Dennis Covington, called Redneck Riviera which is about Covington trying to find out why his late father had some dumb deed to some swamp land in Florida.  He was, apparently, ripped off and done wrong, and Covington decides to make it right, tracking down the Floridian long-ago deed dealers. Rathbun's search isn't quite that dramatic or dangerous and his story is more gentle and more haunting -- but there are similarities: why did his modest, farmer grandfather end up with a deed to some luxury lot on the edge of the Salton Sea?  It doesn't make sense. What was going on there, and why did it end up to be so much of nothing? What sort of American dreams were shaping the development there and how did it go so wrong? I think his answers are different than Covington's and they are closer to home.

And besides that stuff about hubris and ambition and pride and our human condition, there's joy. As the stellar review in Publishers Weekly put it, it is "an explication of the mundane inside notions of the colossal or the grand, and a model of how to truly live and appreciate the world." 

Morgan Meis, a writer who contributes to the New Yorker, says,

I want to read everything Russell Rathbun has written -- he's funny and honest and attuned to the tragic and absurd. His prose made me laugh out loud, and it has made me cry. I cannot recommend The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea more highly.

The First Love Story.jpgThe Very First Love Story: Adam, Even, and Us Bruce Feiler (Penguin Press) $28.00  I am sure I don't have to tell you who Feiler is or what a fun writer he is. He edits the "This Life" column for The New York Times and became famous for doing embedded sorts of creative nonfiction, such as the one where he joins the circus or the one about his journeys to the far East called Learning to Bow. His Council of Dads was a heart-warming, tear-jerking powerhouse - he was diagnosed with a terminal cancer and gathered a group of dads to promise to help raise his daughter after he was gone.  His most famous, certainly among church folk, was Walking the Bible where he searched for his own long-lost Jewish faith by, literally, trekking around the Holy Land.  The similar interfaith hike to hang out with Arabs, Jews, and ancient Christians in the Middle East called Abraham was remarkable, too. We highly recommend them all as just wonderful books to have and enjoy and from which to learn much. 

This new one, full of wit and wisdom, is a study (if one can call this gregarious exploration a study) of the story of Adam and Eve; from there, he jumps in to the question of what this Biblical story has to do with modern love.  Searching for intimacy, community, sex, family? He is the man. (His most recent book, The Secret of Happy Families was a witty compilation of the best wisdom that all the good self-help books about family life offer, so he's been working this wheelhouse for a while.) The advanced praise of the brand new The First Love Story comes from sources far and wide, and sharp scholars, pundits, writers, and thought-leaders have weighed in, saying our revealing this portrait is and how, in the words of James Martin, this project can make "a seemingly hidebound topic come alive and the oldest Bible stories seem fresh, inspiring, and even exciting."

And how about this for an extra feature: writer of Muslim-Christian relations, Resa Aslan says of The First Love Story, "Feiler's book forces even the most experienced of religious scholars to rethink our understanding of sacredness and profanity."  Yes!

love lives here.jpgLove Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want Maria Goff (Thomas Nelson) $17.99  I hate to pitch a book by a woman primarily in light of what her husband has done, but Bob Goff and Sweet Maria are such a couple, partners-in-crime, a pair --  dare I say, a pair of wild cards?  Bob Goff is one of the most popular and well-loved speakers traveling around conferences and events, hosting folks at his own gigs (sometimes he and Maria bring crews of folks to their own getaway lodge along the coast in British Columbia, just because they want folks to meet other folks, genuine, relational, loving service, yes, but also a bit of strategic planning, what is dully called networking.  The Goffs turn hospitality into a gracious gift, yes, but sometimes as Kingdom asset.  So and so should know so and so as they really ought to partner in this project or that trip or this ministry.  Without it seeming forced, these capers they tell us about (and other people tell about in their own books, famously Donald Miller in A Million Years in a Thousand Days) bring good stuff into the world, and always with a belly laugh.  If you know Bob, you know he sincerely says "How cool is that?" probably every single day.  His book, loaded with these stories, is simply called Love Does.  

Well, it reallybob and maria and balloon.jpg does.  But Bob doesn't do this cool stuff alone, and he is always clear about that. He tells of his wife's role in his life sometimes, but it is, after all, her story, and we are all so, so glad she has allowed us into her journey in this new book.

Maria is - shall we say - less extroverted than Bob, so this may not have come as naturally to her.  But she is in on the capers, has stories to tell, travels of her own, mission projects, mentoring, surprising hardships and more.  If one wants to know how "love does" in the Goff movement, read this.  If you ever read yet another tweet from Bob from some war zone or ghetto or hard place where he is using his lawyering skills to help set policy in a developing country or his storytelling skills to encourage younger activists, or using his energies to create spaces of peace and justice in Africa, or fighting sexual trafficking in India, or starting another school, even in ISIS-occupied territory, well, just know you haven't heard the half of it.  Until now - Maria's Love Lives Here really does tell the backstory, what goes down on the home front, and how she and her kids (now grown up) have been shaped by living with such a man. There wasn't much of a road map for this kind of lifestyle, and Maria as much as Bob helped create this family, it's stability and energy and ability to become a veritable tsunami of love around the world.

Okay, maybe that tsunami bit was a bit much.  I admire Bob and Beth and I have so enjoyed being with Maria, if only briefly, -- a quieter, classy, leader, obviously a truly caring friend, a mentor, wife and mom.  How can one step into this kind of blend of reaching out, serving, and being a social entrepreneur that makes a difference in far away places like Uganda or Northern Iraq, and show so much enthusiastic care for so many folks?  There's even a story about Nepal. Who goes to Nepal? 

However, this book is full of stories not just of the home-side backstory of Bob and his work - he negotiates business contracts sometimes at Disneyland -- it is an example of Maria's own kindness, her outreach and friendship with people far and wide.  We could all be inspired to channel God's grace just a bit more clearly just by hearing how a person like Maria manages all this, and how - even though she is a bit of an introvert - she pours herself out for others.  Love Lives Here is a blast to read, fun and interesting, but it will sneak up on you, slowly giving you courage to reach out and be more. Sure, God has put some famous people into their lives, young writers, ethical entrepreneurs, missionary leaders, rock musicians, artist types and they have had the ability to pull of some amazing projects.  Most of us don't travel in those cool circles (or around the world.) Still, there is so much to learn, so much here to motivate us to be more hospitable and more caring, to turn our own houses into real homes.  

I love what Shelly Giglio chief strategist for sixstepsrecords and co-founder, of  thePassion Conferences, and fellow church planter of Passion City Church (and, let's admit it, wife of a famous evangelical husband, leader, author, co-founded of the huge Passion events.)

She says:

Love Lives Here is every bit as warm and kind as you'd expect from an author known to most of the world as Sweet Maria. If you love the feeling of gaining a new best friend, read this book. If you'd ever wondered how a life some may consider quiet can incrementally impact the world, read this book.

A famous writer who brings a great gift of honest spiritual stuff is Shauna Niequist, whose stories are told in books like her recent Perfect Over Present. (Another look at some hard stuff in life is her under-rated Bittersweet.)  She writes about how Maria befriended her, how their relationship meant a lot. Listen to her:

In a moment in my life when I was desperately looking for direction, God used my friendship with Maria to rekindle in me a long-held vision for hospitality that I'd allowed to be obscured by far less important things. This beautiful book will do that same sacred work for so many people. Maria is an example to me--the kind of mother I aspire to be, the kind of gatherer of people I aspire to be. I'm so very thankful for this lovely book, and the heart and wisdom written on every page.

Twenty-Two- Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning .jpgTwenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning Allison Trowbridge (Thomas Nelson) $22.99 This very handsome hardback book is a set of letters by a vibrant young evangelical woman written to a fictional college woman named Tish who wants a mentor, wants to think about her college life but more, what comes next, and desires a thoughtful, informed, life. It offers great spiritual wisdom, is overtly Christian, but there's stuff about travel, about internships, about jobs, and relationships, about reading fiction, just all kinds of sharp advise.  Endorsements on the back are from some fairly conventional folks, but also real visionaries and activists like Bob Goff. It is a celebration of life, a conversation with a friend, a guide to life especially for younger women.  Brand new. Thoughtful but also just really, really lovely. 

This would be ideal for any young adult woman, and may be a great gift for a college grad.  Of course, our favorite book to give to a serious Christian transiting out of college is After College: Navigating Transitions, Relations and Faith by Erica Young Reitz and my own little collection of motivational and inspiration Kingdom speeches, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life.  But I'll tell you more about those later.  For any "anytime" gift, a great read, and a way to walk alongside a thoughtful young woman in her 20s, Allison Trowbridge's Twenty-Two is a gem.  

Hallelujah Anyway- Rediscovery Mercy.jpgHallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy Anne Lamott (Random House) $20.00  I wrote briefly about this the other day although I myself have shown great restraint in not reading this yet.  It's sitting here calling out to me, and after Easter I'll so enjoy it, I'm sure.  I hear she's doing a speaking tour to promote the book and if you intend to hear her, you could get the book now, and not wait in line at the author gig.  Anyway, if you're an Annie fan, you'll love this further collection of well written, casual, remarkably-told stories and essays.  She is not Marilyn Robinson in her writing style, but she is full of important substance, honest self-revelation, interesting glimpses of memoir and creative writing. She's blunt and funny and at times deeply moving. This is going to be one of the bigger books of the Spring, and we're happy to alert you to it, now.  As you can get from the subtitle, the theme of the book is mercy.

"I'm not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and human: the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is too."



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April 9, 2017

Easter Basket suggestions for children -- some lovely kids books and a few adult ideas, too. ORDER NOW. ALL ON SALE.

Order now and we can get these out right away. Even using the inexpensive USPS (cheaper than UPS) we can get these to almost anywhere in the continental US in a few days.  Thanks.   By the way, we show the regular retail price, but will deduct the discount when you order at our secure website (the order page link is shown below.) While supplies last.

Reformation ABCs- The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation.jpgReformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation -- from A to Z Stephen Nichols, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99  We cannot tell you how thrilled we are to tell you about this, although a fuller description will wait for some future list about the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Steve Nichols is one of our best popularizers of great insights from church history  (seen especially in a good series of biographies he's done, showing great insights from people in church history.) His book appropriating Bonhoeffer for daily Christian living is remarkably helpful.  So I like Steve a lo.  He serves currently as the President of Reformation Bible College and is the chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. Ned Bustard should be a name you recognize as he comes up from time to time here at BookNotes since he is the man guy managing Square Halo Books, known not only for doing my own book, Serious Dreams, but the widely acclaimed recent volume Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Donald T. Williams (Square Halo; $16.99.) Ned's last Square Halo Book release was co-edited with Greg Thornbury, Bigger on the Inside which pop culture aficionados will immediately recognize as a study of the long-running British TV show, Doctor Who. The subtitle is simply "Christianity and Doctor Who."  That's Ned's work on the cover of that one, too.

Reformation ABC and The Chuch History ABCs.jpgNichols and Bustard teamed up before in a truly wonderful The Church History ABCs (Crossway Books; $16.99) which came out a few years ago as a slightly oversized hardback, counting down all kinds of good stuff from church history as an ABC book.  Like some ABC books, it works on two levels -- yes, for young ones learning to play with letters and learn various words across the alphabet. But these sorts of books can be deceiving -- there is a lot of content, and will be sure to inform and even delight anyone with a bit of interest in history.  I bet you will learn something!

This new one, of course, is about the themes of the Protestant Reformation Nichols gives us tons of good info, really interesting, usually important (although there is some goofy trivia included, too. Did you know that there were 5 guys named John who drafted the famous Presbyterian Scot's Confession? Did you know that Lady Jane Grey sat on England's throne for only nine days before she was martyred for her faith when she was just 16 years ago?  Did you know that the father of the famous Irish leader, Archbishop James Ussher, was actually an usher?  And I bet you've never heard of the Walloon Confession of Faith which as signed by 48 men, 18 women and 1 infant. I did't think so.)

abcs.pngBut it is the artwork that makes this interesting book so incredibly wonderful. I anticipate it will get some award at the end of the year by Christian Publishing associations for being such a fabulously designed book.  Bustard's playful, colorful, and very well informed illustrations (sometimes cleverly overlaid with photographs) have so much going on in them that not only invites but demands repeated readings.  

This book is smaller in shape than their previous The Church History ABC book, and it works marvelously.  This is just perfect for a medium sized gift, fitting nicely in any Easter basket.  It is explicitly Protestant and it is clear that the author and artists are themselves more than fans of the Reformation tenants. They would stake their lives on this stuff, and their passion for teaching kids the background of these tumultuous times is inspiring. 

Saints- Lives and Illuminations Ruth Sanderson.jpgSaints: Lives and Illuminations Ruth Sanderson (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) $16.00 This was once a large sized picture book and I really like how Eerdmans re-designed it as a 5 x 8 trim sized hardback. It's really nice, and it could be appreciated by a sharp 7 or 8 year old, I think it is best for older elementary children, or any older age if they like nicely illustrated compendiums like this. This beautiful book tells the stories of over 70 men and women saints from various centuries. There's a lovely watercolor picture (lavishly illuminated with a border giving it a look something like an icon or piece of medieval liturgical art) while the facing page tells the story of who that person was and what he or she was known to have done. It includes stories about first century leaders like Saint Stephen or Saint Christopher through the saints from early centuries such as Benedict and Scholastica and Paula and Jerome, St. Theresa of Saint Bernard.jpgLisieux, St. John of the Cross, up to famous ones like Brendan, Aquinas, Joan of Arc, Francis, Clare, (and some lesser known canonized ones like Rita and Maud.) The most recent ones included are the compassionate Maximilian Kolbe (who died under Hitler), the Pennsylvania saint Katherine Drexel,  the mystical healer who cared for sinners and the suffering, Padre Pio and, of course, the Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.)   

By the way, the very talented Ruth Sanderson has, in hardback and paperback, a sequel called More Saints: Lives and Illuminations (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; $14.00/$20.00.)

Found with title shown.jpgFound: Psalm 23 Sally Lloyd Jones, illustrated by Jago (Zonderkidz) $9.99  How glad we were to hear that the creative, stylized, modern art done by Jago would once again be teamed up with the wise and beautiful Bible storytelling of Sally Lloyd-Jones.  Almost universally appreciated, and considered by many to be the best young children's Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Chapter Whispers His Name remains a staple of our children's Bible department. The sequel, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, while less intentionally showing the unfolding Biblical story with that Christ-centered, historical-redemptive approach of Jesus Storybook Bible it, too, is just brilliant. So both are great.  This new one is a padded hardcover, almost like a bigger-than-usual board book, that nicely tells the famous 23rd Psalm. The lyrical text is drawn from the Jesus Story Book Bible but the engaging artwork and book design are completely new.

As it says on the back cover, "Snuggle up with your little one as you both discover God's Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreakable, Always and Forever Love."  

story of god's love for you.jpgThe Story of God's Love for You Sally Lloyd-Jones (ZonderKidz) $14.99 Don't you still like to give some special Easter gift to your older children or grandchildren? Do kids ever outgrow the joy of this little holiday tradition? I wanted to tell you again about this hand-sized hardback as it would fit perfectly in an Easter basket, gift-wrapped nicely or not.  Here is what I wrote about this in our BookNotes newsletter blog when it first came out December of 2015:

I have raved about Ms. Lloyd-Jones' popular The Jesus Storybook Bible before, celebrating the colorful, artful illustrations, the moving cadence, the whimsy and humor and yet deadly-serious conviction that Christ is the heart of the unfolding drama of Scripture, the coherent plot that makes up the 66 Bible books.  Indeed, the subtitle on the cover says, "Every Chapter Whispers His Name" and the inter-textual reading offered for preschoolers is at times nothing short of remarkable.  We do hope you know it.

Jesus Storybook Bible.jpgYep, the The Jesus Storybook Bible  by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago (Zonderkidz; $17.99) is one of our very favorite children's Bibles, not because it covers as much as some do, or is "the" best children's Bible, but because of the way it tells the story, the themes it whispers, the lovely language it uses to convey a Christ-exalting, creation-healing, all-of-life-redeemed vision of where the plot of the Bible is going. Its compact shape and bright colors make it ideal for little ones. The most popular edition is a smallish hardback, although there is a fantastic larger sized gift edition that we recommend.

Because so many people have grown to appreciate the lively storytelling and delightful blend of sweet and serious language used to tell this singular story of the unfolding drama of God's redemptive plan, and value the class and charm and robust theological vision of the text, they've sometimes given this Bible designed for young children to older kids.  I know youth pastors who have used it in high school ministry and - okay, I'll admit it, happily - I've read it out loud on occasion in my own adult Sunday school classes.

And so, the publishers acted on the wishes of so many and created a Jesus Storybook Bible for older kids and middle-schoolers.  The text is unchanged but the title has changed to The Story of God's Love For You and the children's art has been removed.  It is now a very handsome hardback, with blue ink, and cool info-graphic type symbols in front of each book of the Bible.

It looks great for all ages, just a touch of cool graphic appeal, and a small, handy size with heavy-stock paper.  It is a fabulous looking little book.  There is a regular hardback (the price shown above is $14.99 before the discount) and there is also a very nice leather-like gift edition that comes in a paper slipcase ($19.99 before discount.)

We've already sold it to pastors using it with elementary aged children who have outgrown the picture-book style and for use in a middle-school Sunday school class; a teacher of a small confirmation class thought it would work with young teens who would appreciate its tender, personal cadence and its big picture vision. 

The Good Book for Kids- How the Bible's Big Ideas Relate to You .jpgThe Good Book for Kids: How the Bible's Big Ideas Relate to You Lisa Bergren (Cook) $12.99  You will hear more, I hope, about this set of related products built around the abridged and adapted Bible called The Good Book that attempts to offer in a handful of chapters the key points of the unfolding Biblical drama. The adult version (which we also carry, of course) is hardback, has introductory comments, discussion questions, some key verses to study and more, although it's main feature is that it really captures the key moments of the entire Bible, showing how they all build together into a coherent, easy-to-understand narrative with key, thematic, worldview-shaping, life-transforming concepts.  This youth version (designed, they say, for ages 7 - 13) has five readings categorized in 8 units, so it can be used, daily, for 8 weeks,  starting with Older Testament portions with units entitled "In the Beginning" and "God is Good When Life Gets Messy", on to "God Is Big" and concluding "Tough Love, Troubled Times." Four more weeks have daily Bible readings introducing the life of Jesus and the New Testament.

Their promo copy puts it this way, saying they present the Bible's biggest ideas:

in kid-friendly ways--through engaging storytelling, historical insight, and an "Imagine This" section. Each chapter includes a Scripture verse and discussion starters to help kids and families apply scriptural truths to their lives. The Good Book for Kids is great for individual reading or to be used over 8 weeks as part of a church-wide program, for Sunday school classes, or for family devotions. From Genesis to Revelation, The Good Book for Kids is inspiring for any family who wants to understand the Bible better and, more importantly, grow together in faith.

The Biggest Story- How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.jpgThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway) $17.99 Oh my, this is the most creatively designed children's religious book in recent history, and I so appreciate DeYoung's overview of the Bible with this historical-redemptive vision --  that Christ's defeat of death at Easter is the outworking of the promises of Genesis 3.  What a story, what a colorful book.  Here is what I said in BookNotes when I reviewed it as a Christmas gift suggestion last year:

Last but not least -- so "not least", I am sure it will be on our "Best of 2015" lists -- is this spectacularly colorful and exceptionally profound children's Bible. We announced this when it came out this fall and the response has been great among those who have seen it. The art work is hip and very modern, the flow of the story coherent and faithful to the Biblical narrative.

The allusion in the subtitle is to the promise in Genesis 3 of God's victory over evil -- the snake will be crushed by a future king from the linage of Eve. 

This is the biggest story that frames our Christmas celebrations, isn't it? The Biggest Story and DeYoung's telling, in this sense, is similar to the Sally Lloyd-Jones' Jesus Storybook Bible that I mentioned in the last post, a storybook Bible that isn't comprised of random, disconnect moralistic episodes, but a gritty unfolding drama of God's faithful rescue of the cosmos. Back to the garden, and more!

Of course, as with any such Bible storybook, there will be lines you wished were written differently, or this or that small feature you may not love. But we should be glad for such a passionate, creative, visually unusual telling of the biggest, most important story of all.


Also, you should know what a great gift the DVD version of this would be. The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden --  The Animated Short Film narrated by Kevin DeYoung illustrated by Don Clark (Crossway; $14.99.)  What a cool project!

The Biggest Story: The Animated Short Film offers in 26 beautiful minutes remarkable animations adapted from The Biggest Story book. It will, as it says in their promo, "captivate children and parents alike as they are led on an exciting journey through the Bible -- connecting the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ's death on the cross to the new heaven and earth."  It is ideal for teaching children the core message of the Bible at home, so is great as a Easter gift. But you can certainly use it at church, or in any kind of a classroom. Maybe you should get it for your adult Bible study group! (I'm not kidding.)

This DVD features 10 chapters, each 2-3 minutes long, narrated by Kevin DeYoung. It has original music composed by John Poor and features the vibrant, very creative illustrations by award winning contemporary designer Don Clark.

The Garden The Curtain The Cross.jpgThe Garden, The Curtain, and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again Carl Laferton, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99  Except maybe for the extraordinary hip art of the "snake-crusher" book by DeYoung and Don Clark, this is a fabulously cool, very colorful, very contemporary book that will delight young, hip parents as well as their design savvy kiddos.  More importantly, it offers a solid, visionary, wholistic view of the unfolding drama of the Bible's story of redemption -- yep, in a few short pages it moves from the Garden of Eden to the rending of the curtain the temple on Good Friday, up to the glorious story of the resurrection.  I'm struck by the gospel-centered focus of this whole series of very cool hardback children's books from this company in the UK.  Here's a link to the whole line of "Tales That Tell the Truth" books --  we stock 'em all.  By the way, for some in the series you can, for a modest fee, download the images of the book; I think this is for educational purposes, to show off in presentations.  You should still buy the real book from us, though.  Enjoy!

The Radical Book- Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith Champ Thornton .jpgThe Radical Book: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith Champ Thornton (New Growth Press) $24.99  We are on a roll, here, presenting non-traditional looking religious books, designed with hip, urbane parents in mind, that offer a wild visual appeal with a creative but utterly faithful approach to gospel-centered faith and whole-life discipleship for kids.  This book is simply remarkable, big, heavy, glorious, very entertaining and useful.

Here is some of what I wrote about it when it first was released last year:

This is a truly extraordinary book, unlike anything we've seen come out this year.  The hardback cloth cover has ink over it in a texture like an old-school silk screen poster, giving it a very retro/hipster feel. Edgy/cool parents will dig the graphic appeal of the cover; even the inside cover pages has artful lines giving it a very au courant design feel.

The inside itself is less edgy, but it is utterly colorful, with lots of graphics and full color pictures and The Radical Book for Kids pages.jpgdrawings and fun, random fonts, presenting fun, informative stuff. It's a visual spectacle but not so much that it becomes a distraction.

And that's a good thing because there is more Christian -- even theological  -- content in here then almost any kids book I know. There's a lot of random facts and historical stuff, but the theological material is classic and solid.

Here's what it says on the back:

The Radical Book for Kids is a fun-filled explorer's guide to the Bible, church history, and life for children 8 and up. Vibrantly illustrated and chock-full of fun facts and ideas, this engaging and interactive book communicates big truths about life while stimulating children's natural curiosity and sense of adventure. 

Blurbs on the back are from respected conservative theologians like Michael Horton, Timothy Paul Jones, and the brilliant John Frame.

For the Beauty of the Earth Sparkhouse.jpgFor the Beauty of the Earth Folliot S. Pierpoint, illustrated by Lucy Fleming (Spark House Family) $16.99  I hope you know the hymn, written in 1864, For the Beauty of the Earth (and, while I'm out it, the top-of-the-line, best book on eco-theology, the very wonderful For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care by Steven Bouma-Prediger; Baker Academic; $26.00.)  Both the brilliant creation care text and the beautiful hymn have been important to me, formative, even. It was one of my mother's favorites, too.  It makes our day to get to tell you about this new picture book.

Well this fantastic children's book, with modernistic, vivid artwork, narrates and illustrates the evocative lines of that great song.  It is said to be a "timeless celebration of creation, community, family, and faith."  The book even includes simple sheet music for singing it together.

Here is what Bible teacher and author (of one of our favorite books, Eat for Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food) Rachel Marie Stone says of it:

Inviting young children to see God's love reflected in the Creation is one of our most joyful and solemn tasks as parents and educators. Lucy Fleming's beautiful illumination of this classic hymn is sure to become a well-worn favorite.

I like, I don't Like amazon version.jpgI Like, I Don't Like  Anna Baccelliere, illustrated by Ale + Ale (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) $16.00  Perhaps offering this in the Easter basket isn't quite the right time and place but perhaps for some families it would be very useful to have around during Easter celebrations. I hope I can tell you more about this book (and the series of which it is a part) another time as we want to champion it.   For now, just know it is beautiful, moving, although a bit disturbing. The counter-facing pages are a study in contrast between rich and less privileged children. For instance, one spread shows a fairly normal child form the middle class or privileged West that likes "cars" (showing the child playing with toy cars) but that is contrasted with another child shown working washing car windows, saying "I don't like cars." One spread shows a child eating a nice bowl of rice saying "I like rice" but another child, perhaps in Viet Nam, saying "I don't like rice" as she is working in the paddies. The one about soccer balls, which shows some kids playing happily and another child working to manufacture the ball, is stunning.

All of this contrast is heartbreaking and illuminating, a resource to help us show how many of the world's children are in less pleasant situations. We believe that Christian families should use this kind of book and pray that, with age-appropriate conversations, it can be formative in a Godly way.

On the back cover it says:

Every child has a right to play -- but in some parts of the world, children spend more time working than playing. This through provoking book captures how different the world can look from the eyes of those less privileged.

The last few pages have some great details, text that helps us process the book, some explanation of poverty and child labor, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and some "How Can I Help" resources, too.

Maybe this, too, has something to do with the resurrection, and Christ's victory of the principalities and powers that so deform His world.  We would appreciate any orders for this sent our way as we think this book is very important.


preparing for easter.jpgPreparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $17.99 We've blogged before about good Lent books, and this obviously, at first glance, is designed to be read during this time before Easter.  However -- come on, people --  it's C.S. Lewis, by jove.  And he didn't write this as a Lenten resource, but it was compiled from his various readings.  I've looked at this carefully, and I'm more than confident to say that this totally would work any time of any season.  The marketing is genius to select readings that point us to the cross and resurrection, but it is Lewisy enough to be a great Easter gift.

As they put it on the very nice dusk jacket: Preparing for Easter is a collection of beautiful gems discovered amidst Lewis's essays, poems, letters, and other works that are not as familiar to most of his readers. But all of them serve the same purpose that pervades Lewis's work, the goal of going "further up and further in" in our relationship with God."

Living the Resurrection- The Risen Christ in Everyday Life.jpgLiving the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $11.99 paperback/$14.99 hardback  I recommend this book every year about this time as I so appreciate it. There are three great chapters on post-Easter appearances of Jesus described in the gospels, "Resurrection Wonder", "Resurrection Friends", and "Resurrection Meals." Each is linked to Christian practices, things we should do more intentionally and attentively as we live out the power of resurrection in our ordinary lives.  This is a great, great book, and would make a fabulous little gift for anyone in the next few weeks.

I really appreciate how the publisher describes the intent of this book (which I have read several times, by the way, and even used in an Adult Ed class at my church. It is eloquent and thoughtful, but not too massive, making it an ideal resource this time of year.)

They write: "Christ's friends were utterly transformed by his resurrection. Their friendship, their work, and even their meals together took on a new meaning and purpose. The same can happen to us today. When the Resurrection becomes the core reality of our spiritual formation, our dimmed eyes and dull souls are lifted to a place of continual renewal. Join Eugene Peterson on this pursuit of a more profound spiritual formation, founded on the wonder of Christ's resurrection. You'll discover what life is like when every day is Resurrection Day."

The NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible.jpgThe NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible (Zondervan) $39.99  Okay, there are obviously more scholarly and useful study editions available, but this is might make a perfect gift for a special person, so figured we should mention it. There are hundreds of verses illustrated in detailed, ready-to-color line art and, as they say "employs the proven stress-relieving benefits of coloring to help quiet your soul so you can reflect on the precious truths of Scripture."  (The thicker white paper with lightly ruled lines in the extra-wide margins provides ample space for journaling or extra artistic expressions, too.) There are hundreds of verses illustrated so even in the act of coloring them you are engaging thoughtfully and intentionally with the Word.  NIV Beautiful Word page.jpgThere's a nice ribbon marker and, as with other well made Zondervan Bibles, it has a good binding that allows it to lay flat in your hand or desk.  Nice.

Jesus Bible all 3.pngThe NIV Jesus Bible: Sixty Six Books. One Story. All About One Name (Passion Publishing /Zondervan) $44.99 in sturdy linen hardback;  $69.99 in Brown Leathersoft or a Robin's Egg pale blue Leathersoft.  All have a 8.7 font size with a nice ribbon marker. 

I wrote about this in our BookNotes newsletter when it first came out, noting that it includes contributions by evangelical leaders Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias & Randy Alcorn.

Here's some of what I said:

Wow. This brand new edition is profound yet accessible and has features that help us meet Jesus throughout the whole of Scripture.  The now out of print Gospel Transformation Study Bible in the ESV did this well, and, now, we have a variety of big name evangelicals weighing in in similar fashion on how to see Christ's unfolding redemptive plan in every book of the Bible.  I like their slogan -- "there was no B.C."

Included in The Jesus Bible there are 7 compelling essays on the grand narrative of Scripture - introduced by Louie Giglio, founder of the extraordinarily popular Passion Conferences.  (This past year, by the way, in three days of worship and music, they also raised over 1 million dollars to fight sexual trafficking. They are all about worshipping God and making much of God's glory, but the really appreciate the need to live that out, to respond in generous acts of love for neighbor and witness before the watching world.)   

