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December 2, 2016

The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren ON SALE -- and a list of similar "spirituality of the ordinary" books -- sale priced at HALF OFF (one week only.)

I remember once years ago doing a workshop at Jubilee, the CCO's college student conference, helping students learn to think Christianly about their studies; it is a hallmark theme of Jubilee that God calls learning for the love of god.jpgall of us to serve the Kingdom of Christ and the common good by being agents of God's goodness and light in the work-world.  I proclaimed to the students that they can take their faith into the classroom and learn to relate their deepest convictions about God's principles to their academic work as they study for jobs that can become vocations. (Derek Melleby & Donald Optiz's Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness hadn't been published yet but I was talking about that sort of stuff. And, wow, do they ever do it well!)


It all sounds rather heady, I suppose -- developing the Christian mind, thinking Biblically, relating faith to learning, doing the work of being a Christian student -- but here's the thing: I tried to help them see that not only do they discover stuff about God's world and ways as they explore God's creation in their studies, and what they should be doing as agents of change within their professions or careers, but also that in so doing they can come to know God better. 


They can actually find God right there in the lab, in the lecture hall, in the gym, in the library, while writing papers, doing projects, running experiments, planning presentations, taking tests. Learning to live seamlessly with a sense of being in God's world becomes a formative opportunity, an invitation to actually walk with God.  With this approach, Barbara Brown Taylor's book title - An Altar in the World - is literally true.  All of life is holy ground and all of life's moments becomes doorways into deeper spirituality. 


THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE ORDINARY

There is a whole genre of books about what I call the "spirituality of the ordinary." (See a list of a few of them below, which we have for a limited time at 50% off.) We have them on a shelf within our section of books about spirituality but make no mistake: these are not books about meditation and mystical spirituality, not about deep reflection on Scripture or learning to fast or journal or walk a labyrinth.  We have those kinds of books that are familiar to those who read about inner formation by way of practicing classic spiritual disciplines. These "spirituality of the ordinary" books invite us to not just "practice the presence of God" throughout the day, seeking spiritual awareness layered on top of ordinary stuff but to actually experience God's gracious presence in the doing of the ordinary stuff.  The best "spirituality of the ordinary" resources are luminous, lovely, telling of epiphanies and encounters of God in the mundane. 


Like anything, learning to practice the presence of God (Brother Lawrence's famous book by that name tells of his learning to pray while doing the dishes) and learning to encounter God in the daily takes practice. It takes some training to do well.


The Listening Life- Embracing Attentiveness.jpgA Spirituality of Listening- Living What.jpgWe have seen a number of good books recently about listening to God, about attentiveness, about being sensitive to the prodding and prompting of the Holy Spirit as she shows up moment by moment. Just for instance, consider The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam McHugh (IVP; $16.00) or A Spirituality of Listening: Living What We Hear by Keith Anderson (IVP; $16.00) two recent books that are wonderfully helpful. This is an important practice in its own right, to slow down, be attentive, and notice stuff, but it also shapes us, forms us, trains us, to see God in surprising places.


CAN WE TRULY FIND GOD IN THE MUNDANE AND MESSY?

I've wanted to share a list of books about finding God in the mundane, about the spirituality of the ordinary but I have been hesitant, in part because although I am a passionate preacher about this theme, I'm a novice at doing it myself.  I am a bit ashamed about this, but there it is: walking with God moment-by-moment in a way that allows us to attend to God's Word and world and ways in the most ordinary of episodes of ordinary days is harder than is seems. I love the promise of Zechariah 14: 20 - 21 about the sacramental holiness of mundane things, but it isn't always clear how to live into that. And when things go sideways, as they do most days, well, don't get me started...


For some, though, it is hardly even imaginable, to walk with God in the so-called secular arenas of politics or science or art or entertainment, using technology or shopping or working or playing.


Perhaps it is still true, as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in "Aurora Leigh",


And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

And daub their natural faces unaware.


"The rest pluck blackberries."


Not that there is anything wrong with picking blackberries (that's the point, after all!) It is the word unaware that captures the problem.


We are invited to see all of life as worship, see all of life as a burning bush, experience God's presence in the most ordinary of moments, but we often move through our days unaware as a secularist or even atheist might. Or, we suppose God exists and maybe cares about our lives, out there somewhere, true enough, but distant. More likely we assert that God is close, but we forget. It may be part of our mind's ideas, a matter of theological truth to which we give assent, but it hasn't worked down to our heart, our skin and bones. 


YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE

You Are What You Love- The Spiritual Power of Habit.jpgThis, of course, is a major theme of the Hearts & Minds Book of the Year James K.A. Smith's You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos; $24.99.) We've been promoting this great book (and the more scholarly predecessors, Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom) since it came out last Spring and at conferences lately have nearly insisted that folks buy it.  Smith reminds us that we are not what we think we are. (The rationalist philosopher "I think therefore I am" Rene Descartes was just wrong about that.) Rather, as Saint Augustine said, we are what we love, we are restless, perhaps, if we love the wrong things. But we can learn to want the right things in the right way, leading to what David Naugle says in his must-read reflection on all of this, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans; $20.00.) Our daily habits reordered love big.jpgwork on our hearts, nearly subconsciously,  "re-ordering" us, forming us to desire certain things, certain ways of life, based on visions of what we construe to be good and true. It follows that we can desire and imagine and live into God's ways if we realize that daily habits either pull us into the Divine orbit or push us into another way of being.  We can learn to want God's presence (perhaps the first step of practicing the presence) through habit, through ritual, through worship, through practice.  But, as the last third of Smith's remarkable book shows us, we embody the Kingdom in the world, living out, all the live-long day, the ways of God, because we've been shaped to do so.  Or, perhaps, we don't, because we haven't been shaped to desire that. For better or ill, our habits and cultural liturgies have formed us.


As Smith puts it, "the things we do, do things to us."

And so, we are predisposed to be open and attentive to God in the daily grind, or, maybe, we are acculturated to not be so aware of such things.  It's no wonder we don't find God in the classrooms or workplaces or even the living rooms of our lives if we are subconsciously already shaped to think God isn't really present or active or in relationship with us in those seemingly secular places.


THE BEST BOOK TO EXPLORE THIS PRACTICALLY, WISELY

liturgy of the ordinary bigger.jpgThe very best book I've found to explore all of this quite practically - finding God in the ordinary, the spirituality of the mundane, learned by habits and rituals and ways of living life in what can only be called sacramental - is the brand new Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren (IVP; $16.00.)  It is, I am convinced, one of the best resources you will find to help you live faithfully throughout your ordinary days and it is one of the best resources to help you thereby come to know God better. I've been waiting for a book this good about these things for years, it seems, and this is it!  


PLEASE READ THESE RAVE REVIEW BLURBS

Jen Pollock Michel (whose marvelously rich memoir about desire and ambition, Teach Us to Want is utterly germane to this topic) is spot on when she says: 


Liturgy of the Ordinary is a baptism of vision. Tish Harrison Warren warmly and wisely helps us find God in the strangest of places: standing at the sink, sitting in traffic, stooping to make a bed. As it turns out, our everyday habits are imbued with the holy possibility of becoming new people in Christ.


The many rave reviews of this beautiful book are stunning. The book has quite a buzz already, even though it has only been out a week or so.   Consider these:


This beautiful book will brush the dust from your dingy days and reveal the extraordinary that is to be found in the ordinary. No mundane daily task will be the same once these pages open your eyes to how the work of your hands reflects the ways of the Creator and the rhythms of eternity. 

              Karen Swallow Prior, author of Booked and Fierce Convictions 


If Christianity is to retain its witness in our frenetic and fragmented age, it must take root not only in the thoughts and emotions but also in the daily lives and even bodies of those who call Christ Lord. Tish Harrison Warren has beautifully 'enfleshed' the concepts and doctrines of our faith into quotidian moments, showing how every hour of each day can become an occasion of grace and renewal. If you want to know how faith matters amid messy kitchens, unfinished manuscripts, marital spats, and unmade beds, Liturgy of the Ordinary will train your eyes to see holy beauty all around. 

    Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman's Calling


Sometimes the difference between drudgery and epiphany is just seeing things from the right angle, a frame that reframes everything, even the mundane. This marvelous little book is that certain slant of light that illuminates the everyday as an arena of sanctification, where the Spirit makes us holy in ways we might miss. You don't need more to do in a day, Warren shows. Instead, reframe the everyday as an extension of worship, and folding the laundry, washing dishes, and even commuting become habitations of the Spirit.

       James K. A. Smith, author of Desiring the Kingdom and You Are What You Love


SIMPLE WITH A TOUCH OF GENIUS

Andy Crouch begins his fantastic foreword by saying that "the structure of this book is simple, with a touch of genius."  He continues,


It encompasses one day, from our very first moments of waking in the morning on the first page to our drifting off into sleep on the last. No more and no less. But in between, with the writer's (and indeed the poet's) gift of slowing down and paying the best kind of attention, Tish Harrison Warren connects the moments of an ordinary day with the extraordinary pattern of classical Christian worship.