I like the almost square sized shape of this hardback, made with a good linen cover (sans dust jacket.) The text is single column with room for notes and some journaling throughout. Throughout there are helps and solid commentary pointing us to Christ in all of Scripture. There are actually 700 sidebar articles and over 300 full page articles that help us "treasure Jesus" and which will "encourage you to faithfully follow him as you participate in his story."

By the way, here is a link to my earlier BookNotes post about books about the Bible and a discussion about study Bibles, which I like best, what to look for in a good Bible, and more.

polka dots.jpgnatural light.jpgclassic marbeled.jpgspring bloom.jpgESV Vest Pocket New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs (Crossway) $6.99  I hope carrying little pocket Testaments hasn't fallen out of favor -- I know, I know, we need the whole Bible, and certainly our understanding of the newer testament must be informed by the older.  But still, this is a very nice little gift, in these very lovely, cool hardback covers, at a great price. As always, Crossway manufactures great Bible products with excellent craftsmanship; their ESV has a certain eloquence (and a lot of accuracy, they say). Here are four new covers designs -- I think we only have one of each, but why not order one in time to share with somebody this weekend? Shown from left to right the designs are called Polka Dots, Natural Light, Classic Marbeled, Spring Bloom. Tiny as these are, they are Smyth sewn, use a high quality paper, and have a Moleskine-like side band. Of course, these include the complete books of Proverbs and the Psalms and are presented in a double column page design.

capturing god.jpgCapturing God: The Surprising Image That Reveals the Truth About God Rico Tice (The Good Books Company) $4.99  The premise of this short little paperback is simple: if somebody said that actually had a picture of God, wouldn't you want to see it? Who wouldn't? Tice goes from there suggesting that the story of Jesus on the cross reveals the best picture of God we've got: why he loved us so much, why he sacrificed for us, what the cross reveals about the extraordinary love of God.  It simply walks readers through the passion and death and -- yes -- the resurrection of Jesus. It ends with Christ offering the amazing offer of grace and peace.  Becky Pippert asks, "Ever read a book so gripping you can't put it down?"  Shen then insists --  "This is one of them!"


Here's what we'll do.  If you order one of this little book, Capturing God, we'll give you the BookNotes special 10% off.  But if you buy two of that one at that discounted price, we'll throw in a third to give away.  We're excited to get this new Rico Tice book out there this week -- it truly is a wonderful image that just might change you, or someone you know, forever.  Fascinating!  Offer for the free one is good this week only, expiring April 15th. 



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April 4, 2017

Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church by Carol Howard Merritt (and a whole bunch more) -- ON SALE

healing spiritual wounds.jpgCarol Howard Merritt has spent much of her life, and certainly much of her recent years as a PCUSA clergy-person and pastor, trying to help those who are drifting from the church, or who have turned their back on religion altogether.  Her first two widely acclaimed books -- Tribal Church and Reframing Hope, published several years ago by the Alban Institute -- were studies of how mainline churches might minister more effectively to young adults, perhaps especially those then with that Counting Crows-angsty Gen X ethos. Her new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church (HarperOne; $25.99) even if it doesn't answer all the questions, or point to all the necessary answers, is a very valuable volume for anyone of any age who has been hurt by bad faith and I hope it is widely read.  It is important.

That organized religion can get weird and people have been hurt by churches is nothing new. Petty personality squabbles in the local congregation and inter-denominational doctrinal disputes are legendary for driving ordinary folks from church life.  More is going on, of course, to cause church decline. The pressures of modernity pressing down upon us in the way we do life and construe meaning - the history of how we got to the early 21st century in this regard is told quickly and vitally in chapter two of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option and is pondered deeply in James K.A. Smith's Now (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. I think Os Guinness's book The Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization, although written to exhort us to deeper faithfulness within our tumultuous times, gives an excellent overview of the cultural pressures leading many to abandon faith. 

Although I have a hunch its prevalence is sometimes overstated, perhaps even in Healing Spiritual Wounds, we all know that church-life and the presentation of the Christian faith has been hurtful to some. Perhaps you have experienced it yourself. I know that many of us have felt odd in church groups and ministry organizations for not towing a certain line here or there. Even earnestly, well-intended presentations of faith can offer images of God and practices of Christian living that are unsettling and sometimes have ugly consequences. The Bible itself, even, presents many troubling stories and reading it well is tricky.  Even when the tone of a church or ministry's faith formation teaching isn't demeaning or rude, it can be demanding and for some that is sometimes unpleasant. Some of us are seen as too liberal for theologically conservatives circles but at the same time too traditional for liberal groups and even though that simplistic way of saying it isn't quite right, it reminds me that fitting well into a religious group is sometimes tricky, even for those who are resilient and not faced with severe religious trauma. It can be painful. Of course, a heavy handed and harsh view of the Bible which demands complete compliance with what one group says are the true doctrines is sometimes used as a hammer with which to pummel, or, less imposing, but still damaging, such truths become a door to close others out. Some groups seem to miss that the Bible itself tells of those who unsettled orthodoxies and rocked the boat; we should all regularly recall that Jesus often had issues with the religious establishment of his day.

That Jesus reached out to the outcasts of his day should give pause to any church group that is heavy in its preaching about purity or righteousness and a little too self confident in their stances on things.

Exclusion-and-Embrace.jpgSo, believing and belonging and making one's faith one's own within a community of strong conviction is a complex dance and it doesn't always go well; I think of Miroslav Volf's sophisticated and important book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon Press; $28.99.) Who is in and who is out, how we can form vibrant faith communities and honor diversity is complicated and risky and sometimes produces anxiety which can lead to practices that inflict real damage. Some of us tend to err on the side of openness and kindness while others tend to err on the side of strict truths held tightly. It's admittedly complicated.

New data keeps coming out about those who are leaving faith (sometimes, but not always, disgruntled or hurt from toes stepped on during this complicated dance.) Recently Group published Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why People Are Done with Church But Not Their Faith by Josh Packard (Group; $14.99) about folks who have left church and The Barna Group released Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Tyndale; $15.99.) This winter I re-read most of you lost me smallish.gifYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman (Baker; $15.99) and was reminded again of how important it is, how I wish a handful of folks in every church would read it and discuss its proposals for retaining young adults in the life of the church. Or gather to watch the DVD which is very good. His previous book, co-written with Gabe Lyon, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters (Baker; $15.99) is well worth reading as it was one of the groundbreaking bits of research (released just five years ago) of what young adults thought about Christianity.  And, yes, some of the perception is that Christianity teaches stuff that is bigoted, unsavory, unkind, untrue.

Good Faith- Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme.jpgTheir major release just a year ago, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme (Baker; $19.99) tries to answer the question of how to present a good faith - historically orthodox but gracious and winsome - in a culture were (as their research powerfully shows) many think that anyone who admits to religious faith is, by definition, an extremist.  What does good faith look like in these days, with this sort of perception out there, and how can we nurture such good faith? 

Even among those who aren't leaving church there is, in our day, a new eagerness to explore fresh options for faith; many people are restless and unhappy with their faith experiences, it seems.  This could be seen as a good thing - folks yearning for truth, seeking a faith that makes sense, aligning seriously with new faith communities (The aforementioned Rod Dreher himself, was once Roman Catholic and is now famously Eastern Orthodox; Carol Howard Merritt was raised a strict fundamentalist/Pentecostal but is now identifies with the progressive wing of what many consider a liberal denomination.) I like to recommend Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism edited by Robert Plummer (Zondervan; $18.99) to those who are interested in how this developing, at least in some circles.  It tells the faith stories of authors who were evangelical but ended up Episcopalian, Anglicans drawn to Orthodoxy, Catholics who become evangelicals. Jon Sweeney, a very good writer with decades of experience in the religious publishing world, has examined interfaith marriages in his fascinating Mixed Up Love: Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity in the 21st Century (Jericho; $15.00.) Like it or not, this pluralistic world is a thing.

healing spiritual wounds.jpgCarol Merritt's Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church however, is more than an interesting study of pluralizing culture and changes in the broader Christian community or one more study of why people get disgruntled with church and drop out or change congregations. It is, rather, an urgent, heart-felt, perhaps even at times understandably shrill, call for the church -- which, I suppose, means actual Christian people, especially leaders, running churches like yours and mine -- to recognize that we are hurting people. Sometimes quite knowingly, sometimes less intentionally, our lack of emotional intelligence, our pushy ways, and our lack of sensitivity for those with doubts and concerns and disagreements, have driven people away.  Those who insist on literal readings of the Bible are off base and hurting many.  As Lyon & Kinnaman remind us, our faith is not always offered "in good faith" and sometimes, sadly, our words and belief systems that we think are inspiring and water-tight turn sour and disturbing.  There is, it seems, not only a crisis of a lack of Christian conviction in our culture, but in a sense, the opposite. We are awash in faith that is too strict, too certain, to dogmatic, too ideological, which ends up sometimes being presented in ways that are hurtful, even toxic.

There have been books about "spiritual abuse" and "toxic faith" from evangelical publishers for decades. (See, for instance, Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse by Stephen Arterburn [Shaw Books; $15.99.]) The spurt of attention to tyrannical and abusive cults in the 1980s created an awareness of the dangers heavy-handed leaders with peculiar Bible teachings.  In some charismatic circles a "shepherding" movement developed that in some circles became authoritarian and, in some places, cult-like.  That some of these very folks ended up leading respected evangelical churches was, some of us thought, a sign of maturing and growing out of such excessive stuff.  But in some cases we were wrong, as some of these characters - even as they wrote books and appeared on stages among reputable ministry organizations and were supported by nationally known leaders - ran churches that were covering up abuse, even sexual abuse scandals.  Apparently the Roman Catholic churches were not the only ones covering up dysfunctional clergy and abusive leaders and toxic faith. 

Carol Howard Merritt's new book is, therefore, very important since part of the defining nature of religion in our time is - Lyons and Kinnaman, again - perceived as extremist and is, in fact, often hurtful.  Your church and mine may not be seen that way and we may even be working hard to offer a graceful and properly inclusive faith community, but the church refugee problem is everywhere. The fallout is real; we see it in our store and you most likely see it in your own circle of friends at work or church.  Carol's book is like a report from the crows nest, crying out what she is seeing, or, perhaps, to change the image, it is a report from the trenches, where she does battle day by day for the sanity and humanity of dear people scarred by bad religion. Healing Spiritual Wounds is a cry of the heart, a painful book, and a good step for some towards healing. I think it should be read by church leaders of all sorts to remind us of this sad consequence of misguided religious fervor.  But the book is mostly for those hurt by bad faith. It is a guide for healing and hope and recovery. We think it is important, moving, helpful. 

Let me tell you three reasons why.


carol-howard-merritt-photo-author.jpgHealing Spiritual Wounds is full of stories, well told and often painful testimonials of folks who have gone through hurtful stuff. Much of this is grounded in Merritt's own narrative, making this nearly a spiritual memoir. She tells of her own journey in a pretty strict church, in a complicated family, with a violent father. She reveals something else significant about her father later in the book - I don't want to spoil the literary power of his one small reveal - but she is both empathetic and remains resolute to not justify domestic violence, let alone religious-motivated violence.  She writes well about parts of her life and it is at times riveting, sometimes anguishing, sometimes entertaining.

Her fascinating part about a big dress code "fashion show" for first year women at Moody Bible College, where she attended in the early 1980s, would have been hilarious if not so awful in sexist consequence. Her telling of the blunt professor in an ethics class there - who insisted that if one were hiding Jews in one's basement during the Nazi holocaust in Germany, the proper Christian response would be to be honest, first, and turn the Jews over. I shudder to think of the fall out of this kind of strident, legalistic fundamentalism (and pray that Moody is not now mired in such an ethos.) 

That bit about Moody's weird fashion show implying so much about gender and power works as a fabulously rich memory and she plumbs the sexism there, but moves to a deeper consideration, and the chapter on the body is worth the price of the book.  From our tendency to blame women in instances of sexual abuse - and she tells of a powerful, if brief, episode of assault on her own body on a public street  where she jumps in her own mind to the blouse she is wearing -- to our on-going struggle to see how Christian faith is also material, this worldly, not-laden with Gnostic disdain for creational realities like bodies and sex and stuff, it is my sense that reading about a theology of the body is always important. Her stories here are potent (including a tale of a woman who was involved in marital infidelity who she treated with understanding and grace), her insight valuable (including a feminist critique of Augustine's view of women, which rings true), her reflective questions surely generative for anyone wrestling with body image, sexuality, shame or who hosts awkwardness about the notion that God loves them, even in their bodies and desires and brokenness. I was very deeply moved as she told about using Thistle Farms oil to anoint the bodies of the walking wounded. (The incredible story of Becca Stevens and her recovery from abuse and her ministry among marginalized and abused women at Thistle Farms is beautifully told in a book we've often promoted, Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling (Jericho Books; $15.00) and we were glad to see Carol describe it. 

Merritt has lived a colorful life and has worked hard to learn to tell it well. I know she has worked on this book a long time and, to be honest, I found the writing better and better as the book unfolded.  So this is one good reason many will like this book - it is full of memoir-ish insights telling of her life and her ministry, listening well to people and their God-haunted stores. The episodes carry powerful truths but it is so interesting. Anyone who cares about people should want to hear these tales, sad as many are.  It is nicely done in this regard.

Brian McLaren mirrors my evaluation when he says it is "Emotionally intense, beautifully written, and courageously honest. Healing Spiritual Wounds helped me."  Two other reviewers - Writing to God author Rachel Hackenberg and the funny, popular, Jesuit, James Martin -- both called it "wise" and "gentle." 

Edward Blum - I hope you know his scholarly work The Color of Christ -- says of it:

Merritt is the honest voice, the thoughtful voice, the inviting voice, the justice voice, the personable voice that my spirit has yearned to hear. I grow closer to God and humanity as I read each page.


A second reason to get this book is because at the end of each chapter there are remarkable reflection questions and interactive exercises that can help readers process the material. I am not a big fan of doing this kind of thing but I really think that in this case this could be very, very, helpful for some.  Which is to say that Healing Spiritual Wounds is not just a book complaining about fundamentalist strictness or warning about heavy-handed religion or railing against vengeful images of God.  It is a book that is designed to help, to be a tool for those who have bruised spirits and hurt souls. 

One writer (Meredith Gould, author of Desperately Seeking Spirituality) says it "provides validation and comfort for anyone feeling alone within or abandoned by the church."  But then Gould offers the clincher recommendation: "Healing Spiritual Wounds is a generous guide to reconnecting with a loving God."  That is the hope so evident within this book. Even though this is a well-written hardback memoir - at times you might think of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber or even Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor or Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans - it is mostly a handbook of help. The suggestions that come up throughout the book and the insights offered and then the pages and pages of prompts and guides to work on one's issues are sure to be a boon to anyone wanting a measure of hope and healing on their rocky road. 

And let me be sure to explain that even though Merritt is an outspoken voice within mainline churches who has been an advocate for the marginalized, this book is about more than unsupportive postures within the church against gays and lesbians or hurtful teachings about women and men and restrictive c cblogs logo.jpggender roles.  Granted, she used her blog at the Christian Century to rail against the award being given by Princeton Theological Seminary to Timothy Keller who, as she saw it, was hostile to the basic theological task of PTS which includes preparing women and members of the LGTBQ+ community for Christian ministry and ordination. (I wrote about that in a previous BookNotes newsletter, trying to respect both those who disagree with Keller's view, as I do, and to yet affirm his mostly excellent contributions for which the Kuyper Award was to have been given.) But my point here is that Healing Spiritual Wounds is not only, or not even mostly, about this kind of faith which she names as toxic that excludes gays and women from leadership. This is part of her agenda, of course, but the book covers much, much, more.

For instance, there are chapters about our unhelpful and hurtful views of money that we may have absorbed through weird church teaching or attitudes. (That chapter and its exercises is called "Reassessing Our Finances" and is liberating and very helpful for anyone struggling with this aspect of our lives.)  Further, the book includes a chapter on damaged emotions and a chapter called "Healing Our Images of God."  The chapter "Redeeming Our Broken Selves" is thoughtful and the one called "Reclaiming our Hope" should prove useful to many.  With its overview piece called "Finding Shalom" and its concluding chapter "Being Born Again" I think this is book going to be reassuring to many.   It covers a lot of ground and although it may first appeal to those who have been abused by toxic churches or deeply confused by weird religion, I think it could be found useful to many of us ordinary folks in fairly ordinary churches who just feel unsettled by some popular religious talk or who are squeamish about some attitudes or practices with which we are familiar.

Healing... really does cover many topics and considerable ground and I think anyone who does counseling or pastoral caregiving or evangelism would find many of the chapters helpful from time to time. That is, it should have wider appeal than just for those who are deeply hurt by harsh churches.  lt might be a good resource for most of us, actually...


Thirdly, besides being a captivating memoir and a useful manual full of helpful ideas for healing steps, Healing Spiritual Wounds is an example of done-on-the-run, creative, contemporary theology.  We are seeing this more, these days (and it is generally a good thing, I think), finding theologians who are working in the pews and streets and homes, hammering out their views in blogs, not primarily in the quiet halls of the academy.  Some of the creative theology coming out has this urgent, and perhaps provisional feel.  I find some of her theological evaluations and formulations a bit too progressive for my evangelical tastes, but I will propose that this really is a valuable resource as part of the puzzle of formulating a sturdy and life-giving faith.

Her goal, of course, is not just to heal spiritual wounds by standing with the victims of dumb religion -all that is a good step, always, what the liberation theologians used to call accompaniment, or what Henri Nouwen decades ago called the spirituality of presence and how we can all become "wounded healers." But more than just good solidarity, Merritt offers those hurt by toxic faith something better -- a way to re-formulate faith, to re-imagine how we understand the Bible, a way to recover a loving and life-giving faith, new images of God that are more viable. She doesn't offer final answers but points us in a good direction, thinking about the character of God, the glimmers of hope and goodness that can be seen if one is offered a gracious worldview, a view of God and trust and flourishing that is life-giving, abundant, and bears good fruit.  This is good news for the hurting, a step towards healing for those confused and worn down by images of judgement and wrath and vengeance and rules and shame.

Maybe you or someone you know was hurt by the church and if so, this book could help.  Maybe you know those who have been excluded due to sexism or have been mistreated because they are gay or lesbian or trans.  This book invites any and all to the table, assuring us that God is gracious and good and that faith can be a portal to a deep relationship with a redeemer who is merciful and just, good and beautiful, comforting and transforming. 

Consequently, I think this is a tool not just for those who have been hurt by harsh or exclusive churches that proclaim a less than really good gospel, but I think it could be useful for any of us who need an introduction or reminder of a liberating faith rooted in this sort of open and affirming faith.  God is not The Very Good Gospel.jpgThe Day the Revolution Began.pngout to get you, and we have to formulate our creeds and doctrines in ways that are consistent with the gospel itself.

(This is a bit too far afield for this short review of Merritt's book, but I would suggest that many good scholars are doing this kind of generative work and she might have included some allusion to them to make her book a bit more sturdy.  For instance, I've  described here how N.T. Wright in his The Day the Revolution Began: Rediscovering the Meaning of Jesus' Crucifixion (HarperOne; $28.99) is trying to formulate the New Testament teachings about the cross in light of the doctrine of "new creation" and I've often exclaimed how much I like the easy-to-read but powerfully tweaking of evangelical faith in Lisa Sharon Harper's Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $19.99.)

The number of books on our bookstore shelf about grace continues to expand and titles about treating others graciously are ubiquitous these days. A few of the big spokespersons for this theme run churches that are less than welcoming to some, I've heard, and we all have a way to go, I think, to learn more what deep hospitality looks like.  But there are great books to help us be more deeply aware of the freedom we have in Christ, free to be gracious. Just for instance, I  think of Scott befriend.jpgSauls wonderful Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgement, Isolation, and Fear (Tyndale; $15.99) or Steve Brown's book called Three Free Sins: God's Not Mad at You (Howard Books; $14.99) or Margot Starbuck's wonderfully-written Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God (Baker; $14.99.) Jonathan Merritt (no relation to Carol, by the way) has a fantastic, moving set of pieces in Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined (FaithWords; $20.00.) Carol Merritt might have been wise to connect her therapeutic efforts and progressive effort to re-imagine faith with these other less dramatic resources, rooting her within the on-going conversation among evangelicals that are working for similar goals.)  

By the way, just for fun, here Jonathan Merritt conducts an informative interview with Carol Howard Merritt about her book and work at his RNS column.

And so, there you have it: three reasons why we recommend Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church. 

To summarize:

First, it is an entertaining read, passionately written including well told stories of real life. Those who want a glimpse into the faith journey of Ms Merritt and her colorful past and her recent ministry of caring for those hurt by religion will find her book captivating.

Secondly, it is a book that actually gives us fresh ideas of what to do about our hurts, the residual negative effects of excessively harsh religion.  The exercises are experiential and the reflection questions could provide journaling material for weeks and weeks. After the well-written stories, the interactive suggestions make this a workbook, almost, a manual to help you on your journey.  This is not abstract or only a manifesto, it is a resource for real people, a guide to helping the hurting.  If you are doubtful that such a book is necessary, I especially urge you to consider it.

Thirdly, Healing Spiritual Wounds is an example of the sorts of progressive theology that is being written these days -- informed by serious thinkers (she quotes Karl Barth and Serene Jones and James Cone and Sallie McFague) -- designed to make sense of the Bible and the Christian faith in our times. Her apparent sense that older ways alone of explaining the faith are not helpful is one that I have mixed feelings about and, again, may have wished she had made a few other moves and drawn on a few other works. I have great sympathies for her project but worry about the trajectory, perhaps. But that's okay; it is a good example of the generative kinds of pastoral theology that younger thinkers, especially women, are offering for our consideration.  If you've read Brian McLaren's The Great Spiritual Migration or Diana Butler Bass's Grounded or, say, the good books by Sarah Bessey, you will see some of the strengths and possible weaknesses of Merritt's approach. For those wanting to take up the task of doing on-going theological work to say again what we must always say again, this book will be useful.

healing spiritual wounds banner.jpg

Okay, suppose we want to have somewhat of a panel discussion to round out with some further conversation the passionate insight and guidance offer by Carol Howard Merritt.  

Here are some voices to add to the discussion.

Runaway Radical- A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World.jpgRunaway Radical: When Doing Good Goes Wrong Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  I have reviewed this before and recommend it often. It is a riveting story of "a young man's reckless journey to save the world" inspired, as he was, by passionate leaders, popular books, serious views of radical discipleship and a demanding God (even if what was demanded was social justice, simple living, and a global concern.) Much good is perverted by harsh leaders and legalistic readings, and this fascinating memoir -- co-written in alternating chapters by a son and his mother -- tells of distorted expectations, a missionary calling that goes awry, a faith almost lost, and a very, very corrupt, authoritarian church.  Wow.

Faith Unraveled- How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers.jpgFaith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask Questions Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  Evans is somewhat of a poster-girl of young, formerly evangelical women who's faith journey has been documented on blogs and in books and at conferences, and this, her first, is a great example of coping with styles of strict faith that shuts down questions, and insists on pat answers and social conformity.  Evans was raised in the town famous for the Scopes "Monkey Trials" and this is her telling of her coming of age in that milieu, facing trials of her own, and realizing how her own faith had to adapt and evolve if it was to survive. So, yep, this is one good example of less than helpful understandings of evangelical faith and the reflections of a woman whose voice is needed in these kinds of conversations. Previously released as Evolving in Monkey Town.

Undone- When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together.jpgUndone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together Laura Sumner Truax (IVP) $15.00  I've often commended this moving story about a woman who felt like her life was falling apart, how Scripture and an encouraging community helped her embrace life with its varying joys and sorrows. She is the pastor of a church that Carol Merritt attended for a season that is described in her book and which was influential for her. Honest, raw, this is a story of owning one's faith, no matter what.  It isn't exactly about being undone by bad views of God or toxic religion, but her hurts and failures and messy life will resonate with anyone who seeks another chance, new ideas, healing examples of getting put back together after deep disappointment.

You Are Free.jpgYou Are Free: Be Who You Already Are Rebekah Lyons (Zondervan) $19.99  I think if I were convening a rount-table discussion around Carol's book I'd want Rebekah Lyons there because so much of her new book is just a simple cry for women -- and all of us, really -- to feel accepted. God loves us, Christ redeems us, we don't have to fret about what others think (or, what we think) about us. This is a book about freedom and she writes what one author called "an anthem for healing, freedom, and hope."  The ever poetic Ann Voskamp says "Hold these pages like a burning flame in the palm of your hands, like a bit of glowing sun that will grow you into freedom soaring on wind." So, who doesn't need a bit of that? I'd recommend Rebekah's wise book for anyone wanting to grief past disappointments and "discover the courage to begin again -- and use your newfound freedom to set others free."   We carry the DVD of this, too, by the way, if you want to gather some folks together and watch her teach this freedom song.

Disappointment with God- Three Questions No One Asks Aloud .jpgSoul Survivor1.jpgDisappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $14.99  I sometimes am reluctant to recommend Yancey just because so many do; he is considered a smart, thoughtful, open-minded evangelical, and like, oh, say, Frederick Beuchner, is an author intelligent folks like.  Well, there's a reason for that: he is often brilliant, really interesting, an excellent writer, and he has a lot to say. I have revisited this over and over and really do recommend it.  By the way, he tells of his own struggle to maintain commitment to the faith and to church in his great Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church (Waterbrook) $14.99.  His voice and approach -- offering great thinkers and leaders with edgy integrity as inspiration for how to heal and why to endure -- is a different approach than Merritt's and would be a good contribution in our strategies to help others recovery from bad church experiences.  And I suppose you know his classic What's So Amazing About Grace. Get a few and give 'em out!

truth is stanger than.jpgTruth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP Academic) $22.00 Let's get this said at some point in our round-table conversation: the rise in disaffected folks from conventional religion is at least in some ways a consequence of post-modernity, not to mention the postmodern teachings about the marginalized, the dangers of power, the way those in charge tend to oppress others with their totalizing narratives that squeeze out all others. Not everyone needs to grapple with postmodern philosophers and this huge cultural shift but for those that do, I think this is still the best -- and certainly the most Biblical -- engagement with that stream of thought and cultural posture. Walsh & Middleton were deeply, deeply touched by the marginalized in their own settings and by listening well to postmodern scholars, the cries from the streets, artists like Bruce Cockburn, and, naturally, the women in their lives who were often less than accepted among male-dominated faith-based institutions, they came to grapple well with the ideas and orientations and opportunities of postmodernism.  The heavy last half of the book shows how an opened up understanding of the drama of Scripture -- perhaps a la Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination and Israel's Praise with the potent sub-title "Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology" -- is, in fact, the way to engage our postmodern culture and those soured on conventional arrangements. Brian and his wife, Bible scholar Sylvia Keesmaat, continued this project in their nearly revolutionary Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP Academic; $24.00) which I also think would be very, very helpful for those working their way into more liberating and healthy understandings. 

rescuing jesus.jpgRescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism Deborah Jian Lee (Beacon Press) $26.95 Yes, Deborah Lee should be at this conversation as she has listened well -- for years, all over the country, as she was writing this book. She embraced evangelical faith as a youth and matured in faith in her college years. Slowly, though, she came to have that faith eroded by the injustices and inconsistencies she witnesses within the evangelical young adult campus ministry cultures at college and elsewhere.  After leaving the faith, though, she couldn't shake this sense that things are changing within evangelicalism as people on the margins -- women, people of color and LGBTQ persons -- are seen and sometimes heard. As I said when I awarded this one of the Best Books of 2016, I found it deeply moving, an extraordinary read and, agree or not with her evaluations, the stories of people in this book are stories that must be taken seriously. I am grateful for her work; here's hoping she herself might find a refreshed sort of Christian experience. Perhaps she is the sort of person who might benefit from Carol's book.

Why I Left, Why I Stayed.jpgWhy I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son Tony Campolo & Bart Campolo (HarperOne) $24.99 These two might add insight to our conversation, and certainly they bring a unique perspective. Campolo, as you know, is an evangelical with progressive leanings and in recent years his son, Bart, could no longer intellectually accept the tenants of the Christian faith.  I'm not sure Bart was hurt by Christians, but he just found the core essentials of Christianity no longer tenable. He is now a humanist chaplain at a big college, offering some sort of pastoral, ethical guidance to those who are not aligned with a more conventional religion.  This new book is a powerful back and forth, heartbreaking and raw, honest and thought-provoking.  There is much to be learned here for those who have the ears to hear.

the bride(zilla) of Christ.jpgThe Bride(zilla) of Christ Ted Kluck & Ronnie Martin (Multnomah) $15.99  This has a different tone -- upbeat, clever,  and quite theologically evangelical  -- but is nonetheless honest about the wounds inflicted by the church and steps we can take to move forward in those times when the church hurts. There is much mercy here, good stuff about hope and grace. Kluck teaches at Union University in Tennessee and has worked in sports journalism; Ronnie Martin has been a pastor in small town Pennsylvania and Ohio and previously was known in the Christian music scene, doing electronica music under the name Joy Electric.  They know this is serious stuff, but how 'bout that title, eh?

The Emotionally Healthy Church.jpgThe Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives Peter Scazzero (Zondervan) $22.99 Yes, yes, most Christians do want to be transformed by Christ and we want to be eager disciples, not just casual church attendees. This book invites us, as so many do, to find the power and programming to actually help folks grow in their faith. But here's the thing: we need healthy people to create healthy communities.  This is a very important book, balanced, clear, helpful; it's not terribly sophisticated or heavy. Fostering some emotional intelligence and becoming more of a safe place won't prevent all hurtful ideas, but it is a good start, no?  See also his Emotionally Healthy Leader, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Geri Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Woman. I think Peter and Geri Scazzero have something to teach us, a bit more than "common sense" and needed today.