THERE IS NO SECULAR PART

Andy's foreword reminds us that this book "dismantles that most stubborn of Christian heresies: the idea that there is any part of our lives that is secular, untouched by and disconnected from the real sacred work of worship and prayer."  He unpacks that a bit in a very clear and compelling few paragraphs and then observes,


As someone who is both ordained to priestly service and who has invested her life in radical ways to serve the materially and spiritually poor, Tish is the perfect person to help us discover just how wrongheaded these sacred-secular distinctions are. Like all heresies, this one can only be conquered by the beauty of orthodoxy, and the beautiful orthodoxy that undermines all foolish secularizing is that endlessly surprising Christian doctrine, the incarnation.


And, so, Liturgy of the Ordinary is not only great to read to widen your understanding of the scope of spirituality and to help you learn to find God's holy presence in what Kathleen Norris has called "the quotidian mysteries" but it will help you, in an allusive way, to move through Advent and prepare to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the high holy day when we party it up to remember that God took on human flesh and "moved into the neighborhood." Glory the angels sang, as holiness came to Earth.  The implications are endless, but starting with the common place makes a lot of sense, eh?  Yep, this book, which is so incarnational, helps us appreciate Christmas.


So, we want to happily and eagerly invite you to buy from us some copies of this beautiful, inspiring, insightful little volume. I am sure it will help you learn about the spirituality of the ordinary, it will help you encounter God in the real world, and it will underscore what Smith explained in We Are What We Love, namely (as Crouch puts it in that forward) that as plain as daily life may be (and as plain as worship sacraments are, too - bread, water), "All of this is far from ordinary."


Crouch continues, exquisitely,


Our bodies, our pleasures, our fears, our fatigues, our friendships, our fights - these are in fact the stuff of our formation and transformation into the frail but infinitely dignified creatures we are meant to be and shall become. Our moments of exaltation and stifled yawns - somehow they go together, part of the whole life that we are meant to offer to God day by day, as well as Sunday by Sunday, the life that God has taken into his own life. It is the life Christ himself assumed, and thus rescued and redeemed.


Well, that's just the prelude - you might imagine why this book is so very good, when this kind of precious insight sets it up.  The foreword is good and the book itself is good, really good.


ONE LONG DAY, BLESSED AND BEING REDEEMED?

As Andy said, The Liturgy of the Ordinary is, in fact, a set of reflections that walk through one day in the author's life.  She writes about waking up and making beds and cooking and emailing friends, commuting and more. I think the best thing to do is to just show the Table of Contents.  


Please note not only the chapter titles but also the evocative subtitles.  It will show you what Warren is up to.  And she is up to a lot.


liturgy of the ordinary bigger.jpg1. Waking Up: Baptism and Learning to be Beloved

2. Making the Bed: Liturgy, Ritual, and What Forms a Life 

3. Brushing Teeth: Standing, Kneeling, Bowing, and Living in a Body 

4. Losing Keys: Confession and the Truth about Ourselves 

5. Eating Leftovers: Word, Sacrament, and Overlooked Nourishment 

6. Fighting with My Husband: Passing the Peace and the Everyday Work of Shalom

7. Checking Email: Blessing and Sending 

8. Sitting in Traffic: Liturgical Time and an Unhurried God 

9. Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community

10. Drinking Tea: Sanctuary and Savoring 

11. Sleeping: Sabbath, Rest, and the Work of God



Tish.pngThat she is an ordained Anglican priest (and a wisely well read one at that) helps her appreciate the role of ritual, and gives her the liturgical and sacramental theology to frame these daily moments with the richest sort of spirituality.  Others can help us unpack this kind of stuff, I'm sure, but this author is certainly well-prepared for just this project, making it the best book I've seen on finding God in the ordinary stuff of a daily life.


Ms Warren is an honest writer, living the kind of life that most of us live, fretting over stuff that demoralizes us all, offering insight on the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Losing keys? Fighting with her spouse?  Waiting (impatiently) in traffic?  Check, check, check.


YEP, I GET THAT...

And in her grand search for down-to-Earth spirituality and deep meaning, she's honest about all of it, with a smile, it seems:

In my mind I have an ideal for my table - friends and family gathered around a homegrown, local, organic feast with candles and laughter and well-behaved kids. A lot of beauty and butter.

But much of the time, my meals aren't like that.

And today I have left-overs.

Taco soup. Not homegrown. Not local. Corn and beans dumped from cans into a crockpot. It's a go-to meal for us, what we make when people are coming over because it is cheap and easy. It is adequate and a little boring. Now it is warmed over again on my stove for lunch.

tish warren quote food pic.jpg                                        I love this photo, but wished it had shown the less attractive left-overs...

Or, consider this -- nothing terribly special, but true for many of us:

Our sleep habits both reveal and shape our loves.... I love my kids, so I sacrifice sleep for them (often) - I nurse our baby or comfort our eldest after a nightmare. I love my husband and my close friends so I stay up late to keep a good conversation going a bit longer. Or we rise early to pray or take a friend to the airport.

But my willingness to sacrifice sleep also reveals less noble loves. I stay up later than I should, drowsy, collapsed on the couch, vaguely surfing the Internet, watching cute puppy videos. Or I stay up trying to squeeze more activity into the day, to pack it with as much productivity as possible. My disordered sleep reveals a disordered love, idols of entertainment or productivity.

And then she mentions Parks and Recreation.  Ha.

tish and her husband.jpgTish Warren is the kind of writer I like, moving easily from sociological research  -- vividly brought to us from, say, wonderful quotes from This American Life with Ira Glass or an op-ed piece by Rod Dreher or a lively, contemporary documentary -- to personal stories from her own interesting life. Her theological bias is elegant, too - lines from The Book of Common Prayer merge with citations from Dorothy Bass and Steve Garber, Madeleine L'Engle and Tim Keller, ancient saints and modern poets. It is a very informative and yet delightfully enjoyable book to read.

And yeah, despite that tussle in chapter 6, here she is with her husband, also a priest, who is still smiling.  Nice, eh?

liturgy of the ordinary bigger.jpgThe Liturgy of the Ordinary is, quite simply, a great, great book. From the delightful cover to the poetic chapter titles to the fine writing to the mature but accessible theology that shapes it, it is a book that will have a very wide appeal. I'm sure many will find it transformational.

There is a marvelous study guide in the back as well, designed for your own processing of this interesting content or for small group use.  It would be perfect for a small group to read together, fantastic for an adult education class, great for a couple to do together. There are thoughtful discussion questions and specific practices suggested for each of the 11 chapters.   It will help you, as she puts it, "learn how grand, sweeping truths - doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology - rub against the texture of an average day."  



15 OTHER BOOKS ABOUT THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE ORDINARY

ON SALE - HALF OFF                                                                                                                                          WITH PURCHASE OF LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY: SACRED PRACTICES IN EVERYDAY LIFE

FOR ONE WEEK ONLY -- UNTIL FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016 -- THESE 15 ARE HALF-OFF IF YOU BUY ONE COPY (OR MORE) OF LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY (at our sale price of 10% off.)  SUPPLIES ON MOST OF THESE ARE VERY LIMITED SO WE CAN ONLY SEND THE HALF-OFF ONES WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. ORDER TODAY; TELL US WHICH ONES YOU WANT.

The Pleasures of God- Finding Grace in the Ordinary.gifThe Pleasures of God: Finding Grace in the Ordinary J. Ellsworth Kalas (Abingdon) $15.00  A lovely little book with down to earth stories by a popular United Methodist pastor. Don't let this fool you -- he shows how "God touches every fiber of our being and every facet of our lives." One reviewer says he "gives us the gift of seeing the everyday with fresh eyes, until the ordinary shines with the extraordinary."  The Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Seminary  says this inspired her to  "pay closer attention to the boring moments in life to see if they really would bear the weight..."




The Play of Light- Observations and Epiphanies.gifThe Play of Light: Observations and Epiphanies in the Everyday World Louis J. Masson (Cowley) $14.95 A mature and very thoughtful set of memoiristic essays, beautifully told, allusive and thoughtful about nature and place and time and memory.

There are some marvelous endorsements by writerly types, including this from Brian Doyle, who says it is "dry witted, sharp-eyed, large-hearted... a poet of the miracle of the moment, an essayist of startling lyricism, grace, and mercy."  How 'bout that?



White China- Finding the Divine .jpgWhite China: Finding the Divine in the Everyday Molly Wolf (Jossey Bass) $16.95 With close observations of the natural world, a fine degree of wit and charm, this Canadian author brings passion and insight. Don't miss the powerful forward by  the late Phyllis Tickle; there is a blurb on the back by Nora Gallagher. What a beautiful book for this kind of tender spirituality. Wolf has another book called Sabbath Blessings and is known for this sort of work.