The Vulnerable Pastor- How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Many Smith.jpgThe Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Mandy Smith (IVP) $16.00  I think that sometimes pastors are particularly hurtful -- at least in some of the stories we hear -- as they are necessarily authority figures and formative for their flock.  Humility is important, but it seems that Smith -- herself a successful pastor of a church in Cincinnati -- is on to something here by insisting, firstly, that "pastors are human, too" and that sharing vulnerability, admitting limits and failures and weakness, opens up a generative space for real faith development to occur. We don't need clergy with all the answers or authoritarian teachers who tell us what to believe. We need people of integrity to walk with us in our brokenness, modeling a Christ-like faith.  This is a great book and would go a long way to heal the harsh view some have of Christian leaders. 

Unexpected Gifts.jpgUnexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Christopher Heuertz (Howard) $14.99  I think any further discussion of Carol's important book about hurtful faith would have to next explore the nature of Christian community, what it means that we are in this together, and how our betrayals and failures and doubts are part of the mix when one enters into deeper involvement in the lives of faith communities. I don't think I know a better book that gets at how relationships within our churches and fellowships can be painful, but that staying together can create something beyond the pain.  We can take risks being more intentionally commitment to community, receive the gifts that emerge and create something healing and good and beautiful. There are other books on community, on deep healing relationships, on service and trust and intimacy and the adventure of all this. Start here.

Space for Grace- Creating Inclusive Churches.jpgSpace for Grace: Creating Inclusive Churches Giles Goddard (Canterbury) $20.99 Why not bring a British voice into this conversation, a Rector in South London who has struggled with this, thought it through, researched much about various models of being both pastoral and prophetic and offering a grace-filled view of the good news within mainline churches. How can we share leadership, treat everyone as equal before God, balance freedom and limits, drawing people from the margins to the center? (Or, as this UK book puts it, the centre.)

The Welcoming Congregation- Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.jpgThe Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality Henry G. Brinton (WJK) $17.00  There are bunches of books that we stock about hospitality and some are very, very thoughtful, deep, rich.  Others are quite practical and lovely.  Some are for individuals, others are for congregations. This is one written by a Presbyterian pastor who looks at the "roots" of hospitality" -- the Biblical basis, the locations where we must be attentive to be hospitable, how to think about worship and small groups and meals in hospitable ways.  Then he looks at the "fruits" which might include reconciliation, outreach, and fresh perceptions, mostly about "the other." I think if we are reading Carol's book about the dangers of hostile forms of religion and ways to help others heal from bad experiences with church, this would be a major step towards reforming our churches. Endorsements by thoughtful scholars like Serene Jones and Amy Oden and a moving foreword by Will Willimon.

wearing god.jpgWearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God Lauren Winner (HarperOne) $15.99 You know that we esteem Lauren's remarkable ability to craft good words into good sentences, and that we read anything she writes. We appreciate her honestly told stories of faith -- part memoir, part confession, part teaching -- and we're glad this is out in paperback, offering her insights about various images and metaphors for God.  This explains images she finds in the Bible and she not only colorfully describes how these odd-ball images effected her own inner life and faith practices, but how early church, medieval and other mystics down through the ages have used these generative metaphors for the Divine One.  Anybody talking about hurtful images of God or bad spiritual teaching or pushy, single-minded churches should spend some time ruminating along with this writer, teacher, and interesting Episcopal priest. 

The Wisdom of Tenderness- What Happens When God's Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives.jpgThe Wisdom of Tenderness: What Happens When God's Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives Brennan Manning (HarperSanFranciso) $13.95  Oh yes, if he were still with us, this ragamuffin gospel-lover would add much about views of God, about grace and intimacy and trust and risk and faith and hope. This book -- despite the lovely, evocative "tenderness" in the title, is a serious call to real religion. As the Publishers Weekly starred review put it "Maning writes for both the individual and the institution, and both will benefit from listening to his words.  Especially for those who long to hear more about divine mercy from the pulpit and see it reflected in their leaders and institutions."

Hallelujah Anyway- Rediscovery Mercy.jpgHallelujah Anyway: Rediscovery Mercy Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $20.00  Oh heck, why not? Who wouldn't want Anne laughing and calling bullshit on stuff in a panel discussion like this?  She's such a fun and captivating writer and speaker. We enjoy her books a lot. This brand new one just released today and it is a lovely little hardback, to match Stitches and Help, Thanks, Wow. Here's what she says on the back:

"I'm not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and human: the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is too."

The Curious C.jpgSacredness of Questioning.jpgThe Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life Barnabas Piper (Broadman & Holman) $16.99  This author was raised in the home of exceptionally intense theologian/pastor/writer, the controversial John Piper. He tells of some of that in The Pastor's Kid and has offered wise counsel about doubt in his Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. I think in this conversation about hurtful images of faith, I'd invite Barnabas to join in not only because of his own unique experiences in such a passionate home (with such fierce convictions) but because this book offers so much delightful wisdom, so much lovely insight that can counter harsh and unyielding views of faith. His call to wonder, his invitation to ask questions, his spiritual quest for beauty, his insistence that we are all called to deep curiosity, is a transforming counterbalance to those with pat answers, strict rules, unbending data.  This nice book is dedicated to his mother.  I wonder why some folks are resilient and can continue to be open and eager to learn even if some past experiences have been traumatic? He invites us to continue learning, staying open.  Perhaps deeper and more allusive is the fabulous The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark (Zondervan; $15.99) I bring him to any panel discussion, anytime.

Between the Dark and the Daylight- Embracing the Contradictions of Life.jpgBetween the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life Joan Chittister (Image) $20.00  Sister Joan is beloved in many liturgical churches and is admired as a fine writer from within her generous Benedictine tradition. It seems to me she's always a voice to listen to, but this idea that there are paradoxs at the heart of life, and certainly of faith, could be helpful for many hung up on more rigid systems of belief that they find intolerable.  Barbara Brown Taylor says, "Here, at last, is a book for those ready to make peace with the unsolvable riddles of present-day life.  Sister Joan has good news for you: these are the questions that make you human, and they can make you more joyously human if you choose." 

The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion- A Guide.jpgThe Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics and Believers Martin Thielen (WJK) $15.00 I hope you recall us telling of his colorful What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian which differentiates between essential core truths that are pretty much non-negotiable and, well, everything else.  Thielen is, like Merritt, concerned about bad religion and here reminds us that "no religion" isn't the answer. He offers a view of faith that isn't hurtful or harmful and why we might endure, seeking better spiritual answers and practices. You want a dose of love, grace, forgiveness?  You know folks who have been turned off, perhaps almost entirely so?  Give this a try or share it with one who might feel that Christianity is more bad news than good.

The Whole Christ- Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance.jpgThe Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance--Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters Sinclair Ferguson (Crossway Books) $24.99  Okay, here me out; I don't think I'm just being ornery to include this exceedingly weighty tome about an 18th century Scottish Presbyterian controversy.  If we're going to convene a "panel discussion" to explore the insight and wisdom of Carol's book, we have to sooner or later approach the question of whether her progressive views of God and grace and inclusion that seem so healing and helpful are theologically substantive, Biblically faithful, and how these formulations of faith compare with older more historic views.  I don't know if there is some way to blend her views with, say, historic Reformed thought about guilt and grace, but this book, written by a beloved Scottish theology professor and writer, explores an old controversy about legalism and grace and the role of the law in our spiritual growth. This is heady theological stuff, but some conservative evangelicals have said it is one of the most important books of the decade. Asking questions like this push us to consider first things: what is the gospel?  Is talking about God's good news in these sorts of terms overly harsh? Ferguson is a tough thinker and a kind man. As we journey towards caring for the wounded and offering warm grace to those turned off by toxic faith, we do have to grapple with what these sorts of books have to say.  Whew.

healing spiritual wounds.jpg



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The Benedict Option.jpgreclaiming hope cover a.jpgIn the last few BookNotes we've waded into some rough waters, offering what I hope were balanced and helpful views of books such as the much-discussed The Benedict Option as well as books related to the contretemps about Keller and the Kuyper Center Award at Princeton. Before that we hosted Michael Wear in the store -- a very pleasant evening where the former White House staffer talked about his book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America.  Each of these posts and book-related conversations had a topic hovering nearby: in what way ought Abraham Kuyper Modern Calvinst.jpgChristian people be involved in the world around them and what rights might society afford those who have religious convictions to live in ways that are true to their own consciences?  Or, in more popular theological lingo, channeling the famous book by H. RIchard Niebuhr, what is the relationship between Christ and culture?  Or, again, as one of the early church fathers asked "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?"  It remains a live-wire question.

As a bookseller working with a particular purpose, this question looms large for us: if God cares about all of life being redeemed and calls the church to follow Christ into all zones of life, then Christian people need books for -- as the old hymn puts it -- "the living of these days."  We here at the shop carry books on business and science and film and art and sports and technology and race and sexuality and farming and on and on because God cares and because humans are tasked to represent God's ways in God's world. Books offer help for you and me to do this, to serve God, in Christ, missionally in the world. I suspect you've got questions about how better to do this -- live out your faith, day to day -- and books, we believe, can help inform and inspire; books can help us figure out how to relate ancient faith to modern times, which is to say our faith can become more "culturally-relevant." If our relationship to culture doesn't matter, if it isn't all that important, or just some personal belief in one's own heart, if we're not sent into the world to somehow be used by God, perhaps as salt and light and leaven, then much our inventory is of lesser importance, not as strategic as we think it is, and this newsletter is often inexplicable. 

fleming speaking.jpgFleming Rutledge -- the wonderful author of books such as The Crucifixion, The Undoing of Death, The Seven Last Words from the Cross and more  -- and her husband complemented me after I highlighted a few of her books at event with her last week, declaring with enthusiasm that I was good at marketing.  I don't know about that, but I agreed that I can work myself into a good lather over books I believe in, resources that I think will bring pleasure and goodness and insight and truth to readers, as her learned ones surely do.
And even she, theologian that she is, knows a bit about culcha: she has a collection of sermons sharply called The Bible and the New York Times as well as a very thorough literary study called The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in "The Lord of the Rings."

So here we are, selling books in a less than bookish age, presuming a certain view of the human person (made in God's image with the ability to grow and learn, and with God-given responsibility) and the culture (good, the very theater of God, as John Calvin called it, the given location for our life in the world, even if fallen and distorted, like it or not) and the nature of discipleship (not primarily inner-focused, but lived, in, but not of, the world around us.) As Calvin Seerveld once quipped, I think in Rainbows for the Fallen World, "culture is not optional."  We can't chose, finally, to disengage. It is just a matter of how we engage.  Books help us navigate life in these times and are indispensable aids in our faithfulness here within the human story on planet Earth. It's as simple as that.

Again, the books mentioned above by Dreher and Wear, and the situation with Keller and Kuyper about which I wrote most recently, seem to have something lively to do with this question, this Christ and culture matter. It raises questions of pluralism, the question of how we do or don't tolerate those who are different then we are, how we order society given such religious and cultural differences among us. These recent books and situations invite us to ponder with greater urgency questions of how we relate to our culture, and if we can live into, as Richard Mouw put it in his great book and great book title Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.  

robert louis wilken.jpgWhich brings me to this.

Last night we had the great privilege of hearing, at St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore (housed since the 1970s in the Roman Catholic St. Mary's Seminary, the oldest in the country), the imminent scholar of the early church, Robert Louis Wilken. Dr. Wilken is a distinguished fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is an emeritus professor of church history at the University of Virginia.  

His remarkable lecture at St. Mary's was based on a forthcoming book that he is finishing up that will tentatively be called Liberty in the Things of God: Christian Origins of Religious Freedom. I am not able tertullian icon.jpgto re-tell much of what the good doctor taught us about Tertullian and the other early church fathers, but his main point was that the older story of the development of freedom of conscience in the West as a creation of the reasonable secular humanists of the Enlightenment, pushing back against sectarian religious impulses that caused wars and inquisitions is inadequate, that it was the earliest voices of the early Christians who cried out for religious freedom. He is not the first to say this but he documented it copiously.

He also told a splendid story of how Thomas Jefferson (speaking of reasonable secularists wanting freedom from religion) bought a book from one particular bookseller -- he apparently had special ordered it, from a bookman in Richmond -- which included one of the apologies of Tertullian, making a case for religious toleration.  Jefferson underlined a particular sentence in the book he had ordered (Wilken discovered this by carefully sleuthing through the thomas-jefferson.jpgLibrary of Congress, finding original books there, of course, from Jefferson's own library.) This underlined sentence from the third century theologian made its way into one of Jefferson's own books.  Ahh, I thought, the power of a bookseller to get the right old book into the hands of a history-maker!  I was encouraged and took pride as Wilken told the colorful story. His point was less about the virtue of the bookseller but was clear: even the wonderful American ideas -- conscientious objection, free expression and the like -- came not just from Quakers like William Penn or Baptists like Roger Williams or Reformers citing the developing tradition of human rights based on reformation thought, but it came (via Jefferson, in this case) from the early church!  This is apparently astonishing news in the academy and the topic warranted Wilken delivering the prestigious Dunning Lecture in Baltimore, and will make its way into a bigger book, perhaps next year.

christ and culture niebuhr.jpgAll of this circles back to Rod Dreher and how fast-paced and secularized modernity has eroded notions of religious identity for many of us and how the modern state has too often minimized notions of religious liberty.  What do we do in times such as these? The BenOp is one response. Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian's neo-Kuyperian worldview leading to robust sorts of gracious, evangelical cultural engagement is another.  Liberal social gospel approaches from early 20th century Protestants are perhaps another.  Niebuhr outlines five such options in the aforementioned Christ and Culture. 

Most of these approaches -- from the BenOp to Kuyper to Keller and more -- tend to miss the earliest of church responses. (Dreher's Benediction Option draws on 5th century monasticism, and my post here lists a bunch of books to help us consider how Benedictine spirituality could be useful today, not primarily as an option of cultural resistance, but just as a wholesome sort of guide for balanced spiritual living. Dreher is right, I think, to point us in that general direction about spiritual formation in community.) 

And so, here are a handful of books that are about the early church, particularly as they formed their own manners and ways of being in the world, how they related to the Roman Empire, and how the Roman Empire related to them. These classic books by Robert Louis Wilken (and a few others) are titles we routinely carry, but we have extra copies from the book signing event.  We will send some back, soon, so we have this sale for 3 days only.  We offer you 30% off any of these shown below. Offer only good through the end of day April 3, 2017.  While supplies last.

3 DAY SALE -- 30% OFF through April 3, 2017.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them.jpgThe Christians as the Romans Saw Them Robert Louis Wilken (Yale University Press) $15.95  What a great little book, erudite, influential, important, and so interesting. Numerous reviewers mention how gracious and eloquent the writing is, and it is true. It is not too lengthy nor expensive. The Atlantic Monthly review wrote that it "should fascinate any reader with an interest in the history of human thought."  One reviewer said it "draws upon well-known sources--both pagan and Christian--to provide the general reader with an illuminating account... of how Christianity appeared to the Romans before it became the established religion of the empire."  This stuff should be better known among us, I think, and I'm struck by how much we can learn in one little volume. Very nicely done.

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought- Seeking the Face of God.jpgThe Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God  Robert Wilken (Yale University Press) $22.00  This book came out about a decade ago and remains a true standard, eloquent and fascinating, important and good. It was a real honor to get to display them for Dr. Wilken at St. Mary's.

I love the marketing copy about the book: "In this eloquent introduction to early Christian thought, eminent religious historian Robert Louis Wilken examines the tradition that such figures as St. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and others set in place. These early thinkers constructed a new intellectual and spiritual world, Wilken shows, and they can still be heard as living voices in the modern world.In chapters on topics including early Christian worship, Christian poetry and the spiritual life, the Trinity, Christ, the Bible, and icons, Wilken shows that the energy and vitality of early Christianity arose from within the life of the Church. While early Christian thinkers drew on the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of the ancient world, it was the versatile vocabulary of the Bible that loosened their tongues and minds and allowed them to construct the world anew, intellectually and spiritually. These thinkers were not seeking to invent a world of ideas, Wilken shows, but rather to win the hearts of men and women and to change their lives."

It continues:

Early Christian thinkers set in place a foundation that has endured. Their writings are an irreplaceable inheritance, and Wilken shows that they can still be heard as living voices within contemporary culture.

Here are a few of the notable reviews from important sources indicating the caliber and significance of this volume.

"Get The Spirit of Early Christian Thought and read it. Read it slowly, letting Wilken take you by the hand. . . . Let him show you a more excellent way."   -- Richard John Neuhaus, First Things

"Magnificently learned and deeply felt. . . . An attentive reader of Wilken, whether believer or nonbeliever, will be touched anew by his survey of Christian intellectual life."                                                                            --Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World 

"This is not a book written for the academy but for all readers. . . . Wilken provides for a new generation . . . a sense of what is important about those astonishing teachers of the early church who instructed the ages after them."                                                                                                                   -- Luke Timothy Johnson, America 

The First Thousand Years Wilken.jpgThe First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity Robert Louis Wilken (Yale University Press) $22.00  Increasingly there has been academic attention to the global nature of church history and there have been new and surprising titles about the spread of Christianity centuries ago, and how the church grew and struggled, to supplement more typical tellings of the tale which focus on Europe.  This book came out in 2013 and is required reading in many colleges and seminary courses. It is considered a one of the best of its kind.  We were thrilled to have this on sale at the author event in Baltimore and are happy to offer you a great savings now.

Listen to this lovely quote from the esteemed memoirist Carlos Eire, author of the popular Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

 A marvelous and unique survey, learned and authoritative, yet also a perfect introduction to the early history of Christianity. Robert Wilken redraws many boundaries, expanding horizons, summarizing and analyzing with consummate skill. This beautifully written book sets new standards on multiple levels, and should stand for a long time as the benchmark by which all other surveys are measured.

Remembering the Christian Past .jpgRemembering the Christian Past Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans) $21.50  Readers in the know about these things realize Wilken is a major thinker, one of the most esteemed scholars in this field, and it made sense that decades ago Eerdmans got him to compile a collection of essays, pithy and smart, wise, and elegant, making a case that we should draw on the past, that knowing something about church history matters, and that the earliest days of the church under the Roman Empire -- and on into Christendom -- generated insights (and problems) that are with us yet today.

This book is important for a variety of reasons; years ago my sales rep explained to me how important Dr. Wilken's was. He had been the President of the American Academy of Religion, an important academic guild.  One reviewer notes that this collection begins with Wilken's important 1989 presidential address to the American Academy of Religion, "Who Will Speak for the Religious Traditions?" where he argued that "the post-Enlightenment academic discourse into which the study of religion has fallen marginalizes the real character and experience of religion for the sake of the researcher's objective distance. Modern teaching about religion, he says, is too often teaching about something else. This collection of essays, by contrast, defends the place of religious truth, both dogma and experience, within the conversation of religious studies."

This is an outstanding, still vital book, introducing you to the many of the most important urgent voices, voices that might help us resist secularized modernity in our time as they thought through the implications of fidelity in their own.

A Week in the Life of Corinth.jpgA Week in the Life of Corinth Ben Witherington III (IVP Academic) $16.00  While this is published by a scholarly, academic imprint, I must say it is good for nearly anyone, even high school students.  It is a work of historical fiction, an imaginative and creative way to introduce us to what was going on in Corinth about the time the Apostle Paul wrote his famous letters to them.  This is a one of a kind sort of window into the travels around the Mediterranean basin from which Paul wrote, and, more, how the Christians in this Greco-Roman city lived, related to their culture, and how they were caught up in the cultural, sexual, ethnic, and philosophical trends of their day.  Fascinating for any study of the Bible book called Corinthians, but, more broadly, for anyone wondering how the early Christians really lives and related to their social world.

Listen to what the very sharp New Testament scholar Michael Bird writes of it:

If you want to know what it would have been like to live in ancient Corinth, spend a week in the life of a freedman, traverse the olive groves and cobblestone streets, survive the cutthroat politics of a Greek city, encounter pagan priestesses and converse with a Jewish tentmaker named 'Paulos, ' then Ben Witherington has written the book for you. This short novella, with pictures and explanations of customs in ancient Corinth, provides a window into the world of Paul's Corinthian letters. Witherington creatively brings the setting of Paul's Corinthian ministry to life with historical rigor and narrative artistry. Witherington brings to us the sights, smells, sounds and culture of Corinth as the apostle Paul knew it.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurian.jpgA Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion Gary Burge (IVP Academic) $16.00  This, too, is a very creatively done bit of historical fiction, a story set which, I believe, can help readers grapple with the "Christ and culture" questions.  In this case, we get a window into the life of the Roman Empire, told through the eyes of a centurion mentioned in the Biblical text who seeks a healing for his Jewish slave from the itinerant Rabbi from Galilee.  It is fast-paced, full of first century color, and highly recommended -- especially for this time of the church year when we think of the Roman's imperial power in the execution of Jesus.  We really can appreciate our well known Bible stories more deeply when we can imagine the life of first century Rome and its environs.

The reviews on this are fun to read -- by those who enjoy historical fiction, and, more, from Bible scholars and teachers.  Burge is a prof at Wheaton and well-respected (he is also somewhat of a peace-maker in his multi-faceted view of the conflicts in the Holy land and has done work there, and writing, about the role of land in those conflicts.) He has done a great job with this title. 

Here is what Craig Blomberg, a New Testament prof at Denver Seminary, wrote:

Biblical scholars are not typically known for writing historical novels, much less gripping page-turners. Gary Burge, however, has accomplished both of these feats. Fully true to the historical-cultural setting of the early first-century Roman Empire, this story not only makes the New Testament world come alive but it creates one very plausible scenario of the career and family of the Capernaum centurion of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. The characters become so real that I was even tearing up at the end of Burge's story!"

The Mestizo Augustine- A Theologian .jpgThe Mestizo Augustine: A Theologian Between Two Cultures Justo Gonzalez (IVP Academic) $24.00  This is a recent book written by one of the great church historians of our time. We have carried his big and small works for those wanting an overview of the flow of Western church history.  This one, though, is very special and a unique contribution. In keeping with the theme of this post, it seems so relevant to our questions today about justice and racial-reconciliation and globalization and how we are not the first ones to navigate such things.  Augustine, as we should know, was both a Roman and an African -- he was, after all, the Bishop of Hippo, in the Roman occupied region of Numbidia, what today we call Algeria (in Northern Africa.)  He lived in that historical space between early Christianity and medieval Christendom, interacting with literature, philosophy, culture, theology, politics, church growth and parish life.  Historian Mark Noll calls this new exploration "particularly insightful." The brilliant scholar from Princeton, Eric Gregory, noting how many books there are on Augustine, says that "It is hard to think of one more timely for a new generation of readings than The Mestizo Augustine.

We thought we'd add it to this list of titles that are on sale, this weekend only.  Order today.


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March 28, 2017

Kuyper and Keller (and some really good books.) ON SALE

I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but this, for many BookNotes readers, isn't pleasant, no matter what "side" one is on in the debacle.  I suppose some of our faithful BookNotes readers won't care much, but I'm sure many do. I refer to the situation where Princeton Theological Seminary rescinded the annual Abraham Kuyper Award Prize that was to be given this year to Rev. Timothy Keller, rescinded due to his own views and involvement in a denomination that does not permit the ordination of women and is less than fully welcoming of persons within the LGBTQ community. Awarding someone with such views -- even if an otherwise admirable public figure and successful church planter -- seemed inconsistent with the task at Princeton which includes preparing women for ordained ministry.  Here is the fairly plain-spoken announcement by the President of PTS about rescinding the award.


Here is just one example of the outcry offered in protest of Keller by Princeton alum and friends, this one by PC(USA) pastor Carol Howard Merritt, who has a new book out all about how the church has too often hurt people with a toxic judgmentalism and a harshly rigid sort of dogmatism. I think it is woefully unfair to caricature Keller's position about gender roles as she does here, but she herself has encountered real spiritual abuse (from a rather different tribe that taught male dominion in a manner that Keller does not) so one must at least acknowledge the integrity of her advocacy, based on real experiences she has encountered and the stories of people that she knows.  I want to listen when she writes, "I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that women's genitalia is up for grabs by any man with power and influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear." Apparently her on-line piece in the Christian Century helped convince PTS President Craig Barnes to rescind the award.

Here is another important piece written by a PTS alum that is worth reading if you want to understand the outcry.

I don't want to weigh in much -- this is a book review newsletter, after all, and we're trying to make a living getting you to send us orders -- but I cannot shake this sense that I'm to write about this. 

You may know (and if you read my lengthy review of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option you maybe picked it up if you haven't before) that I am not where Keller and the PCA would be on these issues.  Beth and I are active in a moderate PC(USA) church and one of my own beloved pastors -- and a very good preacher -- is a woman with a degree from Princeton. We rejoice in her call to ministry and gladly honor her as our Teaching Elder, as the Presby nomenclature has it. I understand those who thought it odd that the Seminary would honor one who apparently thinks that many persons among the student body should be disallowed in their quest for pastoral ministry.

KellerinParis10-copyright-EO_Arianne-Ramaker.jpgHowever, we respect Tim Keller immensely and have had good conversations with him on occasions over the years; we have had the opportunity to set up book displays at various events at the church he pastors, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. It is a great privilege and deep joy which we have not taken lightly and they have always, always, treated us very well.  There is one video clip on line of Keller speaking at a large hall in Manhattan and if you look carefully you can see hundreds of books propped up at his feet -- our Hearts & Minds resources display at the edge of the stage.  I have to admit this makes me smile and Beth and I both love telling how we've worked with good folks who have become friends there at Redeemer.

I hate to sound snarky but I do not know any church in my own denomination who has had such success in attracting serious-minded young adults as has Redeemer; I don't myself know of any PC(USA) congregation who has so many sharp women involved in significant aspects of the church's ministry, and who embodies such ethnic diversity.  No church I know is as sophisticated in its work within its place --  in Redeemer's case, doing evangelism among sophisticated urban and professional elites, mentoring into mature faith those who are church-less or de-churched, bearing gospel witness among the marginalized and hurting in their neighborhoods as well as helping big city professionals think religiously about their callings in finance, law, the arts, education, science, technology, entertainment, and more.  I know of no liberal or progressive church that goes out of their way to host events with speakers who are outside of their comfort zone, who willingly listen on occasion to non-Christian pundits and social critics as does Redeemer under the unique leadership of Reverend Keller. 

Again, I disagree with their stance on the role of women elders and I suspect I disagree with the nature of their relationships with the GLTBQ+ community, although I cannot say for sure as I do not know about that.  I think many who "on paper" are all inclusive and outspoken and allied may, in practice, have fewer relationships with gay and lesbian folk than do the members of Redeemer, despite their convictions about same-sex relations as disordered.  We've not been there enough to say, but I wouldn't presume the worst, as some progressive bloggers have. It sort of reminds me of Jesus' parable in Matthew 21 about two sons. One said the right thing but didn't do it. And vice versa.

When some call Keller "loud" I realize they must never have met the man.  When they accuse Redeemer of being harmful to women, I suspect they don't know how many very thoughtful, strong, women are on staff at the church.

And, anyway, Keller and his ministry is known (for those who know anything about them) for encouraging women to be leaders in various sectors of society, from politics to medicine, from finance to scholarship. This is a point nicely made by Richard Mouw in his own important piece about the Princeton Kuyper Award ordeal. Here is a newly added link to a piece by Katherine Leary Alsdorf who admits to disagreements about Rev. Keller's theology of gender roles, but says how qualified he would have been for the Kuyper Award. It is worth reading.

Okay, I've already said more than I intended. My point is that we carry a very wide variety of books here and sincerely recommend liberationist/progressive readings and also sincerely recommend Keller's good books. It is not that we are confused but that we truly value much in both camps.  And in this case, we appreciate the concerns on both sides. We have friends on both sides, and it hurts all around. At the very least, we think reading carefully will help us be fair as we see what it is we agree and disagree about; reading widely helps us avoid the sins of caricature and might move us towards reconciliation. Reading widely and serving a variety of corners of the big church has made me lean towards a both/and view, less either/or.

I hope we are not alone in that both/and space.  I have to admit it feels rather lonely.

I'll admit that I've got what some call "the feels" about this; I am in touch with acute distress as I reflect on it; my heart races as I read some of the many passionate pieces that have been posted. This episode breaks my heart although I suppose it was inevitable. Keller is not in keeping with the vision of PTS on the matter of gender.  And the ideological left is often not forgiving.  It was good of Keller, I thought, to agree go to PTS in the first place -- some conservative evangelicals don't even want to be seen on the seminary campuses of mainline denominations and I suspect he himself had to convince some of his PCA friends and supporters that this was a legitimate rapprochement. And now they may be saying "we told you so."   So it goes.  Although I didn't agree with every sentence, I appreciated Jonathan Merritt's piece that captured this viewpoint well. He calls on more progressive types (with whom he identifies) to champion true diversity and a much wider conversation under a bigger tent.  I'm for that.


But here is what is somewhat lost in the high-profile discussions (again, raised by the Richard Mouw column, above.)

The Award rescinded by President Barnes was not being given, in the most broad sense, by Princeton Theological Seminary. It was to be given by the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology. It is actually called "The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life."

And that, I suggest, is the even more important question: do many people care about the work of the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at PTS and is that sort of robust, culturally-engaged, neo-Calvinism, gaining any traction?  In a divided Reformed, Presbyterian tradition -- divided between more strict neo-Puritans and the growing PCA and more progressive mainliners in the declining PC(USA) --  can any of this Dutch Kuyper stuff help? And can Keller and his City-to-City project help us all understand the distinctives of that theological strain? And is that a good thing or not?

Such a Kuyperian slant and "all of life redeemed" worldview, I would think, could help conservative evangelicals and doctrinaire PCA types gain a broader sort of cultural engagement (by drawing, just for instance, on Kuyper's extensive teaching on "common grace" and the common good) and it can also help progressives resist their up-to-their-steeples accommodation to secular leftist ideas and practices. Old man Kuyper and his colorful life can offer a corrective for us all to get out of our tendencies to be primarily left-wing or right-wing by providing an imaginative and faithful third way.

Kuyper -- like Luther or St. Francis or Wilberforce or Andre Trocme -- can do this for us because (a) they write from another place and time and are not beholden to our own social imaginaries (such as a left vs right continuum) and, (b) because as a matter of principle, Kuyper talked about finding an alternative Christian way of thinking and being in the modern world, beyond conventional arrangements. It was, as we say, his thing.

kuyper.gifKuyper's prolific late 19th/early 20th century theological and church work was eclipsed by his cultural initiatives and political activism, leaving a legacy of distinctively Christian institutions, a world class Christian university, a daily newspaper, an interest in the arts, a complex and nuanced critique of capitalism, a values-inspired labor union, and, of course, a Christian Democratic political party through which he became Prime Minister.  For most of his life, although pious and theologically prolific, he did much of his thinking "on the run" while engaged in rigorous public debates.  Perhaps in this sense he might remind one of William Wilberforce.

I don't know how all of his old books ought to inform our efforts for cultural renewal and social justice today; he was a man of his times and had huge blind spots. Still, Abraham Kuyper's influence on my own thinking (or my own feeble appreciation of his general ethos and vision, at least, as explained to me by others) is part of what gives me the heebie-jeebies about Dreher's The Benedict Option book and his BenOp movement, as described in my big review, here.  You see, Kuyper's influence on the thinking of people I know is what created stuff like the CCO's wonderful Jubilee Conference, the extraordinary For the Life of the World DVD curriculum, the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith and Work (where, by the way, I did the "industry specific" book recommendations), the non-partisan Center for Public Justice (founder James Skillen himself was a Kuyper Award prize-winner, by the way) and, well, this little bookstore on Main Street in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.

jubilee every square inch.jpgNo dualisms between the sacred and secular?  All of life redeemed? We are culture-makers?  Salvation means creation regained? The drama of Scripture is a four-chapter story, sometimes described as creation/fall/redemption/restoration? The integration of faith and scholarship? We must learn to see through the lens of a Christian worldview? You Are What You Love?  These are all big picture slogans that carry transforming visions that have become increasingly embraced within evangelicalism, because, as religious historian George Marsden once quipped, "We are all Kuyperians now."  Whether we know it or not.  

In fact, as David Naugle so meticulously explored in years of research, the very word worldview (just for one instance) entered the English lexicon because of philosophers in the line of Kuyper.  See Naugle's fantastic big book, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans; $34.00) for an amazing bit of sleuthing on the genealogy of that idea and how faith leaders -- from Francis Schaeffer to James Sire to Nancy Pearcey to Brian Walsh -- appropriated the concept in different ways and for different ends.

You see, a burning question for me -- beyond Keller's denomination's view of women's ordination and the admittedly complex analysis of Biblical texts that should shape our determination of that question -- is this other one: is Keller a Kuyperian?  

For the record, not all the winners of previous Kuyper Awards were Kuyperians. Heck, some were not Christians. Here is a list of past winners of the Kuyper Award, and links to some of their academic talks.

Scars Across Humanity- Understanding Violence Against Women.gifLast year our friend Elaine Storkey --  author, most recently, of Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women -- received the Award. I hope those expressing their legitimate concern about the justice deserved by women supported the event last year. And I hope they bought her book. I know we have not sold many although we have highlighted it often; it is very important!  Storkey is an articulate spokesperson from the UK for the broad Kuyperian vision and has written widely on gender inequality for most of her professional career. (Even at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, too, years ago, where she did a main stage talk.)

Anyway, it has been a good string of very impressive honorees, diverse in ethnicity, social location,  religion, and overall perspective.

And that is how it should be since another word Kuyperians introduced into more popular usage -- long before secular journalists picked up on it decades ago -- is pluralism.  Anyone who knows the main political thinker who influenced Prime Minister Kuyper (Groen Van Prinsterer) knows that they talked a lot about pluralism. One cannot imagine a robust Reformed or neo-Calvinist social theory without resorting to the notion of civil and principled pluralism.

(Indeed, this is part of the topic of James K.A. Smith's scholarly, Herman Bavinck Lecture given in Kampen, Holland, last summer, entitled, "Reforming Public Theology: Neo-calvinism and Pluralism" which, we can hope, will make it into his third volume of his brilliant "Cultural Liturgies" series due out this year, which will be called Awaiting the King. You can PRE-ORDER that from us, too, btw, but we're not sure when it is being released.)  

So therein lies one tension: the evangelical right and the more liberal mainline both seem to too often miss the nuances of pluralism. Hence, both have a hard time with civility, with getting along with others. They cry out and lament and protest, and I get that; it is my style, often, too. And sometimes it is the right thing to do, to just say no.  Heaven knows I've spent a lot of my time on picket lines doing just that. But Kuyper maybe had something insightful to offer a society that struggles to learn to live well together, amidst our differences.

And so, I'd like to share with you a handful of books that you should note -- maybe even buy and someday read -- to help us make sense of this sad brouhaha.  Firstly, we have to understand a bit about Kuyper.  And then a bit about Keller.


abraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpgAbraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00 Oh how I wish folks would order this from us. They use it at Redeemer's Gotham Fellows program (I know because they order them from us) and it serves as an easy introduction to the main strengths of the hefty, Dutch public intellectual. And if anybody can help us see easily why this matters, it is the always interesting Rich Mouw. As noted above, Mouw himself was an Kuyper Center honoree, quite deservedly so.

James K.A. Smith writes of it:

"This marvelous little book pulls off an astounding feat: though it is both compact and accessible, it also gives us the whole Kuyper. Too often we get Kuyper in slices: folks gravitate to a 'side' of Kuyper, adopting his theology of culture but neglecting his emphasis on the church, or picking up common grace but neglecting antithesis. But Mouw, with typical wit and warmth, introduces us to Kuyper in all his multifaceted richness. A gift for the next generation."

Abraham Kuyper Modern Calvinst.jpgAbraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat James Bratt (Eerdmans) $32.00  I don't know Jim Bratt well enough to say this for sure, but we crossed paths when we lived in Pittsburgh in the early 80s, I believe, and he, like many of us in Reformed circles there in those years, heard of Kuyper from a flamboyant Dutch theologian and philosopher who could quote Kuyper, in the original, in his sleep. And tell you why another Dutch theologian of culture (say, Klaas Schilder) was equally important. Anyway, like many of us, Bratt took a life-long interest in this historic Dutch strain of Reformed theology and has written what is doubtlessly the definitive biography of the great Father Abraham.  Many say that Abraham Kuyper was truly one of the most extraordinary figures in Western Christian history and we should be very glad for this major, historic biography.

Hey, for what it is worth, for serious scholars or fans, we also stock another Kuyper bio published by Eerdmans, the luxurious Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography by Jan De Bruijn ($40.00.) And, a nice little collection of fascinating letters that Kuyper wrote back to his wife during his extended stay in the US in 1898.  See Kuyper in America: This Is Where I Was Meant to Be edited by George Harinck (Dordt College Press; $11.95)

He Shines in All That's Fair- Culture and Common Grace.jpgHe Shines in All That's Fair: Culture and Common Grace Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $15.95  I think I tossed this off in passing in my review of Dreher's Benedict Option book saying I'd love to hear him ruminate on these wild ideas of Kuyper as presented so nicely by Rich Mouw. Does God love jazz music, a good golf putt, the flight of a hawk? That is, are there seemingly secular or non-consequential and non-religious things that make up a good life that pleases God? And if so, does affirming those things and being active in those very things -- playing, learning, art appreciation, making stuff -- matter for eternity?  Kuyper's view of common grace does not negate the need for saving faith in Christ,but  it does offer generative notions to sustain greater involvement in the world, building bridges with others who are made in God's image, advancing a generally positive view of life in the world and our callings to be engaged well in culture. I have mentioned this book often, and think it should be better known among us.

 The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship- Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper Richard.jpgThe Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $20.00  This starts to get a bit deep, I must say; here are thirteen essays that are uniquely neo-Calvinist, evaluating and engaging some of the unique issues and theories that circle around the air of those in the heritage of Abraham Kuyper and his tribe. As it says in the promo copy: "In this volume Mouw provides the scholarly backstory to his popular books as he interprets, applies, expands on -- and at times even corrects -- Kuyper's remarkable vision for faith and public life." Pretty heavy stuff. Wow.

By the way, although not as explicitly Kuyperian, if you are attracted to shorter essays and stimulating talks in this vein, see James K.A. Smith's marvelous collection Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture (Calvin College Press; $14.99.)  A learned delight.

On Kuyper- A Collection of Readings.jpgOn Kuyper: A Collection of Readings on the Life, Work & Legacy of Abraham Kuyper edited by Steve Bishop and John H. Kok (Dordt College Press) $36.00  This. I mean it: this. This is a magisterial, unique, colorful, scholarly, flamboyant and at times nearly mind-boggling collection of very important pieces about Kuyper.  It is slightly oversized and over 475 pages.  Some are reprints from years ago, some are in print for the first time. They evaluate Kuyper and Kuyperian philosophy and explore the implications of his thought-system for (among other things) the church, culture, gender, politics, education, fashion, evolution, and more. There is discussion about the implications of common grace, sphere sovereignty, pluralism, all somehow giving tribute to this robust thinker who promoted the Lordship of Christ over all zones of life.

The Spirit in Public Theology.jpgThe Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper Vincent Bacote (Wipf & Stock) $20.00. Bacote is an amazing professor and a public intellectual in his own right. We have hosted him to present on his little book The Political Disciple which, actually, has some Kuyperian fingerprints on it.  But his is more detailed Kuyper book is an important contribution to Kuyper scholars. Here, Bacote explores both Kuyper public theology and ties it to his major work on the Holy Spirit. And, as the sub-title suggests, Bacote makes some keen observations about how to appropriate this wisely today.  I might note that since some have understandably leveled some criticisms against how South African thinkers perhaps used some of Kuypers ideas to undergird their devious apartheid system, Bacote is himself an African American and obviously takes these concerns seriously.  No one should overlook injustices or sinful errors of past thinkers, and Bacote helps us navigate some of this.  It's a useful, thoughtful book.

makers_of_modern_christian_social_thought_cover_front_draft.jpgMakers of Modern Christian Social Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question Jordon Ballor (Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty) $14.95  This is an extraordinary book, one that covers a topic some of us have alluded to for years --  namely, that there is much overlap between Pope Leo XIII and Kuyper. Leo's pivotal social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Kuyper's dramatic speech, published in English as Christianity and the Class Struggle and, later, as The Problem of Poverty) are both very, very important and we are indebted to the always brilliant Jordan Ballor for doing this good work, comparing and contrasting these two somewhat connected social justice traditions.

Here is what it says on the back:

Leo XIII's encyclical on the relationship between capital and labor (Rerum Novarum) and Abraham Kuyper's speech to the first Christian Social Congress ("The Social Question and the Christian Religion"), both published in 1891, are foundational sources for subsequent Christian social thought in their respective traditions-Roman Catholic and Reformed. This volume, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of these two landmark publications, includes authoritative English translations of these works and an introduction that outlines their context and significance. The thought of these two theologians-one an Italian scholar-pope and the other a Dutch Reformed pastor, professor, and politician-provide enduring wisdom for developing and articulating a Christian witness in the modern world.

Lectures on Calvinism .jpgLectures on Calvinism Abraham Kuyper (Eerdmans) $18.00 This is the book that first introduced me to Kuyper and it is dry and complex, written in the style of public addresses at Princeton at the turn of the  19th century into the 20th.  These were given in 1898 as the "Stone Lectures" and the rocked the world, changing much about Presbyterianism, lasting even to today. Alas they are not thrilling for most readers. These lectures explore the notion that God is sovereign, and therefore, we should honor Christ as King over all of life -- the English translation renders the first chapter "Christianity as a Life System." He specifically looks at science, the arts, commerce, and education and the future --  and hearing about it was life-changing for me. His complex lectures never turned me on, but the idea that religion is an all-encompassing world-and-life view and that Calvinism's importance is therefore more than theological debates about predestination, but about God's rulership over all creation, still resonates today.

Wisdom & Wonder- Common Grace in Science & Art .jpgWisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art Abraham Kuyper (Christian's Library Press) $14.99  We were one of the first places to review this when it first came out a few years back and we still enjoy telling folks about it -- and pointing out the very cool cover. This is a good way into Kuyper's own writings on common grace, on how to address issues of the arts and sciences.  Edited by Jordan Ballor and Stephen Grabill (yes, the guy in For the Life of the WorldWisdom & Wonder includes a foreword by Q founder Gabe Lyons and a great introduction by Wheaton College political theologian, Vincent Bacote. Serious, thoughtful, old-school theology of culture.

near unto god.jpgNear Unto God Abraham Kuyper (Dordt College Press) $17.00  This is a slightly modernized (by novelist James Schaap) and somewhat abridged edition of Kuyper's beloved devotional based on the phrase from Psalm 73:28.  I was moved and inspired by RIchard Mouw's introduction, explaining how this deeply spiritual piety motivated not only the public activism and myriad of reforms of the busy Kuyper but of generations of Dutch Christian leaders in the 20th century.  Dutch Reformed farmers and workers of all sort were inspired by this kind of Bible reflection causing them to start alternative schools and environmental stewardship organizations, labor unions based on reconciliation, magazines, mission agencies, inner city clinics, art groups and more.How good to know that their "all of life redeemed" worldview was driven by deep relationship with the God who is there, who cares, who wants to be near to us.  A nice blurb on the front is by Eugene Peterson.

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition.jpgPRE-ORDER Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction Craig C. Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $40.00  I have been itching to see this since I heard about it a while ago, and I've not yet seen any of the manuscript.  I can tell you this much: it is going to be academically sound and yet exciting. And important.  When the publisher says Kuyper is "much discussed but little read" I think they are right, and there are reasons for that. Not unlike other great writers of the past, delving into older ways of writing is hard even for some scholars.  We need a guide. We need some assistance. We need a teacher to tell us about it all.  Philosopher, theologian, artist, farmer from South Africa, we have our guide here in Mr. Bartholomew.  I cannot wait for this and suspect it is going to be a blessing to many. Agree or disagree with Kuyper -- and some view him as too conservative and totalizing, and some view him as too liberal and pluralizing -- this will be the indispensable resource to help us understand his importance, his legacy, and how many are working out his faith-based vision for just and healing multi-dimensional societal reform today in our own time and place.  I'm hoping many are glad to hear about it, and will send us an order.  It is due out in mid April, 2017 and we will be among the very first to have it, I'm sure.

I like James Bratt's good endorsement:

Abraham Kuyper began the neo-Calvinist movement in the Netherlands in the late 1800s as a way to make classic Christianity speak with fresh relevance to the modern world. Now, over a century later, Craig Bartholomew has given us this clear, thorough overview of Kuyper's original insights, their further development, and their relevance in the postmodern world. Both veterans of the movement and those new to it will find here a concise presentation of the distinctive Kuyperian themes--creation, worldview, and sphere sovereignty--as they characteristically unfolded in Christian education, philosophy, and political and cultural engagement. Best of all, Bartholomew lays out where Kuyperians can learn from others--and how they might (and must) recover the spirituality and saturation in Scripture that animated Kuyper in the first place. Agree with Kuyper or not, this is the place to go to learn, in brief, what he said, did, and wrought

Beyond the Modern Age Goudzwaard.jpgPRE-ORDER Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard and Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic) $30.00  If I were to name one contemporary interpreter of Kuyper's broad vision, relating it with passion to the injustices of the modern world, it may be the delightfully pleasant scholar and ecumenically minded Dutch Kuyperian economist, Bob Goudzwaard. Goudzwaard was an elected Parliament Member (what we might call a Congressperson) in the Netherlands and helped draft some of the social policies of the modern version of Kuyper's A-R Party, the Christian Democratic Appeal.  Here he joins up with Biblical scholar and reformational philosopher Craig Bartholomew for a "architectonic" critique of modern global culture and the interlocking symptoms of our contemporary social crisis.  Goudzwaard is known for his important work in economics and for his incisive critique of the idols of the age.  This book -- due out in early May 2017 -- is going to be one of the most important books of the year.  PRE-ORDER IT ON SALE FROM US TODAY.

every square inch.jpgEvery Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians (Lexham Press) $14.99 Okay, this little hardback isn't exactly a bio of Kuyper, or even about him, exactly, but his Dutch fingerprints are all over it. It looks at what contemporary neo-Calvinists in the line of Kuyper are thinking about culture, about engagement with the world from a radically Christian life perspective, and how to relate faith and public life in principled but gracious ways. It tends a bit conservative at times and some readers will not agree with it all, but it captures much about what is going on it this stream of renewal within both Reformed and, interestingly, some Southern Baptist circles. A nice little read, good to know about and helpful for beginners.

And, of course, one should always consider going to the primary source, reading the vast historic work of the good Doctor Kuyper himself, beyond the popular ones listed above. Just like we extol the writings of Augustine or Aquinas, Luther or Calvin, Theresa or Julian, Barth or Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers or C.S. Lewis,  this is classic, heady, important stuff, right from the horses mouth.

We also carry other books about Kuyper and his legacy, including the ongoing Kuyper Center Review volumes, of which I think there are five in print.  We have them all. Do send us an email if you'd like to talk more.


Wow. There is a Kuyper translation project going on, a very ambitious effort to translate and produce usable, sturdy volumes of some of his "public theology" work that has never been translated into English. Some of these are now available in nicely done editions, with informative introductions and helpful annotations, in a slightly oversized hardback format, allowing for a nice type font.  Of course, we have them all -- and more are yet to come.
So far, the far-flung and hard-working team of scholars and translators have created these impressive volumes through a remarkable, ecumenical partnership between the Acton Institute, the Kuyper Translation Society and Lexham Press. Each sell for $49.99 and we have them at the BookNotes 10% off. We'd be delighted to send any of these five to you.

Common Grace: God's Gifts for a Fallen World Part One

Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King Part One

Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King Part Two

Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto

On the Church

Here is a pleasant and interesting interview with RIchard Mouw and James Bratt about the importance of these big volumes. You may have to scroll down a tiny bit to get to it after the link.  And be sure to come back!


Timothy Keller has written widely as a pastor and Bible teacher, as an apologist for skeptics and seekers, and as a leader of a global church-planting network. Like Kuyper, he's interested in orthodox Calvinist theology and notions of common grace, civic virtue, the arts, cultural renewal, good fiction, and the flourishing of the common good.

But he is, after all, firstly a pastor.

His books for educated lay folks on prayer, marriage, justice, mercy ministries, on the nature of grace, songs of jesus.jpgand various studies from the gospels are all thoughtful, insightful, and very helpful. Many pastors find them very useful in preparing their own studies and sermons although they are not exceedingly scholarly and any thoughtful reader can take them up.  From his recent devotional (written with his wife, every good endeavor.jpgKathy Keller) on the Psalms (The Songs of Jesus) to his excellent book co-authored with former corporate exec, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work, to the older, but still very popular short take on the misunderstood Prodigal Son story, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of Christian Faith, Keller Counterfeit-Gods-large.jpghas a way with words that are lucid and often thought-provoking. His Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters is a very serious critique of modern idols; oh, if other evangelical (or progressive) thinkers were so incisive and so clear and so gospel-centered.

Making Sense of God good.jpgReason for God.jpgMr. Keller has two books that are designed for seekers or those intellectually struggling with the plausibility of faith in the modern world. His paperback The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is, again, thoughtful, well written, and a bit more serious than some may want. But in his world of sophisticates in lower Manhattan, this was the book needed to explore with skeptics their doubts, fears, and frustrations with faith and it's reasonableness.  A prequel came out this last year, still only in hardback, called Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical and in it, he covers ground that is needed now more than ever.  That is, there are some who are not even open to debate the "reasonableness of God" as in his earlier book; this backs up to those who can't even suppose there is a God or a God that matters. It is a bit heavy and is a good example of nuanced, literate, contextualized apologetics.

tim keller 12-10.jpgIn each of the times I've heard him lately he has talked about the deep Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and cited the likes of Robert Bellah. He is known to be friends with David Brooks; he quotes Lesslie Newbigin. He obviously reads Tolkien but also contemporary social criticism and sociology. Although not trendy, he lives in New York and is au current with the essays in Atlantic or New Yorker and the like. To say he is a bit bookish would be an understatement.

His book from just a few years ago, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, is a combination of all of his styles -- the first part is fairly theoretical and philosophical (answering the "theodicy" question of why) while other portions are theological and Biblical. Yet other sections are eminently practical, offering wise counsel from a caring pastor. In this regard it is an extraordinary book.

I could go on. If you read our BookNotes newsletter you may know that we've mentioned almost all of his books at one point or another.  He has some brand new devotional commentaries (hardbacks) based on certain books of the Bible. He's a good, grace-filled, gospel-centered Bible teacher, honest before the text but not innovative or unusual. His small  book simply called Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism is good for anyone who does Bible teaching, runs a small group or has any leadership role in the educational ministry of the church. And -- not surprisingly -- he has an excellent chapter therein summarizing Charles Taylor's The Secular Age.  Again, perhaps in the spirit of Kuyper, Keller relates orthodox, Calvinist faith to the urgencies of the day, and he brings a Christ-centered framework to everything he writes about. This is seen in the title and subtitle in his nice little book arguing for deeper commitments to social justice: Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just.  

It is this sort of generous and wholistic approach that informed my own faith as a young Christian in the mid 1970s. I am grateful for the way Keller and those in his movement have attempted to be agents of transformation in mostly urban areas, standing for social justice and racial reconciliation and holding out a vision for the arts, for science, for relating faith to the world-world. They've graciously welcomed seekers and cynics, even as they've upheld classical, historic orthodoxy.  There are concerns, naturally, about any renewal movement or mega-church, or rock star pastor, but, by and large, Redeemer under the leadership of Keller and his team, has been extraordinarily effective.  It is not perfect and I do not agree with some of the tendencies and positions of their denomination, but so what? They've cared well for people I know, their counseling center has brought healing and hope to the hurting, and the proclamation of the basics of the gospel has born good fruit. They've done good work and I am glad to say so.

Here are four items that I think I should tell you about, a DVD and three books, that, if studied well, might illustrate more about why Keller was going to be honored by the Kuyper Center as they kicked off their annual Kuyper conference at Princeton Seminary.  

gospel in life cover.jpgGospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything (DVD and study book) Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $36.99  This is a classy DVD curriculum that offers eight fairly brief mini-lectures by Keller coupled with a very thorough (230 page) workbook for participants to process the information. In some cases, some DVD participant's guides aren't always necessary but in this case, the Gospel In Life workbook is an amazing resource and each participant must have one, as it includes much of the content of the course, lots of discussion stuff, a narrative from Keller, and more. (Extra Participant's Guides sell for $12.99 each without the DVD.)

The sessions include eight 10-15 minute astute teaching presentations from Keller and then the participants workbook and discussion resources. 

The topics include:

1. City - The World That Is
2. Heart - Three Ways To Live
3. Idolatry - The Sin Beneath The Sin
4. Community - The Context For Change
5. Witness - An Alternate City
6. Work - Cultivating The Garden
7. Justice - A People For Others
8. Eternity - The World That Is To Come

gospel in life showing 2.jpgAs you can see, this includes some visionary stuff -- the nature of the city, the significance of work, the importance of justice, the promises of a (re)new(ed) creation, God's Kingdom coming "on Earth as it is in Heaven" -- and it is all rooted in some formational teachings about the nature of the heart, the struggle with trusting God ("the sin beneath the sin" of idolatry) and an invigorating call to community which is "the context for change." I just don't know anyone doing this kind of multi-dimensional teaching, bringing together classic, historic doctrines with fresh and relevant application to the modern world.

One needn't be a follower of Abraham Kuyper to get to this place, but it seems to be that Keller was influenced during his seminary days learning about Kuyper and a Reformed worldview (from urban, missional activists such Harvie Conn and Ortega that pushed him into this integrated, culturally-engaged approach to ministry.

Keller from Gospel In Life.jpg

center c.jpgCenter Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Timothy Keller (Zondervan) $34.99  In the Fall of 2012 Keller, surely with good help from his innovative, missional team, released a major work, this big Center Church textbook-like volume. We named it one of the Books of the Year that year and we told many -- even folks in smaller towns and in smaller churches -- that his emphasis on a "gospel-centered" ministry that was balanced and informed by the first things of the gospel was profound and needed.

That was the first third of the book, describing what is meant by the gospel, why it "isn't everything" but must affect everything, even though it dare not be understood simplistically.

His second section explored an overview of a sense of place and what it means to care for real culture, the social and even literal architecture of our built environments, why we should attend to institutions and seek to transform the ethos of the city and its social landscape. It was visionary and Biblical and nearly, at times, an "evangelical social gospel."  Much of this, I seem to recall, drew on Kuyper via other contemporary writers, all good. Even the "missional church" writers who make much of being discerning about and engaging within North American post-Christian culture haven't always done this kind of solid work evaluating and making a case for thoughtful cultural involvement and renewal.  I really think this is good stuff, and, agree or not, it is must-reading for anyone serious about the thriving of their local congregations. If you've liked my recent recommendations of titles such as Staying is the New Going by Alan Briggs or Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce Crump, and if you've read Andy Crouch's Culture Making, for instance, you will appreciate this material.

The third section of that whopper of a book is divided up into two parts. The first part is about forming missional community -- connecting people to God and to other people, ministering in ways that he calls "integrative." This is just excellent stuff, realizing that helpful ministry must be wholistic and on many fronts. Every pastor will intuit this but few say it so convincingly and few do it so well.  The next portion is perhaps farther away from the lived experiences of many churches and church leaders but it made the case for  creating a renewal campaign, a church-to-church network, and missional ecumenism of orthodox believers wanting to advance a movement, which, naturally, includes sharing resources and networking and church planting.  It is this third aspect of Keller's magnum opus that will take his attention when he retires from Redeemer Presbyterian at the end of this year as he focuses more on the Redeemer City-to-City organization. They have, thus far, helped launch more than 350 churches in fifty global cities. This has happened, recall, from scratch, starting when Tim and Kathy and their children moved to New York about 25 years ago when there was hardly an evangelical church that was taken seriously in Manhattan. I know whole denominations who haven't planted that many churches in the last 25 years...

And so, that big Center City book was great and it seems to me one further example of his Kuyperian vision: the gospel come first but it is essentially tied to a renewal of "all things."  We don't just promote individualistic salvation nor our own congregation. We are joining in God's "cosmic re-ordering of things."  This is not a simple "get saved" message but it includes inviting people into profound flourishing, even in their work and public life. Keller shows that we must care about people, about culture, about cities and places, and about reaching out in communal efforts to bring transforming grace to others within their contexts. No one church can do it all and we must see our local mission as part of a larger Kingdom agenda.  Quibble as I might about a handful of passages or strategies, I want to shout Amen. Yes and yes and yes.


And, now, here is what is fascinating. I do not know who came up with this grand, great idea, but the three portions of that big book have been each republished -- revised, too -- and repackaged as individual books.

Further, in a move that makes them that much more interesting and useful, each volume has two or more new contributors, adding excellent short chapters of their own, and then a new chapter by Keller responding to the input of each of the new contributors.  This makes these three books so very interesting and we highly recommend all three.  For the record, I wish the authors -- who are all from outside Keller's own Redeemer network -- were a bit more diverse, even though they have some disagreements and offer refinements to his project. I'd have liked some very different sorts of voices.

Here are the three new titles and the new authors that have helped in these new, expanded editions.  To see Keller responding to voices like Gabriel Salguero and Andy Crouch and Alan Hirsch, is very informative, classy, and good. 

shaped by the gospel.jpgShaped by the Gospel: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City  Timothy Keller, with new chapters by Michael Horton and Dane Calvin Ortlund (Zondervan) $15.99

This, as we've explained, includes some new material, but it is mostly drawn from the first section of Center Church. It is very, very important to get this stuff right and although most of us think we can easily answer the query "what is the gospel?" this rumination is still invaluable, especially, then, when we seek to do ministry in a gospel-centered way.  What does that mean and what does that look like? Highly recommended.

Here is the table of contents:

Part 1: Gospel Theology:

1. The Gospel Is Not Everything

2. The Gospel Is Not a Simple Thing

3. The Gospel Affects Everything

Reflection: What Is The Gospel? (Michael Horton)

Response to Michael Horton

Part 2: Gospel Renewal:

4. The Need for Gospel Renewal

5. The Essence of Gospel Renewal

6. The Work of Gospel Renewal

Reflections on Gospel Renewal (Dane Ortlund)

Response to Dane Ortlund

loving the city.jpgLoving the City: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City  Timothy Keller, with new chapters by Daniel Strange, Gabriel Salguero, and Andy Crouch (Zondervan) $18.99 

I love this second paperback volume, the center portions of the Center Church.  Although it is written out of Keller's work in a major urban center, it is great reading for any of us.   Don't miss Andy Crouch's good input and Keller's reply.

Here are the table of contents.  Great stuff!

Part 1: Gospel Contextualization

1. Intentional Contextualization

2. Balanced Contextualization

3. Biblical Contextualization

4. Active Contextualization

Reflection on Gospel Contextualization (Daniel Strange)

Response to Daniel Strange

Part 2: City Vision

5. The Tension of the City

6. Redemption and the City

7. The Call to the City

8. The Gospel for the City

    Reflection on City Vision (Gabriel Salguero)

    Response to Gabriel Salguero

Part 3: Cultural Engagement

 9.  The Cultural Crisis of the Church

10. The Cultural Responses of the Church

11. Why All the Models are Right...and Wrong

12. Cultural Engagement Through Blended Insights

     Reflection on Cultural Engagement (Andy Crouch)

     Response to Andy Crouch Timothy Keller

serving a movement.jpgServing a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Timothy Keller, with new chapters by Tim Chester, Daniel Montgomery, Mike Cosper and Alan Hirsch (Zondervan) $18.99

This third one in the new paperback expanded editions of Center Church is fabulous, and I hope you consider getting it.  It offers Keller's very perceptive and balanced approach to what it means to be missional, what forming a relational, supportive community -- the living church -- might entail, and what that "integrative" effort demands. The first portion of this is great.