Sacred in the City- Seeing the Spiritual .gifSacred in the City: Seeing the Spiritual in the Everyday Margaret Silf (Lion Press) $16.95 I really, really like this handsome book designed with full color photos, presented on glossy paper, about finding God in the daily life of an urban-dweller, with meditations on the workplace and home, on the marketplace and the city streets themselves. Colorfully, thoughtfully, Silf "uncovers the shimmer of the sacred in the familiar places of everyday city living"



Eyes Wide Open- Enjoying God in Everything.jpgEyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything Steve DeWitt (Credo House) $14.99 DeWitt is an evangelical pastor who admitted that as a Christian he still "walked beaches, viewed sunsets, enjoyed music, ate desserts, and stared at the stars pretty much as an atheist." This is winsome, practical, and pleasant in helping us see the deep purposes of God in displaying beauty in the world. Very thoughtful, connected to a richly Reformed worldview.




Seeing God in the Ordinary- A Theology of the Everyday.gifSeeing God in the Ordinary: A Theology of the Everyday  Michael Frost (Hendrickson) $12.95 This is a lesser known, early book by the passionate leader of the "missional church" movement -- and what a book it is! Clear, thoughtful, worldviewish, culturally engaged, it offers keys to do just what it says: find God in the ordinary by developing a theology of the everyday. I wish we'd have sold a bunch of these, and have promoted it for years, so maybe at half price, folks will see just how vital this is. Yes!




Your Daily Life Is Your Temple.jpgYour Daily Life Is Your Temple Anne Rowthorn (Seabury Books) $16.00 This author has traveled widely writing on many subjects, with a keen sense of social justice and solidarity with the marginalized. Here, she shares stories, looking for "traces of the holy" in her midst, challenging our notions of what spirituality is. Published by the classic Episcopalian publisher 10 years ago, the title is drawn from a line by Kahlil Gibran.





Spotting the Sacred- Noticing God.jpgSpotting the Sacred: Noticing God in the Most Unlikely Places Bruce Main (Baker) $15.99 Main is a hero to many, an urban activist and evangelical advocate for justice and racial reconciliation.  Perhaps the garbage can on the cover gives a hint: we can find God everywhere, and not just in the beautiful sunsets and glorious moments. There are lively stories here but good Bible study and Kingdom preaching, too. Nice blurbs on the back from Tony Campolo and from Richard Mouw.




Doors of the Sacred- Everyday Events as Hints.jpgDoors of the Sacred: Everyday Events as Hints of the Holy Bridget Haase (Paraclete) $14.99 Sister Bridget is a nun in the order of the Ursuline Sisters and has served in mission all over the world; she has seen suffering, served the sick, and yet is happy to find grace almost anywhere. She's a born storyteller and her stories draw you into spiritual realities found in the commonplace. Written like a devotional there are a nice set of "owning the story" reflection questions at the end of each reading. Paraclete always does classy books, and we have a few of these left.



Earthy Mysticism- Spirituality for Unspiritual People.jpgEarthy Mysticism: Spirituality for Unspiritual People Tex Sample (Abingdon) $15.00 If you've ever heard Tex Sample speak you know he is a Texan, a lefty justice activist, and a church consultant helping congregations reach rural, poor, working-class folk. His southern storytelling just shines in this fun set of ruminations on God's presence in real world living.  Blurbs are from Will Campbell and Stanley Hauerwas, if that gives you a sense of the sort of spirituality he brings.




Sparks of the Divine- Finding Inspiration in our Everyday World.jpgSparks of the Divine: Finding Inspiration in our Everyday World  Dr. Drew Leder (Sorin Books) $14.95 There are soft black & white photos, calligraphied pull quotes, and nice little ideas for exercises here, giving this a feel that would be lovely for readers who are not young or overly edgy. As it says on the back "The notion that the world is filled with holy sparks is shared by religious traditions around the world. Learn to uncover this sacred dimension and you will begin to hallow the world and be healed by its powers..." The author is both a medical doctor and teaches philosophy; he has written widely about the role of the body in spirituality and has thought about health, wholeness and spirituality.


Waking Up to This Day- Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us.jpgWaking Up to This Day: Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us Paula D'Arcy (Orbis) $17.00  D'Arcy came to great fame decades ago as an author and retreat leader when she wrote about grief in the international best-seller The Gift of the Red Bird. In this slim book she brings inspiring insights about being awake and aware.  A rave blurb on the back is by Fr. Richard Rohr. 





Soul Moments- Times When Heaven Touches Earth.jpgSoul Moments: Times When Heaven Touches Earth Isabel Anders (Cowley) $14.95 This author describes "soul moments" as times when heaven touches earth -- in the "here and now, in the thick of things, sometimes occurring as we are most aware of our human limitations and confusion. They encircle us, and, for their moment, name us: beloved, cherished, chosen. The experience passes, but the soul bears its indelible mark."  The great Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "Soul Moments is, I believe, the loveliest book Anders has written so far, in content, expression, and depth.... it is a beautiful, encourageing, hopeful book. I loved reading it."



Simply Open- A Guide to Experiencing God in the Everyday.jpgSimply Open: A Guide to Experiencing God in the Everyday Greg Paul (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I have reviewed this before -- Greg Paul is known for gritty narratives of his work with the poor and homeless in inner city Toronto, and man, can he write. This book is, as it says, about being open to God's presence, experience God day by day, in any circumstance. This is wise and mature spiritual guidance, written with a lot of raw stories and good illustrations.  Chapter titles are "open my... mouth, ears, nostrils, eyes, mind, heart, and more... Wow.




The Sacred Ordinary- Embracing .jpgThe Sacred Ordinary: Embracing the Holy in the Everyday: 112 Daily Meditations  Leigh McLeroy (Revell) $12.99 Leigh McLeroy is a fine writer -- I was moved by her previous book The Beautiful Ache. She helps us expereince God with these short devotional-like storires. The sections are arranged under the headings of Ordinary Places, People, Things, Moments, and Words. She's artistic and attentive to God.  Each entry includes a brief Scripture with questions.  Very nicely done.



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November 21, 2016

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

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


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


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


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


But most religious folks, you know, simply cannot.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 ADVENTURES IN EVANGELICAL CIVILITY: THE LIFELONG QUEST FOR COMMON GROUND


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


And tell he does.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

-- Grant Wacker, Duke Divinity School


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

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


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

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


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

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


ADVENTURES IN EVANGELICAL CIVILITY- THE LIFELONG QUEST FOR COMMON GROUND .jpg


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


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


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November 14, 2016

12 NEW ADVENT BOOKS for 2016 - - AND 5 MUST-READ HEARTS & MINDS FAVORITES On Sale Now

12 NEW ADVENT BOOKS  - - AND 5 MUST-READ CHRISTMAS CLASSICS


Hidden Christmas- The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ .jpgHidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ TImothy Keller (Viking) $20.00 I believe this is my own choice for best holiday book this year (even though it is not a daily devotional, but a sustained short book.) I am very grateful for its clear headed teaching.  Keller is known for preaching to fairly sophisticated New Yorkers and he loves to draw in citations from sources as divergent as Bertrand Russell and J.R. R. Tolkien and Vaclav Havel.  Drawing on contemporary pieces in the New Yorker to old school theological voices from church history and plenty of episodes from his own life,  Keller knows how to weave together wonderful essays, powerful, compelling sermons, always relating the power of the gospel to help us realize that we cannot rescue ourselves, that God in Christ is doing the work necessary to bring us salvation, community, and a future of sustainable hope. Like most of our BookNotes readers, I have enjoyed many a Christmas and have read lots of pages of Advent devotionals. Too many seem scolding, urging us to do, or not do, this or that.  Hidden Christmas allows us to enter the texts themselves within the bigger picture of the whole of Scripture,  revealing the good news of God's grace. My heart sings as I hear such solid, gospel-centered preaching related so well to an audience seeking for deep truth.  Despite the blase cover, this offers eight really good chapters making one cogent case for Christmas's truest meaning. Highly recommended. 


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


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


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


Brueggemann characteristically continues:


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


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


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


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


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


The Way of Peace

The Way of Justice

The Way of Fearlessness

The Way of Faithfulness


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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





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

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


Down to Earth Love

Down to Earth Humility

Down to Earth Lifestyle

Down to Earth Obedience


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


Mary's Song: What Is God Like?

Zechariah's Song: Why Do You Need God?

The Angel's Song: How Did God Come?

Simeon's Song: How Did God Do It?

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


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


Here is how the publisher describes it:


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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


FIVE OF OUR VERY FAVORITE ADVENT BOOKS/RESOURCES


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


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








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











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


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


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

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


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

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

 

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November 6, 2016

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


THE CHRISTIAN MIND

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


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


DEEPLY DEPRESSED

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


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


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


I assume you feel anxious about this too.


BOOKS TO READ IN THIS DIFFICULT SEASON

LAMENT, CIVILITY, COMMUNITY, RECONCILIATION, HOPE


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


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


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





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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


As Marilyn herself puts it in the introduction, 


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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



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


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



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


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


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



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

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



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October 27, 2016

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


James K.A. Smith says of it,


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 Lauren Winner says,


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Calvin Seerveld offers this endorsement:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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October 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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




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







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

The Lord and His Prayer











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



  
 









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October 8, 2016

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

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


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


free-offer.png


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

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


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


BIG, URGENT QUESTIONS TO SUSTAIN FAITHFUL DISCIPLESHIP

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


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


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


OUR CROSS IS TOO SMALL

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


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


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


A MASTER CLASS WITH A MASTER TEACHER

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

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


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


PART ONE                                            

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


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


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


PART TWO

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


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


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


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


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


PART THREE: THE REVOLUTIONARY RESCUE

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


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


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


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

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


PART FOUR: THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The Day the Revolution Began.png


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The Day the Revolution Began:

Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion

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October 4, 2016

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

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


TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW...

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


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


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


FREE STUFF.  A LOT OF FREE STUFF.

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


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


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


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


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

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


HE'S NOT ALONE

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


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


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


THE TRINITY

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


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


BUT...

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


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


SCRIPTURE

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


DANCE, FLOW, ENERGY

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


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


ORTHODOX

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


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


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

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


URGENCY

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


UGH

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


DO YOU ENJOY BEING INVITED TO REALLY THINK ANEW?

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


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


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


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


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


SOMETHING BIG IS AFOOT -- THANKS BE TO GOD

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


THE PARADIGM SHIFT IS URGENT

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


WHAT IS ESSENTIAL

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


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


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


GROWTH FROM DEEP CONTENTMENT

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


Divine Dance.jpg



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September 27, 2016

SIX NEW BOOKS ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION - on sale at Hearts & Minds

caring for creation 2.jpg***Don't forget, if you are local, or know anyone local, that we are having an in-store "release party" and author appearance to celebrate the brand new book on Christian faith, climate change and earth-keeping stewardship called Caring for Creation by Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas. Join us at 7:00 PM, September  29th here at the shop in Dallastown.


If you can't attend but want a copy autographed by both authors, just let us know.


We hope you liked our little list of new titles of note in our last BookNotes. It isn't every day we get significant new releases by important religious writers like Timothy Keller and Brian McLaren or books as grand in looking at religious tends (particularly showing how faith impacts civic and political life) such as the new book  by legendary Newsweek writer Kenneth Woodward. What a fascinating list that was; I hope you saw it.  I love sitting outdoors in the cool evenings in the fall reading with a light I drag out there - I hope you can find a good spot to do some extra reading this month. There's some truly great books these days!


THE STRUGGLE TO FIND FAITHFUL, HELPFUL BOOKS ABOUT SPIRITUALITY AND KNOWING GOD MORE DEEPLY


We hope you know that we have tons of books about spiritual formation here at the shop and that we love introducing people to the kinds of spiritual writers who will help them in what some call "the journey inward and the journey upward." Our spiritual formation into Kingdom citizens committed to Christ's Kingship occurs in a manner of ways -- certainly as we worship well with the gathered people of God, being attentive to how Christian worship invites us into the redemptive story of God. (See James K.A. Smith's must-read "book of the year" You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit to explore this (the middle portion on worship is extraordinary.) Or, see Mike Cosper's excellent The Rhythm of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel as one accessible and interesting title which gets us thinking about this fruitfully.)


But, of course, we read books alone and in small groups, too.  Some of us have spiritual directors or companions and some of us are called to walk alongside others offering spiritual guidance and encouragement.  Books are tools in this side of life, too, and have long been used as the primary way to teach others to pray, seek God, and walk in the power of the Spirit. I hope you have some in your collection.


There are wonderful classics, however -- as we sometimes say when folks write to us asking for assistance In selecting good titles -- what is considered a "classic" and most useful depends on one's own faith tradition and religious scruples. For some, Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline is the very best; for others, they may prefer Donald Whitney's similarly arranged Spiritual Disciplines for Christian Growth which draws on more Puritan and Reformed writers (in contrast to Foster who draws on everybody within the broad stream of Christian spirituality, from Julian of Norwich to Thomas Merton to A.W. Tozer.)


Some think Richard Rohr is one of the best recent writers for inner formation - his book on contemplative prayer called Everything Belongs was very well received and his last book, What the Mystics Know, was a helpful overview of much classic thinking about spirituality and discovering our true selves. Rohr's forthcoming one, The Divine Dance, is due out next week and is described below. Some find him too willing to adopt unbiblical Eastern sensibilities and thinkers like Jung or de Chardin to be fully trustworthy.  So what is best for you in your own journey and what you'll find most helpful in pointing you towards the Risen Christ may depend on what your used to and what you're willing to read (with discernment, always, always, always.)  We are happy to chat further if it would be helpful to have a bookseller "on call" for advice.


In the last month I heard two stories that bear repeating here.


One person went into a mainstream chain bookstore and wanted a book to help her know God better. A fairly average Christian, sincere but in a church that doesn't teach much deep content, she was ill-prepared to wade through the neo-pagan and self-actualizing and hyper-prosperity stuff all on display side by side there in their classy shelves. From Course in Miracles to Pema Chodron to Creflo Dollar, she was simply overwhelmed. She knew that some folks (myself included) generally like Rob Bell, but Be Here Now didn't seem to be much about God.  She left confused since the sales associate there suggested something about witchcraft. I'm not making this up.


The other person went into a large mainstream evangelical Christian bookstore. She knew a bit more about religious writing and seemed to want something like she might see in the footnotes of Richard Foster - maybe Sacrament of the Present Moment or maybe Merton or Henri Nouwen or some sort of Ignatian spirituality.  She knew Dallas Willard influenced Foster so she was eager to see his stuff. The store had no Roman Catholic writers and no Dallas Willard.  She saw stacks and stacks of Beth Moore and Joyce Meyers and those little devotionals by Sarah Young.  But nothing that seemed deep and thoughtful and mature and helpful for her.  Even the books on prayer, apparently, seemed cheesy and formulaic.  She did what many of us do in times like this, she turned to google and by some miracle found my BookNotes list of some good books on prayer for various levels and styles and tones.  It seemed, she said, just what she needed.  

So, anyway, I hope you find something good when you shop with us, and hope you are glad to support our little efforts here to provide a different curation of books than is found in more popular stores, a selection that's deep and wide but not snooty or overly eccentric.  We want to help ordinary folks and ordinary churches with a creative but faithful selection.


HERE ARE SIX NEW BOOKS ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION


U w C good.jpgUnion with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $19.99  Oh my, every now and then a book comes along that I categorize as a "sleeper." That is, few know the author, the publisher isn't particularly renowned, the national press most likely isn't going to do stories about it.  But it is worth its weight in gold, ought to be known, is a true winner. We can only hope that Wilbourne's new book gets noticed and used and stays in print long enough to become very well known.  UwC is a book that does what we might think of as basic Christian growth, just solid teaching about the nature of God and how God works with and within us, but it is better than most such books.  It offers clear-headed (and often very inspiring) advice, not terribly dressy or loud, just solid teaching, guidance, motivation, good stories, good quotes, well put.  Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God answers big worldviewish kinds of questions - who am I? Why am I here? Where am I headed ? How can I become that which I want to be?  Pastor Wilbourne is good on questions like "what is the gospel" and invites us into a way of thinking about Christian formation that is practical and wise. 


On the back of the book it asks "Do you secretly wonder if there's more to life... but feel stuck?"  I can't quite figure out if this marketing line is useful - it is obviously trying not to seem like a heady theology text or a mystical spirituality book: it's practical, it is saying. Maybe it is just the way they think to market stuff at David C. Cook given their own understanding of the market for their often passionate, often upbeat, often young-adult oriented evangelical books. But I'm telling you, Union with Christ is more than a call to be passionate and change the world for God, more than a cheap promise that if you find God with enough enthusiasm, voila, everything will come alive. It may be perfect if you feel stuck, but it isn't primarily about that.


No, this book reminds us that this formation stuff is a longer, slower process, and it is dependent on getting a few very foundational truths right.  One of these classic truths - a favorite of John Calvin's, by the way - is the notion of "union with Christ."  I was first introduced to this notion by a book also called Union with Christ that has been out of print but is now available again by the beloved Lewis Smedes. Others have written on it - you will see the next book I list is about this as well, which is curious. Wilbourne's, though, is very, very special.  He studied at Princeton Theolgoical Seminary  and is not only well read but a great storyteller. It is a really, really good book and I commend it to you.


In fact, Tim Keller says "This is simply the best book for laypeople on this subject." 


Less succinct but equally compelling is this endorsement by John Ortberg who wrote a very nice forward:


I'm trying to remember the last time I was more excited about a new book or a new author. Rankin Wilbourne brings a remarkable flair for writing, and a great breadth and depth of learning, to the most important subject in the world: What is the true and sufficient destiny for human life?