The second part is equally fascinating, about joining with others, sharing resources, building networks, building a movement of the Kingdom.  I love this, and that he moves towards the global church and world-wide missions is essential. It is, need I remind us all, the way of the future.

Here's what the chapter titles are.  I hope you find it interesting,

Part 1: Missional Community

1. The Search for the Missional Church

2. Centering the Missional Church

3. Equipping People for Missional Living

Reflections on Missional Community (Tim Chester)
Response to Tim Chester

Part 2: Integrative Ministry

4. The Balance of Ministry Fronts

5. Connecting People to God

6. Connecting People to One Another

7. Connecting People to the City

8. Connecting People to the Culture

Reflections on Integrative Ministry (Matt Chandler)

Response to Matt Chandler

Part 3: Movement Dynamics

9. Movements and Institutions

10. The Church as a Dynamic Organism

11. Church Planting as a Movement Dynamic

12. The City and the Gospel Ecosystem

Reflection on Movement Dynamics (Alan Hirsch)

Response to Alan Hirsch

I don't know what to think about so many issues these days, and I find myself seeing many sides of most things. This sad situation at Princeton Theological Seminary around the Kuyper Center Award and Keller's lecture there -- he is still giving the lecture at the annual Kuyper conference in early April -- leaves me unsure and vexed. I want to stand with those who may be marginalized by Keller's church and approach, although it is clear in my estimation that he has done much good in the world and not much harm.  I don't like how some evangelicals have come away smug about this and I don't like how some critics have painted him unfairly. I get why PTS made their decision, and I am glad Keller is showing up to share his vision with the gathered Kuyper types.  May God bless their efforts as we all stumble along, trying to honor God and make the world a somewhat brighter place.

A looming question for me feels like it is somehow connected to our future as booksellers.  We are sincere and not naive about suggesting these books; none are really righteous, nobody is innocent. Still, I wonder whether the general vision of old Abe K as lived out, imperfectly, in the work of Redeemer Presbyterian (from their low-cost counseling center to their anti-racism project, from their respected Center for Faith and Work to their on-going Bible studies all over the city, from their significant social service care ministries to their mature and inviting worship that draws thousands of previously unchurched each week) and the church-planting, City-to-City network for which Tim was to be honored by the Kuyper Center -- which, by the way, includes planting non-PCA churches --  might somehow point us all towards a more relevant and effective faith lived out in these times.

Lament and oppose his unhelpful stances where you must. But don't neglect knowing what he has written, books that have helped many and see what you can learn from his energetic, fruitful efforts over these last years.

And don't miss learning about Abraham Kuyper, also a fallen person, stuck in his times, but who, through God's grace, still has very much to offer us today.  Hearts & Minds is eager to offer resources to the wider church, books like this that we think are worth knowing about. We are grateful that you've read this far and continue to be interested in our work.

Soon I will review the new Carol Howard Merritt book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing A Hurtful Church (HarperOne; $25.99.) I found it deeply moving and important and while I didn't like her piece against Keller quite so much, I found Healing Spiritual Wounds to be a very good and useful book. It moved me to tears at points and it made me stop and wonder how I've caused hurt as I've expressed my faith over the years. I'm eager to tell you more about it soon.  Thanks for caring.



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March 20, 2017

Books about St. Benedict, The Rule of Life, and Benedictine Spirituality (ON SALE, too.).

Please order any of these with our BookNotes newsletter special, 10% off, by using the links below.


I hope you read our last BookNotes newsletter where I explained at least seven things to know about Rod Dreher's new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. I like Rod, appreciate his concerns about the quality and depth of substantive discipleship within our churches although have mixed feelings about his assessment of the culture in these days, in what Charles Taylor calls "a secular age."  As Michael Wear (Reclaiming Hope) said in this panel discussion on the book sponsored by First Things and The Plough it may be that Rod doesn't adequately grapple with Taylor's own thesis about the tone of the times (and how it is, oddly, not all utterly secular.)  Again, I think James K.A. Smith's How (Not) to Be Secular is a very helpful, if deep, study of this heady  Canadian philosopher and the implications of his work, and Dreher might have pointed readers in his direction.

Further, I have very mixed evaluations of Dreher's strategy of "limited withdrawal" although (as Andy Crouch very succinctly observed in his "The Benedict Option in Percentages") too many seem to be obsessed with the "do we head for the hills?" question.  There is a whole lot more in the book -- both in terms of critical cultural evaluation and in terms of a call for more robust spiritual formation to withstand the pressures of modernity -- that deserves our attention.  Even (maybe especially) those of us who disagree with his evaluation of the Supreme Court opinion in Obegefell or his proposals about starting alternative classical schools, or even his fretting about cell phones, istuff, on-line culture, and the pace of life these digital days should study his arguments and discern how to respond to his counter-cultural, crunchy con, rallying cry.  We have it on sale and can send it right out.

I am sure Rod is heartened by the conversations the book's release last week has sparked and as an ecumenical bookseller -- there's not that many of us out there, although Rod gives a gloriously nice (and well deserved) shout-out to Warren and his crew at Eighth Day Books in Wichita -- I, too,  am heartened.  To see evangelicals and Episcopalians, Kuyperian Reformed folks and lots of Roman Catholics, reading an Eastern Orthodox lay person talk about The Jesus Prayer and early monasticism and current spiritual formation programs that are more-or-less monastic all to inform how we might think about our public witness is fabulously exciting to me.  That the fancy forum in New York (that I linked to above) was sponsored by the rigorously orthodox and socially conservative First Things and the Anabaptist folks from The Bruderhof communities as well as the political journal Rod edits, The American Conservative was just fantastic.

If only Sojourners or Evangelicals for Social Action had been invited.  Or somebody like Gary Haugen (Good News About Injustice, Just Courage, The Locust Effect) or Bethany Hanke Hoang (The Justice Calling) or Jena Lee Nardella (One Thousand Wells) or micro-financier Peter Greer (Mission Drift, Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good) or urban pastor Mark Gornik (To Live in Peace) or racial reconciliation leader John Perkins (and his brand new book Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win) or evangelical (and Republican, btw) creation-care activist Mitch Hescox (Caring for Creation) were asked to respond to Rod's big pitch. Man, I wish they'd have had Lisa Sharon Harper (The Very Good Gospel) talking about what, exactly, is good news.  I'd like to hear from these kinds of front line activists who are called to the world in urgent ministries of relief, development, peacemaking and justice. We know (because he says it all the time, in the book and in his talks) that he cares about racial injustice and about concern for the poor; yet, still, his "hunker down" in an "ark" lingo seems not to imply as much. It leads to what I called in my review as a "mixed message."

Kudos to the First Things/Plough forum for having Jacqueline C. Rivers on the panel; she not only brought the voice of a woman and African American but knows well about street level ministries of social transformation.  She and her husband, Eugene Rivers, have done remarkable work with gangs in the harshest urban settings.  They also have experimented with intentional community and, influenced by historic black Pentecostalism, know better than most about the power of God in bringing healing and hope to the hurting and marginalized.  They have experienced some of the attacks Rod talks about in his book because -- despite their radical justice stance and nonviolent work with street gangs -- they are, it seems, fairly conventional in their views of sexuality. Alas, their justice work is attacked by the hard left...

But, this is good, having these various views and voices responding to Rod's important book.

Which, again, is to say that we at Hearts & Minds are thrilled seeing stuff we so deeply care about - ecumenism, spiritual and contemplative formation, cultural analysis, social concern, in intentional community - coming together in the panels and forums and articles and reviews popping up all over around The Benedict Option.

As you might guess, I've got a ton of books I want to offer alongside any reading of The Benedict Option or any proposals about the movement the hip ones are calling the BenOp. I snuck plenty of them into my own review last week -- mentioning in passing books by Andy Crouch, Steve Garber, Makoto Fujimura, Richard Mouw, Brian Walsh, Jamie Smith, N.T. Wright, Os Guinness, James Davidson Hunter -- and I am adamant that books by these authors are simply must-reads in this or any age.

And, I'd also say that if I were to convene a panel or discussion about The Benedict Option book and movement, I'd love to hear how anyone can imagine as faithful even a "limited withdrawal" strategy Culture Care new IVP cover.jpgKingdom Calling- Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good Amy L. jpg(monastic or otherwise) after having read any of Guinness's extraordinary books, not least, The Call or Garber's eloquent, must-read Visions of Vocation or the recent Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura or Kingdom Callings about "vocational stewardship" by Amy Sherman or any number of books that teach about the non-negotiable cultural mandate to be involved for the common good and reflect God's goodness into the world, needy as it is. It may be out there on the internets somewhere, but I'd love to read Rod's review of Andy Crouch's Culture Making or, for that matter, Niebuhr's old classic Christ and Culture. I know there is some debate among the truly Reformed about Kuyper's notions of "common grace" but Mouw's He Shines In All That Fair is a book about which I'd love to hear Dreher comment. And there's that brand new "theology of culture" book by jazzman Bill Edgar, Created and Creating.  I could go on.


For now, though, it strikes me that it might be more helpful for most BookNotes readers - who know well our advocacy for the aforementioned titles about worldview and culture and social renewal -- to list some books about Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine spirituality, and the ways some contemporary authors are inviting us to a neo-monastic lifestyle.  This has been a thing for decades, inspired by the likes of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster and, recently, Ruth Haley Barton, and while they may not be the sort Dreher likes, many of us might be happy to know there are books like My Mini-Van is My Monastery. Not driven by a reaction to political pressures, not emerging from anxieties about the culture, these authors - like Dreher's book at its best - are not giving us tools only to resist the secularization of 21st century life or practices that are weapons to covertly fight some culture wars but are merely saying this is the best way to life the Christian life.  We all need a dose spirituality as taught by some monks and religious and we all need a dose of community, accountability, maybe even the habit of submitting to a rule of life.

Life Together in Christ Barton.jpgSacred Rhythms- Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.jpgIf any of this speaks to you but you've not read anything along these lines, I suggest you might start with Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP; $19.00) and her great book about doing these classic practices in community, with others, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community (IVP; $18.00.)  Or, somewhat deeper, the true classic Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster (HarperSanFrancisco; $25.99.)  Perhaps you could use the marvelously rich and very helpfully arranged and annotated books by Foster Spiritual Classics and/or Devotional Classics (both published by Harper; $17.99 each.) All of these are influenced, naturally, by Benedict, but none are exclusively Benedictine.

If Dreher's BenOp project is not mostly about cultural withdrawal but enriching the depth of spiritual formation to fund authentic Christian living in our secularized world, we could always recommend books such as The Glorious Pursuit: Embracing the Virtues of Christ by Gary Thomas (NavPress; $14.99) Habits for Our Holiness.jpgGlorious Pursuit.jpgor Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out by Philip Nation (Moody Press; $14.99.) And we've recommended, ad nauseam, you might think, Jamie Smith's You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press; $19.99.)  And Michael Wear, in the link offered above, slide in an excellent reminder about the formative work of Dallas Willard, such as Renovation of the Heart, The Spirit of the Disciplines, or his rather dense The Divine Conspiracy, parts one and two. I hope these kinds of books are the natural next steps for anyone wanting to be more deeply transformed by Christ in order to endure the hardships and quandaries documented in Dreher's alarming book.


Here, however, are some books that are not about spiritual formation generally, but specifically about Benedict.  If anybody is interested in more of what Rod Dreher is proposing (or perhaps what he ought to be proposing if he is serious about appropriating Benedictine theology and spirituality) these books are worth knowing about. Why don't you order one or two and commit to reading up? And then find a local monastery and pay them a visit.  All are 10% off and you can order them below, or by giving us a call.

Man of Blessing.jpgMan of Blessing: A Life of St. Benedict Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Paraclete Press) $21.95  Although not out of print, we have a few of these stellar biographies still in stock.  Phyllis Tickle wrote, "Here medievalist Butcher revives the craft of hagiography, but with a twist. Her affection for her subject is as appealing as it is unfailing, but in this gentle retelling of Benedict's life, it is Butcher's familiarity with late Roman literature and culture that roots the saint and his miracles in a well-defined time and place."  There was a sixth-century volume called Dialogues about Benedict written by Pope Gregory the Great and this book draws on that, making it an important historical work.

Benedict of Nursia- His Message for Today .jpgBenedict of Nursia: His Message for Today Anselm Grun (Liturgical Press) $12.95  This is a serious but slim book by one of the great European spiritual writers these days; we carry a number of books, including a few children's books.  This is partially an introductory biography and also a bit of a cultural study suggesting why Benedict's message resonates so today.  He is, by the way, a cellarer, or supplies manager, for his monastery in Germany, so knows much about work, administration, and the like.  Maybe he might remind you of Brother Lawrence and his situation, finding God in the kitchen and insisting the pots and pans are holy.

Monk Habits for Everyday People.jpgMonk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants Dennis Okholm (Brazos Press) $16.00  I am assuming that many who read Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option haven't really studied monastic spirituality all that much; Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, we just haven't taken up these "monk habits" very carefully, if at all.  Of course, the marvelous play on words in the title of this one tells us much -it isn't about wearing habits but about adopting formative practices that Benedictine monks might teach us.  This is a very good book, with a foreword by Kathleen Norris and a great blurb by historian Mark Noll. This is exactly the sort of thing Dreher commends and Okholm's visits have enabled him to interpret Benedictine spirituality very, very well for those unfamiliar with it.  Okholm was raised as a Pentecostal and Baptist, and now is an evangelical Presbyterian and a professor of theology. He was deeply struck the first time he stayed at a Benedictine abbey and found much to learn for his own personal walk with God, which he has been exploring for years, now.  As it says in the promotional material about the book,

Vital aspects of devotion, humility, obedience, hospitality, and evangelism took on new clarity and meaning. Paralleling that experience, Okholm guides the reader on a focused and instructive journey that can revitalize the devotional life of any Christian who wants to slow down and dig deeper.

A Good Life.jpgA Good Life: Benedict's Guide to Everyday Joy Robert Benson (Paraclete Press) $13.95  I suppose I can't expect you to remember the oodles of books we rave about here, but I have, I hope somebody recalls, often recommended the good work of the eloquent, clear writer Robert Benson.  I have so enjoyed every one of his books, and commend them all, especially titles like the exquisite Between the Dreaming and the Coming True and Living Prayer and his recent Punching Holes in the Darkness. A Good Life is one we really recommend as maybe the most delightful, short, and wise book about living well in light of The Rule of Saint Benedict.  This is short and sweet, inspiring, ideal for ordinary folks.

The Cloister Walk .jpgThe Cloister Walk Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books) $16.00  One of the most popular spiritual writers of recent decades, her spiritual memoir, Dakota, capitulated her to fame within mainline denominational circles, especially, but this story of a Presbyterian's extended stays at a Benedictine monastery is perhaps her best known book. Here, she walks us through what it was like for her, with meditations on the Rule, of course, luminous reflections on the bigger picture of liturgical calendar, but also the ordinary stuff - the monk's jokes, the food, the sense of time as one is immersed in this alternative world, her love for the liturgy.  The Chicago Tribune's review said, "Norris continues to write plainspoken meditations that expand the purview of non-fiction... She writes about religion with the imagination of a poet..." It is a good read for those who like spiritual autobiography and creative nonfiction, and it's a very good window into the real world life of a Minnesota Benedictine monastery.

You may want to know that Kathleen Norris partnered with the wonderfully beloved, Catholic, children's book writer and illustrator Tomie dePaola to do a wonderful children's picture book called The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica, which is so sadly out of print.  Yep, Benedict was a twin and his sister Scholastica is an important figure in her own right.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily- Living the Rule of St. Benedict jpgWisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today Joan Chittister (HarperOne) $13.00  Sister Joan is a member and former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, and the founder of Benetvision, a resource center for contemplative spirituality, often applied to her passions of peacemaking, creation care and social justice.  This is the first book I ever read about Benedictine and I highly recommend it.  It carries endorsements from Eugene Peterson (who calls it "a lengthy, wisdom-filled conversation") Written in 1990 it remains a staple.  Robert McAfee Brown wrote "anyone who thinks monasticism means turning away from the world needs this book."  Franciscan Richard Rohr wrote that it "makes me want to be a Benedictine."  

The Rule of Benedict- A Spirituality for the 21st Century.jpgThe Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century Joan Chittister (Crossroad Publishing Co.) $16.95  This is a book that looks very nice, and is nice to use. There are photographs throughout - some rather sepia toned, most full color, but not glitzy - and red ink on the title pages. It's a nice paperback that comes with a website that allows you to listen to Gregorian chants and other music apparently designed especially for this book.  It is a full translation of the rule, and the lovely meditations by Sister Joan on them.  It is just over 300 pages, so you get a lot of her ruminations, from the point of view of a pretty activist Catholic nun. She knew Dorothy Day, she has met Oscar Romero, she is a living legend in some circles, so she is worth reading, even if her vision of living the Rule is a bit less strict or stuffy than some...

The Monastery of the Heart- An Invitation to a Meaningful Life.jpgThe Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life Joan Chittister (BlueBridge) $13.95  This book is mostly written as loose, poetic reflections and will appeal to those who want a gentle, spiritual reflection. Again, the late Phyllis Tickle wrote, "This marvel of a book sings in the heart and makes the mind quiet with reverence, even as it instructs both with a holy gladness."  Sister Joan has written bunches of books and in this one she poetically reminds us of the central truth that our search for a meaningful life must be connected to this life, our daily life.  She evokes Benedict's Rule as she ruminates on our search, our interior life, our community, our service, our promise, and our spiritual growth. Lovely.

Strangers to the City- Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict.jpgStrangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict Michael Casey (Paraclete Press) $15.95  Casey is a Cistercian Monk of Tarrawarra (in Australia) and has written here an eloquent and incisive overview of the distinctive path of St. Benedict. Casey is one of the leading experts on monastic spirituality (and we have stocked other books of his for years.) This includes thoughtful reflections on the values of asceticism, silence, leisure, reading, chastity, and poverty, "placing each of these ancient beliefs in a vibrant, contemporary context."  This is part of the publisher's "Voice From the Monastery Series" and it is truly excellent. Highly recommended.

Ancient-Paths.jpgAncient Paths: Discover Christian Formation the Benediction Way David Robinson (Paraclete Press) $16.99  I reviewed this wonderful book when it first came out, saying it was the best book on Benedict that I ever read.  Robinson has advanced theological degrees from Fuller and is a Presbyterian pastor in Oregon. He is a Benedictine oblate of Mount Angel Abbey.  Maybe it is Presbyterian impulses, but he helps everyone apply Benedict's spirituality in their own setting.

Brother Benet Tvedten, a Benedictine, and author of the delightful How to Be a Monastic and Not Leave your Day Job, writes of it:

Whether you are engaged in public office or business or a member of AA or a local parish, Ancient Paths applies the values of St. Benedict's sixth-century monastic Rule to your circumstances in modern life. This author is a pathfinder.

Prayer and Community- .jpgPrayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition Columba Stewart, OSB (Orbis Press) $18.00  Orbis Press has done a remarkable job offering a major set of books that summarize, clarify, and teach about various religious traditions within the big Body of Christ. From Pentecostals to Quakers, Cistercians to Anglicans, Reformed to Salesian, Wesleyan to Franciscan, this series of books provides a great way to dip in to the broader streams of Christian faith, learning a bit about others we may hear of but not quite understand their distinctives. The large series is edited by the excellent and insightful Phillip Sheldrake; this one is written by a Benedictine monk of St. John's Abbey who teaches Monastic Studies at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. (Stewart, by the way, has a major work on the monk Cassian and another on the desert fathers.) Brief and useful.

Echoes of the Word- A New Kind of Monk on the Meaning of Life.jpgEchoes of the Word: A New Kind of Monk on the Meaning of Life Enzo Bianchi (Paraclete Press) $15.99  Enzo Bianchi was a young Catholic layperson when he founded an ecumenical monastery in Italy called the Bose Community in 1965.  He is still the prior there and his books have been translated into many languages.  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgove (a Baptist who has written widely about Benedict and his Rule of Life) says:

This is a different kind of spiritual book... reading this book has felt to me like visiting my dear amma just days before her death. I feel like I'm listening to someone who knows me in my innermost parts. I feel like I'm in the presence of someone who is really alive. And it makes me want to go deeper -- to tap into the same living water from which this abba drinks.

The Jesus Prayer- The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God .jpgThe Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God Frederica Mathewes-Green (Paraclete Pres) $18.99  We had the great joy of hearing Frederica again last week at an event at the Roman Catholic Diocese offices in Harrisburg (thanks Fresh Expressions) and we were reminded how much we appreciate her clear, sensible writing. The Jesus Prayer is not particularly Benedictine (having its origins much earlier) but Rod mentions it from time to time, even in his wonderful memoir How Dante Saved My Life. His Orthodox pastor had him learn to recite this prayer and you may have heard Dreher mention this in one of the discussion questions at the Trinity Forum presentation to which we had linked on Facebook.  Anyway, this is a good overview of this most mysterious, simple prayer of Eastern Christianity. A conversational question-and-answer format takes the reader through practical steps for adopting this profound practice in everyday life.

Seeking God.jpgSeeking God: The Way of St. Benedict Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press) $14.99  Esther de Waal is widely recognized as one of the wise, gentle writers about Benedict and we stock many of her books.  One reviewer says that she was "one of the pioneers in applying Benedictine spirituality to life outside of the monasteries.  She herself is an "Anglican lay woman, married with four sons and a number of grandchildren. She lives on the Welsh Borders where she grew up and spends her time gardening, writing, traveling, and taking retreats. She became interested in Benedictine monasticism as a result of living for ten years in Canterbury and has written several books on the Rule... She holds a PhD. from Cambridge and was given an honorary doctorate from St. John's University for her contribution to Benedictine studies and for her ecumenical work. She was awarded the Templeton Prize for having started the Benedictine Experience weeks which are now widely held throughout America and England." This second edition, by the way, has a very supportive and eloquent foreword by Kathleen Norris, author of, among other wonderful memoirs, The Cloister Walk.

Seeking Life again.jpgSeeking Life: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press) $19.95  This is a very nice book, a small, handsome hardback, that focuses on the prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict, explaining how it contains "the clues we need to both understand and live by the vows made at our baptism." Parts of the Rule are actually believed to be based on addresses given to those about to be - or maybe who had recently been - baptized; they are a practical guide to "choosing the road that leads to life." There's a lovely long endorsement on the back by Alan Jones. Very impressive.

at home in the world.pngAt Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us Margaret Guenther (Seabury Books) $16.00  Anyone familiar with the literature of spiritual formation will know Guenther's name -her Holy Listening is ca classic.  This includes ancient and contemporary takes on the classic monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (in the first half of the book) which is then followed up with a series of shorter essays on "the essentials" for devising a rule of life of your own. This is informed by Benedict's rule but she isn't attempting to cling to it, but draw on a variety of monastic rules, insights from various disciplines, encouraging us to find some guidelines for helping us navigate our lives well.  Although Guenther visits monasteries often and is a sought after spiritual retreat leader, she writes also as a wife, mother, grandmother, professor, mentor and Episcopal priest. 

The Rule Vintage.jpgThe Rule of Saint Benedict St. Benedict of Nursia (Vintage) $13.95 I don't know anything about the translation from the original Latin but this seems to be a very reliable edition, the one most people enjoy, with a cool, classy cover. It was edited by Timothy Fry (who translated the famous RB1980) and there is an interesting foreword by Thomas Moore.  Highly recommended.  By the way, there are bunches in this "Vintage Spiritual Classics" series with uniform covers, from Augustine to the Desert Fathers to Francis to Calvin and Luther. Nicely done.

The Rule of Saint B paraphrase by Jonatha W-H.jpgThe Rule of Saint Benedict: A Contemporary Paraphrase St. Benedict of Nursia; paraphrased and introduced by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press) $13.99  This slim volume is in the publishers' "Paraclete Essentials" series which offers nice paraphrases of classic texts coupled with extensive notes and advise about contemporary application. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove graduated from Eastern University where he was pals with Shane Claiborne; he and his wife started Rutba House, one of a network of intentional communities committed to sharing life with those on the margins of society and forming folks able to be involved in peace and justice work. He is an associate minister at St. John's Baptist Church in Durham.  Perhaps you know Jonathan's co-authored prayer book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals or his lovely The Wisdom of Stability which draws on Benedictine spirituality quite nicely. Highly recommended.

Always We Begin Again.jpgAlways We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living John McQuiston (Morehouse) $10.00  This little book is tiny, like a shirt-pocket sized.  But it is such a treasure that we sometimes have people buy a bunch to give away.  McQuiston has written other nice books on the spirituality of the ordinary, taking a mystical posture into the workworld and finding God in the everyday; here he does a simple paraphase and application of the insights of The Rule.  This simple book is described like this: "This book holds timeless appeal for readers who hunger for a meaningful and creatively balanced framework for life. It offers a simple blueprint, based on the Rule of St. Benedict, to order ones time and create physical and inner space, to step back from the demands and pressures of the moment, and to step into a place of peace." Simple, profound, very nice. Released in a 15th anniversary edition a few years back, it now includes a nice little foreword by Phyllis Tickle.

Schools for Conversion.jpgSchool(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism edited by Rutba House (Cascade Books) $24.00  I must restrain myself from saying too much as this may get us a bit farther afield than I want for this post; in a way, this is a lefty/progressive sort of Benedict Option, a call offered a decade ago in this much-discussed manifesto that has generated a handful of intentional communities living together in a world falling apart, serving the poor, standing for justice, and living a deeper spirituality together informed by a Rule of Life.  Chapters included pieces by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne and others; endorsements are from Berrigan-esque peace activists like Jim Douglas, evangelical mustard seed-sower Tom Sine, Christine Pohl (who wrote Making Room about radical hospitality) and this, from Duke prof Stanley Hauerwas:

Whatever future God has for the church, I am convinced the essays in this remarkable book will help us discern that future. Monasticism has always been one of the main means God has used to renew the church. Through some strange miracle God now seems to be calling Protestants to consider what it might mean for them to live in communities that might look very much like monastic communities. Such a call might tempt many toward some kind of romanticism, but one of the remarkable things about these essays is their stark realism. Such a realism is unavoidable not only because of the challenges facing those who are about the formation of communities faithful to God but also because they have lived with one another enough to know this is not going to be easy. So these essays are full of good sense and they help us see the potential of this extraordinary movement. Moreover, each essayist never forgets to remind us that when it's all said and done, it's about God who makes it possible for us to live patiently and nonviolently in a world of impatience and violence.

It isn't exactly Benedictine, but I had to list it... we have each of the several books in the New Monastic Library series.

The Monastic Way- Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living- A Book of Daily Readings.jpgThe Monastic Way: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living: A Book of Daily Readings edited by Hannah Ward & Jennifer Wild (Eerdmans) $20.00 First published in the UK and picked by Eerdmans years ago, this book of daily readings brings together short pieces from monks and nuns from a wide variety of Christian spiritual traditions, both Eastern Orthodox and Western.  The practicality of this spiritual wisdom shows that the writings of the cloistered are nonetheless nearly universal, writing about things like learning to live with our own and others' idiosyncrasies or how to cultivate a healthy view of money and possessions or how to find a life-giving balance between work and other sides of life and how to love well.   One reviewer said this is "at once practical and sublime." The two authors have spent part of their lives as members of Anglican religious orders.  This is a sturdy, wonderful resource, loaded with words from authors both famous and old monks and ascetics you've never heard of.

Preferring Christ- A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. jpgPreferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict Norvene Vest (Morehouse) $19.95  I hope you know Norvene Vest, another very popular spiritual director and author of books about spiritual direction, such as Still Listening and Tending the Holy.)  This is a wonderful approach to the Rule, literally a daily devotional where Vest comments on it in a way that is nearly like lectio divina. She presents the monastic vision the way some might say it ought to be presented - with intimacy, deeply spiritual, inviting a slower meditative reading.  As it says on the back, though, Preferring Christ presents the monastic way in its intimacy, urbane compassion, and simplicity, for all who journey to God."

St Benedict Toolbox.jpgSt. Benedict's Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living Jane Tomaine (Morehouse Publishing) $24.00  A few years ago this Episcopalian publisher re-issued this in a special "10th anniversary edition" indicating it's lasting presence; what a lovely, useful books.  It's one of the best introductions we have to the spirit of St. Benedict, helping us all explore how our local congregations and our ordinary lives can be shaped by essential Benedictine ideas. 

We always like the good writing of the popular Barbara Crafton so she is worth hearing; she writes:

Benedict continues to inform Christian life and work; his rule is as fresh and useful for us as it was fifteen hundred years ago. It is not only monks and nuns who benefit from meditating on the Rule -- all of us can. Here is an example of such meditation in the truest Benedictine way: practical, realistic, compassionate, and confident in the power of divine love to draw us near.

Crafting a Rule of Life- An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way.jpgCrafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way Stephen A. Macchia  (InterVarsity Press) $17.00  This workbook walks us through the reasons for having a personalized "rule of life" and although it is inspired by the Benedictine Rule it isn't exactly or only about that. It really is a wise workbook for you to consider, work through, interact with, and as you process the material, craft your own rule for your own spiritual benefit. You learn much about the Rule of Saint Benedict but you also are invited to spend time in prayer, reflection on Scripture, and much discernment in order to live out what God is calling you to be and do.  Of course, he explores how this can be done in community since we aren't in this alone. There is a nice foreword by an author I love, Mark Buchanan.

It can be used, by the way, as a 12-week study for a group, or as a personal resource for your own determination of applying St. Benedite's rule for your own life. Kudos to IVP for bringing this useful tool to us all.

Benedictine Daily Prayer- A Short Breviary.jpgBenedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary compiled and edited by Maxwell Johnson (Liturgical Press) $49.95  This is funny that they call this a "short breviary" as it is over two thousand pages; it is the definitive guide to the prayer practices of Benedictines, using Psalms and hymns and patristic readings. There's a good guide to it all, six ribbon markers (which you will need) because there are seven daily offices and a lot of page turning.  It is considered more "user friendly" than older edition and was compiled by a Lutheran scholar!  Just wanted to list this for the record. We, of course, can send it to you or a loved one who wants a very special gift. It comes in a rich leatherflex in a deep burgundy and a beautiful tan.