Wow.  Keller says it is the best book on the subject and Ortberg says he can't recall when he was "more excited about a new book or new author." It doesn't get much better than that this season.


The author is artfully literary (with an epigram from Dante in the front) without being too highbrow, draws on pop culture, too, and tells some good stories. He's theologically conventional and orthodox, which is to say, he isn't off the rails or weird.  Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God has this tone of urgency - it is important, important content - but is reasonable and lucid. It is helpful, trustworthy, interesting, insightful, and I am glad to have found it. It deserves to be well known.  Kudos to Cook for the handsome hardback design and making this such a nice, good volume.  It deserves to be taken seriously.


closer than close.jpgCloser Than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ Dave Hickman (Navpress) $14.99  It isn't every week that we get two great books on the exact same topic (unless it is justice or marriage or prayer or... well, actually we often do get new books that are similar.) But never on this topic, as few are writing about it.  Like Wilbourne, Rev. Hickman is well grounded in this doctrine that is woefully not explained as much as it should be in our churches.  He is taken with how we are one with Christ and explores what that means, but, like Wilbourne, he has an extraordinary capacity to take big and even controversial theological matters and apply them to ordinary folks living ordinary lives.  Like Wilbourne, Hickman is a pastor who is eager to help people overcome a gap in their lives.


The gap, it seems to me, includes a gap between Sunday and Monday, or, between faith and life. Hickman (as I've mentioned before when I announced this book a few weeks back) wants us to be able to live out faith with missional energy and whole-life Kingdom vision by appropriating what we most deeply believe and allowing the good news of the gospel to sustain our fidelity  to the gospel, day by day by day.


The second gap, besides this big question of how to live out faith and advance God's Kingdom in our ordinary lives is this more internal question: how do we really know God? How to we discover God's grace in ways that allows us to have intimacy with God? We may not always do it, but at least we sort of know what it looks like to follow Jesus. But to know Him? To abide in Him? To be one with Him?  There is a gap here between head and heart, it seems to me, or between heart and hands.  We simply don't always know what it really means to have a "relationship" with Jesus.  And we too rarely explore that in light of a robust theology of the Trinity.  Hickman really gets this stuff right, and Closer Than Close is a true gift, full of life and passion and insight. It take evangelical cliches about Jesus being in our hearts and explains what that does and doesn't mean. And what to do with that awareness.


If God takes up residence in us, if we become a new creation in Him then we can live into that friendship with God.  My CCO friend Phil Schiavoni often reminds us that John called himself "the one Jesus loved."  Can we see ourselves that way? Do we really realize we are beloved  - also "the one Jesus loved"? And that He dwells with us as we are one with Him?


I bet most readers of BookNotes know we can't earn or come to deserve our salvation, that God's grace is gift, that all of life is, finally, a great gift.  But yet, we find ourselves in these cycles of striving and trying to make our relationship with God "work."  We sing hymns or praise choruses that speak of this intimacy with God but it isn't quite our own experience. We maybe are okay with that, or maybe we carry within us longing (or even shame) and wish for something better. I believe Dave Hickman's book can help. 


It is interesting to me that Fil Anderson wrote the forward to Closer...  Fil himself "crashed and burned" in his own spiritual journey, a moving story he told with considerable rawness years ago in Running on Empty.  He sees in Hickman a similar sort of insight learned the hard way.  Anderson writes:


David's scorching honesty and humble transparency ravished my heart and brought me to tears. Despite the severity of his physical and emotional struggles, what had most plagued him was his soul's desperate search for what he'd already been given. Clearly, the greatest discovery of his life was when David woke up to the truth that he had been perfectly one with Christ since the day he gave his life to Christ. 


In a way, this is a book about experiencing the love of God. It is about how to receive from God the deepest truth that God cares and that in Christ we have an unbreakable relationship.   As Fil says, Anderson "writes as a man who has been ambushed and held captive by the consuming fire of God's love. It is a love, David writes, "that crossed all boundaries not just to be close to you, but to be closer than close."


Part one of this book is called "Divine Mystery" and part two is called "Divine Reality."  He draws on early church fathers, medieval mystics, deep theologians  like Paul Tillich and popular spirituality writers such as Jean Vanier and Brennan Manning, not to mention many contemporary Biblical and theological scholars from across the theological spectrum. How I enjoyed seeing Meredith Kline and Abraham Kuyper sharing footnote space with Karl Rahner and John Murray. Anderson is the founder of Charlotte One, a network of churches, so he has a huge commitment to the local congregation; in fact, there is a chapter on the role of the local church in nurturing this kind of union with Christ. His MDiv is from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  Closer Than Closer: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ is his first book although he has a fantastic chapter in a great and honest book called Inciting Incidents: 6 Stories of Fighting Disappointment in a Flawed World. He's the real deal.


The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality- The Age of Edwards, Newton, and Whitefield .jpgThe Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality: The Age of Edwards, Newton, and Whitefield edited by Tom Schwanda (Paulist Press) $39.95  I hope you know Tom Schwanda; his previous book is beautifully entitled Soul Recreation which is a provocative and compelling argument that the staunch Puritans were - get this - more contemplative and mystical in their spirituality than many may realize.  Seriously Reformed dogmatists draw on the exceptionally rigorous and exceedingly logical theological formulations and systematic schemes of major Puritan pastors and preachers but Schwanda shows that they have an often-missed mystical side to their deep piety. Schwanda (who teaches Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College) is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America; his PhD in historical theology is from Durham University in England. He is a remarkable individual and is doing very, very important work.


So it makes great sense for the prestigious "Classics of Western Spirituality" to recruit him to edit this long-awaited volume in 18th century evangelical piety.  He knows this good material as well as anyone and has the eyes - might one say "the eyes of the heart" - to really see what is going on in their deep faith.


From the post-Wesleyan Anglican revivals in England (think of John Newton and William Wilberforce and poetic hymnists like Augustus Toplady and William Cowper) to the awakenings happening in the colonies - think Jonathan Edwards through the revolutionary war-era Whitefield - Schwanda pulls together a fantastic array of primary sources.  Wisely, he includes letters and poems, diaries and hymns and other sources that aren't necessarily formal theological writing or sermons (although there are plenty of sermons) and he includes men and women - Anne Steele, obviously, and Hannah Moore, among others. There is a great guide to each of the authors in the beginning, a useful resource itself. This book is a treasure trove of spiritual writing and will appeal to Reformed and Anglican fans as well as anyone drawn to mature, meaty Biblical piety. What a book!  I so appreciated what Karen Swallow Prior (author of the wonderful book Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformed, Abolitionist) said of it:


In displaying the richness, variety, and deep texture of the evangelical movement's beginnings, The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality is as interesting and delightful as the age it examines... a gift to church history and evangelical scholarship.

After a fantastic overview of the good arrangement and organization of the book and a bit about the historical era by esteemed Notre Dame historian Mark A. Noll (which itself speaks volumes for the integrity of this work) there is a lengthy, meaty, and tremendously inspiring introduction by Professor Schwanda, again, almost worth the price of the book alone.  The primary texts are then given, arranged by theme. He has readings on "New Life in Christ", a chapter on the Holy Spirit, a section on the use of Scripture, and a great unit on varying spiritual practices (including some remarkable stuff on family prayer, the art of reading sermons, fasting, the Lord's Supper, and more, from known authors like Francis Asbury and Jonathan Edwards but also by the likes of Anne Dutton and John Witherspoon, from his famous sermons preached at Princeton in May of 1776!) The next section is called "The Love of God" followed by stunning section on love for neighbor. I guess is obvious that most writers just don't do it like that any more.


"The Classics of Western Spirituality"  is a "library of great spiritual masters" (as they have branded themselves) and is overseen by a world-renowned interfaith editorial board. There are hundreds of volumes now, and we can get any of them.  They have already released big volumes on the Pietist and evangelical traditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with volumes dedicated to the Methodists John and Charles Wesley and German Pietists like Philip Jakob Spencer and August Hermann Francke.  Some of this European stuff really did influence subsequent American spiritualities, and it seems to me that anyone wanting to delve more deeply into the roots of our contemporary religious scene (at least among Protestants, and certainly among evangelicals) would be wise to be familiar with some of this.


As Mark Noll says in the first paragraph of his good foreword:


To that general strand of Western Protestantism, Tom Schwanda has now added a wide-ranging sampling from individuals from the eighteenth-century Atlantic -wide British empire who, if they could not always see eye to eye among themselves, stood together as the recognized pioneers of a distinct form of modern spirituality. 


These are "the recognized pioneers of a distinct form of modern spirituality."  As church historian Douglas Sweeney writes of Schwanda's Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality volume, it "offers the best introduction to early Evangelical piety that has ever been produced - must reading for anyone interested in the history of Christianity."  We are thrilled to stock this, glad for Schwanda's good work, and hope it is recognized as the treasure trove that it is.