The Story of Monasticism- Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality.jpgThe Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality Greg Peters (Baker Academic) $22.99  There are several major works tracing the history of various sorts of monasticism within church history and this is doubtlessly the best. Fr. Abbot Denis Farkasfalvy (abbot emeritus of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas) says, "I have never met a Protestant theologian - evangelical or mainline - who speaks about monastics with as much competence and easy as Greg Peters..." He calls it "an exceptional book and will be an eye-openers for both Protestants and Catholics, laity and clergy alike."

It narrates the history of monasticism with verve and clarity, even though this is a massive and sweeping project.  There are several chapters under each era, which are broken up into Antony to Benedict, Benedict to Bernard, Bernard to Luther, and, in Part IV, Luther to Merton.  There is a fine Epilogue called "Monasticism Today and Tomorrow."  Peters earned his PhD at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto, is an Anglican priest and Benedictine oblate and a professor at both the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola and adjunct at St. John's School of Theology in Minnesota and at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin.  Thanks be to God!



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March 15, 2017

Hearts & Minds Review: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (on sale, now)

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World Rod Dreher (Sentinal) $25.00

Hearts & Minds BookNotes 10% sale price = $22.50.  Use our secure order form link found below.

The Benedict Option.jpgRemember the time I did a whole set of columns reviewing Rob Bell's Love Wins where I felt I had to offer tons of background, describe his other books, engage some of the other stuff that had been said about him and his work? I wrote more words about the book than were in that book.  I'd really like to do that again this week to offer some reasoned contribution to the already much-debated brand new book by Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World but I simply cannot. I just don't have time, fighting off the new Dark Ages as we are here at our little bookstore.  And the snow. 

And, anyway, there are plenty of reviews circulating -- mostly favorable on the right side of the internet, critical elsewhere -- and some venues are inviting various voices into discussion (I did not read them yet, but CT has a five-voice forum that looks good and there is an upcoming live symposium with Mr. Dreher in New York City next week which one can livestream that will include a handful of different perspectives, including, interestingly, some folks from the Hutterite community that publish The Plough, and our friend Michael Wear, who is bone fide politico, having worked in the Obama White House.)

So, I will  try to explain a bit about why I like some of this book and dislike some of it and why it has seemed to me, at least in the weeks leading up to the release date yesterday, that some are missing some of the important portions of the book that I think deserve our attention.  And, naturally, I will say why I think you should consider buying it, even if it isn't the typical sort of book you read.

I recommend The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians... even though most BookNotes readers will find it needlessly alarmist about the "brute fact" of our secular culture and the impact its legislative and judicial rulings have had on religion and will find it fundamentally flawed about the "limited withdrawal" posture we should have within it.  And I do think this posture is flawed and unwise, but we should not overstate Dreher's position. He isn't advising some full withdrawal into some cloistered community like the Amish or the Trappists, even though it's fun to tweak him as if that is what he is proposing. He's a fun and funny guy, actually, and can take some ribbing, but lets be fair and not mis-state what he is calling for.

Some will like the urgent, manifesto-like tone of the writing (the ad copy properly calls it a "rallying cry") but many will be troubled that the rallying cry is not just to resist the toxic erosion of notions of truth and goodness and particular virtues that only make sense within a monotheistic context, but to guard against the "relentless onslaught" by forming alternative (classical) schools or taking up serious homeschooling in ways that can impart older more sturdy values without distraction.  Parochial schools aren't that unusual -- Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and many Reformed folks sponsor them routinely -- so let's not get too cranky about this part of his manifesto, even if his reason for them is more reactionary than thetical. Others might resent his call to explore more liturgical forms of worship (he and his family are Orthodox and he scolds against shallow liturgy or entertainment approaches to worship), but the very popular Jamie Smith says similar stuff in his Imagining the Kingdom and You Are What You Love, so, again, this isn't odd.  Still others might find his traditionalist views of gender and sexuality to be overstated or presented unhelpfully as essential dogma; I know I do.  There's a lot in this book that will rub most normal Christians the wrong way, even if most of us know we need some new strategies about vibrant faith in these troubled times.  I'm irked by a lot of things in the book, but want to look for the sensible and helpful and good.  You too?

Despite many flaws, The Benedict Option is going to be talked about a lot in the weeks ahead - indeed, it has been anticipated for years and we've had a few folks who pre-ordered it from us months ago.  Perhaps you saw the cover story in the largest religious magazine in America, CT or Jamie Smith's harsh critique in The Washington Post. The hashtag #benedictoption is all over twitter (oh, the irony) and everyone is noting how widely it is being discussed.  I've avoided reading most of these reviews but I'm eager to, soon.

I can't write all that I'd like to at this point, but I will say that it was a fabulous reading experience. I have gone through my advanced copy twice, now. I've underlined more sentences than not in some chapters and I've scribbled in the margins more than in any book I've read for quite a while.  I've learned a lot, was reminded of a lot (the overview in Chapter Two of the history and rise of secularization is worth the price of the book) and was challenged to think about what I believe about our culture and our times and the proper texture of daily discipleship and whether I've compromised too much.  I have also, admittedly, wondered how I might view this book differently if I had young children. 

Rod Dreher at podium.jpgAnd, for the record, my wife and I met Rod and his wife at a conference book signing a few years ago and had a blast. We laughed and talked and truly enjoyed them a lot.  I hope we cross paths again.

As one who wants to be a life-long learner with the habit of studying "both sides" of many issues, I sometimes read things I don't think I'll like; I hope you do, too.  Honest liberals need to grapple with the best critiques from the right and conservatives need to stop rolling their eyes and read the best liberals. I think this is a helpful practice as we read theological books from outside our own tradition but especially when reading about culture, politics, and social criticism.  I don't know which is more scary for folks, but it does involve risk and demands a certain sort of generosity of spirit and openness to actually change one's mind.  There's so much to learn and so many important insights from various quarters and we will have deeper integrity if we take in as much as we can.  

For what it's worth, that is one reason I have commended Richard Mouw's memoir of his own studies and reading and engaging in conversations with a wide array of folks, believers and other-wise; if you resonate with my pitch for reading (even Dreher) generously, you'll love Mouw's Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground.

Besides, it seems to at least some of us that the old tired answers of the right and left seem nearly expired; it is crucial, as we've said before, to have Biblically-shaped ideas that move beyond standard-fare polarities. Old ideologies are dying and perhaps the Spirit is doing a new thing, helping us see beyond left vs right, secular vs fundamentalist, progressive vs conservative. (See David Koyzis's book Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies for a serious study of how the ideological roots of the left and right are, in fact, more similar than you might know, suggesting that Christians ought to move beyond both.) I am not sure if Dreher himself would agree with this -- he thinks that a certain sort of conservatism is consistent with and perhaps required by a Christian social ethos -- although he surely isn't unaware that some long for something other than what might look like frosting an essentially non-Christian cake with religious icing.

So, an obvious case can be made for learning from others unlike ourselves. I hope this book is read widely, including among non-conservatives. At the very least, it is important to be aware of what many of our serious, fellow believers are reading, and this one is one of the big books of the year.  Those disinclined to Dreher's conservatism (he is a senior editor of the principled, thoughtful, The American Conservative and was therefore not easily inclined towards candidate Trump, btw) ought to follow his argument. It is a book that someone might even ask you about, and Christian thought leaders (like BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds customers) ought to be aware of Dreher and the firestorm of a conversation he has caused.

Here are at least seven important things to know about this fabulously feisty, frustrating, fascinating book.


First: the Benedict Option movement, as Dreher describes it, draws its name, most obviously, from St. Benedict of Nursia, the sixth century monk who formed spiritual communities as the dark days of the early Middle Ages were hitting, after the awful fall of the Roman Empire. The book was released (not intentionally, since the secular publisher didn't know) on the Eastern Orthodox Feast Day of St. Benedict, who happens to be Rod Dreher's patron saint, a "coincidence" that is beyond nice.

Few of us know much about the horrors of the collapse of southern European culture in those years and Dreher's linking the West's contemporary slide into decadence and dissolution to those years is not a new move but is worth hearing again. He describes Benedict's visit to the desperate city of Rome "one day near the turn of the sixth century" which was, we are reminded, about a generation after the Visigoths sacked the so-called Eternal City.  Although much of the book tells of delightful visits to Benedictine monasteries (including the earliest ones in Italy) the motivation behind the formation of monastic communities -- to allow the faith to survive as it otherwise might not in a utterly corrupt culture -- pervades the whole argument of the book. He doesn't suggest that we become Benedictines as such, but he explains the attraction of monastic lifestyles that are so focused on their life together that they are somewhat removed, at least in attitude, from the ways of the world, and proposes that we adapt the famous Rule for our own deteriorating lives in our own sacked empire here in late modernity. Dreher believes deeply that the time has come to give up any naive efforts to reform the culture, especially through political means -- which might be a hard sell to many on the right who are now elated and newly engaged in politics after the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the loudness of President Trump -- but Dreher insists things are too far gone for that. It is time to re-group and strengthen our own understandings and virtues, based on a renewed focus  on the gospel. Contra Mundum and all that.

There is a lot in here about Benedict, his famous Rule for life, and Dreher offers nice stories about real monks and nuns with whom he has visited and shows us how even non-Catholic lay folks can appropriate their wise sense of stability, their commitments to prayer, their holy friendships in community. This is good stuff and we should be glad for his lively challenge to take our discipleship more seriously. There are other and better books on Benedictine spirituality (and I'll name a few in my next BookNotes newsletter) which are not tied to a reactionary and arguably alarmist sense of cultural withdrawal.  But there is some nice stuff here that Dreher tells us about for those who don't know much about the winsome wisdom from the monastics.

I do sort of wonder if many -- especially conservative Protestants -- who are raving about the book have ever been to a monastery, have ever spent time on a silent retreat, or if they know any real religious. (And if you think there's a grammatical error there, I make my point.) I hope Dreher's use of Benedict draws conservative evangelicals to read some contemplative spirituality and explore the strengths and weaknesses of monastic life a bit so they can make a reasonable judgement. I do want to note that some who sometimes rant against Catholics seem to like this book, perhaps because it is so clear about being conservative; does their conservative ideology now trump their doctrinal scruples? Well, Rod draws on ancient Catholics and is, as we've said, himself an active member of an Orthodox  church and I'm glad if he's getting Gospel Coalition or Acts 29 folks reading about his tradition.  Who knows, maybe they'll pick up Frederica Mathewes-Green or Alexander Schmemann or Kallistos Ware or John Hopko or Anthony Bloom.


Secondly, and importantly, the call for a new Benedict to lead us in a monastic sort of option, regrouping in radical community to avoid the pressures of secular modernity, comes from one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, Alasdair MacIntyre, from one of the most after virtue.jpgimportant philosophy books of the last 50 years: After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theology, published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Some of us, significantly, learned of MacIntyre from Duke philosopher and theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who has been accused due to his high eccliesiology, of being sectarian. Apparently MacIntyre will do that to you. This is an important link, left unexplored by Dreher, but Dreher's own dour look at modernity and the need for radical alternative narratives supported by alternative communities of practice bear similarities to Hauerwas and one of his influences, the late, radical Mennonite John Howard Yoder. Neither Hauerwas nor Yoder had anything to do with the befuddled fundamentalist right, and Dreher hardly did either, having been Catholic, and then Orthodox, but he, unlike them, is largely addressing the Christian right, calling them out of their false hopes of changing the world by some kind of conservative political agenda or some social renewal hastened by the election of Republican party candidates.

Dreher, like  Hauerwas and Yoder, drawing on MacIntyre and his call for a "new Benedict", knows (unlike some pop conservative pundits) that the problems of our culture did not start with the student rejection of authority in the 1960s or the sexual revolution of the '70s or the relativism of postmodern college profs in the '80s, a la Allan Bloom, say.  Nope, this critique goes at least back to the disruptions of the early Industrial Revolution, and, more, to the rationalism of the secularizing Enlightenment symbolized by the French Revolution.

This is a line of thought familiar to those Reformed evangelicals who study Abraham Kuyper (who famously called his Christian political party in Holland the "Anti-Revolutionary" party; that is, against the spirit of the French revolution) or the detailed continental philosophy of the likes of Herman Dooyeweerd (found in heady books like The Roots of Western Culture) who influenced Francis Schaeffer. Simplistic as it may be, there is a profound kernel of much insight in Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture which traces the flow of Western culture's development and decline, showing the vast implications of the early church accommodating themselves to a sacred/secular dualism inherited from the pagan Greeks.

My favorite quick overview of culture through this basic lens, by the way, is in a few central chapters in Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton, followed up powerfully in the early chapters of their Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be; Dreher nor Walsh & Middleton would see these similarities, I suppose, but they are exploring questions of how ideas have had grave consequences, how idols have deformed our views of culture and our social architecture.

For those informed more by the scholars of classic or paleoconservatism, you will hear in Dreher resonances from the likes of Edmund Burke, say, or Russell Kirk, maybe Isaiah Berlin or even G.K. Chesterton or even Hilaire Belloc. Dreher is big on Brad Gregory's Harvard University Press book The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, which he cites more than once.  He makes use of Romano Guardini and his text The End of the Modern World. These are all names you should know and I'm glad he is informing us so well about important thinkers and serious reform movements.

Dreher sees the recent erosion of religious freedom protections and recent Supreme Court rulings as exceptionally detrimental for the common good but he realizes that the process of how we came to think as we do as a culture goes way, way back and our crisis is deeper than any recent Supreme Court ruling.  Methinks he doesn't go back far enough (failing to grapple with how early church thinkers were too often accommodated to pagan classical culture, a move he doesn't seem to fret much about. Augustine influenced by Plato? Aquinas by Aristotle? No biggee, apparently.)

It shouldn't surprise us, then, that even as Dreher encourages a new kind of neo-monasticism that can form a worldview able to resist our culture's secularizing trends and the subsequent sexual laxity and family breakdown, he holds up yet another Benedict, Pope Benedict XVI, as one important thinker from recent years. Dreher nicely cites Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict's 2005 encyclical letter.  


Yes, Dreher is a fabulously well-read popularizer, and to see his citations of MacIntyre and - of course! - Charles Taylor, is fantastic. (He should have recommended James K.A. Smith's intro to the difficult philosopher, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.) Another author Dreher draws on significantly and who he explains very helpfully is Philip Rieff (we stock his magisterial The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud.) This is heavy, serious stuff, and we are in his debt for bringing these scholarly assessments to our attention in understandable ways. 


Dreher talks a lot about Vaclav Havel, draws on Zygmunt Bauman (Liquid Modernity), the sociologist Robert Nisbet, the Catholic critic Patrick Deneen, and even happily brings in some of C.S. Lewis' studies of medieval literature.  Just reading this book is itself an education in one strain of social thought, at least, and it is a good learning exercise.  In many ways this is the great strength of the book, giving a sturdy basis for a traditionalist critique of modern progressive impulses.


It might be helpful for some of our customers to realize that the book is dedicated to Ken Myers, known to many as the brilliant producer of the heady, extraordinary Mars Hill Audio.  That explains quite a lot.


Fourth, you may find it curious that Dreher's first book (now, sadly, out of print) was called Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at least the Republican Party). Ha. He revisits a bit of that on the first page of this new book, writing:

For most of my adult life, I have been a believing Christian and a committed conservative. I didn't see any conflict between the two, until my wife and I welcomed our firstborn child into the world in 1999. Nothing changes a man's outlook on life like having to think about the kind of world his children will inherit. And so it was with me.

As Matthew grew into toddlerhood, I began to realize how my politics were changing as I sought to raise our child be traditionalist Christian principles. I began to wonder what, exactly, mainstream conservatism was conserving. It dawned on me that some of the causes championed by my fellow conservatives - chiefly an uncritical enthusiasm for the market - can in some circumstances undermine the thing that I, as a traditionalist, considered the most important institution to conserve: the family. 

I also came to see the churches, including my own, as largely ineffective in combating forces of cultural decline. Traditional, historic Christianity - whether Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox - ought to be a powerful counterforce to the radical individualism and secularism of modernity. Even though conservative Christians were said to be fighting a culture war, with the exception of the abortion and gay marriage issues, it was hard to see my people putting up much of a fight.  We seemed content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be a Christian.

rod-dreher.jpgSo, get this: in his explorations ruminating on how conservatives too often bought into an ideology that made an idol out of markets and failed to critique the individualism and consumerism that drove the modern age, he realized that there could be some cooperation with the hippy dippy green movement -- supporting farmer's markets,  encouraging the "buy local" campaigns that shore up frayed social fabric, fighting suburban sprawl and Wal-Mart and McDonalds, realizing the dangers foisted on us all by TV and not just the big state but also big business.

That is, he was reading Wendell Berry.

Wendell Berry's spirit and good words informed that first book, then, called Crunchy Cons. (Crunchy, as in granola, and Cons, short for Conservatives. You've heard of, say, neo-cons and paleo-cons. He was proposing Crunchy Cons --  get it?) As you might guess, we reviewed it favorably, tried to sell it, but it fell between the cracks. It was too critical of some forms of conservatism to be picked up by the right and it was still fundamentally a "con" perspective, so the greens didn't go for it.  All those people in that long, playful subtitle?  Not a very big tribe, after all.

sex economy freedom & community.jpgBy the way, I have to say in passing that although Rod quotes Wendell several times in The Benedict Option it is selective. He nicely cites Berry's comments about stability and family and fairly traditional views of sexual fidelity. (In one brilliant essay in Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays - which Lauren Winner so beautifully describes in her book Real Sex: The Hidden Truth about Chastity --  Berry explains how consumerism shapes us to want stuff for ourselves, which has less than subtly deformed our views of sexual desire;  Ms. Winner says maybe the thing to do to resist her lust and help her learn sexual chastity is to quit going to the mall to buy more sweaters. Learning to say no to American capitalism's reductionism and deforming of our desires might be a deeper, better practice to help us think differently about a theology of the body and a wholesome view of sex., more serious and radical than evangelicalism's penchant for morality pledges and purity rings.)

Anyway, Dreher likes Berry on the traditional family and he seems to like Berry's critique of fast-paced materialism and a life lived out-of-place, disconnected to community and place; he shows that Berry's sexual ethics are traditional. He doesn't draw in Berry's critique of violence, militarism, patriotism, and the like. He doesn't quote the Mad Farmer poem. That Rod worries about kids being seduced in school to the evils of porn (a valid fear) but not civil religion or racism or nationalism is, from my view, a huge inconsistency. and more then a "blind spot." Maybe a little Franciscan spirituality - or at least a little Anabaptism or even punchy Hauerwas -- would have been a helpful contribution to Dreher's formation.

Or at least a little more submission  to Brother Wendell. I know from Crunchy Cons that Dreher likes the Kentucky farmer, but I couldn't help but feel like he was using Berry's popular name, popular especially on the left, mostly to reinforce his conservative views of the family and gender.

wendell berry and the given life.jpg

(A brand new book that does honor Berry a bit more consistently, by the way, just came out from Regan Sutterfield, on a Franciscan press, no less, called Wendell Berry and the Given Life. I hope to review that soon, and, along with, say, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide by Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens, would help supplement the Benedict Option vision, insuring it not be confused with or co-opted by an agenda of the secular or religious right.) 

My annoyance of Rod's selectively using Mr. Berry notwithstanding, it is good to see a conservative caring about conservation. He doesn't say it nearly enough to be Biblically faithful -- the Scriptures (and the current Pope, I might add) simply require it and any piety or social ethos worth its Biblical salt will say so -- but he's not disinterested in care for the land.  The Benedict Option helps us in wondering how to create communities that have the wherewithal to stand against the tide that wants to sweep so much away. (Recall it was Karl Marx who predicted that in advanced capitalism "all that is solid melts into air.") Such a vision of spiritually attuned fellowships,  a renewed, sustainable economy and better creational stewardship, good work and non-mainstream learning and mature, artful, worship demands some kind of community.  We can't do this stuff alone. And we can't form deeper community if we don't give up our mobility, our transience.  He gets that and reminds us of it.  It is a reminder we all need, often.

wisdom of stability.jpg(I know Dreher didn't need to cite my favorite books on this, but just this year we've seen on popular evangelical presses wonderful books just as Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You by Alan Briggs and Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are by Leonce Crump, each similar to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's stunning (and Benedictine-inspired) The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. These all argue for a more localist way of living, staying put, as they say, but don't have any of the "the ship is sinking and we have to form community like an ark to preserve ourselves" vibe that we get from Dreher.) 

Dreher quoted Alasdair MacIntyre back in that first (Crunchy Con) book, declaring that Western civilization had lost its moorings.  In The Benedict Option he explains where this MacIntyrian vision led him, years ago:

I called the strategic withdrawal prophesied by MacIntyre "the Benedict Option." The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children's children to assimilation.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming- A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.jpgAlthough it truly is a memoir, not a book of social analysis, you can see lovely notes of this concern in his memoir about moving home to small town Louisiana to learn from the folks there who showed such faithful friendship and support to his sister who was dying of cancer. I do hope you know The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life -- it is one of our very favorite books!  You should read its sequel, too, that further shares so much of Rod's back-story: How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem. It is a very good read.


Number five: I have heard, but have not seen myself, that there are already some published criticisms of Rod's posture of withdrawal and he has, I've heard, pushed back a bit insisting he does not counsel a full resistance or complete withdrawal. This is maybe a fifth thing to know about the book: it isn't fully clear or consistent about how bad things are and subsequently how much we need to retreat.

Most often he makes it sound very bad out there.  And he implies that the retreat must be severe.

I want to be fair here, but I think one of the problems with evaluating the Benedict Option is that in this manifesto there are mixed messages or maybe inconsistencies. Dreher is dire at almost every point about our culture (Jamie Smith is right, if not adequate, in his Washington Post critique of the alarmism that pervades the book.) Some of it reminded me of the furious raging in the final book of Francis Schaeffer which eroded his reputation and offered a sad end to his important life; it was as if the sky really was falling. Franky Schaeffer, his son, by the way, has written candidly about how some of the fury was manufactured in those years so that they could earn the trust of the rather stupid religious right, with stories such as the time Schaeffer had to bite his tongue as Jerry Falwell mocked renaissance nudie art. Dreher is not about to mock classic paintings for their negative effect on our children, but he seems at times almost ready to explode in some righteous jeremiad about nearly anything in popular modern life.

I can hardly believe some of the breathy phrases he uses insisting that the culture has had its way with us, that it is all but over, that secularism has won the day, that we may not be able to be Christian in this society any more.  It at times almost sounds as if the church hasn't been through this before, or that the faithful Hebrews in exile in Babylon weren't told to  serve their captors by "seeking the welfare of the city" in which God had sent them.  That Dreher doesn't address this Jeremiah 29 passage that is so popular in mobilizing a young generation of urbane evangelicals serving their cities is astonishing to me.

He warns us not to be naïve about these negative things and their lasting impact, and I want to hear him, but I still think he worries a bit too much, and, that even if his worries are prescient, his strategy isn't adequately Biblical.

He reminds us, as he should, of the dangers of porn and the shifting relativism that seems to erode our sexual ethics and the rise in violence and cynicism and more. Some of Dreher's discernment, by the way, is driven by the way businesses bailed on supporting states that insist on RFRA legislation and on what he sees as vast implications of Obergefell.  He uses the battle language of watershed and Waterloo; the jig is up, it's over. I think he is helpful as he highlights important ideas and consequences of the genealogy of ideas in the West (coupled with some attention to deforming practices and cultural habits.) But despite this deep level critique of the engines of idolatry and what he calls "hostile secular nihilism" he too often ends up sounding like a shrill right wing talk show pundit complaining about policy he doesn't like.

Many sentences carry thoughtful brilliance like this:

The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered us to a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection. The West has lost the golden threat that binds us to God, Creation, and each other.  Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution.  


If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder, then the most fundamental act of resistance is to establish order. If we don't have internal order, we will be controlled by our human passions and by the powerful, who are in greater control of directing liquid modernity's deep currents.

And then he declares, given our "political weakness" that "nothing matters more than guarding the freedom of Christian institutions to nurture future generations in their faith." Nothing? Oh my.

Oddly, he then follows this patently wrong statement with a disclaimer (in italics): religious liberty is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The book does this a bit, zealously overstating things and then moderating his view, which is why you should read it carefully, with an open mind, as a line that may infuriate may be moderated in the very next paragraph. 

There are moments Rod writes nicely about some of the good things of our culture, and he assures us that we ought to not reject the world a such.  At least I think I recall that he did, but I can't find where. But then he writes stuff like this, in a page or two on what MacIntyre (and others) called the new barbarism:

...despite our wealth and technological sophistication, we in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it. Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, our scribes --  they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human. Our barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears of the past for designer suits and smartphones.  

Yep, there's that, those damn guys in suits who use phones. I guess in this vast generalization he doesn't include his own role as a scholar and scribe, or the judges he voted for or the faithful scientists he surely knows. 


This isn't so much something you need to know about the book itself, but a way to describe my ambivalence about some of it. I guess that's it: you may be ambivalent about some of it, too, but that's okay.

It would take me a bit too far afield at this point to explain why I am less pessimistic than Dreher is about the cultural ramifications of the social trends he hates, especially the ones pertaining to same sex relationships and family law. I support as a matter of liberty and justice for all, legislation and court supreme court and gay flags.jpgrulings in favor of marriage equality in our pluralistic society and disagree with him that this is disastrous for Christian discipleship; my own discipleship hasn't become any more difficult since Obergefell v Hodges; really it hasn't. I'm still too much of a jerk and always in need of God's grace, but the Supreme Court ruling didn't change that one bit. (I found it nearly surreal reading some astonishingly outlandish statements insisting that we can't even be Christian with such a ruling as Obergefell in our background. This really is a driving force for him;  it is, he insists, about "order."  And that's a theological notion that needs to be more carefully explored, I'd suggest. We know what happens when a movement makes too much of a fetish out of order and fears "disorder."  I'm not suggesting we take lightly dis-order and certainly agree with Rod in his desire to resist whatever the Bible calls sin.  But his fear and anxiety about the shift away from order is notable.)

I am also, by the way, a supporter of religious freedom, from the rights of Muslim prisoners not to be shaved to the right of religiously motivated bakers or photographers, for instance, not to be coerced by social convention or forced by the state to violate their consciences and be made to participate in same sex-marriages; such freedom of conscience is akin to our government's good heritage of religious conscientious objection in matters of the draft into the military, by the way, and vital for a free culture) and think that most RFRA regs are mostly just and helpful and worthy of support. I agree with Rod that the erosion of such liberties is concerning. I care about them so much I'd rather fight for them, in fact, rather than withdraw with a sad shrug, but that maybe is a cheap shot.

Interestingly, the former White House staffer we had in the bookstore a few days ago, Michael Wear, a Democrat who served at the pleasure of President Obama, whose book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America is helpful on this very matter, agrees; Wear ends his reflection on the contemporary civic ethos by affirming religious freedom questions as crucial for the common good. It is my sense that this need not be a partisan issue, but that honoring religious diversity and freedom of conscience is a good thing in a religious pluralistic culture.

confident pluralism.jpgJohn Inazu's book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference is a major resource in this cultural conversation. I value Os Guinness' work on this, too: see his A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future or his older, serious, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It which lays out a plan for principled sorts of structures for honoring freedom of speech and the like. 

You see, I can't help myself, wanting to recommend resources for our cultural struggle in this historic moment.  I will list more, later.  As much as I agree with Rod that we need to attend to our own spiritual lives so we have something real to give to the watching world, we cannot give up this God-given calling to be reforming agents, no matter how misunderstood we may be. And our care for the world, our neighborhoods and civic culture involve much more than responding to legislation about sexuality or our own religious freedoms.

Dreher overstates much about sexuality and although I was glad for his reminder that the church must always be kind and gracious to those who often feel excluded - including persons in the LGBTQ community - his using the culture's recent support for same sex relations and the rights of transgendered persons as such a huge watershed seemed weird to me. And I'm afraid he'll say, "See: that proves my point."

Even though he helps us frame our cultural moment by the bigger shift towards "the therapeutic self" and the dis-connected radical individual (who is now all about a self to be fulfilled rather than a soul to be shaped) some of the Benedict Option book still just seems fixated in a way that the Bible is not on matters of sexual purity.

(That there is precious little Bible study in this book is itself a problem and that Dreher merely genuflects to "the tradition" or maybe "natural law" is, again, for this evangelical, at least, problematic. His social imaginary, his worldview, his hermeneutic of interpretation -- what to get alarmed at, what to cry out about, what to resist, where we are, what time it is, culturally, so to speak -- seems not to be driven by the Biblical story much.  He says early in the book that it is not a "decline and fall narrative" but that is a large part of it. It is worth reading and it is somewhat compelling. But it isn't a Biblically-inspired story of God's redeeming power, restoring all things, the Kingdom coming, our missional task. Geesh, where's Tom Wright when you need him?  And why no "every square inch" being claimed by Christ quote, anyway? More importantly, why no citation of Colossians 1?  Can anyone write a book about a strategy for cultural engagement without going there? Or 2 Corinthians 5?  How can one propose even strategic, limited withdrawal on some safe ark without explaining how, then, we shall be "agents of reconciliation" or, as Paul puts it,  ambassadors. It's a metaphor that doesn't work on an ark.

Another case in point of missing Biblical insight: he only seems to get there, finally, once (on page 203) but he admits that his tradition's disapproval of same-sex partnerships is related to the notion that they cannot procreate.  I am not Orthodox or Roman Catholic but respectfully submit that I do not think this is a helpful theological formulation of the matter of same-sex attraction or what constitutes just marriage laws. Does the Bible teach this? Should it be the basis of how to think about just legislation for our fellow citizens? It's complicated, and not self-evident, despite Rod's apparent assumption that it is.