Divine.jpgPRE-ORDER NOW  The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell (Whittaker House) $23.99  Well. I have mentioned Richard Rohr often in these pages, and I greatly, greatly appreciate his deep desire to integrate a profound, deep spirituality with an active, even prophetic, public faith.  I have read or listened to him for years - he was known early on as a leader in Catholic charismatic renewal, an early voice in the conversation about postmodernism, a long-standing activist for nonviolence, creation-care, and service to the poor. (He is a Franciscan, after all.)


His Center for Action and Contemplation attempts - imperfectly, obviously - to open up space to consider that huge question so eloquently asked by Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer and so many others: what does it mean to be actively contemplative, or, put differently, to be contemplatively active.  Richard has a little book called A Lever and a Place to Stand (now reissued with the new, evocative title Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer) which potently tries to show us how a life of peace and justice activism must be sustained by prayer, and that a life of inner spirituality must give rise to active, even subversive faith against our broken, idolatrous, dangerous world.  This is his thing - even though he has books on all kinds of stuff, including male spirituality, addictions, and aging. 


Mike Morrell is an activist of sorts, involved in a range of progressive projects from The Buzz Seminar, The Wild Goose Festival, and is the Communications Director for the Integral Theology think tank.  He writes on all kinds of stuff including the arts, social media, permaculture and more. He is, to use a phrase from Richard himself, a young wild man.


And this makes sense. Morrell is a former evangelical who discovered Rohr and it seems natural to have Mike working with Richard to work out a view of the Trinity that is at once orthodox and feisty, serious and joyful, mystical and practical, ancient and future. Brother Rohr has taught on the Trinity before and many have wished for him to clarify his views and help us all learn to join this dance.  Morrell is a perfect conversation partner and surely helped Rohr make this book a bit edgy and cool and situated among the yearnings of those looking for some third way between conservative fundamentalism and wishy-washy spirituality unconnected to Biblical faith.


So if all this makes sense, given the new interests among progressives it is also important.  Richard Rohr has been saying that The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation is his most important book ever.  (Wow!) The book therefore deserves not only attention, but eager anticipation.


 I have an advanced copy of The DIvine Dance and have only slowly begun to work with it.  It is extraordinary, I will tell you that. I covers all kinds of stuff - "body-based knowing" and the role of metaphors and a beautiful bit called "suffering's surprising sustenance."  As you might guess, it is a bit creative - drawing on quantum physics and the writings of Ken Wilber and accounts of early church debates. A beautiful forward is from William Paul Young, author of The Shack and Eve. There is the colorful and nearly playful connecting-the big-picture--dots we sometimes get form Rohr There is considerable Bible exegesis and lots of quotes from medieval saints and theologians and a few modern ones, too.  He recommends Cynthia Bourgeault's book on the trinity which is, shall we say, a bit odd and a bit unorthodox.  So, yeah. 


But here is what doesn't make any sense, and which I am intrigued and excited about. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation is published by Whitaker House, a publisher known for older school Pentecostal authors, deeper life pietism, and sometimes some pretty goofy charismatic authors. They publish much mature work -- old books by Andrew Murray, say and so sometimes offer a few surprises -- a nice edition of Athansius's On the Incarnation or a novel by George MacDonald. They are not usually friendly to Catholic authors. There are some new editorial folks there, I have heard, and some read a bit more widely than perhaps their founders.  Their tastes are expanding, I suppose, and the backstory of how this small and not-very-ecumenical publishing house acquired this new manuscript surely has something to do with friends and favors and new efforts to present to kinds of Christian literature to this corner of the religious world.  If Whitaker House is turning over a new leaf this is certainly a dramatic way to do so.  As ecumenical and open-minded as I tend to be, I am beyond perplexed by this move. The book seems eccentric and less than conventional.  It doesn't strike me as close to anything else in their entire catalogue. Publishing it at Whitaker House will be considered wildly brave or exceptionally foolish. 


In any event, a new book on anything by Richard Rohr is, these days, nearly a publishing event. A book by him on the Trinity is remarkable.  A new book on a small, Protestant fundamentalist/ Pentecostal outfit is more than remarkable, it is amazing! If Father Rohr's Divine Dance was on HarperOne or a progressive publisher like Convergent or Jericho, or any number of liberal Catholic houses it wouldn't be at all surprising. So what did Whitaker House see in this? What does Mike Morrell bring to the mix? How does this take on the Holy Trinity help us in these days and how will being on Whitaker House effect Richard Rohr's footprint in the publishing world?  Smarter people than I will have to say.  I are sure that many of our customers will be eager to read it even though I refrain from saying anything much quite yet.


I will say this.  Mike and Richard both knew the late Phyllis Tickle.  Phyllis, you may recall, was a beloved Southern scholar of religion who became Episcopalian as a younger woman, was known and loved age-of-the-spirit-web.jpgthroughout the religious publishing world as an editor, writer, and vigorous cheerleader for authors and bookstores. You may recall that Phyllis's last major book (besides a lovely book collection of poetry) was The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. I mention this to suggest that this new book by Richard Rohr is another indication that Phyllis was on to something. We need good conversations on the Trinity and we need help in understanding the work of the Spirit.  Our own transformation and our participation in God's gracious redemptive work in the world is at stake.


There is a lot of mystery here, but a lot that is critical to get right. I for one, am eager to learn whatever I can, from wherever I can. The stakes are high, but Phyllis is right: from the church's earliest days we have been baffled and (too often) fighting about the nuances of the nature of God and our engagement with the Divine.  The brand new The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (due out the first week of October) may be outside the box - in content and in the curious partnership with this smallish Western Pennsylvania publisher - I, for one, am looking forward to how this book will be received and how we can all grow in our discernment of God's Triune presence.  Maybe we really can join the dance.


Buy it today and we will send it out as soon as it releases next week.


Meeting God in Scripture- A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina .jpgMeeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina Jan Johnston ( IVP) $17.00 This handsome new paperback just arrived and I've not yet used it - it isn't a book to quickly skim but to work with, to explore, to sit with, to practice.  There are 40 guided meditations nicely arranged, so obviously it is a book to use, to absorb, a resource for your own quiet time.  As with some of her earlier work it is a beautiful blend of contemplative prayer and Bible study. The whole lectio process is explained well and she gives us these generative exercises and Scriptural meditations to find a richer encounter with God even as we reflect carefully on the Biblical text.  Jan is a skilled and faithful interpreter of this ancient practice and a fine, fine writer. We have promoted her many other books (including the gorgeous When the Soul Listens and Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace.)  Meeting God in Scripture is going to be a great asset for those just starting out with this contemplative practice or will be an addition to those who collect these kinds of Bible study resources.


Punching Holes in the Dark- Living in the Light of the World.jpgPunching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World Robert Benson (Abingdon) $16.99  I have said often and will say again that I will read anything I can get my hands on by Robert Benson. If he wants to send me his grocery list or last will and testament, I'm all over it. He is a master of great sentences, an enjoyable writer who tells gentle stories about his life, honest tales of insight learned in the push and pull of the day to day.


A lifetime ago he was affiliated with the famous Southern Gospel and evangelical pop music scene - yes, he is from that Benson of Benson Music Company - and his family is legendary in one of the fundamentalist denominations from the South.  He has since moved a bit left in the big pew that makes up the church and although delightfully ecumenical, Robert is a contemplative, a retreat leader, and an Episcopalian. He sometimes refers to Jesus as The One Who Came Among Us and God as The One Who Made Us, a verbal tic which ends up being quite endearing.  His writing is not breathy or zealous; it always strikes me as calming, even when he is telling a story that moves from heartbreaking to hilarious, all on the same page.


Although he has written about baseball, the writing life, moving his elderly mother, Miss Peggy, into an assisted living facility, taking care of the landscaping of his yard (Digging In), other books which I've mentioned here include several about contemplative themes, about prayer (Living Prayer and In Constant Prayer) and more generally about the spiritual life (Between the Dreaming and the Coming True is stunningly beautiful.) He has books on Benedict, on the sadness of our brokenness within the Body of Christ, and a lovely book on the Eucharist. That he likes good food and movies and baseball and his lovely backyard and treats with dignity the poor and others in his own neighborhood reminds me that he is not a mystic holed away in a monastic community; he visits retreats (often as a public speaker, which gets him some good stories, too) but he truly is a pretty ordinary guy, living a life like some of us do.  His lives out this contemplative, spiritual life in some pretty common place ways with some fairly down to Earth experiences and writes about friends and neighborhoods and church meetings and work and worries and family.


And yet, throughout his amusing stories and his tender tellings of family concerns - not all pretty, I might add - Mr. Benson brings a deeply sacramental view of life, a contemplative tone, a wisdom born from time spent in silence and in liturgical worship.  Although, it is true: his description of his own foibles and insecurities even while at retreats remind me why I like this guy so much.  I, too, often skip out during these "sharing" times from hell. I love that he says how much he loves people and has a few friends, but that he just likes them better when they aren't around.  Ha.


The theme of this latest book is clear from the title, Punching Holes in the Dark: Living in the Light of the World. He is working a bit from St. John's gospel,  with issues of light, of faith in the One Who Is Light (see what I did there?) and trusting that the Light is breaking into our lives and into society in redemptive ways - often through very broken people. It is almost a cliché these days, but think of that line from Leonard Cohen,  "There is a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in."  Consider Benson's book a commentary on that evocative line.


He does like his literary quotes, although he uses them with discretion.  A story from Jackson Brown shows up, a line from Mary Oliver, a quote from Annie Dillard, an epigram from Thomas Merton. That he draws on good lines from the Book of Common Prayer offers theological substance and genuine elegance. That the Frederick Buechner offers a glowing endorsement on the front (and Eugene Peterson is on the back) gives you a sense of how wonderful Punching Holes in the Dark really is. Buechner notes that Benson looks at his life "with candor and hope."  That the words "dark" and "light" are in the very title - and that it calls us to something (punching holes in the dark) gives us much to chew on. 


Yes, this is a book about the spiritual life, but he doesn't offer formulas or disciplines or practices. He tells his story of deepening his walk with the Light, he tells us of the goodness of God, he invites us to follow Jesus by loving others well. He is deep and humble and funny and wise, at least mostly wise. I like it that he'll introduce a story saying "A year or so ago I inexplicably made the third or fourth dumbest move I ever made."  Maybe you too have made some dumb moves, but want a serene and candid storyteller to remind you of the Way.  Maybe you need reminding that the Kingdom is coming, that it is, in fact, already here. This book will help you "let the Light of the World sneak in." Thanks be to God.


Robert Benson is a graduate of and an adjunct faculty member of the Academy for Spiritual Formation and a member of the Friends of Silence and the Poor, an international ecumenical prayer community. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.



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September 22, 2016

NINE BRAND NEW BOOKS from Keller to McLaren to Springsteen -- a great example of the diverse titles we carry. ON SALE

Some weeks we find it hard to keep up with new book boxes stacked all over. It's been one of those hot ones here and it makes me smile for a bunch of reasons.  It will annoy and confuse some of you, I know, but I just love that we got a brand new book by Timothy Keller and one by Brian McLaren the same day. Religious publishing these days is refreshingly interesting and endlessly fascinating; for those with discernment and Biblically-shaped wisdom, many of the best books can be remarkably helpful.


We don't carry just any old thing, that's for sure. But we do have a bigger berth here than many book shops.  Not just the ones expected to sell (as in the big secular chains) or the one's that toe the conservative line at the evangelical chains. We are rather intentional about curating a wide selection here and this weeks new ones just illustrate some of the diversity of topics and perspectives that can help you ponder faith's mysteries and implications. Just for fun, here's what came into the shop int he last 48 hours or so.


For our BookNotes fans, they are all one sale, 10% off. Use the order form link below, and we'll deduct the discount and confirm everything.  By the way, the PRE ORDER price for the forthcoming Bruce Springsteen autobiography is 25% off. See below.


making sense of god.jpgMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00  This extraordinary book deserves to be carefully studied, it deserves to be reviewed well, and it is certainly adequate to send to friends who are deeply agnostic, seriously skeptical or who think that the Christian faith is so odd and untrue that it needn't even be explored.  I can only announce it here, but I do so with great pride: to get to promote such beautiful, thoughtful, informed and honest books, sturdy in more than design, is a great privilege and great joy. Regardless of what you think of Keller's broad-ranging cultural engagement based on a fairly conventional, gospel-centered sort of thoughtful Calvinism, his apologetics -- based on years of real face to face conversations with serious and often sophisticated urbane secularists -- is not only admirable, it is worth engaging. Read this book, work on it carefully if you have to. It is rich and deep and interesting and good.  By the way, if you know his excellent Reason for God, this is a bit more philosophical, a bit headier, perhaps; it is what might want to call a prequel.  Here's how Tim puts it:


While that book has been helpful to many, it does not begin far back enough for many people Some will no t even begin the journey of exploration, because, frankly, Christianity does not seem relevant enough to be worth their while.... this volume begins by addressing those objections. 


The Reason for God does not address many of the background beliefs that our culture presses on us about Christianity, which makes it seem so implausible. These assumptions are not presented to us explicitly by argument. Rather, they are absorbed thought the stories and themes of entertainment and social media.  They are assumed to be simply "the way things are" They are so strong that even many Christian believers perhaps secretly at first, find their faith becoming less and less real in their minds and hearts. Much or most of what we believe at this level is, therefore, invisible to us as belief....


If you think Christianity doesn't hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then this book is written for you. If you have any friends or family who feel this 

way (and who in our society doesn't?) this book should be full of interest for you and them as well.


This book is nearly 300 pages with good footnotes. It is, in Keller's style, accessible for educated readers, informed by contemporary philosophers (Charles Taylor), cultural critics (Robert Bellah, of course) films, classic literature and a bit of standard evangelical thoughtfulness from the likes of Lewis, Tolkien and, in a lovely afterward that I've already read, Langdon Gilkey from the moving Shantung Compound. 


Designing Your Life- How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life .jpgDesigning Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life Bill Burnett & Dave Evans (Knopf) $24.95  Speaking of lovely, sturdy books this fine work was just released by Knopf -- surely one of he more prestigious mainstream publishers.  Evans had some connection with Tim Keller, as a matter of fact, making it a rather serendipitous occasion for this book to come out this week, too. It can be explained rather simply: it looks at design thinking and offers very specific guidance for how to take those artful principles and apply them to your own search for a life and career and calling of purpose and meaning and happiness. David Kelly (founder of IDEO) says it is "the career book for the next decade...the 'go-to' book that is read as a rite of passage whenever someone is ready to create a life he or she loves."  Wow.


The book is arranged around a set of dysfunctional beliefs and shows how to reframe this sort of thinking towards a "design solution."  It shared practices to do, quit specific exercises and longer-term habits to embody these new ways of seeing.  The back covers says a well-designed life will offers "a rich portfolio of experiences, adventures, and failures that teach us important lessons." But how do we become the sorts of people who are open to learn, adjust, apply to insights from our previous failures? How to we reframe new questions from older questions, moving deeper (or upward)?  Designing Your Life promises to help.  This is a creatively designed work, a very handsome book, and, I think, will prove very helpful for folks looking (as one of the chapters puts it) for "how not to get a job."  


Networked Theology- Negotiating the Faith in Digital Culture.jpgNetworked Theology: Negotiating the Faith in Digital Culture Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner (Baker Academic) $22.99  I hope you know this "engaging culture" series from Baker Academic. We stock each and everyone and they are thrilling. I don't know why they aren't more discussed and more widely used in churches. (Maybe they are in some places.) These are thoughtful, serious, but not systematic theology texts; they are applied theology, each taking up aspects of contemporary culture and thinking about it and within it from a Biblical vantage point. (The last one was magisterial and a lot of fun to read -- Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives by Paul Heintzman.) Kudos to William Dyrness and Robert Johnston for editing this astute series.


Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner are apparently up for making a new contribution to this important series -- she has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is associate professor of communication at Texas A&M; he has a PhD from University of Auckland and is the head of school in the School of Theology at Laidlaw College there. Both have written widely and speak often on technology, faith, and new media.  


I know this may sound tedious, but read this blurb by Fuller Theological prof Amos Young -- read it carefully and it will surely help you see how serious this work is:


Networked Theology is robustly theological in (1) addressing the nature of being human (theological anthropology) in an era of network individualism, (2) analyzing the nature of human social relations (ecclesiology and theology of society) in a time of connectivity commodification, and (3) revisioning the form of Christian faithfulness (theology of culture and mission theology) in our digitally mediated world. Amid the emerging literature at the intersection of theology and technology, Campbell and Garner give us the first sustained assessment of contextual and public theology for living in and against Web 3.0.


With his background in computer technologies and hers in communication it makes a great pairing to help us all figure out where we are in this new world that grows more digital every month.  If you are at all interested in the intersection of faith and digital life, of networks and mass media and being mediated, this thoughtful book will be really, really useful. One chapter is about how faith is lived out in a networked society. Another asked "who is my neighbor in the digital culture?" and yet another ask about "developing a faith-based community response to new media." You can see, this is vital, urgent stuff!  An endorsing blurb from Quentin Schultze (author of the must-read Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media) makes me glad, too. Must be good!


earth psalms.jpgEarth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature Francine Rivers with Karin Stock Buursma (Tyndale) $16.99  Do you know the beloved, often moving, spiritual novels of Francine Rivers? She has a major, dedicated following for those who read Christian fiction -- Redeeming Love is a Western re-telling of Hosea, for instance. Here the talented inspirational writer does a very different sort of book -- a weekly devotional based on the beauties of creation.   We have a major section in the store of what some called nature writing and we have books for the outdoorsy types, finding God in the wind and rain and such. Some are luminous, poetic, some nearly pantheistic, I fear.  This, though, is utterly orthodox as she takes us to the joys of beholding a persistent woodpecker, the majestic redwoods, a glorious sunrise. This is sweet and dear stuff -- finding God's goodness in good things, realizing God's presence and nearness, God's attention and joy and love. Happily, there is stunning full color nature photography enhancing every reading making this not only a moving book to hold but a glorious one, too. There are glossy pages, a ribbon marker, and a truly beautiful cover.  The Lord offers us "countless blessings" it says in handsome calligraphy. This book is one of them.