But then, frustrated as I am, worried that he's just fear-mongering in the way Jerry Falwell did decades almost christian.jpgago, he tells a story about middle school kids watching hard core porn on their cell phones. He laments the number of young women pregnant without  the father intending to be involved in the lives of their children. He mentions the unusually high number of middle school girls who announce confidently that they are bi. He describes the shallow sort of religion found in many churches, drawing on the significant work of sociologist Christian Smith (see Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, or the very important popularization of that work found in Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian or even David Kinnaman's You Lost Me.)

He quotes books like the powerfully important recent volume by Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads and, with just a quick citing of Nicholas Carr and Neil Postman, underscores the dangers of over-reliance on cell phones and our "amusing ourselves to death" in a culture of what Neil Postman called "technopoly." When he warns us about the actual dangers of the breakdown of community and family and mental health and meaning, he is right to sound the alarm.  And I want to press the book into the hands of anyone who seems, as the prophet Amos said, "at ease in Zion."  It is not wrong to be alarmed by alarming things, right?

As I have said, I mostly disapprove of Rod's nearly idolatrous overstatement about traditionalist To Change the World- The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity .jpgformulations of sexuality and his almost overstated call to "order."  Since he is writing to conservatives to sway them away from culture wars -- perhaps almost in the tradition of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World the Oxford University Press book by James Davison Hunter, but with less "in" and more "not of" the world -- I get that he doesn't use the Bible to explain his assumptions. He is not particularly evangelical and makes it clear he is writing firstly as a conservative, albeit a Christian one.

Perhaps that is just one large difference between me and him; he talks unashamedly about being a traditionalist and conservative and I find that at least a little awkward; not unlike when some of my friends are so clear that they are liberal or progressive, as if that is necessarily a virtuous thing.  I have little interest in being left or right, but want to evoke some other "third way."  Perhaps I am naive to imagine such an option, but there it is. Those of us who are conscientious objectors in the culture wars and who do not think it is faithful to align faith with right or left, can still learn much from this work, though. So I critique it a bit, but only to inform you what your getting into. I still think it is well worth reading.  Truly, I think that.

I like Russell Moore's blurb on the back:

I'm more missionary than monastery, but I think every Christian should read this book. Rod Dreher is brilliant, prophetic, and wise. Even if you don't agree with everything in this book, there are warnings here to heed, and habits here to practice.

For those readers who already agree with Mr. Dreher's particular take on the battles of the culture wars, his call to live in ways that allow us to keep faith vibrant and thoughtful and robust should be seriously evaluated. I understand, given his assumptions about the toxic nature of modernity and postmodernity and the hyper-sexualized culture and the fast-paced 24/7 social media world of fame and celebrity and shallowness, how we must learn to guard against undue influence from the world; I understand that this concern about not accommodating may call for us to retreating a bit, giving up unrealistic attempts to "change the world" (especially through ill-considered moral majority's and political campaigns.)

Scandal sider.jpgReading The Benedict Option I am reminded of something I sometimes have said in talks and in writing here. We may have been unfair inspiring young adults in the last decade to "make a difference" and claim "every square inch" for Christ without forming them in spiritual practices that would yield Christ-like character and a commitment to holiness.  I talk about "holy worldliness" but maybe don't sound serious enough about the holiness part. We all should have tried harder, just for instance, to grapple significantly with the must-read research of Ron Sider and his important little book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?  

fabric of f.jpg

Similarly, my friend Steve Garber's well respected 2007 book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior reminds us of the deep significance of friendship and community (and mentors who help us apply truth in our own situations) if faith is going to be formative and decisive over the long haul of our lives. He astutely calls us to this counter-cultural triad of conviction, character, and community, but without Dreher's conservatism or The Benedict Option alarmism.

Dismayed as I was by some of Rod's lines about how bad things are and how difficult it may be to live out faith in our day and age, I liked his warnings that for some of us we might be called upon to suffer loss of prestige or even employment. Like Benedict in his own tumultuous, corrupting times, Dreher advises learning trades and crafts.

Many professional associations will demand that one sign pledges of support of sexual diversity and ethical relativism and he assumes that those with conventional Christian views will therefore soon lose their jobs in business, education, counseling, and other professions, if not by law, by the pressure of the professional guilds themselves. He reminds us that we will have to have in place some sort of structures and systems to support those who lose their jobs due to Christian convictions. He calls us to community, to supportive congregations that "do life together" so we can be there for each other in times of persecution or loss of income due to scruples in the marketplace.

For what it is worth, decades ago I met a number of people who, influenced by the passionate Catholic Bishops who insisted it was immoral to make nuclear weapons, left their jobs in defense contracting.  I also knew a woman who quit her job in an abortion clinic.  A network of activists helped folks in both situations, and I promised such aid to other defense contractors who I challenged to use their talents in more life-giving careers sites. So I get Dreher's call to be community, even if I wish he'd have noted that the ethics of the marketplace are more complex and in a way more demanding than only this question of scruples around things like same-sex marriage.  Why did he not talk about whistle-blowers in the environmental field, people who lose their jobs in public schools because of their support for poor children (think of Jonathan Kozol's story) or pastors who become unemployed when they talk about God's Word about serving the poor or financial workers who pay a price for not maximizing profits with adequate gusto?  What about an ad man who won't do a glamor ad that is too sexy? What about a woman science PhD who fears the data about the dangers of GMOs is being suppressed by her agribusiness supported university?  What about a lawyer who wants to do too much pro bono work for the needy?  As inspiring as his breathy Benedictine option of feisty countercultural faith that is so radical that it needs supportive community was for me, I have to wonder if he knows anybody who has lost their job due to their faith? Maybe so.  I know I do.  And it wasn't about sex stuff.


So, limited as his expressed concerns may be on that particular score (seeming to suggest that only certain sort of social ethics are demanded of us) and as many mixed messages as he gives -- we should be monastic, but not really, we should be alarmed, but not really -- Dreher and his provocative book points us in the right direction in calling us to create lasting relationships, be part of serious churches, ask hard questions about our lifestyles, gadgets, budgets, and habits. He invites us to consider how deeper, more ancient forms of prayerfulness and liturgy might slowly re-form us from what media critic Nicholas Car calls our "welcoming the frenziedness into our souls." Perhaps we might withdraw from the world a bit and welcome a different set of virtues and a different quality of character into our lives. In a way, this is what the best spiritual writers have long said; in our generation Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, Joyce Rupp and more.

how dante can save.jpgThe Benedict Option shows us how to draw on ancient asceticism as a tool to help us keep our digital and media influences at bay. It insists on more active involvement in local churches to keep our spirits alive. Dreher asks us to consider starting alternative study groups, book clubs, young adult discipleship houses, even study centers, to study classical literature, history, poetry, and to allow deep truth to influence our hearts and minds.  (He knows how this works somewhat and tells us all about it in the magnificent memoir of how he was somewhat healed of a bad relationship with his father and extended family and moved out of serious depression by reading "The Divine Comedy called How Dante Can Save Your Life which I hope you have ordered from us.)

Call this my seventh point, that Dreher has reminded us wisely of the formative power of worship and church and prayer and spiritual fellowship.  He reminds us this, as he should, within the context of our cultural witness, that we are going to need, increasingly as the culture is un-moored from older assumptions which were somewhat inspired by Christian principles, to have the strength of character that comes from cultivating our interior lives.  I'm reminded of Richard Mouw's lovely book on civility (Uncommon Decency) where he teaches that civic manners and principled but civil conversation in a hostile culture demands the virtue of "inner civility." Bring on the option of Benedictine spirituality; we need it.


Look: I am not right wing, or even conservative in the way that Dreher is. But I think even some who are should find his overstated alarmism unhelpful.

VoV.jpgFurther, I have large, large, disagreements with any strategy of dis-engagement from culture: we started our bookstore to encourage more robust, uniquely Christian engagement. I think the Holy Spirit is speaking to the churches calling us to what Steve Garber calls "visions of vocation" that call us to love the world, messy as it is, as God does.  Indeed, if any one book deserves to be read in tandem with The Benedict Option it may well be Garber's intense but lovely Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good.

The conversations and movements and ministries we admire and sometimes serve about faith and work, faith and science, faith and the arts, and, yes, faith and politics, are often fresh expressions of missional discipleship in the real world we actually live in.   They all suppose that our work is a way to serve our neighbors, to help the flourishing of the common good. Most who are excited about these sorts of approaches to renewed and reforming cultural engagement (from the CCOs Jubilee conference to Redeemer Presbyterians Center for Faith and Word to organizations like CIVA or IAM or CPJ) are not part of the religious right and never were.  They may need a Benedictine spirituality, and maybe even a MacIntyrian warning a la Mr. Dreher.  But he's simply wrong if he is asking them to pull back from their calling to love their neighbors by offering good work, science, art, or politics.

Even if some cultures are so vulgar and repressive as to necessitate some withdrawal a la the Desert Fathers and Mothers or the monastic movements, I think it is quite simply not the norm for most Christian people. When the desert fathers leave their businesses and families, even, to then extol continual silence, I think it is  simply unbiblical, and pretty darn weird (and, hence, I am baffled by some evangelicals who love dear Henri Nouwen's book The Way of the Heart that affirms just such weirdness.) I have laughed when former Trappist friends have talked about their hand signals, even while making fruitcake that they aren't allowed to enjoy themselves, but even they would insist that this isn't a normative lifestyle for most Christians.

Deeper community, alternative institutions, renewed dedication to holiness informed by more lively worship and prayer and spiritual disciplines, yes, yes, yes.  But most of us should not be cloistered off away from the normal creational gifts of families and governments, sports teams and neighborhood markets, TV shows and rock concerts,  farms and gyms, shopping centers and science labs, art galleries and political parties, churches and comedy clubs, newspapers and Little League, pre-schools and colleges, factories and diners, 4-H clubs and... well, you get it.  I don't think Rod is really saying that we should abandon the culture, although when he uses metaphors of being an "ark" to ride out the storm, I wonder...

culture making.jpgcreation regained.gifAndy Crouch's famous book puts our task in a word: culture-making. It's how we image God and it is what Al Wolter's in Creation Regained calls our foundational command.

The Bible warns us not to trust idols, says to not be "of the world" and calls us to be "non-conformed." We are a "peculiar people" and 1 Peter says "be holy as I am holy."  Scriptures warn us against being "taken captive" by worldly ideologies and we need to hear more in most churches about the call to righteousness in thought, word, and deed. 

There is little doubt that Dreher is right that many churches these days don't really help us live into the sort of holiness to which we are called.

But the same Bible also holds out a vision of the renewal of all things. Everything.   The Bible tells us to go into the world; it just does. There is no escaping the missional call to serve our neighbors, the public sphere, working "in but not of" the society around us. 

Further, the Bible warns us not to "call impure what God has called clean" (As Peter learned the hard way in Acts 10:15.) I think that any insinuation that this world is too bad to be redeemed or too impure for us to handle -- and whether such insinuation hovers around Dreher's book you can decide for yourself -- needs to be confronted with the stark truth of the warnings in Colossians 2:21 or I Timothy 4: 1-3 where the naysayers are reproved.  In that anti-gnostic Timothy passage, Paul suggests that the error of disdaining the God-given gifts of the world is either an "old wives tale" or flatly inspired by demons.  Either way, good ministers are called to teach the truth of the goodness of things. Look it up and tell me if I'm wrong.  And tell me how we can balanced the proper concerns of The Benedict Option and its dire warnings and manifesto-like cry for "strategic withdrawal" with this kind of joy in the goodness of creation and confidence in the restoring redemption of Christ the King.

For the Life of the World Schmemann.jpgflow package.jpgAs an Orthodox believer, Dreher wisely cites, at one point, the famed Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemman. He does not cite his most famous work, though, For the Life of the World, which inspired the Acton Institute's beloved film series by that same name, offering a combo of Schmemman and Abraham Kuyper, drawing us into bigger visions of the redemption of all of life by bringing poet Gerard Manley Hopkins into conversation with theologian Hans Von Balthshar, for instance. Work, family, politics, art, learning -- it's all gift, it's all service, even in (as the DVD explores) a state of exile. Our church liturgy anticipates the final restoration of things; the beautiful last lesson on the DVD makes that wonderfully vivid. As such, good liturgy -- according to the DVD For the Life of the World, at least -- is hopeful. We hear good news each week and practice ways of embodying such hope, even in exile.  I think Rod should worry less about Supreme Court rulings and listen better, week after week, to that great liturgical refrain:  He Is Risen.  He is Risen Indeed.

Despite all, I truly recommend reading, reflecting on, prayerfully considering, and talking with others about The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. One will have to overlook some negativity and theologically dangerous dead ends, but much will be very, very helpful. Most of all, it will cause you to reconsider, re-evaluate a bit. For this reason, I think it is worth reading with discernment, and heeding whatever seems wise and prudent in these complicated days, for the life of the world.

The Benedict Option.jpg




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March 7, 2017

OVER 40 BOOKS DESCRIBED FOR READING DURING LENT (that are not Lenten devotionals.) ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

In our last post we listed a whole bunch of titles that were about Lent, mostly devotionals or guides into this season of the church year.  We linked to a few earlier Hearts & Minds Lenten lists, too, naming titles for Lent from previous years.  

I mentioned in that list the new paperback book Grounded: Finding God in the World -- A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass, noting that it has a 40 Day study guide, too, making it ideal for a book club or for personal reflection during this time of year, even though, admittedly, it doesn't offer the customary focus of books about Lent.  Even though I might critique some of her ideas and occasionally her tone, it is, mostly, a fantastic book, beautifully written and pushing us in a helpful direction.  We're glad for the paperback that is now out and wanted to suggest it as a "non-Lenten Lenten book."

Which brings us to this new list of mostly older books, offered as Lenten reading for those who tend not to like little daily devotionals or seasonal prayer books.  Maybe you sense a yearning to do some reflective, serious reading this time of year but don't want to commit to the daily regimen using a standard devo. Maybe your own faith journey is such that you don't even want a religious book.  We get that.

So here is an admittedly eccentric list of not-exactly-random titles we pulled off the shelves here at the Dallastown shop and are sending through the airwaves for you to consider.  Perhaps see this list our gift to those who can't shake the idea of doing some intentionally reflective reading this next month or so, but don't want a standard Lent book. 

It's a good time of year to settle down, pay attention, read, think, pray.  Hope this list helps you select something good for you or yours.

The Body Keeps the Score- Brain, .jpgThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma Bessel Van Der Kolk (Penguin) $18.00  A wondrous, remarkable book by a leading expert on trauma who has pioneered new ways to treat PTSD (including sand trays in children's therapy) and has helped us all realize new things about the human mind, memory, neuroscience, and pathways to recovery.  For anyone concerned about the toll of the cycle of trauma and violence in our society - and about how relationships can be hurtful but also healing -- this intense but beautiful book is a must. 

The Body in Pain- The Making and Unmaking of the World.jpgThe Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World Elaine Scarry (Oxford University Press) $19.95  I know more than one person who has recently raved to me about how important this book was for them; it is a dense and complex read, studying chronic pain, trauma, including a major report on research Scarry did in the 1980s (in cooperation with Amnesty International, I believe) on the impact of torture.  As a literary critic (a recent book was on the Shakespeare sonnets) she is known for close readings, for good listening, for rich and moving meditations. Susan Sontag calls this "large-spirited, heroically truthful, a necessary book."  Is pain inexpressible? Can it destroy a sufferers language? How do political regimes "unmake" an individual's  world in their exercise of power?   And how do we then re-make the world (through act is of creativity that produce language and culture and hope?  If you want a book that is perhaps a bit more accessible and not as long, see her beloved work about aesthetics and public justice on Princeton University Press called Beauty and Being Just. That's a good read any time.

Losing Susan- Brain Disease.jpgLosing Susan: Brain Disease, The Priest's Life, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away Victor Lee Austin (Brazos Press) $19.99  We discovered the serious work of this Episcopal priest and social critic when we read Up With Authority, a book about authority structures in society.  In this moving, powerful story, the theologian gets personal, telling of his love for his wife, Susan, as he cared for her during her long struggle with brain cancer - and the aftereffects which brought him more "face to face with God" and allowed him to re-evaluate his own faith. Endorsements are from other deep, thoughtful, pastoral theologians such as Robert Jensen and Sam Wells and others who have written about suffering, such as Stanley Hauerwas and Tobias Winright who teaches Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University who calls it "a moving work, carefully crafted and thoughtfully honest."

learning to walk in the dark.jpgLearning to Walk in the Dark Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne) $14.99  It is rare to find someone who doesn't appreciate Barbara Brown Taylor's rich prose, her wonderful use of words, her charming tone, even in serious sermons.  One of my own all-time favorite books is her brief memoir of coming to Christian faith and discerning a call to the ministry called The Preaching Life (which concludes with some sample sermons, themselves always worth reading. Let us know if you want to make our day by ordering one from us.) But this, her most recent book, is a study of darkness in our lives, literal and metaphorical, explored in the entertaining form of story and memoir, how she came to embrace doubt and darkness, which, in her estimation, isn't at all a bad thing. From sitting in an utterly dark cave to camping out in the deepest night to attending to some perplexities and pain in her own life, she invites us all to explore this side of life, literally darkness and the "dark night of the soul.".  I loved this book and its quiet blend of charm and provocation and commend it to you during these weeks of Lent.

forgive us.jpgForgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan) $22.99  I have raved about this book since before it came out (indeed have a long blurb on the inside, alongside many, many pastors, authors, activists, leaders that I so admire and respect, from Anthony Bradley to John Perkins to  Virgilio Elizondo and more.) We've mentioned it often, insisting that reading such an overview of many of the sins against others in which the church has been complicit, is good for the soul, important for our witness to the world, and an important aspect of any serious transformation for the sake of God's Kingdom. This well-informed survey has chapters on how the Christian religion was too often used to harm indigenous peoples,  blacks and other people of color, immigrants, women, gays and lesbians, the poor, the Earth itself.  There are prayers included to help us learn the art of public confession and wise, pastoral invitations to lament, to show remorse, to change and to grow. Margot Starbuck says reading Forgive Us "was an experience I'd never had with any other book..."  Now might be a good time for some of our readers to order it and spend some time in prayerful reflection about its hard truths. Such is the path of holiness and true liberation, I am convinced.  Please consider this...

The Wired Soul- Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconencted Age.jpgThe Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age Tricia McCary Rhodes (NavPress) $14.99  I've told you about this book before, so will be brief: it is a beautifully written book ruminating on spiritual formation in the digital age.  Do we have to give up technology and social media to earn quiet and solitude? Do our habits of the heart and mind, informed as they are by the fast-paced (or slow if you've got my computer) pixels and images of the internets, need to be re-calibrated if we are going to be attentive to the things of God? This book reintroduces us to the classic disciplines of Scripture reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation, but not describing them just as "technologies to aid our faith" but as tools to keep us mindful and focused in an increasingly disoriented digital age.  What does it mean to 'be still and know that I am God' in these times?  A very nice book.

The Desire- Satisfying the Heart James M. jpgThe Desire: Satisfying the Heart James M. Houston (Victor) $16.99  The remarkably profound scholar and teacher and spiritual leader, James Houston, who founded Regent College in British Columbia, is known for his mastery of medieval and other spiritual writers and remains a like-minded colleague with authors such as J.I. Packer, Marva Dawn, Eugene Peterson.  A small evangelical publisher rather oddly published three magisterial books of his years ago and they went out of print. This was one of those and we have a few that we've been holding for ages.  Given the popularity of thinking about desire (see books just as David Naugle's excellent Reordered Loves Reordered Lives, Jen Pollock Michel's splendid Teach Us to Want, and of course Jamie Smith's must-read You Are What You Love ) we wanted to highlight this now, and make our few available, while our supplies last.  The Desire explores the very nature of the human heart and how longings for the eternal play out in our daily lives, even as we discern false desires (which can become addictions and dysfunctions.) A remarkable book, especially in this season where we seek, as this book offers, "a more substantial and satisfying life."  By the way, we have a few others in this magnificent, mature series. Let us know if you are interested.

The Seven Deadly Virtues- Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness.jpgThe Seven Deadly Virtues: Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness Todd E. Outcalt (IVP) $16.00  There have been a small spate of books along these lines - we like The Danger of Doing Good by Peter Greer and the very useful and wise Doing Good Without Giving Up: Sustaining Social Action in a World That's Hard to Change by Ben Lowe -- but this one is more literary, more deeply theological, wonderfully written, drawing on thoughtful sources from the Ante-Nicene Fathers to Kierkegaard to Pope John Paul.  The author is a United Methodist pastor and popular author.  This looks tremendous and feels like a good book to read during Lent, even though it isn't exactly a Lenten book.  Check it out and you may be surprised how insightful it may be for you.

Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal- Why the Church Should Be All Three.jpgEvangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic) $17.00 This slim book just came and it looks like it is worth its weight in gold.  I recommend every single book Gordon Smith has written, and highly esteem his ecumenical perspective, his contemplative tone, his good vision to integrate varying traditions within the broader church.  (I'm a fan of Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water as well, which is a broader study than Smith's new one.)  Glen Scorgie of Bethel Seminary (in San Diego) says  "This is a provocative call for a fresh ecumenical synergy - for weaving all these elements together into something stronger and better than the older, isolating silos were able by themselves to deliver."  Wow - if in this season you are eager for more fullness of life, deeper reality,  a wider connection to others in other faith traditions within the church, this corrective will pull you happily into other "means of grace."  I cannot wait to read this, and hope many Hearts & Minds friends, too, will be eager to spread the word about this approach.  By the way, it would certainly be fitting during this season of deeper reflection and repentance and intentionality about Christian growth to work through his major volume Called to Be Saints.  

The Prophets Abraham Joshua Heschel.jpgThe Sabbath Abraham J Heschel.jpgThe Prophets Abraham Joshua Heschel (Harper Perennial) $19.99  You may have been meaning to read this large, serious work for years, now, or maybe you've only recently heard of this passionate mid-twentieth century Rabbi/scholar/activist.  (You will see his white hair and beard in many old pictures of Dr. King and the civil rights marches.) First published in 1962 The Prophets has been considered a classic ever since, plumbing as it does, the pathos of the Hebrew prophets. Perhaps now is a time to start it. For a less daunting, but equally rich, very rewarding read, consider Rabbi Heschel's wonderful and important work The Sabbath (Farrar Straus Giroux; $14.00.)  It was released, I think, in 1951 and remains a standard in any discussion of Jewish spirituality.  I think I first learned of it, or was challenged to read it, by Marva Dawn or maybe Eugene Peterson, who often recommends it.  You really should have both of these...

The Yoke of Jesus- A School for the Soul in Solitude .jpgThe Yoke of Jesus: A School for the Soul in Solitude Addison Hodges Hart (Eerdmans) $14.00  This compact sized paperback is so beautifully written, so warm, so insightful, that I wanted to list it here.  He is a Catholic priest and college chaplain - his books are oddly winsome even as they tackle some tough stuff.  (See, for instance, his book Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship and God.) This gracious volume invites us to silence and solitude, to care about our souls by attending to ordinary practices, bringing together dogma and belief (on one hand) but linking it to true knowledge of God and earnest love for God.  What is the role of stillness in Christian discipleship, and how have the ancient writers (and the Bible itself) taught us about deeper prayer through nurturing habits of solitude? Hart's most recent two books, by the way, also small ones, are on Buddhism (for Christians) and a lovely study of the gospel of John, called The Woman, the Hour, and the Garden.

Restoring Broken Things Steven Curtis Chapman & Scotty Smith .jpgRestoring Broken Things Steven Curtis Chapman & Scotty Smith  (Thomas Nelson) $14.99  Maybe you've heard that there is a brand new memoir by CCM singer Steven Curtis Chapman (Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story) or maybe you've read some of pastor Scotty Smith's powerful, serious books of prayers.  They are both men who have suffered, men who are attentive to the fallen nature of our hurting world, and who are firm in the hope that the gospel is, in fact, a restoration of creation.  This old book (which I featured at Jubilee this year on Saturday morning as we studied the fall, injustice, and brokenness) tells the big gospel story -- creation/fall/redemption -- and invites us to see "what happens when we catch a vision of the new world Jesus is creating."   This is good, accessible, Biblical theology, offering varying ways to tell the story of the gospel, to help us see our own role in the fresh start of new creation that God is bringing to bear in our lives and in all of creation.  Dan Allender wrote a lovely, passionate forward. This is a great book to read anytime, and certainly a good one for now, here in the midst of the Lenten season when we ponder broken things, and yearn for authenticity about that, and yet hope for greater comfort and healing and restoration.  I'm a big fan of this book and commend it to you.

the givenenness of things.jpgThe Givenness of Things: Essays Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $16.00  This paperback is worth every dime - loaded, as it is, with ponderings deep and delicious, thoughtful and interesting, glorious, even.  Granted, she is writing deeply, as a literary essayist here -- you may only know her Pulitzer-Prize winning novels such as Gildead, Homecoming, or Lila -- but if you are a serious thinker or wanting to be aware of the major public intellectuals of our day, you could hardly do better than to spend time with these remarkable, heady essays.  Her intellectual prowess is well-respected (The Christian Science Monitor mentioned her "formidable intellect" and The New Republic said her handiwork is "capacious and serious, but also mysterious and wondrous.") The Givenness of Things was named as Time's top ten nonfiction books when it came out in hardcover and now, in this nice paperback, there is added a two-part interview between her and then-President Barack Obama that first appeared in the New York Review of Books. The New York Times Book Review, by the way, said her "heroic lamentation is magnificent... timely and important."  That she is a John Calvin scholar, too, makes her just a fascinating, tremendously interesting figure. Until her next novel comes, read this.

silence and beauty.jpgSilence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $26.00  Well, if you haven't gotten this yet, might I suggest you do so now? I am not always this "pushy" but I am confident that this marvelous reflection on the relationship of art and creativity and beauty and suffering  -- and what all that tells us about God and the hope of redemption in the sufferings of Jesus -- is a perfect book to take up as we move towards Good Friday.  You know we respect Mr. Fujimura (what a thrill it was to have me introduced at Grove City College last week and having it said that the next speaker in their series of which I was a part, was painter and essayist Makoto Fujimura!) This is not only a survey of good thinking about faith and art and suffering but it is, quite specifically, a conversation with Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo and his stunning story Silence.  And, also, tangentially, about Mako's friend Martin Scorcese and his making of a film based on this 1960s novel.  The novel (about the persecution of Christian missionaries in Seventeenth Century Japan) was influential in Mako's own journey to Christ and his Christian witness today in the world of the arts and letters is somewhat indebted to Endo's novel. It all comes full circle in Silence and Beauty -- Mako, Endo, Japan, art, film, pain and redemption, goodness and life, the gospel and cultural renewal, faith and mystery.  What a book! Very highly recommended!

A Gathering of Larks- Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim.jpgA Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim Abigail Carroll (Eerdmans) $12.99  Oh my, what an interesting book this is, not the easiest to describe, but simple to explain. This is a luminous set of poems written to, yep, Saint Francis.  Consequently, this becomes what creative writing guru Brian Doyle calls "a most refreshing, eloquent, wonderfully unassuming, gentle inquiry into the actual Saint Francis and the song of his awed life" and Carroll's own awed life as well.  Mystic Richard Rohr says these lyrical letters "court wonder, inviting the reader on a pilgrimage to the heart."

Sarah Arthur writes,

More than just a fresh glimpse of an exceptional saint whose humanity and complexity Carroll delightfully renders. This is also the welcome debut of an exceptional poet, whose deep humility and adroitness with poetic form are rare qualities she shares with Francis himself. Earthy, honest, a pure delight.

Love Let Go- Radical Generosity for the Real World .jpgLove Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World Laura Sumner Truax & Amalya Campbell (Eerdmans) $21.99  A few years ago I was blown away by the raw and revealing memoir by Laura Truax called Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together. She is the passionate pastor of the storied faith community in urban Chicago called LaSalle Street Church and in this new book she and a congregation member who taught stewardship classes there (and herself has an MBA from Harvard Business School), tell of something amazing that transpired in that place.  A smaller version of this has been used as sermon illustrations and youth talks for years, but this is the real thing: a major donor gave the church a ton of money.  They concluded they didn't want it - itself a story worth writing a book about! - but they decided to give each member $500 and instructed them to go out and do good in the world. This is, on the surface, the stories of what happened as radical generosity became even more of a way of life for this congregation.  This is more than fun tales of giving and sharing and helping, it is what Publisher's Weekly has called "a well-wrought book, of interest to anyone interested in community building or philanthropy."  It is what McLaren calls "a powerful alternative message (to greed)" and "the transformative power of generosity."   This is a counter-cultural story that needs to be known, but it is also a rich study of the psychology of giving, the nature of living abundant lives within a culture that promotes scarcity, and the plausibility of being Christ-like in a world like ours.  One of the best books of the year, I'm sure.

The Sense of the Call - A Sabbath Way of Life.jpgThe Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World Marva Dawn (Eerdmans) $18.00  One of the great books of our time, and one that we continue to carry with us whenever we sell books off site, if it is remotely appropriate, is Marva Dawn's Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. (It is a book that would be wonderful to read during this time of the church season, by the way, learning to build some rest and discipline into your schedule.)  In that remarkable and influential volume she delightfully unpacks four aspects of Sabbath keeping: resting, ceasing,  feasting, and embracing.  That's a lot, but not too much, and it clarified a lot for many of us about the restorative, beautiful gift of Sabbath time.  Of course, it isn't easy to enter in to that sort of counter-cultural practice, and it is even harder for those who are in leadership within the local church where much work is done on Sunday.  Anyway, in this book (for church leaders, yes, but, truly, for anyone and everyone) Marva spells out how those four movements of the Sabbath day's rest can actually be woven into daily living the other six days of the week.  In this powerful work she revisits those same four life-giving aspects from her Sabbath book, turning them into a "Sabbath way of life" and shows how we all can be formed in these helpful way, through these historic disciplines and practices, dispositions and attitudes.  It is a remarkable, rich, rewarding, good read , just over 300 pages. As Eugene Peterson says, "there is not a trivial or superfluous word in this book."