Spiritual Leadership- Why Leaders Lead and Who Seekers Follow.jpgSpiritual Leadership: Why Leaders Lead and Who Seekers Follow Thomas G. Bandy (Abingdon Press) $19.99  We got quite a shipment from Abingdon this week - we've ordered almost every single book they've published this season, it seems.  There are some standard authors they release and Bandy is one of them. (Bill Easum, too -- we got his new one in this week as well. More on that, called Execute Your Vision, later.)  In keeping with my theme of the variety of good books that show up, week by week, this is surely one we'll want to read and explore and stock as we do book displays on the road this fall. The back cover has bunches of raves reviews -- from a Protopresbyter in the Greek Orthodox Church to Lovett Weems, Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, to Cory Sparks who is the Director of the LANO Institute for Nonprofit Excellence.


Sparks says this is "big data meets theology" and he explains that Bandy's book helps us consider how broad trends and lifestyle segmentation -- think of The Big Sort, maybe  --  might effect how we perceive leaders, even spiritual leaders.   As one reviewer puts it, it "unravels the enigma of why some pastors and their flocks resonate with one another and other clergy and congregations live in a state of constant conflict."  Yes, he's using detailed analysis and a bit of what can only be called typologies. (He has major sections on leaders he calls "organic" "constant" and "extreme."  He explores how leaders within and between types -- including how things transition and blend.  At the end, Bandy offers a leadership inventory (of course he does. It's that kind of book.)  Spiritual Leadership: Why Leaders Lead... looks like a fascinating bit of analysis and we're glad to have it here. 


The Great Spiritual Migration- How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking .jpgThe Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian Brian D. McLaren (Convergent) $21.00  I have read about half of this and am eager to continue on as I find time this crazy week. I think Brian is always worth reading and agree or not with every emphasis and every new insight there is little doubt that he offers kind and pastoral wisdom about many things. He is balanced and fair and eager to bear witness to the truths of Christ as he sees them.  Just last night I was addressing a mainline denomination known for it's more liberal styles and views. I encouraged them to read this as it ends up being a bit close to what they could be, but with a zeal and passion that is characteristic of a evangelical. This is not a lazy or sloppy drift towards liberal, ambiguous (non)theology, it is a robust and passionate call to faith that is creative and liberating and full of love and grace. Granted, I may wish Brian had a tiny bit of Keller in him, and I may wish Keller had a bit more Brian. I hope I"m not alone in enjoying them both and seeing a place for both.


Listen to what some of Brian's fans say:


This is Brian McLaren's finest book: a beautiful exploration of a hopeful, joyful, mystical, and just faith that invites Christians to move from fear to love. On every page, he calls out to longing readers, Don't give up. A better world, a better way of belief is possible. And he is right. 

Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded: Finding God in the World A Spiritual Revolution 


Anything written by Brian McLaren is always filled with insight, courage, and creative 

theology, refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time. Read this and surely enjoy it, for it will assure you that you are not crazy making in what you are seeing and suffering today.

Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation 


A refreshingly honest, totally committed, enriching and profound analysis of the Spiritual Moment that is changing all our lives. If you are concerned and at the same time excited by what is going in churches these days, read this book. Both hope and a path to it await you here. 

Joan Chittister, author of Between the Dark and the Daylight 


I have such respect for Brian McLaren; I would follow him anywhere, and so should you. Follow him out of fruitless dualities and false polarities. Follow him on a restless journey, a quest, a spiritual migration from an apathetic facade of a faith to a joyfully questioning, boundary crossing, ethical spectacle of a faith. This well-conceived, intelligent, warm, truthful book is our guide to a space where a life of faith is defined by love-in-action.

Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister, Middle Collegiate Church 


McLaren continues to have his finger on the pulse of a new kind of Christianity that challenges familiar and limiting structures of faith. A prophetic and winsome invitation for all the join the work of the Spirit in spiritual, theological, and missional transformation. 

Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than               Our Correct Beliefs


Finding God in the Waves- How I Lost My Faith and Found It .jpgFinding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science Mike McHargue (Convergence) $24.00  Wow, what a book. I am not sure what to make of this -- haven't read it yet. But I've seen the very attractive trailers done on line and am eager to check it out. Rob Bell, not surprisingly, wrote the forward -- Rob has long been interested in quantum physics and string theory and the like, and it seems that this "science guy" had a weird rediscovery of his faith by studying the intricacies of what Barbara Brown Taylor has called  (in her collection of beautiful pieces about faith and science) "the luminous web." This guy was an atheist and science -- cosmology and neuro-biology, actually - lead him to faith in the Risen Christ. He says you can meet Jesus even if you don't understand it all.  Well, yeah. He's very, very smart, really, really funny, and full of faith and doubt and courage and heart. I'm excited by this. With blurbs on the back from Pete Holmes (of a HBO comedy show) and Tanya Luhrmann (a prof at Stanford) and Franciscan Richard Rohr and Donald Miller, well, this has something for everyone. 


Getting Religion- Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama .jpgGetting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama Kenneth L. Woodward (Convergent) $30.00  No offense to the edgy, cool, thoughtfully progressive Christian Convergent publishing, but I thought this would have been on Random House or Knopf or one of the prestigious New York houses. I suspect it will appear prominently on the New York Times bestseller list and be taken serious on the Sunday morning talk shows.  Woodward, you know, was the religion editor for over 40 years for Newsweek.  As news stories and trends emerged and evolved in the last half of the last century, he was there. He says this and it doesn't seem prideful, just a matter of fact. This is his eye witness account, in many instances, of history makers from Martin Luther King to the Dali Lama, from Dorothy Day to an aging Billy Graham, from Abraham Heschel to Sun Myung Moon. He knows about liberation theology and EST, PET and Roe v Wade, TM and the Jesus People, consciousness raising and compassionate conservatism.  He tells about being in Nicaragua with Ernesto Cardenel and tells of Wheaton College grad Michael Gerson tutoring George W. Bush on Catholic social thinking with concepts like "subsidiarity" and "the common good." This is living history par excellence.


Of course his lively writing and his extraordinary bearing witness to the volatile (a word he uses) shifts of religion in our culture these last 50 years doesn't mean he's right about how he interprets and assesses the relative import of various movements. I've not read enough to have an opinion, but it is a vivid, big book -- almost 450 pages. He wasn't a strong fan of the Berrigan brothers, just for instance -- he wrote a very critical review of Dan's book To Dwell in Peace in the New York Times in those years and I recall thinking it mostly right, despite my own acquaintance with brother Phil -- but he does place a lot of weight on the Catholic left.  His stuff on John Paul is maybe more important. He has a major section on feminism in the culture and religious studies. He writes a lot about Eastern faiths. He is struck by how some religious expressions became ascendant in the 70s. Some religion we all get from our parents, but increasingly, that isn't the case -- now, we want experience, not dogma.


Anyway, this is a major work, a big book, and should appeal to those who are interested in history, culture, faith in its varying forms, and the way religion has shaped American culture and, consequently, American politics.


Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker says Getting Religion is "brilliant." James Martin, who says that Woodward has "the inability to write a dull sentence" predicts that "You may open the book for the historical tour but you'll stay with it because of your brilliant guide."


John L. Allen of Crux writes 


No American journalist has patrolled the borders of that often-troubled relationship between faith and culture longer or better than Kenneth Woodward. He s a reporter of the old school, taking the time both to get the story right and to be artful about how he crafts his prose. As Woodward says himself, being there matters, and in this book, you ll find the wisdom of someone who s just flat-out been there. This is a superb book.



born-to-run-9781471157790_hr.jpgBorn to Run Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster) $32.50  STREET DATE SEPTEMBER 27, 2016


Okay, we can't sell this before Tuesday, although for those who pre-order it, we can ship it for you to receive on Tuesday.   OUR PRE-ORDER PRICE IS 25% OFF -- $24.37.


All I can say about this long-awaited big bio at this point is that Bruuuuuce's  story will appeal to fans, maybe even those who aren't hard-core fans. It deal with his family, his dad especially, and a bit about his own faith; there is plenty in the lyrics, pretty overtly, of course.  It's a big one, too -- 528 pages! It's like that story about how The River was first a regular single album but they just knew it needed more, so they wrote and wrote and practiced and played and obsessively recorded and turned in a large double album set. I guess The Boss just couldn't stop writing. It is, shall we say, colorful, to say the least.




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