Mark Buchanan (whose own book The Rest of God is pretty darn nice, too) calls Marva Dawn "a holy oddity" as she,

...juggles the prophetic with the pragmatic, stern warning with giddy invitation, a scholar's exactitude with a child's whimsy. She embodies both human brokenness and divine transformation...

Subversive Meals- An Analysis of the Lord's Supper.jpgSubversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord's Supper Under Roman Domination During the First Century R. Alan Streett (Pickwick Publications) $37.00  A hefty academic monograph, this may be of great interest to some of our readers who want to explore how ancient Christian practices had at their roots anti-empire connotations and nearly revolutionary impact.  Endorsements on this lively book are from Richard Horsley and Warrant Carter (who have long written about this counter-cultural hermeneutic that explores the radical socio-political themes embedded but often missed in Biblical teaching and practice.) Interestingly, Street teaches Biblical Exegesis at the ultra-conservative Criswell College in Texas.  Joel Green, an esteemed evangelical scholar (formerly of Asbury, now at Fuller) says that Streett "demonstrates the surprisingly political significance of the Lord's Supper" and that his book is "historically important and theological challenging" which "participates in the ongoing destruction of the walls that separate theology and practices, worship and politics."  

Inhaviting the Cruciform God.jpgCruciformity- Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross.jpgCruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans)  $38.00

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology  Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $25.00

Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission Michael J. Gorman  (Eerdmans)$28.00

If one is serious about working through Mike Gorman's extraordinary published corpus, one could start with these three, starting with Cruciformity, moving on to Inhabiting and then taking up the amazing, recent Becoming the Gospel.  But all stand alone, becoming the gospel.jpgtoo, and could be read in ways that are helpful, illuminating, challenging, informative and - the author hopes - transformative.   Some have of called these a "tour de force" and "superb and groundbreaking" etcetera.  He is an author you should know - in league with and quoted by nearly everyone serious in New Testament studies these days (from N.T. Wright to Richard Hays to Fleming Rutledge and other world class authors.)  Lent seems like a good time to take up his challenge to "participate" in God's own mission, as explained by Paul, as embodied by the sacrificial suffering of the Lamb of God, Christ Himself.  This is heady scholarship but always with a view of how local churches live out the call to costly discipleship.  Wow.

saving power.jpgSaving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church Peter Schmiechen (Eerdmans) $39.95  Peter was former President of Lancaster Theological Seminary and for one so situated within UCC higher education it may surprise some to know of his orthodox passions.  (He is involved in the rather conservative Mercersburg Society that applies Schaff and Nevin to today's ecumenical challenges; indeed, his new book is about Eucharistic theology written with what seems to be a Mercersburg accent.)  Endorsements of this almost 400 page study are from Walter Brueggemann, Sally Brown (of Princeton) and S. Mark Heim (of Andover Newton, a "nonviolent atonement" voice) and evangelically Reformed Hans Boersma of Regent College, affirming the book's scholarly clarity (it studies 10 different models) and congeniality, notes "even when he feels the need to express his strong reservations, Schmiechen treads carefully, respectfully, and yet frankly."   If you want other books on this topic, send us an inquiry, or, for an interesting place to start, see Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement (Abingdon; $18.99.)

cross-of-christ.jpgthe incomparable christ.jpgThe Cross of Christ John R.W. Stott (IVP Academic) $28.00  I seem to recommend this every year at this time, in part because it has meant so much to me, advancing a mature, winsome, if seriously evangelical view of the nature of the work of the cross.  Granted, other authors push in fresh, new directions, but this is the best overview of the conventional position that we know of.  Many think it is the good John Stott's crowning achievement, although, since we're passing out superlatives, I think his exceptionally interesting volume on Christ that covers so very much,  The Incomparable Christ (IVP; $20.00) is also among his absolutely best. work Both are books good for any Christian library as they will serve you for a lifetime.

The Undoing of Death.jpgThe Crucifixion Rutledge.jpgThe Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.00  This is another that, while not technically a Lenten devotional, is, in fact, a collection of sermons preached over a lifetime by the eloquent Episcopal pastor and scholar.  Her words are powerful, her studies extraordinary, and this book deserves being read and re-read. I hope you own it.   If not, it would be our great pleasure to send one soon.  I hardly need to mention it here as we've promoted it often and it has won a number of important awards, but her recent book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans; $30.00) is now out in paperback and, although it may take longer than forty days to work through it, it is very, very good.

Jesus Journey- Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero.jpgJesus Journey: Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero and Discovering the Humanity of God - a 40 Day Encounter Trent Shepard (Zondervan) $16.99  I am sometimes a bit weary of uber-cool authors whose bios tell you snarky stuff about their favorite lattes and pastors who look like they play in an emo band, with churches with stages that look like hip malls or the local rock arena.  I dunno, maybe I'm getting old.  There are a lot of books that are just a little too familiar, and little too casual, trying sooo hard to be cool.  So when a book comes out saying it's going to overturn our stuffy attitudes about Jesus and religion, well, I sometimes just roll my eyes. It's useful, especially for millennials, I suppose, to hear somebody that at least appears edgy with an out-side-the-box message, helping them appreciate faith in their own vernacular.  My faith in my youthful years was impacted by bell-bottom wearing, long-haired, Jesus Freaks. (And, later, I met Terry Thomas who in those years looked liked David Crosby, but I digress.) So I get it.  But I'm still a little tired of the marketing schtick.

I say all that to only say this book by a college ministry guy who pastors an urban house church called Ekklesia (of course it is) is, in fact, very cool and yet remarkably solid, very, very thoughtful, offering vibrant scholarship and literary allusions of just the sort that any of us could be easily brought in to the story he tells.  And quite an urgent story it is, inviting us to remember the full humanity of Jesus. These are necessarily down-to-Earth reflections and maybe it will help you appreciate not only younger voices in the church today, but ancient, ancient truths about Jesus who can transform our view of God, as we consider what it means to be human.  This is a very good book and I highly recommend it.  It draws on N.T Wright, Marcus Borg, Kenneth Bailey, Geza Vermes, Dorothy Sayers, and more. Very nicely done.

The Jesus Way- A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way.jpgThe Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $17.00  I suppose you know all five of these remarkable, mostly big, somewhat dense books that Peterson saw as his most important contribution. It is called "spiritual theology" that is more than only spirituality, more than systematic theology, more than Bible study, but a rich and rewarding combination, by a scholar/pastor.  I agree with Scot McKnight who said once that "no one simply reads, or worse, skims Peterson. One ponders Peterson, as Peterson ponders the Bible."  Yes, and more. I've been working on these five volumes, on and off, for years, and I cannot tell you how important they are.  This third one in the series - following Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and Eat This Book and Tell It Slant offers profound insight into how others in the Bible anticipated His coming and shows how the ways of those who came before Christ - specifically Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and Isaiah -- "revealed and prepared the 'way of the Lord' that became incarnate and complete in Jesus."

 As it says on the back:

Peterson calls into question common "ways" followed by the contemporary American church, showing in stark relief how what we have chosen to focus on -- consumerism, celebrity, charisma, and so forth --obliterate what is unique in the Jesus way.

The Bad Habits of Jesus- Showing Us the Way to Life Right in a World Gone Wrong.jpgThe Bad Habits of Jesus: Showing Us the Way to Live Right in a World Gone Wrong  Leonard Sweet  (Tyndale) $14.99  I am convinced that there is always more going on in a Len Sweet book than most of us realize.  Just his footnotes alone are an education, better than browsing through a big Barnes & Noble or meandering through your local college library. He brings remarkable learning, a fertile curiosity, and a breath-taking -- even for some, exasperating -- use of wordplay and wit to whatever project he takes up.  Such is one  way to read his new one  --  it can be skimmed quickly as any collection of sermons or Bible lessons might be, getting the gist, taking in the many ideas, applauding the keen cleverness that would find all this "bad" stuff Jesus did, the rules he broke, the manners he seems to avoid, the trouble he caused.  I suppose much of this has been said before but, to be honest, I can't think of a better intro to this line of thought for ordinary folks:  Jesus did have some "bad habits" did he not?  He'd disappear when people needed him most, he'd refuse to answer questions directly, he'd offend people, especially important religious folks.  He was late. He spit. He spent time with unproductive children. He was at times wasteful. He told stories that didn't make a lot of sense. What's with this "rebellious rabbi" and is there a method to his madness?  The Bad Habits of Jesus is a lot of fun, a good intro to the life and teaching of Jesus and a surprisingly powerful little book.

However, one can encounter this easily-read book on another level, probing Len's suggestions, following his tangents and applying them to our lives as he suggests, studying the footnotes, doing the exercises he challenges us with, complex as they may be.  There's a useful Bad Habits study guide making this ideal for an adult class or book club and can move us to deeper discipleship, not only paying attention to the ways and means of our Master Jesus, but pushing us to be more Christ-like in our own lives, not being "bad to the bone" for no good reason, and not to valorize being rowdy or misunderstood, but to be, in a deeply spiritual and proper sense, counter-cultural, radically Christian, able to walk as He did. By doing a playful but serious reading of Christ's life (and bad manners) we can be shaped not by the stories and habits and ways of middle American religiosity, but by faithful, missional, discipleship. I think Sweet should be read by many of us, and I think we should then re-read him, more slowly, really considering the deeper questions hovering just under his wit and charm and shtick. 
It's a pretty nifty cover, too, with that bad-looking motorcycle jacket.

leaving egypt.jpgLeaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places Chuck DeGroat (Square Inch) $15.99  I have talked about this book before, and tried to encourage many to read DeGroat's other good books.  (For instance, this time of year -- or any time, really -- many of us need his powerful book called Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self.)  This first one of his, though, always is a delight to explain; I even love the suitcase-motif on the very cool cover design.  This is the best  book I know of that accessibly uses the wilderness wonderings (of the Hebrew people after they were liberated from Pharaoh's Egypt) for any who are themselves in a time of wondering, wandering, or in transition.  If you feel trapped and know there's something better, says Steve Brown, "this book will change your life."  If you are a Bible study geek and want another voice in conversation with DeGroat's why not pair it with Walt Brueggemann's Keeping Sabbath As Resistance which invites us to say "no" to consumerism and be set free from the compulsions of our times; in a way, that book, too, explores what happens when we are set free, and how to find our way out of Egypt. 

habakkuk before.jpgHabakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, Hope Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast Community (Books Before Breakfast) $14.00  Again, this was a favorite last year, one I was honored to offer an endorsing blurb on (next to Karen Pascal, the Director of the Henri Nouwen Society and Tom Wright, Walsh's old friend, who says  that "Habakkuk Before Breakfast is like no other book on the prophet."

Wright continues,

That's because it is, itself, prophecy, -- and poetry, and preaching, and prayer, and liturgy, and lament, and a dozen other things melded together into a powerful, and powerfully disturbing, whole. A book to shake us up and make us realize that God's loving justice is the only firm ground on which anyone - or any society - can ever stand.

I love that quote because this book is, truly, unlike nearly any other Bible study you've ever read. It narrates their "Wine Before Breakfast" communion services held at the University of Toronto, and the songs and prayers they used as they allowed the Biblical text to shape them, breaking their hearts open to a world not of their own making, but one construed and held as the troubling gift of a good creator and faithful redeemer. I'm telling you, this is a book to help you see worship in new ways, to see the Bible in new ways, to see life in new ways.  Lent is a perfect time to join this band of Christ-followers as they worship around the table in the dark times of early morning winter Toronto. 

Executing Grace.jpgExecuting Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us  Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) $17.99  Not long ago I had a long conversation with a gentleman who had been in solitary confinement for years. Beth and I had participated earlier this year in a conference organizing faith-motivated folks to think and act justly about this whole topic of mass incarceration, prison reform, solitary confinement -- which is a much worse topic than you may know, unbelievably bad and in urgent need of reform -- and, of course, the topic that we sometimes call "capital punishment."  Agree or not with Shane's gospel-centered, grace-filled, Christ-like view (there are Biblical texts he avoids and arguments he doesn't adequately grapple with) I think reading about those who are incarcerated and on Death Row is a necessary component of our own calling as Christians, mandated, as we are, at least, to "visit the prisoner." Most of us don't do that, so at least we can be advocates, prayer partners, citizens working for better policies for our imprisoned fellows. I think this is a very good book to enter into this conversation.  There are important endorsements here from the likes of Philip Yancey and John Perkins (and Bob Goff who says "you'll finish the last page and not just know more, but you'll want to do more.") Desmond Tutu raves, and Bryan Stevenson (author of the must-read Just Mercy) says "Compelling and thoughtful... a must-read for people of faith, essential for anyone serious about grace and mercy." Well.  Maybe this season you will be drawn to this kind of topic.  I know it is a lot to ask, but we'd invite you to consider ordering this from us today. 

A Unique Time of God- Karl Barth's WW I Sermons.jpgA Unique Time of God: Karl Barth's WW I Sermons Karl Barth (Westminster/John Knox) $35.00  My theologically conservative friends, of course, think Barth is way too goofy and my progressive friends think he is mired in old-school stuff.  I think he is well worth reading, and people I most respect commend his important work.  This is a new collection previously never translated or compiled.  The Great War, we are told, changed Barth forever. (See Joseph Loconte's informative and very moving A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and a Great War for how the trauma of the war effected Tolkien and Lewis and how they "rediscovered faith, friendship, and heroism in the cataclysm of 1914-1918.) These thirteen hefty sermons offer not only  the young Karl Barth's unique view on war, but, particularly, the "unique time of God" which he discerned was God's own judgement on the idolatry of militarism.  We're told in the excellent introduction that this era "demonstrates a decisive shift in Barth's early theology" so is "essential for anyone who wishes to understand the twentieth-century's greatest theologian."  And, we can hope, it might help us all reflect more conscientiously about God's Word as it stands over what the old hymn called "our warring madness."  Kudos to WJK for releasing such important older works.

Christian Practical Wisdom- What It Is, Why It Matters.jpgChristian Practical Wisdom: What It Is, Why It Matters Dorothy Bass, Kathleen Cahalan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, James Nieman, Christian Scharen (Eerdmans) $30.00  I hope you know some of these five distinguished scholars, some who have written wonderful books of their own. And I hope you value, as I do, collaborative works of this sort.  These colorful chapters are not an anthology from a conference (although I like random essays, too) but have been woven together beautifully, exploring (as the subtitle says) what wisdom is and why we need more of it.  The chapters are creatively construed - with pieces on dancing and imagining and collaborating and how these actual practices can help us "gain a heart of wisdom" within what Charles Taylor calls a "secular age."  Blurbs on the back are all thoughtful, in-depth, and raving; philosopher Rebecca Konynkyk DeYoung of Calvin College and Mary Boys from Union Seminary and Stephanie Paulsell from Harvard Divinity School all agree that this profound yet winsome book helps move theological education into the pews, deep stuff into our lives, bringing academic expertise to ordinary folks who want to live a good life. Can we ponder more deeply, live with greater intentionality? Can we be "attuned to the presence of God and the needs of neighbors?"  This is a tremendous book, well worth having, well worth working through its 350 pages with care. You will be delighted and challenged and glad.  Wisdom is, as I'm sure you know, a major theme in the Bible and yet hardly examined beyond platitudes and moralism.  This is the most significant book on this topic I've ever seen.

generous spaciousness.jpgGenerous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church Wendy VanderWal-Gritter (Brazos Press) $19.99  I have raved about this book before, quietly (and, more often, loudly)encouraged people to read it as it tells the remarkable story of this woman's deep engagement with several sides and groups within the conversation about same sex relations and marriage equality and "gays in the church."  It goes without saying that this remains a controversial matter in nearly every denomination and, as Brian Walsh says in a powerful endorsement on the back, "I can't imagine a more timely book." He continues, "Modeling the very 'generous spaciousness' that she advocates, VanderWal-Gritter's heart is on every page." There are many books inviting us to think of our LGTBQ friends and neighbors as - in the words of the new book Preston Sprinkle's - as "people to be loved."  Certainly.  But VanderWal-Gritter suggests that those with whom we disagree about Biblical interpretation and sexual  ethics are also people to be loved and we must all work hard to listen well to one another, to figure out how to "transform controversy into community" with space for all.

This big book offers a measured and thoughtful approach to sexual ethics and the surrounding debates but it is passionate about community, making room for others unlike ourselves, and offering a model of how to be agents of reconciliation, even those who are most polarized about various contentious issues.  Lent, it seems to me, might be a good time to think about harm we've caused by fighting poorly and learn to respond to LGTBQ discussions with greater "spaciousness."  As urban activist and eloquent author Greg Paul writes, this is "gospel with flesh on it."

Hidden But Now Revealed- A Biblical Theology of Mystery .jpgHidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery G.K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd (IVP Academic) $27.00  Beale is a rigorous New Testament scholar (PhD  from the University of Cambridge) who now teaches NT and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His work is without doubt some of the most brilliant evangelical scholarship being done in our time; his commentary on Revelation in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series I'm told is extraordinary (not knowing Greek, I wouldn't know.)  I found his book We Become What We Worship  an excellent resource and his somewhat more accessible commentary on Revelation to be demanding but important.  This recent volume, co-authored, is intriguing, one I've been wishing to get to; we hear about "mystery" a lot, but few detail what we mean by that mysterious word and how the major works of God and the essential claims of Christ were often missed -- if not hidden! -- from the Biblical characters involved. It seems impossible to ignore this troubling fact and here these authors explore the things that are "partially hidden revelation" that are more fully revealed subsequently. It is a close reading of times the word mystery is used in the New Testament, which, they argue, is almost always drawing on the book of Daniel. So this ends up, in some regards, being a book about prophecy.  Whew.

Theologians You Should Know- An Introduction from the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century .jpgTheologians You Should Know: An Introduction from the Apostolic Fathers to the 21st Century Michael Reeves (Crossway) $19.99  You may know Reeves from a lovely book he wrote called Delighting in the Trinity or a great one called Rejoicing in Christ.  He has a conservative, Reformed view and here offers a great reader in historical theology, an introduction to the monumental  members of the "great cloud of witnesses" about whom it cannot hurt to know more. He looks at the lives and thought of the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Barth, Schleiermacher and more.

To Alter Your World- Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities .jpgTo Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities Michael Frost & Christiana Rice (Forge America/IVP Praxis) $17.00 I suppose you know that we stock oodles of books about the missional church and, in more recent years, those who have taken missional church insights and applied them to daily discipleship.  Michael Frost has given us great books both for congregations and for persons committed to robust, missional visions of vocation in the world but not of it.  Wow, I love his stuff.  But one sometimes wonders when an author has said most of what he or she has got within them to say.  I rolled my eyes (sorry, Michael) when I heard there was yet another book by this prolific author.  And then I started this, skimming the table of contents, dipping in here and there, looking at the always intriguing footnotes.  And I was quickly hooked--from the evocative imagery of midwifery (okay, he had me at the quote by British home birth advocate Sheila Kitzinger) and birthing the new creation among us, I think this wonderful book reminds us yet again that we can truly partner with God, that we become agents of Christ's own work in the world, that there is much required, even though it is all gift.  Romans 8 uses this "all creation groaning" language and directly links it to childbirth.  It's a metaphor well worth living with for a while.

As Jo Saxton (author of More Than Enchanting) says,

Frost and Rice recognize that as we engage with what God is birthing in our world, a fresh posture is required. Yep, it's time to call the midwife; our world is waiting.

The Soul of Shame- Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves.jpgThe Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves Curt Thompson (IVP) $22.00  This splendid hardback could be a life-line for some of us who struggle with shame or recovering from some sense that we are not enough, not lovable, inadequate.  In this sense, Thompson asserts, " we are all infected with a spiritual disease. Its name is shame."

We have raved about this book from when it first came out, we awarded it one of our Books of the Year awards three years ago, and have been delighted to be with Curt several times hearing him present on this book (and his previous one, Anatomy of a Soul, which helpfully used his studies in neuro-science and psychotherapy to explain a bit about how the body is wired by God and how our relationships and vocations can improve if we are attentive to this sort of depth awareness of brain studies.)  The Soul of Shame takes this "spirituality of neuro-science" approach to the deep questions of shame and brokenness, offering extraordinary Bible teaching to bring us to a place of understanding and healing and hope.  We respect this author, appreciate his work, and love his books.  As Gayle Beebe, the President of Westmont College ( himself somewhat of a mystic who has written with his friend Richard Foster) says, Dr. Thompson writes "with the heart of a pastor and the training of a surgeon.... he excavates layers and shame..." His compassion will help you identify your own pains and struggles and will help you find freedom from the lifelong negative messages that bind you.  "Rewrite the story of your life" he says, calling us to brave, trusting, healing faith.  What a book for this season of the year.  Highly recommended.

Paradoxology- Why Christianity Was Never Meant To Be Simple.jpgParadoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant To Be Simple Krish Kandiah (IVP) $17.00  Okay, I have to say I haven't looked at this much, but it is new and I'm so intrigued by it.  People I respect - Scot McKnight, Jo Saxton, Eugene Cho --  all endorse it with gusto.  He starts with a wordy little joke in the first paragraph and says that if you get that paradox, there's hope you'll enjoy this book.  Yep, there are a lot of paradoxes in the Bible and in Christian faith and this isn't a book trying to "answer" them or explain them away.  He invites us to live into the mystery, to embrace the seeming contradictions, to have a faith that is paradoxical.  Every chapter is on a different part of the Bible or character, with titles like "The Abraham Paradox: The God Who Needs Nothing But Asks for Everything" or "The Job Paradox: The God Who Is Actively Inactive" or, from Esther, "The God Who Speaks Silently" or, from - hold on - one he calls "The Judas Paradox:The God Who Determines Our Free Will."  The ones about Jesus are not unfamiliar (being "Divinely Human") and the one about the cross, while common place, I bet will be fabulous in Kandiah's hands: "The God Who Wins as He Loses."  There's more, but you get the drift. If this is your cup of tea, give us a call asap.  I think you'll want to read this in this upside down season.

songs of jesus.jpgThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms Timothy & Kathy Keller (Viking) $19.95 Okay, I said this was a list for those who don't want to read little Lenten devotionals, or books directly about the season of Lent.  Fair enough. But this guide to the Psalms just seemed right to mention. The Songs of Jesus is a year's worth of very short daily devotions, handsomely done with two color ink, gold-edged pages, a ribbon marker. But what should appeal is that these reflections and prayers are on the Psalms, by a serious, fine writer, and although you may resist a regimented devotional reading schedule, or maybe you already pray the hours with some daily office, this short collection of reflections on the church's prayer book and the songbook of the ages, could be beneficial to many.  I'm using it among other resources as I begin a class I'm teaching on the Psalms and wanted to commend it here. 

Faithful Presence- Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission.jpgFaithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission David E. Fitch (Missio Alliance/IVP/Praxis) $17.00  This profound and important book deserves more than a shout out here in my list of suggested books for this month.  I can tell you this much: Fitch starts off with a fine and generous overview of the much-discussed Oxford University Press book by UVA scholar James Davison Hunter, To Change the World.  Many weighed in on that provocative book, but most agreed that he was right to say that the far left and the far right had similar weaknesses and that serious Christian reflection on impacting the culture should be a lot less ideological, a bit less idealistic, and much more attentive to how change actually transpires within late modernity.  Fair enough.

While some of us were engaged in reviews and conversations and study groups and symposium on that book -- how does change happen and what does it mean to be faithful to God's ways in our witness as salt and light and leaven as we "seek the peace of the city." It remains an important book.  Some like Fitch were willing to mostly concede Hunter's basic call: we should be faithfully present, just showing up, living well, serving our neighbors in our places.  Sure, we must engage the world, but not on the world's terms, and we should surely be salt and leaven.

But, Fitch asks, how does that happen?  That is, what kind of churches do we need to create disciples who have the wise and steady capacity to be "faithfully present"?  Although he asks what "faithful presence" looks like, it is more the burden of this book to ask how we create it.  What kind of churches create those kinds of people for that kind of mission?

Why not spend some time during this season of Lent to do some serious introspection and study about the nature of your own church?  Here, Fitch offers seven practices that help us develop transformative contexts for real disciple-making,  real Kingdom formation, so that we might all learn to "seek the peace of the city" in which God places us.  If we want externally-focused churches, if we want to be sent into all-of-life-redeemed missional endeavors, if we want the post-Christian world in North America to be touched by vibrant, faithful servants of God, we need absolutely to rethink our congregational life. Methinks that James K.A. Smith's You Are What You Love is a big part of that conversation, although Smith mostly talks about the formative power of worship, habits shaped by liturgy.  This book insists or other practices, other formative contexts, other transforming opportunities within the routine life of the local congregation. Fitch truly offers "seven disciplines that shape the church" for a missional, in the world but not of it, effective, faithful, counter-cultural presence in the world.

I like the review by my friend Mandy Smith (whose book The Vulnerable Pastor is so, so good) who writes,

With scholarly care and pastoral zeal, David Fitch reminds us that it's in long-term, communal devotion to small but transformative practices that we both discover and reflect the faithful 

      presence of God.

The Year of Small Things- Radical Faith for the Rest of Us.jpgThe Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us Sarah Arthur & Erin F. Wasinger (Brazos Press) $17.99  I mentioned this new release a time or two before but have to tell you again that this is a perfect book to dip into during Lent. It isn't a Lenten book, or even a devotional, but a set of memoir-like stories, a narrative that is beautifully-written, wonderfully-crafted, and powerfully told, as two women share how they and their families pledged to each other to take "baby steps" towards more faithful, radical, Christian discipleship.  From Shane Claiborne and others we've heard in recent years about radical faith, missional living, alternative community, and how to serve the poor and marginalized.  "Small things with great love" Mother Teresa advised, and so they try it, taking a year to move increasingly towards the things they most deeply want to do.  How many of us live lives of "quiet desperation" as Thoreau put it, because we haven't been intentional, don't have the friends and support, can't quite figure out how to take the time and energy to move towards living out our deepest convictions? This book will inspire you, help you, maybe be a companion and guide as these very literate and delightful women tell their own story.  Leslie Leyland Fields calls is a "beautiful book that offers a mini-revolution that could shake up the world, or at least your neighborhood - and doesn't require growing kale or living in a hut."  Ha.   Unless you need to move into a hut or give away all your wealth this Lent, this book would be a fine way to spend some of your reading time this season.  Take up The Year of Small Things and you will be glad you did.

The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea- Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition.jpgThe Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea: Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition Russell Rathbun (Eerdmans) $21.99  Oh, man-o-man, this deserves a longer review and I hope I can get back to this to tell you even more about how I liked it so.  I've been pondering this since I lost a bit too much sleep staying up reading (you've heard that phrase "I couldn't put it down," right?)  This is an odd book, about an odd topic, and it is hard to say if it is creative nonfiction, a memoir of sorts, a travelogue, a family history, or some crazy-eyed, made-up novel. I say this mostly because a book he wrote a decade ago, a kind of novel called Post Rapture Radio, was so genre bending and spectacular (don't get me started on how that wonderfully messed with my mind.) Since that dive into the deep end of the creative waters, Rathbun remains a pastor at the non-traditional House of Mercy (serving along side the excellent wordsmith and preacher herself, Debbie Blue) in Saint Paul, MN.  That dear Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a great introduction to this makes sense. She's a fine, rather non-conventional pastor of a church for the "accidental saints" and other assorted odd-ball, unchurched, so a soul-mate of RR, I suppose, and a great storyteller.  So she gets him.

But more importantly, as Nadia says in the preface, and as Debbie Blue says on the back cover blurb (sharing space with, I can't not tell you, Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes) Russell Rathbun loves people, loves stories, loves that liminal place where story and words and history collide, even as he "hilariously unravels tales of our folly." Which is to say (stay with me here) this is a Lenten book for those who don't want a Lenten book. It is very enjoyable but, without being heavy handed, it is a study of the somewhat dark and twisted side of human foibles.

The plot line, such as it is, is simple: he criss-crosses across the globe visiting the legendary Salton Sea in Southern California's desert and the Great Wall of China, the only two man-made objects (or so he heard growing up) that one can see from outer space.

He then launches into some remarkable re-telling of Bible stories, not only the flooding narrative from Noah and Ark et. al., but also the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.  I'm not spoiling much (you can read it in the subtitle) to say that at the end of the day, this entertaining romp through his travels trying to visit these wild, storied, places, ends up being a book about hubris. Or, as Bolz-Weber says, since there is "no purity in the world," it is about "the ambiguity of ambition." 

Rathbun's reporting from China is riveting and his quick history of the rise of Chairman Mao and, importantly, his wife and the notorious Gang of Four is worth the price of the book.  It tells you more about his fluency in pop culture to note that he also talks about the 1980s punk band of that name. 

Years ago I read a book by one of my favorite writers, Dennis Covington, called Redneck Riviera which is about Covington trying to find out why his late father had some dumb deed to some swamp land in Florida.  He was, apparently, ripped off and done wrong, and Covington decides to make it right, tracking down the Floridian long-ago deed dealers.  Rathbun's search isn't quite that dramatic or dangerous and his story is more gentle and more haunting -- but there are similarities: why did his modest, farmer grandfather end up with a deed to some luxury lot on the edge of the Salton Sea?  It doesn't make sense. What was going on there, and why did it end up to be so much of nothing?  What sort of American dreams were shaping the development there and how did it go so wrong? I think his answers are different than Covington's and they are closer to home.

And besides that stuff about hubris and ambition and pride and our human condition, there's joy. As the stellar review in Publishers Weekly put it, it is "an explication of the mundane inside notions of the colossal or the grand, and a model of how to truly live and appreciate the world." 

Morgan Meis, a writer who contributes to the New Yorker, says,

I want to read everything Russell Rathbun has written -- he's funny and honest and attuned to the tragic and absurd. His prose made me laugh out loud, and it has made me cry. I cannot recommend The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea more highly.



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